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Relatively Useful

Featuring in Melbourne Design Week 2022 is an exhibition of works in timber, steel and ceramic designed by John Wardle and Simon Lloyd.

In realising their designs, John and Simon have worked with twenty-five local makers for this exhibition at Heide Museum of Modern Art and reveal the talent and skill of a range of makers from Melbourne, regional Victoria and Hobart.

A passion project influenced by a fascination for making and craft, the exhibition brings together works designed both individually and collectively through many conversations and a platform of shared drawings. It celebrates the skills of many. 

Each carefully designed and beautifully crafted object finds its home in McGlashan and Everist’s iconic building at Heide II – 'a gallery to be lived in'.

Titled Relatively Useful, the exhibition is an appreciation of the nature & quality of materials and the care shown in how they are employed that tells a story about the value placed on objects beyond practicality.⁠

The following is an excerpt from Reasons to be Useful, an essay by Rachel Hurst featured in the Relatively Useful catalogue.

The works in Relatively Useful add to our sense of everyday harmony, and show the transcendental possibilities of sociable domesticity. Heide II, the setting for the exhibition between architect John Wardle and Simon Lloyd, designer and maker, was designed with similar intent to their collected works: that is, to exalt daily life through formal, material, functional and place-specific innovation.

This extensive portfolio has an overall cohesion: a cohesion that results from a sustained design conversation and friendship between Wardle and Lloyd for over 25 years.

It’s fitting that the two met in a workshop, as both have a fascination with the organised clutter of these primary sites of production. The catalogue with its anthology of ‘making places’ is testament enough to that, but both have chosen to foreground the atmospheric havens of the studio, joinery or forge in previous publications. Though the extent they work hands-on is different, they are indisputably ‘makers’ at heart.

The truth behind his and Wardle’s affinity may be grittier and more serendipitous: both are inveterate collectors, driven by a passion verging on the eccentric. They regularly swap stories, tips and souvenirs from their travels: the spoils of scouring the edge of the Thames at low tide; 1950s steelware from Archie’s Market, or a Massey Ferguson toy tractor.

Despite these common footings, their methodologies and pace are radically different. It’s palpable in their drawings. Wardle sketches prolifically, with multiple evolutions of an idea in transit – often literally, as he works on the go. He is used to developing these concepts within the Wardle studio, overdrawing the clinical precision of digital graphics with scruffy (though forensic) resolution of detail.

In comparison, Lloyd’s drawings are like Beaux-Arte analytiques, studies of light and shade, absence and presence, three-dimensionality, and grain. The drawings are artefacts in themselves, occasionally provoking conventions by drawing and painting on plywood, or prototyping 3-dimensionally with cardboard or foam.

Their process is as intertwined as the vases themselves and speaks of the robustness in the partnership. Relatively Useful is about ‘sure hands’ – in the drawings, the tactile vessels and furniture, and in the trust to treat design as a collective endeavour. For beyond Wardle and Lloyd’s alliance is a whole family of artisans entrusted with production of the designs. It’s a dynamic network of craftsfolk that has grown rapidly in response to the outpouring of propositions for Relatively Useful and the expanding ambitions of the exhibition. Word-of mouth, friends of friends or urgent problem-solving has melded a capable and curious community that may be one of the lasting legacies of the show.

Relatively Useful is as much a collection of inanimate things to become well-worn and treasured with use, it is equally a collection of skills and knowledge that are alive and temporally resistant: analogue, digital, established and emerging demarcations have been blurred in the joint pursuit of excellence. The joyful results respond not just to our utilitarian needs, but propel us into imaginative, even funny, compassionate relationships with those belongings, the people we connect with through them, and perhaps by empathetic leap, the broader natural world. 


Works in the exhibition have been made by Sharon Alpren, Kelly Austin, Dan Barker, Adam Browning, Chapman & Bailey, John Cherrey, Bryan Cush, Simeon Dux, Anton Gerner, Wayne Guest, Isabel Avendano Hazbun, Derek Johns, Klynton Krause, Laura McCusker, Adam Markowitz, Fraser Matheson and Andrew Lowe, Joanne Maggs, Kevin Perkins, Alexsandra Pontonio, Scott Mason and Charlie Sandford and Julia Schreckenbauer and Keith McKay, Sajo Ceramics, Josh Stevens, Mari Teed and Vivienne Wong.

With thanks to Andrew Morgan and Hydrowood, Artedomus and Kvadrat Textiles.

Relatively Useful: John Wardle and Simon Lloyd
Heide Museum of Modern Art, 12 March – 3 April 2022

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