Designers at New York exhibition showcase "poetic responses" to mass extraction

Works by Fernando Laposse, Paul Cocksedge and Studio Raw Material were among those shown as part of New York gallery Friedman Benda’s group exhibition highlighting sustainable approaches to design.

Called Under Present Conditions, the show included collectible designs by 11 established and emerging talents from around the world, whose work deals in both social and environmental sustainability; overconsumption and the overexploitation of resources.

“Central to the exhibition is the exploration of materials, as opposed to mass processes of industrialization and extraction,” said Friedman Benda.

“The works presented are personal expressions of and, in some cases, poetic responses to the conditions that we live under. Recycling, upcycling, and reimagining the life cycle of materials are crucial themes.”

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Under Present Conditions was an exhibition showcasing sustainable design at Friedman Benda

Many works included reused materials to change perceptions about waste objects, including a chair made with recycled cardboard by British designer Max Lamb.

Burkinabé designer Hamed Ouattara addressed the issue of waste – as well as the impact of unidirectional global consumption – by repurposing oil drums for a cabinet called Tombouctou II.

According to the gallery, designers also utilised digital technology to develop new processes and identify previously undiscovered material properties.

With the Remolten N1: Monolita Low Chair 15 project, Chilean studio GT2P used both digital tools and handicraft techniques when turning hardened volcanic lava into furniture.

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It featured material exploration and conceptual works such as Paul Cocksedges wall hanging made from coal (pictured left)

In a similar approach, British designer Paul Cocksedge showcased a wall hanging made completely of coal blocks, which, if burned would take 20 trees a year to offset naturally, presenting a conceptual angle to help visualise carbon usage.

Bringing awareness to the over-extraction of minerals, Israeli designer Erez Nevi Pana dipped wire-structured shapes into the Dead Sea, allowing salt to crystalize around the forms. The pieces are meant to showcase the potential for positive interactions between industrial objects and natural ones, according to the designer.

Other designers used natural processes at one or more stages of construction.

With Cocoon Cabinet #2, French-born designer Marlène Huissoud put multiple silkworks on a base shape and let them form their cocoons together, which created a new solid material they left behind when becoming butterflies.

UK-based Studio Grown combined the natural contour of willow tree branches into the shape of The Goodall Chair, bypassing the need for energy-consumption machinery and reducing waste.

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Hamed Ouattara designed a cabinet from oil drums (pictured right)

A few projects explored the social aspects of sustainability, by highlighting the impact of the extraction on certain communities.

Mexican designer Fernando Laposse’s showcased the Branch Joinery System, a modular shelving system made only from the pruned branches of avocados, which would usually be waste.

Laposse is known for his Conflict Avocados project, which was presented as part of Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria’s Triennial exhibition in 2023 and 2024, and raised awareness about the harmful impact avocado farming has had on communities in Michoacán, Mexico.

“For much of my career, I’ve dug deeply into understanding why traditional farmers in Mexico cannot make a living out of the crops they grow,” said Laposse.

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Erez Nevi Pana dipped wire structures in the Dead Sea and let salt crystals create chair-like forms (pictured centre)

“Collectively, these practices represent the field’s panoply of reflections on the circumstances we all share,” said Friedman Benda.

“By seeing how leading designers, consciously or not, approach these themes, we see how material itself tells the story of its own surroundings.”

Other designers in the show included Fernando and Humberto Campana, Joris Laarman and Christien Meindertsma.

The photography is by Izzy Leung.

The Under Present Condition exhibition is on view from 2 May to 15 June at Friedman Benda. For more architecture and design exhibitions visit Dezeen Events Guide.

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