The Stedelijk spotlights the greatest challenge of our time: the climate crisis. The exhibition It’s Our F***ing Backyard shows that designers can make a compelling difference: through innovative experiments or by drawing on ‘forgotten’ knowledge, they invite us to look at materials in a radically new way and offer us design that is both responsible and aesthetic, comfortable and accessible. Eighty selected projects by designers and companies from all over the world shed light on an array of strategies that explore innovative uses of materials. The exhibition also looks at how soil depletion relates to practices of colonialism, which are still continued by some multinationals.

Designers recycle all kinds of waste materials for new products and use the power of nature to create unusual materials. Design studio Bentu, for example, produces furniture from ceramic waste, Tamara Orjola manufactures textiles from pine needles and Basse Stittgen came up with tableware made of cow’s blood. The innovations range from experimental research to new applications of ancient craft techniques. Claudy Jongstra introduced medieval natural dye recipes into Viktor & Rolf’s fashion designs, and Seok-hyeon Yoon used the traditional ottchill lacquer technique to make recyclable ceramics. Maartje Dros and Erik Klarenbeek experiment with diatoms (micro-algae), which bind CO2, to make glass. Other projects focus on generating energy in ways that are less harsh on the environment, or forgo the addition of material by switching to a loan economy. Other initiatives focus on tempting users into think differently. All the projects on display give new impetus to the industry and make us more aware of our footprint.

The exhibition showcases experiments and prototypes as well as products already on the market. It includes work by Fernando Laposse, FormaFantasma, Christien Meindertsma, Shahar Livne, Donghoon Sohn, Alexandra Kehayoglou, and by manufacturers such as Vitra and Ikea. Designers are also forging new alliances. For example, together with DJ Peggy Gou, the Balinese design studio Space Available designed a chair from 20 kilos of plastic waste collected in Indonesia. The exhibition is also an opportunity for the Stedelijk to expand its design collection in this regard. Recent additions include acquisitions by Carissa Ten Tije, Yamuna Forzani, Seok-hyeon Yoon, Joana Schneider, Seungbin Yang, Audrey Large, Tamara Orjola, Yasmin Bawa, and Marjan van Aubel, and donations by Circuform (Ineke Hans) and Space Available.

Various studies show that the roots of today’s climate problem lie to a large extent in colonialism, in the appropriation of land and the exploitation and destruction of nature, people and animals. The imbalances of power that arose then are often still visible today. Nowadays, apart from governments, it is mainly multinational companies that exhaust the soil. The Stedelijk was advised in this field by Raki Ap (speaker/guest lecturer, spokesperson Free West Papua NL and one of the founders in the Netherlands of Indigenous Perspectives on Climate Change) and Chihiro Geuzebroek (trainer/speaker and interdisciplinary maker in the field of climate justice, colonialism, Indigenous sovereignty, art & activism). Since the rise of industrial technologies, local knowledge has often been ignored, while we can hugely benefit from what it has to teach us about how to live more symbiotically with nature. For the exhibition, the Stedelijk selected projects by designers who reclaim and revive this knowledge. Rein Wolfs, director Stedelijk Museum: “Designers are increasingly drawing on their creativity to address social, political and environmental issues. Their innovative approaches encourage us to rethink ways of using materials so that we reduce our impact on the planet—designers look beyond current technology, and show us ways in which we can produce and consume better and pollute less. This exhibition intends to make design at the cutting edge of ecology and innovation widely accessible. By doing so, we want to look at how the Stedelijk could support meaningful climate action, highlight the crucial role that design can play in our society and help towards making deep, transformative changes. For us, as an institution, it also represents an ongoing and renewed call to action; like every organisation, we are also addressing ways to reduce our own carbon footprint.” Exhibition curators Amanda Pinatih, design curator, and Ingeborg de Roode, industrial design curator: “The first global climate strike in 2018 reflected a growing awareness that we need to change our way of life. After small-scale initiatives at the end of the last century, more and more is happening in the world of design. This exhibition shows how, through creative practices, makers and manufacturers can provide a host of new possibilities, and how consumers can play their part through the choices they make. Climate change concerns us all—it’s happening in own backyard.”

The exhibition shows that waste is not worthless, but can form the basis for new objects. The Amsterdam based creative collective Hotmamahot also sees value in waste and therefore prefers to call it lavfa – not worthless matter, but material that can be given a new meaning to. In the LAVFA LAB they created visitors can get to take a dip in a ‘plastic infinity pool’ or experiment with magnified atoms, made from plastic bottles and metal caps.