37 countries from six continents participated in the first London Design Biennale at Somerset House, in September 2016. Designers responded to the theme: ‘Utopia by Design’. Tasmanian designer Brodie Neill turned his attention to the world’s oceans and the negative impact plastic waste.
Dr. Christopher Turner, Director of the London Design Biennale noted ‘Utopia by Design’ was selected as a theme to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Moore’s satirical novel ‘Utopia’.
Thomas More described his novel as “a fiction whereby the truth, as if smeared by honey, might a little more pleasantly slide into men’s minds”. In the novel the citizens of Utopia rejected the ideas of money or private property; they worked a six-hour day, shared everything, lived without greed or pride and placed importance on human happiness.
From its 18th century origins, Somerset House has been a centre for debate and discussion. Jonathan Reekie CBE, Director welcomed designers from 37 countries who transformed the cultural Thameside location with projects and installations with the potential to change the world.
Design has the power to transform the quality of life and political reality. At LDB16, designers explored questions and ideas about sustainability, energy, pollution, migration, cities and social equality. The London-based Tasmanian Designer, Brodie Neill, represented Australia at LDB16.
The Australian Pavilion was in two parts: firstly, a multi-sensory and immersive projection inspired by Tasmania’s magnificent coastline. Secondly, Neill premiered a new sculptural form: ‘Gyro’, in response to the waste gathered by the world’s ocean currents.
‘Gyro’ takes its name from ‘gyre’, which refers to the network of currents that circulate ocean water around the world. Today, at the heart of these gyres are millions of tonnes of toxic plastic waste.
Neill explained the concept for ‘Gyro’ came from an experience he had whilst staying on a beach in a remote part of Tasmania.
“There were no paved roads, miles away from civilization, but down on the beach were plastic bottles from around the world, from everywhere, a lot of that stuff could have washed ashore because of tsunami.”
“What I was thinking was, how can we neutralize that material? Why is that material in our environment? And where does that leave the material economy and impact the natural environment? And how can we close the loop?”
Dr. Jennifer Lavers, Research Fellow at Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, Australia collaborated with Neill on his journey from design concept, through research and development to production. In addition through social media, he engaged the assistance of collectors of ocean plastics from all over the world.Neill’s response to the ‘Utopia by Design’ theme considered how to turn ocean plastic into a new material, to prevent the negative impact on wildlife, coastlines and ecology. Small fragments of plastic waste were reconstituted into a terrazzo-like composite. In varying hues of blue, the composite was inlaid in a digitally designed kaleidoscopic diagram to depict the Earth’s longitudinal and latitudinal lines. It was a nineteenth century-century specimen table in the collection of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, which inspired the surface of ‘Gyro’.
Other highlights at LDB16 included: ‘Bliss’ by the artist Helidon Xhixha a concentric arrangement of stainless steel columns and benches to encourage self-reflection and solidarity for – Albanian Pavilion. The fragile balance of utopia was the subject of design team mischer’traxler studio in their kinetic sculpture ‘Level’ – Austria. And Yaniv Kadosh designed ‘Aid Drop’, a first-aid distribution system inspired by the beautiful form of sycamore seeds – Israel.
Yasuhiro Suzuki – Japan, took a charming sideways look at everyday objects in ‘A Journey Around the Neighbourhood Globe’. He hopes to reinvent cultural differences and nurture a sense of commonality. Alexandra Sankova and Stepan Lukyanov created ‘Discovering Utopia: Lost archives of Soviet Design’ which offered a glimpse of designs from the 1960s-1980s, which for the most part, never left the workshops where they were created. And ‘The Wish Machine’ a contemporary “wish tree” responded to the European refugee crisis and Turkey’s critical position of the migratory path.
Brodie Neill’s ‘Gyro’ for the Australian Pavilion at London’s first Design Biennale was in keeping with an earlier design for ‘Remix’ – where he combined waste materials into a new sculptural form. ‘Gyro’ is a further elegant and considered design. Neill considered an ugly problem and created a thing of beauty.
The Australian Pavilion at the London Design Biennale was supported by: The Australian High Commission, National Gallery of Victoria, and the University of Tasmania