Is it possible to champion sustainability with style and substance, within balanced furniture formations?
Tasmanian-born designer Brodie Neill presents ‘Resonance,’ his retrospective exhibition charting two decades of his career-defining milestones, at the Design Tasmania Galleries in Australia. From November 24, 2022 – March 26, 2023, the design exhibition puts in focus one of Tasmania’s most innovative and inspiring designers, who is known to experiment with materiality, fashioning furniture and recycled products from terrazzo made from ocean plastic, sand-cast recycled aluminium, charred, and salvaged boards, as well as coiled Hydrowood veneers, reimagining raw or discarded sources into mesmerising and sophisticated objects ‘that echo the beauty of his island home’ in Australia.
Beginning with Neill’s 2002 graduate project and his most recent product designs that have represented Australia on the global design stage, ‘Resonance’ presents 12 works that contemplate resourceful material usage and creative technical explorations. “Known for his layered concepts, material mastery, and fearless ability to blend organic form with digital processes, these works speak to the creative ingenuity that has led Neill to become one of Australia's most influential designers. Design Tasmania is honoured to welcome internationally acclaimed Neill from London for his first homecoming exhibition, in reflection and celebration of our commitment to further design in Tasmania,” shares Design Tasmania Galleries, located on the corner of Brisbane & Tamar Streets, Launceston, Tasmania.
The London-based furniture designer has been perpetually fascinated and inspired by the twinned beauty of nature and mathematics. “I'm interested equally in the mathematics of life as I am in the poetry of it,” says Neill. His childhood in Tasmania and its diverse ecology furthered his interest in organic phenomena, resulting in a continued commitment to respecting raw forms and materials, which coloured every aspect of his ensuing design practice, which garnered almost instantaneous acclaim, with his debut collection of furniture designs. Even ranked on TIME Magazine’s Design 100, among the ‘100 most influential designs.’
An alumnus of the University of Tasmania and Rhode Island School of Design, Neill merged this appreciation of naturalism with advanced technical rigour, digital innovation, and poised mathematical precision across sculpture, furniture, and art commissions. He has also collaborated with an impressive roster of clients, including international brands such as Microsoft, Mercedes-Benz, Alexander McQueen and Swarovski, while his limited-edition works are included in museums, galleries, and private collections, across the globe. In 2013, Brodie created his own furniture brand ‘Made in Ratio,’ that focuses on batch production and open editions for commercial and residential projects.
“Balance, proportion, simplicity and a curvaceous sculptural profile continue to characterise Brodie’s comprehensive furniture portfolio and colour all aspects of his brand’s design vernacular—from the microcosm of its logo through to the macrocosm of its design intent,” shares the not-for-profit design centre.
“When curating ‘Resonance,’ it was important to select an array of furniture forms, functions, and materials that collectively presented an overview of my complete design overture. I am a firm believer in the connection and influence of one’s actions, and see my designs as a sequential evolution that builds upon the knowledge gained. ‘Resonance’ is evidence of this progression through experimental craft spanning two decades and a diverse body of designs. I have always been mesmerised by nature’s perfection, from seashells to a bird’s wing, with its vast vocabulary of refined forms and efficient shapes that have evolved over millennia. Nature is an endless encyclopaedia of inspiration. Many of the furniture forms in ‘Resonance’ resemble shapes found in nature and in some cases go as far as crediting them in their titles, such as the ‘Nautilus’ bowl, ‘Wishbone’ bench and ‘Cowrie’ chair,” shares Neill.
‘Resonance’ features significant works held in Tasmanian collections, including the celebrated ‘ReCoil’ (2021), a limited-edition elliptical centrepiece table made from meticulously coiled, reclaimed Tasmanian timber veneer offcuts from six native Tasmanian tree species, celebrating the spectrum of rich timber tones indigenous to the island. The veneers are coiled by hand in outward spirals, referencing the growth rings of trees, while the employed spectrum of wood tones varies from honey to burnt umber.
“ReCoil intends to re-contextualise our relationship with materials and our role in the natural world. I coiled three kilometres of reclaimed Tasmanian Hydrowood veneer by hand in homage to the annual growth ring formations of Tasmania’s old-growth trees, an intensive process that suggests layering and recurrence,” shares Neill. “The table design was created in partnership with Hydrowood Tasmania and is the first successful outcome of a series of projects with Design Tasmania that explore opportunities and partnerships between design, manufacturing, and Tasmanian-based materials,” shares the gallery.
A contemporary rendition of a 19th-century specimen tabletop, the limited edition ‘Gyro’ (2016) substitutes marble, timber, and ivory with ‘ocean terrazzo,’ an innovative material produced from fragments of ocean plastic waste. “The composite is inlaid in a kaleidoscopic diagram in varying hues of blue and green. Conceived on Tasmania’s Bruny Island, the plastic fragments of the terrazzo, with hand-sorted colours were collected from every major ocean of the world, creating a global atlas of ocean plastic encased within a round table form that literally brought the environmental issue to the round table of an international design forum, representing Australia at the London Design Biennale 2016 at the Somerset House,” says Design Tasmania.
“I was struck by the amount of plastic that had been washed up on the beach. I was picking up Coca Cola bottle lids, Mcdonald's straws, and an old toothbrush, and I thought, here’s a material that’s designed to be indestructible, but used for milliseconds and thoughtlessly discarded. It finds its way into the environment easily - finds its way into the waterway, the Derwent River and eventually could find its way into the Pacific, and then stay right there in the middle with all the other plastics. Here’s a fossil-fuel material that’s taken millennia to form and has just been discarded. Surely you could re-challenge those ideas into something. It was a call to action,” Neill informs.
“The design of ‘Gyro’ itself—a mosaic with 36 lines around, 36 tiles across it, and lines of longitude and latitude of the world —is literally a map of global ocean plastic. Stinky bags of plastic arrived in the studio, where we worked with material specialists and tapped into my own knowledge of working with plastics and composites. With lots of trial and error, we were able to make this beautiful ocean terrazzo material. Everyone was drawn in by this galactic, beautiful, mesmerising thing, coming to realise as they got closer that it had this more sinister underbelly. The ‘Gyro’ on loan for ‘Resonance’ is the original piece of plastic from around the world,” he continues.
Other innovations on display include the ‘Cowrie’ (2013), a production by Made in Ratio, which is a chair design inspired by the concave lines of seashells—its curvilinear forms draw from an extensive research and innovation process to bridge the handmade with the digital. “Sweeping lines are displayed in a gentle, single-surface monocoque fold. The all-in-one structure is formed in bent plywood with an ebonised ash veneer,” says Neill. The ‘Supernova’ (2013) is a dynamic, self-levelling table frame, cast entirely from recycled aluminium with a toughened glass top. The star-shaped structure can be positioned freely to create a dynamic sculptural shape, which makes it simple and versatile to orient. “The three-way symmetry is fascinating to me and one of the key quests in my work. Whichever way it lands, it creates a table base, high and low. It has a tennis ball-like joint—it is poetic but highly utilitarian, the whole thing can be created with one tool—flipped and repeated—it is the ultimate in thinking economically,” he explains.
The ‘@Chair’ (2008) in mirror-polished stainless steel reflects the product designer’s early explorations into form and function as a seamless Mobius-strip-like entity. According to the Australian designer, “the idea was to encompass the entire configuration of a chair within a single gesture.”
‘Alpha’ (2015) is a solid wood, all-purpose stackable chair produced using the latest production technologies for shaped timber furniture. “The name ‘Alpha’ came from the strong architectural gesture that gives the chair its inherent strength: the A-shaped structure of the back legs and backrest that are organically and sensually moulded into one. As an innovator, you’re always pushing the boundaries—there is often no recipe or precedent, and things must be created from the ground up,” he adds.
Featured in Times Magazines Design 100, the ‘E-Turn’ (2006) seat is a result of exploring the possibilities of a singular line in 3D space. The furniture design is a continuously morphing ribbon that twists and turns from seat to structure before overlapping and returning again in the configuration of a bench. “The endless E-Turn refers to eternity; the idea was to transcend width and dimension as it wraps into its Mobius-like form,” says the designer. ‘Nautilus’ (1999), is one of Neill’s earlier designs, and hinges from a central stainless steel spine, while an array of incrementally laminated hulls pivot in an almost peacock-like display, creating a 210-degree vessel. “By mimicking the evolutionary design of nature, ‘Nautilus’ takes on the multifaceted spiral shape of its namesake, the nautilus seashell,” he explains.
Produced by Riva 1920, the ‘Curve’ bench (2012) is cut from a single block of cedar wood and features a sinuous, ‘wave-like’ form under the seat itself, highlighting the colour and grain of natural cedar wood. “Digitally conceived, the bench has a timeless simplicity that has stood the test of time. Launched at Salone del Mobile.Milano in 2012, this year is Curve’s 10-year anniversary. The inspiration was to start with a blank canvas, a sculptor’s block. Leaving the top and the sides completely utilitarian, and to relieve this single gesture, with almost the fluidity of a brushstroke from the underside of the bench,” shares Neill.
“I looked at all the surplus material in the industry, and thought, how could this material become the building block for something new?” This inquiry by Neill formed the genesis for the now iconic collectible design ‘Remix’ (2008), a multicoloured, organically shaped, low chaise lounge carved from reclaimed and sourced materials, including a blend of plastics and woods. The organic and sculptural design of the ‘Wishbone’ bench, with its long, undulating three-way symmetry, references sacred geometry and mathematics. Made from fibreglass with a durable and opaquely reflective surface, the seat is designed for solo use, or in clusters. Neill shares, “The aim was to combine practicality, materiality and a refined, aerodynamic form. It’s like whale vertebrae sitting on the beach, bleached by the sun. I don’t make things that have a pre-paved path, so everything is a technical feat, without precedence or recipe, it really is just trial and error.”
‘Resonance’ truly captures the ethos of Neill’s oeuvre and shines in his homeland, capturing his mastery of materials, form, and the process of creating enriching sustainable designs, realised from transforming not only virgin materials but salvaging and exalting abandoned ones such as ocean plastic waste and reclaimed wood. Neill’s works are sculptural, expressive, refined, and engineered, and at their heart, pioneer contemporary design as a powerful medium for pertinent global issues—becoming a voice for design, as a force for positive change.
Neill shares what he is gearing up for in 2023—“Once ‘Resonance’ comes to a close at the end of this month, I will turn my attention to Milan Design Week 2023, where my Made in Ratio collection celebrates its 10-year anniversary. We will present a capsule collection of ten, consisting of chairs, benches, and stools, including new designs, and never seen prototypes as well. I will then return to London, where I’ll be hosting ‘Turning Tables’ during an open studio for the London Craft Week, where visitors will be able to witness the behind-the-scenes processes of the material transformations that take place in the creation of such pieces including the ‘Gyro’ table, ‘ReCoil’ table, and a new series made from reclaimed timbers. I shall then travel back to Australia with a quintessentially Tasmanian exhibition of entirely new works for Melbourne Design Week, with a new collection titled ‘Windfall’, comprising sculptural benches made from trees blown down by exceptionally strong winds across Tasmania last year. The forms and textures of these benches are inspired by the gusts and gales that have shaped the rugged land that the trees flanked for almost 150 years.”