Liane Rossler spoke with Siobhan Toohill with a live audience, at the launch of Out the Front in October 2013.
Liane Rossler was an obvious choice for the live launch of Out the Front, because of the generosity, thoughtfulness and positivity that imbue all of her projects. Liane co-founded Dinosaur Designs, now a Sydney institution, as an art student in 1985, and has worked as an artist, designer and curator on a huge range of projects that bring together sustainability, community and design. Liane is a keen collaborator, and has worked with organisations and communities as varied as Art and About, GreenUps, Sydney Living Museums and a number of Indigenous weavers and craftspeople. We're delighted to have Liane as our special guest at Out the Front, and especially excited to share her ideas and energies with our live audience.
SIOBHAN: Liane, thank you so much for joining us tonight for a very special recording of Out the Front, at our launch and with this incredible live audience. Liane, I think I first became aware of you when I was an architectural student, and I discovered the world of Dinosaur Designs in Paddington. I remember the lush, luminous colours, and reading the three names, one of which was yours, on the sticker artfully placed on the carefully-wrapped treasures that reflected the extent of my student savings. Since then you've become synonymous for Sydney and design. What lead you to go to art school, and where did you expect that your career might go?
LIANE: I think for as long as I can remember, even as a child, I always used to make things, and creativity was very much nurtured and encouraged in our house. My father was an architect and my mother always encouraged creative pursuits, we used to go to art galleries, and I think I always knew that I would spend my life doing something creative. When I was in high school, I heard about Sydney Art Institute, which is now City Art Institute, and as soon as I heard that such a thing existed, I set my mind on going to art school I knew that that would be where my future would take me.
SIOBHAN: Since leaving Dinosaur Designs, you've continued to work in collaboration with other artists and designers. You've nominated Charles and Ray Eames as heroes, and you're married to celebrated Sydney architect Sam Marshall. So being creative is not always a solo experience for you, the creative partnership is also very important. Can you tell us a but more about that creative partnership?
LIANE: I think what I really love about Ray and Charles Eames is the way they lived their life, how creativity was central to everything that they did. And when I think about how I really identify my life, and living with Sam, it's really, really great that we can live together and have such common interests, and we can go to an art gallery and both like the same painting, or drive down the street and like the same house. And we both, I think, inspire and nurture each other, so for us, how we live our life is really important.
SIOBHAN: You've worked as part of creative partnerships as well, there's something sort of... what is it that you enjoy about that piece of working with groups of people?
LIANE: I think when you work with people, I really like to see how other people think, and what their ideas are. I love that thing about how one and one can make three, and how you can come together, but together you can create something bigger. So I think, over the years, I've worked with many different groups of people, and I love the way, unexpectedly, things might come together. Even after a decade, how things can lead into each other. I think it's really important, both that you work with people and that there’s a variety of people you work with.
"I really like to see how other people think, and what their ideas are. I love that thing about how one and one can make three, and how you can come together, but together you can create something bigger."
SIOBHAN: Where do you find your inspiration when you're working on a project, or you're designing something new?
LIANE: I find inspiration everywhere. Everyday there's a thousand things you want to do and a thousand things you want to create and make. Nature is definitely a constant inspiration for me, but also, when I see something that has possibility, like if something is terrible, that really inspires me as well! Because you think about how you can do it better. And when I see great people doing great things, that's a constant inspiration as well, because you see how people have solutions, and that can inspire you to have solutions in other things.
SIOBHAN: For a long time, you've been a designer, but more recently, you've become a curator too. Why have you made this shift, or this evolution, and how are you finding this new role?
LIANE: It's been a wonderful opportunity. Lisa Havilah at Carriageworks invited me to create a project, called Here and Now, at Carriageworks, and it's been a series of three different projects, and it's very much about being artist-driven and experimental, and working with different commissions for the artists, about how they respond to different briefs. So for me, it's been a continuation of what I've been doing, but a really wonderful opportunity to be able to engage with different people, and give them challenges to work in different ways, for a different project. So I guess, when you're a creative person, you're constantly creating, whether it's what you buy or how you put things together or how you see things, so I guess this is a formal way of becoming a curator, but very much part of creative process.
SIOBHAN: So in a way, it's taking it to the next level, and in a way you've been creating as a designer, now you're curating with people, and exploring that. Liane, intrinsic to your recent work is connecting design with sustainability. What is the message that you're looking to convey, and how do you think design can achieve this?
LIANE: To me, they are completely connected. Particularly over the last decade, when you look at the news, you see what's happening in the world... I can't keep my work and my life separate to the place that we live in, and I think if you keep on doing things the same way…well, that's really what got us into this situation. So it makes sense for sustainability to be linked into what you do, whatever it is that you do. And if you're a designer, that’s about how you can design more sustainably, and how whatever you do can be done more sustainably, so it's completely integral to everything.
I can't put my work and my life separate to the place that we live in, and I think if you keep on doing things the same way, that's really what got us into this situation. So it makes sense for sustainability to be linked into what you do, whatever it is that you do.
SIOBHAN: You've been particularly interested in this idea around recyclability, and Supercyclers, for example.
LIANE: Yes, Supercyclers is a project that I've been doing with another colleague, Sarah King, for a couple of years, and it's about creating things. I mean, what we did was create different things from waste, from plastic bags, but now we've also become a greater collective that's international and that shows people how to use things and do things in different ways. But to me, what's very important is not only the object, but how that object was made, and what went into it and who made it, and what will happen to it when you're finished with it. It’s that whole cradle-to-grave philosophy about design and what you buy.
SIOBHAN: I think this taps into a bigger idea, around the role of design, and do we place enough value on design?
LIANE: Yeah, it's interesting. I think design is still underrated, particularly in Australia. And when you think of what it contributes to the economy and to employment, as well as to quality of life, and so many different things, I think design has a lot of potential to be valued a lot more. Both around who designs something and how they made it, and there's really important story-telling about the work as well.
SIOBHAN: And you use the word 'thoughtfulness' in design too?
LIANE: Yeah, I think if you look out there, practically everything has been made. It's like, do we need another t-shirt, there's already 1 million t-shirts, buy one get one free, they can't give it away, it's not like we need another t-shirt. But can you design a better t-shirt, or can you design something that needs to be made, or can you take something that has been made and make it better? So the potential in design is just enormous, around how you can just keep improving and doing things in another way.
SIOBHAN: Given the success you've enjoyed, I'm sure you could chose to live in many cities around the world, why have you decided to make Sydney your home? What is it that is special about this place for you?
LIANE: I feel really lucky to have been born in Sydney, and I just constantly fall in love with it again and again. Whether you go, you know, to a little secret beach or to a park, or whether you go to a suburb that has a really rich cultural diversity... there's just so many ways to fall in love with Sydney. You can get frustrated in the traffic or whatever, but you just completely fall in love with it all the time. So I feel really grateful that I was born in Sydney.I feel really lucky to have been born in Sydney, and I just constantly fall in love with it again and again. Whether you go to a little secret beach or to a park, or whether you go to a suburb that has a really rich cultural diversity, or... there's just so many ways to fall in love with Sydney.
I feel really lucky to have been born in Sydney, and I just constantly fall in love with it again and again. Whether you go to a little secret beach or to a park, or whether you go to a suburb that has a really rich cultural diversity, or... there's just so many ways to fall in love with Sydney.
SIOBHAN: Something that really stands out about you, Liane, is your resolute optimism, and your capacity to see good in people and the things around you. In recent projects, you've used words like 'happy' and 'totes' and 'lucky', which really capture this spirit, too. What is it in your life that's shaped this really optimistic outlook that you have?
LIANE: I don't know if you're born a certain way, or whether your circumstances make you the way that you are, but personally, my parents were affected by the war. Then they came here, and everything had been taken away from them, and I saw how they built a life from nothing, and established a great life here. So I just think that possibility of making something from nothing is really inspiring. I just feel grateful all of the time, we're so lucky, and just to appreciate that, I think, keeps me optimistic and happy.
SIOBHAN: Liane, thank you so much for sharing your story tonight, it's such a delight to get to know you a little more, and for you to share your warmth with other. I really think you are someone who is truly making Sydney a better place. Thank you.
LIANE: Thank you.
Interview: Siobhan Toohill
Photography: Dean Sewell / Oculi
Producer: Adrian Wiggins
Art direction: Sara Jinga
Transcript: Fiona Wright
This interview has been proudly sponsored by Pure and Applied.
Published by: Adrian Wiggins in Interviews