Sustainable design to the rescue!


Supercyclers

Aussie designers Sarah King and Liane Rossler are the team behind Supercyclers, an international design collective that aims to build a sustainable future by transforming our perceptions of waste materials through thoughtful, often upcycled, designs. Since launching their platform in 2011, the pair has collaborated with a variety of like-minded designers on objects and exhibitions inspired by the greater good. We spoke with King and Rossler this week to learn more.

Liane Rossler & Sarah King of Supercyclers; photo by Brigid Arnott Liane Rossler & Sarah King of Supercyclers; photo by Brigid Arnott

Anna Carnick: What was the original inspiration behind Supercyclers? And how did it evolve from an idea to a practicing collective?

Sarah K: Our premise is that designers are trained as problem solvers, and the biggest problem we are facing as humans is our own threat to our habitat. It seems logical that problem solvers should come up with smart solutions to these issues, and yet it is not at the forefront of all thinking in design and not always handled as aesthetically as it could be.

At the time that we began Supercyclers, it seemed like the world had been educated about environmental issues but was waiting around to be told what to do about them.  We wanted to go ahead and take matters into our hands—even if it was in a small way, based on experimentation, coupled with our own tough aesthetic sensibilities—and a hope to encourage that attitude—taking responsibility for change. We wanted to alter perceptions of waste, to see it as the valuable resource that it is, making it desirable again.

Naturally we are not the only ones doing this, and there is strength in numbers, so it’s a logical extension of the project to expand to include other designers we feel are broadening the scope of sustainability in design alongside us. It is important that they are also tackling the issue in a visually or conceptually exciting way.

No Heater Winter Chair by Sarah King for Supercyclers. The supersoft, wool-covered chair was designed to provide enough warmth so that the heat needn't be turned on. The chair comes with a set of matching mittens, booties, and a soft helmet. The wool upholstery and cape were developed with Tasmania’s Waverley Woollen Mills. Photo courtesy of Supercyclers. No Heater Winter Chair by Sarah King for Supercyclers. The supersoft, wool-covered chair was designed to provide enough warmth so that the heat needn't be turned on. The chair comes with a set of matching mittens, booties, and a soft helmet. The wool upholstery and cape were developed with Tasmania’s Waverley Woollen Mills. Photo courtesy of Supercyclers.

Superfused Vases by Sarah King for Supercyclers. By fusing a valuable material—such as brass, copper, or marble—with the discarded plastic of a drinking straw, a piece of waste is elevated into a precious functional object. Photo courtesy of Supercyclers. Superfused Vases by Sarah King for Supercyclers. By fusing a valuable material—such as brass, copper, or marble—with the discarded plastic of a drinking straw, a piece of waste is elevated into a precious functional object. Photo courtesy of Supercyclers.

AC: What does Supercyclers do exactly? 

Liane Rossler: We work as designers together on projects, often based on materials and reinventing them in contemporary and low-impact ways. Since 2010, we have worked with plastic bags, straws, and glass, amongst others. Then in a broader sense, we highlight and encourage other designers working with a Supercyclers approach.

SK: Supercyclers is less of a fixed phenomena—like a brand or definable person—and more of an idea with a lot of subsets working within it.  We began by exhibiting the Plastic Fantastic and Ghostware works that Liane and I made together from single-use plastic bags—called Plastic Fantastic and Ghostware—and Mark Vaarwerk’s unexpanded polystyrene works in Milan at Ventura Lambate in 2011. Both these projects were about taking the ugliest, most discarded and least biodegradable problems humans have been responsible for and challenging ourselves to make them the most beautiful and desirable they could be.

We launched the Supercyclers website simultaneously to profile other designers we felt were dealing with the issue of sustainability in interesting ways, and, over the following year, this evolved into the SOS (supercycle our souls) exhibition of international design that I curated for Ventura Lambrate in 2012. This in turn led to 19 Greek Street representing us in London, and we were part of the launch of this forward thinking gallery at LDF later that year.

Since then, we have worked together and individually as Supercyclers and also under that banner in collaboration with others. Supercyclers has taken many forms and will continue to take whatever shape it needs to in order to champion design work that both pushes the boundaries and keeps the issue of sustainability fresh and inspirational.

Ghostware (2011), upcycled from single-use plastic bags; photo courtesy of Supercyclers Ghostware (2011), upcycled from single-use plastic bags; photo courtesy of Supercyclers

AC: What matters most to you as designers working today?

LR: It's easy to create things, but you have to consider the process and where that product ends up. The world is so full! As a designer, the challenge is to design with a considered and less-is-more approach to materiality and process.

SK: Keeping the planet and all its living things alive is still a top priority. Keeping plastic out of the oceans, living harmoniously and respectfully with other cultures, growing more trees, not cutting down trees unnecessarily—all of these things are important to us. We should make some lycra Supercyclers outfits and fly across the sky!

Superblown (2014) by Liane Rossler for Supercyclers, made from discarded glass bottles that are directly hand blown into delicate vessels, whose color is the only signifier of their former life. Photo courtesy of Supercyclers. Superblown (2014) by Liane Rossler for Supercyclers, made from discarded glass bottles that are directly hand blown into delicate vessels, whose color is the only signifier of their former life. Photo courtesy of Supercyclers.

AC: What are your goals for Supercyclers?

SK: Aside from the lycra? Keeping the conversation going, seeing others inspired by our work and coming up with work imbued with even better ideas, seeing these ideas take shape in the world, and leaving it in a better state than it has been left for the past 50 years.

*Supercylers will be presenting new works at next month's 19 Greek Street exhibition—entitled "Art of Progress"—during the 2015 London Design Festival. Stay tuned for more! 

*Like what you see? Check out our shop for more pieces from the Supercyclers camp in our shop, including the clever Coffee Bean Bag Chair and Rubberweight Pendant Lamp

*All images courtesy of Supercyclers