When Jeff Koons was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Ed Paschke – a Chicago Imagist whom Koons was assisting at the time, revealed to him that “everything is already here in the world and you just have to look for it.” In a landscape surrounded by an array of objects built by modern humanity for its own convenience, day to day life and its tasks have been facilitated – albeit compromising the wellbeing of our environment.  

 Alongside this, then, is the waste produced as a result of hyper-production and today’s ‘throwaway society’ that many of us so often conveniently disregard. Furniture and product designer Ilaria Bianchi has made this plight the domain of her work.

By employing a methodology of montage, combined with a vision for reimagining the debris that contemporary culture has left behind, Bianchi produces a range of furniture that leaves her viewers with a product that is functional and aesthetically pleasing, but at the same time forces its viewer to question his or her consumerist values. Her heavily research-based projects signify a self-reflexive awareness of her role as a designer, the responsibilities it entails, and a firm comprehension of the world we inhabit.

Here, she shares with us her design process, where the materials (or ‘waste’) she retrieves have primacy over the design, supported by research into theories such as ‘Adhocism’ that has followed her practice rather naturally. Introduced by architects Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver in Adhocism: The Case for Improvisation, published in 1972, the text presents itself as a guide on a method of creation (not limited to design) that is driven by utilising pre-existing resources, as opposed to producing from scratch. Adhocism urges individuals to re-consider our surroundings in a new way and to find new roles for them. Its core mission lies in developing within its readers a mindset behind the merits of improvisation, purposefulness and ‘upcycling’.

“I have always been very interested in what is called ‘anonymous design’: timeless everyday life objects, made to last forever, in response to a specific necessity, sons of experiments and improvisations.”

 I’m familiar with the fact that your practice works in tandem with Adhocism theory, and I would love to discuss this in more detail with you. How do such theories and the research that you do fit into your work?

My projects have always followed a learning through the creation process, where the materials, coming upfront, have always dictated the evolution of the final object. I began using materials which produced furniture in an unexpected way. My design process is based on the findings of quick and functional solutions, so the association with Adhocism theories came almost naturally. I have also always been intrigued by the idea of ‘the design before the design’, a sort of meta-discourse that revolves around the act of making. I have always been very interested in what is called ‘anonymous design’: timeless everyday life objects, made to last forever, in response to a specific necessity, sons of experiments and improvisations. I adopted this approach to challenge myself in what I was lacking the most – a balance between being a designer and an artisan.

 To exploit at best what you already own is an exercise that includes many aspects of my life. It’s about being able to see possibilities rather than obstacles, not only as a designer but also as a human being.

Can you share with us your earliest memory of recognising this ability to see potentials? Is this quality of being able to see waste as a resource a trait you grew up with, or something you had adopted later on in life? 

Probably the first time I picked up shells and sticks from the beach and made a mobile out of it. Or when, in my childhood, I used daisies as earrings, putting them in my ear holes, and showing them off as though it was the most valuable treasure. Human beings perform such gestures in a perfectly unconscious way on a daily basis. I bet we have all, at some point, been positioned in a problematic situation that we have had to resolve in a quick, easy and functional way — using what is available at the moment.

When we decide to design using this approach, we have to make these actions rational, and develop a specific process and a method that would allow us to take control over the design.

Nevertheless, we have people we can look at for inspiration —  like kids and our grannies. The former, because they don’t have boundaries to their imagination, and things are not strictly latched with the image that we have of them (for example, a fork can easily be an aeroplane, arms can be used as wings). The latter, because they lived in a period of scarcity, and they had to redistribute the resources that were available at the time to make the most out of them.

Today, we are living in a moment of abundance or even excess, and we are quick to create waste because we have the perception that anything is unlimited. It’s something instinctual, like what we do when we recycle or reuse things, and even if us humans are progressively losing our primitive nature, sometimes trusting our instinct and retrieving our ancestral sense of judgment could be a valuable choice.

“Today, we are living in a moment of abundance or even excess, and we are quick to create waste because we have the perception that anything is unlimited.”

How, in your opinion, can young designers become more aware of their role within the ongoing ecological crisis? 

I think a sense of awareness is not what our generation is lacking. We were raised with the psychological terror that our world is melting down, with hundreds of species disappearing, and diseases related to pollution dramatically increasing. We are living in a very controversial situation. We can’t stop producing because people still need goods, and, as human beings, I believe we are instinctively drawn to the act of creation. But at the same time, the mere act of making, as it is still conceived, is unsustainable.

I can already see an increase of eco-sustainable practices in the design and manufacturing industry, which are dictated not only by the market’s new moral requirements, but possibly by similar regulations issued by governments and lawmakers. Moreover, eco-friendly practices demonstrated that pursuing sustainability could be rewarded by a consistent economic return – such as a zero landfill approach, minimization of uses of raw resources and recycling.

This new environmentally friendly approach is actually generating an authentic movement, which is commonly known as the green trend or green marketing. The possibility to have easier access to information; the opportunity that customers have to express opinions, and the “mouth to mouth” phenomena are also positive influences in generating responsible behaviours. These trends, however, could lead to companies advertising their actions as sustainable without actually performing any improvement. Sustainability and ethical conduct aren’t always completely compatible with the structure and modus operandi of large corporations. Feeling somehow responsible for the environmental situation as part of the ‘disposable generation’ or the ‘throw away society’, my suggestion and my own way to approach this problem is to use my work as a means to point out several issues – promoting positive changes through meaningful objects.­

Words by Alysha Lee

All images courtesy of Ilaria Bianchi