Rather than attempting the impossible task of representing the full range of Queensland furniture design, Gold Coast-based curator CJ Anderson has taken a different approach for the exhibition ‘Spectra – Contemporary Queensland Furniture’, which is on show at
As Artisan creative co-director Cassandra Lehman says: “Spectra defines a position within a range, of emissions of light, colour and perhaps also energy.” Lehman explains that the selected artists and pieces are best understood as entry points into Queensland’s vast creativity.
So the experience of the exhibition is not so much, What is Queensland design doing?, but more – What are these practitioners doing, who are based in Queensland? They are worlds unto themselves which reveal something about the macro. As Cassandra points out, “Queensland design is not a whole; it’s the sum of many parts.”
The pieces diverge greatly. There is traditional woodworking like Isaac Chatterton’s voluptuous handmade chairs, which dialogue with Mast Furniture’s exquisite steam bent ones, a rare production technique in Australia. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are innovative visions of experimental designers such as Ross Annels’ multisensory ‘Prototype Aeolian Harps for sonifying/singing the winds’, which sends the audience on a sonic journey to the Bunya forests Annels lives and works within.
Seeing them all as a collection in the one space prompts questioning about what it is, if anything, that binds Queensland design together. The diversity, seemingly a thematic hindrance, is in fact the keystone.
“As Queenslanders, we are not restricted or bordered by expectations, exactly because there is no clarity around what defines Queensland style,” declares Lehman. “We can ask awkward questions and benefit from being overlooked…
“Having evolved under an umbrella of cultural cringe has meant that there was little necessity to conform to a set of peer driven expectations.”
This unencumbered freedom of identity and expression allows for a level of pure intuition, experimentation, play, and even rebellion, in the pursuit of creative passion.
Brothers Mark and Jack Fearon, for example, have boilermaking and plumbing backgrounds, respectively. Starting out making metal pieces as a creative outlet whilst they fulfilled a large-scale water truck contract, they look like they’re having an inordinate amount of fun creating playful aluminium furniture that can be used both indoors and out.
Whilst they push the boundaries of what it means to be a designer, others are questioning what design is. A collaboration between CJ Anderson and Jay Jermin is more like a piece of experimental art: a glass chair titled ‘Just trying to hold it together’,
Similarly exploratory, husband and wife team Studio Flek flex the tension between value and waste, repurposing a discarded and severely cracked offcut slab of marble – considered unusable in their architectural practice – into a range of refined ‘Odds and Ends’.
With several collaborations within the exhibition, the theme of connection is also felt in the possibility of design pieces and ideas to transport, transmute, transform – and tell stories. A lounge designed by CJ Anderson is upholstered in a textile by Grace Rosendale, a senior elder of the Binthi Warra clan, which depicts a story from her Country. “Guuthi sandhill is a sacred site for my ancestors,” Rosendale shares, describing the local waters that healed her father from illness.
Supportive and inclusive, Spectra shines a spotlight on Queensland practitioners who are often working independently or in relative isolation across a vast geographical region.
“These practitioners are aware of each other,” says Lehman. “Although they are not usually grouped together, they may nod at each other in acknowledgement at major national and international events.”
In Spectra, their shared presence and power becomes a nurturing force, she says: “The collective energy feels motivational, to generate and build our communal capacity.”