Designs of Life

Lighting Shadows melds modernist art and material function

UT graduate students Hilary Williams and Jacob Stanley aren't leaving much up to chance. In an ambitious and highly collaborative exhibition aptly titled Lighting Shadows: Designed Objects in Space, the two artists have transformed the 1010 Gallery on Gay Street into a modernist haven in which the worlds of art and design converge delectably.

When I met the two at the gallery, they had just painted the floor and were installing rafters along the ceiling. This all-encompassing approach to the design of the space isn't just for show, but rather serves as a means to further their concept. The idea is to use the space as a showcase for their designs. Williams, who is finishing up her last year in UT's graduate graphic design program, has created her own line of handbags, using the brand name atitu. Stanley, a second-year sculpture grad student, designed his own series of lighting for the show, as well as an intricate glass shelving system that will be suspended from the ceiling.

Stanley says the real impetus for the show can be traced to a trip the two took to Copenhagen last spring.

"We were really inspired by the high quality of design and design life. You could go to a design museum and then walk a block or two and buy the same thing in a store," says Stanley. Whether it was a piece of furniture or some lighting, the difference between life and art was so miniscule. We definitely tried to bring that back."

"It seemed like all of the functional objects in the store were beautifully designed, both in terms of their utility and their aesthetic," Williams continues.

It was an approach that sparked something in them both. For her handbags, Williams says she was most interested in designing something that was multifaceted—functional and easy to carry, yet also handmade and distinctive. Williams has been using shadows in her work for sometime, and for the handbags she screen-prints an organic shadow design onto the bags, which are made from Naugahyde. She does all of the work herself, including the cutting and sewing, as well as the marketing and branding.

Williams has been selling her handbags for the last few months at the Market Square Farmer's Market and has been surprised at the response.

"I think in my design work I'm interested in the intersection of things and how unexpected things can come together," says Williams. "So for these, I wanted a bag that was durable enough to be sold in a gear shop, but interesting and aesthetic enough to be sold in a boutique. It seems like a disjointed intersection but I've been trying to pull it together."

This show marks a new direction for Stanley, the first time he has tried designing lighting. Best known for his series of balance sculptures (for this year's student art competition he stacked wooden chairs 10 feet high without the use of any adhesives) he says he hopes that everyone can take away something from his work, whether it's on a conceptual or theoretical level, or just an admiration of the forms he creates.

For his lighting designs, Stanley carries over the show's theme of shadows and light, but on an industrial level.

"I like playing with and deconstructing electricity in terms of how it works and the beauty of copper wire, so the fixtures I've designed are pretty pared down. Everything is there for a reason. I'm not hiding the parts but highlighting them, actually."

The collaboration manifests itself in many ways for the show. Stanley says he used a weaving technique that Williams showed him for twisting cables and she etched her shadow design onto the glass shelving he created. They constantly use each other for a sounding board and toss ideas back and forth.

Both of the artists will be selling the items they have created for the show, and the gallery will look more like a storefront for the event. Artists and designers around the world collaborate regularly on projects similar to Lighting Shadows, albeit in more permanent settings. I am intrigued to see an exhibit on this scale here in downtown Knoxville, even if it is just for a few days.