Tag Archives: architecture

Victorian makers follow a pattern

Humphrey Poland is a legendary Melbourne builder and designer. His approach to building draws heavily on a craft sensibility to  materials, particularly in the use of recycled timbers that have their own story to tell.

Poland was previously a founding partner in the Flying Trapeze Café theatre restaurant in the early 70’s and later worked with the Comedy Café. His current interests include photography and bee-keeping. Today his main workshop is in Moyhu, a small town in the King Valley near Wangaratta.

To coincide with the Great Victorian Bike Ride, Poland curated an exhibition titled Multiples which brought to Mohyu an established and upcoming generation of artists. Much of the work related to wooden patterns that were found in the nearby Valve Foundry.

Here are some words I put together for the opening:

I feel a bit of a fraud speaking to you to this evening. Growing up in the new suburbs of Perth, I had little experience of the industrial world, the remnants of which we see here. I took my world of dreams to Melbourne more than forty years ago, when I saw them realised in the fabled light show of Hugh McSpedden to the music of Spectrum. These dreams came to earth finally at the Meat Market Craft centre, where as writer in residence I felt a craft camaraderie, tapping out sentences alongside jewellers hammering out metal surfaces or woodworkers carving out flourishes.

Yesterday I found a word to describe writing about what you don’t do: ultracrepidarianism. It comes from the tale of Pliny, where a cobbler has the temerity to cast judgement on a painting by the artist Apelles. In anger, the artist declaims, ‘Sutor ne ultra crepidan – Cobbler stick to your last!’

Allow me to stick to this last for a minute. While we tend to think of craft skill as something that is internalised in our bodies, there are some trades where the tricks are embodied in unique templates, like the last for many a shoe. There are stories of cobblers who destroyed their lasts in a bonfire rather than leave them to strangers.

In the post-industrial age of robots and 3d printers, we find ourselves surrounded by the leftovers of the mechanical age. Some believe that these are precious keys to design that need to be preserved. The company Lasting Impressions in Davenport collected abandoned matrices from printing presses as a kind of typographic DNA that one day may need to be resuscitated, Jurassic style.

Others find a new use for these remnants as art, like the sculptor Nicholas Jones who carves abandoned books into unique forms with a surgeon’s scalpel.

What seems special about this exhibition Multiples, is that not only have some artists recovered old wooden patterns used in foundries, but they have taken the logic of production in the creating of work. There are John Comeadows’ fantastic sculptures making the most of the primary colours of the original patterns. Humphrey Poland’s cards use the classic outline of the Christmas tree to produce an unending series of scenes. And Hugh McSpedden’s lightshow casts these shapes into forms that cover the world. Colin Musto has re-framed his technical drawings as works of art. Bill Walker documents the following results in our world that have been shaped by the same pattern.

And it’s heartening to see them also shaping the next generation to follow too. Stuart Sinclair, Joshua Lewis, Malcolm Laurence.

This is a generation that have dedicated themselves to making our world a more livable place. They have left their stamp.

Let’s hope that when god produced them, she didn’t break the mould.

The journey begins

Moe Chiba opening the Visible Hand forum

Moe Chiba opening the Visible Hand forum

Sangam – the Australia India Design Platform was launched in Melbourne on 21 July.  

During the day, RMIT Industrial Design hosted the Ethical Design Laboratory’s workshop into ethical labelling. Experts from around Australia met to develop a set of standards for creative collaborations. Representatives from law and design, alongside leading practitioners, considered best practice for labelling of transnational cultural products. These protocols contribute to the development of a Code of Practice for Creative Collaborations, supported by UNESCO. The results from Melbourne will be published on the website for discussion next month and then presented in Delhi at the mirror event on 21-22 October this year. 

In the evening, a panel considered what it means for an Australian designer to work in India today. The coordinator Kevin Murray opened the session with a reflection on the strength of Australian designers, coming from country whose experience of reconciliation grants a sensitivity to cultural difference. This included included video messages from four designers in India. The panel was led by Moe Chiba, the section head of culture for UNESCO New Delhi, who highlighted the role of designers in sustaining India’s cultural heritage, particularly in the crafts. Local textile designer Sara Thorn defied received wisdom about authenticity and argued for the virtue of artisans working with machines in India. Architect Chris Godsell reflected on his experience in building sports stadiums for the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010. While providing a cautionary tale about potential pitfalls, he spoke positively about the energy and capacity of Indian partners. Finally, Soumitri Varadarajan talked about the impact that design can have in India, focusing on the issue of maternal health. Afterwards, the panel was hosted at a network dinner at the City of Melbourne, including leading figures from the Indian community and government. (A recording of the forum is available here).

Overall, the evening generated a positive reflection on the opportunities for Australian designers working in India. But at the same time, there were some important questions posed that will remain challenges for the project:

From the Australian perspective, India has much to offer in terms of rich decorative traditions and expanding market. But what then from an Indian perspective might Australia have to offer in exchange? The answer for this question will unfold at the mirror forum in Delhi later this year.

In terms of developing standards for collaboration, there is much interest in focusing previous discussions towards a set of principles that can build confidence in product development partnerships between designers and craftspersons. The next challenge is to link those standards to the market, so that they can have direct economic benefits for those involved. This a matter for future workshops that will explore models of consumer engagement, particularly with social networks.

The journey began with a buoyant march, but steep mountains loom ahead. To follow, go to www.sangamproject.net and subscribe to email updates.

The Visible Hand: What Made in India means today

You are invited to a discussion about Australia-India partnerships in craft and design.

Thursday 21 July 6-7:30pm
Yasuko Hiraoka Myer Room, Sidney Myer Asia Centre, University of Melbourne

Speakers include Ritu Sethi (Director, Craft Revival Trust), Chris Godsell (architect with Peddel Thorp), Sara Thorn (fashion designer) and Soumitri Varadarajan (Industrial Design, RMIT)

This is a State of Design event presented by Sangam – the Australia India Design Platform, a program of the Ethical Design Laboratory at RMIT Centre for Design, in partnership with Australia India Institute, Australia Council, City of Melbourne, Asialink and Craft Victoria.

India is both one of the world’s leading economies and a treasury of cultural traditions. While in the past, many craftspeople and artists have travelled to India for creative inspiration, today new partnerships are emerging in design. Architects, fashion designers and industrial designers are finding new opportunities in the demand for skills both inside and outside India. In particular, India has an enormous capacity of craft skill that is lacking in the West. As India gears up for increased export activity, how will the ‘Made in India’ brand compare to ‘Made in China’? What are ways of local designers to add ethical value to their products through partnership with India? How can cultural differences between Australia and India be negotiated to enable productive partnerships?

Design can play an important role in building partnerships in our region. Globalisation is now extending beyond the large-scale factories of southern China to include smaller village workshops in south Asia. This offers many opportunities for designers to create product that carries symbolic meaning. But to design product that is made in villages requires an understanding of their needs and concerns.

This event is about design practice that moves between Australia and India. It is looking at how the stories of production can travel across the supply chain from village to urban boutique.

This seminar is part of Sangam – the Australia India Design Platform, a series of forums and workshops over three years in Australia and India with the aim of creating a shared understanding for creative partnerships in product development.

RSVP by 15 July to rsvp@sangamproject.net. Inquiries info@sangamproject.net.

Sangam – the Australia India Design Platform, is managed by the Ethical Design Laboratory, a research area of RMIT Centre for Design, including researchers from Australian Catholic University, University of Melbourne and University of New South Wales. It is supported by the Australia Council as a strategic initiative of the Visual Arts Board and the Australia India Institute. Partners in Australia include Australian Craft & Design Centres including Craft Australia, Arts Law and National Association of the Visual Arts. Partners in India include Craft Revival Trust, National Institute for Design, the National Institute of Fashion Technology and Jindal Global University. This platform is associated with the World Craft Council and the ICOGRADA through Indigo, the indigenous design network.

Photo of Kolkata flower market by Sandra Bowkett