DESIGN Canberra set to take over the capital

For its ninth edition the Canberra festival boasts its biggest line-up yet with an eclectic range of disciplines including architecture, interior design, metalwork, and digital media.

Words: Rose of Sharon Leake

During a sneak peek preview of DESIGN Canberra last week, I was struck by just how big the festival is. Currently in its ninth year, DESIGN Canberra has left no stone unturned in its effort to celebrate and promote Canberra as a global city of design. When I spoke with Jodie Cunningham, CEO and Artistic Director of Craft ACT- which runs the festival- she tells me that design is in Canberra’s DNA: “Design is in everything and good design is so abundant in Canberra. The creative energy and generosity in this town is palpable and we can’t wait to share it with the community. Our line-up of exhibitions is world class, showcasing the best in contemporary Australian and Italian design.” 

From 2 to 20 November, more than 250 events, including symposiums, talks, tours, exhibitions, public art installations and workshops will be showcased as DESIGN Canberra. From the moment you step off the plane you are immersed in the festival, with mini exhibitions at the airport looking at contemporary design from Craft ACT and Uruguayan craft artists (in collaboration with The Embassy of Uruguay) and Eggpicnic’s Friend in High Places, large scale graphic intervention on the walls of Canberra Airport. Stepping into the city, Indigenous art and craft are at the fore, with Leah Brideson’s large scale graphic intervention, Currents in Civic Square transforming the ground into a painted landscape representing culture and Country.

DESIGN Canberra is the primary outreach program for Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre, a non-for-profit membership-based organisation that supports artists, craft practitioners, designers, and makers at every stage of their careers. A particularly unique aspect of this festival is its economic structure which sees all ticket sale profits go back into paying the artists and designers a decent wage for their works. Cunningham reiterates, “It’s all about community, place and supporting the artists.”

This ethos is evident in the festival’s 2022 theme of Transformation, which has been translated by this year’s DESIGN Canberra Designer-In-Residence Lucy Irvine. Each year the festival commissions a local contemporary artist/designer to create a signature work for the festival. Irvine’s cast bronze work The Stills is a rearticulation of a previous work of hers, yet this iteration sees her cast small sections of a much larger work. On top of this she has created a city-specific work made from black building insulation material, which she has photographed taking over architectural structures such as bus shelters and staircases. From her pop-up studio in Civic Square, Canberra, she tells me that her work is much more about the process of transformation than the end result. In these works, Irvine looks at the way humans construct space and the way that many architects through history have planned cities without thinking of the human it is intended for.

Highlight DESIN Canberra events include:

From 27 October to 10 DecemberCraft ACT Craft and Design Centre will present three exhibitions, each displaying unique design talent: the Robert F!NK National Metal Prize, Home Life and the Seeing Seventies Photography Competition.

The inaugural Robert Foster F!NK National Metal Prize will celebrate outstanding work in the field of contemporary metal working by both established and emerging designers and craftspeople. Supported by Tall Foundation and F!NK + Co Director, Gretel Harrison, the prize recognises exceptional skill and innovative design, with ten finalists’ works displayed at the exhibition. The winners will be announced on 27 October with three main awards presented to an established artist, an emerging artist, and an acquisition prize, with a total prize pool of $18,000.

Home Life, presented in collaboration with the Embassy of Italy, will showcase the world’s best in contemporary interior design. Working with the IMF Foundation in Rome, and curated by design curator Elisabetta Pisu, Home Life, reveals how houses will evolve in the future, and shows how objects can enhance our enjoyment of being home.

Seeing Seventies: Photography Competition will showcase over 90 photographs from 80 Canberra Region Photographers on the theme of “Design in the 70’s”, with both professional and amateur photographers capturing the best of Canberra’s iconic design and architecture from the decade. 

A selection of exhibitions will be launched at Canberra Centre at 5pm on 4 November as part of Opening Night, running until 20 November, including Shadow Lines and Ctrl. ALT. Design.

Shadow Lines showcases work from Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre member and OAT Studio’s Sarah Annand, encompassing photography, painting, and textile design to capture the essence of Canberra’s defining 1970’s architectural masterpieces.

Ctrl. ALT. Design highlights the agency, agility, and adaptability of the next generation of creative professionals. The exhibition will feature University of Canberra students’ works from the disciplines of Architecture, Digital Media, Industrial Design, Interaction Design, Interior Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Visual Communication. The works on show will explore the capacity of digital tools and how the digitally enabled creative can offer new solutions, opportunities and experiences that improve and enrich our daily lives.

This article was posted 25 October 2022.


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