• Design Alchemy 24 September 2015 | View comments

  • Parallels; Journey into Contemporary Making at the National Gallery of Victoria demonstrated the diversity of what being a designer, craftsperson or artist means in the 21st Century. 
    Despite the onstage debate on the differences between the craftsperson, designermaker and the "Artist", off stage terminology was of far less concern and many felt that was in fact a 20th century issue that had been put to bed. 
    In fact, as several of the speakers demonstrated, the creative industry is marked by some creatives performing as an alchemist. Formafantasma and Simon Hasan spoke of their inspiration drawn from raw material, historical research (even as far back as medieval!), testing and experimentation with material properties. 
    Formofantasma experiment with materials in a unique way that has had their Botanica series collected by the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. 
    Likewise, Simon Hasan experimented with boiled leather to reconceptualise the social meaning of leather, as well as it's material properties, transforming it from a material commonly associated with luxury and suppleness to a structural and loadbearing element as seen in the images below of the nightstands. 
    Koskela, a long time favourite Australian design practice of mine, presented their work with indigineous women of Arnhem Land. The collaboration between Elcho Island Arts and the inner sydney practice created a spectacular series of projects. 
    Most significantly was the woven pandanus leaf range of furniture applied to contemporary style, corporate meeting hubs. Another example of traditional materials being used in wholly new and innovative ways for the 21st century. 
    I enjoyed seeing the return to a tactile, textured and at times gritty surfaces, at times combined with the hyper smooth and mirrored finishes of simply contrasting material that don't age with the agelessness of patinated materials. Designers as alchemists and drawing our attention to the materiality of our world. 

    This project (attendance to the conference) has been funded by the Western Australian Government through the Department of Culture and the Arts. 

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