Episodes

  • Phoebe Cummings is a Stafford-based artist working in clay. Importantly, she uses the material in its raw form – so unfired and unglazed – for sculptures that are usually site specific. Inspired by nature (either real or imagined), her pieces are ornate, fragile and, often, decay over time – giving them a wistful dynamism. The writer, Imogen Greenhalgh, has described them rather lyrically as ‘holding bays for her thoughts and ideas’. This is clay as performance art but, perhaps most importantly, in her hands, the material becomes extremely beautiful. 

    Phoebe was the winner of the British Ceramics Biennial Award in 2011, picked up the Woman’s Hour Craft Prize in 2017 for a fountain entitled Triumph of the Immaterial, and was a finalist for the Arts Foundation 25th anniversary awards in 2018. 

    She’s had exhibitions at the Museum of Arts & Design in New York, a solo show at the University of Hawaii and residencies at Camden Arts Centre and the V&A, among other places. 

    In this episode we talk about: the relationship between clay and writing; finding solace in poetry during lockdown; her love of sci-fi and the importance of nature; how permanence is overrated; and why declaring herself bankrupt in her early twenties changed her work for the better. 

    It’s quietly mesmerising stuff.

    Learn more about Phoebe's work here

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  • Tomáš Libertíny is an artist and designer, who was born in Slovakia but currently lives and works in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. He burst into the wider consciousness with his Honeycomb Vase during Milan’s Design Week in 2007. For the extraordinary piece, Libertíny constructed vase-shaped beehive scaffolds and, essentially, let nature take its course, in a process he dubbed ‘slow prototyping’. The beeswax work took one week, and approximately 40,000 bees, to create. It is now in MoMA’s permanent collection in New York. 

    Since then, the designer has worked with a range of other materials, including paper, which he turned on a lathe, ink from Bic biros, and hand-welded layers of stainless steel, as well as refining the Made by Bees series. 

    He has had major solo exhibitions in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Brussels, while his pieces are in the permanent collections of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Corning Museum of Glass and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, to name just a handful.

    In this episode we discuss: becoming a chat show host over lockdown; his love of literature; the importance of copying; and how exactly art is like a cat (while design is much more like a dog). But mostly we talk about his relationship with bees – why he came to work with them in the first place, and how they are about to collaborate on architectural-scale projects. 

    Find out more about Tomáš here 

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  • Peter Marigold is a London-based product designer who originally studied sculpture at Central St Martins before changing tack and enrolling at the Royal College of Art in 2004. Since then he has created gallery pieces for the likes of Libby Sellers and, more recently, Sarah Myerscough, had furniture and shelving manufactured by SCP and others, as well as creating a porcelain collection for Meissen. 

    Best known for his use of wood, in 2015 he launched a new product FORMcard, essentially a small piece of bio-plastic which can be heated and then moulded, allowing users to mend their own products. 

    His work has been exhibited at New York’s MoMA, Design Miami, Design Museum Holon, the V&A, and the Design Museum in London. He has also created commissions for the likes of Paul Smith, Bloomberg  and The Museum of Childhood. 

    And if that wasn’t enough, he teaches design at London Metropolitan University. 

    In this episode we talk about: his issues with passive consumption and sustainability; his collecting habit; why he has an odd relationship with wood; his problem with art; and the joy of keeping a pet giant snail. 

    Perhaps most importantly, we discuss FORMcard, and how it can be used to ‘make, fix and modify the world around us’. 

    Learn more about Peter here

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  • Polly Morgan is an artist who has been hugely responsible for the recent revival of interest in taxidermy, an art form more readily associated with the Victorians, hunting trophies, and dusty bell jars. The one-time English Literature graduate and bar manager has set about upsetting those traditions, creating dark, but alluring, pieces that often place her creatures in disorientating environments. 

    In her hands, a prone, and obviously lifeless, bird dangles from a string attached to a single red balloon; a white rat can be found filling a champagne glass; and a stag’s belly is filled with tiny bats. As one critic wrote: ‘These animals are not restored to life, but so to speak, resuscitated into their deaths.’ 

    Her latest show, entitled How to Behave at Home, opened at London’s Bomb Factory Art Foundation on 14 October 2020 and features snakes which spill out of cast concrete and polystyrene containers. Perhaps signalling a few direction. 

    In this episode we talk about: how local nail bars played a vital role in her new pieces; dealing with artist’s block and why she fell out of love with her own work; growing up in the Cotswolds and not going to art school; learning the craft of taxidermy; and being her own worst critic. 

    Learn more about Polly at: pollymorgan.co.uk

    And learn more about me at: grantondesign.com

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  • Sean Sutcliffe co-founded high-end furniture maker, Benchmark, with the late Sir Terence Conran in the early ’80s, when he was fresh out of Parnham College. Initially, he produced work for The Conran Shop, Heals and Habitat, before helping Terence change the face of the London restaurant scene by creating furniture and fittings for Bibendum and Quaglino’s. 

    Subsequently, Benchmark has gone on to do commissions for the likes of the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum, the Eden Project, Vodafone’s world headquarters, and The Gherkin (or 30 St Mary Axe) to name just a few. Sutcliffe has also collaborated with the likes of Foster + Partners and David Rockwell and has just launched a new chair collection with the up-and-coming designer, Mac Collins. 

    Most recently, the company made all the pieces for the Connected project – organised by the American Hardwood Export Council and on show at the Design Museum until 14 October 2020 – which featured furniture made from designers such as, Thomas Heatherwick, Jaime Hayon, Maria Bruun and Ini Archibong, among others. 

    Starting with a team of three, the firm now employs 70 people. In other words, Sean has built a hugely successful business around skill, craft and, of course, wood.

    In this episode we talk about: his relationship with Sir Terence; how his love of timber began; studying at the legendary Parnham College under John Makepeace; finding the heart of a craftsman; the future of work; and the importance of apprenticeships.

    It’s searingly honest and really quite emotional. 

    Learn more about Benchmark at: benchmarkfurniture.com

    And learn more about me at: grantondesign.com 

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  • Natsai Audrey Chieza is a designer who has built an extraordinary career by working with bacteria. She grew up in Zimbabwe, before moving to the UK at the age of 17 and training as an architect at Edinburgh University. Subsequently though, she changed tack and completed her MA on the Material Futures course at London’s Central Saint Martins. 

    Now through her experimental studio, Faber Futures, she operates between biology, design and our wider society, working, for instance, with microorganisms to find new, ecologically-sound, processes for dying our clothes. 

    As one magazine put it: ‘For Chieza, designing with biology presents unique opportunities to address significant ecological challenges, squaring the circle of sustainable production and finite resources.’ 

    Her work has been exhibited in places such as the V&A, the London Design Museum, and the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation. She also has a wildly successful TED talk under her belt. More recently she has set up a multi-media storytelling platform with Ginkgo Bioworks, entitled Ferment TV, looking at the future of synthetic biology, Covid 19, Black Lives Matter and an array of other issues.

    In this episode we discuss: growing up in Zimbabwe; racism in the design world; changing the way we consume; learning to work with bacteria; and why our future is biological. It’s kind of eclectic but hugely important.

    Discover more about Natsai here.

    And you can find out more about me and sign up to my newsletter here.

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  • Julia Lohmann is a German-born designer who first came to prominence after graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2004 with a chandelier fashioned from 50 preserved sheep stomachs. She followed that up with a stool made by casting the inside of a dead calf and, perhaps most famously, with her Cow Bench – essentially a sculpture of a cow’s body covered, anatomically correctly, with an entire hide. Both beautiful and a bit disturbing, the pieces were created as provocations, to make us consider the provenance of the stuff we wear and sit on everyday. 

    However, more recently, she has become known for her research into kelp. In 2013, Julia set up the Department of Seaweed during a six-month residency at London’s V&A, which allowed her to start exploring the potential of this extraordinary material and she has been working with it ever since. 

    In this episode we discuss: how she came across kelp in the first instance; inventing her own form of craft; the future role of museums; the importance of dissonance in her work; doing a guerrilla exhibition at Tate Modern with maggots; and falling out (briefly) with one of the greats of contemporary design. 

    Julia is currently professor of contemporary design at Aalto University in Finland, and directs her eponymous design practice from Helsinki, so this interview was conducted over the internet.

    You can find out more about Julia’s work at: julialohmann.co.uk 

    And for more about me go to: grantondesign.com

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  • Esna Su is an artist and jewellery designer, who was brought up in Turkey, near the Syrian border, before arriving in London in 2003. 

    Since graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2015, she has developed a reputation for her extraordinary pieces that attempt to highlight the plight of refugees. Her wearable sculptures curve and bulge around the body, using traditional Turkish techniques of hasir, twining, needlework and crochet, as well as materials such as leather, cotton and paper rush.

    In her collection entitled The Burden I, for example, knitted vegetable tanned leather cord is moulded around some of her most cherished objects, leaving hollow shapes that in the artist’s words ‘contain memories and the loss of the past’. 

    It is stunning, deeply moving work that combines craft with protest and a deep-seated sense of empathy. As one writer put it: ‘Su actively seeks out both the horror and the beauty in her own cultural history as a way of unpicking contemporary issues surrounding cultural identities.’

    In this episode, we talk about growing up in Turkey and the culture shock of coming to London; how the Syrian war has changed her home city of Antioch; why her mother didn’t want her to weave; the importance of memory in her pieces; and how making helped her recover from the death of her brother. 

    It’s a delicate, and often, really quite touching interview. 

    To find out more about Esna and her work: www.esnasu.co.uk

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  • Dominic Wilcox is a London-based designer, artist and inventor. I first came across his work in 2002 when he created The War Bowl, in which he melted down plastic toy soldiers from a particular battle and turned them into, well, a bowl. Since then he has gone onto to create a singular space in the design world, with witty creations and drawings that are a combination of David Shrigley and Heath Robinson, with a dash of Vic and Bob thrown in to boot. 

    In Wilcox’s hands your shoes can tell you where to go, a crane comes out of a hat on top of your head and serves you breakfast, while your car is made of stained glass. Oh, and there are art exhibitions designed specifically for dogs. 

    But this isn’t whimsy. There is logic behind everything he does and a desire to turn the normal things around us into something interesting and surprising. To make life just a little bit better. 

    More recently, he has been turning his attention to schools, through the Little Inventors Project, which encourages children to use their creativity and come up with new ideas of their own. And this year he has published two books, Little Inventors go Green and Little Inventors in Space.

    In this episode he discusses the importance of creativity; how he comes up with his ideas; presenting at the United Nations; his fear of failure; and how he could have been an athletics champion.

    To find out more about Dominic's work: dominicwilcox.com

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  • The final episode of this special ‘lockdown’ series of Material Matters features Alexis Peskine. I came across the Paris-based artist’s work at last year’s 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair at London’s Somerset House and described it in a subsequent Instagram post as ‘breathtaking’. 

    Rather than using canvas, Peskine takes an earth and coffee-stained timber base. And instead of paint, he hammers nails at different heights, which are often tipped with gold leaf to form the features of a face. The resulting portraits of black subjects – or Power Figures – are large scale and immensely detailed while being both beautiful and haunting at the same time. They also possess a wonderful sense of topography. 

    The work talks about race, migration, deportation, with recent pieces paying tribute to migrants undertaking dangerous boat journeys from North Africa to Europe. It is utterly extraordinary.

    We talk about what the nails represent and his intricate process; his eclectic family background; why his talent for basketball took him to the US; and how black American culture effected his life. Perhaps most importantly we discuss the black experience and the blight of racism. ‘You make art about what touches you,’ he explains. ‘There are so many injustices to correct. It’s going to be a life struggle.’ 

    You can find out more about Alexis’ work here: www.octobergallery.co.uk

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  • In the fifth ‘lockdown special’ of Material Matters, I speak to the brilliant Lin Cheung. Lin is one of the world’s most intriguing jewellery designers, her output vacillating between installation pieces, work that contains political and social commentary, as well as high profile commissions, including the medals for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. 

    She picked up an Arts Foundation Award in 2001 and a Jerwood Contemporary Makers Award in 2008. In 2017 she was shortlisted for the Woman’s Hour Craft Prize, while in 2018 she won the prestigious Francoise van den Bosch Award. She is also a teacher on the jewellery course at Central Saint Martins. 

    As one critic said: ‘Lin’s work is a commentary on the human condition, a conveyer of the maker’s thoughts and feelings, a constant exploration into the meanings of jewellery.’

    Over the years she has worked in a range of materials but, at least to begin with, we chat about her most recent collections, which have been made from stone.

    During our interview Lin also touches on why jewellery matters and how it has the ability to comment on our hopes, beliefs and dreams; the background to her series of stone badges, entitled Delayed Reactions; the joy she finds in carving; and the relationship between ideas and materials. It’s delicate and rather lyrical stuff. 

    You can find out more about Lin’s work here: www.lincheung.co.uk

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  • The fourth ‘lockdown special’ episode of Material Matters features the excellent Fernando Laposse. The up-and-coming designer has made his name in recent years with his colourfully beautiful veneer, Totomoxtle, which is made from the husks of Mexican corn grown in the tiny village of Tonahuixtla. 

    The product was included in last year’s exhibition Food: Bigger than the Plate at the Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as being shortlisted for the London Design Museum’s Beazley Designs of the Year in 2018.

    In this episode the Paris-born but Mexican-bred designer talks about the background of this deeply personal project, which involves macro-economics (and Mexico’s controversial free trade agreement with the US and Canada); agricultural heritage; global food culture; old family friends and childhood summer holidays; as well as craft and, of course, corn. 

    Importantly it illustrates how design thinking can genuinely make a difference to an entire community, showing that traditional techniques and ways of living can still thrive in the globalised economy. 

    As Fernando says his work ‘is preoccupied with sustainability, the loss of biodiversity, community disenfranchisement and the politics of food’. It's fascinating stuff.

    You can find out more about Fernando and his work here: www.fernandolaposse.com

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  • The third 'lockdown special' of Material Matters features the radical knitter Freddie Robins. 

    The common perception of knitting is that it’s a gentle, mindful activity. A thing you can do quietly in front of the television to relax after a hard day. Well Robins’ work is the antithesis of all that. It’s frequently dark, and always provocative. Her subject matter encompasses death, loss, religion, depression and challenges the perceived hierarchy of the art and craft worlds. It is work meant for the gallery rather than to be worn at home and comes with titles such as ‘Bad Mother’ and ‘I’m so Bloody Sad’. Kaffe Fassett she ain’t.

    In this episode we discuss: the pivotal role her Godmother played in her childhood fascination with textiles; her loathing of conformity and the ‘danger of being ridden over by mediocrity’; her spell working in the fashion world; exploring the dark side through her work; having her pieces vandalised; and why knitting shouldn’t always be good for you. Not only that but we also chat about her appearance on Grand Designs with Kevin McCloud. So something for everybody I think. 

    You can find out more about Freddie’s here: freddierobins.com

    NB: Like all our lockdown episodes this has been recorded over the internet rather than in our guest’s studio. As a result the sound quality isn’t quite where we’d like it to be all the time. 

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  • The second ‘lockdown special’ episode of Material Matters features the excellent Sheridan Coakley. The entrepreneur cut his teeth as a modern furniture dealer before founding the iconic SCP – or Sheridan Coakley Products – in London’s Shoreditch during the mid-eighties. 

    The manufacturer and retailer burst onto the nascent British design scene with pieces by Jasper Morrison and Matthew Hilton. In 1991 it produced the latter’s Balzac armchair, which has gone on to become a bona fide classic. Over the years the roll call of designers Sheridan has worked with includes: Konstantin Grcic, James Irvine, Michael Marriott, Donna Wilson, Rachel Whiteread and Reiko Kaneko to name just a handful. He has legitimate claims to be considered one of the most influential figures in British design over the past 35 years. 

    In this episode we talk about his early days; swapping bubblegum cards with artist Eduardo Paolozzi; meeting Jasper Morrison for the first time (in quite surprising circumstances); setting up business in unfashionable east London; copying classics; the state of British design; and the future of retail. 

    You can find out more about SCP here: scp.co.uk

    (Please note this is a special episode made in really quite tricky circumstances, so the sound quality isn’t quite as good as normal.)



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  • This is the first special ‘lockdown’ edition of Material Matters. As regular listeners will be aware, we usually record our interviews in the studio or workshop of our guest but, because of the virus, this wasn’t able to happen.

    So instead this show was done over the internet with the brilliant Gareth Neal. The London-based designer and maker has exhibited pieces across the world and has work in the collections of the V&A and the Crafts Council. 

    Over the course of our chat, Gareth talks about his latest work in 3D printed sand; explains why designers should constantly be questioning themselves and their methods; and unpicks his eclectic collaborations with the likes of Orkney chair maker Kevin Gauld and cutting-edge architect, the late, great Zaha Hadid. 

    However, the real focus of our discussion is his lifelong relationship with timber – he illustrates how the material is both fascinating and frustrating in equal measure – and technology, with the self-confessed ‘gambler’ putting forward a case for why digital manufacturing should be considered a form of craft.

    You can find out more about Gareth’s work here: garethneal.co.uk 

    (Please note this is a special episode made in distinctly tricky circumstances, so the sound quality isn’t quite a good as normal.)

     

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  • Junko Mori is one of the world’s leading metal artists, who has work in the collections of The Goldsmiths’ Company, The British Museum and numerous others. The Japanese born blacksmith is renowned for her extraordinary work in mild steel or silver that aggregates hundreds of individually forged elements to create pieces that are often inspired by nature in general and cell division in particular. As she has said: ‘The uncontrollable beauty is the core of my concept.’ 

    We talk about growing up in her native Japan; how she ended up fixing boilers in Tokyo for a living; why she decided to move to the UK in the 1990s; the fundamental differences between the two cultures she has lived in; and how she learned English by going to the local pub. 

    Most importantly we talk about metal and the meditative qualities of forging – it’s a bit like jogging only better apparently.

    You can find out more about Junko’s work here: www.junkomori.com

    Meanwhile her pieces can be purchased here: adriansassoon.com

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  • It’s safe to say that ceramist Malene Hartmann Rasmussen is a one-off. I vividly remember first seeing one of her pieces in 2011. ‘If I Had a Heart I Could Love You’ was tucked away in a corner of an exhibition. 

    At its centre was a wood burning stove but instead of logs there were clay hearts sizzling in the fire. Phallic wooden stumps grew out of the walls, while on the floor a pair of ceramic snakes appeared to be taking a distinctly Machiavellian interest in a nearby squirrel. It was obviously profoundly influenced by the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm but also contained more than a hint of Pop Art as well as a dash of David Lynch’s seminal Twin Peaks.

    In this conversation we talk about how growing up in provincial Denmark, with a family that had more than its fair share of issues, effected her work; her love of traditional Nordic fairytales in general and trolls in particular; a life-long fascination with film; and why her dog Django features so prominently in her work. Primarily though was focus on her love of clay and how the material has changed her life. 

    You can find out more about Malene’s work here: malenehartmannrasmussen.com

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  • Car designer John Barnard is a Formula 1 legend. If motor sport is an orchestra of materials then John is its Simon Rattle. Over a garlanded career he worked for Ferrari (twice), Arrows and Prost. But his reputation was forged at McLaren, where he created the first car with a carbon fibre chassis. Lighter and safer, it won a lot of races too. 

    More recently he has been working on a range of carbon fibre furniture with Terence Woodgate for British manufacturer Established & Sons.

    In this episode we talk about quite how controversial it was to use carbon in the early ’80s, with other designers (and the media) believing that in a crash the new car would go up in a cloud of black dust. We also discuss his relationships with some of the biggest names in the sport, including Ron Dennis, Alain Prost and the great Enzo Ferrari; his childhood in North Wembley; the importance of beauty in what can be a brutal business; the profound effect the death of Ayrton Senna had on F1; his innate understanding of a vast range of materials; as well as how he got the nickname The Prince of Darkness. 

    You can find out more about John’s work for Established & Sons here: establishedandsons.com

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  • Daniel Charny is a design educator, curator and a creative consultant whose practice, From Now On, has worked with the likes of the Design Museum, developer U+I, and Heatherwick Studio. 

    However, he is arguably best known for co-founding Fixperts, an organisation which in the words of one writer ‘started out as a simple way of celebrating and clarifying the ingenuity and problem-solving power of design’. Since then though it has become rather more than that. 

    In this episode we talk about the importance of making and the ‘axis of care’ that runs the gamut from conservation to hacking; craft’s relationship with industry; his upbringing in Israel (and elsewhere); the time Ron Arad told him he was unemployable; and his surprise at the huge success his V&A exhibition, Power of Making, enjoyed. 

    Mostly though we focus on the success of Fixperts and why he wants everyone to be repairing things.

    You can find out more about From Now On here: fromnowon.co.uk and there’s more about Fixperts here: fixing.education/fixperts

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  • Shelley James is a globally renowned glass artist with a fascinating tale to tell. She was ensconced in the corporate branding world – working for the likes of Imagination and Landor – before an injury to her head, sustained in a bicycle accident, completely changed her life and perspective. After a six-year (yes, six-year) period of convalescence, she decided to leave the business world behind and study printmaking. However, after a trip to the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, she became smitten with the material and has set out to push its possibilities ever since. 

    Always looking to collaborate with new people from different disciplines, she has worked with surgeons at Bristol Eye Hospital, physicists at Imperial College, contemporary musicians and even Sir Roger Penrose, a mathematician and philosopher of science famed for (among other things) his research with Stephen Hawking. And she has managed all this despite only scraping an O Level in Maths. 

    Shelley also happens to be wonderfully articulate, which is handy for a podcast like this…

    You can learn more about Shelley’s work here: shelleyjames.co.uk

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