Culture | Function is the future

Concordia design students unite tradition and innovation

From March 4 to March 20, “Material Applied” – an exhibition that focuses on the relation between art, commerce, and design – will be running as part of Concordia’s Art Matters Festival, a three-week long celebration featuring new work by Concordia’s art and design students.

Sean Yendrys, the show’s curator, cites the material and its relationship to function as two of the exhibition’s main concerns. Yendrys selected each of the pieces in the show himself, using both his previous knowledge of most of the artists’ work and the proposal each artist submitted. He emphasized the dual focus of his criteria for selection, based on “how unique the building materials were, as well as how the artist used these materials to make an object functioning outside of what they traditionally compose.”

Although his studies have focused primarily on graphic design and typography, Yendrys gained an interest in three-dimensional design after he worked as a curator during last year’s Art Matters Festival. “I was running a show in 2-D and I thought that this year a 3-D exhibition might be interesting,” he said. “This is the only show in the festival that focuses on design rather than art.” According to Yendrys, a notable distinction exists between the two. “With art, you make a piece. In design, you create for a client with a specific purpose in mind,” he explains.

This concept of creating art for consumption is a key element in the concept of a “creative economy” – a term which the U.K. government’s Department For Culture, Media, and Sport defines best as a conglomeration of “those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill, and talent, and which have a potential for wealth and job creation.” In this sense, the human creativity encompassed in design harnesses the capacity not only to please the eye, but also to foster economic prosperity, portraying the art form as one of the most accessible and traditionally useful mediums showcased in the festival.

Though he didn’t specifically mention the creative economy, much of Yendrys’s discussion of “Material Applied” echoed the concept. “The show is about functionality, exploration, and experimentation, with an undertone of sustainability,” he said. “It is about learning to explore using new material.” The pieces in “Material Applied” feature exotic working materials like discarded newspaper, gravel, and old school desks, proving an enthusiasm on the part of the artists to branch out from their traditional – perhaps more mundane – raw materials.  He noted that – although the concept of “green” building materials was not intended to be the focus of this particular exhibition – it is a major component of the design curriculum at Concordia.

Though interesting in theory, the exhibition contains quite a few flaws that detract from its effectiveness in conveying its target messages. As of March 9, there were no name cards accompanying the pieces – the viewer had to match up pieces and artist names using the information booklet. The exhibition was also lacking write-ups disclosing exactly what materials were used to make each work.

Additionally, there seemed to be little innovation in creating new uses for easily recognizable materials.  For example, as visually appealing as it was, I failed to see the innovation in using screen-printed newspaper as wallpaper or creating jewelry out of building materials. Gaia Orain’s Paper Bag created bags out of “discarded materials of a passé era,” a description, the meaning of which I had trouble deciphering, but I did notice the incorporation of satin into her work.

“Material Applied” is still worth seeing, as it shows promise regarding the future of furniture design – some of these latter pieces were particularly impressive, especially David Abraham’s Charred Light light fixture. However, the lack of variation and creativity in many of the featured pieces was disappointing. As comparatively static visual art becomes less relevant and the demand for accessible design rises, this art form will become increasingly important. Ideally, the content in this show and all of the Art Matters Festival would have reflected and subverted this inevitable trend in art.

“Material Applied” will be on display at Les Territoires (372 Ste. Catherine O., Suite 527) until March 20.