Monday, 3 December 2012

A Place to Gather at LDF

A Place to Gather, photographed by Linda Brownlee

This article was first published in Architecture Ireland #265

This year’s London Design Festival saw the Crafts Council of Ireland present an exhibition of Irish craft and design in a venue in Shoreditch. A Place to Gather was curated by Jonathan Legge and brought together a wide range of Irish furniture and objects in a warm, welcoming and homely setting. Over the course of the exhibition’s short run over one thousand people visited the space on Chance Street to see Irish craft and design across various scales and utilising a broad range of techniques and materials gathered together.

Rocking chair by Rockerlane Workshop, photographed by Michael Heffernan

Thoughtful processes were at the centre of many of the works on display in A Place to Gather. One such example is the rocking chair by Rockerlane Workshop, a collaborative furniture project by architect Sean Fogarty and carpenter Michael Heffernan. The rocking chair is made from reclaimed maple floorboards. Not only a beautiful material full of character, the reused maple makes the chairs completely sustainable, a principle Fogarty holds very close. The wood is carefully selected for its suitability (maple floorboards are not as thick as others, meaning they can be easily adapted to become chair legs, arms etc) while any texture or colour in the wood comes from its previous use, be that people walking on it, spilling things on it, adding markings to the floorboards etc. The rocking chair displayed in A Place to Gather was upholstered by David Faulkner, using an undied natural linen – brown in colour and highly textured, the ideal accompaniment to the wood.

Strand Lamp by Andrew Clancy, photographed by Alice Clancy

Other highlights amid the show were the Strand table and floor lamps designed by Andrew Clancy. Clancy was the recent recipient of the Kevin Kieran Bursary for architecture from the Arts Council of Ireland, but often designs at all scales - from furniture and lighting to small details like door handles – as part of his architectural practice at Clancy Moore Architects. Although lighting design often features in Clancy’s architectural work, the Strand lamp developed not so much out of that but out of a desire to create a series of gifts for a number of friends. The gifts went down well not just with the recipients but many others who saw them and Clancy began to think that these had greater potential. Now working with a manufacturer in Northern Ireland, Clancy is developing the first small run of the lamps, available for pre-order from a number of retailers abroad.

Though I’ve selected some highlights, this exhibition wasn’t so much about showcasing individual objects by individual people. The exhibition’s design evoked a home space rather than that of a more traditional exhibition: here no objects sat on plinths or hung sparsely on walls to be viewed in isolation of other exhibits. Instead the relationships between exhibits were shown: chairs by Horizon Furniture surrounded a table by Nest Design, a Stickman ladder rested against Designgoat shelves filled with glassware by Róisín deBuitléar and ceramics by Derek Wilson. Perhaps the most noteworthy bringing together of individual practices was the DC Sofa by O’Driscoll Furniture, upholstered in Donegal tweed by Molloy & Sons. The effect was the creation of an environment and atmosphere along with the display of individually beautiful pieces; the exhibition became a meeting point for objects, ideas and people rather than a typical display space.

A Place to Gather, photographed by Linda Brownlee. All images courtesy of CCoI

A Place to Gather is the first international exhibition of its kind presented by the Crafts Council of Ireland, but won’t be the last: many of the exhibits from it will be displayed at the Justus Lipsius building, headquarters of the Council of the European Union in Brussels, as part of Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union from January to June 2013. Events such as these play a significant role in telling the story of Irish craft and design both at home and abroad. As Brian McGee of the Crafts Council of Ireland says, “craft connects us to our heritage but it also provides a path to our future. It is imperative that we show an international audience the depth and breadth of creative talent in Ireland today.” A Place to Gather has certainly done that, in a thoughtful and sincere way.