‘RCP2 chair’, 1992, 2022
ONCE AN ESSENTIAL component of mass production and democratised design, plastic has gained a negative reputation in recent decades, and rightfully so. It’s no secret that this synthetic composite is especially harmful to the environment. The sheer scale of non-decomposable plastic waste that currently pollutes the planet is immeasurable. Because of this, many in the design industry have made efforts to address, if not rectify, this pernicious problem. It is sometimes suggested however that the push to implement more reused, upcycled, or bio-based alternatives is a recent development when, in truth, independent talents and producers have been endeavouring to do so for much longer. Case in point: British designer Jane Atfield and Missouri-based manufacturer Yemm & Hart.
Atfield conceived the ‘RCP2 chair’ in 1992 – her graduation project from the Royal College of Art – using recycled, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic board sheets produced by the innovative company. Inspired by the meticulous simplicity of early-modernist Dutch Designer Gerrit Rietveld, Atfield developed the groundbreaking prototype before establishing her career-defining MADE OF WASTE studio.
A new exhibition at New York’s Emma Scully gallery, ‘Jane Atfield’, commemorates the 30th anniversary of the initial design. On view from 23rd March to 30th April, the solo show coincides with Earth Month. The exhibition displays several re-editions – conceived with Yemm & Hart in various colourways – and a brand new table concept.
“Jane was a pioneer of the sustainable design movement,” gallery principal Emma Scully says. “30 years later, this thinking, especially the use of post-consumer, single-use plastics in contemporary design, is at the root of many designers’ collections. Given the very few public sales of her original work in the past 20 years, this limited re-edition allows collectors to preserve a seminal piece of design history.”
The various iterations feature rich, carefully calibrated mixtures of tone and motif. The solid sheet material achieves a more pointillist appearance on its front but then reveals an almost visceral pulled-line pattern when cut through. Given the chair’s straightforward and honest assembly, this idiosyncratic detail is celebrated, making for an intriguing level of contrast and depth.
“Emma approached me to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the ‘RCP2 chair’ as its message around the environment and consumption continues to be one of major significance,” Atfield adds. “The design of the chair embraces an alternative to virgin materials and celebrates recycling, symbolising the way we need to live in order to build a better, stronger future.”
‘Jane Atfield’ at Emma Scully Gallery, New York, runs from 23rd March – 30th April 2022.