Literally starting with ‘zero’ – or rather the desire to explore immateriality and impermanence – Nadine Jarvis spent the final year of her BA design degree at Goldsmiths College in London experimenting with objects and materials that decompose over time and observing the emotional consequences of this degradation. The results of her studies – and her award-winning final degree collection – were a series of sombrely elegant receptacles for crematory ashes, of which Rest in Pieces and Bird Feeders were part.
Objectifying what is not there, or imperceptible to the eye, is a recurrent theme in Jarvis’ work. Born in London in 1982, Nadine Jarvis completed a foundation course at Chelsea College of Art before the concept-driven design degree where she developed other objects, including greeting cards, rings and radiator adornments that juxtapose the visible with the invisible and theories of solidity and temporality through design.
The ceramic urns and bird feeders redress conventional methods of commemorating the deceased, ultimately removing the responsibility of ash scattering by allowing external factors to decide when to lay someone to rest. Each Rest in Pieces ceramic urn, suspended on a perishable thread, will eventually fall to the ground – smashing the container and scattering the ashes to the wind, while leaving a permanent memorial behind. The Bird Feeders – made from either solid castings of bird food, beeswax and ash or rotationally moulded with the ash encased inside – encourage birds to either eat and naturally purge the ash or peck through the edible exterior and allow the ash to be released over a period of time.
Q. When did you first become aware of – and interested in – design?
A. I always had a very vivid imagination as a child and would imagine the chairs in the great hall at school as an army of four-legged creatures and convinced myself I could see them move if I stared for long and hard enough. My mind was always wandering during my academic lessons, dreaming up stories about the objects around me. Although I didn’t discover design as a subject until much later, it was clear from a young age that I would always pursue a creative career.
Q. Why did you decide to study design?
A. My foundation year at Chelsea offered me a chance to play more within fine art, life studies – painting. At the time I thought I would go into architecture, so foundation was twelve months of fun before what I thought would end up being seven years of study. Rather than consolidating my options, Art Foundation opened up a whole new world of exciting possibilities – I began to discover product, print, textiles… and I did not want to give them up! But I was drawn to the design degree at Goldsmiths because of its trans-disciplinary nature. The degree at Goldsmiths allowed me to continue to develop as a designer without restriction or making me categorise myself.
Q. What was the influence of your design education on your work?
A. My impressions of design changed once I moved back to London at age eighteen. Due to the nature of design education under the national curriculum I had previously really only learned to style – to reinvent existing design typologies. Given that my BA was so conceptual (50% theory) it forced me to re-evaluate the role of design. With an eco-bias Goldsmiths taught me to consider the purpose of my work, and to consider whether my objects should exist at all. This meant that everything I did had a lot of theory, research and careful consideration behind it.
Q. What were your design objectives as a student?
A. My objectives have changed many times throughout my education. In my final year of my degree my main objective was to challenge my design process. I wanted to shake up my developed ‘comfortable’ methodologies and instead to allow my concept and context to be defined by my materials experimentation.
Q. How have your objectives evolved since leaving Goldsmiths?
A. Since leaving my main objective is to continue to produce my own work – I intend to continue this current project... and will hopefully be designing more objects that commemorate death this year.
Q. Which of your early projects was most important in defining your approach to your work?
A. My approach to design is sensitive and observational, based on my own observations and those gathered from other people in my research. Although all my work has contributed to who I am as a designer today, a turning point was a short project I did to intervene with an existing space. I designed a series of bags that inflate with the hot air from a radiator. This is when I truly starting to play… the simplicity of the bags floating in the negative space, the magic of making the invisible visible and the poetry of how they danced as people walked by. The bags couldn’t survive without the heat from the radiator - this is when I first begun to develop an interest in temporality.
Q. How did the design of the Rest in Pieces and Birdfeeder projects develop?
A. I have always been fascinated with the life and death of objects... My work has always dealt my concerns about impermanence in materials, technology and people. Through my work I have investigated the relationship between person and object and the wonderful idiosyncrasies of human behavior.
The Rest in Pieces and Birdfeeder projects were a continuation of this interest and came from my research into the death of materials and concepts of nothingness. It developed as quite a ‘back-to-front’ project, I wanted materials to lead my project and so I started gathering interesting materials and experimented with them – watching them fall apart over time. I started to think about death in terms of grief, and how the degradation of materials could be used to aid that grief, and imagined how the deceased could be reincarnated through the design of memorial objects.
Q. How important is narrative to your work?
A. Death is something that everyone has to deal with and yet there aren’t many options for our treatment of the deceased, and certainly none are very challenging to our existing belief systems. There is also lack of thought for how the griever relates to the physical remains of their loved ones. I wanted to address these issues through my work. Death is a taboo – in fact it is one of the last taboos in Western society. I felt that death is sorely neglected as a subject for design. I also wanted to challenge our archaic traditions and to offer alternative ways of distributing ash.
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