Metal Trees with Salt Leaves

“Fake Plastic Trees” is a song by the English alternative rock band, Radiohead. As the name might suggest, the song heavily utilises the motif of plastic to symbolise the fleeting and transitory. Perhaps the lyric that expresses this concept most effectively is as follows: “cracked polystyrene man who just crumbles and burns” (Radiohead, 1995). Despite being released over a decade ago and dubbed unimportant and without substance by the musicians themselves (Randall, 2000), the song remains the embodiment of contemporary attitudes towards material consumption. Some plastics, like polystyrene are brittle, this means that they break and, when they inevitably do, they are worthless.

The circular economy offers an alternative to the traditional linear economy where resources are made, used, and disposed. In the case of the polystyrene man from Radiohead’s song: made, cracked, burned. Instead of following this bleak system, the circular economy aims to keep resources in use as long as possible. This is done either through turning the materials into something else, having new products being built to last longer than their predecessors, or being repaired instead of just disposed. Movements and small businesses such as The Edinburgh Remakery aim to generate of a repair revolution that reforms attitude’s towards the disposal of resources (Remakery, 2018). It is places like these that enable the layman as well as designers to take part in the global movement towards healthier attitudes to waste.

I started this project looking at the materialistic qualities of salt. I had thought a 3D printed salt possible, and still do. The evidence is there in the natural world that suggests salt could be built up over time to create structurally sound pieces as well as the intricate designs produced using G-code. However the time constraints of the project left me struggling to have anything of substance late in the project.

To combat this, I began looking at crafted structures like baskets, and woven material. Baskets are among the most ancient and geographically pervasive items that has ever be fashioned from nature (New York Times, 2018). They are also very therapeutic and enjoyable to make once you have got you head around all the twisting and learnt how to keep track of the threads. However, traditionally woven materials such as willow and wicker need to be fresh to use and become solid in their shapes which makes them unable to be reused in another basket after the life of one is complete.

Our brief was to use the Remakery materials, objects or waste as inspiration to design a new artefact which left me unwilling to use new materials in a project so heavily focused on the circular economy. I sourced numerous unwanted cables destined for landfill and, after pulling apart the cables and separating the different materials from inside the rubber coating, left me with a variety of wires that were a perfect alternative to natural fibres for use in basketry. They were flexible, colourful, and could be woven together into intricate patterns.

Despite the fun had creating these structure, I was left with quite a substantial issue; the material left over was . Eventually the basket had to end which left an abundance of tiny fragments of metal that were too short to be woven into another form. I needed to create something with the leftover material.

The early visual explorations I had done with salt, along with the need to use up the remaining materials, lead to the development of a jewellery collection. The collection uses symbols of nature, ocean waves, trees, and plants to create a critique on the abundance of unnatural resources threatening the existence of the natural wildlife. The final collection was a very varied selection of hand crafted items that utilised the full range of materials from computer cables, see figure 7. These items celebrate both the global modern movement towards sustainable produce as well as the longevity of craft and adornment.