Mapei special

Shahar Livne: “Plastic will become a nostalgic material”

She is the designer of a new material called Lithoplast. Livne talks about her work, the future of plastic and the role of the designer in contemporary times.

Metamorphism is the mineralogical and structural adjustments of solid rocks to physical and chemical conditions differing from those under which the rocks originally formed. This is the process that Israeli designer Shahar Livne artificially emulates to create a new material that comes from plastic waste, called Lithoplast.

“First of all I find a material that interests me, I investigate it and I look for interesting connections or stories, to understand what are the ethical, political and cultural issues that it brings up” says Livne, who from her studies at the Design Academy in Eindhoven has enriched her design practice with her passion for the natural and human sciences.

“Fundamental to my research was the discovery of Plastiglomerates, naturally formed plastic rocks [discovered by Canadian artist Kelly Jazvac, ed]”. Her objects seem to be archaeological finds from another era, imagining a future in which plastic will be a scarce and precious material. Livne’s aim is to make us look at plastic from another perspective and ask questions about the relationship between man and material.

“We are coming to what has been defined as peak oil, which is a non-renewable resource, or which is renewed very slowly. This means that sooner or later we will no longer be able to produce and use plastic. There are already alternatives, but we are still far from achieving the performance of what sometimes seems like a magical material. We are not addicted to plastics, but we are relying on plastics.”

The designer exhibited her research at the Cooper Hewitt in New York on the occasion of the triennial entitled “Nature”, which, simultaneously to the 21st Milan Triennial curated by Paola Antonelli, tries to create a dialogue with a wide audience: “The difference between the two is that ‘Broken Nature’ shows the destructive forces that act on the planet, while offering optimistic solutions and creating a kind of invitation to action; at the Cooper Hewitt the works of the designers are exhibited as institutional criticism to Trump and its propaganda on climate change. However, I think they both have an important role to play at the moment.”

The designer’s task is no longer (only) to design new consumer objects, but it is also educational. “I don't think it is the duty of designers to save the world. We can’t generate big changes. This is in the hands of politicians. But like artists, we can invite the public to reflect on a particular theme and create new stimuli and tools for an understanding of an increasingly complex world.”

Finally, Livne suggested us some contemporary works that investigate alternative solutions to the use of plastic: “an important research is that of Atelier Luma, who develops an alternative material to plastic from algae. It is a project that starts from the specificities of the context and involves the local community, succeeding in having a local impact and a global relevance. Another project from a few years ago [2011] is Botanica by Formafantasma, but I am also thinking of all the work Adidas is doing in the world of fashion, in particular the collaboration with Stella McCartney.”

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