Emerging Contemporaries – 2014

14 February to 29 March 2014

Amanda Herzman, Bernard Benny, Tim Wallace, Sara Hellsing, Nellie Peoples, Shaun Hayes, Amy Hick, Blake Winterbottom, Doug Rosemond and Sarah Adcock

Emerging Contemporaries by Gwenyth McNamara

Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre's national artist award exhibition ,Emerging Contemporaries, recognises outstanding early career craft practitioners and designers and celebrates technical and conceptual innovation. In 2014, the fourteen recipients are graduates from a number of Australia's leading art and design institutions - the Australian National University (ANU), University of Canberra (UC), Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT), Sturt School for Wood (Sturt), Charles Sturt University (CSU) and the Design Centre Enmore (DCE). The achievements of the graduates selected for this exhibition, demonstrate dedication to their chosen fields and the ability to defy trends and push creative boundaries. For some, the creative processes concerned with addressing form, function and aesthetics, often with a market-driven awareness, have been their motivation. However, others have approached the making process from a very personal, often philosophical level – their work becomes a vehicle of self-expression to communicate broader meanings, inviting viewers to engage on this deeper level.

The jewellery of Luke Abbot (DCE) has been informed by the truism that actions produce reactions. He says, 'this fundamental idea, combined with an intense interest in the natural world, inspires me to make.' Abbot's meticulously designed and crafted rings are interactive, where the user's reaction forms a large part of the work. Intrigue and surprise are borne of a response to the innovative mechanics inherent in the pieces. Alternatively, Nellie Peoples (ANU) explores ideas surrounding place, experience and the holding on to memories through collecting keepsakes. She explains, 'The souvenir, which authenticates an experience, is a marker of the transformation of the event to a memory…I will seek to challenge this concept of a souvenir. In this instance the object takes a souvenir of a person.' Here, Peoples' rings bear markings, indicating wear and tear during one's life throughout the full spectrum of human experience.

The human tendency to immortalise precious memories and experiences in the form of lockets is the key concept behind the crafting of many tiny, oval pieces of glass by Sara Hellsing (ANU). These objects contain images of family photographs from the artist's childhood experience of living in Sweden. This personal experience has driven her to investigate the changeable nature of memory as the viewer's attention shifts between the actual, lived experience and the nostalgic fragments in her work, Moments Passed. Further narrative can be observed in the jewellery of Sarah Adcock (CSU). It is an emotive exploration of identity and the notion of being put in, living in and coming out of the closet. Rather than containing fragments of memories, Adcock's polished lockets and pendants share a journey of isolation, retrospection and liberation, inviting us, the viewer to peer into them to take a second look at ourselves, others and the world around us.

Meanwhile, Amanda Herzman (ANU) opens a different dialogue through her screen printed textiles, A Hairy Situation. The artist focuses on the visibility and removal of hair from the female form, using drawings of both desired and undesired hair which have been screen printed on fashion items including socks and scarves. In her words, the viewer is invited to 'try on these garments which can be easily worn or removed, transforming hair into an intentional and playful, decorative decision.' Another artist working with textiles, Jo Walters (CIT), displays delicate fabric organs in an intriguing set of ornamented cabinets called Escape Artist. With words from W.B Yeats' poem, 'Sailing to Byzantium' carefully stitched across the surface, the work conveys both the fragility and strength of human physicality. Walter states, 'I see my art practice as a desire to communicate concepts that fascinate or resonate, in original ways - while also evoking beauty, humour and hope – this is ultimately what drives me forward.'

Following the theme of the human condition, ceramicist, Amy Hick (ANU), evokes a sense of youth and playfulness in her ceramic babushka dolls. These delicate, contemporary forms have been inspired by a recent trip to Russia working in an orphanage and observing the skill of traditional artisans. On another level, Shaun Hayes (ANU) confesses of his practice, 'imagination is the driving force behind making'. Reminiscent of fantasy inherent in 'Gulliver's Travels' and driven by a narrative tale of construction and making, his piece Pull yourself together features miniature plastic figures who reconstruct the torso of a girl.

Whilst broader meanings and narratives directly inspire the practice of many Emerging Contemporaries, the intention to explore such elements as form, function and aesthetics, while considering consumer needs and sustainability, concern young designers such as Karmen Falez (CIT). Her women's wear collection, One Fleet, has been created with a conscious awareness of consumer needs, lifestyle and the ways in which people move, particularly whilst travelling. It is through informed fabric choices that the young designer addresses function, aesthetics and longevity. Sustainability is also encouraged in the wearing of these bike-friendly garments – part of Falez's brand ethos.

Similarly, functionality, form and aesthetics are key to the making ofArtillery Speakers by industrial designer, Blake Winterbottom (UC), which appeal to the consumer in an understated and tactile way. Made with industrial strength cast concrete, the product utilises the latest in Bluetooth technology. Winterbottom states, 'I believe that as a designer, understanding and embracing the unique relationship between form and function is a must, and that neither can exist without the other.' Also, another example of the significance of form and function in the design process can be seen in the Tasmanian blackwood ukulele, made by Charlie Gillings (Sturt). Passionate about music, Gillings designed and constructed this unique and elegant instrument for a musician's enjoyment and use. This piece and the chairs created by his contemporary, Doug Rosemond(Sturt) are also products of fine craftsmanship. Exploring form, function and aesthetics, Rosemond's Beckett Chair emerged from a design involving bending wood to form a piece of furniture. Kitchen Chair was produced as a result of a complex process to eliminate curves in a way that would not sacrifice comfort or support. Rosemond says, 'I have come to understand my underlying preference is for making functional items with more style than flair.'

Functionality is also the concern of designer, Tim Wallace (ANU), whose work follows a process of subtraction. This and his sustainable and environmentally responsible approach is demonstrated in the making ofRemade Chair. After stripping back the surface of discarded furniture to reveal inherently beautiful qualities, Wallace reconstructs the timber pieces to allow a new and reinvigorated form to emerge. Through this process, Wallace defies materialism and reinjects value into objects which would have otherwise been considered as waste. Meanwhile, Bernard Benny (ANU) gives a nod to past design traditions concerned primarily with process and material. His Swallowtail Mirror and Round Stand are contemporary in their construction, but make reference to Shaker design philosophies surrounding simplicity, usefulness and beauty.

This is an outstanding exhibition. Regardless of the inspiration or motivation behind each of the exceptional works, collectively, they encourage lively dialogue through thought-provoking narratives and methods of production. Engaging a wide audience of contemporary craft and design enthusiasts at Craft ACT, each piece demonstrates a high level of craftsmanship and technical ability across a range of mediums and styles. In so doing, Emerging Contemporaries not only showcases fresh, new talent of the future, but also exemplifies the commitment of Craft ACT to fostering emerging artists, by opening up opportunities for their professional development.

Gwenyth Macnamara is Curator of Public Programs at Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre