Imagine a future where man-made machines can no longer be used because of environmental reasons. Lately, it doesn’t feel too much like science fiction. What kind of forms will be made? How will we create them? What materials will be used?
Kajsa Melchior answers these questions in her “Fictive Erosion” collections, made up of furniture and sculpture designed in sand and developed with alabaster. Fascinated with nature’s own processes, the Stockholm-based independent designer set out to investigate geology and methodologies of formation.
She told Whitewall recently that during this exploration she found herself falling in love with sand, feeling finally guided by the material, instead of the other way around—ultimately finding a balance between earthly expression and human will.
WHITEWALL: What was the starting point for your collections “Fictive Erosion” imagining that human machines can no longer be used because of environmental reasons?
KAJSA MELCHIOR: I have always been interested in nature. In secondary school my favorite subject was chemistry, so geology and processes such as erosion have long interested me.
The project initially started in a collaboration with a creative studio called Wavy. Wavy mostly does photography, so we decided to make a product on the theme of “negative.” In my early days, when I was exploring many expression methods in art, I was focused on exploring how to develop photography manually through a negative using the sun as exposure. The link to nature and erosion came in handy at this point. I continued the journey exploring earth materials, such as sand and ice, and I started to explore how we could use erosional processes as a guide for creating design methods.
WW: From this scenario, what kinds of forms and processes emerged?
KM: I fell in love with working with sand completely. Because sand is tiny pieces of any mixed earth material (as I see it), I realized the capacity for visual expressions was almost eternal within this process. I was thrilled by the expression that emerged from the mix between the fake and the natural. For once, I felt that I, as a designer, was guided by the material instead of the opposite direction. I really enjoyed this struggle—or “challenge” is perhaps a better word for it. It felt fresh, and I felt that it allowed me to enter the political scene of the design industry in an explorative and exciting way.
WW: You mentioned sand. Why did that material make sense to use?
KM: Sand is my favorite material to work with so far. I have also been exploring this same method of making form through exposure with ice and also soil. Exciting processes and foremost results in those, too, but I just realized I have to stay with sand a bit longer. Sand is very responsive, that’s one thing I love about it. It’s easy to “talk to.” In other materials, such as ice, for example, I find it harder to get a good balance between my voice and the voice of the material. Let’s say that I want to create a form by air pressure. When I blow into the sand, it responds instantly to my movement. In this way, I feel that the forms made through sand can reach a balanced mixture between the earthy expression caused by the sand and my own human will.
WW: What is it like, as a designer, to allow for an element of chance when working this way?
KM: Well, this is the “challenge” I talked about earlier. To me, there is no chance in this process really, nor in erosional processes in nature. What we call chance here is, rather, abstract mathematics. I believe that all moves we describe as chance really are caused by very strict mathematical and physical laws.
The moments of surprise in this process play an important part. It allows me to always keep a dialogue between me and the material. The day I have full control (which will never exist) will be the day I need to embrace a different material.
As the design industry keeps growing bigger, I think it is important to talk about perfection and quality in terms of what we will afford in the future. I believe we will need to deal with processes that are not that automated and maybe the way nature does create form can be one inspiration for how to make human control step aside for material guidance.
WW: What can we learn from nature in terms of letting go of our ideas of perfection in design?
KM: We all love nature, one way or another, don’t we? I think humans are great at finding comfort in nature, but still, we are so focused on creating comfort in the objects we design. I think if we humans could allow ourselves to rethink the word “quality,” the future of design has the potential to be amazing.
WW: How are you thinking about sustainability in your practice?
KM: Of course, I try to use sustainable materials always—no glue, no artificial pigments, et cetera. Foremost, though, I think my contribution lies in the message behind my work. I would love to spread enthusiasm and curiosity for the earth and her processes in order to highlight the urge for change in human behavior.
WW: In design, we often talk about function and form, but you also emphasize expression. What is the role of expression in your creative approach?
KM: The expression is key for the storytelling. The expression in each form explains the collaboration between me and the material used, which in my case is important. My work does not always have a clear function; sometimes they are also formed in a way we cannot really recognize. If my work had to be functional, or pretty, my process would have to be very different. So the expression in my case is the golden ticket to explore new methods where the materials can be in charge as much (or more?) as human will and demand.
WW: How are you staying inspired at the moment? Have you been able to stay creative at this time?
KM: These are troubled days for many people, and we need to stay strong and loving to one another. Perhaps it also leaves some time to reflect upon our behavior and our impact on the planet. It is always easier, I believe, to do so when everyday lives are paused for a moment in order to let each person tweak their habits a little bit. In my case, as a designer who explores design methods in a world where machines are forbidden due to the environmental crisis, this is a good time. World crisis becomes very real, and that triggers me to explore this concept further!