Design tends to think of the environment in only terms of materials and processes; how do we make things in a way that harms the environment least. So it was great to come across the work of designer Julia Lohmann. I met her about a year ago to write a piece about her in the New York Times.
Anyway. To the p0int. Lohmann is famous for her Cow Benches – uncomfortable pieces of furniture that consist of a single cow hide stretched over a skeletal frame to form a headless, legless shape that looks uncomfortably like a sitting cow. On one level it’s a kind of riposte to the DFS leather sofa, forcing us to think about the materials that the things we sit on are made of.
At first glance her use of animals appears repulsive and callous. Her graduation show at The Royal College of Art included a piece called Flock – a series of lamps made from sheep’s stomachs. She outraged fellow designers a couple of years ago with another seat shape calledThe Lasting Void, a sleek, futuristic pod that turned out to have been moulded from the inside of a slaughtered cow’s body cavity.
In fact they’re quite the opposite – a way of forcing us to think about our disconnection from the animals we slaughter. In fact there’s a tenderness about her pieces that’s more visible with the second glance. Raised in small-town Germany with a love of animals, who worked on farms in Iceland, she believes that if we kill animals we have a responsibility to know what we do, and to use every part of the carcass respectfully. As a student she had been fascinated by the reaction to Damien Hirst’s Mother and Child Divided: “You kill and cut up a cow and people are outraged,” Lohmann says. “Yet we do that every day. And what percentage of that meat is being thrown away?” Lohmann’s work is an attempt to create something useful – or at least respectful – from every piece of the dead carcass – even the cavity.
Unlike most design, Lohmann’s pieces leave you with a very clear question. If your reaction to her work is still that it is frivolous and unethical to use dead animals to make her pieces, then what else about the way we use animals is frivolous?
Go to RSA Arts & Ecology