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The best seats in the house

UTAS 3D Design students undertake a professional commission as part of their degree, conceptualising and building stools to be used as part of a major arts festival, Tasmania's Dark Mofo.

When these six students signed up to study at the School of Creative Arts they had little notion that by second year they would be working on a professional commission. And for one of Australia’s premier arts festivals, no less.

As part of their coursework this year, UTAS 3D Design students were given a chance to pitch in response to a Dark Mofo's design brief for seating. The festival required stools that were inexpensive, stackable, and aesthetically in tune with their creative vision. The seating was required for two spaces: Winter Feast, a massive banquet which attracts up to 10,000 visitors a night, and Night Mass, the festival's late-night venue (this year it was spread across five locations around Hobart's CBD).

Dark Mofo commissioned work in response to the student pitches, the quantities of each stool varying from designer to designer, depending on factors like cost per unit and suitability for mass production. The students worked under the supervision of UTAS' Acting Head of Studio, Sara Lindsay and technicians Stuart Houghton and Dr Philip Blacklow, and with Dark Mofo Senior Production Designer Bruce Mckinven and team.

This Dark Mofo/UTAS collaboration is ongoing, with the opportunity extended to UTAS students for the second time in 2018.

Melinda Antal

Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in 3D Design

"My stool is from repurposed materials, from a 20 litre steel drum, with a marine ply seat. I used a drill and a plasma cutter to make hundreds of small perforations. Inside are battery powered lights, so that when you sit on one of the stools, light is dispersed and it looks a bit like a lantern or a disco ball. Things that came up in the brief were flames, trees, mist, Twin Peaks, Grey Gardens and Stranger Things, so I tried to respond to that. I took something that already had a use, a history, and I’ve added a little beauty. There’s an irony, too, because this object otherwise becomes trash, when it can be quite a useable thing. This was my first professional commission and it’s been a very valuable process, working with the Dark Mofo designers to take this from academic assessment to a concrete design piece."

Punching holes in a metal drum (left) and the final product seen in situ at Night Mass (right). Twenty-five of these were made for Dark Mofo 2018.

Ana Isabel Diaz Barriga Guevara

Bachelor of Design (at ITESO in Guadalajara), majoring in Industrial Design 

"I’m an exchange student from Mexico. As a designer you get your ideas from your surroundings, and so I wanted to change my surroundings and find new ways of thinking. I’ve really enjoyed the experience of pitching for and making the stools. I love that you consider design art here, and that you are so open to ideas and opinions. It has allowed me to be more creative and more free.' The stool that I made for Dark Mofo is a two-level stool with a foot rest, made from Tasmanian oak and steel. The inspiration of the winter solstice is expressed through its regular geometry."

Ana was commissioned to deliver five of these delicate wood and metal creations.

Keryn Fountain

Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in 3D Design

"It was amazing to go through this process, from pitch to commission to manufacture, so early in our studies. My stool is made of aluminium. It's an upside-down U shape with a diagonal riveted into it, with an additional supporting leg. It’s very minimalist. It’s a beautifully reflective surface, so I saw it as absorbing light and melding in with its Dark Mofo surroundings. I was also interested in the stacking patterns that multiple stools made. I’m a mature-age student, a grandmother to two little girls, so this just goes to show that you can really do anything you want, whenever you want."

One of Keryn's 12 stools seen in profile (inset), and the stools stacked up in the studio (larger image).

Mark Yates

Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Photography and 3D Design

"I started with some sketching and then made prototypes of cardboard. I was inspired by origami, so I decided to make the stool out of folded metal. It starts off as a rectangular sheet of 4mm mild steel and gets folded using a hydraulic break press. It’s then cleaned and polished and an oil is applied to protect it. When you sit on it, the legs splay out a little which feels a little cushion-like, even though it’s steel. I ended up making 100 of these stools, to be used at both the Winter Feast and Night Mass. It was the first time I’d done so many of one product, and it was a fantastic learning process."

Mark's folded metal stools were designed taking into account the dimensions of a standard, commercially available sheet of steel.

Sonia Bharati

Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in 3D Design

"I had a business before coming to study design at UTAS, and I also make jewellery for a living, so I have worked with commissions before. But the process of working for Dark Mofo was really exciting and challenging. I learned a lot about production and client satisfaction. For my stools, I have experimented with materials. I’ve used raw iron and concrete. These are industrial, they’re cheap, and they are associated with construction, never with furniture: I wanted to break that barrier. I also decided to add a bit of an unusual element: I’ve filled cracks in the concrete with 24 carat gold leaf. It looks a little like a river flowing. It also highlights the imperfections; makes them beautiful and valuable."

Sonia was commissed to make 25 of these raw iron and concrete stools.

Alex Jackson

Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in 3D Design

"I’m from Sydney and came here intending to work with Tasmanian wood…but somehow with this stool I got carried away. It’s ended up being made of acrylic. It’s completely clear so when you sit on it you either look like you’re floating, or if it’s under lights it’s really reflective – which speaks to the Dark Mofo play on light.  In the end, the design of this stool is pretty far removed from my personal style, but it was really beneficial to have to work to a brief. I absolutely loved and appreciated working with Phillip Blacklow and Stuart Houghton, the wood and metal design technicians at the school. Together they seem to have about a hundred years of experience. They are amazing and so helpful. What I loved about the stools, and about the project, is that they are all such different designs. That gave me so much inspiration. I feel so lucky to have been part of this."

Alex's acrylic stool, seen in the studio (left) and in situ at the Winter Feast (right). Twelve of these were delivered for use at Dark Mofo 2018.

Study 3D Design at the University of Tasmania’s School of Creative Arts, and have the chance to be commissioned by a major festival like Dark Mofo.

Hero image: Supplied. Stools by Melinda Antal.