Artists and creators showcase works clever by design

·3-min read
Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS

Australia's biggest design fair showcases the best of the country's talent, with some pieces priced in the realms of a house deposit.

But there's one display that isn't selling anything, except an idea.

The Broached Commissions booth features black text on a white wall, reading "Design gives Form to Power".

It's critical commentary on the industry, according to the firm's creative director Lou Weis.

"The idea is that the powerful write the brief, whether it's a developer, a brand, a government or a church," he told AAP.

"Designers give the veil of desirability. They add that to the rapaciousness of power."

His company usually works for big property developers and he says the slogan - along with setting up a booth that doesn't sell anything - felt like a risk.

"To just turn up and say 'this is what we've learned, is anyone interested in that?' - especially in a country like Australia which tends toward the non-intellectual - that does feel somewhat risky," he said.

Typeset by the acclaimed John Warwicker, the decal letters won't last long - they will be painted over in black on Friday, then peeled away to create an inverse image of white letters on a black background.

One of the company's young designers, Amelia Griffin-Toovey, 26, has recently encountered the realities of the design world, a contrast with her university degree, where she felt she could freely criticise the industry.

"You have to make money and there are controls coming in from clients and developers. It's a bit of a reality check in a way," she said.

Slogans aside, the fair at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre is curated by the National Gallery of Victoria and is the country's largest display of contemporary and 20th-century collectible design.

It features the work of more than 150 designers and makers as part of Melbourne Design Week.

Resin works by renowned Italian designer Gaetano Pesce are on show, the first time they have been presented at such a scale in Melbourne.

Some other standout pieces include furniture from Geelong maker Ross Thompson, modernist sculptures from Melbourne-based Portuguese artist Marta Figueiredo, and Art-Deco-inspired lighting by Lost Profile Studio.

Also on display among the crowds on Thursday was ceramicist Nicolette Johnson's pair of stoneware Mirror Pots, featuring dozens of spiral protrusions and a platinum sheen.

Her work is held by the NGV and the Museum of Brisbane, yet Johnson works in a studio set up in the tiny back room of her rented Brisbane house.

Her only kiln is 50cm high, so her work is designed to be fired in pieces and attached together.

The Mirror Pots had been on display for a matter of hours before a coveted red dot was placed next to them - the $22,000 artwork sold not through the design fair, but via a private message from a collector on Instagram.

Johnson is moving on from spiral pots, but as she searches for the next formal obsession, pleasure lies in making forms that are sculptural as well as functional.

"It can exist in a space on its own but it can also hold flowers, which is such a humble use," she told AAP.

Melbourne Design Fair is on from Thursday until Sunday at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.