A warm and embracing indigenous smoking ceremony welcomed a packed house to the second annual ‘Women in Design’ conference in Launceston.
Words and images by Jane Connory.
The Design Tasmania gallery space filled with a heavy mist as Dr. Patsy Cameron, descended from the traditional inhabitants of the land, daubed everyone’s hands with an ochre crescent moon. It felt inclusive. It felt as though the smoke was marking the space as ‘ours’ and that the symbols on our hands were identifying us a part of a larger entity. The colloquium was hidden on a tiny island at the bottom of the world but was open to ideas from everyone attending - safe in the four walls of a beautiful gallery but bursting with an anticipated and enthusiastic conversation. The theme was ‘collaboration’ and the tone was set - only good things can come from sharing spaces, thoughts and processes.
Elliat Rich and Claire Scorpo, both design practitioners, began by chatting about their interactive installation of delicate brass disks exhibited in the space. Attendees were invited to thread the disks into each other and onto ropes suspended from the ceiling. Stools encouraged people to sit and slowly take part in the act of crafting while getting to know each other. Elliat and Claire intentionally made the instructions a verbal and demonstrative procedure, designed to make the artwork successful only with amicable input from one person to the next. This process drew from experiences Patsy also shared, of learning and teaching the basket weaving skills of her indigenous ancestors with a new generation of women. Both these examples of collaboration framed it as a tradition, uniquely beneficial to women. A way of teaching, a way of socialising and a way of production on a large scale that was both creative and generous of spirit.
"...the tone was set - only good things can come from sharing spaces, thoughts and processes."
Day two explored ways of collaborating. Jaqueline Clayton shared case studies from her ceramic practice at Studio Jam, producing table wear for high end chefs and restaurateurs. She framed collaboration as co-authorship and was inclusive of her clients as integral to the process. She was open to sharing the frustrations she’d encountered with them but identified these differences of opinions and clashes of cultures as what made the projects interesting. Natalie Holtsbaum, the MoMa craft curator, also revealed a difficult side to collaboration, coining the term “creative calamity”. Self-reflections on one particularly large scale community event became a huge learning experience for her. She said that the final outcomes would have been improved if they’d evolved more through contributions from her whole team rather than staying true to her individual vision.
The next session was held in a lofty lecture theatre at the UTAS School of Architecture and Design. An apt setting for Dr Katherine Moline and professor Dorita Hannah’s presentations, which brought an academic perspective to pushing the boundaries of collaboration. They spoke about research practices and curation and the richness both developed when of exploring design as a process and an ephemeral experience in space. Claire Scorpo presented her architectural practice as ‘enablers’ who brought together teams, hand picked to be flexible towards the outcomes. Elliat Rich’s practice lent heavily on an “ethical imperative to increase equality between people and across species,” drawing on the similarities between the five types of relationships in symbiosis. The ideal collaboration being mutualism, where both species equally benefited from the pairing and the most detrimental collaboration being synnecrosis, where both species end up killing each other. This analogy was graphic yet entertaining and sparked fervent responses from the audience.
"...the most detrimental collaboration being synnecrosis, where both species end up killing each other."
A bountiful harvest dinner saw Saturday night linger amongst many candid conversations and bottomless glasses of champagne. Her Excellency the Governor spoke to the importance of highlighting women’s contributions in the field of design and need for gender equity in the workplace while Katrina Strickland and Lindsey Wherrett stood proud as women women significantly contributing to their creative fields. Katrina elaborated on her role editing the Australian Financial Review Magazine and entered discussions with Lindsey about the legitimacy of rejecting collaborative practices. Here my notes disappear. The company was great - the wine even better - and the enjoyment of sole artistic practices became the guilty pleasure admitted by all around me!
The final day sought to traverse a way to success through collaboration. Anne-Maree Sargeant presented her ‘Authentic Design Alliance’ initiative with an aim to rid the furniture industry of fake designs and replicas. She explained that the financial success of designer’s work lay heavily in their ability to protect their intellectual property and her passionate call to arms sought to educate the Australian public in the value of good design and lobby the Australian government to protect designer’s rights. Next, Peta Heffernan disclosed a series of projects generated through her studio, Liminal, and rated them on a five-point collaborative spectrum. Anything above the base level of three was considered a viable and successful collaboration where people worked well together in the studio, external expertise was sought out to enrich these experiences and where the network was ultimately extended out into the community. Rounding up the day Dr. Fleur Watson profiled many design exhibitions she’d curated where the crux of the work shown was of a collaborative nature especially in the processes used to create it. Dr. Zoë Venea then profiled the many benefits to her jewellery design practice that occurred when she shared it with another highly skilled craftsperson.
The company was great - the wine even better - and the enjoyment of sole artistic practices became the guilty pleasure admitted by all around me!
The open and intimate weekend drew to a close and although men were very welcome in the space, their minimal attendance created a safe atmosphere for the quite voices. The forum created visibility for female designers amongst themselves but did not promote their achievements outside this circle. Wikipedia was discussed as a platform where these designers could make their impact known more widely and ensure it becomes historically recorded. The exquisite installation begun at the start of the weekend, was connected as a singular piece, dubbed ‘Stitch Field’ and raised to the ceiling. Women wore the bronze discs as earrings and broaches and left Design Tasmania adorned with a symbol of how women working together enriches lives and drives design along a journey to outcomes that we may never expect.