OCTOBER 15 – NOVEMBER 21, 2011
DESIGN INNOVATION PLAY is the first solo exhibition in a forty year wood working career that has seen David Mac Laren rise from a humble apprentice to a master craftsman and Artistic Director of one of the most successful specific purpose arts and craft galleries in the world.
This is not to say that Mac Laren’s work has not been on exhibit before, quite the opposite. His work sits easily on his Gallery’s floor and shelves alongside that of this country’s leading and highly accomplished makers of fine furniture, sculptural and utilitarian objects since 1983. Like many other thinkers in his game of transforming rough sawn timber into finely tuned pieces of crafted furniture and sculptural objects, his mind is turning towards very important issues that concern him and the future of the world in which we all live, work and play. And the prime resource of his craft, timber, lies at the heart of his concerns on no less than three fronts. These issues are carbon emission, energy usage and sustainability. The three are inseparable in the context of his craft. This exhibition in no small way addresses these issues as the maker comes to terms with what he and his fellow makers are doing. David Mac Laren, whose generation has seen a four-fold increase in world population, is well aware that the population will top nine billion people by the year 2050. He is also aware that it has been estimated that the resources to support that number of people is equal to the amount of resources available on three planet Earths. These issues will certainly require an inordinate amount of thinking, rethinking and change, on an almost unimaginable scale, to cope with what’s coming. He realises that timber is a crucial player in this global carbon energy resource crisis, and is addressing that in the best ways he can. He sees design as primarily based in structure, requiring an understanding of the interconnectedness of materials and other elements and how they work. Structural design reveals possibilities for play, exploration, experimentation and innovation. Mac Laren’s structural design strategy is reductionist: to use solid timber for his work, not to travel the incorrectly perceived sustainability route of reducing solid timber to thin veneers at a high cost in terms of energy use and carbon emission. In this belief he finds support in the philosophy of his mentor, the late George Ingham, founder of the Canberra School of Art, Wood Workshop who believed using large section timbers affords the best efficiency. A benefit of this idea is the retention of carbon in the solid timber. There are financial and ecological rewards within this premise in that every action or process performed on the timber costs time and uses energy reliant processes. Therein lies part of his answer to the issue of energy use, less machining, more skilled handwork and clever processing means less energy use and less carbon emissions. 1
Jim Homann (left) and David Mac Laren
The alternative use of thin section veneers in association with pre-manufactured chip or medium density fibreboards (MDF) consumes more energy through manufacture and uses toxic materials in the process. At the centre of this line of thinking is the humble tree, the resource of all woodworkers. Mac Laren thinks of this by imagining an area of trees, in effect the present level of available trees on the planet. If the policy is to use more solid timber it would necessitate the growth of more trees. A policy of using veneers allows for the distribution of the present stock of trees, making the resource last longer with considerable energy costs and without providing an incentive to grow more. He and others see this as an example of maintaining an unsustainable practice. One of the key factors in addressing these issues is the role of thinking in relation to materials. This needs to be done across the board by makers, retailers and consumers. Until recently itâ€™s been fashionable to use exotic timbers, and to think that using thin sections will preserve these normally slow growing and highly endangered timbers so affected by wanton deforestation and greed. In this exhibition, and in his general practice, Mac Laren employs the skill and knowledge of others to assist with new materials and process solutions. To help him achieve his ideas of structure as pure form he places content and decoration of the piece within the realm of culture. The structure holds it together and up, the content and decoration makes it pleasing, connecting it to time and place. He seeks out processes and processors, and creates designs to take advantage of other skill sets using current machinery, new technologies and newly utilised materials to realise his finished pieces. Water jet cutting of timber, rare earth magnets replacing glues and screws, complicated articulated joints in timber, LED lighting technology, computer aided drawing (CAD) component design are areas of exploration, play, risk, the occasional significant innovation, and some likely failures and dead ends. With this of course comes risk. As with all new aspirations for efficient and less energy reliant processes, there is the need for much experimentation. In turn experimentation inevitably leads to failures, usually in a greater proportion than successes. Mac Laren has a refreshing approach to failure, almost to the point of turning it on its head and making it part of his eventual success. Failure to him is the only sure way of knowing that something will not work. He is encouraged when he hears people like American engineer, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor and futurist Buckminster Fuller declare that he did a lot of interesting things but a lot of them didnâ€™t work. With todayâ€™s professionalism everything is tightening up, particularly among the old guard where constraint, confinement and restraint are the orders of the day. 3
Failure is not to be contemplated. But with younger people this may not necessarily be the case. When asked what the purpose of this exhibition is, Mac Laren answers by saying that one reason is to produce the documentation, to actually write something down about himself and the world he lives in, and secondly he really wants to try to get both himself and his Gallery to connect with the younger design ethos. He applauds those teachers trying to raise the level of their student’s flexibility to think about themselves, their work environment and the changes that must come for sustainment in the future, particularly in this material-driven line of work. And in a seemingly endless world of digital information, social networks and hard logic, Mac Laren professes avoidance of the screens and things like Twitter. That, he says, “draws one in to all this,” and firmly believes that his creativity is part of a more intimate process. He’s finding that today’s professional paradigms for success require substantial connection with others and feels this eventually leads to agreement and compliance in place of getting out there and just doing it. There is one vexed issue that concerns him, the use of so-called exotic and endangered species such as Ebony and other rainforest timbers. Having come into possession of a substantial amount of the timber he now feels guilty about using it, even though without his intervention it was in danger of rotting away on a Sydney wharf. Rodney Hayward, recently retired Head of the ANU Furniture Workshop, related a similar story of students finding a quantity of New Guinea Rosewood laying as scrap in a local timber yard. He considers this sourcing method of looking, finding and scavenging “as giving a rare timber another chance of showing what it can do.” Mac Laren’s salvaging of the Ebony, recovered following a shipping debacle, should be seen as a saviour of this exotic West African timber. He did not commission anybody to cut it down, and likewise, the student’s use of the Rosewood did not mean that loggers would rush out and cut more. It should be looked on as a valid use. Finally, David Mac Laren finds that his work is almost meaningless unless there is a sense of play involved in the design and making process. For him, if there is no play, there is no fun, no experimentation, no failure, and ultimately little chance of success over and above the odds. This long time coming exhibition will let Mac Laren know where he’s at, what he’s doing and who he is. He’s taken the risks and if there are failures along the way, then so be it. Being a risk-taker can only increase the chances of becoming a groundbreaker. Stan d’Argeavel MA(VA) Exhibition Coordinator
David Mac Laren represents the epitome of the term “JOURNEYMAN” He began that journey in 1973 on the corner of Manhattan’s Lexington Avenue and 27th Street when he responded to the classic ‘Help Wanted’ sign in a gallery called Impressions in Wood.
In the basement workshop he worked with up to seven male and female makers. All talked incessantly about woodworking techniques and design. Mac Laren became possessed and obsessed with shaping timber and was hooked on woodworking, influenced by the natural edge furniture of George Nakashima and the stack laminated sculptural furniture of Wendell Castle. (This sculptural focus, based on structure, resurfaces with the suite of chairs in this exhibition) After two years he moved on to a larger space with four other makers on the Lower East Side, just off the infamous Bowery. Building domestic furniture and kitchens from White Oak and Walnut, and fit-outs for architects, became the main game while always designing and making small items for craft fairs. Mac Laren’s network of makers and experience with materials and techniques grew in those exciting times offering a superb education in the wood medium. In 1977 he left the US for the wide-open spaces of Australia settling near Bungendore in Southern NSW. Armed with a quantity of American Black Walnut and a desire to create “a place for woodworkers to display their works, where diversity is encouraged and fine craftsmanship essential,” Mac Laren approached seven or eight makers from the region and asked them to produce a piece from the Black Walnut. In 1983 Bungendore Wood Works Gallery was born out of this exhibition of fine wood work in the heritage listed Bungendore Store building opposite the present day site. The arrival of Englishman George Ingham (to head up the new Canberra School of Art Wood Workshop) and South African David Upfill Brown (who established a substantial workshop in Canberra) had a profound affect on the development of wood working in the region. The three formed a philosophical and working
New York, NY 1976
relationship, and together with the dynamics of successive art school graduates, gave rise to an authentic arts and crafts community, one of many emerging throughout the country at the time. Twelve years ago a heart wrenching fire claimed his workshop, tools, timber and work in progress. All were lost. The charred remains of his machinery still displays the name, Rudolf Bass Machinery, New York City and the loss closed another chapter in Mac Larenâ€™s journey. Philosophically it meant a time for review, for a change of direction perhaps. Instead of rebuilding he decided to spend time developing working relationships with makers around the country. The journey continued from the Jarrah rich forests of Western Australia through the exotic softwood stands of northern NSW and Queensland to the ancient Huon Pine environments of Tasmania. Recognising the simple, and at times, alternative life styles of dedicated woodies, Mac Laren decided to aid and abet those who shared his obsessive love of all things wooden. Realising the relationship with his fellow makers required sensitivity in encouraging them into a special partnership, he set about treating this as equal to, if not more important than, any eventual commercial outcome. He freely gave the designs he had developed over the years to makers and encouraged them to send him finely crafted pieces that he would display and sell in his new Gallery built in 1994. In 2003, a new workshop emerged phoenix-like from the ashes, and a more limited and considered continuance of the makerâ€™s journey began. This phase gave rise to new designs and prototype works laced with innovation and experimentation, culminating in the work on show in this exhibition, ironically his first in nearly 40 years of woodworking.
Left: Original Gallery Bungendore, NSW 1987
Right: Workshop Bungendore, NSW 1990
Bungendore Wood Works Gallery began as a “place to display” and Mac Laren has elevated that display to the level of an art form. Under his daily direction, he and his staff display the country’s finest wood work from its best makers, matched with an exceptional level of customer service. Getting it right is an endless quest and one more step of the ongoing journey. Mac Laren sees craft as a way of life that compliments the tourist ethos. His nationally and internationally renowned award winning Gallery offers visitors a genuine Australian arts and craft experience that aspires to be the de facto national collection of wood craft. The story of David Mac Laren parallels the development of fine wood working in Australia over the past thirty years. Where he and the gallery are today is where the standard and level of Australian woodworking is also. What’s next for this intrepid artisan? Well, the journey simply continues. His fire in the belly attitude towards the passionate pursuit of his chosen medium can only continue to be constructive, addictive and persuasive.
Workshop fire Bungendore, NSW 1998
In 2008 David Mac Laren was invited to take part in an International Forum and Exhibition of Woodworking Culture in Sweden. The JoINT Project provided an arena for the woodworking traditions of four continents, Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe. The Forum brief was for public seating and each artist was asked to pre-make one easily transportable piece. DAVIDâ€™S WAS THE LEDA CHAIR.
Photograph: Stan dâ€™Argeavel
Leda 500w x 600d x 1850h mm Silver Ash
SEATING JoINT was serendipitous because I was already thinking of chairs and seating. I continued to explore structure to derive design for furniture that is increasingly sculptural in appearance. I am now less concerned or constrained by the functional and ergonomic considerations of domestic furniture, and allow the structure to dictate uninhibited forms, sometimes brutal, sometimes graceful, but still reminiscent of furniture derivatives. The forms are less about sitting than they are objects of suggestive presence. My structure-based piece for Sweden was LEDA. Basically there are two types of chairs, one has the seat as the base of the structure, and the other has the frame as the structure and the seat may be upholstered and dropped in or attached to the frame. Behind all of that I had been thinking about the Jimmy Possum chair and the seat as a structural member. Then I asked myself what would happen if I collapsed that seat down, down, down. I thought about Windsor Chairs and if I removed the outer support of the spokes and increased the size of the spokes it would open up possibilities. I ended up with a striking look, and I just found that by imagining you could almost create a parallel universe of things. These things would require other kinds of machinery to accurately make them. I would need robotics and all kinds of other things that I was completely unaware of at the time. Dean Malcolm had made his own five axis Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine from a discarded Kodak film processor, all these little servos doing what they’re needing to do. That is so cool. LEDA was one of the few times I’ve used a sketchbook to such good effect.
I simply drew this image to look at, without any reference to function, practicality or dimensions. Normally I would box it out first, there’s a chair there and a seat here, legs, but not this time. I just started without any assumptions, and could see it from the side view and it was gorgeous. From the front view it wasn’t working, but slowly it came together and it took me places where I wanted to go anyway. I could see that the seat slats were to be splayed out and came down to a cylinder, things could then radiate from that, like a hub, with the legs coming out of it here, the back coming out of it there. How to make it, boy does that take you places. I wanted to do this using water jet cutting technology but couldn’t source the water jet satisfactorily and eventually did it by hand. No big deal, but that’s where it’s taken me on this, and the two other derivatives, JESTER and STRUT came later. 11
Jester 400w x 600d x 1650h mm, Silver Ash and Jarrah
Photographs: Stan dâ€™Argeavel
Strut 400w x 650d x 1400h mm, Silver Ash and Ebony
I would like to make another LEDA and get it done industrially, almost. And look at the mechanism of the AK-47 gun, how it fits its parts in. If you were able to take LEDA’s parts and click them in, you could reverse them and create quite different chairs immediately. LEDA finished up very much oversize (1850mm high) compared to normal sitting
chairs and I said ‘I’m not going to cut the bloody thing down, after all its purely sculptural’. And the elegance and the sheer beauty of it grabbed me. When it came to JESTER I knew exactly what I was going to do. I’m just using simple radiating elements and everything was turned. It reminds me of social hierarchy, there’s a little bit of that, it’s a spoof. The high back chair was originally for kingly and stately folk, the Macintoshes bought it in as domestic furniture. With JESTER I’m having a go at the sportsman, it was really ballsy, and the balls look like cricket balls. When you bowl a cricket ball you see the curve is up there like they are at the top of the chair. I wanted to name it ‘Ballsy’, but I didn’t have the guts. But JESTER fulfilled what I really wanted to do in that sense. It would have been simple just to put the spheres directly in the middle at 90 degrees. I thought, “wouldn’t it be interesting to insert them at different points so you’re always looking at them.” That’s the only variation. Everything else is very logical. People often look through the Gallery window at JESTER, they stop, look and say, “well what is that, is it a chair? It has a seat, back and legs.” But few ever think this is really a fantasy played out by the maker, not meant to be sat on, but could be. JESTER is in that playful territory between domestic seating and sculpture. In our game sitting is an active verb. A wooden seat gives you much more information and your body reacts to that, it’s more comfortable to sit in it the right way. Just about all of LEDA came from 70mm x 50mm timber except for the seat slats and the central cylinder which was 70mm by 70mm. Water jet can cut through 100mm but I had to go through a fair amount of work to get through it by hand, but the original idea was to do it with water jet so I stuck to those dimensions. JESTER was all about wood turning so it could be done quickly. The last derivative, STRUT, was to be really simple, with the ebony central cylinder and the legs coming out. Someone suggested that there should be Ebony on the pads at the bottom. I agreed “but it’s a lot of work,” a whole new project. The Ebony had to be cut in the same direction as the Silver Ash, you can get differential expansion and that could be trouble. Jim Homann turned them and I blocked them in, it was a nightmare, but the outcome was brilliant and I love it.
Photographs: Stan d’Argeavel
Viewed side-on, JESTER and STRUT become closer to each other, but both are further away from LEDA. STRUT gave me that simple, pure structural shape when viewed from the side. JESTER ’s splayed legs interrupt that perfect profile. STRUT was the road to the simplest outcome of the central cylinder idea. And it’s so expressive, it begins to resemble a human form, taking on a skeletal resemblance in the structure. There’s a lot of energy in that, and I look at the structures as kind of proto-humans, certainly robotic. Excerpt from conversations between David Mac Laren and Stan d’Argeavel.
Highchair 1000w x 1400d x 6000h mm Bamboo Ephemeral sculptural chair Weerewa Festival of Lake George 2010
Photographs: Rob Little
Bunk Bed 2100w x 700d x 2100h mm, Silver Ash and Burl
BUNK BEDS A Gallery client needed two special purpose Bunk Bed sets. They had to be strong and of certain dimensions to cater for a special requirement. The beds became a challenge in terms of time and physical energy, taking almost a year to complete. This project suited my philosophy of using solid timber. There are many Australian Standards for safety for bunk beds, it really is very constrained. And there was a lower height requirement that compressed the design. Wide timber made it much easier. It was the right thing and the only way to go, but “my gosh it’s a lot of timber,” and it was my best Silver Ash that came from Geoff Hannah who had acquired it in the 90s. Looking back, if I was going to do it again and weight was a consideration, I could use Hoop Pine, a plantation timber. In terms of sustainability, using rare timbers, practicality over vanity, and so on, I would use Radiata Pine even if only for the nonstructural elements. If I had to go to an unrefined timber it would be Red Gum, because its available, but terribly heavy stuff that twists and go’s crazy. Looking back, there was no other way to go unless I did what everyone else did and used one-inch timber, but neither the client nor I wanted that. The ovalising of the elements made everything soft. You couldn’t hurt yourself, no edges, you could cuddle it and the round posts were cool, and I liked the little red rings around it. The bed slats were ovalised and dropped in to the rails, all those things were pleasing outcomes. Weight was definitely an issue and I contemplated slitting the side rails down the middle, hollowing out the centres and joining it back together. Now with CNC you could take out material like that to reduce weight but at considerable cost. The beds were very successful for the client and much admired when displayed briefly in the Gallery. In the end, they were stunning and resolved, there were no regrets, but it felt like building a house. Just the scale of the things, they are monumental and reflective of the client’s dedication, love and care for her grandchildren. And the kids play with them, the top round things are not glued in and can be turned around like a steering wheel, so it was playful as well. And perhaps it may well be my last commissioned piece. Excerpt from conversations between David Mac Laren and Stan d’Argeavel.
Photograph: Stan dâ€™Argeavel
Top to bottom: Still 1800w x 280d x 710h mm, Jarrah
with display shelf 860h mm
as dining table 1800w x 840d x 710h mm
STILL I usually complicate things and wanted to put this project together with magnets. An engineer would say “you have a fulcrum 600mm long against 10 kilos, nothing’s going to hold that.” That says something about leverage. Its just my compulsive nature, I wanted to go play and explore. Two concepts, the magnets as a whole new way of holding furniture together that could then be detached for flat packing, the other, the versatility of two stand alone tables with removable top display sections. Putting the whole lot together produces a really different and functional dining table with a raised middle serving area like a Sushi Bar. You get these ideas, “Oh let’s put furniture together like bang bang and then knock it down.” You work with something until it fails. You can’t be afraid of failure. The magnets alone did not achieve the required rigidity. I even put tenons in and it still didn’t work, but they added some stiffness. My goose was cooked. An unresolved yet pleasing outcome, but the journey was interesting. There are good size magnets available now, 40mm at 27 kilos, and they really grab, so there’s hope. I was making it for a demonstration and 72 surfaces had to be finished and be quite sweet and nice. It’s very solid and very old Jarrah. I filled the pores and even a few slight imperfections with floor seal, then finished with oil on top of that. Interesting, it gave a very flat, very nice finish. The overall outcome was pleasing and the name STILL is interesting because it’s not moving anywhere, it’s just a simple shape. It was a transforming journey and reminded me of Wendell Castle’s statement, when kids first had the Transformer toys, talking about doing transformers in furniture. I don’t think it ever happened. STILL was a bit of play that stretched out to nearly a year, combined with some
valuable experimentation. It proved to be so important to the thinking behind the other solid timber projects in this exhibition. I tried to merge my preoccupations back then, magnets, size and density, and all along I said “I’ll play the game, and can always glue it up whenever I want.” I could still do that. But I decided to leave it as a demonstration of a failure, and of a success. Excerpt from conversations between David Mac Laren and Stan d’Argeavel.
Photograph: Stan dâ€™Argeavel
Stack 1000w x 300d x 300h mm (triangle component), Jarrah and Ebonised Jarrah
STACK Stack was very late in the line of recent works. It was one of those little margin sketches. I realised it was a follow on from Still. Same dimension timber sections and both use Jarrah. No magnets this time. I started out by conceiving two rectangles, they could be benches or low tables or stacked for shelves. And then the complications set in. I drew it up full size, then realised that a diagonal through the rectangles would make two sets. One in Jarrah and one in ebonized Jarrah, making eight triangular tables. Then you could mix and match the triangles to create a number of options with colour and shape. Drawing a diagonal line on a sketch creating modular options meant that each part had to fit into every other part offering another challenge in woodworking terms. Intially, I considered doing the cutting on the bandsaw. But the cutting required more precise machining of the components than I had first envisaged. Monaro Timbers did the joinery for me on this one. I did the glue up. It was good working with Shaun Hayward and Zane Robertson at Monaro. When we talked it through, I appreciated how quickly Shaun can work through possible approaches to the problem. STACK offers a transformative modularity, as do many other of these recent works. I imagine these tables in a home offering whimsy and play. Excerpt from conversations between David Mac Laren and Stan dâ€™Argeavel.
Wedge 1600w x 290d x 800h mm, Jarrah (digital render)
WEDGE Wedge was the first table I designed for the exhibition. I just sketched it on a scrap piece of MDF in the workshop, picked the material, had it machined and left it for six months. I didn’t even draw it on paper. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. The timber sections were the same as STILL in so far as thickness, length and width of material goes. The basic premise was taking a 1500mm long Jarrah board 300mm wide and 50mm thick and with two cuts you have the top and the two legs. Yet another demonstration of using solid timber rather than veneer. I loved the simplicity and elegance of that. It sat there for months machined and ready to go, and this exhibition gave me the chance to say well “this is the time to do it.” And it bought me back to other methodologies I’ve used in the past to strengthen the angle joint between the table’s top and legs. I was going to used embedded steel rod, which I’ve done before, and that’s an interesting way to go about it. My plan was to find somebody with a good bandsaw and get it cut, but no one had a bandsaw to suit. So there I was out there fixing up my old rusted thing that’s been used as a bush bandsaw to cut burls for small products. I spent at least a week tidying it up, getting new blades and preparing for the cut. It had to be cut from the edge and it’s 300mm high, the cut was really challenging. It’s a good illustration of what happens when you think about the way you want to do things. Everyone’s doing veneers, so we have all kinds of machinery built for that, they are not built for fine bandsaw work, for accurate, heavy and large cuts. So if that’s the way you’re going to design, then you need the appropriate machinery. The machines will follow suit in time. The ends aren’t supported so I put cylinders in and had Jim Homann turn decorative burl cap-like ends. And that became the theme for the tables that followed. In a quasi-progressive line of thinking, WEDGE was first, then came ELLIPSE, and that’s interesting because I’m still working with that same section of timber used on STILL, doing different things with it. Most importantly this project reinforces George Ingham’s belief that you achieve the greatest efficiencies in working from large sections down to small, instead of the other way around. Excerpt from conversations between David Mac Laren and Stan d’Argeavel.
Partial Ellipse 1650w x 290d x 800h mm, Jarrah and Burl (digital render)
PARTIAL ELLIPSE I really wanted to demonstrate how to do curved solid timber work that would normally be veneer work, it should have been, this is veneer’s natural territory. But I couldn’t do a full ellipse in solid timber so I did it in sections 50mm thick. With PARTIAL ELLIPSE I did draw it and then on top of the page in my sketch book, written in bright red, is the note “David please don’t do this, please resist the temptation to do this one, it’s all over the place.” Rodney Hayward looked at the drawing and said “Wow! What’s this thing going to do?” It has so much dynamic movement in it and I didn’t know where it was going to go. Gravity and the material itself, what happens in weather and temperature and time? So there’s an abstracted generic line here from STILL, you’re complicating and challenging, challenging. Some of these ideas were not thought of in any way before STILL. They all stem from STILL, the timber sections, configurations and so on. Over the year working on STILL I had time to think of many things. PARTIAL ELLIPSE was the end point, there’s nothing past that in the future at the moment.
Pretty well a wrap up, of this set of ideas, I hope. And all this work in one way or another was born out of the failure to resolve the issue of keeping STILL together without glue. Working like I this, I’m not making to a deadline, I stopped doing commissions and that freed me up. Taking longer to make things allows time for consideration, gives you time to think. It comes back to me, that where I am in my life I’ll be lucky to have another ten years of working health, so I may as well just go with it, that’s my feeling, just go about celebrating the fact that you can just still do it. And funnily enough a lot of my peers and contemporaries are not going down that path, they’re slowing down and not doing work, there not producing objects, some are teaching and so on, well that’s a whole different profession. I think you could look at teaching as a nice clean way of working professionally, you could almost do it in a suit. This stuff I’m doing, Oh man, I look like my son-in-law Matthew Harding covered from head to toe in dust, spitting the stuff out. Excerpt from conversations between David Mac Laren and Stan d’Argeavel.
Photograph: Phil Mac Laren
Up & Down Game / Low Table 1000w x 1000d x 700h mm, Silver Ash (detail)
UP & DOWN Innovation plays a role in the Up & Down tables, facilitating a versatile dual height table with unusual joints providing unexpected and sometimes delightful configuration possibilities. I’m playing around with magnets again. This time as a component of an articulated joint where a simple twist brings the table up or down. And not being content with that I implanted another magnet at the top of the leg so it also swivels. When you have a leg that rotates and swivels I imagine possible animal poses. The joint sockets are machined industrially and it was great to work with people who specialise in that kind of thing. Round connectors secure the legs to the underside of the tables. The intention is to keep the table surface flat over the diameter of the connector and this eliminates the need for additional structure. Having said that, it lingers on the edge of failure somewhere between play and engineering. If I was an engineer I would work this out with vectors or take it to somebody, but I haven’t. I don’t know, but we’re preparing ourselves, expecting some kind of disaster. The trick is to watch where it goes and go with it. The fun is to remain calm about it. Excerpt from conversations between David Mac Laren and Stan d’Argeavel.
Aztec Drum Hall Table 1200w x 300d x 900h mm, Silver Ash and Burl (detail)
AZTEC DRUM TABLES A popular piece that appeals to the Gallery’s musically inclined visitors is Jonathan Chance’s Zyladrum, a hollow wood form with tongues forming the surface that are struck with a drum stick. David Mac Laren’s Aztec Drum Table utilises water jet technology and brings form and function together in an entertaining piece of furniture. I always wanted to make a low table, kind of squareish and box like, and perhaps able to be used on a communal basis. People could sit around and do drumming on it. The box section is the sound resonating area, and could be used for storage as well. It nearly didn’t get done this time around, because I complicated it again, thinking I could break the table into four separate pieces, and it would get very complicated. I didn’t have the time to do that. My propensity for complication can have a negative effect sometimes, particularly when time is limited. To add to this I also wanted to use the water jet process to cut the tongues that produce the sound when struck. It needed it to be at least 25mm thick so it could form part of the complete top of the table, and the accuracy and stability of the cuts had to be guaranteed. The Aztec style drum top was the ideal test for water jet cutting of timber. If successful it would have so many ramifications not only for this project, but would open doors to a host of design ideas in the future, even a remake of LEDA on an industrial basis could now be considered once more. We received the water jet cut timber board back only two weeks before the opening of the exhibition, and it is looked quite perfect. I was very impressed, so that’s the way we’re going with this one. It is exciting to work with new technologies that offer alternatives to traditional methodologies. Excerpt from conversations between David Mac Laren and Stan d’Argeavel.
Photograph: Rob Little
Empire 400w x 400d x 1200h mm, Jarrah and Burl Asian High-rise 400w x 400d x 1650h mm, Jarrah and Burl
Gulf Tower 400w x 400d x 1200h mm, Jarrah and Burl
MARBLE TOWERS One of the most successful and popular items in the Gallery over the years has been the marble tower, played with by children and adults alike. And after years of not being available they are undergoing a revival. Twenty years ago Anton Meerman, then completing his Honours course at the Canberra School of Art Wood Workshop, arrived at the Gallery with some ten marble towers, each individual, charming and whimsical. They were very popular with our visitors to the Gallery and for many years we had just the one that is always available to amuse children while their parents take in what the Gallery has to offer. I have been wanting to replicate something like those marble towers ever since, particularly in the context of playfully mocking urban architectural pretensions, and how you end your super skyscraper, up there on top, I’m having a bit of a play with that. The Empire State and Chrysler buildings, they captured the obvious, the point. And those buildings are glorious and that’s perhaps the virtue of being first on the block. Art Deco had a good sense of where it wanted to go, more consensus back then I think. Today, I’m not quite so sure, maybe more like conforming. Modern cities are looking somewhat the same. Towers in society go way back to mythical times and were often places of fortification and entrapment. Moving towards more serious concerns, a speculation by Dr Tim Flannery in his book Here on Earth: an Argument for Hope muses on whether humanity counts as a super-organism, somewhat like Fire Ants. This classification is usually reserved for bees and ants, but their nests and society are strikingly similar to our mega cities and to the human species. I provided drawings, and the timber machined to specifications. Jamie Prior drilled the holes, and Jim Homann did the lathe work. A lot has to do with the angle from hole to hole as to how fast the marble goes down. We wanted to slow it down so its journey lasted longer. The towers gave us the opportunity to play with finishes and colours, and to explore ways to reveal more of the marble‘s spiralling downward path by cutting vertical grooves along the four sides. As the towers evolved and became taller, the architectural playfulness became even more evident, and intriguing. So from a square section, the four sides, you just keep drilling down, down, down, and then you have options. The drills interconnect through the holes. And we wanted to make the inside black or silver for effect. The guys really took it on and Jamie worked the drilling out, he took charge of it because he was into the detail. 31
Photograph: Stan d’Argeavel
One of the towers automatically places the marble at the beginning of a new journey by inverting the tower, somewhat like tipping a child’s snow dome upside down. While another, changes the direction of the marble mid journey from clockwise to counter clockwise. If you’re drilling all those bloody holes then you have plenty of time to think about it. We even made one with a hole down the middle and put an LED light in there. It’s so fascinating, imagine a marble, “bing, bing” with the lights going on. So we’re still having fun. The three tall ones, I can’t take my eyes off them, you walk around them and the holes change and it looks like DNA, it looks like biology and I’m really intrigued by this stuff, and the lights and shadows in the background are so fascinating. Like their architectural city inspirations, the towers grew to impressive heights, nearly two metres. And I like the towers clustered together as “Urban Towers, for a community of marbles.” These urban totems reflect where my current thoughts are in regard to cities. Excerpt from conversations between David Mac Laren and Stan d’Argeavel.
Marble towers Collection
Photograph: Rob Little
Asian High-rise 400w x 400d x 1650h mm, Jarrah and Burl (Detail)
Photograph: Stan dâ€™Argeavel
Stiletto 70w x 90d x 160h mm, Burl and Stainless Steel
TABLES WITH SHOES With a sense of true whimsy and play, Tables with Shoes provide a welcome break from the austerity of design today. Featuring inter-changeability and pitting fashion against form – if tables have legs, then why not complete with shoes? I thought the way designer woodworking is now, everything seems so rigid. In a sense that there’s an awful lot of political correctness out there, design correctness and you can’t waver from this or that. I think its time to break out. Jim Homann and I have been playing with this idea for some time. It’s pretty well all spoof, and real play, basically it’s just pure fun. The initial inspiration came from the Coat Stand we make that has pegs like a cabriolet leg. These tables have become intensely interesting, they’re hall tables about 300mm wide and up to 1500mm long, with a variety of timbers used for the tops and sockets. All are straightforward tables with the same legs, with threaded rod extending from the bottom. And we have a number of different shoes that we can twist on and off to create different looks. At the moment we’re in a very expansive mode and when we pull it back we might become a bit more practical, but you can do some strange things when your designing mind locks into play mode. Sometimes these shoes can look almost like the claws of animals. I think people might buy the shoes. If you buy a table then you might need two sets of shoes. I’m being whimsical now, and saying, “well you think of the history of furniture. There has always just been bare feet. They need some shoes.” Early in the project I decided I should consult the bastions of shoe fashion, the women who wear them. Strangely enough I didn’t get as much help as I thought I would. Jim and I checked a lot of web sites, we googled shoes and this and that, but our shoes get a bit more abstract. Sure it’s not a shoe, you couldn’t wear it but it gets the idea across. I designed the shoes so they could be made as multiples from a single block. When we make the various shoes they come like a pizza, then it gets cut in eight or twelve pieces. There are so many ways of going, with texturing and so on, with the twelve pieces from the pizza. Four of one type make a set, then add paint, silver underneath, or anything else that works. The different sets of shoes might be on a shelf, apart from the tables, so you can change the shoes on a table, they twist on and off quite quickly. 35
Photographs: Stan dâ€™Argeavel
Table with Shoes 1400w x 330d x 720h mm Jarrah Grass Tree shoe
Table with Shoes 920w x 330d x 720h mm Ebony Burl and Jarrah shoe
You could change the height of the table with different shoes and you can twist them so the table appears to be dancing. You could take images of it in different positions and if we take them quickly enough they could form something like an animation, they will move. The shoes are turned in stunning and extravagant burl, some are painted, decorative and colourful. There is a set of exciting big stilettos, quite high with stainless steel coming down to a very sharp point. Rodney Hayward talked to me about that juncture of the floor and the vertical, the point where the load-bearing surface touches the floor, touches the earth and how we read that, whether the table levitates, or sinks in or just floats neutrally. He thought these were lovely, with that elegant, beautiful point meeting the plane of the floor. Rodney also thought that in the past, the best we’ve ever seen are socks, not shoes. He said “it really makes a difference what you put on the end of it, say Ebony or a band of something, it’s amazing the difference it makes to the visual presence of the piece.” I asked David Boucher, renowned for his use of unfamiliar materials, what he used as pads for feet, and he rattled off a long list of materials he uses that I’ve never heard of. He and his people make them up, if they can’t source something directly in the material they want, to the standard they require, they simply go about designing and making it themselves. But just the consideration, the deep consideration is quite sweet. Behind the scenes culturally, I have a feeling that the fashion side of things is going to grab people, maybe not the intellectual side. There are far more ideas than we could ever do, a table fashion parade would be cool. We could go on and on with this, put in LED lights and all kinds of stuff. At a certain point you think enough is enough. Tables with Shoes is a project we are quite pleased with, an easy entry into the fun and the play, thinking outside of the shoe box so to speak. Excerpt from conversations between David Mac Laren and Stan d’Argeavel.
Photograph: Stan dâ€™Argeavel
iPhone / Phone Holder 250w x 150d x 150h mm, Grass Tree
Hand Mirror 250w x 150d x 150h mm, Grass Tree
PRODUCT Products such as clocks, gifts, business card holders, mobile phone holders , lighting and a host of other utilitarian and decorative items are paramount to Bungendore Wood Works Gallery’s core business. In today’s design driven world of retailing, keeping it fresh with new, innovative and attractive products is all important to the continued success of the Gallery. Products, well there’s been a change in the area of small products with Designer, Phil Mac Laren coming along as a collaborator. Jim Homann and I have enjoyed a very fruitful collaboration for over thirteen years. Phil being here with his skills in CAD and design means we can almost see the finished product before starting to make it. Actually we couldn’t have done this exhibition without using CAD. Some eighteen projects. Communicating the necessary technical and visual information to Jim became so much easier. We needed all that, and we had to really tighten up some of my ideas. When we got into LED lights and other things, there were small parts needed, lamp holders, steel pieces here and there. I was really challenged and we needed this computerised input, especially to get the metalwork done, that has to be done really tightly. The recent small product, starting with the Sail Clocks then the Mobile Phone Holder, Mirror, Conical Lamps, LED standard lamps, gave me some concerns. I was thinking “this is going to be like STILL, a real bug bear bogging us down.” However this proved to be a tremendous learning experience for Phil. Here we were in the thick of it, doing all this stuff that other people are working through at the same time but this is very much open field stuff, coming out all the time, everything happening everywhere. And we were working within an enormously tight time frame with wood, magnets, LED etc. It was a great learning curve. I find myself getting too bogged down in that kind of stuff, it doesn’t work for me. I need to have a big piece of wood to rip down. With lighting, I had made a conical light, like a small standard lamp in grass tree (xanthorrhoea australis) to complement the Galleries lighting range. It sold in a day or two, and that led to a range of dome lights. And we also decided to develop an innovative LED Standard Lamp. All the products I made with Jim over the years had been turned from individual blocks cut with the bandsaw. I developed a pizza-like way of cutting repetitive 39
shapes out of turned forms. This method evolved from the Sail Clocks as a way of lowering the unit cost of turned elements. We’re becoming quite used to this method and getting good at it so you can almost do anything. You can create outlines of anything but its only two dimensional. Its been done before, for little animals and that sort of thing and we are just extending it. But it does have limits. Like the iPhone/iPod dock, you just couldn’t do that out of a single piece of wood, this methodology is perfect for this sort of thing, you start with your mobile phone you have your connector how do I want it held, Jim draws the outline and that’s done, quite functional, I’m very surprised that other people aren’t doing it. One pizza for each design. So there’s just one shape on each pie. Change them with decoration, colour etc. Get the shape sweet and just colour them. The shoes for the TABLES WITH SHOES worked exactly like that. The academic and professionalism worlds almost have a tendency to stifle ideas and free-thinking. You have all these overlays that may get in the way. Some of them, like the BUNK BEDS with all the Australian standards that apply for example. You just have to comply. But there are many other standards that are stifling in one way or another. We’ve achieved so much, from where we started, with a whole gamut of progressive ideas developing along the way. There’s no way that everything will be finished, perfect and tight. I was thinking that in terms of the academic and professional milieus everything has to be sweet, tight and perfect as a demonstration of just what is the ultimate application of your profession. With this exhibition that wasn’t the goal. The goal really was to develop and execute a rush of ideas, and you have to give way here and there. I can’t have everything sweet and perfect, so in that sense the name of the exhibition is most appropriate, design innovation play. Excerpt from conversations between David Mac Laren and Stan d’Argeavel.
Connical S 250w x 250d x 1100h mm M 270w x 270d x 1500h mm L 290w x 290d x 1950h mm, Jarrah
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS DESIGNER/MAKERS OF INFLUENCE
SERVICES & VALUED ADVICE
Shaun Hayward & Zane Robertson Monaro Timbers
Dean Davidson Canberra Machining Company
Dean Malcolm Geoff Hannah
Greg Tarlinton Pro Engines
Jim Homann Jamie Prior
Canberra Trophy Centre
M & G Machinists
David Upfill Brown
The Exhibition Centre
Avi Amesbury Craft ACT
Rob Little Digital Images
Jenie Thomas & Ken Lockwood Craft Arts International
Robert Wilson Capital Magazine
Scott Mitchell Jonathan Chance Geoff Ruck
Patricia & John Reeve The Staff Bungendore Wood Works Gallery
The Trees DESIGN
Phil Mac Laren EDITOR
Stan dâ€™Argeavel Printed by Blue Star Printing Group
Kings Highway Bungendore NSW 2621 Ph 02 6238 1682 firstname.lastname@example.org
Published on Oct 3, 2011
October 15 – November 21, 2011 Design Innovation Play is the first solo exhibition in a forty year wood working career that has seen David...