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Above: Armillary Whisky Bar by Naihan Li (photo: Tony Law); Paludarium Shigelu by Azuma Makoto (photo: courtesy Broached Commissions); Inside Out Cabinet by Adam Goodrum (photo: Scottie Cameron); Chinaman’s File Rocking Chair by Trent Jansen (photo: Tony Law); Ellipse by Keiji Ashizawa (photo: courtesy Broached Commissions).
Launched last week in Melbourne, Broached East is the latest exhibition from design initiative Broached Commissions. Featuring work from Broached Commissions mainstays Trent Jansen, Adam Goodrum and Charles Wilson along with Naihan Li (China), Azuma Makoto and Keiji Ashizawa (Japan) and curated by John McPhee, the collection explores Australia’s relationship with Asia during the mid to late 19th century. More specifically, it focuses on Australia’s connection to China and Japan during this period – following the influx of Chinese migrant workers to the goldfields in the 1850s and, decades later, the increasing numbers of Japanese handicrafts appearing in Australia after the Meiji Restoration.
Broached Commissions’ creative director, Lou Weis, said in a statement: “Australia was thrust into what is now known as the Anglosphere, and kept Asia as a trading partner and the place from which exotic delights were imported. Not allowing Asian people to migrate here, while purchasing their design and art in huge volumes, was an irony lost on most Australians.”
Broached East responds to this sentiment, and particularly the consumer class born of this era, who disassociated the object from its actual meaning. As Weis puts it, “spiritual icons became cute sculptures, totems became coat-stands,” and Japanese design in particular, with its clean lines and comparable lightness, served as an antidote to the more embellished nature of Victorian interiors of the time.
The Broached East exhibition addresses this newly globalised world, focusing on, as Weis puts it, “the construction of exotic beauty and nightly rewards for hard work in frontier lands. With a few exceptions, this collection is about the twilight hours; hours when we strive to reconnect to our non-mechanical, philosophical and holistic sense of place.”
ARMILLARY WHISKY BAR, BY NAIHAN LI
(Edition of 8)
With the Armillary Whisky Bar, Naihan Li – whose work idiosyncratically focuses on the transitory nature of contemporary urban Chinese life – conceptualised an object that would provide its 19th-century owner with respite. The result? A liquor cabinet inspired by the globe bars that were popular during the period, using the traditional form of the armillary sphere and astrolabes in its structure. A brass band wraps the black walnut and Manchurian ash object, articulating Li’s combination of traditional form with the expatriate experience of Chinese entrepreneurs who made their fortune in mid 19th-century Australia.
CHINAMAN’S FILE ROCKING CHAIR, BY TRENT JANSEN
(Edition of 12)
In this piece, Trent Jansen builds on John Bowlby’s explorations in his book Attachment of humankind’s innate and reminiscent longing for the rocking motions experienced while being held and walked as infants. In The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin builds on this notion, suggesting that this comfort that comes from walking is rooted in nomadism. In response, Jansen designed the Chinaman’s File Rocking Chair for the 16,500 Chinese gold diggers who walked from Robe in South Australia to the Victorian goldfields in the mid 19th century. Travelling across the country on foot, these economic nomads would cover over 480 kilometres in as little as 13 days. Made of Manchurian ash, the chair is designed to simulate Bowlby’s and Chatwin’s interpretations of the experience, taking the user back to memories of early childhood.
ELLIPSE, BY KEIJI ASHIZAWA
(Edition of 50)
The depth and consistency of Australia and Japan’s trade history is literally expressed in Ellipse – in a slumping piece of aluminium that bends under its own weight. Made of simple metals bending and arcing around a globe, Ashizawa’s light reflects Australia’s dependence on its raw material exports – such as aluminium and steels – which come back to the country in the form of complex manufactured goods like computers, televisions and cars. Suspended by a single cable, the light warps under the weight of its own expanse. The piece is designed as a mood light, its lightweight structure enabling the piece to move gently, creating shifting shadows on surrounding surfaces.
PALUDARIUM SHIGELU, BY AZUMA MAKOTO
(Edition of 3)
This design originated with the idea of the historic Wardian Case, which enabled the safe transportation of plants overseas and was a revolution in the shipment of flora in the 19th century. Refining his work on ‘biospheres’, the Paludarium Shigelu sees Azuma Makoto enable the encased plant to exist anywhere on earth and at any time of year. The piece is equipped with a timer-controlled drip-feed water system, and excess water drains through the perforated steel cage – collecting in a pull-out box at the bottom of the structure. Internal lights adjust their luminosity within the glass structure, ensuring that the plant receives the correct levels of UV throughout the day. Azuma chose to fill the case with a native Australian bonsai, reflecting upon the history of exporting exotic plants – inverting the tradition so that the Australian variety of a Japanese plant becomes the exoticised object.
INSIDE OUT CABINET, BY ADAM GOODRUM
(Edition of 10)
The concept for Adam Goodrum’s Inside Out cabinet stemmed from a story curator John McPhee told Goodrum about how gold had been historically hidden, by both owners and thieves, and of the boxes created for the transportation of gold. Goodrum’s cabinet represents the small moment of the owner finding a chunk of gold and immediately feeling anxious about where to store it – transformed into a larger narrative. The inside of the cabinet, revealing bright colours, tells the story of an young and ambitious character, while the white outer shell conveys the character’s later years living off the fortune. With tailor-made butterfly hinges, drawer knobs and legs, the design communicates the wealthy character as the inverse of the younger persona – cultivated over years of living a quiet yet prosperous life.
DRESSING TABLE, BY CHARLES WILSON
(Edition of 6)
Charles Wilson’s Dressing Table explores the characteristics of traditional Chinese furniture and embeds them into the piece’s formal design elements. Investigating the traditional Chinese emphasis on delineating structural and decorative elements to furniture, many elements of the dressing table – the top rail inspired by classical Chinese un-waisted corner tables, the lips of the drawer, and the joinery – are directly influenced by this particular period in Chinese history. The warmly lit mirrors, however, are highly modern and give the piece a feeling of ambiguity – the piece plays with both traditional Chinese styles and modern technologies.
Broached East launched in Melbourne on 6 March, and will launch in Sydney in May.
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