Futureproof plastics

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This symposium, supported by the Victoria and Albert Museum, was held to celebrate and disseminate the findings of the EU funded project, Preservation of Plastic ARTefacts (PopART).  It brought together academics, artists, designers, manufacturers, conservators and curators to discuss the impact of plastics on art and design and their future potential in our lives.  A thread running through the papers and discussion was eco design and sustainable use of plastics.

Mathew Philip provided a stimulating  introduction to polymers and their impact on every day life. Chistopher Pett showed us how single-source plastics - computer casings and disposable beakers branded by the Eden Project - can be recycled on an industrial scale but also highlighted the challenges such production produces. Julie Behetsa told us about the new fabrics she is weaving from recycled plastics as part of her practice-led research project at the Royal College of Art.  Emma Neuberg showed us some beautifully embellished plastics and other materials decorated with plastics. She also floated the idea of a massive industrial park of recycled plastics. Nora Fok showed us the astoundingly beautiful wearable sculptures she makes from plastics, mainly nylon, some achieved through 3-D printing. Richard Liddle engaged us with videos of his products made from recycled plastics in production. Brenda Keneghan gave us an insight into the aims and achievements of the Preservation of Plastic ARTefacts (PopART) in heritage collections project. And finally Richard Jones showed us how polymer nanotechnology can imitate biological behaviour and intrigued us with the production of a tiny living plastic muscle.

The day was held in celebration of the EU funded Preservation Of Plastic ARTefacts (POPART) in museum collections project. MoDiP would like to thank the speakers for making the event such a success and also the V&A and the PopART project for suggesting that we host the event and for providing the funding to underpin it.

The proceedings were filmed and the results can be viewed on the speakers page.


Futureproof plastics speakers were drawn from art & design, manufacturing, and scientific communities. They were:

Dr Mathew Philip was, at the time of the seminar, Academic Leader in Polymer Technology at the London Metropolitan Polymer Centre. His research activities include multiple recycling of HDPE, PP, ABS and polymer blends; design and development of components from recycled polymers and composites; and sports product evaluation. He provided an introduction to the issues of the day under the title An introduction to polymers and their impact on everyday life.



Christopher Pett, Managing Director of Pli Design Ltd, founded Pli in 2003. His aim has been to build a business with sustainable design and manufacturing principles at its heart from the beginning. The Reee chair, launched in 2008, is made from recycled Sony computer games consoles. Christopher talked about the potential of such recycled plastic in mass-production along with its challenges under the title Single-source recycled plastic in product design and manufacturing.



Nora Fok is an artist who has found inspiration in plastics. She works with nylon monofilaments to make intricate and complex wearable sculptures inspired by a variety of natural forms. Originally from Hong-Kong, she came to Britain to study ‘Wood, Metal, Ceramics and Plastics’ at Brighton Polytechnic. Her work is in a number of national collections including the Crafts Council, the National Museums of Scotland and the V&A. She talked about her practice under the title Cloud Nylon.



Julie Behseta studied ‘Textiles for the Interior and Products’ at London Metropolitan University and  at the time of the symposium was a Research Student at the Royal College of Art. Her practice-led research focuses on post consumer and industrial waste, especially high density polyethylene, and results in the creation of recycled materials with new functions and new meanings. She talked about her research under the title Attachment through the unattached. She gave her paper jointly with Emma Neuberg.

Dr Emma Neuberg was, when the seminar took place, Lecturer in Sustainable Design at Southampton University. She is an associate of the Textiles Futures Research Centre (UAL) where her contribution is as practitioner/theorist in polymeric materials and culture. In 2009, she set up the Slow Textiles Group, a platform for applying slow theory to materials. Group members, Julie and Emma apply slow thinking to their research. Emma’'s presentation was entitled New Vision: The Plastics Eco Industrial Park.   



Richard Liddle was educated at Northumbria University and the Royal College of Art. He founded Cohda Design Ltd in 2007. Cohda has been described as a Punk Rock design company with a mission to research, design and develop innovative contemporary design products with a focus on sustainability. Cohda’s most famous design, the RD chair, is made from 100% recycled waste and has been highlighted as one of the most Iconic Eco designs of the last 20 years. He talked about the potential of plastics to encourage innovation in design under the title Anarchy by Design. The presentation was not videoed.


Dr Brenda Keneghan is the Polymer Scientist at the V&A and represents the Royal Society of Chemistry on the European Association for Chemical and Molecular Sciences working group on Chemistry for Cultural Heritage. She edited the book Plastics, Looking at the Future and Learning from the Past, Archetype Books, 2008. She talked about the POPART project under the title PopArt – the first EU-funded project addressing the problem of plastic objects in heritage collections.



Professor Richard Jones FRS, at the time of the symposium, was the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield. He is an experimental polymer physicist whose research interests include both polymer nanotechnology and the broader ethical and social implications of emerging technologies.  He is the author of Soft Machines: Nanotechnology and Life, OUP, 2004, and talked about how new nanotechnologies based on polymers can learn from biology, under the title Soft machines: exploiting mutability and randomness in polymer nanotechnology.