Posted Thursday 25 February 2021
The creative endeavours of students, graduates and academics from Kingston School of Art form the heart of an event devoted to the life, work and eco-socialism of 19th century designer and writer William Morris. Launched in collaboration with the William Morris Society, under the banner of the StoryBox Collective, the online event is part of a larger exhibition displaying a range of responses to Morris' design, writing and thinking.
With the majority of the work produced during the first UK lockdown, the participants found themselves with more time than they had anticipated to complete their explorations. This led to a huge variety of outputs informed by three curated quotes looking at protest and social commentary, innovation and technology, and usefulness and beauty.
Journalism students Nora Marie Vatland and Martine Aamodt Hess were invited to participate after an advert for their sustainability-themed website was spotted by an academic. The childhood friends from Norway produced a sumptuous 16 page book, infusing their writing with William Morris quotes highlighting his eco-socialist stance. The process saw the second year students learn how to letterpress, using a typeface created for the project by graphic design student Jack Niblett, while learning book binding from the dedicated technical staff in the KSA workshops.
With the majority of their writing limited to online exposure, the students enjoyed producing a physical product and exploring different creative processes, especially when treating the William Morris wallpaper cover with acetone to visually represent the climate emergency.
"We definitely felt more connected to the work - it's not just words on a screen, you use your own hands to move the letterpress and bind the book together," They said. "We use William Morris' eco-socialist principles to explore the destructive sides of capitalist production in terms of the environment and exploitation of workers. These Victorian's ideas apply to things that are happening today and explain the climate emergency right now and the need to act now. It's been more than 100 years since his death but everything he said is still very relevant."
Collaboration has been key in the process of many of the pieces produced for the exhibition. One project has resulted in the production of a sustainable fleece lined organic hemp tracksuit, printed with organically dyed William Morris patterns in a handmade screen-printing studio built during lockdown. The vibrant red leisure suit get its colour, Madder Red, from Madder root extract which is one of the natural dyes in William Morris essay the Art of Dying.
The tracksuit is the brainchild of Product and Furniture BA (Hons) and Sustainable Design MA graduate Leo Russo, working in close collaboration with fashion graduate Amy Turnbull and graphic design graduate Joe Montague. Leo was a steadfast admirer of the Victorian polymath. "I researched and incorporated William Morris into my projects for 5 years, literally shoehorning him in because I thought his ideas were so visionary and relevant for today," he said.
"The quote we based the project around was "Do not allow yourselves to be upholstered like armchairs. Reject your crinoline and your corsets." He was asking why women had to abide by uncomfortable norms of dress established in Victorian England," Leo said. "I wanted to manifest the ideas behind the project into something really accessible. I'm a product designer so it had to work and be actually comfortable rather than something with the idea of comfort or home leisure."
developed a typeface, letter cutting into wood using a chisel to find shapes produced by the interplay between tool and material. "The project really evolved during lockdown, I had a lot more time to read, get really involved in William Morris' legacy and delve into his archive," she explained.Although the pandemic delayed the exhibition, for many the lockdown allowed further time to explore Morris' teachings more thoroughly. Inspired by William Morris' ideas of craftsmanship, final year Graphic Design student Chloe Hulse
One of Chloe's hopes for her project is to draw attention to the endangered craft and pass on what she has learned in her journey, that there is a pleasure in creating beautiful items that are crafted for no reason other than the joy of making. "I found a lecture series transcribed in the William Morris archive called Hope and Fears for Art," she explained. "Morris speaks about craftmanship and the natural world, it really got me thinking about his ideas for eco-socialism. His idea that if we spend time crafting we have a better relationship with the nature around us, I found when you are spending a lot of time trying to craft something beautiful you think about it on a much deeper level."