Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Open your eyes to reuse

Nick Page founded Fe26 after studying sculpture at Bath Academy of Arts and later a masters degree at Manchester Metropolitan University. Nick currently works from his studio in central Manchester on exciting projects which are dedicated to reusing salvaged materials in innovative and interesting ways. Nick said, "Initially when I started out making sculpture, salvage was a practical and cheap source of materials. For instance for the larger carvings I would use storm or lightning felled trees - the land owners would generally be happy for me to take them for free to clear the space. It also enabled me to answer the question about the ethics of using such a large quantity of natural resource with a clear conscience. Where I needed steel, I would use car panels and things like that.

From those initially pragmatic reasons, I adopted the use of salvage on a more conscious basis. I remember seeing how quickly a whole valley near Bristol that had been designated for landfill filled up. It made me realise that we need to think before we discard something and consider whether it still has a useful life.

I think that the biggest benefit of reuse design is that every piece you see, is one (or more) less thing being put in a hole in the ground. The corallary to that is that it is potentially one less thing made in a sweatshop abroad and then shipped around the world. It's a simple way to reduce our carbon footprint.

Another reason for using salvaged materials is that they carry the marks of time and sometimes traces of the people that last worked or used them. Non-ferrous metals for instance often have a beautiful patina of greens and ochres due to oxidisation over time. It gives things a 'one off' value. However, if you need to manufacture in multiples, this becomes a problem. In that case, sourcing materials suitable for reuse can add greatly to cost.

Nowadays, I source my salvage from a variety of places. I do keep an eye on some of the salvage yards, usually looking for the things that are one short step away from the skip. A good example is decorative architectural cast iron. Often it cannot be repaired for use in its original purpose because of inherent weakness. However, it provides a great basis for a new object, especially when combined with other materials. The plant stands, table and candlesticks are an example of this.

Anywhere renovation work is going on is another good source. Copper boilers, timber and stonework can always be reworked into something useful. Copper is great for lighting because of the quality of light it gives. The warm quality of light used in mannerist paintings such as Caravaggio's was achieved using copper mirrors.

Other than that it's a question of keeping your eyes open and looking at things as they could be rather than what they are."

With so much scope to reuse materials it is interesting to question what Nick's method is for creating an object from start to finish and if the salvaged items dictate what he is going to make or if he starts with an idea and then sources materials for its purpose. "I suppose the answer is both" said Nick, "Sometimes I find some materials that look interesting and full of potential, but I may not be sure what exactly. Then I might come across something else a few months later and think - if I put that with the other, it'd make a great lamp, or table or whatever.

In other cases, the boiler lamps are a good example, I'll make one and then think copper boilers are readily available, so why not make a range of lamps?. The average boiler provides enough material for between three to five lamps. The domed top makes a good desk lamp and the main cylinder makes a great lampshade. Often they have a patina of verdi gris on the inside so I'll turn them inside out to make a feature of that.

The other thing that sometimes happens is that a client will come to me and say, 'I've got such and such. It's useless but I really like the look of it. Can you make it into something useful or decorative?'.

A variation on that is when you get a trade customer. They may be refitting a bar for instance which has a particular theme maybe nautical or industrial. They'll come to me for a range of items, designed using salvaged materials that relate to the theme.

The benefit I have is that I'm equipped in my studio to work in a wide range of methods. This includes welding, carving, woodturning, joinery and general manipulation of stuff."

Nick's work is obviously inspired by predecessors who reused materials such as Duchamp's vitrine turned into 'Fountain' and Picasso's bull's head made from a bicycle saddle and handlebars. His work takes objects which are destined for landfill and breaths new life into them. "That's all a bit grand" said Nick "most of the time I get inspirations from the objects themselves. That's particularly true with carving large pieces of wood. Things like the grain, pockets of rot damage, the initial shape, any damage all suggest the final form. Sometimes a particular setting will inspire something to be put in it. I find that particularly so with outdoor settings. I think though, that the most honest answer to that is that inspiration comes from keeping your eyes and mind open and being receptive to it when it comes."

Nick brought a few pieces to last years Salvo fair where he managed to sneak a bit of space on the In Situ stand. Visitors were very interested in his work and it has given him the encouragement to broaden his scope, he is currently trying to build up stock so he can spread his work further afield.

Nick has noticed that his cliental are a mixed bunch; "Obviously what I do appeals to a particular kind of person, it's hardly mass market appeal. Generally though, I think the people who buy my work are those who want something unique, that appreciate the wit of the out-of-context objects. I also think that my clientelle, first and foremost are interested in the piece itself. I think the salvage aspect is secondary, although most do appreciate the salvage element and it does add value.

I've also noticed there's a slight difference between commercial and private clients. Commercial clients - let's say they're kitting out a bar - will tend to go for the pieces where the provenence is more obvious. They go for the instant 'got it' response. A lamp made from a sewing machine with the box as a lampshade for instance. Private clients are more like to prefer the pieces where there's more manipulation of the source material - more 'craft' or 'design' perhaps.

I believe the customers have a responsibility to question the provenance and sustainability of what they buy, and be prepared to pay more. After all, it's what the customer demands and rejects that determines what is made and sold and in what way.

By the same token, producers and manufacturers need to find solutions to the problems of manufacture and also to devise new business models to make this work. Obviously some markets are going to change quicker than others. It's possible that with the current climate, it is emerging economies with less entrenched practices that will provide new models to make this work."

Above: Salvaged Victorian Gothic stairparts, the wooden steps and pots are from re-worked salvaged timber. Nick said, "They reminded me a bit of those Victorian 'ruin' follies that always seem to have greenery growing from between the stonework."

Salvo Recraft site

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