Concrete. A collision of contradictions. Solid, imposing and dense on the one hand. Utterly malleable and fluid on the other. The unique properties of concrete make the possibilities of form practically endless. No wonder it is an alluring and exciting material of choice for many artists and designers working today.
CONCRETE: art design architecture is a major exhibition developed by JamFactory that explores innovative ways concrete is being used by artists, designers and architects in Australia in the 21st Century. When JamFactory invited us to write about Jamie North and Alexander Lotersztain for the CONCRETE exhibition catalogue, we eagerly jumped on board. Our written contribution is extracted below.
CONCRETE features work by Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Adam Goodrum, Alex Lotersztain, Anna Horne, Baldasso Cortese Architects, Candalepas Associates, CHEB – Deb Jones and Christine Cholewa, Convic, Durbach Block Jaggers Architects, Edition Office, Elvis Richardson, Glenn Murcutt, Kyoko Hashimoto and Guy Keulemans, Inari Kiuru, Jamie North, Megan Cope,Rhiannon Slatter, Tom Borgas, Sanne Mestrom, SMART Design Studio and WOOD Melbourne. The exhibition is on show at JamFactory Adelaide until 28 April 2019 before touring nationally.
Born 1971, Belmont, NSW
Hailing from Lake Macquarie in the Hunter Region of NSW, Jamie North grew up in the shadow of industry. His father was a bricklayer and a miner, and his grandfather and great-grandfather both worked in the Newcastle steel industry. It was the landscape, however, which lured North. From a tender age, he possessed a fascination of and deep respect for plant systems, and spent his youth adventuring through the bushlands near his home. This lived experience between the extremes of human agency and the forces of nature is the primary current that flows through North’s monumental work.
North never expected concrete to become so central to his art practice. Despite the many hours spent as a teenager assisting his father on construction sites, North pursued a career in business, first completing a Bachelor of Business at the University of Newcastle before setting up his own commercial photography company. It was many years later, after the establishment of his contemporary art practice, that the pieces of his personal history began to fall into place and inform his work.
In 2009 North presented his first exhibition The Path of Least Resistance, a selection of photographs he had taken of native plants creeping through the cracks of bricks, footpaths and walls. Concrete may have obliterated the vegetation that was once there, but nature was staging a comeback.
North ventured into three-dimensional form by creating Untitled (2008), a sculpture in which a Port Jackson fig is entwined around a concrete column. The two elements depend on each other for survival: without the root system, the concrete would disintegrate, and without the concrete, the fig has nothing on which to grow. Opposites in a relationship of mutual dependency is a recurrent theme in North’s work, a template that was created in Untitled, and which set him on the path he continues to tread today.
In 2013 North won the prestigious NSW Visual Arts Fellowship which allowed him to travel to the USA to undertake research and residencies. It was the turning point in his transition to a career as an artist. “Winning the Fellowship changed everything,” said North.
North’s concrete sculptures are set up as an experiment—albeit a reasoned one. To develop the support system for growing native plants, the artist first creates a concrete foundation using slag. Slag is the stony waste matter that separates from metals during the smelting of iron ore. As a material, it appeals to North because it is a man-made volcanic; it allows the artist to navigate the fine line between natural and artificial. The form is captured in the pouring process and the slag sets with a distinctive coral-like surface. Plants that grow in association with rocks and have shallow root systems are carefully selected to create a micro-environment that evolves over time. The resulting sculptures may appear to be random, but every element—from the aggregates in the concrete base to each leafy flourish nestled in a crevice—is a carefully considered choice by the artist. The resulting works are a thoughtful meditation on ruin and renewal, landscapes and the built environment, and the interdependent forces in the age of the Anthropocene.
Remainder No.12 (incline) 2017
Cement, blast furnace slag, marble dust, steel
The Remainder series of works illuminates a pivotal and ongoing characteristic of North’s practice—the use of remains from industrial processes, such as slag and marble waste. These remains also allow the artist to connect with the trauma in his family history and the emotional imprints left behind.
North’s great-grandfather Charles Oaten worked in the Newcastle steelworks, cleaning the slidings which moved steel parts through the factory. In an horrific accident, Oaten fell onto the slidings and plunged into a vat of acid. He was pulled out of the acid alive but subsequently died from his injuries. Remainder No 12 is a clear reference to this event, but also to the demise of Newcastle’s steel industry and the consequent ripple effect on the community.
Remainder No 12’s concrete surface is polished and lustrous in places but gnarled and rusted in others. It is distinctive in the series in that it lacks plants—life—on its eroded exterior. To gaze at the work is an exercise is suspended disbelief; a sphere is paused mid-way down a thin sloping bench, suggesting movement and impending action, yet the solid mass is motionless, defying the laws of physics. Remainder No. 12 is a triumph of form, visually articulating the tension between the forces of nature and human agency.
Remainder No.11 2017
Cement, blast furnace slag, marble dust, steel, Pyrrosia rupestris (rock felt fern)
Remainder No.10 2017
Cement, blast furnace slag, marble dust, steel, Pyrrosia rupestris (rock felt fern)
The concrete spheres in North’s Remainder series are painterly in tone and ruinous in form. Their delicate Pyrossia plants seek out natural growth lines and explore the landscape of the work. Pyrossia thrives on neglect and, in time, will become entangled with the inorganic concrete, creating a continuously evolving and living sculptural form.
There exists a fascinating merger of dichotomies in the Remainder spheres. The hard solid concrete exterior is aesthetically juxtaposed with the unfurling greenery tucked into the nooks of the eroded interiors. This evokes ideas of progress and collapse, industry and ruin, melancholy and triumph.
Underpinning all of these is the archetypal conflict between nature and human creation. By repurposing the waste generated by steel production and placing it alongside the most definitive of regenerative processes—the succession of nature—North sharply draws our attention to the disjunction between the organic world and the anthropogenic.
North’s work is more nuanced than a simple criticism of industry. “I don’t create work with a singular message. I play with materials that interest me, and that I think should work together,” says North. “I’m interested in a continuum, not binaries. Nature and human enterprise don’t have to be in opposition. There is opportunity for compatible systems and structures.”
In this way, the Remainder spheres, with their mutually dependent elements, are a hopeful meditation on what lies ahead.
Born in 1979, Toronto, Canada
Lives Brisbane, Queensland
Alexander Lotersztain is a human-centred designer with a healthy dose of entrepreneurial spirit. It is his unique combination of creativity and business savvy that has seen this Argentinian-born Brisbane-based practitioner establish the prolific, truly multidisciplinary and globally renowned design studio Derlot Group.
Lotersztain left Argentina at the age of 17 in pursuit of adventure. Recognising that study afforded him a respectable excuse to travel, he landed in Brisbane and enrolled in Design at Griffith University’s Queensland College of Art. Upon graduation, he moved to Japan and worked with highly respected studios GK Design Group and IDÉE. Two years later he moved to design epicentre Milan and embarked on the tough task of cutting through the din of design activity. After moderate but “no major” successes, he moved to Barcelona a year and a half later. Lotersztain credits this transitory period in his career as providing him with a thick skin. “How many rejections can you get and still keep going? The rejections were complimentary, but they were still rejections.” Missing the Australian lifestyle, Lotersztain returned to Brisbane in 2006 and set up Derlot to create products under his own label.
A combination of the last three letters of his first name and the first three letters of his last name, Derlot’s practice spans furniture design, architecture, interiors, objects, events, branding and marketing. What began as a single entity is now a collective of brands including Derlot, Derlot Editions, Les Basic, Derlot Interiors and Alexander Lotersztain. The studio is relatively small, with eight staff in Brisbane and two in New York.
The size of the studio belies the diversity and expanse of work undertaken by the collective. Lotersztain regularly visits clients in Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, the United States and Moscow. Travel was the original impetus that saw him leave Argentina, and his ever-changing itinerary is what provides an ongoing source of design inspiration. While Lotersztain eschews a signature style, preferring to respond to the needs of each project, the recurring thread through his practice is that human experience is at the centre, both in the design process itself and also for the end user. “Some of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on have been for the general public,” says Lotersztain. “When I walk past my public seating and see an 80-year-old reading a book, or perhaps the first kiss of a pair of teenagers, that’s when I feel most inspired. Design is about creating shared value.
Lotersztain is highly awarded in both product and interior design, and in 2010 was bestowed the inaugural Queensland Premier’s Smart State Design Fellowship. He was named one of the 100 most influential designers worldwide in Phaidon’s &Fork, and was featured in Monocle magazine as being among the top 25 designers to collaborate with. He has also appeared on the Australian television show The Renovators as a mentor to contestants.
QTZ x IVANKA Concrete Edition, 2016
The QTZ x IVANKA Concrete Edition is a harmony of opposites. Cast in tinted concrete and weighing 175kg, the solid throne-like seat’s imposing form is surprisingly comfortable to sit in. This is no accident. Lotersztain fastidiously refined his prototype seven times to ensure the resulting design was a pleasure to use.
The QTZ chair was originally created as a limited-edition series in stainless steel. Taking its cue from the naturally occurring forms and crystallization process of quartz, the geometric form of the chair was designed to express the material qualities of sheet metal. When Lotersztain was approached by leading Hungarian concrete manufacturer IVANKA to produce the chair in concrete, he recognised the aesthetic and functional possibilities this material offered his design.
Concrete provides a firm structure, durability and resistance to the impact of external forces, making it suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. The QTZ x IVANKA is made from 95% mineral raw materials and natural oxide-based pigments. To reduce production waste, each chair is made to measure in a process that produces no CO2 emissions.
Lotersztain believes in the importance of creating liveable public spaces. With an extremely long lifespan and minimal maintenance requirements, the QTZ x IVANKA is a design object that enables Lotersztain to contribute an environmentally sensitive and emotionally engaging work to the public realm.