The exhibition brings together films, objects, artefacts and samples, including specially designed furniture made from a single tree felled during storms in Val de Fiemme in Italy; wood samples loaned by institutions around the world, from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew to the Royal Museum of Central Africa; smells specially developed to evoke the wet earth and flora of a forest, and maps of the rainforest made by indigenous communities in the Amazon. Cambio offers a re-evaluation of our relationship with trees and poses a series of essential questions about design and sustainability, most pertinently: What can we do to better understand the connection between the objects we use and the conditions that produced them?
Italian design duo Formafantasma are based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Their work looks at design's ecological and political responsibilities, while probing the global industries that consume natural resources. This project opens a new chapter in the Serpentines programme, embracing radical approaches to design and offering space to practitioners who operate between the traditional disciplines of design, contemporary art, and research.
Formafantasma return to the Serpentine following their participation in Serpentines Radical Kitchen Live Programme and the Work Marathon in 2018. Cambio is the third exhibition of design in the Serpentines history, following German product designer Konstantin Grcic's curated show on ground breaking contemporary design, Design Real, in 2009/10 and influential London-based Italian designer Martino Gamper's guest-curated exhibition design is a state of mind in 2014. It heralds the Serpentine's commitment to embedding design practice, research and thinking into its programming from 2020 onwards.
Cambio (from the medieval Latin cambium, 'change, exchange') is an ongoing investigation conducted by Formafantasma into the extraction, production and distribution of wood products. The industry's tentacular supply chain has grown out of the bioprospecting that took place throughout colonial territories during the nineteenth century, and has affected the entire biosphere. This exhibition aims to put into question the role that design can play in translating emerging environmental awareness into informed, collaborative responses.
Cambio also references the membrane that runs around the trunk of trees, the function of which is to produce wood (xylem) on the inside and bark (phloem) on the outside. The organisation of the exhibition follows the concentric structure of the cambium layer: at the centre of the gallery, two rooms will present interviews with specialists, and films made by Formafantasma in response, which scrutinise wood as a biological archive that stores data and narratives within its tissues. The outer spaces of the gallery will present a selection of objects from historical collections of wood samples and contemporary products that exemplify the structure of the current timber industry and which look beyond it, into the inner life of trees. These case studies explore instead the ways in which trees have been conceptualised by different disciplines, from an extraction-driven understanding of forest ecosystems to a renewed understanding of the philosophy and politics of plants.
The timber industry is one of the largest in the world, both in terms of the corporate revenues involved, and in terms of the scale of its impact on everyday life. Clothing, furniture, paper, fuels, fertilisers, are just a few of the thousands of uses that trees are put to, many of which have been felled in some of the most biodiverse and fragile ecosystems in the world.
Situated between the sourcing of raw materials and processes of production, the discipline of design occupies a vantage point from which to observe and critique timbers global infrastructure and its multiple scales.
Formafantasma said "Cambio is an attempt to expand our understanding of what design can be, going beyond the finished object in order to include its disciplinary boundaries: forestry techniques and timber legislations then become tools for designing a better future for our forests; scientific knowledge goes hand-in-hand with environmental activism in fighting illegal logging, and the equilibrium of trans-national geopolitics is redefined in the struggle between conservation and consumption."