Introduced to the Edinburgh Remakery from the beginning, the project’s course inherently adopted their principles of repair as well as the realm of materials within which they operate. Given the chance to explore their Granton storage unit, I began brainstorming creative ways to build newness with the forsaken goods. Piles of chairs began shaping themselves into public sculptures and old laptop screens arranged themselves into mosaics reflecting the sun. These wishful installation ideas were driven from a place of whimsy and followed precedents such as Yvonne Fehling and Jennie Peiz Stuhlhockerbank or Ai Weiwei’s Bang. But these first ideas only offered bleak commentary on the waste problem before they, themselves, hit a landfill.
A deeper understanding of issues and debates surrounding circular design moved me away from aesthetic installations towards functionality. I began seeing objects around me in terms of how many lives they had lived: a jacket from a charity shop may be headed onto its second or third life with a new owner compared to the fledgling coat bought clean and fresh off the rack of a department store. I realized I wanted to give second lives to objects and items too quickly dubbed as waste. How possible would it be to redefine the roles of materials for purposes they were never originally intended? And not simply doing so by morphing them into an aesthetic sculpture, but by changing their use altogether and reassessing the value in new functional roles.
A precedent that greatly influenced my perception of a material and its value was Precious Plastic: a group, led by Dave Hakkens, that wants to create obtainable solutions to problems of plastic waste. Part of their mission includes re-framing how society values plastic. They ask us to question our quick, cheap, and disposable mindsets to see plastic as both valuable and precious; a material that is not effortlessly obtained, nor easily destroyed. Their work influenced me to see plastic in new ways, and my project began to parallel its mission as I wanted to give new functional lives to plastics that had already lived out their intended purpose.
Investigations into the vast body of recycled plastic projects led me to everything from durable building cladding to delicate pieces of jewelry to re-imagined household goods. The research also introduced me to methods of weaving with various forms of plastics. A marriage of traditional technique and unexpected materials, the process gave new functional life to objects that would otherwise be tossed aside. The majority of these projects led to mats and rugs, or baskets and tote bags. My interests however led me to wonder how similar weaving techniques could result in pieces of functional, beautiful furniture. Knowing that one of the Remakery’s focuses is furniture repair; I wanted to explore the ways in which practices that weave new life into plastic could also breathe unique life into their refurbished furniture. A quick search for furniture woven from recycled materials provided precedents such as the Haldane Martin’s Zulu Mama Chair and KaCaMa Studio’s Crown Stool.
Working with the Remakery, I obtained a chair frame and outdated computer cables. On my own, I found two other chairs discarded on the street, and I collected plastic grocery bags and empty plastic bottles. Cutting the plastic grocery bags into loops, I could knot them together to form a strong, flexible strand that could be wound into a ball of plastic string. Using the strand in place of rush or rattan, the grocery bags could be tightly woven through the chair frames to form a flexible seat or back. Slicing the plastic bottles into long, curly spiral strips, I was also able to make another material that could replace and repair damage done to vintage cane seat chairs. The computer cables could be dissected into stretchy, outer plastic coatings and thin, inner wires. The two woven together formed a system of taut wire ribs spanned by looping plastic cushion that gives way upon sitting – creating the feeling of a hammock or net. The explorations of these materials within the project demonstrate their versatility and the new lives they could take on when their first ones have run their course.
The project itself is a very personal, small-scale intervention. It’s not anticipated to intercept vast amounts of plastic waste, but it does offer an alternative that gives value and craft to the re-used materials as well as the furniture it’s fixing. The extended, hands-on process of a repair such as this alters the meaning of the final product — it re-values the cultural intentions of the piece. No longer are the cables acting in the digital age, or the plastic bags as accomplices to a consumer society, but both are broken down into something tactile and weight-bearing; something concerned with something more timeless. They are stripped of their original meaning and woven back together, intertwined with a new aim and a second life that is separate from their first.