Australian Financial Review


Pair explore structure and light in Fracture: Differences


Armed with a smartphone and a battery of apps, everyone's a photographer these days. What that means is that fine art photography has been granted a new authority, evolved even more of an aura. At the same time, digital artwork is becoming increasingly nuanced, assuming a craft savvy missing in its early years. A new exhibition at the Australian Design Centre is a manifesto for a nascent generation of image makers.

Fracture: Differences is a collaborative project between architectural photographer Shannon McGrath and graphic designer Marcus Piper, who these days declares himself a "digital craftsperson". Black and white, oversized, formal but ghostly, the "fractures" are McGrath's abstracted architectural imagery; the "differences" are Piper's response to them. Throughout the gallery space they are suspended back to back, to acknowledge their connectedness, but allow for individual reading.

Piper is an art director of renown, a former member of London's legendary Research Studios under the direction of graphics guru Neville Brody. In Australia he is notable for the art direction of the now defunct POL Oxygen design magazine as well as the launch of Mezzanine, which exists under lesser direction these days. Today he lives and works (and surfs) at Thirroul, on Sydney's south coast. McGrath's commercial architecture and interior photography has appeared in Vogue LivingBelle and Houses magazines.

But it was the personal portfolios of each that grabbed the other's attention. "I happened to come across one of Shannon's non-commercial works and was immediately struck by the similarities with the work I was pursuing in my spare time," says Piper.


When Piper showed her his work, "I knew we were thinking and talking the same language," says McGrath. "We could have both said, 'Oh that's nice,' and gone on our separate ways, but we were mutually intrigued by what we could possibly achieve together."

What they've achieved together is an elegant body of work, compelling in its complexity. McGrath's images tend to the ethereal, blurring hard lines while retaining structural integrity. Piper has, he says, "responded to these visually by taking space that's created in her work and reinterpreting them from above".

The strict geometries of both are offset by a lovely luminosity that is enhanced by the fact the images are mounted on aluminium sheeting by Sydney's Axolotl, specialists in innovative architectural surfaces.

 "Architecture is the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light," intoned Le Corbusier in his seminal 1923 tome Toward an Architecture. His point was that without light, architecture, for all its mass and presence, simply doesn't exist. It's this apparent paradox that McGrath and Piper bring into play in this series, installed at the ADC gallery amid a forest of white neon tubes, a case study of light taking on architectural form.

"To have a couple of creatives who are both highly accomplished and respected in their different but connected fields creating work which forms a dialogue, that's incredibly exciting for us," says Lisa Cahill, director of the Australian Design Centre since April last year.


Cahill is committed  to exploring "all the different aspects of Australian craft and design" and over the past 12 months the exhibition program has included a celebration of clay, a focus on upcycling by "repair researchers" and a Chili Philly Crochet Social. featuring crocheted wearable 'art' including headpieces in the shape of burgers and pizzas, by Melbourne artist Phil Ferguson.

McGrath and Piper's Fracture: Differences are in an edition of nine at 1260 X 950mm or 950 X 750mm, framed or unframed.


At the Australian Design Centre, 101-115 William Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney, until September 27. See


Sydney Morning Herald


Dramatic art installation to turn Paddington Reservoir into swimming pool

26 April 2015 - Melanie Kembrey

The deluge might have passed, but a part of Sydney will still be submerged this week. 

A dramatic new artwork will create the illusion that the historic Paddington Reservoir is once again full of water. 

The projection of a swimmer completing laps, reflective lighting and the sounds of water are set to transform the iconic space off Oxford Street for three weeks from Wednesday.

The Sydney artist and architect behind the installation, Dale Jones-Evans, said he hoped it would evoke the site's former history as well as a sense of a mysterious, underground world.

"Australia doesn't really do grottoes and in terms of a subterranean public domain the site is rather magical," he said.

Jones-Evans said it was important that art not be locked up in churches or galleries alone, with intense urbanisation compelling the creation of a "second nature”.

"Letting art lose on the norm of our public place, the arteries of where we live and move, offers further opportunity for public engagement and thought," he said.

The reservoir provided water for Sydney's rapidly expanding population from 1866 to 1899.   After stints as a storage facility, a garage and service station, and in a dangerous state of collapse, the reservoir was revamped and reopened as a sunken garden and park in 2009.

The installation, which was produced and manufactured by Axolotl Art Projects, required the trial and development of entirely new products over several months. 

Managing director Kris Torma said thousands of LEDs have been encased within layers of glass to refract and disperse the light around the site in a technique he thought that had never been used before. 

"The effect of the glass is beautiful. It is revolutionary. The LEDs aren't new, but how we have worked with them to create different effects is something that hasn't been done before," Mr Torma said. "I think it will be quite exciting. It will definitely grab people's attention as they are walking by."

The name of the art work, Top5Feet, is a playful dig at the original reservoir's limited elevation, which meant only the top five feet of water could be used to service dwellings.

The installation will be switched on each day at dusk from April 29 to May 20. It is the first project in the City of Sydney's Art and About Sydney 2015 program.


Australian Design Review


AAP has been established to develop and facilitate creative projects in liaison with project managers, architects, designers, councils and artists, for any scale and application.

Axolotl is one of the most respected Australian companies known for innovation in building materials. Its bespoke glass, aged and treated metal coatings, hybrid metal/timber veneers and award-winning concretes are exemplified in architectural features both locally and internationally.

Having maintained a strongly artistic perspective throughout its work, Axolotl has now launched Axolotl Art Projects (AAP), a dedicated consultancy to project manage commissioned artworks.

AAP has been established to develop and facilitate creative projects in liaison with project managers, architects, designers, councils and artists, for any scale and application. It offers services in a range of areas, including concept design, artist selection and fabrication.


Architecture and Design


And now for something complementary - bringing art installations from concept to reality

24 June, 2014 Deborah Singerman

Some companies evolve by doing something completely different. Others choose to consolidate existing services and expertise, forming a new business and complementary identity. Axolotl Art Projects (AAP) is one such, a new, dedicated art project service division of the 20-year-old Axolotl Group.

The consultancy will “create and manage sculptural, contemporary, temporary and permanent art installations,” the company says. “Our extensive and innovative use of materials and techniques open up the creative palette to artists and designers that they may not have believed possible.”

As design manager Ben Wahrlich says, “We have in-depth knowledge of manufacturing, local artists, strategy and logistics. We pass this expertise on to offer a more seamless, expedited process.”

The group began in 1995, bonding semi-precious metals to substrates. It added architectural glass 10 years later, and concrete and timber in 2011 and 2012 respectively. With their latest venture, Axolotl “saw a niche in the marketplace to offer a fully resolved service to bring art installations from concept to reality”.

They assess each project, decide on the required level of involvement from art strategy, artist selection, and concept design, to design development, engineering, documentation and fabrication. They also have an in-house design and production team.

“We take the difficulties away from clients wanting to achieve something great who may not fully know how to realise their dream,” Wahrlich says.

Clients who already commission their works include artists, local government, commercial developers, art enthusiasts, and the types of projects that use their services, nationally and internationally, are land developments, civil areas, commercial interiors and temporary installations. They have worked with artists such as Janet Laurence and Colin Lancely. 

The website shows large, eye-catching installations in parklands with birds, frames, geometrical blocks, and patterns in Axolotl’s traditional palette of materials but designed for striking, contemporary art.  

“For almost 20 years we have been assisting artists to realise sculptural works, via our metal coating process,” Wahrlich says. “The artist is able to achieve various forms and scales not possible with solid metal due to cost and manufacturing restrictions. This appeal has extended to architects and designers to realise the same aesthetic on a commercial level.”

APP has large-scale artworks already in the tender process. At the time of writing they were also awaiting the result of the design competition for a feature wall for Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok Airport. They are one of the three finalists, their 520 square metre glass wall the result of what they believe is, even for them, a completely new design and methodology.




Red Lantern

Review Words Lucy Humphrey

A glowing pavilion in Sydney’s Chinatown by Lacoste + Stevenson and Frost Design demonstrates the strengthening role of small-scale interventions.

Sydney’s first Chinatown emerged in The Rocks during the gold rush era of the 1870s. Beginning as an unofficial gateway for Chinese prospectors travelling to the goldfields, the district slowly crept south, and today’s Chinatown was officially established in Haymarket with the opening of Dixon Street Mall in 1980. Sydney’s Chinatown has undergone a series of facelifts since its original construction, and Lacoste and Stevenson’s Red Lantern kiosk, completed in January 2012, is one of the newest additions to the city’s version of the contentious urban archetype. Described by the architects as a “red emblem,” the kiosk is a small but high-quality addition that reinforces Chinatown’s significant role as a major tourist attraction, fuelled by a legacy of investment by City of Sydney Council and its own diverse community.

The lantern adds an atmospheric presence to the pedestrian mall. Image:  Brett Boardman

The lantern adds an atmospheric presence to the pedestrian mall. Image:  Brett Boardman

Red Lantern is typical of Lacoste and Stevenson’s portfolio of sleek projects that boast a bold use of materials and sensitive attention to detail. With the assistance of Frost Design, a new tourist information kiosk was inserted inside an existing pagoda structure to create a “highly sophisticated enclosure” with its compact, joinery-filled interior wrapped in a decorative glass skin. Perched on the edge of Goulburn Street, the lantern is a pop-art-like addition that lifts the atmosphere of the pedestrian mall with its surreal glow. A crisp materiality reinforces its iconographic and symbolic role, literally marking the edge of the Chinatown precinct and flaunting itself to the city beyond.

Despite its delicate appearance, the kiosk, now one year old, was built as a highly robust structure. The facade is created by a series of semicircular light boxes clad in curved glass with a patterned artwork carefully applied to the exterior, balancing the facade’s reflectivity with the textured warm grey of the graphite-infused surface. By day the lantern glows a soft red, contrasting with the pattern’s silhouette. At night this intensifies, and blazing red light articulates the paper-cut design, with the curved front facade closing to create a 360-degree artwork.

The facade of semicircular light boxes with the artwork on the exterior. Image:  Brett Boardman

The facade of semicircular light boxes with the artwork on the exterior. Image:  Brett Boardman

The lantern is a powerful symbol, echoed by the traditional crimson of hanging lanterns dotted around nearby shops and arcades. The original pagoda structure is prominently positioned on a plinth along the steep slope of Goulburn Street, providing useful conditions to enable its reuse as a tourist information point. The kiosk’s operable pamphlet-filled facade entices approaching tourists in the pedestrian mall, while the rear naturally blocks prevailing sun and rain, maximizing user comfort while projecting its decorative face to the city and passing traffic. The compact design has seamlessly integrated multiple requirements, maximizing joinery space, incorporating amenities and even enabling wheelchair access.

The team works on the facade. Image:  Brett Boardman

The team works on the facade. Image:  Brett Boardman

The facade artwork was created by Australian artist Pamela Mei-Leng See, who is of Chinese descent and practises a contemporary form of paper cutting. Stevenson describes her involvement as “lifting the bar” in the project, allowing the design team to move beyond mere shape-making in the creation of a unique artwork that incorporates important cultural motifs and a handmade quality. The artwork is characteristic of the artist’s style, which is delicate but has striking graphic qualities, incorporates a bold use of colour and depicts natural motifs including a crane, flowers and fish.

By incorporating these significant cultural references the artist adds depth and authenticity to the design, where the hand-cut artwork was digitized and translated into a printed graphic to wrap the facade. Carefully positioned LED lighting gives a highly consistent surface illumination, enabling the kiosk to mimic the form of traditional Chinese lanterns, whose glowing red surfaces were typically decorated with elaborate custom designs.

In order to achieve its material richness and formal precision, the project was tested with 1:1 prototyping and a high level of investment by its team of consultants. By achieving such a high quality of finishes the project exemplifies the potential impact of urban interventions at a human scale, here closely linked to the scale of Dixon Street with its narrow branching laneways and the dark intimacy of its enclosed pedestrian street.

Building in Chinatown, however, raises issues around the area’s complex history and cultural role. The invention of the twentieth-century Chinatown was a phenomenon in which “antiquated” Chinese symbols were translated into new built environments, heralding changing attitudes to multiculturalism and ethnicity in the city. The Chinatown concept is often accused of lacking authenticity, being nothing but a simulacrum and a commodification of culture used to foster tourism.1

As the third most visited tourist attraction in Sydney,2 Chinatown has long played an important economic role, which is evident in the legacy of upgrades to the area carried out by the city’s council. The “red emblem” of this new lantern kiosk reinforces this investment into Sydney’s multicultural image and Chinatown as a profitable tourist icon. The ongoing repackaging of Chinatown reveals the important role of tourism as a driving force in placemaking in the city, where Chinatown could be considered a cliched cultural stereotype, or a profitable and symbolic centre for the Chinese community.3

Red Lantern has significant implications as an addition to this complex urban space laced with diverse cultural connotations. It reinforces Chinatown’s tourist-oriented role, while being an artwork in its own right that embodies Chinese artistic traditions, presented in a contemporary aesthetic and realized through modern building technologies. The pagoda is transformed from a sterile cultural cliché to a modern expression of Chinese heritage. In this way, the skilful adaptation of an outdated pagoda demonstrates the potential for small-scale interventions to strengthen and even redefine the role of Chinatown in the city.