The poetry of Seabling
Imaginative jewelry emerges from the sea
Seabling—the word just sings and sets the mind to imaginings. I envision bejeweled seaweed, gold dusted pearls, and seafoam with emerald flecks.
Imagination and reality fuse together with Seabling, a Norwegian creative team that creates jewelry. Its juxtaposition of reclaimed plastic debris, once churned by the sea, mingled with precious metals from the earth’s depths is bizarre and brilliant. Their finely designed pieces are beautiful, elevating recycling and upcycling to a new level. The concept also brings some hope for our ravaged environment.
The artisans behind this endeavor are a collaborative team in life and creation, Vemund Barstad Bermingrud and Synne Skjulstad.
“While some pieces are created in an instant, others are the result of longer processes. Combining our skills, interests, and aesthetic sensibilities, each piece reflects this close collaboration,” their website explains. “The result is also at times a very messy living room.” (I wish my messy living room produced the same results.)
I had the opportunity to ask Synne about Seabling’s origins and future imaginings. Our interview follows.
Victoria Hofmo: How did the idea of Seabling come about?
Synne Skjulstad: This project just happened gradually in a very non-planned manner. My partner, Vemund Barstad Bermingrud, and I spend a lot of time at my parent’s summer cottage in Østfold, Norway. We spend much time by the coast and have unfortunately experienced an increasing amount of plastic waste being washed ashore.
This includes everything from large objects to tiny fragments of plastic debris. As we were cleaning up plastic on our walks in the area, we started to collect some of the plastic pieces we found to be interesting and beautiful. When looking closely at the plastic pieces, we discovered a great variety in surface textures, colors, and shapes. And we just started tinkering with them. It gradually grew into a jewelry project.
VH: Your process is known as discursive jewelry. Could you explain this term?
SS: The term “discursive” refers to a mode of designing in which the designed objects (in our case, the jewelry) are regarded as carrying a potential for generating discourse (such as this article for instance). The jewelry pieces may thus nudge those encountering them to enter a discussion and, hopefully, a reflection on the sorry state of the ocean because of our misuse of plastic.
Design researchers Tharp & Tharp released a book about discursive design at the MIT Press in 2019. They relate discursive design to a variety of critical design practices and design research traditions, proposing discursive design as
“tools for thinking” and as a way of designing for prompting self-reflection. Following these authors, we approach design to ignite the imagination. In our case, such an approach to jewelry design enables us to reflect on matters relating to the role of plastic in our ongoing destruction of nature.
VH: When did your interest in jewelry making begin?
SS: Our (because it is both Vemund and I who make the jewelry together) interest began with suddenly having a collection of plastic pieces. We had no experience in jewelry making before this project. This is the first jewelry project we have done, and we have no formal training in jewelry.
VH: What is your training?
SS: Both of us have academic backgrounds in the humanities. I have a doctorate in media and communication studies. Neither of us has any training in jewelry. However, I work as associate professor in a design department, so I have training in media and design research. Vemund works at a publishing house.
VH: What makes Seabling unique?
SS: What really is unique is that every piece of jewelry is one of a kind. No two pieces are identical. Every piece is made up of a plastic piece in the shape in which the piece was found. We do not shape or break any of the plastic pieces we use in our jewelry. Every piece is carefully selected, and all the pieces are handmade.
Among large amounts of plastic trash, there are a few “gems.” Seabling is not a brand in a traditional sense but part of a practice-based research project, in which jewelry design is central to a material exploration of marine plastic debris. We also find it interesting that jewelry is on the total opposite side of the spectrum as trash. And we literally make jewelry from trash. And we treat pieces of this terrible material as precious in the pieces we design.
VH: How is it going?
SS: As for the ocean, things are not going well at all. Unfortunately, all the plastic we see on the shore is just a tiny percentage of what sinks to the bottom of the ocean. There is so much work to be done. The project develops at its own pace, so we are not rushing things. After the winter, it was, however, quite upsetting to see how much plastic waste was washed ashore on a beach we visit every summer. This gives us motivation to develop the project further.
VH: Can you give us a hint about your future collection?
SS: We always try to make pieces we find interesting. At the moment, we are developing a series of earrings made from small plastic filters. We have collected quite a few of them, but until now, we have not found a way of using them yet. So currently, we are trying out making these quite classic, preppy, pearl-like earrings out of these plastic filters.
VH: How can people buy your pieces?
SS: The pieces can be bought at the Henie Onstad Art Center at Høvikodden and at the Norwegian Maritime Museum at Bygdøy in Oslo. We have not put up an online store yet but are happy for all inquiries. Just send us a message via the Instagram account
This article originally appeared in the June 26, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.