Looking out the window on a moody day, with Maria Mariano

Maria Mariano is a Montréal-based maker and researcher who’s pushing the limits of sustainable design, such as by making textiles from expired skim milk. Their singular passion is finding ways to replicate nature’s feedback cycles in artificial systems of production. Nothing animates Mariano so much as finding creative ways to end overproduction and stop waste. The Filipinx designer took a plunge in the turquoise waters of the Morrison Quarry near Ottawa, Ontario, for the cover of BESIDE’s fall issue, New Times. “My first time in a quarry I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was mentally prepared for a chilly fall swim,” Mariano says. “As soon as my body immersed in the water I felt right at home.”

One overcast day in October, they answered our questions while working from home on an upcycled desk made from a large piece of discarded wood found on the sidewalk.

So how do you make textiles from expired skim milk?
Well, after gathering non-usable milk and processing it through organic chemical separations to extract a milk protein called casein, you can then begin to form this product into a solid like fibre. Afterward, this milk fibre can be twisted into a thread, spun on a spool, woven together, and voila, a resistant, biodegradable textile from waste is born!

What reusing moment are you most proud of? 
This summer I volunteered at a youth organization and did a workshop on fashion and sustainability and how to transform old T-shirts into grocery tote bags. It was an accessible way for the teens to participate with just a pair of scissors and a little creativity to see how easy (and fun) reusing can be.

What are some experiences of circularity in your own life that you cherish?
I think circularity can be as simple as exchanging old clothes and leftover meals with friends and loved ones — an exciting way to practise a circular community economy by redistributing our collective resources.

What makes an object meaningful?
When the thoughtfulness of time, the respect of its primary raw materials, and the idea of its impermanence on earth is incorporated into the process of making.

Your most cherished childhood memory of being in nature.
Growing up in the Philippines, I often visited my grandma’s small rural home next to a river. It was my favourite activity to hop on the bus with my dad and make our way through the dirt roads and lush green trees knowing I would soon have my freedom by the flowing water. Every time I walked down to follow the loud rolling sound that twisted its way through the earth, a sense of adventure emerged and gave me the courage to step my little toes in the water and start to imagine a game of pirate ships.

The place where you are happiest.
Being near or in a natural body of water is very healing for me. It allows my body to relax and be present in my surroundings. That is such a gift.

Something you think should disappear from the planet.
Landfills. May they be transformed into something that our future generations will be proud of.

An issue you are concerned about in your neighbourhood, your city, or your country.
In Montréal, and perhaps in a lot of major cities, affordable social housing is a major concern as more gentrifiers are moving into neighbourhoods. It deeply disheartens me to think that marginalized communities are being displaced from their homes, especially in these precarious times of a global pandemic, for the sake of a new condo infrastructure.

A project you are currently working on.
I’m compiling a digital glossary of sustainability terms with other collaborators. We hope to eventually create an open platform where people can add their ideas on what sustainability means to them. We believe that our future should be collectively defined.

A key ingredient for building a sustainable future.
The three R’s: reciprocity, respect, and recognition of our planet, each other, and ourselves.

What is your most revolutionary conviction?
Creating a truly sustainable system is anti-oppressive practice.

What small habit makes you feel grounded?
I observe my breath and hold my inhalation for five seconds and my exhalation for eight seconds. Afterward, I begin to notice the sounds, smells, and objects around me.

What non-digital activity can you happily do all day and never get bored? 
Kayaking with binoculars and a notebook! It’s such an enjoyable way to observe and get to know the creatures and nature that surround the body of water.

Maria is featured on the cover of our Issue 11: New Times


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