Utopia is a vision of the ideal way to live in an ideal environment, place or society. This beautiful vision is inherently unattainable, as societies are complex and citizens ultimately have contradictory desires that cannot be simultaneously realised. What constitutes the ideal way to live, or utopian state, depends upon each individual’s beliefs, values and predilections. Even for the individual, there are competing elements of our complicated lives that can feel hard to balance in order to reach our imagined perfect lifestyles. This is a central tension embodied within the concept of Utopia. Striving to achieve a state of Utopia requires the careful balance of competing values to attain a harmonious society and life.
This concept of “balance” is the central theme I wish to explore as the 2019 Designer in Residence. As a metaphor it can be interpreted in many different ways. On a personal level, many of us struggle to balance our passions, commitments and responsibilities in a way that feels satisfying and sustainable for a meaningful life. This same tension underpins broader systems such as city planning whether it be the tension between providing enough housing while retaining green and open spaces, or between providing fast transport solutions while retaining a beautiful civic centre.
This work is deceptively simple. Two contrasting elements of equal weight balance each other perfectly, suspended on a fine titanium blade, which teeters precariously on an aluminium cone. Five grams of gold (a highly valued traditional material) is balanced against five grams of aluminium (an industrial material, representing progress and contemporary mass-produced objects of desire). The composition of the piece references the iconic form of a crane, currently so visible on the Canberra skyline. Cranes are a powerful visual cue that embody the contradictions of utopian ideals: we can recognise the crane as either a signifier of positive urban renewal or threatening over-development.
My approach draws on the Bauhaus methodology of playful experimentation with colour and form. The contrast of light and heavy line weights used in Bauhaus graphic design is referenced in the work by using solid coloured components alongside a very fine titanium blade and gold chain.
The method of connecting the components within the work is also conceptually important. The parts are not permanently joined, but rather hold together through the carefully integrated design of each shape. If one element is lifted out of place, the balance of the whole is disrupted.
Overall the work is a meditation on balance: visual, physical and philosophical, that can be seen as an optimistic statement about the moments when we experience a perfect harmony of elements in our lives - however subjective these moments may be.
Phoebe Porter, 2019