Rodney Hayward: Design Innovation Play

Address by Dr. Rodney Hayward, Former Head, Furniture Workshop, School of Art ANU, on Saturday 15 October 2011 at the opening of Design Innovation Play.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world”

Mahatma Gandhi

A story of a life is filled with the nuance of history and the ambiguity of telling the story we can only connect the dots.

For where we are standing today, in this Gallery and this body-of-work, David’s story begins in 1977 with his coming to Australia from the USA and settling in the environs of Bungendore. Australia and the region were not unknown to him as he had previously completed an Arts degree at ANU in 1965.

Back in the early ‘60s when contemplating this earlier adventure, he had entertained the idea of a back-to-the-land self-sufficiency as a wood turner in Tasmania. In these times, especially in the US, the appeal was strong for the power of individuals to conduct and shape their own lives, and find their own inspiration. A common view was that the problem with American society stemmed from the realization that there was nothing left within it that was small and simple; that there was nothing remaining on a human scale.

When David came into Australia again in the late 1970s, the grass-roots political counterculture that he had been part of in America had largely foundered and all that was left was perhaps to move to this grass-roots power of tools and skills. It was the political power of the hand and its unequivocal evocation.........that to make could be to create a better world.

In Bungendore in 1980 he picked up the threads of his New York experience and began to make furniture again. Yet, and I am guessing here, to make furniture in the hinterlands of Bungendore would be to both know its numbing labour, and loneliness and frustration. The appeal of a place in town to show, to display, to actually meet people must have been enormously appealing.

In 1983 the Bungendore Woodworks Gallery was born across the street in the “Bungendore Store” from the subtlety of connecting a number of makers from the region with his pile of American black walnut, but there was this catch.......a piece in return for exhibition. It was what was, and is, common in David’s life: about being the change you wish to see in the world.

The “Bungendore Store” was the home for the gallery for the next 11 years until again the changes he sought in the world were demonstrated in the creation of the premises where we now stand.

Probably the most catastrophic thing that can happen to any craftsman short of death or blindness is fire. David lost his workshop in 1998 to a fire that cleaned the slate. Its loss was a cruel thing and it broke what seemed the successful formula.........

Steve Jobs died this month on October 5. However back in 2005 he delivered the Commencement Address at Stanford University. The generic formula for such an occasion is “SUCCESS”, Jobs however, talked about adversity. His speech underlined that the hardest trials of his life were also the most fruitful........And there is this wonderful parallel between Steve and David: not only the heroism of the entrepreneur, but the outcomes that some people can make happen when it really hurts.

Two things came out of that fire: both are characterised by “lightness”:

The Gallery where we stand as being a creative entity: a place of design, innovation, and play: that any gallery, but this Gallery especially, was deeply set in an ecosystem of creativity, makers, and end-users. By seeing the future as belonging to the young designers and makers coming, in not holding to some line of orthodoxy.......this Gallery would be a space of growth and a space for growth.......

The new workshop when it arose in 2003 would also be a new creative entity; a place that was formulated to be more of a laboratory than a production was to be a place also of design, innovation, and play.......a place of mistakes. To seek is to have failure: if you are doing work that really should be done, you should expect more failures, not less _____ but what failures...... glorious failures; smart failures.........and then the successes.

To play again as a child: Picasso said that, “to be young, really young, takes a very long time.” About 40 years..........?

Material and process still remain central to the development of ideas for David. But the materials will involve traditional materials set about by emerging restrictions of the environment, sustainability, climate change: there will be new materials; unorthodox and experimental. Processes too will be a combination of the traditional and the new: changes will involve digital technologies and connection with others.

At the end of that Stanford commencement speech Jobs talked about Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalogue: this was that amazing thing of grass roots direct power ____ of tools and skills and of people being the change On the back cover of what I think was the 1974 issue, there was an image of a country road in the early morning: it spoke of a road less travelled, a road inviting exploration. The caption was a sign-off message from Brand, it read: “stay hungry: stay foolish”.

Jobs appropriated this as his message to his young audience.......and I too appropriate it, not as a message, but as an appeal to David to not give away being hungry, but to want to see change, and to stay foolish, to be forever unorthodox.


Wednesday 09 November 2011