The Story Of CUSP

KathrynEssay1The history of the project about the future

“In the future everyone will have the same haircut and the same clothes.
In the future everyone will be very fat from the starchy diet.
In the future everyone will be very thin from not having enough to eat.
… In the future there will be machines which will produce a religious experience in the user.”

When I hear people’s predictions for the future I’m often reminded of David Byrne’s absurd and deliberately contradictory song ‘In the Future’. Trying to imagine the future unleashes a flood of contradictory ideas, many of which cut to the heart of our deepest fears and greatest hopes.

So it was with great trepidation that I even entertained the idea of a ‘survey of the future’. It started with Object’s Director Steven Pozel reflecting on the previous decade of Object’s creative program, in particular the success of Freestyle (2006-08). A survey of 40 contemporary Australian designers, Freestyle featured a range of furniture, lighting, textiles, homewares, fashion, jewellery and accessories. Object had also profiled many more exceptional individuals in Australian design, through groundbreaking solo exhibitions.

This moment of reflection soon turned to questioning – who were the exceptional individuals who were going to shape the next decade? Could you ‘survey’ the future? If so, which designers were pushing the boundaries of what design is? And what new disciplines and ideas were already beginning to shape our future?

Curatorial Collaboration

Now that the idea had been entertained, it was time for it to be socialised. Object Creative Producer and CUSP Curator Danielle Robson joined the conversation, interrogated the questions further, and took on the challenge of bringing a seed of an idea to fruition.

With funding from Visions of Australia and a travel grant from the Gordon Darling Foundation, Danielle subsequently undertook extensive research across the country and picked many of Australia’s finest brains. Kate Rhodes (at the time, Curator at RMIT’s Design Hub, and Object’s Adjunct Curator), Anthony Burke (Head of School, Architecture at UTS), and Lawrence Wallen (Head of School, Design at UTS) then agreed to be our CUSP ‘brains trust’ and contribute to a series of curatorial meetings and give ongoing advice.

UTS became a formal partner, giving the project an important academic alliance, and an ability to generate multiple conversations with a broad cross-section of the community. Dinners, public talks and workshops ensued, with many Object collaborators generously giving us their time (for an honour roll of names please see below).Together with the whole Object team, this development period generated interest, fresh ideas, a clear set of aims, and a new level of curatorial collaboration.

A total creative program

One of CUSP’s most important aims from the outset was to present a ‘total creative program’, whereby audiences could have a rich learning experience through a physical exhibition, a digital portal, and an extensive range of education and public programs. Furthermore, designer involvement would be critical to ensure our audiences gained multi-layered access to the world of each designer.

The result is a highly interactive exhibition, which is more about gaining insights into the designers’ vision and creative process, than a beautiful display of designed objects. Building on the success of Object’s HYPERCLAY app, CUSP’s digital component is more than a static platform, it is a living, breathing digital venue that will generate and accumulate content over the months ahead. The public programs feature some unconventional events that will be sustained throughout an extensive national tour. Object’s Design Emergency forms the core layer of educational activity, connecting designers with students and teachers to showcase ‘design thinking’ and demonstrate its potential to effect positive change.

A ‘prototype’ for the Australian Design Centre

The creation of CUSP has been deeply intertwined with the re-imagining of Object itself. The collaborative process of imagining a future Australian Design Centre and the experiences we might offer our audiences led organically to CUSP being used as a ‘prototype’.

And just as CUSP is testament to an ambitious idea, so too is the new Australian Design Centre (ADC) proposed for Sydney’s Barangaroo site. The new ADC will explore design as a field of practice and as a way of thinking. It will provide audiences with engaging opportunities to learn about products, processes and solutions that can improve lives. And it will provide access and spaces for the presentation of new, challenging ideas.

Driving each activity is an ambition to foster creativity and provoke audiences to explore the potential of design, thus empowering them to shape the future.

Future tense

CUSP, however, is most definitely not a show that predicts the future. No spotting ‘trends’ or declaring the ‘next big thing’. There is no futuristic time machine or self-cleaning glass. Instead there are some outstanding designers, working independently or as a studio practice, who are grappling with the big questions.

Chris Bosse, Susan Dimasi, Healthabitat (Paul Pholeros, Stephan Rainow, Paul Torzillo), Leah Heiss, Anupama Kundoo, George Khut, Greg More, Florian ‘Floyd’ Mueller, Stephen Mushin, Alison Page, Super Critical Mass (Justin Day, Luke Jaaniste and Janet McKay), Mari Velonaki: each of these designers has an incredible depth of knowledge, expertise and determination.

More importantly however, they have a vision to which they want to give form, and share with us. They give us an opportunity to question how things are – and to consider how we would like things to be.

CUSP brings together these 12 exhibitors so that many more people can share in their passion and understand something of their creative process. We are enormously grateful for the generosity of all the CUSP designers and their teams, for embracing with enormous enthusiasm this project in all its complexity.

Object also acknowledges that these are not the only exceptional designers in Australia working in this way.

As a prototype, CUSP is simply the first iteration of what the ADC will explore. Since our inception almost 50 years ago, Object has embraced an expansive view of craft and design, and will continue to explore creativity and its many forms of expression as new challenges arise and new disciplines emerge.

Design collaborators

CUSP has also enjoyed an unprecedented level of collaboration with our external design partners – another group of exceptional individuals. Exhibition designers Freeman Ryan Design (FRD) agreed to take on an ambitious brief when they were informed that CUSP’s exhibitors were not delivering existing work, but creating whole new projects, some still at a concept stage.

Through intensive collaboration and a huge amount of perseverance, Susan Freeman, Belqis Youssofzay and Denise Parrague at FRD created individual environments for each designer – something akin to 12 small solo shows within one.

Similarly, Eva Dijkstra and Michael Lugmayr at Toko.Concept.Design eschewed the usual pathway to creating a logo or visual identity and, inspired by CUSP’s overarching theme and FRD’s exhibition design, instead created a ‘gesamtkunstwerk’, a ‘total work of art’.

For our digital component, Simon Goodrich, Adam Purdie and Kenny Chy at Portable Studios worked with their team to create this digital ‘venue’ that will continue to grow for over two years. Accommodating future plans and building in flexibility, Portable Studios realised a user-friendly website with a simple interface that belies the wealth and depth of information that lies within it.

Bringing the designers’ worlds to life, and tracking the development of their design process, was the filmmaker Patrick Abboud’s brief. His evocative and visually stunning mini-documentaries for each designer create the rich layering of CUSP’s digital venue.

CUSP launches in Sydney

CUSP also represents the first time Object has collaborated with our Sydney presenting partner, the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (CPAC) . As an arts organisation deeply engaged with its community, CPAC shares our interest in design as a way to explore and improve our own lives.

Kiersten Fishburn, Adam Porter, Vi Girgis, Nisa Mackie, Claudia Chidiac, Semi Ozacardi and the whole CPAC team, have all worked tirelessly and with great humour with the Object team, to bring the project to life. We are especially thrilled that CPAC integrated their acclaimed Way Out West Festival for Children with CUSP, working with Stephen Mushin for Termite City, with George Khut for From the HeART, and Anupama Kundoo on Design Hut: Home Design.

A national program

And just in case CUSP wasn’t ambitious enough, during its development phase, Object was not prepared to deliver a traditional ‘touring exhibition’. Rather, CUSP will be a national program that grows and develops as the exhibition travels around the country.

To this end, in November 2012 Object brought all seven CUSP venue partners to Sydney for a collaborative session where heads were put together to collaboratively design how CUSP might reach its full potential.

With these passionate venue partners across five states, CUSP will be accumulating new ideas, sharing local insights and generating even more questions and conversations along the way.

We all hope that CUSP excites audiences, generates its own momentum, and has a life beyond what we have created.

“… In the future there will be so much going on that no one will be able to keep track of it.”

Kathryn Hunyor
Chief Curator
CUSP: Designing into the Next Decade

CUSP Honour roll of thanks:
Patrick Abboud, Emma Aiston, Gavin Artz, Zoe Barber, Nicole Bearman, Ricarda Bigolin, Marty Bowen, Josephine Brouard, Anthony Burke, Lisa Cahill, Vanessa Can Ooyen, Jorge Castillo, Jane Caught, Claudia Chidiac, Kenny Chy, Joanne Cys, Robyn Dae, Sarah Davis, Anna Lise De Lorenzo, Ruwan De Silva, Eva Dijkstra, Rowan Dinning, Kevin Ellison, Josh Fanning, Kiersten Fishburn, Daniel Flood, Susan Freeman, Tony Fry, Maddie Gasparinatos, Vi Girgis, Simon Goodrich, David Gravina, Alice Hampson, Timothy Hill, Peter Ho, Adam Johnson, Lindy Johnson, Steffen Lehmann, Su-Wen Leong, Michael Lugmayr, Lily Ly, Nisa Mackie, Claude Marcos, Garry Massoud, Jimmy McGilchrist, Sebastian Moody, Timonty Moore, Semi Ozacardi, Brian Parkes, Denise Parrague, David Pigram, Adam Porter, Adam Purdie, Kate Rhodes, Jess Scully, Michael Spooner, Naomi Stead, Kate Sweetapple, Amanda Talbot, Lauren Tan, Warren Taylor, Sasha Titchkosky, Daniel To, Soumitri Varadarajan, Adele Varcoe, Lawrence Wallen, Christina Waterson, Fleur Watson, Nimrod Weis, Richard Whiteley, Belqis Youssofzay, Tin & Ed.

Images (from top): Danielle Robson, Lawrence Wallen, Anthony Burke, Steven Pozel, Kathryn Hunyor & Annette Mauer (via Skype) participate in a CUSP Curatorial Advisory Group meeting (Photo: Ross Colebatch); All Design Partners and Object staff engage in a collaborative session within Object Gallery (Photo: Ross Colebatch.)