Neue Luxury - - Front Page - De­sign his­tory in the mak­ing. By Ray Edgar


The sheiks are com­ing. The gos­sip whips through Dubai’s de­sign fair like a desert sand­storm. Each one of the 30 in­ter­na­tional de­sign gal­leries knows its for­tunes could change in­stantly. En­tire stock could be bought in one benef­i­cent ges­ture. Bet­ter still, pa­tron­age and com­mis­sions could flow like gulf oil.

Amid the con­tem­po­rary fur­ni­ture de­sign col­lec­tions, the star of the De­sign Days Dubai show is Lucy Mcrae’s ex­otic Prickly lamp. Re­sem­bling an un­holy union of alien tri­pod and Aus­tralian echidna the lamp is con­structed from a quar­ter-of-a-mil­lion colour-graded tooth­picks. Nearby stands Trent Jansen’s equally strange Briggs Fam­ily Tea Ser­vice made from wal­laby pelt, bull kelp and slip-cast porce­lain. Steeped in Aus­tralia’s colo­nial his­tory these works rep­re­sent Broached Com­mis­sions.

One of Aus­tralian de­sign’s most am­bi­tious ven­tures, Broached Com­mis­sions is un­usual in cu­rat­ing and com­mis­sion­ing its own de­signs. Us­ing a core group of de­sign­ers – Trent Jansen, Adam Goodrum and Charles Wil­son – Lou Weis’s Melbourne-based ven­ture is an ex­er­cise in de­sign his­tory. It ex­plores how ideas ar­rived and evolved in Aus­tralia. “It’s about deep­en­ing the nar­ra­tive of place,” he says.

Each Broached Com­mis­sion se­ries ex­am­ines a spe­cific his­tor­i­cal pe­riod. Where Broached Colo­nial ex­plores the col­li­sion of Euro­pean set­tle­ment with abo­rig­i­nal so­ci­ety and Aus­tralia’s flora and fauna, Broached East in­ves­ti­gates the in­flu­ence of Asian mi­gra­tion on Aus­tralia in the wake of the 1850s gold rush.

“His­tory is the glue for us,” says Weis, cre­ative direc­tor of Broached Com­mis­sions. “I don’t think you can be new and in­ter­est­ing un­less you un­der­stand what the old is.”

Weis likens his ven­ture to haute cou­ture. “A mix­ture of art and de­sign in­stal­la­tion, it’s the bleed­ing edge of the de­sign mar­ket,” he says. As such these highly ex­per­i­men­tal pieces (with just two to eight made of each), come with a pre­mium price tag, rang­ing from $8,000 to $45,000.

Weis’s in­vi­ta­tion to Dubai is not just to spruik his lim­ited-edi­tion com­mis­sions, but host a panel on ‘au­then­tic­ity in de­sign’. In the wake of Dubai’s mas­sive de­vel­op­ment over the past decade the cul­tural desert has been trans­formed into an oa­sis of art and de­sign. It’s the lat­est eco­nomic pow­er­house that hopes to de­fine it­self not just through pri­mary-in­dus­try com­modi­ties but so­phis­ti­cated cul­ture.

“It’s fron­tier land stuff,” says Weis, who sees par­al­lels across the cen­turies. To­day it’s oil. In 19th cen­tury Aus­tralia it was gold.

Just as Dubai has thrust it­self in the global mar­ket­place as a travel hub be­tween east and west, dur­ing the 19th cen­tury Aus­tralia’s gold rush brought about the great­est mi­gra­tion seen up un­til that point. It saw Chi­nese prospec­tors di­rectly en­gage with lo­cals, the emer­gence of mass me­dia and the spread of the Ja­panese aes­thetic. Then as now a fear ex­isted that in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion would ruin the lo­cal ar­ti­san base.

“The dilemma starts dur­ing the high point of the in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion in the mid-19th cen­tury,” says Weis. “[In Eng­land] you’ve got the 19th cen­tury Arts and Crafts move­ment say­ing ‘if we lose all of our mak­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties then what makes us dis­tinct dis­ap­pears, and ba­si­cally you’re just in a sea of ubiq­ui­tous in­dus­tri­alised prod­uct’.”

English de­signer Wil­liam Mor­ris most vo­cally per­ceived in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion as a threat to in­tegrity and hon­our. In­deed Dubai and the Emi­rates face the prospect of a sim­i­lar fate, ac­cord­ing to Weis.

“I would sug­gest they ought to de­velop the nar­ra­tive of what gets made there, look more deeply into the Pan Ara­bic aes­thetic and draw on the most beau­ti­ful el­e­ments of it,” he says.

Per­haps un­wisely Weis at­tempted to draw the sheiks into an en­thu­si­as­tic dis­cus­sion on com­par­a­tive de­sign his­to­ries. “I pitched it wrongly,” he con­cedes with a chuckle. “They do not have time for a con­ver­sa­tion, but can only stop for lit­er­ally a minute or two and then move on.” The sheiks, he says, “re­spond less to the his­tor­i­cal spiel and more to the forms and the tex­tures of the ma­te­ri­als”. Mcrae’s Prickly Lamp sells to an ad­ver­tis­ing cre­ative in­stead.

In­deed it’s cre­atives and en­trepreneurs who re­act most pos­i­tively to the Broached se­ries. In part Weis at­tributes this to his col­lec­tions’ em­pha­sis on nar­ra­tives.

“En­trepreneurs have built their lives around a story that they be­lieved in, or they’re in­volved in ven­ture cap­i­tal and they help build that nar­ra­tive with that per­son from the ground up,” he ex­plains.

De­signer Trent Jansen has pro­duced work for both Broached Com­mis­sions. His Briggs Fam­ily Tea Ser­vice took its in­spi­ra­tion from the mar­riage be­tween a Euro­pean whaler and a Tas­ma­nian abo­rig­i­nal woman. Jansen’s Chi­na­man’s File Rock­ing Chair re­sponds to the sto­ries of the roughly 16,500 Chi­nese prospec­tors who ar­rived in Aus­tralia and walked 480 km to the gold­fields. Both were cre­ated us­ing tra­di­tional crafts­peo­ple and ar­ti­sanal tech­niques in Aus­tralia and China.

Con­cep­tual think­ing and au­then­tic ar­ti­sanal prac­tices are es­sen­tial to Broached Com­mis­sions says Weis. “If we work in­ter­na­tion­ally we have to work with lo­cal cu­ra­tors and lo­cal mak­ers and at least one lo­cal de­signer to be au­then­tic,” he says.

Hence the se­ries in­volves de­sign­ers from the cul­ture that in­flu­enced the Com­mis­sion. Broached Colo­nial com­mis­sioned English de­signer Max Lamb, while Broached East com­mis­sioned Chi­nese de­signer Nai­han Li and Ja­panese de­sign­ers Azuma Makoto and Keiji Ashizawa.

“De­sign is a set of in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ments to the func­tion­al­ity and beauty of the things we use in our daily lives,” says Weis. “I want to go back and look at how those ideas ar­rived here.”

If the rise of in­ter­na­tional de­sign fairs, spe­cial­ist gal­leries and mil­lion dol­lar auc­tion prices for the likes of Marc New­son’s Lock­heed Lounge sug­gest a re­newed ap­pre­ci­a­tion for de­sign, Weis be­lieves a pas­sion for lim­ited-edi­tion de­sign ex­ists among every gen­er­a­tion.

The ap­peal of the lim­ited edi­tion lies in be­ing the pro­to­type of great think­ing, says Weis: “It’s about be­ing close to the ori­gins of the bril­liant think­ing that re­sulted in some­thing that then be­came ubiq­ui­tous. The idea of the lim­ited-edi­tion de­sign goes back to where ar­ti­sanal prac­tices be­gin.”

“A cer­tain part of the pop­u­la­tion un­der­stands that is what con­tem­po­rary lux­ury is. That the time has been taken to in­ves­ti­gate, be­cause time is a big part of con­tem­po­rary lux­ury. It’s not just the prod­uct, it’s the in­vest­ment of time and re­search.”

EX­PE­RI­ENCE AND THE SPEC­TA­CLE In­deed Weis’s re­search ex­tends be­yond prod­uct de­sign. It in­volves an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the mar­ket­place. Now more than ever peo­ple crave au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ences, he be­lieves.

“For those who travel and live an el­e­vated first-class life­style when they land [in a city] they want to touch some­thing that feels real. If that’s been ripped out of the city then they don’t want to keep go­ing back. That’s the prob­lem with the in­dus­tri­alised man­u­fac­tur­ing cities of China.”

Fur­ther proof of the quest for au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ences can be found in the re­tail sec­tor. “Peo­ple are spend­ing their dis­pos­able in­come on ex­pe­ri­ences – yoga, restau­rants, bars, travel,” he says. “They’re not nec­es­sar­ily buy­ing a lot of prod­ucts. A cer­tain class of the pop­u­la­tion is af­ter a lux­ury of ex­pe­ri­ence rather than a lux­ury prod­uct.

“You can see in con­tem­po­rary art the priv­i­leg­ing of ex­pe­ri­ence over tra­di­tional plas­tic ob­jects,” he adds. “I think there’s a rea­son why artists like Ola­fur Elias­son and James Tur­rell are two of the big­gest artists in the world cur­rently, be­cause they of­fer a sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence that makes us aware of the lim­its of our op­ti­cal or au­ral ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

Such ex­pe­ri­ences also pro­vide an an­ti­dote to the over­whelm­ing time spent me­di­ated through com­put­ers. That de­sire to have our bod­ies made ac­tive again and un­der­stand our re­la­tion­ship to space and to the en­vi­ron­ment through play­ing with your senses also ex­plains why sig­na­ture ar­chi­tec­ture such as the work of Her­zog & de Meu­ron has be­come so pop­u­lar now, Weis be­lieves.

“We want to be shocked a bit in our ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment. We want the spec­tac­u­lar as an ex­pe­ri­ence. Own­ing that for brands and show­ing that they un­der­stand what an un­usual and in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is and that they can cu­rate it is a very pow­er­ful thing. When we de­sign our ex­hi­bi­tions we use a the­atri­cal light­ing per­son. We don’t want to be just a white cube gallery. Peo­ple want to go some­where and feel like they are en­gag­ing in a larger nar­ra­tive and an ex­pe­ri­ence even if they’re not buy­ing.”

Mem­o­rable de­sign suc­ceeds not just through spec­ta­cle, but de­tail­ing.

“Pack­ag­ing is a big part of lux­ury,” he says. “The drama of open­ing it and how you get it out is a big part of the ex­pe­ri­ence. The let­ter of au­then­tic­ity needs to be re­ally beau­ti­ful. Every as­pect of the pur­chase trans­ac­tion from my per­spec­tive needs to re­in­force what we’re about, which is we’re cre­at­ing pieces only for a few peo­ple and we’re re­ally hon­oured that they’ve bought into our nar­ra­tive.”

Photo: Scot­tie Cameron

Photo: Lucy Mcrae Photo: Scot­tie Cameron

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