In partnership with the Romanian Cultural Institute, the British Council in Romania is launching Circular Catalysts, a programme aimed at generating new collaborations between Romanian and UK designers, artists and craftspeople and facilitating fertile conversations around sustainable production practices and processes.
Building on the idea that the pragmatic relationship between people and natural resources in rural Romania can be a fruitful foundation for local resilience and sustainability, five UK designers and artists have been invited to collaborate with organisations working in rural Romania to explore the intersections between rural and urban, and the role and migration of local materials and crafts in social, economic and environmental sustainability.
Circular Catalysts aims to provide both local and UK models of good practice and to develop a European network of people and initiatives that share a set of values aligned to the principles of the circular economy. The programme started with a series of creative residencies in March–April and will continue throughout 2023 with complementary activities for both professionals and the wider public.
- Gareth Neal is an internationally renowned British furniture designer, who has gained acclaim for his innovative approach to combining high-end digital fabrication techniques with traditional craft practices. His work is characterised by conceptual rigour, environmental consciousness, and meticulous craftsmanship, which has earned him collaborations with leading architects such as Zaha Hadid. His pieces are housed in prestigious institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum. During the Circular Catalysts residence in Cincu, Sibiu County, Gareth was hosted by local initiative KraftMade, which focuses on performative objects, unique pieces, capsule collections, restoration and education, particularly in wood and textiles. KraftMade’s practice centres on creating site-specific exhibitions, performative objects and capsule collections that highlight hands-on education and restoration initiatives, with a focus on interdisciplinary approaches and regenerative futures. Their ongoing project, KraftMaking the Future, is a series of workshops and residencies that seek to convey archaic craft wisdom as a regenerative solution for the future. Together, Gareth and Alex Herberth (wood restorer, art-carpenter and archiver of ancient craft techniques in Transylvania) have explored the sources and resources of traditional craft techniques, and tested their contemporary practicality and future sustainability in the slow circuit of design, production, consumption and regeneration.
- Anoushka Cole, a maker and material researcher based in South London, participated in the second residency of the Circular Catalysts programme held at the Golescu Villa in Câmpulung Muscel at the beginning of spring. Anoushka, with her focus on sustainability and craft, gathered herbs and flowers from the Romanian hills and infused natural fibres with their essence alongside a team from the Pro Patrimonio Foundation, an organisation dedicated to the conservation, rescue and reactivation of cultural heritage. Anoushka’s philosophy aligns with the Foundation’s view that tradition is not rigid, but rather a source of identity, culture and critical thinking about modern life. The residency provided an opportunity for hands-on experiments in natural dyeing processing and printing, using the surrounding nature as the main element to obtain natural pigments, creating blockprinting patterns and printing flowers, leaves and petals directly onto materials. This connection between modern design techniques and ancestral ways of processing fabrics exemplifies the fusion of tradition and innovation in craft. The residency’s results showcased how sustainability and craft can intersect within the art and design sector, and invites visitors to appreciate the beauty and significance of local tangible and intangible cultural heritage in a contemporary context.
- Annemarie O’Sullivan and Tom Mcwalter from Studio AMOS embarked on a journey to explore local crafts and traditional ways of living and making. During their stay in Cincu, hosted by KraftMade, the UK-based basket artisans had the opportunity to exchange knowledge and techniques with local basket weavers from Sibiu County. They also discovered that the practice of cultivating willow for weaving, which they do in the UK, has been lost in Romania, and craftspeople here collect wild willow instead. However, Annemarie and Tom identified a plot in the village where willow might have been cultivated specifically for basketry, proving that locally sustainable craft is waiting to be rediscovered and grown back into a flourishing culture. This discovery is a testament to the importance of knowledge sharing. As Annemarie puts it, her work has always been a conversation with makers who have come before her, passing techniques from one generation to the next, and her visit to Romania is a powerful experience that she is keen to draw on.
- Lola Lely is a highly skilled designer/maker who utilises traditional craft techniques to produce distinctive and desirable products and artworks for private clients, galleries and retailers. Lola’s unique process frequently involves collaborating with artisans and communities outside of her typical professional environment, enabling her to learn from and engage with skilled craftspeople both in the UK and abroad. Lola’s work often includes a degree of social engagement and some of her most fulfilling projects have involved working with marginalised or under-represented groups. As a designer, Lola has a proven track record of taking inspiration from craft traditions and transforming them into well-considered, practical products and collectable artworks. Patzaikin is a Romanian fashion and lifestyle House founded in 2011 by architect Teodor Frolu and Olympian Ivan Patzaichin. The Patzaikin ecosystem, inspired by Ivan’s connection to nature and water and the Danube Delta, is a collaborative entrepreneurship between artists, architects, designers and passionate craftspeople. Guided by their creative experience and distilled through contemporary design, they promote the transfer of both material and immaterial resources from local rural heritage. Lola Lely embarked on a trip to the village of Mila 23 to immerse herself in the unique landscape of the Danube Delta and learn about the local customs. Patzaikin will also build a rural cultural centre dedicated to the memory of Ivan Patzaichin. Following her residency, Lola participated in a collaborative workshop with several artists and artisans, part of the Creative Traditions network, sharing her knowledge about circular production processes and contributing to the concept making of the next Creative Traditions exhibition at the Peasant Museum in Bucharest.
- Carol Carey, the Creative Director of Somerset Art Works (SAW), recently completed a creative residency in Cluj, hosted by Remarkable Romania. Her aim was to explore opportunities for collaboration between Somerset artists and Romanian craft practitioners by scoping for a Romanian partner to set up a craft residency in Romania. SAW is dedicated to developing the visual arts in Somerset and offers a range of services to a broad range of clients and partners across the county, including project management services and education and community engagement programmes. The rural community in Somerset faces operational obstacles and limited resources, which can lead to social isolation. However, SAW is committed to creating new opportunities for artists to carry out research and to develop opportunities for collaboration, in order to achieve excellence in the community. They also focus on environmental sustainability, local craft heritage and the role that arts and craft can play in shaping and sustaining our lives. Over the last ten years, SAW has raised the quality of craft in Somerset by engaging craft practitioners with a track record of excellence and creating education resources to enable young people to develop making skills. Remarkable Romania is a project by the Cluj Cultural Centre, consisting of a network of small settlements in Transylvania investing in culture and heritage as local sustainable development. They support their member settlements to give new added value to their culture and heritage, for the sustainability of the community and the region. Through this residency, Carey was able to explore potential partnerships and collaboration opportunities between SAW and Remarkable Romania, which could benefit both Somerset and Romanian artists and communities.
The documentary exhibition Circular Catalysts will be showcased during Romanian Design Week 2023. The exhibition features objects, texts, sound and captivating photographs captured by Ioana Cîrlig during the five creative residencies where contemporary UK artisans were hosted by local organisations working with traditional craftspeople in rural Romania. Through interdisciplinary design and collaboration, the programme, initiated by the British Council Romania and supported by the Romanian Cultural Institute, explores the intersections of rural and urban life and the potential of craft practices in individual and community well-being.
During the exhibition, Circular Catalysts will also feature a series of community engagement activities such as workshops, podcasts and meetings, sparking conversations around traditional knowledge systems and community practices with a role in creation and sustainability. The programme promotes the exchange of skills and knowledge between the UK, Romania and Europe as part of the British Council’s response to global issues, specifically addressing the climate emergency.
As part of our commitment to sustainability, our exhibition design and touring prioritise environmentally conscious practices, with smaller volumes, lighter materials and reduced air travel. We also prioritise inclusivity, aiming to increase accessibility for people with disabilities through tactile elements and a dedication to welcoming those with diverse bodies and abilities. Together with Supereroi printre noi, AMAIS and Studio Mud, we are dedicating Thursday 18 May to people with special needs.
Join us at Circular Catalysts to experience the power of creative residencies, photography and dialogue around craft, sustainability and the relationship between people and nature in rural Romania. Be inspired by the change-making artisans and their exploration of cultural contexts, traditional knowledge systems and responses to the global climate emergency. Don’t miss this thought-provoking exhibition during Romanian Design Week 2023, starting on 12 May.
- Photographic documentation: Ioana Cîrlig
- Sound design: Cosmin Postolache
- Graphic design and exhibition lay-out: Studio Fluid
- Consultants on accessibility: Supereroi printre noi, AMAIS
Exhibition viewing period
- Bucharest: 12–28 May 2023 | Piața Amzei 13 – Romanian Design Week Creative Corner | 10.00–20.00 daily
Activities and workshops
Programme updated regularly: www.romaniandesignweek.ro
About our guests
Superheroes among us is an NGO that promotes the social inclusion of people with disabilities through accessible and inclusive cultural events. It works for and together with people with intellectual disabilities, neurodiverse community, deaf persons or persons with physical disabilities.
AMAIS (Association of Alternative Methods of Social Integration) is an organisation that builds an equitable society for people with temporary or permanent disabilities by applying the principles of inclusive design to architecture, technology and social projects.
Studio mud. – mud. exists because everyone deserves beautiful porcelain objects.
Roxana Bîra is one of the founders of Studio mud. She is an architect and for seven years she has been building a ceramic reality through which she interacts with the world to help people be more mindful of their daily rituals and more joyful in their encounters with the objects that surround them.
Arabeschi di Latte is a design studio founded by Francesca Sarti and born from experimentation with design concepts, reflecting on the cultural value of conviviality and shared memories and traditions. Arabeschi di Latte creatively and critically investigates food and drink cultural practices, looking at contemporary rituals, the spaces they inhabit and the complexity of human interactions. Carrying out interdisciplinary research, mixing design and art practices, Sarti and her team work with international clients and partners to deliver installations, performances, bespoke experiences, sets, spaces, workshops, visual narrative and social objects, blurring the boundaries between design, architecture, art and food culture.
Future iterations of the exhibition
- Timisoara: 16 June–9 July 2023 | Maria Theresia Bastion @ HEI – House of European Institutes | Full programme coming soon
- London: September 2023 | Romanian Cultural Institute – 1 Belgrave Square | Full programme coming soon
- Birmingham: November 2023 | CENTRALA – Unit 4 Minerva Works, 158 Fazeley Street | Full programme coming soon
About Circular Cultures
Circular Catalysts is part of Circular Cultures, a regional multidisciplinary British Council programme that aims to promote dialogue around circular design, exploring topics such as climate change, material waste and creative cultures. In Romania, Circular Catalysts explores the interconnectedness and isolation of rural, urban and social systems in local and global contexts. The programme activates different typologies of actors, essential for the development of placemaking processes in a sustainable way: the community, the artisan, the village, the forest, the designer, the home, the city, the river, the market.
The British Council supports peace and prosperity by building connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and countries worldwide. Present in Romania since 1938, it supports artists, cultural leaders, students, young leaders, teachers and governmental and non-governmental institutions through projects in the arts, education and society.
The Romanian Cultural Institute has joined the Circular Catalysts programme to support the mutual exchange of knowledge and to increase capacity of creative actors in Romania, as well as to facilitate the access of Romanian professionals to international networks.
Romanian Design Week – a ten-day festival that promotes design, architecture, creativity and innovation as tools for cultural, social and economic growth – has chosen the theme of CONNECTIONS for the 2023 edition in an attempt to generate spaces for dialogue and creative cross-fertilisation processes and to encourage interdisciplinary and collaborative projects.
Partners: The Institute, Creative Traditions
Media partner: Scena9