The common language of design was pivotal in the tumult of 2020. From murals inspired by Black Lives Matter that sprouted in communities across the world last summer to the outdoor dining solutions that kept restaurants afloat, artists and designers demonstrated the myriad ways the medium can respond to political and social upheaval. Here, we examine past, present, and future projects that speak volumes.
A vibrant landscape of queer symbols and abstract forms greeted visitors who recently attended Triennial programming at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. Known as Boudoir Babylon, the installation was a collaboration between local firm Sibling Architecture and artist and designer Adam Nathaniel Furman. Inspired by spatial typologies including boudoirs, salons, and nightclubs, the project was an exploration into how people gather in liminal spaces. “We’re interested in the spaces in between because they’re outside of hierarchy,” says Sibling cofounder Timothy Moore. “This is where new relationships can form.”
Located in the museum’s Gallery Kitchen, Boudoir Babylon comprised a plywood framework installed between the café’s four central pillars. A tiered podium creates the visual centerpiece, accented by modesty screen-inspired partitions voided with peepholes. The practice of breaking down gender binaries is exercised by Furman through both symbology and color. “The color works very directly with the shapes and also the graphical ornamentation,” Furman says. “It’s this infantilized color that is sort of insidiously gendered, which I take as a palette and sort of swirl them together until they’re ambiguous.”
The queering of the Gallery Kitchen invites a new precedent for the role of hospitality spaces in society. “It’s about exploring the different ways people come together and socialize through these elements, and rethinking what the elements could be in a café and restaurant, as well,” Moore says. “Come for the color, stay for the theory.”
Tribute to the late John Lewis
The legacy of civil rights activist and Georgia congressman John Lewis, following his death in July 2020 at age 80, warranted more than any standard tribute. Luckily, Stan Herd thought so, too. The artist paid tribute to Lewis with an earthwork portrait located in Atlanta’s Freedom Park. “The ideal is to utilize every aspect of the surrounding ecosystem and not try to bring too much stuff in from afar,” says the artist, who has been creating earthwork for nearly 60 years. Although evolving technology has made the process more efficient over the years, Herd continues to rely on simple tools, including weed whackers and tractors to create his portraits.
For this commission, Herd outlined a favorite image of Lewis in a grid across the park grounds. The portrait was then defined using flags as coordinates to guide lines Herd created with a weed eater. Drone photography of the work in progress informed necessary adjustments until the job was done. “It’s kind of a dance until the end,” Herd says. Of course, the earth itself also composes the material palette, which includes compost, sand, pinecones, soil, and bare ground. Reimagining the potential of the earth reflects the inherent politicism of the medium as well. “An underlying pulse of earthworks is as an appreciation,” Herd says, “a respect for the landscape.”
W&M memorial to the enslaved
In 2018, North Carolina-based architectural designer Will Sendor, who graduated from the College of William & Mary in 2011, won an international design competition launched by his alma mater to commemorate and honor those enslaved by the Williamsburg, Virginia institution in an on-campus memorial. The monument, called Hearth, is reminiscent of a fireplace, distinguished by an asymmetrical void to receive the community and embody the emptiness of slavery. “I wanted to create something that would rekindle the forgotten history of the enslaved people,” Sendor says. “I wanted to create a place of action, where we in the present day can connect with the memories of the enslaved people on whose backs the college and our nation were built.”
In collaboration with Baskervill, the project will be developed as a place of work and gathering at a symbolic location near the college’s Wren Building, where the daily lives of the enslaved often played out. Hearth will slice through an existing boundary wall to embody a bridge across the past, present, and future. Curved lines will echo ancient African pottery, while brick masonry engraved with names of the enslaved will feel “integrally ingrained and seamlessly interwoven into the fabric and tradition of the campus,” Sendor says.
“The goal is for visitors to feel a sense of familiarity with the form and material, but also a sense of overwhelming,” says Baskervill principal Burt Pinnock. “I want Hearth to be a place of reflection and education that will lead to further reclaiming of identities and histories lost.”