inspiration by design, state library of victoria

Inspiration by Design – Exhibition at the State Library of Victoria

Showing now until June 14 – State Library of Victoria, Keith Murdoch Gallery (directly off the foyer)

The State Library of Victoria is proudly advertising its vibrant exhibition, Inspiration by Design. And rightly so; this exhibition is a fabulous collection of the intricate history of design as a cultural commentary, a literary aid and as an art piece.

Inspiration by Design opens with a stunning selection of art that displays cultural meaning. The calm minimalism of Grammar of ornamentation  (artist: Owen Jones) questions the meaning and structure of aestheticism. Decorative objects are sometimes written off as vapid; meaningless but for their trivial beauty. Pretty objects are trivialised and reduced merely to their appearance, with barely a thought to their intrinsic meaning or function.

Owen Jones’ the Grammar of ornamentation positions various aesthetes in their cultural context to remind us that objects create our identity. His Egyptian No. 1 reminds us that, although they are vacuous, beautiful items are important to who we are.

The grammar of ornamentation is the perfect precursor to the thoughtfulness of the entire Inspiration by Design exhibition. The State Library of Victoria is currently hosting a collection of modern graphic design pieces, borrowed from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibition is showing now, until 14 June. With an amount of acerbic wit, the exhibition is a fun, thoughtful meditation about graphic design in our culture. Lilting and (mostly) happy, it is a vibrant and deeply thoughtful celebration of graphic design’s history.

Inspiration by design primarily plays with the colourful nature of graphic design, the way it is able to convey meaning though type, colour and layout. It tracks design through literature—from Charles Dickens to Beatrix Potter—and modern design schools like Bauhaus. The whole exhibition is a visual reference point: a set of visual guidelines for how to design and how to approach art.

The exhibition also forays into the deeper and more philosophical nature of imagery, which jolts us from being complacent in our modern world, but to question everything for its hidden meaning.

Charles Thurston Thompson’s Venetian Mirror forces us to consider the reality of a photograph, which we often forget in a constant photo stream on the internet. We are cynical towards pretty images, given that they accompany branded Instagram feeds or covert marketing attempts. Even images of war are subtly constructed, relying on photographic mechanisms to convey a message. Here, Thurston Thompson is placing himself into the image, reminding us that photographs have been constructed, the emotions we feel chosen by the photographer.
Thurston Thompson’s photograph reminds me so much of the stark contrast between Paul Hansen’s two photographs, taken in Haiti. As a group of photojournalists crowd around the dead body  fifteen year-old Fabienne Cherisma, their emotional detachment is palpable. If we only look at the first image in this set, we forget that it is a construct; the emotions we feel are not natural. As well as being reminded of the horrors of human destruction, in the first image, we must also be told about who is creating that image: what is their angle, their meaning. Without knowing the photographer, we are led to blindly believe a visual argument. We don’t know how the argument is constructed, so we don’t know how to refute it. Thurston Thompson, in referencing the construction of a photograph so, is a needed reminder that there is a person behind the camera, constructing the image.

As well as being a stunning discourse of design, Inspiration by Design forays into the more philosophical meanings embedded in art. The exhibition was a joy to explore. Next stop, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London!
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Vladimir Nabokov Lolita

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

Of course, my reading of Lolita was prefaced with dire warnings from my friends. Not one person who had read the book could avoid mentioning the grotesque nature of Nabokov’s excursion into the mind of a paedophile, Humbert Humbert. And they were right, the subject matter is often gruesome and difficult to read. I did at times, like the friends who had embellished warnings into my mental construct of Lolita, consider just stopping reading midway. But I persevered.

What moved me to the end of the novel was Nabokov’s beautiful prose. His metaphor, his description and the way in which he so completely entered the mind of the most despicable character. His writing is not anywhere near too verbose or lavish, but it is simple, clear and beautiful: exquisitely intrinsic with meaning and word play.

As a lover of language, I am captured in Nabokov’s curse. After all, how can we readers be so interested in the paedophile’s mind. But, just like Humbert Humbert seduces Lolita, he attempts to seduce the reader, constantly justifying his evil intentions. We are drawn into his mind, a very uncomfortable place where we would definitely rather not be. He pleads with the reader to accept him for his evil ways.

We cannot accept his despicable acts. But Lolita does not invite us to. Nabokov is merely contemplating the mind behind such a vile act.

Virginia Woolf, Oxford Street Tide

Oxford Street Tide, by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf vibrantly conjures a busy shopping scene in her essay Oxford Street Tide: an exploration of consumerism in London’s busiest shopping strip. Woolf juxtaposes the London’s crude and dirty shipping docks with the glamorous glitz of the Oxford Street shopping strip—or so it appears on the surface. Actually, Woolf writes, Oxford Street itself is a mixture of brash sensations: gluttony for objects and of intense materialism. Woolf vividly represents brash, yet glittering consumerism.
Woolf concedes that consumerism is empty and vacuous. But, in the end, she also concedes happily that this is not a bad thing—don’t we all enjoy a little retail therapy? After all, even Virginia Woolf does.

I have also written about Virginia Woolf’s thought-provoking essay, Thoughts On Peace in an Air Raid.