by Lucy Feagins
One of the highlights of guest blogging for MIDF these last 2 weeks has been meeting Phoebe Porter, and visiting the beautiful studio she shares with fellow jeweller Blanche Tilden in Abbotsford. I feel so lucky that The Design Files constantly seems to put me in touch with such incredible, talented and inspiring people!
Phoebe Porter graduated from the Gold and Silversmithing Workshop of the ANU School of Art in 2001, and later went on to undertake a three-month Australia Council funded mentorship with established jeweller Blanche Tilden in Melbourne in 2005. Later that year, the pair established Studio Hacienda in Abbotsford.
Studio Hacienda is such a beautiful workspace… I always love to see where creative people work, and Phoebe’s studio certainly exceeded my expectations! It’s such a light, airy open space… I love the industrial elements, especially those amazing factory windows – it must be a wonderful place to work. I felt very special to be invited to visit – especially when Phoebe was so busy putting the finishing touches on her work only days before Location Devices was set to open! She and partner (industrial designer Tom Caddaye) were so welcoming and happy to answer all my questions, even though they were super-busy sanding and polishing simultaneously!
Phoebe’s work is thoughtful and meticulous – even the most miniscule of components are so perfectly formed and constructed. It’s a unique artisan that has the patience and skill to create tiny, detailed components so precisely that at first glance they almost appear machine-made rather than hand-crafted. Phoebe’s preoccupation with mechanical parts and repetition is one of the reasons for this attention to detail. Computers also often play a strong role in her work, both in the design process and in the making of models and templates, and also as a source of inspiration. This is certainly clear in her most recent work for Location Devices.
Location Devices is Porter’s first solo exhibition. The title of the show refers to the way we locate ourselves in the world, and the work explores ideas of belonging and ideological positioning. Inspired by the simplicity of a schematic map, (such as the famous London Underground map designed by Harry Beck in 1933), Phoebe has employed geometry, repetition, and bold colour in this show, and has used a variety of materials including aluminium, steel, silver, gold and specially sourced titanium ball-bearings. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a large ‘map’ made from brushed, coloured sheet metal. Locations are marked on this map by a a collection of metal clip brooches. Visitors to the exhibition are encouraged to purchase a clip from the Network and wear it as a tiny personal Location Device. As they travel off the wall, out into Melbourne and beyond, they will become a visible representation of a newly formed network, linking back to Porter and to each other.
Tell me a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?
I’ve always loved making things and using my hands and I’ve always been attracted to process driven things (such as print making rather than drawing). I studied gold and silversmithing at Canberra School of Art, also doing a minor in glass and some product design which introduced me to computer aided design. After graduating I spent a couple of years working for a company providing specialist design and fabrication services for museums and art galleries. This allowed me to improve a wide range of skills, become more confident to work with industry and continue to develop my own work on the side.
What were your goals in establishing Studio Hacienda? What importance would you place on being part of a creative network and/or collaborative working environment for a designer/maker like yourself?
For me the main goal in establishing Hacienda was to have a dedicated space that allows us to make the type of work we want to make, either individually or collaboratively. The space itself is one of the last operational factories in our area, built in the 1920’s as a boot factory and still operating as one today. It’s such a wonderful place to work, surrounded by the history of things being made entirely by hand. As well as the practical benefits of pooling resources, Blanche and I share a commitment to our practice that helps us keep going when things get hard. Our collaborative project General Assembly has generated a kind of momentum of it’s own through the overwhelmingly positive response it has received. It’s a project that encourages the audience to collaborate with us and gain a real insight into the making process.
Top image – Phoebe and Blanche hard at work assembling brooches for their Melbourne exhibition General Assembly, in which visitors were encouraged to compile handmade components to create their own unique layered brooch (photo credit – Rhiannon Slatter). Bottom image – finished brooches from the same exhibition (photo credit – Johannes Kuhnan).
Top image – Phoebe and Blanche back at the bench(!) for General Assembly in Canberra (photo credit – Andrew Sikorski). Bottom image – For this show, different brooch components were designed, drawing inspiration from Canberra’s architecture and urban planning by Walter Burley Griffin. (photo credit – Johannes Kuhnan)
Being part of a creative network is absolutely critical to the continuation of my practice. That is one of the main ideas explored in my current exhibition Location Devices as the process of re-locating from Canberra to Melbourne has caused me to really examine the links between people and places that form my own creative network.
How would you describe your own style of jewellery design?
Rather than being of a particular style, my work addresses ongoing concerns that inform the aesthetic choices I make. I aim to reduce each design to it’s necessary elements, often starting with the fastening mechanism, or catch, which then becomes an integral part of the design. I also use a range of industrial materials and processes, visually referencing manufactured parts to examine the value of handmade objects in a world full of mass production. In a time of ‘inbuilt obsolescence’ jewellery is one of the few things regarded as something lasting, to be cherished and passed on.
Which designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?
This is a hard question, as there are many people who have inspired me. Blanche Tilden has been very influential and helped me to develop the way I look at the world – being open to finding the inspiration for creative activity that is everywhere as long as you know how to look. Susan Cohn, Robert Foster and Cinnamon Lee are other designers/makers who’s work and practices, plus their sheer energy is very inspirational to me. Gijs Bakker is a great example of someone who started off making contemporary jewellery, but has gone on to work in so many other areas and has a great sense of humour in everything that he does.
Where else do you find inspiration – ie books, fine art, your environment, travel, your family and friends?
Inspiration can really come from anywhere, but here are a few examples of the inspiration for my latest project Location Devices:
An Interview in The Age with Helmut Lueckenhausen, (Dean, faculty of design, Swinburne University of Technology). He was speaking about a silver brooch given to him by the Crafts Council of Australia at the end of his presidency:
“It’s beautiful in it’s own right but it also comforts and liberates in ways that go beyond its design and technical success. It comforts because it is a reminder of the extraordinary people I’m connected to…It is one of the objects in my life that helps to liberate me from the fear of failure and disassociation that is at the heart of the human condition. It reminds me that I have belonged…It’s a brooch, yes, but it’s also a prop in my story about myself.”
A scene from William Kentridge’s Stereoscope, in which usually invisible lines of communication (connections between people) are drawn in cobalt blue, shooting from the telephone switchboard out in all directions across the city. He describes the scene:
“I had a section of the film that had to do with points of connection and disconnection…I wanted a sense of transience, of a city bustling, telegraph wires and power stations. Early on I knew that it would involve lines of communication, telephone switchboards.” – William Kentridge interviewed by Lilian Tone, 1999
The famous London Underground map, designed in 1933 by Harry Beck (an electrical engineer) and now used worldwide as a way of organizing and understanding the transit systems of major cities.
Components of Phoebe’s Location Devices exhibition at e.g.etal. Top and bottom images – ‘Transit’ necklaces (photo credit – Andrew Sikorski) Centre image – ‘ The Network’ detail of installation (photo credit – Tatjana Plitt).
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
There is no such thing as a typical day at work for me. It’s what I love about being a designer/maker and also what makes it hard. I could spend all day drawing up a file ready for CNC cutting by a manufacturer or I could spend all day at my bench hand finishing components or making rivets. On other days I might be going elsewhere to get materials or I could be writing a press release, putting together an application or answering interview questions! On July 25, I will be describing my practice to all the Studio Open participants and making them cups of tea…
What is the inspiration behind your MIDF exhibition ‘Location Devices’, and how would you describe the show?
I’ve already talked about some of the early inspiration for this body of work, which was generated by my experience of relocating from Canberra to Melbourne. The work is about connectedness and finding my way in a new city. Having experienced the discovery of a new city through street maps and transport networks, I decided to use schematic maps as a metaphor for social networks, direction and belonging – for developing a personal route through life.
The exhibition includes necklaces made of aluminium, steel, silver, gold and specially sourced titanium ball-bearings. These look rigid at first, but when worn, the necklaces move freely with surprising flexibility as the components pivot on the titanium balls. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a large schematic Network map made from coloured sheet metal. Locations are marked by a series of wearable metal clips designed to adorn clothing. Visitors to the exhibition are encouraged to purchase a clip and wear it as a tiny personal Location Device, becoming a part of this particular creative network.
Aside from your own show, what are you looking forward to seeing at the Melbourne International Design Festival ’08?
I’m particularly looking forward to seeing the Vertical Garden and hearing Patrick Blanc speak about his work. I also want to check out Julia deVille’s Prey as part of Pop Ups as I’m always interested in seeing the result of collaborative projects (she has collaborated with fashion designer Dhini). Studio Hacienda is participating in Studio Open for the second year. We were overwhelmed with the positive response we had last year, so we are looking forward to an even better day this year!
Location Devices by Phoebe Porter
Thurs 17th July – Sat 9th August
e.g.etal, downstair @ 167 Flinders Lane, City
Studio Open at Studio Hacienda
Friday 25th July
Free – registration essential
more info here