In Conversation

Penny Craswell and Lisa Cahill

In 2016, Lisa Cahill (ADC Director) invited Penny Craswell (The Design Writer) to share our space in Darlinghurst. Here they talk about a mutual interest and love for craft and design that has led to some great conversations and potential collaborations.

LC: Penny, how long have you have been writing about design and architecture and why did you decide to start The Design Writer?

PC: I started my career as an arts writer and editor following a degree in art history and curatorship, before I got bitten by the design bug working for Frame magazine in Amsterdam about twelve years ago. I love writing, and design and architecture are endlessly fascinating topics. I started my blog The Design Writer in 2014 as a way of writing what I want to write about design - uncovering new ideas, making lateral connections and exploring new concepts. I started the blog a few days before a visit the 2014 Milan Furniture Fair so I could write about that - I'm heading there again in just over a month and will be reporting for the blog and also for a new initiative I have set up with London design writer Giovanna Dunmall and local designer/writer Marcus Piper called The Milan Report. Stay tuned for more on this!

LC: Having you working out of ADC has been amazing for us. We really value your input and just generally sunny presence in our space. What are the benefits for you?

PC: The people! Although I love writing, it can be solitary, so it's nice to be surrounded by likeminded people who love design. Plus, being connected to the exhibitions, events and general goings on is wonderful too - I studied as a curator and am always fascinated by the role of the curator and its parallels to that of the editor.

LC: I'm really interested in your thoughts about where design is headed. Do you think Australian design is valued on the world stage or are we too little?

PC: Like many aspects of our lives in the 21st century, design is now more flexible, more mobile and more multi-faceted than ever before - and breaking traditional boundaries is what Australians do well. Real innovation is hard to find in the world, but thanks to our make-do approach, we are well equipped to break new ground. As for being small on the design stage, let's face it, we are. But so are a lot of other countries doing amazing things. Grass roots movements like craftivism show that real creativity happens everywhere.

LC: What is your most memorable recent design experience?

PC: Visiting Indigo Slam by William Smart of Smart Design Studio was incredible - a house for a wealthy art philanthropist, it's main stairway is nothing short of grandiose. But it's also subtle, in soft grey pinks, with cuts that introduce soft plays of light through the enormous space. Extraordinary.

LC: What are the three big things you would like to see for Australian Design in the next few years?

PC: Firstly, I think Australia has a fantastic design scene, but it would be great if the broader public was aware of it - I think the proliferation of fakes in furniture and product design is a sign that many people still don't get it. Secondly, we need to mobilise our creative scene and support each other - too many initiatives happen on their own without the right support network - more funding from government would help us to grow the infrastructure around design events and publications - and would be repaid to the economy. Thirdly, we need to wrestle some of the decision making about our cities from the developers, with design-led buildings that are beneficial to the community.

PC: Lisa, design means many things to many people - how would you define it and and which different forms of design are represented at ADC?

Always a challenging question that one! To me design is broadly about asking questions and using creative processes to come up with innovative solutions that will ultimately make life better for people. Design can also be beautiful and wrestles with concepts and materials to surprise and delight us. At ADC we give ourselves the enormous task of presenting design from as many different perspectives that we can imagine crashing the traditional boundaries between craft, art, architecture and technology - from architecture to social robotics, crochet to data visualisation, furniture to sculpture, domestic objects to industrial innovations and everything in between.

PC: Your role as director involves a lot of juggling different tasks - what aspects of your job do you enjoy most?

LC: I'm coming to the end of my first year as director and looking back I think it's been a wonderful experience - an absolute privilege and challenging and rewarding in bucket loads. The best bits though are coming up with ideas for new audience experiences, working with makers and designers to bring their work to a broad audience and collaborating with so many immensely talented Australians.

PC: You recently attended a conference put on by the British Craft Council - what were the most interesting nuggets of research and innovation that you brought home?

LC: A fascinating experience to attend the Make:Shift conference on craft and innovation. I was blown away by the ease with which the UK craft community are embracing technology in their traditional areas of practice and collaborating with people from other disciplines to bring about innovation in health related areas, engineering with all sorts of incredible solutions that will make lives better. At the same time, there is a reverence to the traditions of craft to preserve these skills for future generations.

PC: The Australian Design Centre is in hip Darlinghurst - what other interesting things in the area would you recommend to someone visiting the gallery?

LC: Darlinghurst is full of surprises. I'd recommend a visit to the classy new Stylecraft showroom across the road, Stanley Street Gallery for excellent contemporary jewellery, First Draft for new and emerging talent, the coffee and food at Flour and Stone is sublime and then back to ADC to pick up some handcrafted gifts from Object Shop.

PC: It was interesting to see the pussy hats at the Women's March as a form of craft activism. Can you talk about the connection between community and craft?

LC: Wherever there is craft there is community. Craftspeople have traditionally formed communities of practice. Whether it be a guild or shared studio or just a group that meets regularly to work and learn from each other, there is a community spirit in craft of shared passion, passing on of skills and the pure joy of creating something beautiful to master a stitch or a knot or wrestle with a piece of wood or a lump of clay. Craft activism is an extension of what a passionate community can do when they have an issue they care about and want to use their skills to advocate for change.


Image: courtesy of ADC, 2017.