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The Ugly Truth: Beautifully Told

Studio

Selfridges' Project Ocean, which aims to protect the world’s oceans, has beautifully come to life in the award-winning store's installation space. This year’s initiative, the fifth year with partner the Zoological Society of London, is about highlighting the dangers of single use plastic to the oceans and encouraging everyone to reduce, reuse and recycle. But far from a dry educational exhibition, the issue has been brought to life in the customary theatrical spirit expected from the Oxford Street flagship, famed for it’s spectacular window displays. And has seriously got us thinking in the process.

The Water Bar – a collaboration between Jane Withers and Arabeschi di Latte - offers a menu of water-based cocktails, filtered with charcoal and infused with spices, herbs and minerals, served from an elegant recycled glass terazzo bar top. There are rows of shelves holding an array of drinking vessels; from ancient to modern, subtly illustrating the aim of the installation – to imagine life without the plastic water bottle. A useful material that we’ve wantonly discarded and caused an environmental catastrophe of almost inconceivable proportions:

• 400 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year, only 10% is recycled
• 8 million tonnes of plastic is dumped in the ocean every year
• 90.7 trillion tonnes of plastic debris is floating in the ocean right now

The plastic is collected in giant floating ocean garbage patches, with the largest in the Pacific estimated to be twice the size of Texas. These masses of floating plastic debris, created by ocean currents called gyres, devastate marine life, with large pieces suffocating and killing wildlife directly and the micro-plastics entering the food chain and ultimately ending up inside of us.  The installation’s Gyrecraft, from Studio Swine and Andrew Friend, creates something beautiful out of this most ugly of truths. Their travels to the North Atlantic oceanic garbage patch are told through a projected film, and their art - a piece for each of the 5 gyres - is displayed alongside the machine used to create it. The expedition sees the designers use the Solar Extruder, a solar-powered 3D printer, to transform salvaged gyre plastic into workable material and recrafted into new artifacts that are a valuable resource to seafarers, as well as something beautiful to behold.

A captivating space with a provocative tone, Project Ocean subtly imparts its message: while you gaze and sip, you take in the information, history and geography, the cautionary and the hopeful and you look up at the five thousand hanging water bottles – the amount consumed in the UK in under 15 seconds – and realise the absolute devastating importance of the issue.

Selfridges is taking action by removing plastic bottles and bags from the store and installing water fountains to refill reusable bottles while you shop. It’s also stocking some of the most design conscious re-usable water vessels possible. Environmentally sound design can and should be beautiful. The cause also has got some serious advocates, with the likes of Pharell Williams’ co-designs with G-Star RAW, RAW for the Oceans, winning them first prize at the Cannes Product Design Grand Prix. Adidas has launched a prototype shoe with an upper made entirely from materials produced using ocean-salvaged plastic. And making products from recycled plastic doesn’t get much bigger than Will.i.am’s collaboration with Coca-Cola on a 3D printer that uses recycled PET bottles as input material to create new objects, gaining brand partnerships with Levi Strauss, Adidas and the NBA in the process. Many beauty companies are now banning plastic mircrobeads from their products and seriously thinking about their manufacturing processes, from content to packaging. As brand designers, it falls to us to think about the impacts of the products we design and put out into the world, and see this as business as usual. It’s about being ethical realists and viewing environmental considerations as a creative constraint that opens up opportunities rather than limits them. A big challenge, but one that we are, and have to be, up for.