Anticipation has been building for days now as component parts of Studio Swine’s machine are handed up through the fore-deck hatch for assembly – and then passed back down again as Petr Krejci the film-maker, strapped in at bizarre angles on the constantly shifting deck, takes and retakes each shot. Studio Swine, aka Super Wide Interdisciplinary New Explorers, aka Alex Groves and Azusa Murakami, are working on this occasion in conjunction with sculptor Andrew Friend. They are designer/artists with a unique and brilliant take on waste. A square aluminium frame emerges; then some chunks of orange plastic, a handful of orange and black twine, a matt black square edged funnel and an arresting, 3ft diameter golden dish, glinting and glowing and occasionally throwing out sudden blinding splinters of reflected sunlight. Assembled, it’s about 3ft high, the golden bowl suspended in the frame on plastic orange feet, all tied in with the twine. The black funnel perches on top, waiting to be filled with mounds of multi-coloured bits of plastic, collected in advance from a beleaguered Cornish beach.
Reconfiguring our conception – and use – of ‘waste’ is a theme running through Studio Swine’s work, which has seen them crafting chairs from aluminium cans in Brazil, and extraordinarily beautiful, tortoiseshell-like table-tops and other objects from human hair and bio-resin in China. They first became interested in ocean plastic after Alex heard a BBC Radio 4 programme about a previous Sea Dragon voyage from Brazil to South Africa through the South Atlantic gyre. On our current journey, as we lower the fish-mouthed trawls into the sea for the daily collection of plastic and plankton, we’re witnessing an intriguing, real-time intersection of science and art. The science we’re all helping with on board seeks evidence for whether plankton – about 860,000 of them per teaspoon of sea-water – are ingesting micro-particles of plastic waste. Studio Swine’s plan for plastic waste, taken from the same ocean, is to feed it into their golden machine, harness the power of the sun, melt and transform it into something useful, beautiful, or both. They describe it as a solar-powered extruder or a solar 3-d printer. Here on Sea Dragon the aim is a modest ball-shaped object but, in theory, the machine could produce almost anything.
The golden machine is arresting. It provokes questions. What? How? Why? It would possibly look more at home in a moon-landing scene than it initially does here on deck; though on second look there are nautical references, perhaps, in the spliced ropes or the satellite/radar dish shaped bowl. Judging by their previous work, the film that Studio Swine are making will be even more thought provoking than the strange and gleaming object with the starring role at its heart. As Alex puts it, ‘in truth, we don’t need more chairs or tables or plastic balls. But we do need more stories, more perspectives, new and different ways of seeing the world.’ And this is what they hope to convey: a shiny fragment of a new story, urgently needed; about the potential to re-envisage waste (as the UK’s Royal Society of Arts Great Recovery report puts it, ‘waste is design gone wrong’); about the power of sun and wind; about sustainable ways of making and living, recast from simply necessary, to necessary and exciting, intriguing, creative, alluring, fun. Above all, this kind of work holds other living beings and systems, and our impacts on them, vividly in mind from the outset – and eliminates the negative impacts as far as is humanly possible. Imagine if this were the norm. Imagine the shift from the current norm, where reducing our impacts on nature is so often relegated to a belated afterthought at the point at which we’re fishing plastic from an ocean or unwrapping it from river-bed tree roots or sieving it from the sand of an otherwise beautiful beach.
Info about Studio Swine’s work and their films ‘Sea Chair’, ‘Can City’ and ‘Hair Highway’ can be found here: www.studioswine.com