The little wooden robot sits there, head cocked, arms outstretched, vacant drilled eyes staring into space. Its expression is puzzled and innocent. It looks like it wants a hug. It’s cute.
Sometimes, in the earnest seriousness of striving to live green, we forget our sense of humor. Marjolaine Poulin of M Design hasn’t forgotten… and she loves nothing better than to make other people smile, hence the little army of wooden robots marching out of her workshop in El Salvador.
Marjolaine (“Mao”) has taken scrap wood & discarded furniture and raised them both into art.
A native of Quebec, Canada, Mao splits her time between Montreal and El Salvador, always looking for inspiration. Her introduction to woodworking came in 2004 in Guatemala, where she learned classical bamboo carpentry from a Taiwanese master. Shortly afterward she began crafting her own designs hoping to promote bamboo’s many advantages as a building material in Central America.
Bamboo, a fast-growing, imminently sustainable crop, grows in diverse climates and after treatment is strong, durable, yet lightweight. Discoveries of its usefulness and applications continue to expand.
“In the United States and France,” Mao said, “It is possible to get houses made entirely of bamboo, which are earthquake and cyclone-resistant and internationally certified.”
Her own work with the material is on a more modest scale, consisting of beautiful furniture crafted from bamboo and tropical wood.
Mao has recently turned her attention to a problem local to Montreal: unwanted furniture abandoned on the city streets. As though collecting lost puppies, she rescues the unloved, discarded furniture and gathers it in her workshop, where it waits to be transformed.
“I walk around my workshop and try to mix and match,” she explained. “To repair or repurpose old things with more old things. To be able to sell my pieces at a reasonable price, I try to buy as little new material as possible, which means I need to be really creative and reuse as much as possible.”
This pastime blossomed in 2010 with the Scrap Project, an exhibition of Mao-transformed furniture, the second edition of which took place this past August. The positive feedback from the show’s first run freed her this year to explore new techniques and let herself slip into the creative process. And what are her plans for 2012?
“My Montréal’s workshop is full of amazing abandoned pieces of furniture and I can’t wait to start working on them next summer,” the artist said. “I still have a lot of concepts in my head that I haven’t had time to bring to life, so that’s what the Scrap project 2012 will be about: making it real.”
For Mao, new is overrated.
“It makes me so angry to see how much stuff people in the first world are throwing away,” she said. “It’s unbelievable how much a human can buy and send to the dump every year. I wanted to do my part and feel better about the issue.”
Despite that anger – or perhaps as a salve upon it – there is a deliberate lightness to her work, which is full of opposites and contradictions, whimsical robots, clean lines next to old textures. The unexpected often brings a smile, and it is that smile that opens doors in the mind to new ideas, like sustainability.
More information about Scrap Project 2011 is available on Mao’s blog.