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DDW Trend: Reconciliation with nature

19 October 2020

©Project Habitate
The Anthropocene Epoch is an unavoidable theme for designers. Man and earth are, after all, inextricably linked. On an ever increasing scale, the destructive attitude of man contrasts with caring nature.

Thijs Biersteker holds this confrontational mirror in front of us. After all, natural disasters no longer automatically mean exploding nuclear power plants or sinking oil tankers. The lack of responsibility manifests itself not only in the whole of mankind but also at individual level. The impact of just one cigarette butt is enough to pollute 50 litres of sea or groundwater.
Biersteker himself has constructed an ingenious system of transparent tubes in which exactly 50 litres of water is pumped around. In the centre of the installation Pollutive Ends a cigarette butt has been adhered that pollutes the water. The more people watch this, the faster the installation starts pumping and the dirtier the water becomes. As though this installation has become a living organism in itself. For this work, Biersteker was deservedly nominated for a Dutch Design Award in the Service & Systems category.

Can we stem the tide? In addition to a better insight into the impact of our behaviour on nature, a better understanding of nature itself is also essential. The world, unfathomable as it is, still holds a large number of secrets for us. Designers unravel these complex ecosystems, at times as blatantly visible as the changes between ebb and flow. On the other hand, they can be as invisible as a virus jumping from bats to humans. And sometimes they are simply incomprehensible. For instance, the fact that trees communicate. Via an underground network of fungal threads, they communicate to each other where flowing water can be found or where there are toxic substances in the soil.

Forester - In forest with tools
© ©Design by Romy Snijders | Model Fleur Snijders

With her installation Symbiotic Futures, Romy Snijder visualises this subterranean root life. An installation of sounds and light images bouncing between trees, resembling lines of communication. This enchanting project is part of the Bio Art Lab and shows in an ingenious way how trees communicate. Bio Art Lab is a campus located in the woods around Eindhoven where artists, designers and scientists can experiment with innovative applications of chemical processes and living matter such as microbes, fungi and plants.

Dear Microbes
© ©Zhi-Han Huang

We must learn to live in symbiosis with nature. Designers show us the way. Why, for example, shouldn't we be able to dominate microorganisms and even raise them as pets: that is the radical hypothesis of the graduation project Microbe-Mate of Mark Wang from the Design Academy Eindhoven. This sounds stranger than it actually is. After all, pets were kept as far back as the Mesolithic, more than 10,000 years ago. Today we can - albeit on a very primitive level, but still - communicate with some animals. We can even manipulate them, from dog breeds to genetically modified cocktail shrimps. Wouldn't it be great if we could also do this with microorganisms? In any case, we need them for our digestion and a healthy skin growth, for instance.

Project Habitate
© ©Project Habitate

After a reconciliation with even the smallest, near invisible elements of nature, we will finally come to realise that we have to care for nature. Just as we ourselves can make a small start in looking after nature - no careless tossing of cigarette butts or, even better: quit smoking - just saving one species is sometimes more than worth it. Project Habitate is a graduate collective of the Royal College of Art in London which focuses exclusively on the ash tree. 95% of all ash trees in Europe are under threat due to a tree disease. A natural growth of the ash tree population will take decades. During that time, hundreds of moss species, lichen and fungi will also loose their habitat and even risk extinction. For this reason, the London collective Habitate has developed a wearable that is worn on the body. This eco-gem mimics the bark structure, light level and pH value of the ash tree. Like a surrogate mother, we feed and protect a piece of nature this way with and on our own body. Getting closer to nature than this is well-nigh impossible.

Written by Jeroen Junte, editor-in-chief DesignDigger