Marni Bowman

Play in Process

July 2023 - October 2023


Vancouver, BC

Marni Bowman is a transdisciplinary designer whose materials-driven projects utilize wide-ranging research, tying in history, science, speculation, trends and more to propose new material systems. While the medium differs with each project, the overarching theme in her body of work proposes alternative models of co-existing with nature that ask the viewer to supplant disbelief with an amused optimism.

Artist Statement

Play is understood as a tool for development, with its presumed natural endpoint at adulthood. Negative socio-cultural attitudes frame adult play as frivolous and a deviation from productivity – the “opposite of work.” But play is an important state of mind where reality and imagination are combined in exploration of different ways of relating to the external world, and deserves space both personally and professionally to be pursued for enjoyment’s sake alone.

Material design itself is a playful practice, requiring the suspension of disbelief and functional objectives. It is removing expectations and exploring possibilities in order to imagine alternative systems. Guided by hcma’s given theme “Delightful Unburdening,” this material research project titled Play in Process uses the UV fluorescent properties of an urban tree as the foundation for wide-ranging material experimentation, which was based on simple scientific principles but guided by curiosity and amusement.

More on the artist

Marni is based in unceded Coast Salish territory (Vancouver). She holds a BSc. from the University of British Columbia, is a certified Cabinetmaker, and has a design practice under the name Franklin St. Studio. Upon receiving an Experimenta scholarship, Marni attended Elisava University in Barcelona, Spain, where she completed a MDes. in Design Through New Materials, her thesis project receiving Gold in the Professional Edition awards. Marni has taught at Elisava University, presented at Emily Carr University, and Guangzhou University, and has been published in Designboom, Western Living Magazine, and Plural Magazine.

A hand holding a glow-in-the-dark ice cube under UV light. A group of glow-in-the-dark gelatinous items in a glass petri dish under UV light. Two glow-in-the-dark soap bubbles under UV light on a table.

Within the leaves, seeds, and bark of the common horse chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum) is a substance with an uncommon property. Called aesculin, this substance fluoresces blue upon exposure to ultraviolet light, eliciting surprise and delight from those who observe it. These reactions served as the driving state of mind for the project, which took extracted aesculin from locally-harvested horse chestnut branches, and integrated the ephemeral UV-fluorescent phenomenon into a variety material expressions such as foams, paints, bubbles, plastics, crystals, concrete and more. Considering that UV fluorescence has limited obvious utilitarian function removes assumptions of its application, and using amusement as the guide in the material design process encourages myriad – and often surprising – pathways of enquiry.

Whilst play may appear frivolous on the surface, it engages with novel ideas and risk-taking behaviour that would not be considered under other circumstances. Play connects us to the fleeting moments, to each other, to ourselves, and to the wider world, laying the mental mechanisms for future opportunities as yet to be discovered.

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