LiminalIrish design at the threshold


April 8th – July 3rd 2016

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Louise Allen

By Louise Allen

Over the past year, the content and context of work developed for Liminal has evolved. The exhibition, which has traversed Europe and the United States, has presented the diversity, quality and innovative force of Irish design. It has forged multiple working relationships, juxtaposing a range of skills, materials, references and perspectives to enrich the design process. Liminal has aimed to provide the impetus and space for design-led collaborative relationships to emerge during Irish Design 2015 (ID2015).

By its nature, collaboration demands a level of trust and openness: there can be unknowns, surprises and unintended outcomes. Designers were invited to work together with purpose and collective determination to create a narrative between their own creative process and one that is influenced by parameters of partnership, time and material.

Liminal intentionally sets out to present work that asks questions of design week audiences, and invites them into a collaborative conversation. The first iterations ofLiminal, exhibited in Milan and New York, focused on collaborations between furniture, textile and interior-related product. As the exhibition evolved for Dutch Design Week, the nature and scope of collaborations was extended to include future-focused speculative works intended to be experimental in character along with those that integrate technology and digital media.

In Dublin, Liminal presents a synthesis of design process, product and environment. The evolution of collaborative work is re-framed by the re-constituted exhibition design (by John McLaughlin Architects), moving from modernist geometry in Milan to futurist rhomboid plinths in Eindhoven. The exhibition design for the second phase of Liminal was aptly inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion map, ‘the only flat map of the entire surface of the Earth which reveals our planet as one island in one ocean’ – a counterpoint to the perceived liminality of Ireland as an island adrift.

As Liminal moves between continents, the connection to landscape and topography dominates. Design Partners’ ‘Causeway’ is an intersection of artefact and experience, a bespoke creation for ID2015 representing a design island connecting to the rest of the world. Each corner of ‘Causeway’ controls a beautiful animation that travels along a faceted topographical surface. Only by pressing combinations of corners does ‘Causeway’ really come to life, encouraging interaction, play and discovery between people across this landscape.

Navigating Ireland’s journey from the past to the future is reflected by the work of Zero-G, who took Ireland’s 1937 constitution as the starting point for their project. Over a period of months, Zero-G mapped the evolution of Ireland’s legislative, judicial, executive and local governmental structures over the past 100 years to create a nuanced and layered infographic that conveys complex data in a single view. Zero-G’s ‘Map of the State’ is intended as a polemic, inviting audiences to engage in debate at a pivotal moment in the maturation of the Irish state.

Moving from topography to the built environment, Damien Murtagh’s ‘Arckit’ is a groundbreaking, scaled, freeform modelling system. It allows architects to physically explore designs and bring their projects to life with speed and precision. ‘Arckit’ is based on modern building techniques and a 1.2m grid to scale, consisting of a series of interconnecting components that enable vast building possibilities. In Dublin, an interactive space will allow budding architects as young as 12 years of age to build impressive physical models with a professional design tool.

The reality of 3D printing becoming mainstream and accessible to all is part of the vision of Ireland’s Mcor Technologies. Mcor are an innovative manufacturer of the world’s most affordable, full-colour, eco-friendly 3D printers; the only 3D printers to use ordinary business-A4/letter paper as the build material. As part of Liminal’s ongoing development for exhibition at the National Craft Gallery in Kilkenny next year, we are issuing a call to designers and creatives working across the spectrum of design, research and interdisciplinary sectors to explore the potential of Mcor’s unique 3D printing technology.

The collaboration between innovative design platform Love & Robots and costume designer Niamh Lunny led to the creation of ‘Plumage’, described as an exploration of patterns in fabric such as knit and lace, as well as of 3-dimensional structures, surfaces, and natural phenomena. The ‘Plumage’ cape extends those explorations to construct a piece of clothing that is 3D printed in one piece, without any assembly required, and includes over 6,000 moving component parts.

Operating in the world of cutting edge technology, Novaerus have developed the first scientifically proven ‘airborne pathogen control technology’, which will ensure that the Coach House at Dublin Castle has the cleanest air possible. Novaerus, who are working with innovative Irish design consultancy Dolmen on the development of their product range, will be tracking and annihilating pathogens and viruses in real time. Interpreting this complex piece of groundbreaking technology is illustrator Sarah Bowie, who uses narrative, humour and skill to convey what Novaerus does and how it works.

Working in partnership and the maturation of key relationships has been central to the scope and extent of programmes delivered during 2015. The development of the ‘Design Island’ App in partnership with IBM has resulted in an invaluable tool that highlights the extent of design activity taking place on the island of Ireland. Designed and developed by IBM Studios Dublin working in conjunction with ID2015 and Dublin design studios Atelier David Smith and Conor & David, ‘Design Island’ leaves a legacy to be built upon in future years.

Narrative and storytelling is deeply embedded in Irish design, culture and psyche. Over the past two decades the Irish animation sector has grown in strength with companies such as Brown Bag, Boulder Media, Kavaleer, Jam Media and Cartoon Saloon, to name a few, picking up a slew of Emmy and Oscar nominations and awards. Most recently, Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea received a 2015 Oscar nomination. Meanwhile, the explosion of CGI and VFX has led to the expansion of Irish film production companies. We go behind the scenes showing detailed breakdowns of Irish designed CGI on some of the biggest blockbuster movies around the globe.

Moving from the digital world back to the tangible, The Souvenir Project, commissioned by ID2015 and DCCoI, showcases the extraordinary creative talent and quality of materials and making within Ireland. Souvenirs are a symbolic reminder of experience, location and culture, and this collection of authentic Irish products, designed and made in Ireland, provides visitors with a means of taking home the very best of Irish design.
Ireland’s material heritage is also strongly referenced in the work of Claire Anne O’Brien, which draws on traditional techniques such as weaving, knotting and basketry to make playful investigations into structure and form using the unique properties of knit. Her collaboration with Ceadogán Rugs utilises the height and depth of pile to create a relief pattern that mimics a structured weave.

‘The History Chair’, by Peter Sheehan and Cathal Loughnane is inspired by the striking sense of self that older people acquire through life experience, reflecting a history that is imbued as something precise and enduring. ‘The History Chair’ is a fully resolved fusion of function, emotion, technology, human connection, mastery of materials and story.

Garrett O’Hagan has long been a champion of high quality furniture that is imbued with a sense of place and Irish cultural references. His recently launched ‘Aodh’ collection includes the ‘Lann table’ series, designed by Knut Klimmek, and the ‘Aran Armchair’, designed by Alex Gufler. The collection represents pure, refined reductive design with sleek linear profiles.

Throughout Liminal’s run in 2015 there have been some heartwarming instances of serendipity. In 1951, the ‘Mourne Milano Rug’, designed by Mourne Textiles founder Gerd Hay-Edie, was exhibited with furniture by Robin Day as part of a room display at the Triennale di Milano, where it won the silver medal. This same rug, along with handwoven ‘Mourne Check’ and ‘Mourne Mist’ furnishing fabrics designed by Hay-Edie in 1952, has been brought back into production and returned to Milan in 2015 through a collaboration with Notion design studio that creates a subtle, nuanced harmony between furniture and furnishing.

Irish hospitality is renowned the world over. Through a series of commissions during the span of Liminal we took the opportunity to fuse design with food, drink and with the heart of our hospitality. Studio Aad, in collaboration with John McLaughlin Architects, presents ‘The Cabinet of Modern Irish Life’, a project inspired by the traditional dresser, which has long been the backdrop to Irish life. Taking pride of place in the home, it facilitated a mixture of specific and general functions. ‘The Cabinet of Modern Irish Life’ provides a window into contemporary Irish life and the design that binds it together.

The collaborations between Designgoat and chef Katie Sanderson are playful interventions that literally offer a taste of Irish design. ‘Kelp’, a seaweed-cured trout dish, was presented in specially designed vessels in Milan. This was followed by an asparagus-led taste sensation in New York and a Caragheen-infused milk pudding in Eindhoven. The centrality of food in Irish hospitality has led to collaborations between Think & Son (designer Annie Atkins and writer Eoghan Nolan) and Seymours Irish Biscuits. The biscuit offers something sweet while the packaging narrates whimsical stories from Irish culture and tells some tall tales from our not-too-distant past. In Ireland an accompanying cup of tea is a prerequisite, so Jamie Murphy of The Salvage Press was commissioned to collaborate with Solaris Tea to develop uniquely designed packaging. The hospitality offering was completed in Eindhoven by Amsterdam-based The Stone Twins, who produced ‘Double Dutch/Irish Blarney’, a tongue-in-cheek graphic booklet illustrating the nuanced cultural and attitudinal differences between the Irish and the Dutch.

To reflect the diversity and breadth of work being undertaken by Irish designers today, we have included all of the studios and companies represented in different versions of Liminal in this iteration of the Liminal catalogue. It includes speculative work by Patrick Stevenson Keating of Studio PSK, who investigates everyday subjects such as food, housing and leisure, all of which may be radically transformed through design-led technological advancement. Work by emerging furniture design studio Snug, the collaboration between Designgoat and Garrett Pitcher, between Design Partners and Calor, Le Creseut and Cricut and the groundbreaking innovations of Smarter Surfaces.

Liminal – Irish design at the threshold and the work that is exhibited reflects an ongoing transformative process. It is a collective exploration of objects and systems made and remade, revised and reiterated, reinterpreted and re-imagined. Liminal is a laboratory to reveal this evolutionary process, presenting, archiving and transforming new design processes and products at a series of public events at design exhibitions around the globe.

As Liminal returns to Dublin to close out the year of Irish Design 2015 we sincerely thank all who have contributed to make this journey happen.

Louise Allen
Head of International Programmes, Irish Design 2015
Liminal Co-curator