When artist and designer Hefin Jones decided to embark on a project about space exploration, he started out by looking close to home. A native of Wales, Jones was curious about how traditional Welsh craftsmanship and the working class skills he grew up admiring could be put to use in other parts of the galaxy.
“I’m interested in space from a more social rather than scientific perspective,” says Jones. “What happens when you work together with someone on something that brings you closer to outer space?”
To answer that question, Jones turned to a local plumber, clog maker and stain glass artist and wool manufacturers to explore how their skills would work in a “cosmic context.” The result is a full-fledged space suit made solely from Welsh materials and using traditional craftsmanship. Originally completed as his graduate project for Goldsmiths College at the University of London, the Welsh Space Campaign, is now a part of the Designers In Residence: Migration exhibition at the Design Museum in London, where Jones recently completed his residency.
Jones began the project by working with his brother, a plumber, to develop a pressure system for the spacesuit. “You need constant pressure inside a spacesuit to keep your bodily fluids in a liquid state–it has to be like a tiny planet or bubble protecting you,” says Jones. By thinking of compression of the suit in similar way as a plumber would think about the heating or plumbing system of a house, they designed a spacesuit that would keep an astronaut alive in zero gravity. For the outer layer of the suit, Jones worked with some of the last remaining wool mills in Wales to develop a tough wool material.
The space boots were provided by a clog maker–also a sci-fi aficionado–who adapted the wooden soled clogs traditionally worn on docks and in the mines to a boot suitable for trekking around on the moon. Jones topped off the ensemble with a helmet made by a local stained glass artist and inspired by the ones worn in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
As impressive as it is to see age-old techniques used to produce something so cutting edge and futuristic, Jones maintains that the point of the project was to encourage local industries to think big and expand the uses of their particular skill sets in the world today. “Making [the spacesuit] work is important because the more real it becomes the more real it is to the people involved. But I thought of [the collaborations] as more of a suggestion: What you can do with your skill in another context? How do you feel about it? That’s as important if not more important as the making of the artifact.”
Jones’s work is on display at the Design Museum in London through March 2016 as a part of the Designers In Residence: Migration exhibition.