As a kid, were you scared of monsters lurking in the cupboards? What about monsters pretending to be armchairs! Trent Jansen’s Broached Monsters is a curious collection of furniture takes the shapes and textures from the deep depths of Australian mythology, transforming designs into hulking wardrobes and unique cabinet creations.
Designer and maker Trent Jansen was always fascinated by design in some form or another. During his studies at the College of Fine Arts in Sydney he focused his on furniture and object design.
Jansen: I was introduced to the work of Droog in second year and loved the depth and social commentary of that work. The rest has been a natural evolution from there. I was an intern for Marcel Wanders after completing my degree, working in Amsterdam while it was still a small studio of 8-12 people. That was a formative experience, and one that I look back on very fondly. Marcel has become an important mentor for me. Sometime later I was a resident with Edra and Massimo Morozzi, and Massimo too became an important mentor for me until he passed away in 2014.
Encouraged by Massimo Morozzi, after his stint in Europe Jansen spent a lot of time in Alice Springs, a large town in central Australia with a sizeable Aboriginal population.
Jansen: I had been researching a local legend by the name of Ted Strehlow, and was introduced to a Western Arrernte Elder named Baden Williams. On our way to his home at Hermannsburg (an Aboriginal community just west of Alice Springs) we got talking about the creatures that form part of Western Arrernte mythology. Baden told me about the Pankalangu and I couldn’t help but be totally enthralled by this story, so I began to work on the Pankalangu Collection.
Jansen’s Pankalangu inspired wardrobe is his favorite item in the collection.
Jansen: My first imaginings of the Pankalangu were as a hulking creature that intimidates its prey. So a wardrobe was the perfect typology for a hulking, towering creature that would stand over you and make you feel very small.
A most fascinating detail is the metallic tips that seem to glisten under the right light, bringing the piece to life.
Jansen: The Pankalangu was also described to me as a creature that moves very stealthily through the bush and scrub, and after some time I began to think of it as a spider-like creature. To this end, I endeavoured to create the armchair in a way that references a spider or moth, a legged creature that could creep up on its victim with frightening stealth.
The Pankalangu was just the beginning of Jansen’s exploration into unique Australian heritage mythology. Much of the origin narrative was based on the stories ascribed to Indigenous Australian Dreamtime or conversely focused on the nation-building stories of European descendants.
Eventually Jansen stumbled upon Robert Holden’s writing, a study in creature myths that straddle both cultures to represent a national ethos.
What did you find out from Holden’s writing?
Holden has identified a series of creature myths that originate at the time British colonists first came to Australia. These creature myths were cultural conduits for British colonists and Aboriginal inhabitants, a point of cultural confluence.
It was here that I found the story of the Hairy Wild Man From Botany Bay, a creature that was invented in London prior to the coming of the first fleet to Australia. This was an Antipodean story that embodied a fear of an unknown continent, an unfathomable wilderness. When British colonists arrived in Australia, they learned of a matching story in local Aboriginal mythology, the Yahoo or Yowie, and were convinced that this correlation was proof that the creature existed. A common fear of this tall, hairy, fierce creature was one that both cultures shared, and a point on which they were able to bond.
Bowls and other articles in the Hairy Wild Man From Botany Bay collection feature furry sheepskin. But to further draw upon the bristly feel of the Yahoo, a chandelier was made featuring 5,000 pieces of blown glass.
In the same way that Droog is able to capture Dutch design identity, Jansen’s label is creating a uniquely Australian collection.
Jansen: I have used creature myths as an example of a culturally inclusive mythology, a story to which we can all belong. The objects that form my interpretation of these creatures are the physical embodiment of these inclusive narratives, they are purposefully designed Australian material culture.
How do you go about sourcing the materials for these collections?
The Icelandic sheepskin used in the Hairy Wild Man From Botany Bay Collection was sourced from a dealer in London. It was used because it is the European creature with the longest fur. The Hairy Wild Man From Botany Bay was imagined by the British, so I imagined the vernacular that a late 18th Century Briton would have drawn on when imagining an exotic creature. In this way, I used materials that were part of that British vernacular, a Frankenstein of ideas and substances that were familiar to those who invented this creature prior to coming to Australia.
Jansen: The wallaby pelt used in the Pankalangu Collection was sourced from a tannery in Tasmania. Wallaby pelt is a beautiful material, but it also has a coloration that is recognizable to most Australians, and somehow feels Australian. Also, the Pankalangu is an Australian creature, so it should have an outer skin that is in someway similar to other uniquely Australian creatures.
What’s fascinating about the collection is that while the pieces have animalistic textures and forms they are quite firmly recognizable as functional objects. Given the uncommon materials and detailed labor that goes each piece, it’s no wonder acquiring this work is mostly limited to major public institutions or wealthy collectors. Nevertheless, there is a bowl in the collection with the modest price tag of $200USD.
Broached Monsters is an eye catching and rich collection, with a magic to each of the pieces. By turning the imagination of the bush into objects of the everyday, we are offered a little bit of the fantastic in our home.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.