It has been a roller-coaster for anyone attempting to present new work since the beginning of March 2020. Avant-garde designer Trent Jansen and Nyikina man,Johnny Nargoodah’s second collaborative outing entitled Partu was launched during Melbourne Design Week in March then was scheduled to be exhibited in Sydney at Gallery Sally Dan-Cuthbert. Covid-19 looked like putting a stop to this second show but luckily the easing of restriction in Australia in recent weeks has allowed galleries to reopen and for the second iteration of the Partu exhibition to go ahead.
Partu was developed in Jansen’s studio in Thirroul on the New South Wales south coast with Jansen and Nargoodah coming together three times over a period of eighteen months. Having swapped design ideas over this period these ‘making sessions’ were about collaborative creation of the final forms and finessing the details they had discussed remotely. Nargoodah’s experience in working as a saddler on cattle stations around the Kimberley and Jansen’s past experimentation with animal hides and pelts on projects for Broached Commissions allowed the process to be intuitive.
Jansen and Nargoodah have been collaborating since 2016 when they met while Jansen was researching for a project in the Fitzroy Crossing area east of Broome in the north of Western Australia. Their first collaboration was on a group project in 2017 for the Fremantle Arts Centre called In Cahoots. Their workinvolved Mangkaja artist, Rita Minga and was an interpretation of a local mythical creature called Jangarra in the form of an abstract armchair. This piece, completed in November 2017, is now part of the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. The same year Jansen and Nargoodah developed the Collision Collection, where they experimented with old car panels found in the scrub around Fitzroy Crossing and how these discarded parts could lead to dynamic sculptural outcomes. The application of leather to these pieces was the start of Jansen and Nargoodah’s shared obsession with skins or in Walmajarri language, ‘Partu’. This later ecame the overarching name for their new collection.
At the centre of the new collection is a series of seating forms that maintain an organic quality despite being constructed from a geometric grid. The undulating surfaces of the leather recalls the sand hills of the Australian desert with a complex array of shadows and highlights. There is a real sense of energy to both the surface and the shapes of the pieces. It is as if they are about to move or suddenly pounce.
‘Ngumu Jangka Warnti’ is the Walmajarri phrase for ‘whole lot from rubbish’ and it summarises the informal collaborative approach that is a feature of the Partu collection. Using recycled aluminium mesh found at a local scrap yard, Jansen and Nargoodah cut and bent the material into rough chair shapes that were sandwiched between two hides of New Zealand saddle leather. The flexibility of this approach lead to an entire collection of Ngumu Jangka Warntiseating objects including a Highback Chair, a Low Chair and bench.
The image above shows Nargoodah using simple tools like Vice-Grips to render the basic shape. More extreme methods were also used including beating with concrete blocks and tree stumps. In this way the objects from the Ngumu Jangka Warnti part of the Partu collection are not prototyped but created at a 1:1 scale with each piece essentially unique, albeit based around a common idea, material and construction method.