The honey-colored Botanica VI vase (Nepenthes Villosa) is composed of bois durci (sycamore wood and egg albumen), dewaxed shellac (a resin extracted from insect secretion), and beeswax. Part of the Botanica series, it represents a collection of vessels made from pre-industrial plastic that were created by Studio Formafantasma, a conceptual design practice known for its deep intellectual inquiry and focus on function and aesthetics. The Botanica series is the result of an interrogation of polymer-based materials commissioned by Plart, an Italian foundation dedicated to plastics research and conservation.

Studio Formafantasma was intrigued by the tension surrounding plastic today. Plastic remains ubiquitous and relevant to our daily lives despite its distressing environmental performance, necessitating sustainable alternatives to synthetic polymers. Formafantastma set out to investigate the history of polymers, focusing on the age of experimentation before Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic, was introduced in the early 1900s. Theirs was a study of plasticity derived from natural sources, as though petroleum-based plastics were never discovered. Formafantasma’s research led to the 18th and 19th-century search for plasticity in the form of plant secretions and animal by-products—rosin, dammar, copal, shellac, and bois durci. The designers rediscovered the natural textures and colors these materials yield, and investigated their performative properties in functional vases and bowls. The objects are dedicated to the transmission of knowledge and recovery of material memory. The resulting Botanica vessels celebrate the organic details and vegetal forms inspired by the natural polymers from which they’re derived. The collection offers a new aesthetic of plasticity.

Andrea Lipps is Assistant Curator of contemporary design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

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