Department of Seaweed

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After Materials Moulded by Environments, I was uplifted by a sneak peak into the studio of Julia Lohmann, V&A Designer in Residence and Head of the Department of Seaweed.   The studio is a magical space with long tendrils of  seaweed drying overhead, rattan skeletons awaiting their seaweed sheath hanging from other bigger sculptures in progress and a selection of artefacts from masks and handbags to stained ‘glass’ and Urushi lacquerware.   The Japanese influences are evidence of Julia’s long residency in Sapporo Japan.

Julia’s research is exploring seaweed’s potential as a sustainable alternative to manmade materials such as plastic and glass or leather.  The Oki Naganode installation currently on display in Gallery 108 at the V&A shows seaweed’s potential as a design material.  This huge installation has been made from Naga Kombu, Japanese seaweed, hand stretched over a cane frame and fused into position.  The material qualities of the marine plant vary, but the wonderful warm colours, and textures are inviting to the touch.  The lampshades created from crinoline rattan cages covered in seaweed that has been cut with a delicate filigree cast a gentle glow.  During her current residency at the V&A, Julia is able to compare seaweed’s qualities of colour, texture, tensile strength, malleability and stability with other materials  and artefacts in the V& A’s collection, and analogies in creative and technical processes used to turn materials into objects.

Julia currently imports the seaweed she is working with from Japan where it is cultivated on a commercial scale for the food industry.  The research process requires a consistent standard of material in order to replicate techniques, however Julia uses co-design processes to create her work, and is promoting open-design strategies to further share her research and work processes with craftsmen from other disciplines, and ultimately geographies.  So, in time Julia’s techniques could be shared with other seafaring communities to explore their craft heritage and techniques in this medium.  As I swim off the coast of the British Isles, I will look upon the seaweed fields swaying in the currents with a renewed appreciation next summer!  What a wonderful substance that slippery seaweed it.

There are further open studio sessions this week, and a seminar on Friday 20th September, as part of the London Design Festival.

kombu

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