Maker's Story

Agnė Kučerenkaitė is an award-winning designer working with raw materials and waste. Originally from Lithuania, Agnė gained her first bachelor degree of Interior Architecture at Vilnius Academy of Arts, after which she successfully graduated from the Design Academy, Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Agne’s specialisation is the development of techniques to transform secondary raw materials and waste into valuable products, by seeking and using the interaction be between design, society, industry and the environment. This process involves in-depth research, analysis, experimentation and hands-on practise, always considering the historical and sociocultural contexts involved. The potential for scaling up is always considered with each of Agnė’s projects.

The result is that Agnė has founded the brand ‘Ignorance is Bliss”. A brand based on her research enabling industrial waste and secondary materials to be used as high value intetrior and exterior products. In this way giving a new identity to waste and to the built environment, with empathy for planetary health.

Agne Kucerenkaite has received many international design awards. The “Ignorance in Bliss” project got recognition in Lithuania, winning 1st place National Design award in 2017. It was also was nominated for the Dutch New Material Award in 2018, shortlisted as one of the top 5 projects of the year in the homeware Design category for the prestigious Dezeen Awards 2018.

n addition, her design practise was nominated for the Dezeen Awards 2019, Emerging Designer of the year. Furthermore, Agne won the Red Dot Best of the Best Product Design award in 2020, was shortlisted again for the Dezeen Award 2021. Homeware Design category and is a winner of the Green Concept Award 2022.

The Process

Agnė begins with waste material that has colouring properties. The main waste sources for Agnė and the “Ignorance is bliss” brand are the water supply and soil remediation industries, which produce thousands of tonnes of residue per year .

The waste comes as sludge, often wet, a mixture of high quantities of metals and organic materials. It was to be processed so that it can be used as a pigment: drying, milling, and sieving.

The resulting powder is mixed with transparent base and pigment glazes, the wast material being up to 40% of the total glaze. Different material applications require different methods and formulations. Tiny changes in mineral content can have major effects on the colour and texture of the glaze.

Agnė has systemically conducted hundreds of tests of the effects on the tiles’ colours altering the waste based glaze formulations. The resulting database and unique know-how enables her and “The Ignorance is bliss” brand to make and supply her range of interesting, rich coloured tiles.

Products

Q&A

What motivates you to make?

The starting point of a project for me is is the raw material and she prefers working with waste or secondary materials. The context or history of the material is also critical. The challenge that drives her is to transform something unexpected with a low value and into something with a higher value. She can only judge her projects holistically with a comprehensive study of materials and their footprint. In other words her projects can only be understood through collaborative working, transparency and ongoing dialogue throughout the disciplines.

What and/or who are you most inspired or influenced by?

Most of my inspiration comes from science. I am personally fascinated by biomimicry and microbiology. Scientists are increasingly looking to nature for technological innovations. I really hope the shift to sustainable solutions will achieve a larger momentum.

What is your unique approach to your craft and how have you honed your skills?

I work with a broad spectrum of materials, but I have a lot of experience working with ceramics and my ceramic projects are developed the most. During my studies in 2015, I was chosen to participate in a three-month exchange program in Arita, Japan. It was one of the first sites to produce porcelain in Japan. As soon as I came back to the Netherlands, I used the gained knowledge in my Ignorance is Bliss project. Ceramics is pure chemistry. Metal oxides are the main sources of colour in ceramic glazes. I replaced the industrially produced pigments with the ones I made from waste. I also combined metal waste with glass and textiles. At that time the outcome was a limited-edition homeware collection. Over time, the project's complexity grew into in-depth theoretical and material research of diverse waste, leading to small and large-scale design applications. 'Ignorance is Bliss' is an umbrella term for ongoing experimentation and disruptive cross-disciplinary thinking, which gradually develops into techniques and products that can be applied as architectural building materials and interior surfaces. One of the products is the collection of ceramic tiles, that are fully developed and can be produced in any quantities. 'Ignorance is Bliss’ ceramic tiles are glazed using pigments solely derived from industrial metal waste and by-products.

What is your defining or proudest moment as a maker so far?

‘Ignorance is Bliss’ ceramic tiles received the highest prize of the Red Dot Design Award 2020, Best of the Best Product Design. The Red Dot Award is an international design competition for product design, communication design, and design concepts. When my ‘Ignorance is Bliss’ tiles were assessed by the Red Dot Jury with the subsequent award, I initially felt extremely proud and probably at the beginning didn’t realise the full impact of such acknowledgement. Seeing my
name next to Apple, Ferrari or Lenovo made me realise that it doesn’t matter if you are a global company with nearly unlimited resources or an individual designer. Either way, you can make a difference.

What is your dream project?

I am most comfortable engaging in long-term projects and I am not focused towards the end. For me this brings depth to the project, especially working with such topics, you cannot be fast, but the opposite – patient and devoted.

There are so many possibilities of the new applications and perfecting the existing ones using my waste streams. I always say that ‘Ignorance is Bliss’ is my lifetime project. As we know, the European Union aims to be climate neutral by 2050. For such goals to be achieved, all states have to get involved at the political level and encourage various sectors to rethink business strategies.

In my opinion, design’s role there is big. Even single designers and studios such as myself are important towards the stimulation of new approaches to sustainable innovation. It is crucial to integrate ideas on a big scale to truly benefit the environment and contribute to the circular economy.