Design Fiction for a New Future
A look into the design thinking of MFA candidate Laura Allcorn, and her connection between honeybees and fashion.
“Design thinking with the hand, integrating the workshop ethos into the process of innovation,” is one of the tenets of the MFA in Applied Craft and Design, a joint program between Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft. Now in its second year, the program’s pioneering designers and artists meet the challenges of a changing culture with new ways of thinking and making. In this story, we invited PNCA student Nathan Henry-Silva to investigate MFA student Laura Allcorn’s work, which recently bridged the pressing environmental concern of Colony Collapse Disorder and—Fashion Week. It sounds like quite a bridge, but this is, of course, Portland Fashion Week, with a sustainability model that includes a runway made with eco-friendly materials, eco-safe styling products on models and sustainable-certified hotels for guests. This year’s event included a conceptually-based opening night event, the perfect venue for the debut of a jewelry collection made of sterling silver hand pollination tools.
Design Fiction for a New Future
Laura Allcorn is in her own words a design thinker. In her work she seeks to engage people’s curiosity in order to open up dialogue around the concerns of our time. Calling her current project a work of “design fiction” due to its projection of what could be, Laura created a series of intricate jewelry adornments intended to make the task of human pollination of plants both easy and fashionable.
Her series of wearable tools are handmade objects that consider what it might look like if humans assumed the honeybees’ responsibility of pollination. The objects include a device for better viewing and isolation of pollen on plants, as well as collection and distribution tools. As Namita Wiggers, curator of the Museum of Contemporary Craft, says, “her work recalls both tool belts and charm bracelets, objects that speak of function and ornament, real work and remembered experience.”
Interested in creating objects that engage people, while providing experiences that bring attention to social and environmental issues, Laura has recently been invited to participate in Portland Fashion Week. Presenting her (Human Pollination Project), part of her work as a MFA candidate in the joint PNCA and OCAC Applied Craft and Design program, Allcorn is hoping to heighten awareness around Colony Collapse Disorder. This body of work, with its timely and relevant subject matter, is an excellent match for Portland Fashion Week’s goal of educating “policy-makers on eco-friendly practices in fashion and gaining wider attention for this talented field.”
“Her work recalls both tool belts and charm bracelets, objects that speak of function and ornament, real work and remembered experience.”
In addressing the alarming disappearance of European honeybees across the globe and the fact that beekeeping and bee pollination are directly tied to the human food supply, the work speaks to the potential of loss—estimated to have an economic value in the tens of billions of dollars.
This year Portland Fashion Week (PFW) is continuing its profile raising around sustainability with the participation of a number of international designers, and a portion of its proceeds going towards assisting local schools with the implementation of solar panels. “This year’s addition of a conceptually-based opening event provided an ideal opportunity to showcase innovative craft-based work that connects to PFW’s focus on sustainability,” said Namita Wiggers. “Laura Allcorn’s project immediately came to my mind because it combined the handmade with research-based conceptual work that matched the PFW’s focus on a sustainable future.”
Laura Allcorn is from northeastern Ohio, spending the last five years in Columbus, and grew up in a household that had sustainability values, though it wasn’t a fashionable buzzword at that time and, as she says, “It’s just how it was.” Later in life she went on to receive her undergraduate degree in marketing. After completing her degree, Allcorn spent five years working for a global design agency while simultaneously studying metalsmithing, until she decided to pursue her craft practice full time and returned to school. In a certain way, Allcorn has found a synthesis of her interest in craft and marketing with this project. She sees a certain seduction in this work, these items that beg to be touched, but she also sees them as objects of discourse that ask people to consider their own connection to the environment in the decisions they make. “When people see my work I hope that they are curious as to why it exists in the first place, that’s the impetus.”