Research & rationale the informs the ambition for future professional practice: The reason I chose to take the Masters course directly after my degree is that, although I had gained a skillset and confidence within the world of product design, I was still unsure on who I wanted to be as a designer. Through undergoing my Masters, I found all my authentic design is rooted within empathy, the environment and my ethics in relation to my veganism. This is who ‘Ciara Hall’ is and what I want people to expect from my work and reflect in my professional practice.
Research & rationale that underpins your developing/resolved Design Methodology As I have mentioned, there is no one reason for why I choose to label myself a vegan, in fact I will probably give a different reason every time you ask. However, one large contributing factor is relates to how animals in the by-product industry are treated purely as a resource for material, the lack of compassion towards our fellow sentient beings and the belief that animal welfare is secondary to economic benefit. Overpopulation has become a huge issue. (7bil Oct ‘11. 8bil by ‘24, 9bil by ‘42.) Overpopulation leads to demand, demand leads to the need for ‘mass production’ (the manufacture of large quantities of standardized products, frequently utilizing assembly line technology.) There is nothing natural about mass, skinning, shearing, laying – whatever it may be – animals have become a part of industrialism. Workers are given less time, have less experience and can be paid on commission. Even animal by-product industries that have no need to harm the animal, such as shearing for wool we are seeing more and more mass farming, illnesses through improper tail docking, the need to docking from farming, cuts and wounds from shearing too fast and so on. The material the animal wears has become more valuable and important than the actual animal. This is something I want to address with my final piece, with the focus being on this very industry of ‘wool’ and of course sheep that are a huge contributor to the animal by-product industry through wool, sheepskin, lamb, mutton, lamb's wool etc.
In my vegan journey, I have found there are different types of vegan identities and I have identified as an environmentally conscious vegan in my personal life and, correspondingly, my design. Vegan and environmental morality go hand-in-hand. If you want natural furniture (for example wool-based), you must respect the natural world and not exploit or abuse the sentient beings that are just as entitled to this planet as ourselves. However, if you want ethical furniture, you must understand that the lifecycle of your products must replicate the lifecycle of nature. If it harms the planet, it will ultimately harm the inhabitants on that planet. Veganism is far more than just lentils and soy lattes; it is a lifestyle choice that should be reflected in all aspects of a person’s life, including their furniture.
If not wool – what then? So what am I ‘replacing’ for the wool? CORK. Cork is a material I have wanted to work with for a while but it also has an interesting narrative to it. Cork is comes from a cork tree but instead of cutting down the tree, the cork is instead stripped for harvesting. I really enjoy this narrative in comparison to the animal-by product industry and it reminded me of the plant-alternative to shearing. Animal welfare is not seen as essential for a wool– all they need is the material – not necessary a happy sheep. (sheep sheared 1-2 times a year, once every 9-13 years for cork (not considered mature till 25 years old)). Unlike a sheep, cork trees are not sentient (meaning they ‘feel’ no nerves etc.) and harvested with care and the intention to keep the tree alive and healthy.
Unlike my previous project, where I was trying to replicate the original material – this project is about the narrative behind the cork harvesting, the fantastic material properties of the ecological, plant-based material and the beautiful, natural aesthetic it can add to a product.
Last week I went down to London for the weekend and met up with Li from Deadgood. I met up with Li because I was initially considering the contract market, which might be strange to hear but I thought of supplying to vegan restaurants, cafes etc. However, after learning a little more about it and the limitations it can bring for what I want to achieve, eg. Low cost, cheap to make, mass produced etc. I realised that wasn’t the right route for me. He said that a lot more companies are becoming environmentally conscious but not quite where I am at, but that there was definitely a market for what I am trying to achieve. He thoroughly encouraged for what I attempting to achieve now in my final major that I should achieve the best representation of myself through this project. He said in university you have the most freedom to do almost exactly what you want with no compromises like you would if you were working for a business that had a budget and other barriers. My masters was used to express myself, which I agreed with and said that is what I felt I had gained the most from it. He suggested maybe taking things I do not agreed with and turning them on its head such as industrial processes. For the masters, my authenticity will out way the feasibility. The feasibility will come with experience.
I have also been in contact with Charles Cantrill Limited, a UK based manufactured and supplier of cork products and have tested out an offcut of a piece they sent. This piece is 17lb but I have ordered 14lb. I order a good amount of cork as today was the last day I could order from the suppliers as the Portuguese suppliers close for August and the next order would be mid-September. This is the first time cork has been used on the CNC router but as you can see it works beautifully achieving fillets as small as 2mm.
What do you intend to submit to demonstrate the development & resolution of your personal design practice, and the achievement of the agreed MA or MSc Learning Outcomes? I intend to submit a heavily cork-based piece or series of pieces of contemporary furniture with a clear vegan message as to why we should use alternative materials instead of animal ones. I want this project to challenge preconceptions in a non-graphic, subtle and sophisticated manner. The cork pieces to be sculptural to show the great material capabilities of a plant based material in addition to using wood for the stronger, structural aspects.
Does the ambition for your Final Major Project align more closely to the MA or MSc Learning outcomes? In some ways, my project is on the cusp with the materiality and manufacture of cork as an environmentally-friendly, plant-based alternative to an animal-based material. However, the vegan message I will be emulating within my design to demonstrate why we use these alternatives is closer to an MA. My contemporary furniture is made to challenge preconceptions of animal-based projects and ‘start conversations’ therefore the philosophy surrounding the project will be more suited for an MA.