Brodie Neill on plastic and ocean waste
I met the gifted designer Brodie Neill at FORA Central Street, a stone’s throw from his Shoreditch studio. Throughout our conversation, two things became quickly apparent; Brodie’s passion for materials—regardless of their origin or preciousness—and a strong belief in the circular economy.
Born and raised in Tasmania, Brodie studied furniture design at the University of Tasmania, with a focus on the craftsmanship, materials and searching for solutions. He recalls his studies being influenced by the wilderness of the island, with the natural world inspiring so much of life in Tasmania.
Compared with the more industrial approach to design prevalent at many of the UK’s universities, Australian design practice enabled Brodie to realise his ideas in a more artistic manner. His three-dimensional forms are sculptural, celebrating the materials from which they were made.
His move to the Rhode Island School of Design in the US added digital advancements to his practice, allowing him to further grow his conceptual visions. Four years later, following years of collaborations with European galleries, Brodie set up his studio in London where his fascination and love for materials continued. With surplus materials and waste seen everywhere—from manufacturers’ factories to artisan workshops—Brodie started to recycle them into works of art, drastically turning what was considered to be waste into something precious. These were the beginnings of his Remix designs and Made in Ratio collection.
Already successful, Brodie’s practice came to the public eye with the Gyro table, his design representing Australia in the first London Design Biennale in 2016. This exhibition offered an international platform for design dialogue and was the perfect opportunity for Brodie to use it to open the discussion about the issue of ocean plastic. This issue and the accompanying dialogue have since escalated, becoming widespread on the world stage. The Gyro table represents the globe and its oceans with a skilfully crafted mosaic made from ocean plastic waste; waste that was collected across the globe by passionate individuals, from marine biologists to weekend dog-walkers. At first glance the table draws you in with its mesmerising patterns; but on closer inspection it reveals the sinister underbelly of its makeup; offering a powerful statement.
Brodie continues his mission to raise awareness of the issue of ocean waste through his work during this year’s Milan Design Week. He is taking part in the Ro Plastic-Master's Pieces exhibition, which is part of the Guiltless Plastic initiative spearheaded by Rossana Orlandi. Here he will present the Capsule, an hourglass marking the passing of time with an incessant trickle of micro-plastic waste, which Brodie personally collected from the Tasmanian coastline.
In our conversation, Brodie points out that for him the issue of plastic is that of addiction and the wider concept of throwaway culture—the ease of use blinds us from seeing the alternative solutions. He also believes that attitudes have to change, from those which perceive recycled products and materials as inferior and cheap, to treat them as equally valuable and precious as their newly-manufactured counterparts.
Neill is aware, though, that his work is a drop in the ocean (excuse the pun) when it comes to resolving the issue. In our conversation he highlights the importance of large corporations and the government taking action, by amending and introducing new relevant legislation and tweaking operational procedures. All heading in the only reasonable direction—that of the circular economy.
Music by James Green