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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