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Melbourne Design Week 2024 | In Conversation with Adam Goodrum and Arthur Seigneur

Meet Adam Goodrum, the visionary force behind one half of A&A—a dynamic collaboration with French marquetry artisan Arthur Seigneur. With an unwavering commitment to crafting collectible design objects that pay homage to the venerable tradition of straw marquetry, A&A’s portfolio represents a seamless blend of heritage and contemporary ingenuity.

Their collaborative process is a delicate dance between tradition and innovation, with Adam conceiving the initial designs and Arthur infusing them with his traditional sensibility. With meticulous attention to detail, they skillfully manipulate the expressive qualities of straw, weaving kaleidoscopic colours into their pieces to evoke a profound sense of wonder and joy.

As they unveil their latest masterpiece, ‘The Kissing Cabinet’ at Tolarno Galleries for this year’s Melbourne Design Week, having recently received the prestigious Mercedes-Benz Australia fifth annual Melbourne Design Week Award, we had the privilege of catching up with Adam amidst the excitement of installation.

Join A&A this Saturday, 25th May, between 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm for ‘IN CONVERSATION WITH A&A’ Presented by Mercedes-Benz

Installation view of The Kissing Cabinet featuring designers Adam Goodrum and Arthur Seignur presented by Tolarno Galleries on display from 25 May – 1 June at Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne Design Week 2024 | Photography courtesy of A&A and Tolarno Galleries by Andrew Curtis

When and how did you and Arthur first meet?

Adam: Arthur moved to Sydney from Paris in 2015 and set up a studio not far from mine. He got in touch when he was building up his local design network, and we formed a friendship that was helped by geographical proximity and a mutual love of design.

What led to the formation of A&A?

Adam: Arthur’s drive to contemporise the age-old craft of marquetry, combined with my deep inspiration drawn from the technique, culminated in the creation of Adam&Arthur. Our debut piece, the Bloom cabinet (which was acquired by the NGV in 2018), marked the beginning of our journey and then the Exquisite Corpse/Cadavre Exquis exhibition at Tolarno Galleries 2020 for MDW. 

Collaboration between designers from different cultural backgrounds often results in unique perspectives. How do your backgrounds and experiences influence your collaborative design process?

Adam: This mindset of pushing boundaries in our individual disciplines is a design philosophy we share, and it underpins both of our practices. The synergy of our backgrounds results in contemporary pieces that give new life to the traditional technique of straw marquetry. I conceive the initial design, and then we embark on a rigorous process of refining the concept, going back and forth to resolve the form, pattern and colour. As Arthur’s design sensibility is more traditional and mine more contemporary, there’s a wonderful tension to this process. We make numerous scale models until we are happy, but as the construction phase is so time consuming, we also finesse the design as each piece is made. Straw marquetry is an ancestral art in France with origins in the 17th century. It’s sometimes a bit blank and linear and also involves very strict craftsmanship and patterns. Working in Australia provides the opportunity to step away from the traditional requirements that are linked to its form. It’s relaxed here, there are no barriers stemming from tradition so the use of colours and curved patterns can be much more expressive.

What fuels creativity in straw marquetry is the preservation of an old craft and finding new ways to express it. The lengthy handmade preparation and application process of straw marquetry rebels against the constraints of the modern age, retaining the rigour of a golden age in artisan culture and the materiality of agrarian society. Without the retention of old crafts, the world could be inundated with cheap, poorly constructed items, and many of the intricate high quality and artistic traditional designs may be lost forever. Therefore, by reinventing and pushing the boundaries of this craft, it is kept alive.

Installation view of The Kissing Cabinet presented by A&A and Tolarno Galleries on display from 25 May – 1 June at Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne Design Week 2024 | Photography courtesy of A&A and Tolarno Galleries by Andrew Curtis.

Installation view of The Kissing Cabinet presented by A&A and Tolarno Galleries on display from 25 May – 1 June at Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne Design Week 2024 | Photography courtesy of A&A and Tolarno Galleries by Andrew Curtis.

Each piece you create seems to have its own narrative. What inspired your MDW exhibition, Kissing Cabinet’, and can you share some details about the creative process behind the collection?

Adam: The Kissing Cabinet is the first of a series that epitomises A&A’s exploration of kinetic sculptural forms that intentionally blur the boundaries between art, craftsmanship, and design. The cabinet is visually captivating, standing tall with sinuous, curvy shapes and a bold colour palette rendered in the centuries-old craft of straw marquetry. The Kissing Cabinet’s true enchantment unfolds as it gracefully turns inside out, revealing hidden forms and secret compartments. On closing, the shapes converge like abstracted kissing lips. This captivating blend of soft movement and hidden function elevates the Kissing Cabinet beyond furniture, transforming it into a poetic and sensual object.

Why do you believe it’s important for people to care about collectable design, especially pieces like ‘Kissing Cabinet’ that blur the lines between art, craftsmanship, and functionality?

Adam: Collectable design can offer a platform for innovation, artistic expression, and cultural significance. Pieces often serve as experimental playgrounds for designers, pushing the boundaries of traditional design with new materials, techniques, and concepts. They reflect the cultural, social, and technological contexts of their time, blurring the line between art and functionality.

Collectable design can influence future design movements while shaping the trajectory of design history. By studying these pieces, designers gain insights into the evolution of design language and principles, fostering creativity and innovation in the field. Collectable design enriches our cultural heritage, stimulating dialogue, appreciation, and investment in the intersection of art and craftsmanship.

Installation view of The Kissing Cabinet presented by A&A and Tolarno Galleries on display from 25 May – 1 June at Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne Design Week 2024 | Photography courtesy of A&A and Tolarno Galleries by Andrew Curtis.

Your use of colour and pattern is distinctive and vibrant. How do you approach the selection of colour palettes and patterns in your designs, and do you have any favourite combinations or techniques?

Adam: Colour affects behaviour, moods and thoughts. Reactions to colour are often deeply personal and rooted in experience and memory. As Wassily Kandinsky proclaimed, “Colour provokes a psychic vibration. Colour hides a power still unknown but real, which acts on every part of the human body.” One of the key attributes we exploit in our work is the power of colour. Since we custom dye, we have an unlimited hue selection at our disposal. Initially, there is extensive colour and pattern experimentation on the computer. Once the possibilities are refined, we make scale models to finesse the surfaces, angles and relationships between the three pieces. The rye straw is imported from specialist producers in Burgundy and is hand-dyed by Arthur in a range of custom hues that are subtly reflective. For each colour we test how long the straw should stay in the dye to get its required intensity or subtlety of colour. Through experimentation, Arthur has pushed the boundaries and achieved an ivory hue, something never done in straw before.

Adam, we’ve noticed you’re also featured in a few additional exhibitions for Melbourne Design Week in collaboration with Tait and MATTERS  at Villa Alba. Could you share who or what you are most excited to see or experience during the week?

Adam: While my attention has been on our exhibition, I’m eager to explore what Melbourne Design Week has to offer. As Australia’s leading design fair, it’s always a source of great inspiration. I always enjoy looking at works from not only the established studios, but the emerging and student exhibitions too.  

Melbourne Design Week runs from 23rd May – 2nd June 2024.

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