When I think about sustainability along with my jewellery making I wonder how the two have come together. I dont think sustainability has ever been the goal of my practice yet my work does commonly get described by this term.
Image: Mark Vaarwerk, brooch blue 57mm materials: expanded polystyrene packaging, stainless steel, sterling silver
Thinking back to the beginning of my practice, to before the beginning even, I realise my focus has always been to make most use of what is immediately available. Doing a student research project on hand-spinning of natural fibers i was partly frustrated by the unavailability of materials - to a city dweller, sourcing standard raw fibers such as cotton and wool was difficult and expensive. Once the project was submitted and I was able to source materials more intuitively and experimentally, I quickly realised that in the city there were many immediate sources of fiber, adaptable to the traditional spinning techniques I had just learned. The raw material that I adopted was the plastic bag, because it was freely available, colourful, and relevant - relevant in the sense that it is a material that I was familiar with, which I could relate to. Even more, its a source of material with a story which sometimes could be retold, or just imagined, as the bags were a byproduct of peoples real shopping trips and the colours of the bags would sometimes be recognisable as belonging to a particular brand or outlet. It also makes great string.
Image: Mark Vaarwerk, brooch bronze 57mm materials: expanded polystyrene food box, colouring pencil, stainless steel, sterling silver
I had found a material that was free, easily available and had intrinsic value because of its previous use - a win-win-win - so it was natural to continue in this thread. A range of handspun plastic bag necklaces were soon joined by plastic bottle rings and brooches - all with a focus on utilizing throwaway materials. Currently I am using expanded polystyrene to make brooches. Again it is a material which is freely available - any day (or night) I can within a few blocks from home find a few piles of used food boxes or packaging useful for my jewellery. I also collect other discarded plastics - broken household appliances, broken car light covers off the streets, used cigarette filters even, to use to coat the polystyrene and add colour. Again, these familiar everyday sources of materials adds an extra layer of interest and meaning to the finished pieces which their owners can connect with.
Image: Mark Vaarwerk, brooch red 68mm materials: expanded polystyrene food box, acrylic car brake light covers, stainless steel, sterling silver
On a personal level, to me, sustainability still takes a back seat. What comes first is the fun involved in scrounging and collecting something for free, the immediacy of the source and the chance to play mad scientist/inventor in my workshop to reshape these materials which are such a real and useful part of our day to day lives.