Embracing Innovation Volume 4

24 July to 30 August 2014

  • Stephen Barrass (University of Canberra) Joan Barrass (independent practice) and Linda Davy (independent practice)
  • Robert Foster (independent practice)
  • Erica Seccombe (Australian National University)
  • Niklavs Rubenis (Australian National University)
  • Carlos Montana Hoyos (University of Canberra)
  • Bert Bongers and Cecilia Heffer (UTS)
  • Blaide Lallemand and Michael Norris (independent practice)
  • Stephen Trathen, Eddi Pianca, Bill Shelley and Dale Chapman (University of Canberra)

Embracing innovation Volume 4 by Professor Angelina Russo

The plasticity of practice in art, design and craft are rarely articulated as well as when they converge to produce practice-led research outputs such as we see today. We are increasingly told that new models for innovation will rely on a greater understanding of the value and diversity of creative practices, yet the reality of disciplinary silos do little to extend the potential of these practices. Thankfully, the Embracing Innovation exhibition series offers a window into the potential knowledge production inherent in innovative creative processes and cross-disciplinary collaborations, and in doing so, sweeps away the notion of siloed disciplinary creative practice.

We are witnessing a rise of new economic models and changes to traditional models of consumption where design plays a central role in the development of processes and products which can contribute to economic development. From bespoke products sold in local markets to sophisticated systems for the distribution of crafted products, to the online networks which contribute to the promotion of these outputs, new partnerships between practitioners and technology are creating both personally meaningful outcomes and scalable, profitable creative services. At no other time in history has such a public connection between global citizenship, traditional and emerging "making" skills and knowledge production been so viable. Social networks have assisted the promotion and legitimization of the value of craft and design in contemporary times, shifting this sector from a 'medieval marketplace' to a viable and sustainable form of cultural production and distribution.

Within this context we see designers, artists and craftspeople addressing human and environmental problems with renewed vigour. This social and collaborative turn is a profound trend which connects the many fields of creative practice. From the development of new materials to the reconfiguration of existing, these innovative practices converge to create propositions for our future; modelling the ways in which innovation can extend through and beyond the development of an object or process and into new spaces and environments.

Coupled with this physical exploration, collaborative online design practices offer new platforms through which to explore partnerships between creators and producers: to gather culturally diverse experiences and propose new models for co-creation. Social media supports this endeavour by creating an environment within which to create content and support design communities and in the process, achieve innovative outcomes and contributions. As we will discover, many of the practitioners in this exhibition have are experimenting with this opportunity and we look forward to ever-more evolving forms as a product of this engagement.

While we see before us a number of different projects, there are three things which bind them together: critical making, knowledge exchange and interaction. Central to this convergence is the notion of 'critical making' where practices are organised around the making of objects (material or online) and imbued with meaning by the sharing of knowledge surrounding its manufacture.

In the work of Stephen Barrass, Joan Barrass and Linda Davy, we see the potential for the exploration of affordances that accompany advances in material sciences, where the designers ask, "what happens when materials with new and unusual properties are used in craft and design…?". Their innovative combination of ceramic materials creates both a new system for interactivity and new visual and temporal products; thus demonstrating in practice, the value of knowledge sharing in the critical making process.

Similarly, Robert Foster seeks to reconfigure the relationship between materials and users, questioning the solidity of prescribed materials while actively creating new forms which mystify the viewer. Erica Seccombe also explores materiality although her's is a visualisation of the changing modes of data capture and display. She asks questions of the temporal nature of visualisation and the dynamic phenomena which exists around an object while it is still subject to change.

Niklavs Rubenis reminds us that designers 'have a great deal of responsibility…..when bringing something tangible or non-tangible into the world." He combines traditional furniture and recyclied materials; seeking unusual properties inherent in unpredictable constructions which are then reconstituted and/or recombined to create new products. In doing so he seeks to re-classify materials, asking the audience to reflect on the potential inherent in the reconfiguration of existing materials.

Carlos Montana-Hoyos offers a structured reading of design method which informs that way that materials are configured, manipulated and ultimately imbued with meaning. His final timida & arrogante water pitchers, reminiscent of icons of the design world, are nevertheless, afforded visceral, behavioural and reflective tendencies which coincide with contrasting human emotions and personality characteristics.

Bert Bongers and Cecilia Heffer offer a practice led project which merges the boundaries between materiality and immateriality; creating new systems of pattern which emerge from audience interaction with both the physical and virtual material, thus producing a spatial sensory experience. Theirs is an investigation into the potential for co-creative practice which results from audience participation; the cycle continuing well beyond the exhibition site where visitors are able to acquire the patterns in textile print.

Interaction results in new compositions and performances in the work of Blaide Lallemand and Michael Norris; their exploration of real-time interactive immersive installation seeks to understand the types of sounds which people are drawn to and, simultaneously, the aural environments which participants create both for themselves and others within the environment.

Plasticity comes back to the fore with the work of Stephen Trathen, Eddi Pianca, Carlos Montana Hoyos, Bill Shelley and Dale Chapman in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Sport and the Olympic Winter Institute. Theirs is an investigation of new materials, high performance environments and global expectations

The final designs are themselves examples of the sometimes "mute" quality of designed objects; the sleds come to life and demonstrate their genuine potential only when interaction and engagement occur. Throughout this exhibition as we embrace the innovations present in each artefact, there is an affordance which comes into being with, through and as a result of interaction. Whether that interaction is at a micro or massive scale, each designer and artist demonstrates their expertise at manipulating material, construction, scale and texture to produce innovative personal and meaningful experiences. They do so through the process of critical making and ensure the extension of their experimentation through the exchange of knowledge surrounding the design and manufacturing process. Their contributions to innovation speak to the value of design in the production and distribution of new products and services. We seek to be delighted by new experiences and new configurations and, in this exhibition we are lucky enough to have both.

Professor Angelina Russo, Associate Dean of Research in the Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra.