Creative Reuse in Canadian Design : Cut/Paste
Creative Reuse in Canadian Design
Anne Marie Todaro, January 18, 2010
Motherbrand and the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) presents Cut/Paste: Creative Reuse in Canadian Design, an exhibition that explores the practice of creating new designs from existing and salvaged products.

Creative reuse has become one of the most visible trends in contemporary international design. Prominent Canadian designers such as Tobias Wong and Douglas Coupland have garnered attention for their witty redesigns of existing products and as Motherbrand cofounder Michael Erdmann explains, their work is part of a strong Canadian tradition. “Creative reuse has deep roots in Canadian material culture. Naturally, this type of improvisation occurs all over the world, often arising out of necessity, but in a young nation like Canada these conditions tend to spring up a lot. Examples in the show range from early First Nations adaptations of European products, to depression era solutions such as the Bennett Buggy and Fred Moffat’s iconic K42 Kettle – produced in response to war time manufacturing restraints.” More recently, creative reuse has fueled many of the nation’s independent design manufacturers. “Manufacturing in Canada tends to be relatively small scale and specialized.

Kingston Prison Toaster, 1950
Kingston Prison Toaster, 1950
Sourcing materials from existing products is a powerful way to overcome these limitations,” says Motherbrand’s John Ryan. Adding, “The smallest of firms and even non-designers are able to produce products this way.”

“A function of the ICC at the ROM is the exploration of different cultures and their relationship to each other and over time. Concerns over the environment and sustainability, as well as the ways we confront these issues have become hallmarks of our generation. As such, the ROM is very pleased to host this exhibition, which shines a light on the inventive ways Canadian designers are advancing contemporary design while adapting to 21st century needs,
” said Francisco Alvarez, Managing Director of the ICC.

45Nano Case, Contexture Design 2008
45Nano Case, Contexture Design 2008
“Environmental sustainability is an issue that most of these designs address in some way,” says Todd Falkowsky. The Motherbrand cofounder continues, “This is a powerful tactic for reducing our consumption of energy and materials; it forces us to reconsider what we consider waste. A lot of these designs are produced in relatively small numbers, so their influence is largely conceptual, but the impact is real. Based on the success of these designs, manufacturers such as Umbra and Gus* Modern are finding ways to apply the same approach to larger production runs.” Working in the developing world, Canadian designers are also using creative reuse as a tactic for improving social conditions. “The Bambulance Project by Design For Development is a great example,” says Erdmann. “Their bicycle ambulance provides basic emergency transportation in isolated communities. By utilizing local and reclaimed materials, even impoverished groups can afford to produce the design themselves.”

Energy Bracelet, Chet Domanski 2007_Jacob Sharrard
Energy Bracelet, Chet Domanski 2007_Jacob Sharrard
Cut/Paste is one of a pair of exhibits curated by Motherbrand, exploring the act of ‘sampling’ in Canadian material culture. The second exhibition titled Copy: The Fine Tradition of Imitation in Canadian Ceramics, highlights inspired cases of mimicry drawn from Canadian production ceramics, both past and present. Copy runs through February 5 at the Gardiner Museum.


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