Monday, November 14, 2011

Laura McCusker: Musing on a sustainable practice

1957. Rio de Janeiro. My mother, aged 15, looks out the window. She’s waiting for a chair. A chair that has been measured, designed and handcrafted in Jacaranda just for her by the local maker down the road. When my grandmother died, this chair was shipped from Brazil to Sydney, then down to Tasmania for my young daughter. Although she shouldn’t, she swings on it the just as her grandmother's did fifty years earlier.

This is furniture with a story. Furniture made to last. Handcrafted, to be used and loved. In my mind this is deep sustainability. After all, an item that is made well can be mended and re-made again.

 Mums chair and portrait of mum

My aim as a designer and maker is that my work will inspire stories such as this one. I design objects that are appealing on different levels; pieces that people will enjoy relating to and using. They need to be beautiful, useful, and perform the task for which they were designed, well. Not just for this season or for this decade; but indefinitely.

I am passionate about combining traditional craftsmanship with contemporary design...The philosophy of Slow Design resonates strongly with me, I seek to infuse my work with a richness that deepens the ways in which people connect with my pieces. As much as possible, I am integral in every step of the process, from design through to manufacture and delivery.

Living in Tasmania, I am acutely aware of the precious resource with which I work. The idea of buying a piece of furniture for a look or as part of a fad promotes the wider problems of our throw-away society. The limited availability of natural resources is an important issue in my design, and so I aim for a timeless aesthetic and ensure longevity through the use of the highest quality materials and traditional joinery techniques.

Slow Design is a branch of the Slow Movement (personally, I think ‘slow’ is a misnomer ... better to think of it as thoughtful, considered or deliberate), and as with every branch of the movement, the overarching goal is to promote well being for individuals, society, and the natural environment. Slow Design aims for a holistic approach to designing that takes into consideration material and social factors and both the short and long term impacts of the design.

Naked table, Photographer Peter Whyte

Fuad-Luke nailed it in 2005 when he wrote: “What is clear is that modernist, organic, post-modern or any other doctrine with recognisable semiotics, is easily subverted in the service of industry and to the glory of consumerism and economic progress. ... Corporate ambition, encouraged by the capitalist political doctrine, continues to ensure that inbuilt obsolescence, the touchstone of industrial design, keeps producers producing, consumers consuming and designers designing.” .... the question then becomes, what am I going to do about it?

I have made a conscious decision whenever possible, to produce using local materials for the local market, working with other local practitioners. Invariably this means that my work develops a local flavour and collaborations encourage the vernacular. But more than this, working in this way is about pulling back on the reins and taking time to do things well, do them responsibly, and do them in a way that allows the designer and the end user to derive pleasure from it ...or in other words: put some soul into it.

The reason for the resurgence of craft in the last decade seems to me fairly self-evident. Manufacture and design has now become so globalised that cultural influences are fast disappearing with shops on opposite sides of the planet selling more or less the same items, whether it be foods, furniture or footwear.  This fact has generated a deep desire for authenticity, and when this is combined with increasing environmental awareness, the purchasing decisions become more weighted according to sustainability and local sourcing.

 Barcode is a screen with multiple uses, Photographer Peter Whyte

For me, designing and making is an organic process, inseparable from the everyday goings on of my life. Moments of inspiration such as making origami with my children, a barcode on my cereal box, or the light flickering through stands of trees often form the seed of an idea. This is layered upon the cross-cultural influences of my childhood; the knowledge and skills gained through studies in design and fine woodwork; and an intimate knowledge of the materials I work with. As I chat with clients in my workshop and they see their furniture taking shape, these influences and layers are shared, and hopefully, so begin their stories.

Laura McCusker website
Twenty21 website
Craft Australia interview with Laura McCusker on  youtube 
Sustainability stories link 
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