CURRENT EXHIBITION ~ HISTORY IN THE MAKING
22 MAY - 24 OCTOBER 2021 ~ NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA, MELBOURNE
The Ngumu Janka Warnti (All Made from Rubbish) High Back Chair, designed and made in collaboration with Johnny Nargoodah, is on show at the National Gallery of Victoria, as part of the ‘History in the Making’ exhibition.
‘History in the Making’ showcases contemporary design across diverse creative fields to explore how the physical properties and origins of materials, design histories and narratives are entwined with systems of production and, in-turn, shape human culture.
Through the classifications of animal, plant, mineral and synthetic, the works on display create dialogues between the past, present, and future of materials in the production of designed goods and objects. They offer broad perspectives on social, ethical, environmental, economic, and technological issues driving present day innovation, debate, and change.
Drawn from the NGV Collection, ‘History in the Making’ presents experimental, one-off, and limited-edition craft and design to mass-produced goods and fashion, highlighting the relationships between natural and synthetic materials, supply chains and markets, underpinned by approaches to design production, which are making history.
From Trent’s point of view, this project is an experiment in the generation of hybrid material culture. Material Culture Theory says that the artefacts we create embody the values, ideas, attitudes and assumptions (the culture) of the creator. But what if an artefact is created collaboratively by two people from different cultures? Does this artefact exhibit the cultural values of both authors? If so, how do these cultural values manifest?
From Johnny’s point of view, the project has a few different aspects to it: Making – “we use rubbish, recycled frames, we make chairs and cabinets and use the leather to make it look good, to make it furniture that is usable and looks nice”; recycling – “it is important to reuse old rubbish we find, and the leather makes it special”; history – “the leather gives it a reference to the history of Fitzroy Crossing and station life. Saddlers used to come and repair saddles using leather, making twisted rope out of cowhide. This is what I think about when we are using the leather”; and sensory – “the smell of that leather is so good. It brings back memories, triggers those old memories of walking around the saddle room in Noonkanbah shed. There is a sensory response, that’s important.”
“The collaborative process and experimentation is key to this project. Trent and I work together on this, we both sketch, look at each other’s sketches and from there we mix it up. I’m really enjoying the skills sharing, learning from each other, we both have a lot of different ideas, we keep coming up with new works, keep experimenting.”
Unlike their Jangarra Armchair, a previous collaboration designed and made in Fitzroy Crossing, Partu was developed in Thirroul on the New South Wales Coal Coast. Johnny and Trent came together four times over a period of 18 months, developing new methods for collaboration that could shape their incongruent knowledge, methods and skills in designing and making into co-authored outcomes. These methods include: ‘Sketching exchange’, a process of back and forth sketch iteration, allowing an idea to evolve with equal input from both creators; and ‘designing by making’, a method of working with materials at full scale, to design an object as it is being made. In this approach the prototype is the sketch and both collaborators work together to carve, construct and/or manipulate material, giving the object three-dimensional form as they design and make simultaneously.
Ngumu Jangka Warnti is the Walmajarri phrase for ‘all made from rubbish’. The design of this collection began with a trip to the local scrap metal yard, in a vague search for anything interesting. Johnny and Trent salvaged a selection of discarded aluminium mesh and used this found metal as the starting point for experimentation. Trent and Johnny designed these pieces as they made them, starting with a mesh substrate cut vaguely in the shape of a chair, and together beat the material with hammers, concrete blocks and tree stumps until it took on a form that they both liked. This beaten geometry was then softened by laminating New Zealand saddle leather to skin the mesh, masking its geometry and softening its idiosyncratic undulations.
Words by Trent Jansen and Johnny Nargoodah.
Level 3, Contemporary Art & Design,
22 May – 24 October 2021
Installation views of History in the Making at NGV International from 22 May – 24 October 2021. Image courtesy NGV.
Photography – Sean Fennessy and Romello Pereira