Aged twenty four, Tasman Munro sounds older than his years: articulate and informed, with a well-developed social conscience. The prestigious design scholarship, now in its third year, will provide him with $18 000 to travel and network across the industry, worldwide. Arts NSW provided the grant to the Powerhouse Museum and together they administer the scholarship, in association with the British Council.
To extend his interest in both industrial design and performance art, Munro aims to travel to The Netherlands to meet with his ‘design heroes’ at Droog Design, a fledgling company who have made their way by lampooning traditional design concepts. Amsterdam-based Droog, co-founded and directed by art historian and critic Renny Ramakers, are a conceptual company known for their witty illustrated statements on human behaviour.
True to his ethical denouement, Munro will also travel to London (UK being an imperative destination for winners) where he hopes to tap into the British Design Council’s realm of influence in the industry. The Council has recently run competitions regarding patient dignity, health and hygiene ‘ an area of interest for Munro, whose social justice concerns are always at the forefront. Whilst in London Munro also intends to contact a network of local site-specific installation artists called Slack Spaces Network. ‘I’ll ask them what projects are happening and how I can be involved,’ says an enthusiastic Munro.
The previous 2009 winner of the scholarship was Liesl Hazelton who says the scholarship ‘forced me to take my work seriously’it was a platform to the industry. I wasn’t just a student or there to admire another person’s achievements’I was accepted into exhibitions as an equal.’ The Powerhouse recently commissioned a swing chair creation by Hazelton for the museum collection ‘ rusted, pre-loved and ornately embroidered with flowers using unwieldy recycled computer cables of varying sizes, colours and widths.
At the time of her win last year, Hazelton was already exploring design opportunities in Amsterdam and was combating e-waste in her material choices, the result of a prior discovery of a computer graveyard while travelling in Germany. So she used her scholarship winnings to travel to Korea to meet a furniture and lighting designer Kwang Ho Lee who was also utilising cable and garden hose to confound conventions of materiality and who was working towards limiting landfill. Hazelton says, ‘I learnt about the direction I would like to take with my work. I allowed myself to get caught up in concepts and I now let this drive my work.’
This year, Tasman Munro won the scholarship with his submission of three projects. These were his UTS major work (completed in 2009) of researching the sourcing, storage and transportation of food to indigenous communities. He says, ‘A large part of my interests is humanitarian design and sustainability. Working with indigenous communities, there is a lot of red tape and progress and change is slow. But it is amazing what an impact good design can have.’
The second submitted project was borne from the confidence Christian Tietz at Designlab Oceania (described by Munro as his greatest mentor and inspiration) had in this rising star. Tietz, known for his work in remote Aboriginal communities, handed over to Munro the industrial design project of hospital over-bed tables which needed new materials and user-friendly facilities.
The third component was a record of his community work with ‘Arbiters of Cool’ which promotes local music and art talent and ‘Sketch the Rhyme’ which Munro describes as ‘a multi media performance group which combines live quick draw games / pre illustrated story telling with funk bands and Hip Hop narration.’ These performance works have included live projected kaleidoscope drawings and illustrated political messages on multi screens in abandoned warehouses. Munro says of his street projects: ‘It’s hard to implement change but big design companies can benefit from local community events because of the fresh energy. And communities can benefit from commercial companies because they need a leg-up.’
The prominent judges of the 2010 scholarship were respected designer Marcus Piper, jeweller Melinda Young, UTS Interior Design Director Sam Spurr and Australian International Design Awards Director Stephanie Pemberton. They said, ‘This is the work of a true humanitarian. Tasman’s community spirit is alive and well’we were sincerely touched by his capacity to help people through design.’
As part of the scholarship award process, Munro was interviewed by the panel of judges and it was at this meeting that his travel proposal ‘ itinerary and contacts ‘ were fleshed out with the experienced panel members. Arts NSW, the Powerhouse and the judging panel have worked towards rewarding design innovations that challenge traditional design and address new issues of inventive sustainability. Clearly, Tasman Munro falls into this pioneering category.