By KIERAN FINNANE
Vistas of Australia as glimpsed from a car window in long days of travel from the centre to the coast have been given material form by Alice Springs based designer Elliat Rich in a most unlikely object: a refined furniture piece perhaps best described as a vanity, consisting of a drawer, a jewellery box and a mirror, it has won tonight’s Australian Furniture Design Award.
This is a new biennial award presented by Stylecraft and JamFactory, open to Australian designers globally and to designers residing in Australia. Rich’s win has just been announced at a gala occasion in Adelaide.
Rich was a finalist in 2015, the award’s inaugural year. Then she took her inspiration from the Coolgardie safe, an Australian invention from the late 19th century, relying on evaporation to keep food cool. As a technology it has been long superseded but for Rich its simplicity and effectiveness represented an astute response to place, which she paid homage to in the form and lines of her Coolgardie collection – Dresser, Curio, and Screen.
There is some similarity of form in this year’s design, called quite simply Place, but it is less cool, more expressive.
The timbered drawer is richly textured and coloured, suggesting the close-up “speed-swept details” of individual trees and shrubs in all their variety. The green of the jewellery box evokes the landscape at middle distance, where forms merge, become “pattern and texture, shadow and light”. The mirror, in closed position and velvet-covered, rises like a distant mountain, with “no detail, only the collective vapour of eucalyptus leaves”.
The top of the jewellery box swings open to reveal small variously-sized cavities, and the mirror also rotates into position. These moving parts and their distinct contrasts in form, colour, texture all contribute to a dynamism and a sense of fun that steps away, not radically but notably, from Rich’s to-date minimalist aesthetic.
She is excited by the change: “It’s the first whisper of a new chapter in my work. I feel like my design voice has been awakened.”
There’s continuity in her interest in understanding identity through place and in recontextualising classic Australian design, but she is keen to give rein to a greater sense of playfulness and expressiveness.
Place was two years in the thinking, two weeks in the making (by collaborator Oscar Prieckaerts) and at just four weeks old is it has reached the pinnacle of Australian furniture design.
A delighted Rich (pictured at right in her Alice studio) will take home a purse of $20,000. Place will be acquired for the Art Gallery of South Australia and Rich will have the opportunity in a residency at the JamFactory to develop a design through to commercial production, which will then be distributed through Stylecraft’s showrooms around Australia and in Singapore.
Photos of Place by Noel McLaughlin.
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