are an ever growing international collection of designers focussed in their practices on building a sustainable future into the products they create - transforming perceptions of waste materials and the way we use things in the process

Mark Vaarwerk

We would like to introduce you to supercycler Mark Vaarwerk. Mark is also a part of the Other Hemisphere exhibition in Milan, where he has expanded on his amazing jewellery to experiment with usable objects; bowls and vessels. So while half of the supercycling team are in Milan we thought it appropriate to post about Mark and his work. Also Mark is the very definition of a supercycler so if we lose the plot as time goes by and incorporate a wider and wider criteria into the supercycling universe, at least we started out well defined!

Here's why he is such a Supercycler: It is a complete surprise to find that his objects and jewellery have been derived from materials that we throw out every day and consider to be "ugly". His alchemical processes turn this debris into covetable objects that girls like us who have VERY narrow jewellery taste (ie hardly ever wear any) desire very much to wear. and eat. though this is obviously not advisable - check this out:

This brooch is called Wella Whirl, and as the name suggests is made from the Wella Balsam plastic shampoo bottle. Once you know this it is possible to recall the bottle as you have seen it on the supermarket or pharmacy shelf, the colours the only evidence of it's former life - but just how Mark got it to look this swirly way is a beautiful mystery.

Supercyclers: Mark, What is it that inspires you?

Mark: My biggest inspiration is the natural world and my work is often inspired by simple natural shapes and geometry. Also, the world of science and technology seems nearly magical and this is something that I like to explore and try to understand and make useful in my craft.

SC: Where do you find your materials?

Most of the plastics I use are materials that have already been - or would otherwise be - thrown out, like packaging and anything disposable. Friends and family will donate materials, knowing that I may be able to one day make something out of them. Expanded polystyrene, a material I have used for my most recent work, I have collected in the form of used food boxes (for example the big white boxes you might get broccoli in) and they are easy to find spilling out of peoples wheelie bins (especially out the back of restaurants).

What is the process you use to shrink the polystyrene and how did you discover this process originally?

When I first developed this process I was doing a small research project on transforming throwaway plastics. I began by reading about the physical and chemical properties of different plastics, to try to understand how and why plastics behave they way they do, and how they can be made and manipulated.

With this information I then began experimenting with ways to transform easily accessible plastic materials in different ways. It was basically a process of trial and error, of observing the various results of different experiments and refining those that seemed useful - with the ultimate goal of making jewellery in mind. The technique I use to shrink expanded polystyrene was one result of these experiments.

The polystyrene is placed in an airtight container, which is slowly filled with acetone vapor. The acetone acts as a solvent on the polystyrene, softening the plastic and gradually deflating the polystyrene beads that make up this material. It eventually shrinks to around half or one third its original size.

What is the process you use to create the plastic bag and plastic bottle works

The plastic bags are either hand spun with a drop spindle to make necklaces, or fused with heat to make rings or brooches. In the case of plastic bottles (generally polyethylene bottles - for example milk and shampoo bottles, tomato sauce bottles, some yoghurt containers, etc) I have fused to make rings, brooches and bracelets. To make a ring i would cut the bottle into strips the width I would like the ring to be and then wind it firmly around a metal rod the same diameter I would like the inside of the ring to be. Aluminum foil is then wrapped around it to hold the layers in place and it is gently heated through in a kiln. once it cools again the aluminum foil is removed, the plastic is tapped off the rod and trimmed into shape and finally the surface is sanded and polished to make it shiny.

Is what you do toxic?

Yes. Any vapors made when working with plastics can be harmful and the health risks need to be seriously considered and researched in relation to the specific plastics and processes you are using before beginning... however, if I am not doing it then it is going to be dealt with somewhere, probably on a larger scale.

We think this is so very true - A big part of the supercycling ethos is one of re-self-empowerment (sorry that is such a clumsy made up word - but it does the job) The notion of having someone else deal with our mess/rubbish/waste has become so natural to us that we think that it is someone else's problem to solve. But it's our own, and we only really need to do a little to help the situation - being mindful of our own waste and what we are doing with it is actually easy - there is no rule against taking these matters into our own hands, though not all of us will do it so eloquently and with such wit as Mark does.

The first image and this one, are the bowls Mark made for The Other Hemisphere in Milan. They are unexpanded polystyrene works with glazes like melted computer keyboard or (as in the below-very right hand piece) - a brooch Mark made me to wear at the show - the pigment of cigarette filter.

Mark Vaarwerk - supercycler