WASTELAND series by Annelie Grimwade

Working on ceramics and glass in a multidisciplinary practice, Annelie Grimwade Olofsson explores the borderline between control and self-governed forms. In WASTELAND project, the Swedish designer questions material innovation and investigates the waste of industrial byproducts. This series of sculptures encapsulate toxic byproducts in porcelain, glaze, and glass, underlining the threats and potentials of waste materials.

The Beginning

Annelie Grimwade: It started with the initiation of a project in which I investigated the production of ceramic material, and its origin, on Bornholm in order to operate more locally. Bornholm has played an important role in the manufacture of ceramics in Denmark due to the large variation in natural resources in comparison with the rest of the country. But as industrialization and globalization grew, it could no longer compete economically with other manufacturers in other countries. Left is a landscape with remnants of the industry including buildings, mines, and piles of raw materials, which still characterize the landscape. To start with, I thought of local material as naturally occurring material in the surrounding environment. But after visiting the closed down industries, I started to see local materials in a new light and in a wider sense. In a landscape characterized by human activity, where the line between the artificial and natural world is blurred, it seems more relevant to try to locate overlooked industrial materials, i.e. by-products, which otherwise would end up in landfills or down the drain, quite literally, like stone dust and the waste from water treatment plants, as supposed to extracting even more precious raw materials. In a capitalist economy based on linear processes, each material has parallel wastefulness, and in a world of limited resources, we really should take advantage of what is already available to us or use more biodegradable alternatives.

The WASTELAND Project

Annelie Grimwade: The WASTELAND project is an evolving project which investigates the upcycling of industrial byproducts in the development of artifacts, exploring the borderline between artistic intention and materialistic innovation.

Annelie Grimwade: When initiating the research I looked at our infrastructure and what type of industries were supporting it and decided to focus on waste management, energy plants, machine factories, water treatment plants, and finally a company working with stone refinery. Eventually, I even began to look at what types of waste streams we had in the studio – collecting waste glaze materials and glass frits.

The Developing Process

Annelie Grimwade: It is a long and multifaceted process. To start with, I collect byproducts from industries, then I will make quite a primitive test with them to learn about their material properties like heat resistance, texture, and color. Secondly, I move on to mixing it with other materials, like clay or minerals suitable for glazing. Thirdly I will experiment with altering the melting points. And after that, I have all the information I need to start designing and making the final pieces. In a sense, working from what I know to what I don’t know. And despite the fact that I can produce hundreds of tests before making a final product, I still don’t know exactly what I will take out of the kiln. But that’s part of the beauty, trying to achieve something a human mind can engineer but not predict, something beyond human imagination.

The Main Challenges

Annelie Grimwade: I think the hardest thing is the constant balance between the self, the material, the process, and how to curate the information and produce a comprehensive or even fair depiction of the subject. I find it difficult to have a balanced dialogue, where I’m not losing myself to the overwhelming facts about waste. Garbage is, and always has been, an inevitable consequence of human existence, to “just” be the narrator in a minimal fraction of the whole thing, feels at times indifferent. But the truth is that waste is a topic that does not get the political highlight we desperately need. Then there are the technical difficulties in producing these objects. Since they aren’t traditionally used materials, there is no dictionary to guide me in the decision making, meaning that I don’t have any reliable technical source of information on how to treat these materials. And on top of that, they are technically complicated to pull off, firing things hanging or dispensed in the air – which is one of the reasons I make so many small tests before making any big and “final” piece.

Main Project Insights

Annelie Grimwade: I would say that the biggest insight that I have gotten through the Wasteland project is a more complete image of the correlation between industry, society, economy, and how it affects the environment, the climate and humanity in large. We are in desperate need of a new system, a sustainable society supported by a circular economy. One part of achieving the necessary changes is to alter the way we perceive our power as consumers. We have learned that the only way we can affect what corporations produce is by buying our way to a more sustainable future. Of course, this is totally wrong. The other thing is that people have been taught that recycling is an excuse to keep up consuming in the rate that we consume because industries will collect the waste, sort it out and make new products out of it. This is a complete lie. Most stuff ends up at the waste to energy plant, in a land fill or exported to developing countries, where they lack the necessary infrastructure and social security system to safely upcycle or dispose of, these waste materials. Pollution is a consequence of modern consumption, but it is not, and never was, shaped, driven, or designed to match consumer demand.

Interview with Annelie Grimwade |Photography Ida Bus.