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Ten Days on the Island

March 23 - April 1 2007

 Da Contents H2


free range: design deviations

bec tudor

Bec Tudor is a writer and researcher based in Hobart. Her interests include fine art, philosophy, environmental thought, education and community.

The curatorial premise is promising. Free Range is an exhibition featuring 28 of Tasmania’s leading designers and their prototypes and one-off pieces of jewellery, furniture, sculpture, lights and ceramics. It claims to provide “…a rare opportunity for the participants to venture outside of the constraints of the designer/client relationship and to try something new or different.” I was hooked by this proposal and excited to find out what results when the creativity and imagination of skilled craftspeople is let loose. My hope was that it might be something truly original, aesthetically challenging, and possibly fabulous.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, given that the show is presented by Design Objects Tasmania, all works are object-based. Nevertheless, there is a contingent of works which range into conceptual or artistic territory. I was drawn to these pieces as they represent the furthest deviation from designers’ usual concern for functionality. Textile artist Grietje van Randen for example creates a very tactile full-scale replica of a potbelly stove. It’s made entirely from felted white merino wool and comments on lifestyle habits exacerbating global warming, and urges us toward sustainable living. Ceramicist Zsolt Faludi contributes Three Islands, a beautiful sculpture of clay, glaze, glass and resin symbolic of the hermetic nature of island culture. Rebecca Coote’s two light objects (the largest sized 100 by 80 centimetres) are tentacle-like architectural installations of glass that wrap around corners and dangle from ledges, while Martin Warren’s intensely coloured slumped glass baskets stretch down from above like cooling toffee. These pieces reflect artisans taking delight in challenging the physical and visual potential of their media, as well their own skill.

Furniture is perhaps the most conservative category of works in this show. A number of unchallenging but nevertheless elegant table, seat and cabinet designs feature the precious indigenous timbers (such as Huon Pine, King Billy Pine and Celery Top Pine) ubiquitous in handcrafted Tasmanian furniture at present.

Patrick Hall’s Typeface is a notable exception. A visually heavy, boxy structure 1.8 metres in height, this piece grapples with recollection through the form of an archival cabinet filled with drawers. The collection—ceramic fragments illustrated with photographic images of faces, labelled with strange catch phrases—are not hidden inside but encased behind glass in the drawer-fronts themselves. This exquisite and conceptually complex object evidences Hall’s statement that his practice “is based in craft, is informed by design, but deals with ‘fine art’ concerns.”

Peter Prassil’s Recreational Device is a reclining lounge chair of aluminium, stainless steel and black leather, gadget-ed with microphone and amplifiers. Stylistically sitting somewhere between a dentist chair and the space age interior designs of the 1960s, this furniture piece also stands out for truly shaking off concerns of practicality and commercial viability in favour of fantasy.

The setting of Mawson’s Waterside Pavilion, a purpose-built design showroom, ensures this exhibition maintains an industrial feel. It could have been interesting to view these pieces in a gallery setting, and a number would certainly have benefited from controlled lighting. Alternatively it would be wonderful to actually sit in Prasil’s chair and find out what the microphone and amplifiers did, or to see Megan Perkins leather belts with luscious enamel buckles modelled.

As it is, these disparate works are collated in Free Range almost like an expo and not quite like an art exhibition and as such fail to capitalise on the opportunities of either format. A picture of avant-garde practice from the creative hybrid zones beyond commercial design is not quite realised overall, yet I sense Kevin Perkins could have addressed this to a degree through stronger curatorial direction. There are undoubtedly many very beautiful objects in Free Range and if I think of the show simply as a loose survey of creativity in contemporary local design, it is an excellent indication of the breadth and vibrancy of the industry here in Tasmania.

Free Range, curator Kevin Perkins, Mawsons Waterside Pavilion, Mawson Place, Constitution Dock, Hobart, Ten Days on the Island, March 19–April 8

Bec Tudor is a writer and researcher based in Hobart. Her interests include fine art, philosophy, environmental thought, education and community.

© Bec Tudor; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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