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Shahar Livne wants to make people think and wonder

26 January 2021

Metamorphism ©Shahar Livne
It was the year of Shahar Livne, in a good way. The 2017 Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE) graduate, specialised in conceptual material-based design, won the Emerging Designer of the Year 2020 Dezeen Award and the ECO Coin Award by Next Nature, showed in several international exhibitions, and collaborated with the world-renowned haute couture brand Balenciaga.

“I want to make people think and wonder”

Shahar Livne
© Charlotte Kin

In a video call, Shahar Livne tells us more about herself, her work, and her design philosophy. The success did not come overnight. Shahar got her passion and fire for design when she was 20 years old: “I always did art, was a bit geeky and fascinated by design. I did a private course to create a portfolio for a programme at a design academy at home in Israel or abroad. While I was doing that, Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE) graduate Kiki van Eijk won an award in Israel and she gave a lecture. I went, and after the lecture, I knew ‘this is the school I want to go to’.” Shahar visited DAE and the school ended at the top of her list. “I loved the atmosphere. Everything was so conceptual and open-minded. I signed up and got accepted.”

© Ronald Smits

Researching materials

During her study, Shahar’s fascination for materials and researching them grew. “The last semester before graduation, I realised that my way of working always starts with materials. My focus was and is not necessarily on experimenting, although I like that, it is about researching. The geopolitics of it, the cultural aspects, the essence of materials. The last semester I did a project about plastic rocks that are forming, and I got the advice to continue this research for my graduation as well. That was a good call. After the Graduation Show, there was a big bang of attention. I got nominated for awards and journalists from all over the world wanted to write about my work. Since then, it has been an amazing journey.”

Plastic becoming part of geology

Currently, Shahar’s work Deep Time is on display at the Embassy of Rethinking Plastic by Yksi Expo in Eindhoven, which is part of the Dutch Design Foundation programme World Design Embassies. “The idea of rethinking plastics resonates with me. At Yksi Expo, it is all about pushing the boundaries of material design and that is exactly what I want to do. I can show my philosophical point of view, among others. What you see of my work at Yksi Expo is only one part of a bigger installation. It was commissioned by the director of Design Miami/Basel 2019. Deep Time is a term from geology. Geological time is so slow we cannot see the processes with our own eyes. It is a prototype of a clock that does not work according to human time. The idea is that, in geological processes, plastic is becoming part of geology and becoming a new material in the metabolism of the earth. It is such a slow process that it makes us humble. Humans know plastic has an impact, but the earth does not give a fuck about us. We are just visitors for a second. It is not like ‘we are here, the earth does not give a fuck, let’s pollute and do whatever we want’. It is about understanding there are bigger forces than us that we need to respect.”

Nature takes over

In the various projects Shahar works on, she wants people to think about their roles and choices. “I think my work can influence a lot of people. It makes them wonder. For GEO Design, I research what happens to toxic places. For example, Chernobyl: the moment the humans were gone, nature took over. Although it is highly radioactive, nature still goes on. It will always find a way. As a fellow of Next Nature Network, I am inspired by Koert van Mensvoort and his vision on how humans are part of nature. The idea of a bird building a nest is perceived as natural, but humans creating plastic is not natural. We are still natural. What we do is also part of nature.”

Blood leather
© Shahar Livne

Blood, collagen and milk fibres

Shahar is not afraid to choose controversial materials to work with. The project The Meat Factory is a series of material experiments with the aim to work with the ‘whole beast’, investigating and inspired by the days when animals were killed every single part was used as the entire beast was valuable. “When we are already doing the killing do not be wasteful about it. Again, I want to make people think and wonder. People who eat meat are appalled by The Meat Factory and that I work with blood. I’m curious about the psychology behind those reactions and want to investigate it more.” Shahar is also working on a project with animal by-products and leftovers with the Textile Lab of the Textile Museum in Tilburg. “The core idea is that we are using living organisms as products. Living organisms become non-living things the moment we deconstruct them. The result is going to be a tapestry work, made of materials like milk fibres, calfskin collagen, or shrimp shells.”

What do we leave behind?

Are you ever curious about what impact your work will have on the planet when we are long gone? “When you work in the field of speculative design like me, you can either create science fiction or you can also base it on processes you already work with and expand them. That is what I do. I will not be able to check what it is going to be like in a thousand years, but that also makes it fun and gives complete creative freedom in my designs. What do we leave behind? This is an interesting question, whether we get to see it or not.”