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Designing on Country: Trent Jansen on practice and collaboration

Design that speaks many languages is to be treasured and enjoyed. Trent Jansen tells a story of design collaborations and connections through his work on Country with friends and artists who bring the perspective of First Nations people to the fore.

Designing on Country: Trent Jansen on practice and collaboration

Manta Pilti Credenza.

Wardle Studio, in Melbourne, recently hosted Trent Jansen to speak about his practice and collaborations with Indigenous artists that have resulted in the most beautiful and creative furniture designs.

Jansen is one of Australia’s most renowned product designers and understanding his passion for designing on Country with outstanding collaborators and friends, allowed a glimpse into the processes and thinking behind the ideas of conception and design.

On the evening, Jansen spoke about two projects. The first, Kurunpa Kunpu | Strong Spirit, was a three-year, cross-cultural collaboration between Tanya Singer, Errol Evans and Jansen. The second, Partu, was conceived with Nyikina man, Johnny Nargoodah, a long-time friend and collaborator.

Helping in the manufacture of designs, and present on the evening, was Chris Nicholson from Mast Furniture who explained some of the challenges in actually making the radically different furniture concepts a reality.

Supported by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and various Government organisations, Kurunpa Kunpu | Strong Spirit comprises Manta Pilti – Dry Sand with Tanya Singer, and Kutitji – Shield Chair with Errol Evans.

In the collaboration with Singer the furniture collection was inspired by the catastrophic effects human induced climate change is inflicting on Country around Indulkana, remote South Australia. The design references explore the Parakeelya flower, which once blanketed the Indulkana hills but is now seen less frequently.

Related: Trent Jansen’s Venice design residency

Manta Pilti Credenza.

Singer remarks, “This design and collaboration is special to me as it is about how climate change is affecting the natural cycle of the Parakeelya Flower. The flower is one of my mother’s favourites, also it is a type of wild succulent flower that is edible. They normally grow like a blanket across the desert as far as the eyes can see. But now after the big rains have come and gone the ground dries up thick as it curls up and starts to crack, leaving a cracking effect. Hence where the name “Manta Pilti” (Dry Sands) came about. Because of this, the new seedlings find it hard to start its new growth.”

With Kutitji and the collaboration with Evans, a sketch exchange was devised between the two designers that ultimately manifested in a chair. Evans expertise for carving large objects in timber embodies sophisticated, cultural narratives that include spears, nyura, tjutinypa and shields.

Evans says, “The whole three-year project has been an experience I’ll never forget, when Trent was able to fly over and spend two weeks on Country with us after Covid lockdown. Getting to know each other, our backgrounds, coming up with different ideas about combining Aboriginal artefacts into furniture design.” He elaborates, “I came up with the Shield Chair design, our shields are our defence it protects us from our enemies and with what’s happening with Climate Change not only in our backyard but around the world. Our ozone layer is our shield and without our shield we are vulnerable.”

Jansen then spoke about Partu, conceived with Johnny Nargoodah. As an expert in leather work, Nargoodah brought to the project a very special artisanal approach. However, this project again saw two people from two different cultures create together and so Ngumu Janka Warnti | All Made from Rubbish was born. Initially, the duo each sketched their ideas and constantly swapped, amended and re-designed their concepts until finally a design was agreed then made. With the ideas of using waste and transforming it at the heart of this project, Nargoodah and Jansen have indeed created something new and very special.

Nargoodah explains the process, “So many designs, you know, back and forth. I’m doing design here and emailing it to him. (Jansen).  It took us quite a while, over a couple of months, but the design is good.” He further explains, “So we are from two different countries working together. I’m Aborigine and he’s from up there and we make things together. So, I’m learning from him as he works with the computer and we are working and talking together to make things come out good.”

The audience was presented with many images that portrayed the beauty and imagination of the built objects however understanding the working processes and the values and passions behind these designs brings added meaning to these pieces.

Kutitji Chair.

Through Jansen’s wonderful collaborations with Tanya Singer, Errol Evans and Johnny Nargoodah, there is the opportunity to share ideas, make something significant and create the extraordinary.

A talk such as that given by Trent Jansen at the Wardle Studio was a feast for all the senses and brought home the importance of collaboration, communication and working together. All of the products resulted from friendship and a meeting of minds and are testament to the incredible talent that resides in our country and on Country.

Perhaps the last word should go to Errol Evans and how he feels about the collaboration on the Shield Chair with Jansen.

“When seeing the finished product for the first time after three years, I was blown away at how it all turned out. I got a feeling of security when I sat on it, I felt so comfortable, people were commenting “it looks like a throne” and it sure did feel like one!”

Collaboration is a beautiful thing and when two cultures come together and bring the very best from each other there are no other words to say other than, ‘it’s magic’.

These beautiful objects are available to purchase through Trent Jansen Studio. And read more about Trent Jansen and the collaborations in the latest issue of INDESIGN Magazine, Issue 90.

Trent Jansen




Kurunpa Kunpu | Strong Spirit, Fiona Susanto, Ngumu Janka Warnti | All Made from Rubbish, Romello Pereira

Manta Pilti Cabinet.
Manta Pilti Cabinet.
Manta Pilti Low Chair.

We think you might like this article about AHEC’s recent work with Nathan Yong.

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