“I’ve long accepted that I love beautiful things – and everyone else around me seems to as well – but we all seem to think it’s an unintelligent thing, that it’s not something we should own up to, that we’re attracted to beauty.”
The sublime is hard to talk about because it leaves you breathless, literally. It’s hard to find the words to talk about something when it feels like you’ve been socked in the gut. Beauty is also hard to talk about, but because it’s so ordinary, so totally taken for granted. How do you find something smart to say about the beautiful beyond the banal – it’s pretty, it looks good, it’s nice, I like it?
Melbourne artist Brigit Ryan says that in her experience, artists make beautiful objects all the time and audiences enjoy beautiful objects but everyone feels compelled to pretend they’re interested in something more than just beauty. Beauty, she says, is seen as cheating, "a shortcut to affecting an audience."
“While a lot of art uses beauty, it denies that it’s a big element… I don’t think work should just be driven by aesthetics but I’m interested in what it is in beauty that I can use, how I can explore what value beauty gives to art and what value it gives to design and why we want it around us.”
Ryan spent an unhappy few years learning fashion design straight out of high school, before going on to study fine arts. “When I first started at VCA I went as far away from design as I could. I was making these tiny, detailed drawings of surfaces that were really inaccessible…I was trying to get so far away from the designed object, the finished product, that I was making these things that were only for myself.”
The techniques Ryan learnt studying fashion gradually found their way back into her practice because, she says, design is better equipped to take beauty seriously. “I think in design we can talk about beauty easily… there’s a familiarity in the language of design and I find that an easy way to access this idea.”
In her new exhibition at Bus Projects (until 19 July), Ryan has taken every-day domestic goods – food, furniture, home wares – and changed their scale or their construction, used them in unlikely ways or stripped them back to an outline or a gesture. The frame of a banana lounge is remade from chip board in ¾ scale; an over-sized glossy doughnut is modeled in marbled clay; marshmallows are used to glue together (ever-so-precariously) a bike rack made from copper pipe.
It all seems like an experiment in aesthetic algebra. What distinguishes a beautiful chair from an ugly chair if it doesn’t work as a chair? According to Ryan, if you take away their functionality and durability – that is, what makes them design – then it’s much easier to contemplate what makes these objects beautiful: their shape, their size, their potential, their sculptural or textural or spatial or sensual qualities.
Qualities, says Ryan, that are as much a part of the language of design as they are of art. “Design seems light to artists. It seems inconsequential. But so many of the same things are going on in design and art, there’s a lot that crosses over.”
>> Maura Edmond
>> Posted 11 July 2014
GO SEE IT:
2 - 19 July, 2014
25-31 Rokeby Street, Collingwood
Tues - Sat 12pm - 6pm