Thursday, May 17, 2007

David Trubridge at the American Craft Council Salon

The American Craft Council hosted the first event in its Summer Salon Series tonight with a presentation by David Trubridge, an increasingly well-known designer and craftsman working in New Zealand (pictured here).

Trubridge gave an engaging talk to an overflow crowd in the Craft Council's fabulous library (see image below), tracing the development of his work from studying naval architecture to building the lithe, slightly exotic furniture and lights he is best known for today. His work may be seen at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair going on this weekend.

The upshot of his presentation was that design must become more sustainable, and that craft as a process is modeling the way forward.

At a time when the need for sustainability is no longer in question, designers must start thinking less in terms of "products" and more in terms of "process," Trubridge said. Designers are, wittingly or not, in fact complicit with manufacturers, ever eager to come out with new items, in the overproduction that's straining resources and creating the waste problem, he added.

Yet while the world hardly needs more stuff, he said, there is a human impulse to want things. This is where craft comes in, he argued: if more designers would focus on making things on a small scale using local materials, building things with care and love, then we would want to have them for a long time, and thereby we wouldn't be wasting materials and resources by buying temporary or disposable items. In other words, perhaps design can become more sustainable by becoming more like craft.

The relationship between design and sustainability is also taken up by the exhibition Design for the Other 90% on view now at the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum that I recently reviewed for WorldChanging New York and will be online soon.

As for the old art/craft/design debate, Trubridge dispatched with this right off the bat, saying that all three are verbs or processes and the production of all objects relies on all three. And then he moved on from there to talk about more practical and meaningful subjects (as perhaps we all should). Very nicely handled I thought.

On a personal note, a few years ago I came across a photo of Trubridge's Body Raft (shown at right) in a magazine, tore it out, and stuck it on my fridge where it lived for a year. I didn't know who'd designed it, but I loved the object's long lines and gentle curve, and the idea of gently rocking in it as I lounged on a beach in the sun. It represented for me the dream of simplicity and quality and freedom all at once. Tonight, getting to watch and listen to Trubridge tell his story, I could see that I wasn't making up the content of my dream, but instead those qualities--simplicity, quality, freedom-- all exude from the designer himself as well as his designs.

If we are indeed moving into a post-product world as Trubridge seems to be hinting, this sort of authenticity will become the most valuable commodity of all. His critical successes of late might be a testament to this. And the designers who are focused more on their process than on coming up with ever-new products may prove to be the ones who capture our imaginations as they make a difference in the world.

Tonight was the first in a three-part series that the ACC has created to offer opportunities for the public to engage in conversations about craft. It was a great evening, and props to Lily Kane, Andrew Wagner, Carmine Branagan, and the entire ACC staff for making this happen!

Lily Kane, Director of Education at ACC and the organizer of the Salon Series.

Images of works sourced here.
Images from ACC by Andrew Wagner.

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