Emma Scully Gallery’s latest exhibition, showcasing British furniture designer Jane Atfield’s iconic 30 year old RCP2 chairs, is a celebration of the design that heralded the practice of recycling plastic waste into useful products. The showcase, scheduled to remain on display at the New York based gallery until April 30, 2022, presents a limited re-edition of the chair and a new table exclusively made out of plastic waste. It serves to revisit and honour the precedent set by Atfield for other designers experimenting with reclaimed materials. “Through the radical honesty of RCP2's evocative and colourful materiality, the former lives of the chair as post-consumer waste are brilliantly exposed. That aesthetic speaks volumes to the meaning behind Jane's statement on consumer culture and climate change as it relates to design,” says art connoisseur Emma Scully about Atfield’s chairs that are displayed at her eponymous gallery.
The RCP2 chairs were originally designed by Atfield in 1992 while she was studying furniture design at the Royal College of Art. It was one of the first furniture pieces that was exclusively made out of recycled plastic. “During my time studying furniture design at the RCA in the early 1990s, I was looking for ways to connect furniture with wider political issues when I came across a sample of recycled plastic that a friend had picked up at a New York trade fair,” says furniture designer Jane Atfield. She used this recycled material made by Yemm and Hart to create the classic design of RCP2. The material was recycled from the plastic wastes of shampoo and detergent bottles into high-density polyethylene plastic sheets.
Atfield drew inspiration from Gerrit Rietveld’s 1923 Military Side Chair to create the form of the RCP2 chair. Its simple and subtle features are enhanced by the knowledge that the chair was sculpted using recycled consumer waste. The spartan chairs serve as commentary pieces that question climate change and consumer culture through pragmatic and utilitarian designs.
Atfield’s interest and inclination towards exploring sustainability) and ecologically driven designs, however, did not end with the design of the chairs. Post showcasing the RCP2 chairs at her college graduation show, she developed Made Of Waste, a practice dedicated to the exploration of new and innovative ways to use recycled materials in design. “In the 90s, eco-design was somewhat marginalised and often seen as an eccentricity or a leftover from the hippy movement. At that time, the emphasis was on status and style-driven design, which I felt alienated from,” explains Atfield about the challenges she faced while researching and developing ecologically sustainable designs.
The exhibition at the Emma Scully gallery, apart from showcasing an ecologically cognizant design at a time when it is so pertinent, also honours the designer on what marks 30 years since the chair was first displayed publicly. The latest RCP2 chair series comes in three colour variances: a classic black and white edition, a Made of Waste blue edition and a replica of Jane and Stephan Yemm’s first multicoloured confetti prototype. Released as a limited edition series, of which only 25 pieces have been made available, it also comprises an original table designed by Atfield and produced for the first time. With three colour variances of the RCP2 chair and a unique table designed to sit in conjunction with the chairs, the exhibition honours the legacy of the British designer while also serving as an inspiration for contemporary designers.
Jane Atfield’s RCP2 chairs will remain on display from March 23 to April 30, 2022 at the Emma Scully Gallery in New York, United States.