Subject Matter Art


Subject Matter In Conversation with the Australian Design Centre

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Lyn + Tony are currently exhibiting their first solo show at the Australian Design Centre (ADC) in the up-and-coming Sydney neighbourhood of Darlinghurst.  Subject Matter introduces you to Claire McCaughan, the ADC’s Head of Programs, to shed light on the experience of curating ‘Scented Intoxication’, collaborating with Lyn + Tony and ADC’s move to the historically eclectic Darlinghurst. This eastern Sydney suburb has undergone vast urban renewal since the 1980s. The area was once a slum and red-light district, and is now home to vibrant independent creative businesses. With the welcoming of the ADC, there is a drive to develop the area into Sydney’s next cultural hub.


SM:Hi Claire, I would just like to familiarise our readers with what your job entails. What do you do as Head of Programs? How did you come about it and how did you and Lyn + Tony come across one another?


CM: As Head of Programs for the Australian Design Centre, I lead our exhibitions, learning, and public programs in our Sydney venue, and our touring venues around Australia. I also research and develop creative partnerships within and beyond the design community, in order to create a diverse and innovative creative program for the ADC.


I came across the Australian Design Centre years ago when I was practicing as an architect, and the ADC was the only venue in Sydney hosting an architecture exhibition. I met Lyn and Tony in 2014 when we were closing our old venue and they were coming to celebrate the end of that era with us.


Lyn Balzer and Tony Perkins, Scented intoxication


SM: What encouraged you and the ADC to approach Lyn + Tony for this exhibition?


CM: Lyn and Tony have an incredibly diverse practice which really demonstrates how expansive design can be. They have created works that attract multiple industries, such as fashion, lifestyle, and arts & craft, and their international profile and partnerships make them a compelling and dynamic duo. They are also incredible collaborators, so I had a hunch they would be brilliant to work with.


SM: Could you say that the multidisciplinary nature of Lyn + Tony’s work presents a lifestyle?


CM: Their design practice, like so many artists, is their same as their approach to life. There is no separative approach. You can see this approach manifest in their craftsmanship, their interest in landscape, and their authenticity.


Lyn Balzer and Tony Perkins, Scented intoxication


SM: What is your experience of being immersed in Lyn + Tony’s world? Where do their multi-sensory experiences take you?


CM: To the sea, to the bush and all the secret locations in between. And for those who attend the exhibition, they may also enjoy the lingered scent of their works long after they’ve left the gallery.


Lyn Balzer and Tony Perkins, Scented intoxication


SM: Scent received a lot of attention in this exhibition, how was this curated? What kind of research went into it? Are they scents that are mostly reminiscent of Australian flora and fauna?


CM: The scent was invented by Lyn and Tony in 2014 and was the first example of us seeing them stretch their sensibility beyond jewellery making and photography. Obscurite (Darkness) is inspired by the scent of black rocks warming in the sun by the ocean, whereas Etrangete (Strangeness) takes its inspiration from from the scent of their favourite rainforest waterfall in Byron Bay, New South Wales.


SM: As Head of Programs at the ADC, how do you envision the centre’s programming to take shape and evolve in the next coming years?


CM: If I can imagine 2020, we’ll no longer be talking about design as a practice separate from business or education; it will be fully embedded in working culture. For the evolution to happen, the ADC’s role is to share the most innovative design practices from around Australia, and also to see how we measure up internationally. CUSP: Designing into the Next Decade, which we’re exhibiting in 2016 after two years of touring Australia, tackles that notion specifically and on an international scale: how can design be embedded in our lives to create a better future?


SM: What is ADC’s position in the historicisation of Australian design?


CM: The ADC originally began as the Craft Council of New South Wales in 1964. Over the years, we evolved from a locally-focused practitioner collective into a professional organisation with a national focus in promoting innovative craft and design. This year, we celebrated our 50-year anniversary and we will continue to evolve as the future of design evolves.


Lyn Balzer and Tony Perkins, Scented intoxication


SM: Gentrification is a word that is often thrown around. How is the influx of creative businesses impacting the lives of those that have been based in Darlinghurst for decades? Do you think the entry of the ADC into this neighbourhood is a form of gentrification? If so, how do you believe it is impacting on the lives of those that live in the immediate area?


CM: Great question! Personally, I’d love us (the creative community) to ‘own’ gentrification, rather than worry about it. The brilliant economic story is that creative communities improve districts by adding cultural diversity to place, therefore that creative culture needs to be strengthened in order to keep places thriving. Instead we talk about how creative community needs to move out because the rents are too high. Yes, we can’t ignore this, and gentrified areas need rent controlled spaces, but changing the discussion to emphasise the value of the design community is more valuable, in my opinion. 


With the impact of the ADC in Darlinghurst, my hope – as its only early days – is that we can tell that story. The area is valuable because of its creative community. It’s a diverse place to live and work and we’re just one part of the eco-system. We hope that our presence can campaign for an even stronger design presence in Sydney.


SM: Finally, we ask all our interviewees the following, what book are you reading now or what have you last read? 


CM: I just finished The Secret Chord, by Geraldine Brooks. She is an Australian author, living in USA, who writes the most incredible stories based on other stories, sometimes historical stories, sometimes myths or fiction. The Secret Chord tells the story of King David of Israel, imagining his life and ascent to power. Regardless of religion, the book is an incredible story of a visionary thinker with many failings. Overwhelmingly, it’s the story of a genius, and I always marvel at different ways those characters manifest.

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