Formafantasma Delves Into Ancient History, Searching For Alternatives To Plastic

By drawing on techniques from the pre-oil past, Studio Formafantasma developed a series of organic alternatives to plastic.

Researchers expend lots of energy (and money) hunting for environmentally gentle alternatives to plastic. But as Studio Formafantasma shows, the alternatives are already out there and they have been for centuries: You’ll find them in resin, in animal blood, and even in insect poop. In short, the best source of plastic is nature itself.


The objects were designed as if the oil-based era never took place.

Studio Formafantasma — made up of young Eindhoven-based Italian designers Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin — developed a poignant design-art project around this theme. Commissioned by Plart, an organization dedicated to plastic art, Botanica is a clutch of plastic-like objects “designed as if the oil-based era, in which we are living, never took place,” the designers write on their website. So for inspiration, Studio Formafantasma looked to the pre-oil past. Taking cues from scientists who experimented with plants and animals in the 18th and 19th centuries (what the designers call the ?pre-Bakelite period?) Studio Formafantasma hand-crafted several vases and a bowl using assorted organic resins. Per their website:

Rosin, danmar, copal (a sub-fossil state of amber), natural rubber, shellac (a polymer extracted from insect excrement that colonize trees) and bois durci (a 19th century material composed of wood dust and animal blood), are amongst others, materials investigated by the studio.

The objects that resulted look every bit as old as the techniques the designers used here, or even older — like artifacts recovered from some archaeological dig, with textures reminiscent of foliage and amber tones the color of earth. That was by design. Studio Formafantasma aren’t trying to show that wood dust and animal blood can replicate the slick industrial processes that gave the world the Panton chair; they’ll leave that to the research labs. They want to flaunt the folksy handicraft of it all — in effect, to hijack plastic for the DIY-embracing, post-Bakelite period. In their words: “With Botanica, Studio Formafantasma offers a new perspective on plasticity, reinterpreting centuries old technology lost beneath the impeccable surface of mass production.”

[Images courtesy of Studio Formafantasma]


About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.