Marta Figueiredo’s Totem ‘M’ (2018). Photo by Jonathon Griggs

Melbourne Design Fair: More than meets the eye

18 February 2022

Good collectible design goes beyond the object you see. It has something to say about the way we live. It triggers an emotive response. It is never not intentional.

Collectible design manifests in various forms from furniture, lighting, vessels and more but what elevates it into this category is the way it examines a moment in time. The object travels beyond form and function to become an incubator of experimentation and innovation. At first glance a chair might look like a chair but when you tap into its story and look at the materials and processes used to create it you discover something more meaningful.

Good collectible design can also be hard to find if you’re unsure where to start. It’s often available in limited editions or rare one-off pieces. Internationally, Design Miami and Milan’s Salone del Mobile have led the way in bringing the world’s innovative designers together in one place but a new presentation will join their league at this year’s Melbourne Design Week: Melbourne Design Fair.

Christopher Boots is showing in PRESENT. ‘Vanity Screen’ by Christopher Boots. Photo by Christine Francis

An initiative of the National Gallery of Victoria and delivered in collaboration with the Melbourne Art Fair, Melbourne Design Fair is the first presentation of its kind in Australia. The fair will showcase a diverse range of collectible works from over 100 Australian and New Zealand based designers with varied backgrounds, from the well-established to the next generation.

Melbourne Design Fair bridges the gap between the experienced collector and the newly acquainted by making the breadth of contemporary local design accessible to all audiences. The fair will explore local design in two distinct categories under: PRESENT and SELECT. PRESENT offers 13 presentations by leading Australian galleries, agencies and studios, while SELECT unites over 35 independent designers curated by Simone LeAmon, NGV’s Hugh Williamson Curator of Contemporary Design and Architecture.

Sophie Gannon of Sophie Gannon Gallery will exhibit one-off and limited edition works by Elliat Rich, Makiko Ryujin and Danielle Brustman as part of PRESENT. Gannon is a long-time advocate of collectible design and regularly exhibits it alongside contemporary art in her Richmond gallery. “Good designers have a really rigorous curatorial practice behind what they’re making and good design comes from the same place as good art in terms of curatorial theory and ideas,” explains Gannon. Gannon describes herself as half exhibitor, half consumer and sees the Melbourne Design Fair “as a turning point in Australian collectible design and an opportunity to expand our audience.”

For Gannon collectible design is more than what meets the eye. ‘It’s got a feeling or purpose and the purpose might be to not have a purpose but there’s something about the piece that tackles a problem or reflects and responds to something happening in society and culture.” 

Melbourne-based, Portuguese multidisciplinary creative Marta Figueiredo is exhibiting two works as part of SELECT, which demonstrates the impulse of design to shift beyond functional and aesthetic challenges. The first is the ‘M’ totem, a piece belonging to her wider collection of interactive and tactile vertical totem sculptures. “The totems play with the human scale, they are vibrant, warm and invite people to interact,” she describes. “I absolutely love the emotional response people have with the pieces, they hug, kiss and pat them and feel a connection to their childhood.”

Marta Figueiredo’s Totem ‘M’ (2018). Photo by Jonathon Griggs

In the years Figueiredo has been creating her totems, she’s been collecting the wool off-cuts to reduce waste. The invitation to participate in the Melbourne Design Fair with an open brief led Figueiredo to experiment with these off-cuts and develop a new process of wool binding to create a tapestry-like surface similar to lichens. This exploration has resulted in an illuminated sculpture named ‘Creatures of Light’ that will debut at SELECT. 

“This piece speaks about the invisible beauty and fluorescence of lichens under a blacklight to signal how lichens respond quickly to pollution and climate change, they’re a big indicator of humankind en route to disaster,” she says.  For Figueiredo, Melbourne Design Fair is an opportunity to bring both designers and audiences together and explore work that goes beyond form and function and is instead “rooted in experimentations, art, craftsmanship and new narratives while prompting people to consider what design is and what it means in our society.” 

For more information about Melbourne Design Fair, visit the fair website here.