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Smart Works: Design And The Handmade Exhibition – Kathy Keele’s Opening Speech

Speeches and Opinions
Oct 31, 2007

Australia Council CEO Kathy Keele opens the Smart works: design and the handmade exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney on Thursday 29 March 2007.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

Hello and welcome.

It’s a pleasure to be with you at this spectacular venue, the Powerhouse Museum…

A fascinating collection of Australian ingenuity and innovation – past and present.

I can’t think of a better place to launch this special event.

Craft and design industries that are locally strong and globally confident are emerging now in Australia and New Zealand – two countries that value both quality of life and necessity-driven innovation.

This exhibition, Smart works: design and the handmade, is a dazzling showcase of these art forms, and the immense creativity and skill of their makers.

It’s a groundbreaking collection of pieces and objects that says confidently: look out world – we’re coming of age.

It is bold and it’s beautiful…

It’s earthy and sophisticated…

It’s serious and playful…

Craft and design are incredibly important areas of the arts – in Australia and New Zealand and indeed all over the world, both from the standpoint of the art itself and from the perspective of the innovation and collaboration required to move from the creative concept to the market.

Firstly, from the perspective of the art itself.

As I walked through the exhibit I found myself oohing and ahing at the sheer beauty of the designs.  I was also inspired by the level of creativity, and awed by how smart and, indeed, intelligent the objects are.  There’s a wonderful blend of traditions, techniques, and materials.  There is also a rich vein of personality and passion.  The other thing that I noticed was the reflection of local lifestyles and the sense of place.

Craft and design in today’s world is also important for how it innovates to get creations to the market.  The collaborations that take place with manufacturers and other “makers” are often ingenious and demonstrate new ways to do things, to partner and to think about our world.

While this is true of many art forms in one way or another, it might be especially true for Australia and New Zealand in design, because in many cases, we don’t have access to a local manufacturing base for our design objects.

The works in this exhibition are fine examples of how this takes place…

How artists sit side by side with manufacturers…

And how the art itself can be enhanced in that collaboration…

And made more accessible through these relationships…

They are also fine examples of the ingenuity and innovation that are inherent in our culture.

That’s why the Australia Council for the Arts encourages and proudly supports initiatives like this exhibition and the three-day symposium starting tomorrow, because the Council is attempting to address the big issues our craftspeople and designers face in creating and making their objects and getting them to the market.

We have our own activities and programs that complement the sector’s great work in this area and it’s great to see some of the success stories represented in the exhibition and here at the event tonight.

Artists like Rod Bamford and Oliver Smith, for example, are both recipients of an Australia Council Maker to Manufacturer to Market or Triple M grant in 2005.

For those of you who don’t know, Triple M assists craftspeople and designers to manufacture and package their work for a range of commercial markets.

Rod Bamford, for example, is an award-winning designer and visual artist who established his own ceramics business, Cone Nine Studios, with partner Janine Brody in 1994.

Rod’s Triple M project saw him expand Cone Nine Studios to manufacture his GM limited edition works.

The GM range consists of high-quality vase and bowl forms featuring rich photographic imagery mapped to the surface of simple dynamic shapes that are contemporary in appearance.

For Rod, who has established a successful commercial arm to his studio practice, the MMM project enabled him to further his research of mapping visually rich print surfaces to functional ceramic forms.

Fellow recipient – Canberra-based silversmith, Oliver Smith, used his Triple M grant to manufacture and distribute three stunning stainless steel cutlery pieces.

The cutlery pieces have been manufactured in collaboration with Hycast Metals, specialists in producing high-quality precision castings and finished components.

The collaboration between Smith and Hycast, a company which generally services the construction industry, is an important innovation.

The talent and creativity of these artists is simply amazing and we’re delighted to play a small but important role in taking it to new heights and new places.

And not just here in Australia but overseas as well where Australian craft and design have been called the ‘new black’, attracting unprecedented attention in key markets around the world and at such renowned international exhibitions as Talente in Munich, Collect in London and SOFA in Chicago.

And increasingly here in Australia where the Australia Council’s been able to encourage international curators, gallery directors and influential thinkers to visit local artists, curators, galleries and key organisations involved in the craft and design sector of the Arts.

Leading US glass artist Garth Clark, Holly Hotchner, director of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York and Finnish designer Harri Koskinen are just some of the big names who have visited Australia through our international visitor program in recent times.

So, the future looks bright for Australian and New Zealand craft and design.

It will continue to impress with its unique character, intelligence and vitality.

It will continue to succeed through innovation and blunt determination.

And through initiatives like Smartworks it will continue to grow and prosper – at home and abroad.

Congratulations to all the artists in the exhibition and to curator Grace Cochrane for her inspired selection – and to Kevin and Powerhouse team.

I now have great pleasure in declaring Smart works: design and handmade officially open.