The work of London-based Polish designer Marcin Rusak treads a fine line between disposable commodity and art, a duality he explores through the use of flowers in sculpture, products and conceptual artworks.
His works gained the consensus of the Perrier-Jouët Arts Salon, a group of creative influencers who, since 2013, have gathered to explore and award the application of Art Nouveau principles in contemporary art and design. For this third year, the commission (which includes designer Tord Boontje, milliner Stephen Jones and artists such as Claire Brewster, Kate MccGwire and inaugural recipient Hitomi Hosono) considered a group of ten creatives, selecting Rusak’s work as the most fitting embodiment of the 19th century movement's heritage, with pieces inspired by natural forms and organic structures.
Rusak’s work, now on display at London’s Contemporary Applied Arts gallery, is a perfect interpretation of this heritage, combining an aesthetic exercise with a comment on industrial and technological advancements.
The show – entitled 'Inflorescence and Other Artefacts' – includes a number of his earlier pieces (initially presented during his Royal College of Art graduate show 'Flowering Transition' last year), and some new works, which further develop his research. Inspired by his family’s heritage of flower growing (an enterprise started in 1900), Rusak explored modern flower production, finding himself in the middle of a fully industrialised and engineered market. His response is a collection of pieces which play with and comment on the ephemeral and disposable nature of flowers.
The subsequent core of his exploration is 'Flower Monster', a hybrid creation engineered after extensive research in the Netherlands, where Rusak learned about the vast commercial market for flowers (a business which moves $40bn yearly, he explains). 'Flowers today are completely engineered,' he says. 'You can control colour, the size of their stem, whether they have leaves, the intensity of their scent.' 'Flower Monster' is a combination of the most 'marketable' elements, all worked into a three-dimensional print, of which he developed a translucent resin version for the exhibition.
Other chapters of his work include a textile printed with pollen and stained with the petals of discarded flowers collected from flower markets. 'We are often inspired by nature to create decorations, but rarely we use nature to actually make the decoration,' he says. His silk piece is intended to extend the life of the discarded flowers by a few months or years, by slowly fading as the pigments naturally dissolve.
A similarly transient project is his 'Perishable Vase' series, made of dried flowers bound with shellac, resin and beeswax, and fashioned into a traditional vase shape. 'These vases are a metaphor for objects we have in our lives which we know are not going to last, and that we don’t want to keep – but we are stuck with their materiality,' he explains, using iPhone cases and inkjet printers as examples. The newest vase, made for this commission, contains three-dimensional printed metal flowers, a permanent element juxtaposed with the degrading vessel. The idea is that when the vase decays, the metal flowers topple – a poetic reminiscence of what happens when the petals of a flower begin to break off.
The display also includes Rusak’s earlier 'Fragrance' collection: a series of distilled rose petal scents highlighting the differences in the smell of flowers from a supermarket, a florist and a garden. The fragrances are enclosed in cases made of resin and dried flowers, each depicting the intensity of the scent within.
Rusak's three-dimensional works are illustrated with etchings and prints of the 'Flower Monster', as well as vintage photos of his family’s flower business, which was shut before he was born but is still influential to his practice. 'I grew up in the reminiscence of this industry,' he recalls. 'I played in the empty glasshouses; those dry, intensely warm spaces were my playrooms. Even if the flowers weren’t there anymore, their history was still present.' These memories inspired him when looking at materials during his studies at the Royal College of Art (under the designers Philippe Malouin and Glithero's Sarah van Gameren), where he embellished them with further historical, technological and aesthetic research. Rusak also worked with a large network of people – plant geneticists, engineers, sculptors and engravers among them – all of whom contributed to bringing his works to life.
'Marcin’s works are truly representative of the Art Nouveau ethos [of Perrier-Joüet], which interpret the beauty of nature in a thoughtful and engaging way,' said Perrier-Joüet style director Axelle de Buffevent, recalling the iconic Belle Epoque anemone motif designed in 1902 by Emile Gallé – an inspiration for the champagne house for over a century.
Chosen as a next aesththetic chapter for the company, Rusak’s poetic approach to the mundane issues of waste and consumption add a truly meaningful layer to this enchanting visual history.