Liminal visual delight in the city

Birds of Australia. Artwork by Egg Picnic.

Sometimes living in a big, vibrant, noisy and expanding city like Sydney has some surprising moments. Like when you come across one of the City of Sydney-commissioned artworks on an enormous building site. The city is full-to-bursting with cranes and construction of all kinds at the moment as the land and sky scape eternally changes around us.

I call these moments of seeing things like this ‘acts of liminal visual delight’. They’re fleeting and precarious. They exist in snippets of in-between time. On a threshold of before and after. And they’re a little bit ephemeral too. Once the building is complete and the scaffolding dismantled, the artworks will be gone. And ‘visual delight’, because works like this one (see photo above and below), Birds of Australia by Egg Picnic, are a splash of lively colour on what would otherwise be a bland old black or white external hoarding outside this Bay St, Glebe residential building site. Pleasure, joy, thrill, delight.

This sense of precariousness is communicated in another way too. Egg Picnic’s work was created to remind us of the vulnerable nature of Australia’s wildlife. Birdwatchers and designers, Camila De Gregorio and Christopher Macaluso (aka Egg Picnic), want us to look at the artwork. To notice it. To take a moment out of our busy day to marvel at the kooky bird life that inhabits our big brown land. Australia, home to the quirky kookaburra with their chortling evening laughter. The squawking cockatoo. The swooping magpie.

Birds of Australia

Having colourful art hoardings like these on building sites all over Sydney does something a little bit magical. It alters the zeitgeist of the city. It uplifts and reshapes it. It includes creativity into the everyday, the unexpected, and even the usually ugly.

Acts like this add colour and movement, and create moments of contemplation. They allow for the development of another dimension to city living. More than just commerce, cities are for people are for the natural environment in which the city sits and is surrounded. We need uplifting junctures like this to remind us of our connectivity with others and our natural world.

There are 10 new works like this being commissioned for building sites all of Sydney. What’s really heartening is that the City of Sydney received more than 520 submissions of artwork to be part of their plan to inject more art into the city. I’m going to look out for the 10 that made it through. I suspect it will be a bit like bird watching.

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Startups, urban psychology, and creative cities

Pictured: the Pinterest office in San Francisco via Stuck in Customs.

Last week an important announcement was made in Sydney that will give a boost to coworking spaces and the freelancers and startups who mostly use them. The NSW Government announced it will make a significant financial contribution to a new startup hub in an 11-storey building above Wynyard Station on York St. Fishburners (I’ve always loved that name), Australia’s largest coworking space and home to hundreds of ‘high impact scalable startups’, will be an important anchor tenant of the new space at Wynyard Station. Others in the mix include Tankstream Labs, The Studio, and Stone & Chalk in what will be space for 2500 creative entrepreneurs.

It all sounds great. And I’m happy for Fishburners who have expanded rapidly since their 30-desk-one-floor-beginning in 2011. For some time now they’ve needed more space than their current (and beautiful) Harris Street space in Ultimo can provide. But if this is going to work for all involved, then some careful attention to how this new spaces is set up will need to happen. More than ‘just’ cash, this about-to-be startup hub will require some clever design thinking about soft infrastructure. If not, the creatives it seeks to attract will not come. Continue reading

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STUDIO TALK: Rabia Lockwood (Ginny & Jude)

Rabia Lockwood creates beautiful garments that give a nod to the past. I swear, the clothing she creates through Ginny & Jude Designs will make you swoon. And if you’re a minimalist trying hard not to be swayed be the ever changing, frivolous nature of the fashion world, Ginny & Jude is your friend because the clothes are beautifully made with high quality fabrics. I should know – I own a couple of her pieces, and not only do they fit like a dream and look divine, they last! Hooray!

I met Rabia through a very good friend who married her dad. When I saw what she was creating I was captivated. I wanted her to share some of her process here for many reasons. One of them is that she is a new mother, and I know that creatives with young children find it tough to keep going. If that’s you, through Rabia’s talk of her studio proactice, I hope you find some courage and grace to push on. Continue reading

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The allure of consumerism (& how to deal with the aesthetic power of beautiful things)

japanese cup and tea towel

Pictured: Duetto cup from Kyoto, Japan. Linen tea towel hand printed by me (a squillion years ago)

It’s all around us, everywhere. The design of beautiful things, by clever and skillful people with exquisite materials. The last 12 years of social media have introduced me to a ton of wonderful ways that people are bringing new, to-die-for objects into the world. Things that many of us WANT. The pull of the visual, especially through Instagram over the past 5 years or so has been incredibly powerful.

We’ve all felt it. We scroll through post after post of styled and beautifully lit images, and the pull gets stronger. We convince ourselves we NEED that hand-woven, naturally dyed rug. That skillfully crafted and utterly gorgeous piece of pottery. That pair of funky, fair trade, eco-dyed, Mexican leather shoes. Continue reading

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What is a creative city?

View from a friend’s 5th floor walk up rooftop in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Downtown Brooklyn is changing rapidly. Will it lose its creative buzz?

During an extended stay in Manhattan in 2013 I was given a copy of Jane Jacob’s famous 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by a postgrad student who was obsessed with this great urban activist’s vision. I devoured that book, hungry to learn about how New York had developed, particularly during the 20th century. I’ve had three visits to New York since 2008 and will probably have a life-long love affair with that city. This is a common affliction; I am obviously not the first to have ‘suffered’ the lure of this great city.

Many creatives are drawn to the New York, and most would agree that it’s a creative city. But what exactly is meant by the term ‘creative city’? Continue reading

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Designing for wellbeing

I’ve been interested in wellbeing for a couple of decades now. Ever since I was a yoga devotee in the relatively early days of it being in Australia in the early-mid 1990s. Certainly well before yoga became mainstream and was held in gyms (!). I can still recall how unknown it was to most people back then. I was interested in yoga and meditation and shiatsu and macrobiotic food and a whole lot of wellbeing-ness that was so ahead of things to come, I had no idea. It’s so interesting to me how we now have cafes with ‘nourish bowls’ and a whole cult of kombucha followers and pickled vegetable fanatics. Japanese people no doubt also find this a fascinating adaptation of what’s been a part of their culture for a veeeeeery long time. Will wellness continue to be of interest in the West? Is it a passing trend that will bore us in 5 year’s time? Continue reading

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Leading with design thinking

BlueyCheck (far right) and earlier prototypes by Claire Metcalfe. On display now in ‘Shape’ at the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Sydney, Australia.

I’ve been reading quite a bit about design thinking for an article I recently wrote in a new design publication, Design is Political. It’s been a joyous process for me. Through my reading, the issue of leadership has surfaced, with some thought provoking ideas sprinkled through talk of what leading with a design thinking mindset looks like. One of the ideas that has captivated me is a simple, and not very novel idea: how leadership can be reinvigorated by including ‘outsiders’. Continue reading

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STUDIO TALK: Colleen Boyle

Exciting! This week marks the first of a new series on the blog called Studio Talk where I get artists and designers to talk about what goes on in their studio. Our first guest is Melbourne artist, Colleen Boyle. Colleen is clever – she was awarded a PhD from RMIT School of Art in 2016. She’s also a gifted artist having recently won a sculpture commission for the Wonderment Walk in Melbourne. I met Colleen many years ago through a tribe of connected colleagues and friends in the city I contantly pine for – Melbourne. I moved to Sydney 2.5 years ago and so have not seen Colleen’s fantastic new sculpture, Celestial Ground, installed at Docklands. But I will be making a beeline for it on my next trip south.

I asked Colleen some questions about her studio practice hoping that this talented and very busy woman might shed some light on how she does it for the rest of us.

All images in this post belong to Colleen. Continue reading

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What visuals can tell us if we really look

shoe last wall

Wall of shoe lasts at the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Sydney

Instagram is a visually powerful medium. Anyone with the slightest interest in aesthetics will attest to that. I find it both compelling and strangely addictive. Being pummelled with one exquisite image after another has a potent effect on the eyes and brain.

Artists and designers have been fully on board with Instagram since its beginnings in 2010. It’s impossible to tell just how many are using Instagram, but a quick search through hashtags like #workinprogress (or #wip) #artiststudio #studio #contemporaryart #designlife #designing will give you an indication of what’s going on in this space. Many are using social media platforms like Instagram as part of their virtual studio practice.

As researchers like Gillian Rose have said, visuals, especially those generated by digital spaces, are now a massive part of our lives. How do we make sense of what’s happening in these places/spaces? Continue reading

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The relationship between art and design

This week’s guest post is by Alli Burness. I used to work with Alli and we’ve done visual research together using Instagram. Hopefully, fingers crossed, we will have a publication out soon which shares that research. We’ve had lots of conversions about art, and could probably have tons more. So I asked her if she’d like to write a guest post on why art matters to her.

These days, Alli is a designer at ThinkPlace. She has previously worked as a digital producer at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Over to Alli… Continue reading

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