CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUNDS AND HOW YOU CAME TO WORK WITH ONE ANOTHER?
RC: Our backgrounds are very different. I began my career in restoration working alongside my father – a china and porcelain restorer. After five years of managing multiple restoration projects all over the UK, I moved to London, where I became an interior stylist and writer. I was exposed to the world of high-street interiors, which was so far from my craft and restoration background and made me realise the enormity of the issues the industry faced. I then worked on a sustainable business management course at Cambridge University’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership. This spurred me on to refocus my writing to explore the positive social and environmental impacts design can have. From that point on, I have embarked on a number of creative projects alongside my journalism to bring clarity to the sector and encourage both consumers and designers to do the right thing.
AI: I started out as a chartered accountant and I was working in venture capital when the idea for Bleur [Islimye’s gallery for independent artists] came about. A couple of years ago, I decided to renovate my soulless flat in South London and turn it into a home. But when it came to art, I had no idea where to start and felt overwhelmed by the amount of choices out there yet not finding anything that resonated with me. Then I realised that the emerging artists I had been looking for were completely absent from the space and not once in my search did I have the opportunity to meet them or hear their voices first-hand. And that’s how Bleur was born, to reimagine art as a lived experience of the many and pioneer new ways of bringing art closer to people. We launched to the public with our first campaign in January 2020 and it is amazing to see how far we have come in such a short period of time and despite a global pandemic.
RC: We first collaborated on the Bleur Home Takeovers campaign during lockdown, where Bleur worked with interior creatives to film pop-up exhibitions in their homes as a response to the closure of physical galleries. I curated a series of pieces with environmental narratives in mind. This led Aurelia and me to think about ways in which the art world could connect to the design and fashion sectors to encourage and make way for further change to take place through art.
TELL US MORE ABOUT THE CROSSOVER PROJECT…
RC: The Crossover Project is an initiative harnessing waste from design and fashion, which is then presented to a roster of artists who will be transforming the materials into bespoke artworks. Diverting offcuts, packaging, dead stock, returns and other surplus items from landfill is key in creating a circular economy and The Crossover Project is seeking to allow brands to do this easily. And, as artists are always in need of materials to work with, it is supporting emerging talent too.
AI: In this first instalment of the project, The Crossover Project will be exhibiting the artworks in a two-week exhibition held at The Royal Exchange. The artworks will be for sale with a proportion of the proceeds being donated to The Ellen MacArthur Foundation – a cause very close to the mission of the project itself.
HOW DID THE IDEA COME ABOUT – WHEN DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN SUSTAINABILITY?
RC: When collaborating with Bleur, the lack of progress when it came to sustainability in the art world became clear. Recycling paint is problematic, and packaging is an issue, so I felt compelled to think about how, in connecting different industries, ideas and solutions could be shared and reached together. Aurelia had already carried out projects looking at materials including coffee waste and it was a lightbulb moment we had together thinking about her need for materials and my passion to reduce waste within design and fashion! Thanks to my restoration background I guess a conscious mindset has always been something that’s inherent within me. I am far from perfect, but I have always been drawn to the values of longevity and the beauty of craft, which inevitably goes together with a slower lifestyle. I love the stories and narratives behind things, which you don’t find on the high street!
AI: I have always felt at odds with the lack of environmental consciousness within the art world and that is something I have wanted to raise awareness about for a while. But The Crossover Project is not about pointing fingers or shaming brands. Instead, we wanted to curate an empowering exhibition that leaves people feeling like there is hope and if we work together, we have the agency to change things.
GENERALLY SPEAKING, DO YOU THINK PEOPLE ARE MORE CONSCIOUS OF SUSTAINABILITY – BUT AT THE SAME TIME THE TERM CAN BE MISLEADING?
RC: I feel optimistic about the rising awareness from consumers and brands. I have seen shifts in recent years, and we are understanding our impact better than ever thanks to the work of environmentalists bringing it to our attention. We are late in recognising this and still have a long way to go but I have great hope that change can happen. Unfortunately, sustainability as a word has been overused, misconstrued, and adopted very loosely by companies all over the world. Greenwashing has been rife, and sustainability has been viewed as a marketing opportunity rather than an inherent business principle. However, I do feel it is harder to get away with such habits now as so many of us are aware of what to look out for.
WHEN WE THINK OF “WASTE” WE TEND TO THINK OF FOOD OR FASHION. WHERE DOES ART FIT WITHIN THIS?
AI: Every industry has waste, and art is no exception. From packaging to art materials and, of course, paint, the art world from galleries to artists produces a lot of waste. But unlike other industries, there is very little environmental consciousness in the art world and nothing is being done to find viable alternatives, so The Crossover Project is a way for us to raise awareness about the issue and offer real, tangible solutions. Art has always been a tool to highlight societal issues and we are very excited to be pioneering new ways of thinking about waste collaboratively with art being at the centre of the movement.
HOW CHALLENGING HAS IT BEEN TO GET BRANDS ON BOARD?
RC: It has been a huge challenge to be totally honest! Brands don’t have a lot of time, and to capture their attention, explain the concept and get them to spend time evaluating their waste streams, isn’t an easy ask. But we stressed the urgency and importance of doing such analysis and that’s why we are extremely happy with the brands we do have on board. Each partner remained open to the project and were happy to admit they had waste and were looking for ways to reduce it. We must remove the stigma around knowing that brands produce waste in order for us to then take it to the next step and look at ways of eliminating, reducing and reusing it.
CAN YOU ALSO TELL US ABOUT THE ARTISTS YOU ARE HOPING TO WORK WITH FOR THIS PROJECT?
AI: We have selected emerging talents from Bleur’s roster to be involved in the project. Bleur represents a diverse collective of up-and-coming artists with different practices so it will be very interesting to see how they interpret the range of materials presented to them. All our artists are pushing boundaries within their own medium and we are amazed to see artists who have been with us from the start such as Joanna Layla, Denisha Anderson, Jemima Sara and Daniel Keys becoming rising stars in such a short period of time. We are particularly excited to have welcomed new artists such as embroidery artist Nicole Chui, fashion figurative artists Beth Fraser and Emmanuel Unaji and multi-disciplinary artist Rhea Gupte to our roster. We are also very grateful for the support we have received from established environmental artist David Buckland, who will be exhibiting some of his groundbreaking works alongside the collection.
WHAT ARE YOU HOPING THAT PEOPLE WILL TAKE AWAY FROM THIS?
AI: We want people to feel inspired, optimistic and empowered to be a part of the change. Through interactive waste stations, visitors will also be able to attempt making their own artworks from waste materials. We want people to reimagine materials and see creative opportunities through the power of collaboration. This is also a chance for a diverse roster of artists who are pushing boundaries in their own medium, to work with established brands and bring their individual creativity and innovation to a wider audience.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT THE ROYAL EXCHANGE AND USING IT AS A BASE FOR THIS PROJECT?
RC: Working with a venue such as The Royal Exchange is a great opportunity for the project. While the venue is steeped in tradition, we feel The Crossover Project is the perfect juxtaposition in challenging what such traditions are, offering a glimpse into a more sustainable, diverse, and creative future through the eyes of talented, emerging artists.
IS THERE SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT ABOUT HOSTING IT IN THE CITY OF LONDON?
RC: Hosting an event with such a genuine passion for change, transparency and with a strong call to action within the heart of the City of London is interesting. It’s like we are going to the source, where in the surrounding Square Mile decision-makers, huge corporations and influential business figures will be made aware of something that could influence them to think differently. The industries surrounding the venue have so much power economically, so, if we can get in front of even one of those people and have the opportunity to change their mindset, the project will have been worthwhile.
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO KEEP THE CONVERSATION ABOUT WASTE GOING AFTER THE EXHIBITION?
AI: We have already been in talks with other venues who are interested in hosting future editions of The Crossover Project. We also want The Crossover Project to become a platform where brands can donate waste for artists to use. In facilitating this circularity going forward we can not only change industries but also support a diverse and emerging wealth of artistic talent across the city.
The Crossover Project will be taking place at The Royal Exchange from 23 June – 15 July from 10am – 5pm daily and until 9pm on Thursdays. For more information, please visit @crossoverprojectofficial
A conversation with… is a monthly series that invites today’s leading minds to discuss current topics, exchange points of view and explore new ideas with The Royal Exchange.