A fluorescent lace installation suspended above a busy city intersection, discarded waste transformed into furniture exhibited in a laneway, paste-ups of photocopied portraits on the side of buildings, radically transformed doilies, bicycle crochet tours, laser cutting workshops, 3-D architecture films, international symposiums – this year’s Sydney Design has come to a close, connecting people and creating meaningful dialogue around design issues.
Sydney Design is an annual event produced by the Powerhouse Museum in association with more than 60 cultural institutions, organisations and individuals, featuring over 100 events in 2011. The events ran for two weeks (30 July - 14 August) at the Powerhouse Museum and across the city of Sydney, from Parramatta to Zetland and in between. This year the program included exhibitions, workshops, master classes, talks, installations and tours. It also ran in conjunction with Museum’s showcase Love Lace exhibition, which aptly captured the program’s theme: Is old new again?
When the team behind Sydney Design 2011 (SD11) posted the event’s theme ‘Is old new again?’ designers, makers, practitioners and the general public imagined the trafficking between past and present in varied and complex ways. It was no surprise that the outcome was a collision between tradition, innovation, heritage and experimentation. It certainly wasn’t an indulgence in nostalgia because many used the opportunity to merge old ideas with new solutions or ways of doing things in a contemporary context. For example, the Metalab Collective 2011 was a collaborative jewellery project, where traditional goldsmithing techniques were fused with modern technologies now available to the studio jeweller. The outcome was installed in an exhibition where visitors were encouraged to offer other objects in exchange for the artworks on display. ‘Old’ systems of trade (such as the barter system) were explored with the aid of ‘new’ technology, the online store.
Audience participation was the thumping heart of this program. For instance, running in conjunction with the Love Lace exhibition, were a series of public programs, which encouraged participants to share in an exchange of traditional and new techniques. A master class with weaver Mavis Ganambarr was a highlight of the program that offered an insight into the vibrant history and range of processes used by Aboriginal weavers on Elcho Island. According to Deborah Vaughan, Producer, Contemporary Programs at the Powerhouse Museum, Ganambarr’s calm presence in the master class was inspirational. “She brought pandanus leaves dyed the traditional way from Elcho Island, and taught participants how to weave in the traditional way,” said Vaughan. Audience participation also offered a new starting point for participants of Knitted and Looped, a series of interactive workshops where Museum visitors joined forces with London artist Shane Waltener to create a giant knitted and looped installation. Using yarn, string, paper and cloth participants immersed themselves in a growing lace sculpture. “Knitted and Looped provided Museum visitors with the opportunity to learn traditional craft skills such as crochet, knitting and macramé and how these skills can be used in the making of contemporary art,” explained Knitted and Looped Producer, Athalie Moedjoko. “The participants loved the sharing of knowledge and skills and being able to add their own personal touch to a large scale art installation.”
An exchange of knowledge and skills were further precipitated by dynamic duo the Verhoeven brothers of Dutch Design House, Demarkersvan, who gave the keynote address at the Love Lace Symposium, foregrounding the renewal of an old craft. “The twin brother designers combined sassy attitude with ethical work practises,” said Vaughan.
Outside the Museum, the program opened up genuine opportunities for people to come together from all areas of design. While many festivals and public events privilege one medium over another, or established designers over emerging makers, Sydney Design remained an accessible, inclusive event in 2011. “We had designers from different platforms, industries, all creating at the same time towards one particular theme,” said Debbie Pryor, Citywide Producer for SD11. Ceramicists, textile artists, industrial designers, amateur knitters, architects, weavers, digital artists, paper engineers etc. all came together for the annual event. “I think Sydney Design festival is so important because it’s very inclusive,” said Pryor.
So, in the end, did SD11 answer its own question? Is old new again? The answer to this question appeared to be an overwhelming and resounding ‘yes’. The designers revealed how collaboration, technique, craft, process, artistry and the tangible object are still valued in a time where the image reigns supreme.
For more information visit www.sydneydesign.com.au/2011