Johannesburg's Southern Guild traveled halfway around the world for the Collective Design Fair last week, and their legwork didn't go unnoticed: the inaugural exhibition marked the New York debut of the platform for contemporary South African design, featuring work by some of the country's best talent. "Devoted to provoking the local design industry and to encouraging designers and artists to explore and produce more challenging and important work, Southern Guild... aims to inform the world market about the dynamic new work that is being produced in this arena."
Porky Hefer's handmade nests are inspired by those of weaver birds. The "Blackhole" is made out of discarded truck tires
Had they been exhibited individually, the pieces might come off as exotic for the sake of kitsch; presented together, I was struck by the dialogue between, say, a sculpture of a gorilla and a quasi-fetishistic rubber cocoon—an uncanny coherence that might be deemed a certain South African sensibility.Artisanal, hand made and cerebral, South African design elicits a physical response as much as it invites a viewer to think. Some of this experiential quality derives from the handmade nature of the work. Its distinctiveness is grounded in social and political realities, narrative, a true bond with nature and a sense of human connectedness with little interest in passing trends or in highly polished, technologically driven visions of design.
And if Michaella Janse Van Vuuren's digitally-fabricated figurines somehow contradict the above characterization of South African design, I should note that I took surprisingly childlike delight in activating the Birdman. Tucked away in the back of the booth, the eight-inch tall figurine was my favorite piece at the booth, if not the entire fair. Not only were the Birdman and Rocking Springbok among the most detailed 3D-printed objects I'd seen in person, but they both featured moving parts, a signature element of the artist's work.
It turns out that Janse Van Vuuren holds an advanced degree not in art or design but in electrical engineering... though she did spend several years as a performance artist prior to completing her Ph.D at the University of Cape Town in 2004. During a subsequent postdoctoral fellowship, she "fell in love with the possibilities of 3D printing and the unique potential of this manufacturing process to merge my artistic and technical interests."
Birdman is produced in a single round of 3D printing
The 17 participating studios represent a fraction of the artists and designers represented by Southern Guild, and we certainly hope to see them more often in the Northern Hemisphere in the near future.
Dylan Lewis's striking form evokes both an anvil and a Jawa sandcrawler.