Welcome to Wasteland presents projects by creative disciplines – including architects, industrial designers, furniture makers and researchers – exploring the use of waste materials, offering visitors an insight into how leading practitioners are approaching Australian waste issues, not just with a sense of obligation but as an opportunity of crisis.

Organised by Dale Hardiman and Tom Skeehan as Friends & Associates. This event was part of Melbourne Design Week 2019 and organised by NGV in collaboration with Creative Victoria. March 14-24.

The exhibition was also held at Nishi Gallery Canberra for Design Canberra Festival 14 October - 16 November 2019.


Liane Rossler & Kate Dunn

Materials: Oyster Shell Concrete

Pearler (ˈpɜːlə ) noun a person who dives for or trades in pearls Australian informal something impressive that shot was a real pearler adjective Australian informal excellent; pleasing

Wild oysters have been a long time source of food in Australia, and shell deposits in Sydney middens have been carbon dated to around 10,000 BC. After continued growth, the Australian oyster industry now produces millions of oysters, and currently in NSW alone the annual production is 106 million oysters, with over 10,000 tonnes of oyster shells being sent to landfill annually.

Unlike some other waste products, mollusc shells do not decompose in landfills, and with 5 million tonnes of oysters being produced globally each year, there is opportunity to make use of this valuable and beautiful resource.

‘Pearler’ investigates how the waste material of oyster shells from the aquaculture industry can be incorporated into a useful and multi functional material.

Pearler. 2019. Oyster shell concrete. 40cm x 50cm.

Pearler. 2019. Oyster shell concrete. 40cm x 50cm.

Contributors include:

ACV Studio
Adam Cornish
Adam Markowitz & Apple Huang
Alterfact Studio
Basse Stittgen and Liam Fennessy
Breathe Architecture
Christopher Boots
Heidi Chaloupka
Sam Fuller and Jules Zaccak
Danny Ngo and Adam Goodrum
Ebony Heidenreich
Guy Keulemans with Kiyotaka Hashimoto
Hugh Altschwager
Jake Rollins
James Lemon
James Walsh
Jonathan Ben-Tovim
Kristen Wang
Liane Rossler & Kate Dunn
Maddison Ryder
Mark Richardson
Morgan Doty
Niklavs Rubenis
Halie Rubenis and Brett Lamb
Matt Lenz
Paul Mylecharane (Public Office)
Sarah Ceravolo
Studio Edwards
Thomas Coward & Nick Rennie
Tom Fereday
Ash Allen and Studio Kyss
Rachel Byron
Ryan Robinette and Tom Skeehan
(U-P) Paul Fuog
Uriah Gray
Will Neill
Leannue Gu
Vert Design
Vert Design and Spark & Burnish


Notes on the idea of a wasteland.

The origin of the English word ‘waste’ derives from the Latin vastus, meaning ‘uncultivated’ or ‘unoccupied’. As in the title of this exhibition, this meaning proposes the idea of a land. In particular, a land’s potential for cultivation. But uncultivated also means lacking in culture. I can easily say that contemporary attitudes concerning waste – the flippancy with which waste is created – are uncultured. In fact, they are barbaric.

In a sense, the term “waste culture” might be oxymoronic: civilized cultures don’t make waste, they unmake it. Civilised unmaking waste cultures are sometimes esteemed; the Shinto practice of reusing the leftover timber from the continual rebuilding of the Ise shrine – to repair older shrines all around Japan – is a notable example. Conversely, the civil culture of the Zabbaleen, the informal waste pickers of Cairo, suffer from a lack of esteem.

Meticulous in their systems of sorting and recycling domestic waste for family profit , the Zabbaleen are not exactly reviled, but not exactly revered either. Government-led corporate moves to take over their informal systems this decade has thrown their city into chaos. Cairo’s household waste now increasingly goes to landfill or incineration, when it isn’t just left to rot on the street.

The modern disposition to create, burn or bury then forget waste contrasts to the aspirational sense of the Latin word vastus, in which the land lacks cultivation, but possesses potential for it. The farmer should occupy, till and harvest the land.The designers in this exhibition occupy and tend to the wasteland razed by the barbarism of others.

But who are these others? Waste is a common problem, because it is shared by all of us, but in our current ideological climate it also proposed to have a common cause in that the masses create waste from unsustainable consumption. This is a neoliberal argument that if society doesn’t want waste, the market, representing us all, wouldn’t consume wasteful products. This argument is a ploy mitigating the responsibility of producers. The argument’s first flaw is the assumption that markets have some kind of moral intelligence. The second flaw is ignoring information asymmetry, being the difference between that which can be known by consumers and that which can be known by producers. Individually, consumers cannot possibly know all the potential harms of their consumption choices, because there are too many products that any one person consumes. There is simply too much information for any one person to know. Conversely, for manufacturers, with their human resources, motivation and management capacities, knowing everything about their products is typical business.. Designers too tend to know, want to know, and need to know every small detail about the stuff they make. Durability, obsolescence, efficiency of material, cost of energy and potential for recycling are all matters of concern.

The act of making wasteful products is negligence, a failure of designers and manufacturers to sustain their field. I propose that more ethical designers step into that field and onto that land, to cultivate and claim ownership. This leads to another curious, technical definition of the word ‘waste’, as a term of law: the cause of action brought by the owner of a future interest in a property against the current owner of that property, to prevent the current owner from degrading that property intentionally or through neglect. To replace the word “property” with “earth” in that definition is to see how the “owner of a future interest” could refer to emerging generations increasingly frustrated with exploitation of planetary resources by the monied and empowered.

This speaks to the inherent political and activist potential of design. Designers must break into the house, through the windows in the kitchen, to occupy and take custody of the wasteland, our earth. It shouldn’t be that designers are casually expected to transform the refuse of back to use without question. Rather, the process of working with waste hones the sensibility for materials so that designers can discern good and bad forms of waste. That is, to know the materials with good potentials for repair, reuse or recycling, and those without. With this sensibility they can turn back to industry (which is to say, turn to their fellow designers) and proclaim: this is shit waste, your product is shit. Stop, and do better.

Guy Keulemans is a designer, repair artist and researcher at the University of New South Wales.

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