Designer-in-residence: Lucy Irvine – Design Canberra Festival

Designer-in-residence: Lucy Irvine

For the past five years, we have commissioned a local contemporary craftsperson or designer to create a signature work which is featured in a Craft ACT exhibition and defines the look and feel of the festival’s visual communications.

Canberra-based artist and educator Lucy Irvine has been selected as the 2021/22 designer-in-residence. Lucy Irvine’s work transforms the traditional craft practice of weaving into sculptural installations. Lucy repurposes mundane, utilitarian materials like expansion joint foam, paper fasteners and cable ties and transforms them into beautiful and acclaimed public artwork.

Given conditions, the public art installation in Civic Square, considers the potential sweet spot for top-down and bottom-up organisational forces that could allow for more emergent thinking and making in city spaces. Emergent phenomena respond to given conditions – such as light, air, bureaucracy or concrete- and through a series of complex adaptive interrelations arrive at a form that could not be predetermined or devised by one set rule. This is the transformational effect of grassroots community building, that highlights the importance of individual human connections in collective action. Or the mesmerising formation and reformation of starlings; shifting sky-shoals in flight that turn the city sky into a teaming sea. The city itself is also a great murmuration rather than a series of systems alone. What if those systems were designed to optimise and support spontaneity, creativity and meaningful relationships between people and between people and their environment? What if emergent thinking could be part of redefining the value systems, let alone the administrative ones, that underpin urban design?

This work was made in Second Space in Civic Square, a pilot project (with the City Renewal Authority) that has provided a studio to ANU academics from the School of Art and Design. While the large windows have allowed passersby to peer in, demystifying the creative process, I have also been observing the square day and night. It has become a thought-provoking presence, or absence, as I weave the work into being.

Made from expansion joint foam and woven by hand, the sculptural form emerges stitch by stitch, loop by loop and thought by thought. In using an industrial material that is usually part of our unseen urban fabric, informed by the site of its making and scaling three levels of its host architecture; the work responds to its own given conditions.

In creating ‘The Stills’, Irvine has revisited two small sections of weaving, cast them in bronze, then used repetition and pattern forming to show the iterative process of transformation. The artist explains: “Our appreciation of transformation can too easily rely upon a definitive before and after. What if transformation could also be an ongoing process without a beginning or an end, existing in a million small interrelations that are, for example, happening long before the materials are in hand and long after the work is on the wall?” Irvine describes her new work as a “woven cinema”, capturing transformation in stop motion: frame by frame we see change as reassuringly measurable.

Since arriving in Australia in 2003, Scottish sculptor Lucy Irvine has established herself as an artist and educator who interconnects craft and art genres. Lucy’s large-scale installations repurpose utilitarian materials that make up the unseen yet integral fabric of our lives, such as expansion joint foam, paper fasteners, nylon cord and cable ties. She then transforms our experience of these materials through processes of weaving. Following her acclaimed public artwork ‘Surface Strategies’ commissioned for DESIGN Canberra at the Canberra Airport in 2017, Lucy Irvine continues to be involved in the festival and its celebration of design.

To find out more, read our designer-in-residence catalogue and including an essay by Dr Robyn Creagh, Senior Lecturer in Architecture at University of Notre Dame Australia, artist reflections, and a visual journey of the designer-in-residence program. You can also view our photo album documenting the journey of the making of the signature artwork.

Designer-in-residence: Lucy Irvine
Lucy Irvine, The Stills, 2021. Photo: Lean Timms

DESIGN Canberra acknowledges the Ngunnawal people as the traditional custodians of the ACT and surrounding areas. We honour and respect their ongoing cultural and spiritual connections to this country and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region. We aim to respect cultural heritage, customs and beliefs of all Indigenous people.