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Art and Design in the Transition to a Low-Carbon Future

1 December 2022 at 4:30:00 am

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Session Convenors

Dr Geoff Isaac

Session Speakers

Michael Dickinson, University of Newcastle
Nahum McLean, University of Technology Sydney

This session examines the role of art and design in forming visions and guidelines for the transition to a low-carbon future. The role of creativity in guiding the direction of change and mapping a path toward a more sustainable future is widely acknowledged in transition management literature. Visionary paths toward plausible future alternatives provoke debate and provide guidance on system innovations, highlighting the technical, institutional, and behavioural problems that need resolving.

Graphic designers and product designers are inundated with manifestos, check lists, and tools to improve the sustainability credentials of their work. Artists and museum professionals too are under increasing pressure to consider the carbon impacts of their practice. Establishing protocols for instrumental change towards lower carbon emissions is essential for human industry, the world of art and design plays a powerful role demonstrating utopian and dystopian visions to guide that process.

This session asks us to rethink and reimagine what a low-carbon future looks like and how we can get there.

Plastic Visions: Design led transition to low carbon product design

Dr Geoff Isaac

Following the end of WWII plastics were welcomed into our homes, as the highly adaptable, inexpensive material was used to compensate for the ongoing scarcity of traditional feedstocks. Plastics won the Space Race and epitomised organic Space Age design. But as the colourful, glossy shinny surfaces began to fade and scratch our focus shifted to the materials that lay beneath. Mounting health and environmental concerns fed growing unease with our dependence on plastics.

Meanwhile, industry is investing to triple production of plastic by 2050. By that time there will be more plastic in the sea than fish. Plastic production will consume 15% of the available carbon budget. This industry led vision of our future is simply not compatible with global emissions targets. A more sustainable vision demands a radical rethink of our relationship with plastics. What role has design played in shifting cultural attitudes towards plastics? Can design shift the cultural reception afforded to recycle plastics and bioplastics? This paper argues that design must take a leading role in defining an alternative vision of our plastic future by promote alternatives to virgin fossil plastics.

Designing creative alternative future demonstrations

Dr Michael Dickinson, University of Newcastle

This presentation will examine the role of design in forming, directing and delivering an alternative low-carbon future. Key projects which have creatively presented the Centre for Organic Electronics research in public demonstration will be discussed. Two thin film solar demonstrations, one in Melbourne the other in Sydney will be used as examples. The influence creative public demonstration has on the direction of research and how these demonstrations can provoke and accelerate innovations in research will be presented.

Creative demonstrations of tangible visions of low carbon futures is the pathway to a low carbon future.

Material Kin: A study in critical bio-based design

Nahum McLean, University of Technology Sydney

Devasting bushfires and flooding have been ravaging the eastern and southern states of Australia since 2019. Living in Australia amidst climate breakdown demands we transition towards regenerative and sustainable material systems, but the challenge posed to designers is how do we design without extractive and exploitative processes? This paper responds to this context and outlines the development of a novel cellulose-based foam and the design of a bio-based floatation device. Intended to trouble the distinction between a product and a critical design object, it provides buoyancy, but also prompts those who encounter and use it to imagine a post petrochemical materials world. Both the novel cellulose material and the floatation device have been created within a relational ontology framework that promotes kinship between materials and myself as a designer. Becoming kin with materials is a way of staying with the trouble (Haraway, 2016) of climate breakdown and to continue the ongoing working with kin to fashion a recuperation of earth. This paper will analyse the floatation device as a critical design object and as a tool for demonstrating how bio-based materials can imagine a future where materials understood as kin, are considered vital, and have agency in the world.



Dr Geoff Isaac 

Dr Geoff Isaac recently gained his PhD from the University of Technology Sydney. His doctoral project tracing the eighty-year history of the plastic chair focused on how designers are responding to the environmental crisis by using recycled plastics and bioplastics and experimenting with new manufacturing techniques to minimise the use of materials. This work identified the barriers and enablers to promote the adoption of more environmentally friendly solutions by creators and makers when working with plastics. Geoff is also the author of a monograph on Australia’s most famous mid-century designer Grant Featherston published by Thames & Hudson, in 2017. 

Dr Michael Dickinson, University of Newcastle 

Dr Michael Dickinson is a design researcher at the Centre for Organic Electronics at the University of Newcastle Australia. His research centres on the relationship between design practice and design theory. He has conducted research in the areas of product design, glass materials processing, design for robotics, and the theoretical principles underpinning design. He has secured funding for research projects, including an ARC research grant for the development of photovoltaic energy-converting roof tiles. The aims of this project were two-fold; first to render theoretical ideas into testable principles, and second to creatively transform ideas into realisable outcomes and commercial opportunities. 

Nahum McLean, University of Technology Sydney 

Nahum McLean is practice based researcher exploring material kinship with biobased materials. Nahum has worked for some of the leading Australian fashion houses as a drape based designer and patternmaker. His knowledge of materiality, fabric handle and drape has equipped him to evaluate sustainable materials and imagine potential uses for these materials.

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