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In Conversation with Artist and Designer Eugenie Kawabata

" intention was to bring together designers who explore the internal language of objects. Through light, colour, texture, form and presence, and whose work transcends the boundary between art and design."

As part of Melbourne Design Week and curated by the Abbotsford Convent’s artist in-residence, Eugenie Kawabata, exhibition ‘Departures’ opens today at The Grey Area, Collingwood. Featuring the work of four designers, including Kawabata, ‘Departures’ features hand-made design objects which explore the relationship between nature, old traditions and new futures. We speak to Kawabata about her design philosophy ahead of a Meet The Makers event with the four designers, at The Grey Area, Saturday 18 March from 11am–2pm.

Do you see yourself as a designer or an artist first and foremost? Or are the two one in the same?

I see myself as both an artist and a designer.

‘Fold’, your collection of handcrafted side tables is featuring alongside the works of three other designers at The Grey Area for the exhibition ‘Departures’ as part of Melbourne Design Week. What design principle ties the four collections together?

As curator of ‘Departures’, my intention was to bring together designers who explore the internal language of objects. Through light, colour, texture, form and presence, and whose work transcends the boundary between art and design.

Last year I curated a group show ‘Elemental’ at the Abbotsford Convent that explored the language of materiality and the ways in which materials express emotions, tell stories and build personality in the forms that occupy our lives.

Departures builds on this notion but takes it a step further by creating an environment that suggests a departure from the individual form to the collective installation of form; to suggest the possibilities of how this narrative can make an emotional impact.

On Saturday 18 March, yourself and the other designers, Marc Pascal, Yan Huang and Ilan El will host a forum on your designs with the public. What can people expect to learn about your design processes by attending?

We all come from diverse backgrounds drawing from fine arts, architecture, lighting, object, furniture and automotive design.

We all have a unique approach to our design practice and use very different processes, combining both new technologies and traditional methods of making. This is a great opportunity for visitors to find out about our own personal processes in an informal setting.

For many people, furniture is just something you sit on or put your coffee cup. By combining art and design, and having your works displayed in galleries, do you hope to change people’s perceptions about this?

‘Departures’ aims to explore ways in which design can shape one’s experience of object culture. It links a desire to connect with our natural environment, with the traditions of making and the practice of tactility, to new and future possibilities. To put ideas within the context of a constructed environment, the transit lounge, ‘Departures’ seeks to find a new awareness of its impact on urban life and culture.

Does it make you happy to see your designs used like everyday furniture, or is it sometimes hard to see them subject to wear and tear?

My designs are designed for everyday use. My ‘Fold’ side-tables are an adaptable design, with tops that convert to trays and collapsible legs for compact storage. Solid brass and matt-black steel create a superior and durable finish to the legs.

The colours and materials used in ‘Fold’ create a luxuriously subtle, shifting luminosity and add texture to a room. The recycled glass and resin tops are all hand cast, ensuring each is unique. They are intended to be functional and uplifting in a joyful way.

Your collections, ‘Fold’, ‘Stack’ and ‘Flocked’ are all hand-made objects created using recycled glass. How important is sustainability to your design practice?

My design practice seeks to blur the line between art and design, while embracing an ethos of sustainability. My products are all handmade in Melbourne and I’ve developed a signature process of using recycled glass and resin that is hand cast and incorporated into my ‘Fold’, ‘Stack’ and ‘Flocked’ collections.

The process used, ensures each piece is unique. I am committed to reimagining materials to create timeless and enduring sustainable solutions. Something people will cherish and enjoy every day.

Is sustainability something you need to consider to also meet your clients’ needs and wishes?

My collections are driven by a perceived need while embracing an ethos of sustainability.

Many of your works are made to order and you also offer a commissioned design service. Does this close customer relationship help add value to the work, for yourself and the buyer?

All my collections are made to order. I produce pieces in low volumes and edition pieces. I guess in terms of customers wanting unique products that are produced in low volumes, are sustainable and unique adds value to the work.

You’re relatively new to the Convent community, moving into your studio space at the end of 2014. The Abbotsford Convent in many ways is all about mixing the old and the new. Your designs are similar in that they combine a contemporary minimalist style with old artisan practices. Do you feel like you’ve the right place for your practice?

This is my third year here and I love working out of the Abbotsford Convent it’s a very special place. The gardens, proximity to the city and the creative community offers a very unique experience and is a real asset to my creative pursuits.

What else is happening for you in 2017 in terms of design or exhibitions?

I’m really going to focus on developing a new body of work this year. I am going to be involved in some upcoming exhibitions that are still under discussion, but I really want to create a new collection of functional objects.