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Form x Content – Connections—Touchpoints in a World of Design

Wednesday 23 March 2022, 1pm

Ian Wong:

Welcome everybody. Very excited to be with you today, and I'd like to begin with acknowledgement of Country. I wish to acknowledge the people of the Kulin Nations, on whose land Monash University operates. I pay my respects to their Elders past, present, and emerging. You may be based elsewhere, so we pay respects to traditional owners of the land from wherever you may join us. We are meeting today via Zoom from three separate locations. I'm in my home, and working from home at this particular time. And I'll ask the other guys when they come to just talk a little bit about their location.

It's a very great pleasure to introduce our panel for this MUMA event, 'Make Conversation', which is one of the Form x Content series of talks presented by Monash University, Department of Design. I'm Ian Wong, and I'm a Senior Lecturer in Design at Monash University, and a curator of exhibitions, particularly associated with design, which is very relevant for what we're doing here today.

And it's my great pleasure to introduce our guests, Dr. Denise Whitehouse and Visnja Brdar. So Visnja, if I could just ask you to just say a bit about yourself. You're in New York, it's wonderful to be talking to you from New York, and just ask you to talk about yourself and then I'll ask the same of Denise, and then we'll start with the actual conversation.

Visnja Brdar:

Well hello, everyone. Just in terms of specific location. I am about three blocks away from the Metropolitan Museum on the east side of Manhattan. And I have been here about 23 years. Left St. Kilda and came here 23 years ago. I am a creative director with my own firm here in New York. And happy to be here to talk about that with you.

Denise Whitehouse:

I'm Denise Whitehouse, and I am in Croydon, Victoria, where many years ago I taught Visnja at Swinburne University when we were on the Hawthorn Campus. In those days, I was a lecturer in Design History at Swinburne, which was very challenging and incredibly wonderful to do. Today, I am a writer and an author, and particularly an expert on Grant Featherstone, the furniture designer. And at the moment I'm working on John Truscott, the stage and film designer from Melbourne, who was rare in having achieved two Oscars for one film. But he was an amazing man that impacted on the lives that everybody he met. And he had the gift to be able to change two cities through festivals and events. He changed Brisbane and he changed Melbourne. And there are very rare people that have those abilities, those creative design abilities.

Ian Wong:

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. So we're coming to you from different parts of the world, and we've got different perspectives, and we really do hope that this session is one of rich conversation, and in particular talk about connection. We have had a period of time over the last couple of years with the pandemic where our one on one interactions, the hugging of each other, and those really warm celebrations that are very meaningful to us all, are challenged. And I'd like to begin our conversation today by asking Visnja two years ago, and it's almost two years ago, very much at this time of the year, Italy was first impacted, and then New York was very, very much impacted by the pandemic. And I hope Visnja, you can take us back to that time and the challenges it presented, and then we can lead on from there. So if you just take us back two years to how crazy it was in New York and the challenges that were there.

Visnja Brdar:

Yes. I can take you back to March the 17th, exactly. And typically, my family – I have a husband and a 10 year old boy, a son – we go to Shelter Island on weekends to find wonderful time in nature. And we left that weekend and that was the weekend that we heard what was going on. And basically we didn't leave Shelter Island for about, I would say, almost a year. Eight months to a year. So it was a long time, and like all of us who went through the shock and the horror of it all, we quickly understood how serious it was.

And I guess if I had jumped straight into in terms of our business here, things came to a standstill. And I would say for months, people really didn't emerge. And so we went into this very unusual place where we didn't know what would happen, and day by day dealt with this unknown. Especially as things very quickly turned bad, you would see in the Javit Center and in Central Park, the hospitals that were set up in daylight. And it was unspeakably awful.

So of course my thoughts turned to Australia. Obviously, where I was born. And to friends there, because we were all reaching out to everybody, making sure everybody was okay. And so of course I reached out to Denise. And my family in Australia, but Denise specifically, because we have maintained a very long relationship since I met her in 1988, which is close to 35 years now. Which is a while. So I must say that our dialogues began then, on a very frequent basis Denise. I don't know if you want to chime in now because-

Denise Whitehouse:

No, it about there. And for me, I can remember that weekend because we, in Melbourne, went into lockdown, because I had been interviewing people on the Thursday. And I was chasing down an international person who had worked with Barry Kosky, the opera designer. And he had to flee Melbourne, so I didn't get him. But then everything closed down and that meant I could not work in archives. I couldn't do my research in those. But online research became really important in that time. And also in talking to people.

So Visnja ... I was talking to people internationally online, but then Visnja reached out and we started to talk just to one another. And we were sharing these experiences while talking about things like our creativity, and what we were trying to do at the same time. So it was a supportive relationship that we had, which is ... And it renewed the one that started in, as Visnja said, in 1988 when I arrived at Swinburne wet behind the ears to teach design students about the history. And to encounter Visnja, who had a determination and a talent that was unrivaled at that time. And a determination that was wonderful, as she knew where she was going. There's a strength in Visnja, which I believe comes from her Croatian upbringing. And she can tell you stories about how she had to perform as a child. And I'll leave them for her to tell, but she has this strength in this determination, and she was always determined to go off out of Australia, to encounter the big world, and to work there. That was what she wanted.

Ian Wong:

One thing I'd like to comment there is-

Denise Whitehouse:

Oh yeah, go on Ian.

Ian Wong:

What's joyous about today is that we're actually talking about beginnings of both people, really Denise. In terms of you talk very warmly about arriving at Swinburne, and beginning your very distinguished career. And we have Visnja, who grew up in Geelong, decided to study design, but not just to study design anywhere. For Visnja it was she wanted to study at the best, and the best at that time ... And I used to go to the open days, I used to go to all those places. And I was told when I was on work experience that J Walter Thompson, this country kid in the city, in a multi-story building, I'd never been in a place with a lift, Swinburne's the place. You got to go there. Bob Francis and all the people there, and all the wonderful stuff. So it had an incredible reputation, and I think it speaks very highly of Visnja's drive that at a time when you had to be interviewed, and the whole process was very formal, you had to be very, very good to get in. And obviously Visnja, as you've already said, Denise, was an outstanding student.

Denise Whitehouse:

Yeah. And if we're talking connections, it's when I first met you, because you had connections into Swinburne. But Swinburne was, and of course Visnja challenged everybody who taught her, and took everything that she could learn from people. And I think a sense that she was going to go somewhere was the final exhibition, in which she took her piece of graphic design and converted it into a very, very beautiful chaise lounge type of ... That's right? Or was it a chair, V?

Visnja Brdar:

No, it was a-

Denise Whitehouse:

Yeah. A type of chaise lounge, and it was yellow and it was startlingly ... It was the star of the show basically. And of course her career took off after that, because there were many people looking to employ her. But if I am right, she was determined to go it alone and to go overseas very, very quickly. V?

Visnja Brdar:

Well, I would say for me it was important to forever question, you see. And I was never happy that I was kind of restricted to the two dimensional. And that was why I was completely interested in architecture and sculpture, and saw no reason why I couldn't design a piece of furniture for my personal fourth year project, Honours project.

So I guess in a way, to the outside world, it looked like I was being disruptive, which in a way I was. I was challenging the status quo and I really enjoyed that. So for me, instead of kind of going down the easy pathway of taking full time position somewhere, to me, it was just far more interesting to see what I could do on my own. And that basically entailed just going into the unknown, and I seem to be comfortable with that uncomfortable notion. And I think that's been something that stayed with me the whole time. This idea of being somehow comfortable with the fear, comfortable with the risk taking, and just seeing what I could do on my own, which I think is far more interesting than when you have to go and work for someone else where you're told what to do. And I was never good at being a good girl like that and being told what to do.

Ian Wong:

Yeah, if I can just give a bit of context for people. At the time, Swinburne had this extraordinary international ... Sorry. Intern program. So IBL year. And you had to be the best to get into IBL, and Visnja obviously clearly was, and so therefore she got that opportunity. But the normal track and the traditional track, it's a very successful track for Swinburne, and for the people in graphic design, was to get an opportunity to work in one of the amazing studios that were around at the time, the bigger practices, and then to go on that track and to work for those people. And you did absolutely ... You had all the offers and the world, Visnja. Everybody wanted you to work with them. But no, there was a different track, and you've described that. And I think it's important for people to recognise that time in Melbourne and all the opportunities. But as Denise has said, you were seeking other opportunities.

Visnja Brdar:

Well again, Ian, I'm not sure if I was, yes, seeking other opportunities as more to be focused on. I was more interested in the ideas I could come up with on my own. So therefore, if you are in your studio and you don't have one project on your desk, nor do you have a client, what do you do? And I was interested in those questions. How do you shape your life? Who do you call? Who do you speak to? So therefore you have to go inside and really look at what moves you. Why does it move you? Who do you want to work with? Why? And I think that digging down kind of served me well, because I always pursued, pretty authentically, a pure path in a way. And a pure path, meaning I always listened. I always listened to what moved me. And that was my pathway.

Ian Wong:

I think that might be a really lovely segue to something which we've talked about, and we can share. You were listening one day when Denise was talking about some of the famous people from around the world. Maybe Denise, if we can talk about that.

Denise Whitehouse:

I think that one of the wonderful things about Swinburne at that time was just the sheer confidence that its students could go out. And those of us educating, and there were a wonderful group of people educating. She was with the best you could get at that time. But we were looking all the time outwards, and getting students to believe that they could go out and function in the world. And it's a golden moment in design. You've got Neville Brody with the Face Magazine, and it was so exciting. You've got Memphis and Sottsass and the postmodernist shift. And we were exploring those things, and Visnja will now tell you what she found in her diary recently, which is good.

Visnja Brdar:

Here is my diary from my first year at Swinburne. 1988. A Collins diary. And inside what I found was at the bottom on Thursday the 28th of April, there you'll see that I did a history tutorial presentation on Memphis, which I was presenting to Denise and my class at the time.

Denise Whitehouse:

One of the things within the history was that you didn't just sit there. Because design students need designers, need presentation skills. So we did a hell of a lot of presentations and they were enormous good fun. I think, this is our segue for Visnja heading off around the world, because I also have letters from Visnja, and postcards from Visnja on the night before she went to go to Memphis studio and talk to Sottsass and see if he would employ her. So I think she can tell us. And she talked in that letter about her ... The letter has all the intensity of what she was just talking about. Of facing the fears, of being bold, brave, going out there, the courage that she had. So V, why did you head off to Europe? Or when?

Visnja Brdar:

Well why, is I was always, soon, very quickly, once I started the education with you at Swinburne, I was very, very fascinated by the new. The idea of the new, and Memphis was radically the new. So here we are 1988, and I am basically devouring the whole Swinburne Library, trying to read everything I can get my hands on. And I discover a marvelous bookstore on Flinders Lane, which I believe is no longer there. It was an architecture store. And here is where I will show you now the magazines that were produced by Sottsass's studio called Terrazzo Magazine.

And so again, this is 1988, so this is the first edition. And I see in the foreword here, in the editor's note, I see two sentences that I underlined. And those sentences are, "To create new ties and friendships. To exchange ideas and enthusiasm." So I think that was important. The fact that you could be on this search, this discovery of the new, and all the people that represented the new.

So to go back, Chris Connell was one of the first people I worked with. Okay. He, for me, was the new. He had big cultural impact in Melbourne. I spent about a year working with great people in Melbourne who really enabled my creativity. People like Jenny Bannister, Wendy Bannister, Scanlan, many people. And then I quickly went overseas. And we can jump to Sottsass, before Sottsass I must say that I did go to Paris and there was Marc Newson. But we can come back to Marc.

Denise Whitehouse:

Go there now.

Visnja Brdar:

Well, because we are talking about the new, and I think Memphis was really the bold new. And I remember just thinking that they did have a big interest in graphics, and I did meet with Ettore, and it did take probably maybe five weeks. So you have to understand that you reach out to the studio and they say, "No, it's not available." Patience. How much patience do you have? How much willpower do you have to stay with it and not go to another city? Because, okay. It didn't work out in the first week that you wanted it to work out. So it was persistence. And then eventually I did meet him in a very dark room, where it was just me and him, and he was extremely marvelous, and mysterious, and spiritual, where really all he cared about out were the things that moved me. He looked at the portfolio and he was ... I think he wanted to give me a job, but they just didn't have any offerings.

But he just cared about what moved you. And in fact, that's really, I think, the thing that's key in any kind of creative career, is what moves you, and staying true to that.

Ian Wong:

What's, I think, interesting about that just in terms of our own lives, is that sometimes that the people that you hold up, they disappoint. And I'm hearing in the way you're describing that encounter as the opposite. It was a terrific exchange and a meaningful thing, and your patience paid off in that sense.

Visnja Brdar:

Yes.

Denise Whitehouse:

It is very much, Visnja, that thing of if you can meet people that then, as you say, inspire and can lift you up. And I think we all need to meet people like that along the way, or to as seek them out as you actively did. Yeah.

Ian Wong:

So tell us about that location. Where was that?

Visnja Brdar:

Oh somewhere in Milan, in somewhere in Milan in Brera.

Ian Wong:

Well just be fair, Vis. You know Milan like the back of your hand, but a lot of the people watching this don't any idea. So give us a bit more joy about being in Milan at that time.

Visnja Brdar:

Okay. So I did locate the business card from my meeting.

Ian Wong:

Fantastic, fantastic.

Visnja Brdar:

So I clearly I... This is that number 9 via Borgonuovo.

Ian Wong:

As someone passionate about history and about artifacts, I have to say, I'm going to enjoy this conversation.

Visnja Brdar:

Oh look, I think in a way it was probably not a big deal of an office. You have to realize Memphis is not corporate, so you're not walking into an office with 50 people. You're walking into an office probably where there were 12 people. And I ended up meeting Aldo Cibic, who was one of the founding members, who I have his card here too. And he eventually ... We all became friends. He was the one who ended up feeling a little sorry that I couldn't get a job with Sottsass, because he wanted me to because he saw my passion and desire. And so he had a friend called Tibor Kalman, who was in Rome at the time. The great American bad boy of design, Tibor Kalman, who was living in Rome. Had actually relocated from New York to Rome, let go of his office to work for Colors Magazine, which was a Benetton magazine. And so that's where I ended up landing.

So it was a marvelous segue. You have to really say that the pathways are perfect. Even when they don't work out how you want them, you really have to believe that they take you down this magnificent other pathway that serves you in many other ways.

Denise Whitehouse:

What about the pathway to Paris?

Visnja Brdar:

Well, the pathway to Paris was direct from the first time from Melbourne going to Europe. I had a friend who gave me the phone number of Marc Newson. And when I got to Paris, I of course knocked on his door. It was in the second arrondissement, in the sewing district. And he had a project where he had someone who was doing a brochure for him, but he saw my folio and he said would I take on a project for him? And I did. I ended up taking on the brief, and I feel like with that project, what he asked for is not what he got. And I think that's one of the things I try to do with all my projects is someone tells you they want X, and you give them something way more than X. It should always be more.

Denise Whitehouse:

Newson was just starting out at that stage. He was just having not long left Australia, is that right? And he was famous for his shows. Yeah.

Visnja Brdar:

Denise, I think he was about 30 and I was probably 23.

Denise Whitehouse:

Yeah.

Visnja Brdar:

And he was in Tokyo. He was in Japan for a few years. So I think he was really up and coming, and one of the projects I did for him was the invitation to his first solo show at the Milan Furniture Fair. But I will show you the brochure, which ended up becoming basically an art object, which was ... I said to him it needed to be just a compilation of everything he'd ever designed, as well as process. And I wanted to document and celebrate process, because obviously his process, the hand work and the hand was so critical.

So I guess at this point let me show you the object, which I have here. So this is the piece which, as you can see, has no name, no picture of Marc. My goal was to just distill it into Marc's language. So this object basically comes out of this sleeve, and basically is not read left to right. It is read top to bottom. And if I open it up, let's see where we land. It's pretty heavy.

Oh, here's a good place to open. No, let me see. Let me see what I can ...

Ian Wong:

And just while Visnja's doing that everybody, I just would very much like to share with you the fact that the exhibition that I'm currently doing as part of design week, which hopefully some of you may get along to, and Visnja is coming out to Australia to attend. She won an award. She won a major award in that for a famous book. But before that, she won an award for two years in a row for this work at Newson's. So it's very significant in terms of history of Melbourne design as well. So Visnja sorry. Please, please. That's the Lockheed lounge. Don't put it down.

Visnja Brdar:

Yes. The intention was to ... You read it this way, because the text was here, and I wanted to kind of pretty much break every rule in the book, shall I say? And then the spiral in the centre and the way that you break up the imagery, because you're not supposed to do that. And the spiral, in a way, is another one of Marc's forms of language in a way. The spiral appears in furniture.

And if you go through this, there are so many images that just ... Again, let me see what we have here. And the construction of this, everything was done by hand, I want to say. So basically what I did was I had a photographer print these images to the scale I needed them to be printed. And then I cut them out by hand, and then we put them onto the size of this board, and these are basically photocopied pieces. This is not even printed by a printer, because we only made a handful of them. So maybe one other thing I can show you is this kind of disturbing ... I love this disturbing sense of scale, whereas this is a watch. But the idea of turning it into a monumental, almost like a piece of architecture, I thought was quite thrilling.

So that's basically ... There's great many pages in here to discover. So Ian, when you get it at your show, you can open it up at any page you want.

Ian Wong:

Yeah, no, it's a very exciting artifact. And I think also it not only talks about your practice, because with a lot of joy I've been watching you talk about the different aspects and the production techniques at the time, but Denise I'm fascinated by what influenced Visnja? Talk about maybe the power that I can see in that work, for someone so young, it seems extraordinary to me.

Denise Whitehouse:

Look, it was in someone so young, but also historically it was a moment when young designers were and pushing the boundaries. It was the shift. Ultimately it would link in with computers. But as I said before, you had somebody like Neville Brody changing the whole language of magazines, changing the whole way we read typography. There was a greater interest in a move away from the modernist language, particularly of graphic design, into being much more experimental. So it's those ways. I also think that with Visnja and with others was looking at art and seeing graphic design as an art form. Not just as a commercial service.

There's that notion that the role of the designer is the service of industry. Whereas this was a moment and it was where it was very much about, "No, designers have responsibility to their profession, to their art form, and to push it and explore things like form and content," which Visnja is doing there. To actually understand what the language of graphic design is about, what its heritage is about.

So she looks at Memphis, but she also told us how she found her referencing of Malevich, the constructivist artist/designer, and his exploration of the square. Sorry, it's not the graphic form, it's our primary form, so to speak. So the triangle, the circle, the square. So those things there are viewing graphic design as an art, as a graphic form that is really important in shaping our worlds. And therefore, we should treat it really honourably and push it, push it all the time, because it should always be pushing forward and developing. V?

Visnja Brdar:

Well, let me, while you are speaking about the black square . I don't know if you can all see that, but here is the Chris Connell business card, where you in fact have a square within a square. So there is the square in the centre, where the eye is drawn, where MAP, the letters M-A-P, Merchants of Australian Products is. And then again, for me, the wonderful thing here is that it's within a transparent square. And we are not using paper, we're looking at other materials, we're not sticking to the traditional shape of a business card. We're doing everything but. And I think that's the mission I was on from day one. Just pulling things apart all the time and seeing how you could do things in a fresh and new way, really.

Ian Wong:

And I think the connection that you both have, the longstanding discussions that you've had over the years, you can see there's a central notion about the way you see things. Can you take us to New York in the millennium? There was an interesting exchange, an interesting time, where we had ... That whole time. Maybe share that time.

Denise Whitehouse:

My family, we took the children. They weren't children. They were young adults. We all went to New York for the ... Well we wanted to go to New York. So we went for four weeks and the millennium was at that time. And Visnja had just moved to New York on the basis of she had won the Victorian Design Award, and that had given her enough money to head to New York, where she was out to work with Fabien Baron, to set up her career. And the money, from my memory, and Visnja, do correct me. My memory was that money enabled her to be able to get a flat, an apartment, because you had to pay people to get the apartment for you.

So we met, and I remember that Visnja and I would go off, and we tracked down a famous cafe on the west side of New York, where the graphics had been done by Tibor Kelman. And what was radical about those graphics was that he took this ... And it was that the era of the vernacular in typography and design. And so he took the ... They were the type of stuff you bought in the news agents, and it was a padded form, and you stuck the plastic letters into it. And that's how he would make the menu, put the menu sign, made the graphic. So it was very radical. And the two of us had to go off there and have a coffee and find the business cards for it. But we also went to see the Issey Miyake exhibition, which was just gobsmacking. So we were looking, sharing those things, and Visnja was in the process of setting off on this career in New York. And yet that was big, because New York is a tough place. V, over to you.

Visnja Brdar:

Well yes, I had the few years with Fabien Baron, and then after that obviously I set up my own studio here. But since you're talking about Issey Miyake, I wanted to share with you, I guess, a book that I did for Issey. Or rather they called it a magazine at the time. But yes, you're probably just seeing a white piece of paper. It is not. Let me first show you the one ... This was edition two. Let me show you edition one that was done by Neville Brody, the man that Denise just mentioned who was doing the Face Magazine. So I guess you couldn't imagine two more opposite approaches to this magazine, where I guess Neville was going extremely colourful, maximalist, over the top. And my approach was ... And perhaps you can see the Issey Miyake in the bottom. Barely printed, and it says, "Issey Miyake Tribeca," which is where the new store was. And I guess it also says 2003.

So what is this? Why does it look like a white piece of paper, or you could argue a white conceptual piece of art like a white canvas that the conceptual artists were doing in the '60s and '70s. So when you open it, my goal was to print on the thinnest paper I could find, number one. So A, make it very fragile. I like the idea of fragility in design. I like that things are difficult to print. So for example, this is a book that's actually constructed in a way that Issey Miyake's dresses are constructed. And I think that is marvelous with this project. So if you can see, his dresses are pleats, so everything here is ... I'll pull this apart for you just to kind of entertain you for a moment, but you'll see that ...

Denise Whitehouse:

Oh Visnja, that's wonderful.

Visnja Brdar:

It's an ongoing-

Ian Wong:

Extraordinary, that's what it's.

Denise Whitehouse:

It really is.

Visnja Brdar:

It's an ongoing pleat of ... But the book is still there at the base. It's attached.

Denise Whitehouse:

Oh that is fantastic.

Visnja Brdar:

It holds perfectly. And I must say, I drove many people insane during the process, which again is another delightful thing.

Ian Wong:

I'm sure you've never, ever done that before in your life.

Denise Whitehouse:

No, never.

Ian Wong:

Never, never.

Visnja Brdar:

Well, I think again ... Yes?

Denise Whitehouse:

No, I was going to say to you, I think the thing that's striking there is Brody was about breaking boundaries, but there's a real difference in that I think as he was breaking boundaries about print, whereas you're thinking really carefully about your client, and how to communicate what your client's values are, and also their sense of form. What it is that they do. You really capture Issey Miyake's method, which is ... Yeah.

Visnja Brdar:

Well it's a strange duality that I'm working with all the time. This idea that I want to create an object that I love, that is expressive of me as an artist, but at the same time, you must fulfill the project at hand. I hate to use the word service, because I actually never feel that I'm at the service of anybody. I always feel like there is this ability to take that brief and turn it into an artistic object. I think that's always been my point. And to bring sculpture to it, to bring architecture to it, to deal with the touch, to deal with all those visceral things that make it a delight and a surprise. And even if it can be strange that's a good thing, because strangeness makes people look, and you want people to look. Otherwise it's just all bland and everything ...

Denise Whitehouse:

Do you ever want to shock?

Visnja Brdar:

Oh, I love that. But look, I'm shocking with the most calm thing you can ... It's so calm and quiet. That's the wonder here. It's so many dualities going on. We're shocking with the white page, and with simplicity.

Denise Whitehouse:

The size of that print looks incredible.

Visnja Brdar:

And the way that it's on the edge, I love the edge. Being on the edge is a marvelous place to be. So we put type on the edge a lot.

Ian Wong:

We'll probably start to run out time, and it's been joyous, but perhaps the new food book, just to share that bright red product with us. And maybe you might want to comment about it Denise. I know you were very positive about it.

Denise Whitehouse:

Yeah.

Visnja Brdar:

So here, this was a cookbook designed for Jill Dupleix, who is our incredibly talented Australian chef, food critic, writer extraordinaire. And so I have to say that at the time though, cookbooks looked nothing like this. Cookbooks were just a very, I would say, boring category. And I thought, with someone like Jill, she ... Well first of all, I wanted it to stand out on the bookshelves. She wore red lipstick all the time. And it was a moment where I hated the excess of things, the visual excess. And so I went for a very pure, shocking, simple cookbook cover, which was extremely unusual at the time. And then inside, basically again, you'll see that same treatment of type where we're at the edge. We're starting at the top and we're at the edge, but there is only one font size used from the beginning to the end here. So there's this type of extremely reductive approach, which for me was ... I was fascinated by that. I was so interested in how much could you do with very little? So Ian, that's going to be on display.

Ian Wong:

Absolutely. And like I said, that's the thing that gave you the opportunity, is the money that you won by your peers recognising ... Because that's another thing about the awards. The awards structure is from your peers, and they, for a very young person, gave you this wonderful accolade. And it's joyous to sit here and to look at what has been the outcome of that peer review and that opportunity that you were presented with.

Denise Whitehouse:

Yeah Ian, I'm not sure what time we have, but we haven't talked about Visnja's work at the moment. That broach that she's wearing, if we could see really close up, is sparkling diamonds. And the ring is sparkling diamonds, and these are part of Visnja's jewelry collection, which are just exquisitely made. But then there's this incredible body of work that she has got that she has built up. Can you tell us about the clients that you had after Baron, the work that you have been doing now?

Visnja Brdar:

Well look, after Baron there was some highlights where I did the photo shoot with Dick Avedon, Richard Avedon before he passed away, where we worked for Bill Blass, and we probably don't have time to look at some of those images, but maybe I can grab one. And this was a four page ... Well, we selected characters from New York City, and they were all very interesting. We had two men, two women. But I think what was interesting here was the copywriting where it said, "It isn't expected, it's Bill Blass." Because Bill Blass at the time, I guess it was '70s, '80s, was really also groundbreaking. And we said, "It isn't obvious. It's Bill Blass. It isn't for everybody. It's Bill Blass. And it isn't a trend." But to work with Dick Avedon, of course, what can I say?

Let me show you perhaps the jewelry packaging that ... I create my fine jewelry. And I always thought it was ridiculous that you would go to these large, corporate jewelers, the big ones, and you would buy a jewel and it would come in a cardboard box, even though you may have spent a million, $2 million, you would get a card ... So this is a carved piece of see-through material where the jewels come in their pouches, if you can see. But basically you can see them. You can view them. They're in a piece of sculpture. It's almost like an ice cube. But again, you'll see there's a square pouch. And then you'll also see that there's a square within the square. So the square keeps coming back to me.

Perhaps I can talk a little bit about how my graphic design and creative direction inform the jewelry. So for example, let's say ... There was no jewelry I wanted to wear. I never even wore jewelry. I was doing a project with Van Cleef & Arpels, and I started to realise that most of that type of jewelry I would never wear. So I started to think, "What would I wear?" So the project just started like that. And I went freely with the idea, and designed things that moved me. So when I say things, I'll take that back. I'll say I was interested in themes that moved me.

So number one, the idea of freedom. Which has been with me since I was born, I guess. And that's why I have ... This is the freedom piece, and it's an abstracted pair of wings. When I wear these pieces, I'm reminded of that as a virtue, as a feeling. If I go into a meeting and I put that on, it really takes me to another place. So they're very emotional pieces. They're a place for me to be sculptural, and purely artistic. And also the strange thing is that I'm doing the product design essentially with this, but these are very flat. I never do three dimensional jewelry. They're two dimensional. So with the two dimensional work, I try to be three dimensional. But with this, I stick to pure line.

Denise Whitehouse:

V, when I see your contemporary work, I'm always blown away. It's just so amazing. So that's why I'm going to say, can we see ... Have you got something else ... Your work for New York developers. Your contemporary clients have been at the very top of New York developers, one dealing with a development by Norman Foster, the leading British architect, world famous. So can we-

Visnja Brdar:

Yes Denise, thank you. So with the recent project like the Norman Foster project, which was a building right opposite the United Nations. It was a residential building with 50 residences, and Norman Foster designed it, in fact. And we basically worked on this project for about four or five years. It's a very long time.

And so in terms of scope, I'll tell you that started with ... Well, in fact, we did take over from a very large New York creative agency, and the client was not happy. And we took over and immediately started creating a video for them that was given to potential consumers, customers who would live in that building. But the amount of work that was done there, I can't even show you. I'll show you one aspect of that. But we did all communications. We did multiple advertising campaigns. We did printed brochures. We did special events for them. It's just a vast amount of work. But what we know is that the work that we did helped sell. And we're in the business of selling. In some projects more than others.

In this case, how can I say? It's a high risk work. You want to make sure that you're hitting the solution and that you're helping this client sell when we are dealing with a billion dollars worth of property. That is what our graphics had to sell. So it's a pretty significant undertaking to make sure that you communicate, A, artfully, always the way that I'm proud of my work, that it's artful. But B, that it meets their demand as a developer.

So can I launch into this? This was a book that we did. There's probably a little bit of reflection. But this was the book that I did just for their penthouses. Because the penthouses on their own, I think there were seven or eight of them that they wanted us to focus on. Which was really about $250 million worth of real estate, just in the penthouses. So this was a book targeted at ... Well, they wanted a brochure. Of course, I'm not going to give them a brochure. And this is actually, I would say a very ... It's almost related to the Tribeca project, because it does open up as well. However, you see there's a spine to it, but let's open a page and see what happens.

Well first of all, what you see ... Well, let me take this. This acts as a spine. It's a piece of plastic, and it keeps it together. So you can open up this book anywhere and there you are, you see a picture of the Manhattan skyline and the building. And what happens though, is when you take away this plastic spine, because this acts as the spine, then this book actually opens up, and unlike the Miyake one, now it doesn't have a spine. So if you open this up, maybe it's 15 meters long. So it's a book that then starts to open up this way, and it doesn't have a spine to fall back on now. So what we wanted was the sales people to put this on an enormously large table and seduce the people who were potential buyers with the beautiful photography that we were part of. The people had a feeling, an immersion into the building, the glam. Listen, this is a lot of New York glamor here. And a lot of money involved.

But I want to take you to the end where we are getting through this, and all of a sudden there's the client who says, "Oh, can I look at the floor plan?" And basically, yes you can. The floor plan is embedded into the book. Unlike most floor plans where they're floating and they're a separate item, this one is intact. And then you get to the duplex penthouse, which basically it's a double. I can't even open this for you. But basically there are two floor plans in here with two floors that would open up. I could try to do that, but I'm not sure I'll have much success. There's one here. There's one here.

Ian Wong:

Fantastic.

Denise Whitehouse:

Oh Visnja, I'm so pleased to see that. I have wanted to see it for years. So it's wonderful. That is amazing.

Visnja Brdar:

Again, it's not a random selected graphic. That is the floor plate of the building itself, which I thought was so beautiful and pure with these bay view windows. Yeah.

Ian Wong:

Extraordinary, extraordinary.

Visnja Brdar:

The vendor hated us. They had to create these special wooden jigs so that the people who were ... There are probably 20 individual sheets of paper there that have to be perfectly glued together on the underside, and if you mess it up it's not going to be straight. So a lot of risk.

Ian Wong:

Look, I think we really will have to close because of time. I just really want to express, I think what ... We started with the COVID thing, and we started with the challenges that presented. But I hope the audience, like me, has had this wonderful insight into two people who supported each other through that. And the exchange that we've had together today gives us that window into how you would've conversed, and how you would've written to each other from Milan to Australia, and back and forth. And that deep sense of creative camaraderie and being that you both share from the time that you first met so many years ago, up until the present day.

It's been an absolute honour to hear you go through some of those wonderful exchanges, to see the extraordinary work, and to hear about some of the colourful history that is our collective history of design. So it's been an absolute honour and a privilege. So thank you both.

And I think if I can, I would just like to close by acknowledging MUMA and Monash University Department of Design for providing us this forum and this opportunity. And what's exciting is that Visnja's coming to Melbourne for Design Week, and we'll have that opportunity. Visnja is not only attending the exhibition where her work will be on display, but she's also doing a talk for the Robin Boyd Foundation, and she's also doing a talk at the new Shepparton Art Museum, in Shepparton, the Denton Corker Marshall building. So there'll be ample opportunities for people to catch up with Visnja, and we do hope that we are bumping into each other at events in part of the extraordinary Melbourne Design Week 2022. So I thank you all, and bid you farewell.

Ian Wong:

Welcome everybody. Very excited to be with you today, and I'd like to begin with acknowledgement of Country. I wish to acknowledge the people of the Kulin Nations, on whose land Monash University operates. I pay my respects to their Elders past, present, and emerging. You may be based elsewhere, so we pay respects to traditional owners of the land from wherever you may join us. We are meeting today via Zoom from three separate locations. I'm in my home, and working from home at this particular time. And I'll ask the other guys when they come to just talk a little bit about their location.

It's a very great pleasure to introduce our panel for this MUMA event, 'Make Conversation', which is one of the Form x Content series of talks presented by Monash University, Department of Design. I'm Ian Wong, and I'm a Senior Lecturer in Design at Monash University, and a curator of exhibitions, particularly associated with design, which is very relevant for what we're doing here today.

And it's my great pleasure to introduce our guests, Dr. Denise Whitehouse and Visnja Brdar. So Visnja, if I could just ask you to just say a bit about yourself. You're in New York, it's wonderful to be talking to you from New York, and just ask you to talk about yourself and then I'll ask the same of Denise, and then we'll start with the actual conversation.

Visnja Brdar:

Well hello, everyone. Just in terms of specific location. I am about three blocks away from the Metropolitan Museum on the east side of Manhattan. And I have been here about 23 years. Left St. Kilda and came here 23 years ago. I am a creative director with my own firm here in New York. And happy to be here to talk about that with you.

Denise Whitehouse:

I'm Denise Whitehouse, and I am in Croydon, Victoria, where many years ago I taught Visnja at Swinburne University when we were on the Hawthorn Campus. In those days, I was a lecturer in Design History at Swinburne, which was very challenging and incredibly wonderful to do. Today, I am a writer and an author, and particularly an expert on Grant Featherstone, the furniture designer. And at the moment I'm working on John Truscott, the stage and film designer from Melbourne, who was rare in having achieved two Oscars for one film. But he was an amazing man that impacted on the lives that everybody he met. And he had the gift to be able to change two cities through festivals and events. He changed Brisbane and he changed Melbourne. And there are very rare people that have those abilities, those creative design abilities.

Ian Wong:

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. So we're coming to you from different parts of the world, and we've got different perspectives, and we really do hope that this session is one of rich conversation, and in particular talk about connection. We have had a period of time over the last couple of years with the pandemic where our one on one interactions, the hugging of each other, and those really warm celebrations that are very meaningful to us all, are challenged. And I'd like to begin our conversation today by asking Visnja two years ago, and it's almost two years ago, very much at this time of the year, Italy was first impacted, and then New York was very, very much impacted by the pandemic. And I hope Visnja, you can take us back to that time and the challenges it presented, and then we can lead on from there. So if you just take us back two years to how crazy it was in New York and the challenges that were there.

Visnja Brdar:

Yes. I can take you back to March the 17th, exactly. And typically, my family – I have a husband and a 10 year old boy, a son – we go to Shelter Island on weekends to find wonderful time in nature. And we left that weekend and that was the weekend that we heard what was going on. And basically we didn't leave Shelter Island for about, I would say, almost a year. Eight months to a year. So it was a long time, and like all of us who went through the shock and the horror of it all, we quickly understood how serious it was.

And I guess if I had jumped straight into in terms of our business here, things came to a standstill. And I would say for months, people really didn't emerge. And so we went into this very unusual place where we didn't know what would happen, and day by day dealt with this unknown. Especially as things very quickly turned bad, you would see in the Javit Center and in Central Park, the hospitals that were set up in daylight. And it was unspeakably awful.

So of course my thoughts turned to Australia. Obviously, where I was born. And to friends there, because we were all reaching out to everybody, making sure everybody was okay. And so of course I reached out to Denise. And my family in Australia, but Denise specifically, because we have maintained a very long relationship since I met her in 1988, which is close to 35 years now. Which is a while. So I must say that our dialogues began then, on a very frequent basis Denise. I don't know if you want to chime in now because-

Denise Whitehouse:

No, it about there. And for me, I can remember that weekend because we, in Melbourne, went into lockdown, because I had been interviewing people on the Thursday. And I was chasing down an international person who had worked with Barry Kosky, the opera designer. And he had to flee Melbourne, so I didn't get him. But then everything closed down and that meant I could not work in archives. I couldn't do my research in those. But online research became really important in that time. And also in talking to people.

So Visnja ... I was talking to people internationally online, but then Visnja reached out and we started to talk just to one another. And we were sharing these experiences while talking about things like our creativity, and what we were trying to do at the same time. So it was a supportive relationship that we had, which is ... And it renewed the one that started in, as Visnja said, in 1988 when I arrived at Swinburne wet behind the ears to teach design students about the history. And to encounter Visnja, who had a determination and a talent that was unrivaled at that time. And a determination that was wonderful, as she knew where she was going. There's a strength in Visnja, which I believe comes from her Croatian upbringing. And she can tell you stories about how she had to perform as a child. And I'll leave them for her to tell, but she has this strength in this determination, and she was always determined to go off out of Australia, to encounter the big world, and to work there. That was what she wanted.

Ian Wong:

One thing I'd like to comment there is-

Denise Whitehouse:

Oh yeah, go on Ian.

Ian Wong:

What's joyous about today is that we're actually talking about beginnings of both people, really Denise. In terms of you talk very warmly about arriving at Swinburne, and beginning your very distinguished career. And we have Visnja, who grew up in Geelong, decided to study design, but not just to study design anywhere. For Visnja it was she wanted to study at the best, and the best at that time ... And I used to go to the open days, I used to go to all those places. And I was told when I was on work experience that J Walter Thompson, this country kid in the city, in a multi-story building, I'd never been in a place with a lift, Swinburne's the place. You got to go there. Bob Francis and all the people there, and all the wonderful stuff. So it had an incredible reputation, and I think it speaks very highly of Visnja's drive that at a time when you had to be interviewed, and the whole process was very formal, you had to be very, very good to get in. And obviously Visnja, as you've already said, Denise, was an outstanding student.

Denise Whitehouse:

Yeah. And if we're talking connections, it's when I first met you, because you had connections into Swinburne. But Swinburne was, and of course Visnja challenged everybody who taught her, and took everything that she could learn from people. And I think a sense that she was going to go somewhere was the final exhibition, in which she took her piece of graphic design and converted it into a very, very beautiful chaise lounge type of ... That's right? Or was it a chair, V?

Visnja Brdar:

No, it was a-

Denise Whitehouse:

Yeah. A type of chaise lounge, and it was yellow and it was startlingly ... It was the star of the show basically. And of course her career took off after that, because there were many people looking to employ her. But if I am right, she was determined to go it alone and to go overseas very, very quickly. V?

Visnja Brdar:

Well, I would say for me it was important to forever question, you see. And I was never happy that I was kind of restricted to the two dimensional. And that was why I was completely interested in architecture and sculpture, and saw no reason why I couldn't design a piece of furniture for my personal fourth year project, Honours project.

So I guess in a way, to the outside world, it looked like I was being disruptive, which in a way I was. I was challenging the status quo and I really enjoyed that. So for me, instead of kind of going down the easy pathway of taking full time position somewhere, to me, it was just far more interesting to see what I could do on my own. And that basically entailed just going into the unknown, and I seem to be comfortable with that uncomfortable notion. And I think that's been something that stayed with me the whole time. This idea of being somehow comfortable with the fear, comfortable with the risk taking, and just seeing what I could do on my own, which I think is far more interesting than when you have to go and work for someone else where you're told what to do. And I was never good at being a good girl like that and being told what to do.

Ian Wong:

Yeah, if I can just give a bit of context for people. At the time, Swinburne had this extraordinary international ... Sorry. Intern program. So IBL year. And you had to be the best to get into IBL, and Visnja obviously clearly was, and so therefore she got that opportunity. But the normal track and the traditional track, it's a very successful track for Swinburne, and for the people in graphic design, was to get an opportunity to work in one of the amazing studios that were around at the time, the bigger practices, and then to go on that track and to work for those people. And you did absolutely ... You had all the offers and the world, Visnja. Everybody wanted you to work with them. But no, there was a different track, and you've described that. And I think it's important for people to recognise that time in Melbourne and all the opportunities. But as Denise has said, you were seeking other opportunities.

Visnja Brdar:

Well again, Ian, I'm not sure if I was, yes, seeking other opportunities as more to be focused on. I was more interested in the ideas I could come up with on my own. So therefore, if you are in your studio and you don't have one project on your desk, nor do you have a client, what do you do? And I was interested in those questions. How do you shape your life? Who do you call? Who do you speak to? So therefore you have to go inside and really look at what moves you. Why does it move you? Who do you want to work with? Why? And I think that digging down kind of served me well, because I always pursued, pretty authentically, a pure path in a way. And a pure path, meaning I always listened. I always listened to what moved me. And that was my pathway.

Ian Wong:

I think that might be a really lovely segue to something which we've talked about, and we can share. You were listening one day when Denise was talking about some of the famous people from around the world. Maybe Denise, if we can talk about that.

Denise Whitehouse:

I think that one of the wonderful things about Swinburne at that time was just the sheer confidence that its students could go out. And those of us educating, and there were a wonderful group of people educating. She was with the best you could get at that time. But we were looking all the time outwards, and getting students to believe that they could go out and function in the world. And it's a golden moment in design. You've got Neville Brody with the Face Magazine, and it was so exciting. You've got Memphis and Sottsass and the postmodernist shift. And we were exploring those things, and Visnja will now tell you what she found in her diary recently, which is good.

Visnja Brdar:

Here is my diary from my first year at Swinburne. 1988. A Collins diary. And inside what I found was at the bottom on Thursday the 28th of April, there you'll see that I did a history tutorial presentation on Memphis, which I was presenting to Denise and my class at the time.

Denise Whitehouse:

One of the things within the history was that you didn't just sit there. Because design students need designers, need presentation skills. So we did a hell of a lot of presentations and they were enormous good fun. I think, this is our segue for Visnja heading off around the world, because I also have letters from Visnja, and postcards from Visnja on the night before she went to go to Memphis studio and talk to Sottsass and see if he would employ her. So I think she can tell us. And she talked in that letter about her ... The letter has all the intensity of what she was just talking about. Of facing the fears, of being bold, brave, going out there, the courage that she had. So V, why did you head off to Europe? Or when?

Visnja Brdar:

Well why, is I was always, soon, very quickly, once I started the education with you at Swinburne, I was very, very fascinated by the new. The idea of the new, and Memphis was radically the new. So here we are 1988, and I am basically devouring the whole Swinburne Library, trying to read everything I can get my hands on. And I discover a marvelous bookstore on Flinders Lane, which I believe is no longer there. It was an architecture store. And here is where I will show you now the magazines that were produced by Sottsass's studio called Terrazzo Magazine.

And so again, this is 1988, so this is the first edition. And I see in the foreword here, in the editor's note, I see two sentences that I underlined. And those sentences are, "To create new ties and friendships. To exchange ideas and enthusiasm." So I think that was important. The fact that you could be on this search, this discovery of the new, and all the people that represented the new.

So to go back, Chris Connell was one of the first people I worked with. Okay. He, for me, was the new. He had big cultural impact in Melbourne. I spent about a year working with great people in Melbourne who really enabled my creativity. People like Jenny Bannister, Wendy Bannister, Scanlan, many people. And then I quickly went overseas. And we can jump to Sottsass, before Sottsass I must say that I did go to Paris and there was Marc Newson. But we can come back to Marc.

Denise Whitehouse:

Go there now.

Visnja Brdar:

Well, because we are talking about the new, and I think Memphis was really the bold new. And I remember just thinking that they did have a big interest in graphics, and I did meet with Ettore, and it did take probably maybe five weeks. So you have to understand that you reach out to the studio and they say, "No, it's not available." Patience. How much patience do you have? How much willpower do you have to stay with it and not go to another city? Because, okay. It didn't work out in the first week that you wanted it to work out. So it was persistence. And then eventually I did meet him in a very dark room, where it was just me and him, and he was extremely marvelous, and mysterious, and spiritual, where really all he cared about out were the things that moved me. He looked at the portfolio and he was ... I think he wanted to give me a job, but they just didn't have any offerings.

But he just cared about what moved you. And in fact, that's really, I think, the thing that's key in any kind of creative career, is what moves you, and staying true to that.

Ian Wong:

What's, I think, interesting about that just in terms of our own lives, is that sometimes that the people that you hold up, they disappoint. And I'm hearing in the way you're describing that encounter as the opposite. It was a terrific exchange and a meaningful thing, and your patience paid off in that sense.

Visnja Brdar:

Yes.

Denise Whitehouse:

It is very much, Visnja, that thing of if you can meet people that then, as you say, inspire and can lift you up. And I think we all need to meet people like that along the way, or to as seek them out as you actively did. Yeah.

Ian Wong:

So tell us about that location. Where was that?

Visnja Brdar:

Oh somewhere in Milan, in somewhere in Milan in Brera.

Ian Wong:

Well just be fair, Vis. You know Milan like the back of your hand, but a lot of the people watching this don't any idea. So give us a bit more joy about being in Milan at that time.

Visnja Brdar:

Okay. So I did locate the business card from my meeting.

Ian Wong:

Fantastic, fantastic.

Visnja Brdar:

So I clearly I... This is that number 9 via Borgonuovo.

Ian Wong:

As someone passionate about history and about artifacts, I have to say, I'm going to enjoy this conversation.

Visnja Brdar:

Oh look, I think in a way it was probably not a big deal of an office. You have to realize Memphis is not corporate, so you're not walking into an office with 50 people. You're walking into an office probably where there were 12 people. And I ended up meeting Aldo Cibic, who was one of the founding members, who I have his card here too. And he eventually ... We all became friends. He was the one who ended up feeling a little sorry that I couldn't get a job with Sottsass, because he wanted me to because he saw my passion and desire. And so he had a friend called Tibor Kalman, who was in Rome at the time. The great American bad boy of design, Tibor Kalman, who was living in Rome. Had actually relocated from New York to Rome, let go of his office to work for Colors Magazine, which was a Benetton magazine. And so that's where I ended up landing.

So it was a marvelous segue. You have to really say that the pathways are perfect. Even when they don't work out how you want them, you really have to believe that they take you down this magnificent other pathway that serves you in many other ways.

Denise Whitehouse:

What about the pathway to Paris?

Visnja Brdar:

Well, the pathway to Paris was direct from the first time from Melbourne going to Europe. I had a friend who gave me the phone number of Marc Newson. And when I got to Paris, I of course knocked on his door. It was in the second arrondissement, in the sewing district. And he had a project where he had someone who was doing a brochure for him, but he saw my folio and he said would I take on a project for him? And I did. I ended up taking on the brief, and I feel like with that project, what he asked for is not what he got. And I think that's one of the things I try to do with all my projects is someone tells you they want X, and you give them something way more than X. It should always be more.

Denise Whitehouse:

Newson was just starting out at that stage. He was just having not long left Australia, is that right? And he was famous for his shows. Yeah.

Visnja Brdar:

Denise, I think he was about 30 and I was probably 23.

Denise Whitehouse:

Yeah.

Visnja Brdar:

And he was in Tokyo. He was in Japan for a few years. So I think he was really up and coming, and one of the projects I did for him was the invitation to his first solo show at the Milan Furniture Fair. But I will show you the brochure, which ended up becoming basically an art object, which was ... I said to him it needed to be just a compilation of everything he'd ever designed, as well as process. And I wanted to document and celebrate process, because obviously his process, the hand work and the hand was so critical.

So I guess at this point let me show you the object, which I have here. So this is the piece which, as you can see, has no name, no picture of Marc. My goal was to just distill it into Marc's language. So this object basically comes out of this sleeve, and basically is not read left to right. It is read top to bottom. And if I open it up, let's see where we land. It's pretty heavy.

Oh, here's a good place to open. No, let me see. Let me see what I can ...

Ian Wong:

And just while Visnja's doing that everybody, I just would very much like to share with you the fact that the exhibition that I'm currently doing as part of design week, which hopefully some of you may get along to, and Visnja is coming out to Australia to attend. She won an award. She won a major award in that for a famous book. But before that, she won an award for two years in a row for this work at Newson's. So it's very significant in terms of history of Melbourne design as well. So Visnja sorry. Please, please. That's the Lockheed lounge. Don't put it down.

Visnja Brdar:

Yes. The intention was to ... You read it this way, because the text was here, and I wanted to kind of pretty much break every rule in the book, shall I say? And then the spiral in the centre and the way that you break up the imagery, because you're not supposed to do that. And the spiral, in a way, is another one of Marc's forms of language in a way. The spiral appears in furniture.

And if you go through this, there are so many images that just ... Again, let me see what we have here. And the construction of this, everything was done by hand, I want to say. So basically what I did was I had a photographer print these images to the scale I needed them to be printed. And then I cut them out by hand, and then we put them onto the size of this board, and these are basically photocopied pieces. This is not even printed by a printer, because we only made a handful of them. So maybe one other thing I can show you is this kind of disturbing ... I love this disturbing sense of scale, whereas this is a watch. But the idea of turning it into a monumental, almost like a piece of architecture, I thought was quite thrilling.

So that's basically ... There's great many pages in here to discover. So Ian, when you get it at your show, you can open it up at any page you want.

Ian Wong:

Yeah, no, it's a very exciting artifact. And I think also it not only talks about your practice, because with a lot of joy I've been watching you talk about the different aspects and the production techniques at the time, but Denise I'm fascinated by what influenced Visnja? Talk about maybe the power that I can see in that work, for someone so young, it seems extraordinary to me.

Denise Whitehouse:

Look, it was in someone so young, but also historically it was a moment when young designers were and pushing the boundaries. It was the shift. Ultimately it would link in with computers. But as I said before, you had somebody like Neville Brody changing the whole language of magazines, changing the whole way we read typography. There was a greater interest in a move away from the modernist language, particularly of graphic design, into being much more experimental. So it's those ways. I also think that with Visnja and with others was looking at art and seeing graphic design as an art form. Not just as a commercial service.

There's that notion that the role of the designer is the service of industry. Whereas this was a moment and it was where it was very much about, "No, designers have responsibility to their profession, to their art form, and to push it and explore things like form and content," which Visnja is doing there. To actually understand what the language of graphic design is about, what its heritage is about.

So she looks at Memphis, but she also told us how she found her referencing of Malevich, the constructivist artist/designer, and his exploration of the square. Sorry, it's not the graphic form, it's our primary form, so to speak. So the triangle, the circle, the square. So those things there are viewing graphic design as an art, as a graphic form that is really important in shaping our worlds. And therefore, we should treat it really honourably and push it, push it all the time, because it should always be pushing forward and developing. V?

Visnja Brdar:

Well, let me, while you are speaking about the black square . I don't know if you can all see that, but here is the Chris Connell business card, where you in fact have a square within a square. So there is the square in the centre, where the eye is drawn, where MAP, the letters M-A-P, Merchants of Australian Products is. And then again, for me, the wonderful thing here is that it's within a transparent square. And we are not using paper, we're looking at other materials, we're not sticking to the traditional shape of a business card. We're doing everything but. And I think that's the mission I was on from day one. Just pulling things apart all the time and seeing how you could do things in a fresh and new way, really.

Ian Wong:

And I think the connection that you both have, the longstanding discussions that you've had over the years, you can see there's a central notion about the way you see things. Can you take us to New York in the millennium? There was an interesting exchange, an interesting time, where we had ... That whole time. Maybe share that time.

Denise Whitehouse:

My family, we took the children. They weren't children. They were young adults. We all went to New York for the ... Well we wanted to go to New York. So we went for four weeks and the millennium was at that time. And Visnja had just moved to New York on the basis of she had won the Victorian Design Award, and that had given her enough money to head to New York, where she was out to work with Fabien Baron, to set up her career. And the money, from my memory, and Visnja, do correct me. My memory was that money enabled her to be able to get a flat, an apartment, because you had to pay people to get the apartment for you.

So we met, and I remember that Visnja and I would go off, and we tracked down a famous cafe on the west side of New York, where the graphics had been done by Tibor Kelman. And what was radical about those graphics was that he took this ... And it was that the era of the vernacular in typography and design. And so he took the ... They were the type of stuff you bought in the news agents, and it was a padded form, and you stuck the plastic letters into it. And that's how he would make the menu, put the menu sign, made the graphic. So it was very radical. And the two of us had to go off there and have a coffee and find the business cards for it. But we also went to see the Issey Miyake exhibition, which was just gobsmacking. So we were looking, sharing those things, and Visnja was in the process of setting off on this career in New York. And yet that was big, because New York is a tough place. V, over to you.

Visnja Brdar:

Well yes, I had the few years with Fabien Baron, and then after that obviously I set up my own studio here. But since you're talking about Issey Miyake, I wanted to share with you, I guess, a book that I did for Issey. Or rather they called it a magazine at the time. But yes, you're probably just seeing a white piece of paper. It is not. Let me first show you the one ... This was edition two. Let me show you edition one that was done by Neville Brody, the man that Denise just mentioned who was doing the Face Magazine. So I guess you couldn't imagine two more opposite approaches to this magazine, where I guess Neville was going extremely colourful, maximalist, over the top. And my approach was ... And perhaps you can see the Issey Miyake in the bottom. Barely printed, and it says, "Issey Miyake Tribeca," which is where the new store was. And I guess it also says 2003.

So what is this? Why does it look like a white piece of paper, or you could argue a white conceptual piece of art like a white canvas that the conceptual artists were doing in the '60s and '70s. So when you open it, my goal was to print on the thinnest paper I could find, number one. So A, make it very fragile. I like the idea of fragility in design. I like that things are difficult to print. So for example, this is a book that's actually constructed in a way that Issey Miyake's dresses are constructed. And I think that is marvelous with this project. So if you can see, his dresses are pleats, so everything here is ... I'll pull this apart for you just to kind of entertain you for a moment, but you'll see that ...

Denise Whitehouse:

Oh Visnja, that's wonderful.

Visnja Brdar:

It's an ongoing-

Ian Wong:

Extraordinary, that's what it's.

Denise Whitehouse:

It really is.

Visnja Brdar:

It's an ongoing pleat of ... But the book is still there at the base. It's attached.

Denise Whitehouse:

Oh that is fantastic.

Visnja Brdar:

It holds perfectly. And I must say, I drove many people insane during the process, which again is another delightful thing.

Ian Wong:

I'm sure you've never, ever done that before in your life.

Denise Whitehouse:

No, never.

Ian Wong:

Never, never.

Visnja Brdar:

Well, I think again ... Yes?

Denise Whitehouse:

No, I was going to say to you, I think the thing that's striking there is Brody was about breaking boundaries, but there's a real difference in that I think as he was breaking boundaries about print, whereas you're thinking really carefully about your client, and how to communicate what your client's values are, and also their sense of form. What it is that they do. You really capture Issey Miyake's method, which is ... Yeah.

Visnja Brdar:

Well it's a strange duality that I'm working with all the time. This idea that I want to create an object that I love, that is expressive of me as an artist, but at the same time, you must fulfill the project at hand. I hate to use the word service, because I actually never feel that I'm at the service of anybody. I always feel like there is this ability to take that brief and turn it into an artistic object. I think that's always been my point. And to bring sculpture to it, to bring architecture to it, to deal with the touch, to deal with all those visceral things that make it a delight and a surprise. And even if it can be strange that's a good thing, because strangeness makes people look, and you want people to look. Otherwise it's just all bland and everything ...

Denise Whitehouse:

Do you ever want to shock?

Visnja Brdar:

Oh, I love that. But look, I'm shocking with the most calm thing you can ... It's so calm and quiet. That's the wonder here. It's so many dualities going on. We're shocking with the white page, and with simplicity.

Denise Whitehouse:

The size of that print looks incredible.

Visnja Brdar:

And the way that it's on the edge, I love the edge. Being on the edge is a marvelous place to be. So we put type on the edge a lot.

Ian Wong:

We'll probably start to run out time, and it's been joyous, but perhaps the new food book, just to share that bright red product with us. And maybe you might want to comment about it Denise. I know you were very positive about it.

Denise Whitehouse:

Yeah.

Visnja Brdar:

So here, this was a cookbook designed for Jill Dupleix, who is our incredibly talented Australian chef, food critic, writer extraordinaire. And so I have to say that at the time though, cookbooks looked nothing like this. Cookbooks were just a very, I would say, boring category. And I thought, with someone like Jill, she ... Well first of all, I wanted it to stand out on the bookshelves. She wore red lipstick all the time. And it was a moment where I hated the excess of things, the visual excess. And so I went for a very pure, shocking, simple cookbook cover, which was extremely unusual at the time. And then inside, basically again, you'll see that same treatment of type where we're at the edge. We're starting at the top and we're at the edge, but there is only one font size used from the beginning to the end here. So there's this type of extremely reductive approach, which for me was ... I was fascinated by that. I was so interested in how much could you do with very little? So Ian, that's going to be on display.

Ian Wong:

Absolutely. And like I said, that's the thing that gave you the opportunity, is the money that you won by your peers recognising ... Because that's another thing about the awards. The awards structure is from your peers, and they, for a very young person, gave you this wonderful accolade. And it's joyous to sit here and to look at what has been the outcome of that peer review and that opportunity that you were presented with.

Denise Whitehouse:

Yeah Ian, I'm not sure what time we have, but we haven't talked about Visnja's work at the moment. That broach that she's wearing, if we could see really close up, is sparkling diamonds. And the ring is sparkling diamonds, and these are part of Visnja's jewelry collection, which are just exquisitely made. But then there's this incredible body of work that she has got that she has built up. Can you tell us about the clients that you had after Baron, the work that you have been doing now?

Visnja Brdar:

Well look, after Baron there was some highlights where I did the photo shoot with Dick Avedon, Richard Avedon before he passed away, where we worked for Bill Blass, and we probably don't have time to look at some of those images, but maybe I can grab one. And this was a four page ... Well, we selected characters from New York City, and they were all very interesting. We had two men, two women. But I think what was interesting here was the copywriting where it said, "It isn't expected, it's Bill Blass." Because Bill Blass at the time, I guess it was '70s, '80s, was really also groundbreaking. And we said, "It isn't obvious. It's Bill Blass. It isn't for everybody. It's Bill Blass. And it isn't a trend." But to work with Dick Avedon, of course, what can I say?

Let me show you perhaps the jewelry packaging that ... I create my fine jewelry. And I always thought it was ridiculous that you would go to these large, corporate jewelers, the big ones, and you would buy a jewel and it would come in a cardboard box, even though you may have spent a million, $2 million, you would get a card ... So this is a carved piece of see-through material where the jewels come in their pouches, if you can see. But basically you can see them. You can view them. They're in a piece of sculpture. It's almost like an ice cube. But again, you'll see there's a square pouch. And then you'll also see that there's a square within the square. So the square keeps coming back to me.

Perhaps I can talk a little bit about how my graphic design and creative direction inform the jewelry. So for example, let's say ... There was no jewelry I wanted to wear. I never even wore jewelry. I was doing a project with Van Cleef & Arpels, and I started to realise that most of that type of jewelry I would never wear. So I started to think, "What would I wear?" So the project just started like that. And I went freely with the idea, and designed things that moved me. So when I say things, I'll take that back. I'll say I was interested in themes that moved me.

So number one, the idea of freedom. Which has been with me since I was born, I guess. And that's why I have ... This is the freedom piece, and it's an abstracted pair of wings. When I wear these pieces, I'm reminded of that as a virtue, as a feeling. If I go into a meeting and I put that on, it really takes me to another place. So they're very emotional pieces. They're a place for me to be sculptural, and purely artistic. And also the strange thing is that I'm doing the product design essentially with this, but these are very flat. I never do three dimensional jewelry. They're two dimensional. So with the two dimensional work, I try to be three dimensional. But with this, I stick to pure line.

Denise Whitehouse:

V, when I see your contemporary work, I'm always blown away. It's just so amazing. So that's why I'm going to say, can we see ... Have you got something else ... Your work for New York developers. Your contemporary clients have been at the very top of New York developers, one dealing with a development by Norman Foster, the leading British architect, world famous. So can we-

Visnja Brdar:

Yes Denise, thank you. So with the recent project like the Norman Foster project, which was a building right opposite the United Nations. It was a residential building with 50 residences, and Norman Foster designed it, in fact. And we basically worked on this project for about four or five years. It's a very long time.

And so in terms of scope, I'll tell you that started with ... Well, in fact, we did take over from a very large New York creative agency, and the client was not happy. And we took over and immediately started creating a video for them that was given to potential consumers, customers who would live in that building. But the amount of work that was done there, I can't even show you. I'll show you one aspect of that. But we did all communications. We did multiple advertising campaigns. We did printed brochures. We did special events for them. It's just a vast amount of work. But what we know is that the work that we did helped sell. And we're in the business of selling. In some projects more than others.

In this case, how can I say? It's a high risk work. You want to make sure that you're hitting the solution and that you're helping this client sell when we are dealing with a billion dollars worth of property. That is what our graphics had to sell. So it's a pretty significant undertaking to make sure that you communicate, A, artfully, always the way that I'm proud of my work, that it's artful. But B, that it meets their demand as a developer.

So can I launch into this? This was a book that we did. There's probably a little bit of reflection. But this was the book that I did just for their penthouses. Because the penthouses on their own, I think there were seven or eight of them that they wanted us to focus on. Which was really about $250 million worth of real estate, just in the penthouses. So this was a book targeted at ... Well, they wanted a brochure. Of course, I'm not going to give them a brochure. And this is actually, I would say a very ... It's almost related to the Tribeca project, because it does open up as well. However, you see there's a spine to it, but let's open a page and see what happens.

Well first of all, what you see ... Well, let me take this. This acts as a spine. It's a piece of plastic, and it keeps it together. So you can open up this book anywhere and there you are, you see a picture of the Manhattan skyline and the building. And what happens though, is when you take away this plastic spine, because this acts as the spine, then this book actually opens up, and unlike the Miyake one, now it doesn't have a spine. So if you open this up, maybe it's 15 meters long. So it's a book that then starts to open up this way, and it doesn't have a spine to fall back on now. So what we wanted was the sales people to put this on an enormously large table and seduce the people who were potential buyers with the beautiful photography that we were part of. The people had a feeling, an immersion into the building, the glam. Listen, this is a lot of New York glamor here. And a lot of money involved.

But I want to take you to the end where we are getting through this, and all of a sudden there's the client who says, "Oh, can I look at the floor plan?" And basically, yes you can. The floor plan is embedded into the book. Unlike most floor plans where they're floating and they're a separate item, this one is intact. And then you get to the duplex penthouse, which basically it's a double. I can't even open this for you. But basically there are two floor plans in here with two floors that would open up. I could try to do that, but I'm not sure I'll have much success. There's one here. There's one here.

Ian Wong:

Fantastic.

Denise Whitehouse:

Oh Visnja, I'm so pleased to see that. I have wanted to see it for years. So it's wonderful. That is amazing.

Visnja Brdar:

Again, it's not a random selected graphic. That is the floor plate of the building itself, which I thought was so beautiful and pure with these bay view windows. Yeah.

Ian Wong:

Extraordinary, extraordinary.

Visnja Brdar:

The vendor hated us. They had to create these special wooden jigs so that the people who were ... There are probably 20 individual sheets of paper there that have to be perfectly glued together on the underside, and if you mess it up it's not going to be straight. So a lot of risk.

Ian Wong:

Look, I think we really will have to close because of time. I just really want to express, I think what ... We started with the COVID thing, and we started with the challenges that presented. But I hope the audience, like me, has had this wonderful insight into two people who supported each other through that. And the exchange that we've had together today gives us that window into how you would've conversed, and how you would've written to each other from Milan to Australia, and back and forth. And that deep sense of creative camaraderie and being that you both share from the time that you first met so many years ago, up until the present day.

It's been an absolute honour to hear you go through some of those wonderful exchanges, to see the extraordinary work, and to hear about some of the colourful history that is our collective history of design. So it's been an absolute honour and a privilege. So thank you both.

And I think if I can, I would just like to close by acknowledging MUMA and Monash University Department of Design for providing us this forum and this opportunity. And what's exciting is that Visnja's coming to Melbourne for Design Week, and we'll have that opportunity. Visnja is not only attending the exhibition where her work will be on display, but she's also doing a talk for the Robin Boyd Foundation, and she's also doing a talk at the new Shepparton Art Museum, in Shepparton, the Denton Corker Marshall building. So there'll be ample opportunities for people to catch up with Visnja, and we do hope that we are bumping into each other at events in part of the extraordinary Melbourne Design Week 2022. So I thank you all, and bid you farewell.