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It's Too Easy to Make Marble Look Good

hu! caught up with Studio Swine, the hot young design studio reshaping sustainable design

Meet Studio Swine (Super Wide Interdisciplinary New Explores), the Anglo-Japanese design studio re-examining the role of design in today's globalising world. Conscious of producing luxury objects in a world of dwindling resources, the husband-and-wife team architect Azusa Murakami and artist Alexander Groves use experimental materials – think human hair and sea-dredged plastic – to produce sustainable designs which reflect the culture and practices of a certain region. Swine's research-led projects explore contemporary social and environmental issues across the world, whilst simultaneously redefining the aesthetics of luxury design.

South Atlantic Gyre, 2015 - Sea plastic, gold plated steel, brass, rope, sandblasted glass

For their project 'Gyrecraft' in 2014, the studio collected and transformed plastic pollution from the North Atlantic Ocean into a series of luxury design objects. The focus of the project was an expedition across the North Atlantic towards the North Atlantic Gyre, where circular currents in the ocean basin have led to a huge concentration of plastic waste. In order to transform the recovered plastic shards into luxury design objects, Murakami and Groves designed and built their own Solar Extruder. The manually operated machine uses solar power to melt and extrude sea plastic which is then ready to be repurposed without the use of mass industrial processes.

Due to the nature of the continuously swirling gyre, most plastics are broken down in to small fragments, making them difficult to recover in large quantities. In this respect, the once disposable material is transformed in to a precious ocean resource as highlighted by 'Indian Ocean Gyre, 2015' which features coral shaped forms made entirely from recovered plastic. The project interrogates the view of plastic as an undesirable material fit only for mass production, encouraging innovative ways to reuse and recycle popular materials in a more artisanal fashion.

In 2014, Studio Swine embarked on the project 'Hair Highway', a contemporary take on the ancient Silk Road which transported technologies, materials, aesthetics and ideas between East and West. Manifesting itself in a film and a series of highly decorative objects, the project revisits the idea that trade holds the potential to transport new materials, values and perceptions. Murakami and Groves travelled to Shangdong province, China, to investigate the trade and craft surrounding the hair industry, an area of commerce that is rapidly expanding in China as the population continues to soar while Asian hair grows faster than any other. Studio Swine optimized the potential of this extremely resilient material as a renewable alternative to traditional hard materials such as tortoise shell or animal horns. Mixing the hair with a natural bio resin, they invented a new composite material with a similar exotic aesthetic to tropical hardwood or tortoise shell. The collection is inspired by works from the Quing dynasty era and 1920s Shanghai-deco style.

Hair Highway, 2014

We caught up with Alexander Groves for a quick fire Q & A. How did you guys meet and how was Studio Swine born? We met in Royal College of Art studying design products. We both came from different backgrounds of art and architecture so we had very different approaches to design and combining them to make something new was very exciting. How do you view the relationship between art and design? We don't really see them as that different, we never ask 'is this design or art?', it’s just whether it's interesting and good that counts for us. The definition is really more useful for the art or design markets rather than to the practitioners of it. Your designs often use reclaimed or recycled materials. Has the sustainability of your work always been important to you? Yes, there's so much stuff in the world, it's hard to justify creating more so we always figured let's at least minimise the environmental impact. It's also a challenge to transform materials that don't have an intrinsic value into desirable design. It's too easy to make marble look good.

South Pacific Gyre, 2015 
- Sea plastic, reclaimed hardwood, gold plated steel, brass, rope

Do you believe that artists and designers have a role to play in promoting sustainable, environmentally conscious lifestyles? Creatives aren't going to solve anything on their own but I do think that there are so many alternatives to un-sustainable materials and production, that it just requires a little imagination to discover that all contemporary design should consider the environment. Where do you draw inspiration from for potential new materials to use, such as hair and resin? We look at the past a lot, historical buildings, heritage crafts, obscure museums but equally we look at the latest material innovations, current news and we love visiting factories. Churchill put it best when he said ‘Art without tradition is a lost sheep, without innovation it’s a corpse'.

North Pacific Gyre, 2015 
Sea plastic, green abalone shell, brass, rope, shackle

text: Matilda Lucy

© images: Studio Swine