Timber Ecology

Timber Ecology

Italian duo Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin of Formafantasma have curated an exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London called Cambio. This exhibition aims to show the impact of the forestry industry by showcasing the processing of wood. Exploring the legality and environmental impact of the industry, from extraction, production and distribution of wood.

This exploration demonstrates that the use of wood is not always sustainable, despite popular belief. By highlighting the material itself, and the processes it undertakes, it brings both the general public and designers into the conversation. Looking at how materials impact the environment, and how we can use natural materials in a sustainable way. This is done through collaborations with different designers and experts from the timber industry, as well as presenting samples of wood.

Wood is the most abundant material for use in design worldwide. It is seen as sustainable because it is natural. But we must also think about how materials are grown and processed. Often, the wood is unethically sourced from ecosystems.

One part of the exhibition features an installation of staked IKEA Bekväm stool replicas made from different tree species. The stools are stacked according to how long the tree took to grow before logging. These visualisations help the visitors understand that for a wooden product to be sustainable its use life should last at least as long as the tree took to grow to produce the material. This section is dedicated to the “forensic analysis” of typical wooden products sold in the UK, examining whether they were produced legally and ethically. 

The whole exhibition is designed around the tree. Cambio comes from the medieval Latin cambium ‘change, exchange’, but the name also references the cambium membrane of a tree. This is a layer responsible for producing wood on the inside of a trunk, and bark on its exterior. The design of the exhibitions layout also is based on the cambium membrane, it follows a circular layout around two central rooms. These rooms show Formafantasm’s research, including two videos. 

Some of the oldest objects in the exhibition are samples of rare hardwoods first exhibited in the Great Exhibition of 1851, which represent trees logged to the point of extinction. The newest pieces are the exhibition display furniture and seating designed by Formafantasma, which were all made from a single pine tree which was destroyed in a storm in Val di Fiemme – a forest in northern Italy in 2018. By using this fallen tree it was not left to rot and release carbon dioxide it had stored back into the atmosphere.