Embracing Innovation

1 April to 7 May 2011

Stephen Barrass, Marco Chan, Penelope Forlano, Chris Hardy, Dr Carlos Montana-Hoyos, Gilbert Riedelbauch, Andrew Welch, Mitchell Whitelaw, Tim Brook, Ruth Hingston and Alistair Riddell.

Chris Hardy, Wicker, 2011, selective laser sintered nylon

Innovation reclaimed by Glen Martin

Perhaps the most upsetting modern malaise affecting language is the birth of the buzzword. A term so repeated that it becomes nonsensical, much like the disconnect of a child chanting its own name again and again until said name no longer bares a relationship to its owner. A buzzword is a close relative of spin. When we think critically, we distrust it. Innovation is one such term. As Mitchell Whitelaw suggests, "Innovation as used by bureaucracy tends to refer to the systematic and directed creation of the 'new'. I don't think most novel (or interesting) work happens this way - it arises through local experimentation, accident and play, and engagement in a culture or community of practice."

Embracing innovation is a show that reclaims the word through showing the results of such engagement, experimentation and play. It presents a collection of works from makers who explore complexity, create multi-layered platforms of meaning and enthral the senses. These works recontextualise materials, marry traditional techniques with technological advancement and most importantly, result in beautiful objects. More than anything, this is a show to look at and delight from the visuality.

Stand at a distance from Dr Carlos Montana-Hoyos' A LA LATA and you'll see a chic furnishing fit for a showroom. Now look closely. Note what has been linked to construct it. It becomes, perhaps, a mediation on waste and consumption. A statement on the plasticity of aesthetic recognition in modern times. Or maybe it's just a clever way to build an arresting and functional piece of furniture. Montana-Hoyos seeks to ‘repurpose' materials, driven by a desire to champion socially responsible methods of production. This is high design with a purpose. But it's still a beautiful chair.

There are perception tricks throughout this show. Chris Hardy's Wicker plays a similar game, the fine lattice of his wearables not immediately indicating their source material. The complicated process of making, the history of the artist's intentions, act as a kind of metadata which adds to our reading of what is before us. In Mitchell Whitelaw's Local Colour bowls, the source material is clear to the viewer, but the repatriation of it is the thing. The bowls emerge from the surface of the plinth, cardboard with ambition, snaking their way upward. Meanwhile, Stephen Barrass' extraordinary Data Medallion and Bell of Hearing present the viewer with a puzzle, and a rich back-story. These tiny, beautifully crafted objects are data objects constructed from measurements of human spatial hearing- becoming a kind of synesthesiatic object, uniting the senses in a visual piece. They fuse technology and a specialised practicality with precision and grace.

Elsewhere we have items whose use we might spot more easily, but whose relationship to a dominant idea of such use is more layered. For example, take Penelope Forlano's Terrain shelves. Should these be sullied by a book? These are a multi-layered fixture, as sculptoral as an installation, yet as useful as any flat surface. But pretty enough to leave alone. Meanwhile, Forlano's Terrain, occasional table provides an excellent update of technological interaction with natural materials, and the good that can come of such meetings. The table has been modelled on paper and then 3D Computer Aided Design, computer cut and hand assembled. Technology of the moment has been instrumental in the process, yet the material retains a significant presence. Instead of pulling at each other, the dichotomies of the natural source and the scientific interaction with it creates an ideal union.

There are works that play with time, ideas of the future as influenced by the past and interactions with past notions of the ideal. For example, Chris Hardy's Re-loved Cesca Chair takes a favourite from the 1970's and updates the form, creating a dialogue between ideas of ideal aesthetics and material construction. Marco Chan's Origin is a vision of future transport, part 1933 Bugatti roadster, part sleek laser-cut tube set to sling travellers through Blade Runner streets. Twenty121's Yiffy the Plushie Tuffet, meanwhile, chirps and exhales, shocking the bold viewer who chooses to sit. Yiffy may well be a model of future furniture as companion - though the fact of its gentle birdsong shifting to the sound of a distressed motherboard or an agitated R2D2 when sat on might indicate its preference to be part of the family over being part of the furniture.

Untitled Moments by Tim Brook, Ruth Hingston and Alastair Riddell is an urban plan that emerges before your eyes. Wildlife is forced to share its habitat with the growing suburban footprint progressively becoming more prominent in the frame, as the hard street plan softens through an embroidered animation that re-evaluates the landscape in a charmingly hypnotic fashion. The trio wished to create something from Canberra's most unremarkable moments. The result is anything but dull.

Meanwhile, Andrew Welch's Red Pendants #1, #2 and #3 strikes an interesting balance. The craft is especially fine in these pieces, aluminium, steel and silver finessed into precise detail. Each individual element of these works is so subtle and restrained, yet the overall effect is heavy. These are works with real substance. Show stoppers. Gilbert Riedelbauch's Mikado desk 1 shares this distinction. It's is a work of real grace- surgeons hands made this. Fine strands emerge from the base toward a disc, the top of the light source. Every intersection is elegant, and yet the effect is heavy - the power of the materials (brass collaborating with carbon fibres and LEDs) and their placement, the precision of the joinery, the seemingly outsized switch. There is a lot to look at.

What is left at the end of all this is a visual, physical indication of variables and possibility, of past and present colliding to create the new. Embracing innovation reminds us of what this word innovation really means. It is a show that details the layered ways we interact with material, the way we reassess and reconfigure. Yet this is also a collection of very beautiful, interesting works. Without this visual regard and the often- stunning reflection of the maker's abilities, Embracing innovation would be an academic exercise. Instead, it has the ability to affect as many of the senses as you wish to engage. These works are for savouring. They don't really need words.

Glen Martin by freelance writer, designer and promoter