A review of the exciting exhibition “The New Frontier: Young Designer- Makers in the Pacific Northwest,” at BAM through Aug. 16. It’s full of works that hit all the PNW buttons: reclaimed materials, technology, clean design.
Have you ever asked yourself, “What would happen if I crafted a ceramic vessel and submerged it in water until barnacles formed all over its surface?”
Maybe not. But many young designers in the Pacific Northwest are asking these kinds of questions, and I am so glad they are. Not only are they thinking about creative ways to transform functional objects or generate entirely new forms, they are crafting these things with their own two hands.
Or their own two hands in collaboration with other hands. Collaborative making is a major theme of the Bellevue Arts Museum’s vibrant exhibition, “The New Frontier: Young Designer-Makers in the Pacific Northwest.”
EXHIBITION REV IEW
‘The New Frontier: Young Designer-Makers in the Pacific Northwest’
11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. through Aug. 16, Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way N.E., Bellevue; $10-$12, free the first Friday of each month (425-519-0770 or bellevuearts.org).
Design teams include such cleverly named studios as Free Time, Semigood and Standard Socket. And the barnacle-encrusted ceramic pieces? They emanated from Oregon-based artist/designers Trygve Faste and Jessica Swanson, otherwise known as Something Like This Design.
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Inquisitive, generative thinking pervades the show. Almost without exception, the objects are smart and eye-pleasing. The “Scraplights” by Graypants studio (made from corrugated cardboard!) are beautifully made and hung, anchoring a far wall of the exhibition.
The reclaimed materials are just one example of how the concepts implied in the exhibition title are borne out through the objects. The Pacific Northwest — with its passions for nature, sustainability, technology and playful hipness — is clearly a source of inspiration.
The title’s reference to a “new frontier” and the emphasis on the age of the designer-makers can be felt in an experimental freshness that blurs the boundaries between designer and artisan, between household object and finely-crafted work of art, and — occasionally — between technology and handicraft.
The “new frontier” can be thought of not so much as the occupation of a hinterland, but the joyful traversal of borders. The studio statement from Ladies & Gentlemen (founded by Dylan Davis and Jean Lee) says, “We aim for our exploratory spirit to be an intimate part of us, what we do, and how we view the world.”
The only element missing from this striking show is an emphasis on fabrication. Because this is an exhibition of “designer-makers,” I would have liked to have seen some more in-process work, or even the occasional video or photograph of the studios, workshops, and more experimental spaces out of which these objects emerged.
There is a hint of the fabrication process with the grouping of “Harbor Chairs” by Phloem Studio. The studio’s founder, Benjamin Klebba, worked with his father, Ron Klebba, to craft these chairs out of elegant hardwoods and utilitarian polypropylene rope. The rope — which is often used for sailing line — references Ben Klebba’s fond memories of sailing with his family and offers a captivating juxtaposition with the sleek modernism of the chair’s frame.
And that hint at process? One of the chairs has been left partially unwoven. The remainder of rope spills to the floor where it winds neatly around a chair leg like a sailor’s dock coil.
Another slight problem — not solely with this show but with design shows in general — is that most of these objects are meant to be held, sat upon, lived with. And these particular objects are so well designed and aesthetically pleasing that one might be tempted to ignore the pervasive Do Not Touch signs.
You could try to scratch that itch by visiting the gift shop where you can find a few of the items for sale, including the charming “Stackable Gnomes” and the very touchable abacus “Perpetual Calendar” by fruitsuper design.
I don’t often mention commercial tie-ins of exhibitions, but this connection seems apt. These may be works of art generated within a new frontier, but, like much design, they can be part of our everyday spaces.