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Q&A with creative director, Keinton Butler, as Sydney Design Week 2023 concludes

As Sydney Design Week wraps up for 2023, Timothy Alouani-Roby spoke with creative director, Keinton Butler, about the ideas underpinning the theme of Amodern.

Q&A with creative director, Keinton Butler, as Sydney Design Week 2023 concludes

Timothy Alouani-Roby: What’s has your trajectory been to become senior curator in design and architecture at the Powerhouse?

Keinton Butler: I studied the cultural and environmental aspects of furniture manufacturing and production at RMIT University before traveling to Europe, where I became interested in curating and working with artists across art galleries and museums. I worked with artist Damien Hirst for a number of years, and independently as a design curator in the UK. I also completed a Master’s degree in Curating Contemporary Design at Kingston University in partnership with the Design Museum in London.

I’ve been at the Powerhouse in the role of senior curator of design and architecture for almost eight years. This is my first year as creative director of Sydney Design Week, and this opportunity allowed me to explore some of the topics that have been of interest to me professionally over the past few years.

Sydney Design Week 2023
Ace Hotel Sydney.

Can you tell me a little about the history of Sydney Design Week?

Keinton Butler: Sydney Design Week has been produced by the Powerhouse Museum for 27 years, which I believe makes it one of the longest running design week programmes in the world. We’re incredibly proud of that legacy and the commitment to contemporary design over the years. There are many intersections between the Sydney Design Week programme and the Powerhouse collection, as well as a number of design initiatives that we have established over the last couple of years, in terms of creative residencies and accelerator programmes.

There’s a clear connection with the ongoing design programming that we have throughout the year at the Powerhouse, but also Sydney Design Week gives us an opportunity to connect with a broader audience – to connect the general public with design and architecture.

Sydney Design Week 2023
PHIVE Community, Cultural and Civic Hub, photograph by Brett Boardman.

Do you see Sydney Design Week as having a role to bring different parts of the wider design industry together?

Keinton Butler: Absolutely. This year’s programme has been intentionally framed by six fields of inquiry rather than by any particular design or architectural discipline. They’re much more inclusive, so anyone who’s interested in design can engage with the subject matter, from design professionals or students to members of the public.

The theme of Amodern draws on the work of philosopher, Bruno Latour. Was that your inspiration?

Keinton Butler: Yes, definitely – it originated at the end of last year when I started thinking about the Sydney Design Week programme. It was around the time that Bruno Latour passed away and I saw that as an opportunity to revisit his work. I was particularly interested in one text from 1991, ‘We Have Never Been Modern’. Some of the ideas within it resonated with me, in terms of the changing climate.

The title of Amodern is a provocation – for us to rethink some of the entrenched ideas around the way we act and, the way we design. Latour writes about rejecting the notion that society and nature are completely distinct, instead embracing their interconnectedness. I thought that was a strong idea to frame the Sydney Design Week programme around. In relation to modernism, as a movement dominated by human-centric design, it was about shifting the focus to a planetary one this year.

Related: Three highlights from 2023 Sydney Design Week

Sydney Design Week 2023
‘Jetsam’ table made of ocean plastic aggregate and bio-resin, Brodie Neill, photograph by Angela Moore.

What have you learned from Sydney Design Week 2023?

Keinton Butler: I’ve been happy with the way it’s been received, not only by the general public but the design and architecture industries in Sydney as well. There’s a sense of positivity and optimism, a sense that there’s a lot of work to do, but that Sydney Design Week is supporting some of the important discussions that we need to have.

Have there been any particular highlights for you?

Keinton Butler: The Punchbowl Mosque tour was incredibly popular. We held a Modest Fashion Design Studio as well, which was open to emerging fashion designers who are looking to work in modest fashion with a sustainability focus. It was well attended, and we had extremely positive feedback.

Our urban food programme was also popular, from Urban Green in Barangaroo to the Jiwah Indigenous rooftop garden in South Eveleigh. I think there’s a real interest in urban food production at the moment, particularly in the wake of supply chain issues during Covid and the cost of living as well. It’s an important topic for people right now.

What does the future hold for Sydney Design Week?

Keinton Butler: I hope that we build on the good work that we’ve undertaken this year to strengthen those connections between our natural and built environments.

Sydney Design Week

We think you might also like this story on the exhibition, ‘A Line, A Web, A World’, at the Powerhouse.

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