Tuesday, 29 March 2016

ID2015: the end of something, or the beginning?

'Cuttings' series designed by Scholten & Baijings, made by J. Hill's Standard, image by Tom Brown

When the Glass Society of Ireland asked me to contribute to their annual journal, it provided a great opportunity to reflect (boom boom) not only on glass, the discipline I specialised in years ago for my undergraduate degree, but also on the year that has passed: 2015, the Year of Irish Design. It's been an interesting thing to look on at from afar, and a particularly curious thing to consider from my current Scandinavian location. Read on...

'Elements' series designed by Martino Gamper, made by J. Hill's Standard, image by Tom Brown

In addition to a host of exhibitions, events and workshops by both the Glass Society of Ireland and the newly-formed Waterford City of Glass initiative, 2015 saw a significant platform given to design in Ireland and Irish design internationally thanks to the government-backed year-long project Irish Design 2015 (ID2015). While its legacy of course remains to be seen, ID2015 certainly drew attention to Irish design through its exhibitions and events, international presence and media coverage to an extent we haven't seen before. And while not often centre-stage, the work of glassmakers and studios around the country nevertheless featured in a range of international displays, hopefully reminding consumers, curators and buyers around the world that Irish glass goes far beyond the crystal designs of old.

One company reinvigorating crystal through innovative collaborations is J. Hill's Standard. With their work originally debuting in 2014, 2015 has seen their fusion of traditional Irish skills (their products are all handmade in Waterford) and contemporary international design to give Irish crystal a new lease of life. Shown in Milan, New York, Eindhoven, Paris and here in Ireland, their 'Elements' (top) and 'Cuttings' (above) collections have garnered a number of awards and countless media inches. It is proof both that there is more to Irish crystal than Lismore and Colleen, and that there is an appetite for something new both at home and abroad...

'Naming Rain' designed by Studio Aad, made by J. Hill's Standard, image courtesy of Makers & Brothers

While 'Cuttings' and 'Elements' are both ranges designed by international names (the former by Martino Gamper, the latter by Scholten and Baijings), J. Hill's Standard launched a collaboration with Dublin-based graphic designer Scott Burnett in 2015 as part of The Souvenir Project. Specially commissioned by ID2015, The Souvenir Project is a collection of varied objects, many developed through collaboration, aiming to draw the meaning of the word 'souvenir' back from its association only with mass tourism to its root: that of memory and emotional association. 'Naming Rain' (above) is a series of vessels cut to reflect some of the different types of rain we identify: lashing, spitting, soft and so on. Launched during London Design Festival in September, 'Naming Rain' used crystal cutting to express a charming concept to great effect.

Pouring bowls by BTU Studio, image by David Pauley/The Studio

Also at London Design Festival, the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland continued its presence at one of the festival's key trade shows, Tent. 2015's edition saw Ó, an exhibition of a range of design-led craft from around Ireland, attract thousands of visitors during its four-day showing. As part of that, BTU Studio showed some of its 2015 collection, including functional vessels combining simple forms with patterns created using white and clear canes, some regular, some more chaotic, all of them appealing and usable (pouring bowls pictured above). BTU has been releasing functional collections for a number of years now, each one developing from the last, becoming more and more refined in terms of form and pattern.

'Empire' series by Rothschild & Bickers

Unlike J. Hill's Standard, where design and making are separate (though closely tied) activities, BTU's work is all designed and made by Andrea Spencer and Scott Benefield in their studio in Randalstown, Northern Ireland. Also combining design and production is Rothschild & Bickers, the Hertford studio of Irish-born Victoria Rothschild and her partner Mark Bickers. A long-established producer of functional glassware, specialised in lighting, 2015 saw the presentation of their 'Empire' range of lights as part of Liminal, ID2015's flagship exhibition. The 'Empire' range (above) might be one of Rothschild & Bicker's most stripped-back projects, taking their usual elements of transparent glass shades encasing filament bulbs and reducing them to their most essential to place the emphasis on their elegant metal finishes. Liminal opened at Milan's Salone del Mobile in April and toured to New York Now and Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven before finishing its tour – and closing ID2015 – in Dublin at the end of the year.

But now that that's all over, what next? Arguably, ID2015 will only be a true success if there is not one year of Irish design, but many. Design in Ireland - and indeed glass in Ireland - can't develop unless it is something we continue to pay attention to, continue to promote, and continue to value. I'm writing this in Copenhagen, the Scandinavian city where every year is a year of design, and where glass is a celebrated design discipline. It can be in Ireland too, but its success will lie in the efforts to educate, promote and present from 2016 onwards. This should not be the end of a year of Irish design, but the start of a new Irish design era.

The Glass Society of Ireland's second annual journal is available to buy now.

Images 1&2 | 3 | 4 | 5