06 Oct #NewPerspective | Heath Nash: Repurposing Waste Materials
Scottish Leader, a whisky brand known for their singular richness, recently introduced a new look and reformulated recipe. Inspired by their tagline ‘A New Perspective’ we’re spotlighting five local creatives who embody this notion in their way of working; people who are re-inventing, re-looking and re-interpreting the everyday to question convention.
Heath Nash is passionate about creating beautifully designed and innovative products re-purposed from recycled and waste materials. From a young age he enjoyed making things and, with a background in sculpture, he uses his skills to transform discarded items into something useful. The latest turn in Heath’s career has him heading up the Maker Library Network in Cape Town (originally established by the Guild Design Fair in 2014) where he hosts workshops that focus on the idea of play and just letting things happen, while teaching others how to re-use waste materials in design – as he does so successfully in his own practice.
For eleven years you were known for converting what people would deem rubbish into beautifully designed products. You’re now involved in the Maker Library Network. Tell us about your creative journey so far…
I taught myself to use and experiment with cardboard and paper. The projects that developed at Michaelis, especially in my fourth year, were very much about experimenting and playing with paper and limiting myself to that. That is what I spoke about at Design Indaba; limiting oneself to relatively tight boundaries and exploring the possibilities within them. I used the skills I learnt at art school and applied them to plastic because it was more durable than paper. I have crate loads full of paper models I made back then. I eventually showed that work at the first Design Indaba Expo in 2004, where it was seen by an international buying audience – to them it didn’t look like an African product, it looked more Scandinavian or Japanese. That was when I started to explore ways to make a product that looked and felt South African. I started to look at wire, which is the most typical craft material in the country, and I began using plastic as an incredible resource rather than seeing it as rubbish.
You’ve mentioned that reusing as a design tool is under explored. Why do you think this is, and how could more designers incorporate this into their approach?
It’s actually happening so much nowadays, it’s definitely something that everyone does now – in one way or another. For instance, people are working with manufacturers who make wood panes and all the offcuts that come from there can be used as something else. It’s just about consciously thinking about waste from the beginning of the process.
Your original product range Other People’s Rubbish used die cut plastic, bottles and galvanized steel. What inspired you to work with these unconventional materials and how did they shape your current design philosophy?
I am very interested in purely exploring materials. If you explore something it presents opportunities and if you add to that, and add different people at the same time, even more opportunities arise – I’ve done that a lot. So now I need to focus on using my curating brain to pick out the things that are working, and then I need to push them to the next level. The materials I use shape my design philosophy entirely. It is sort of like a modernist thing, asking “What can this do?” Modernist architecture was about steel and cement and what that offered. The whole history of modernist art was about that as well.
What was your first “aha” moment during your creative journey that really set things in motion?
I had an intern recently and I had to do an interview with her, so this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. I won the British Council Creative Entrepreneur Award in 2006 and that was huge. I was just operating and making and doing in this Cape Town bubble and to get the option of meeting nine other practicing design entrepreneurs from developing countries in London for ten days, and being able to share my work with them, was an amazing opportunity. Much like attending my first London Design Festival, where I saw the quality of finished work that is expected in the design world.
Tell us about the artists and the kinds of people who come to the Maker Library, and how the process works.
In a way, it’s the idea of curating activities and people – choosing who to invite, what the activity will be, how to deal with everyone in the space and what books and objects to bring out and share along the way. When doing this, I engineer the process and the experience. It’s a lovely job to do. I have invited both professionals and non-professionals to the space. The recent bagel dough workshop was so fantastic, because I got really great people like Christina Bryer and Katherine Glenday in the same room as Andile Dyalvane and John Bauer to name but a few. It was a nice mix of people, pretty much all professional makers but also some people who are exceptionally skilled with something specific, like porcelain. Because porcelain and dough are similar, everyone really resonated with it – especially because we so seldom, as professional creatives, get to hang out and play with something like that.
What have been some of the triumphs and challenges to setting up the Maker Library?
The whole thing has been amazing. Both Johannesburg and Durban have one and there are three in Cape Town now. I think there will be one in Nigeria and Mexico City soon. The Network has been an incredible chance to meet people, and it’s especially interesting when a bunch of us from all over the world come together. It’s also interesting because of the Maker Library’s setup. Each Maker Library has the same framework so when you’re somewhere else you feel at home because the furniture is the same. The London College of Fashion made one last year where I did a shoe making workshop, it felt like I was here in Cape Town because they have the same furniture and sell the same books. Also, the most important thing that our Creative Director Daniel Charny implemented from the beginning, was to instil deeply within each of us a sense of ownership of the space and the concept. No prescriptive anything. So that was clever. He gave it to us to develop and allow it to grow.
Over the last two years you’ve begun developing methods to teach design as a simple process – which is often about trial, error and time. What do you think the most important lesson about process is?
The most important lesson about process is process. And time. In the beginning of my career lots of ad agencies wanted to work with me and I did try quite a few times but there was always this thing of, “We need it tomorrow”, and I just couldn’t do it. I can’t force things, it doesn’t work for me. Sometimes you’ve got to let life pass you by for a while. And that is what happens when you get people in the same room – as you spend time together, the neurons start firing.
Is there anything you’d like to add about product construction side of things?
I’ve been making traditional Xhosa mat looms. I’ve been working with the traditional sleeping matt but because of the way I’ve made it, it has the ability to stand up, to become three dimensional. By positioning it in a different way it could easily become a basket and, perhaps on a larger scale, a shelter. I am making a two-dimensional object into something 3-D purely by the way it is constructed on the loom. This takes time to develop, which brings me back to the idea of time and allowing things to cross-pollinate. I’m trying to take an object that has a single function and turn it into a multi-functional one.
Are you working on any of your own projects at the moment?
I went to a show in Vienna in June where I saw an amazing show by Tomás Saraceno – a project called Becoming aerosolar for which he makes huge lighter than air balloons. At the show he handed out pamphlets explaining how to make the balloons (open source design documents) and I’ve since made my own, which is 5x5x5m in size. The balloon is made from plastic bags and it floats on it’s own once the sun heats it up – it’s really quite beautiful. It didn’t work the day I tested it, I think I need to wait for summer. At some point I’ll bring this into the Maker Library system but for now it’s just something that I’m working on. Now that I have attempted the principle, my sculpture background can kick in and I’ll play with form. I’m hoping for some amazing results.