Modern Contemporary Design


Toronto Design Week Preview: Capacity


Another new show on the horizon for Toronto’s Design Week this January is Capacity, a 10-woman show curated by Katherine Morley and Erin McCutcheon. The curators ask, “What is your capacity to understand? To withstand? To produce? To learn? To love? Is your cup half full or is it half empty? Is infinity possible? How much of who you are is what you collect?”

The show will feature a mix of media by Ange-line Tetrault, Arounna Khounnoraj, Ayla Newhouse, Joy Charbonneau, Kirsten White, Maiwenn Castellan, Michelle Ivankovic , Michelle Ivankovic (that’s her Frosine sandblasted vintage glasses above), as well as Morley and McCutcheon and includes textiles, furniture, ceramics and sculpture.


Aster Bowls by Kirsten White

What is the theme to the show you are curating this year during Toronto Design Week?

Our theme and show title is “Capacity”. We chose this word carefully, to give our designers a starting point to create new work that reflects upon themselves, their practices, and their roles as women in the field of design.

How did you put together the group of designers featured in your show?

We had a very specific set of criteria for potential participants, which meant we had to be open to searching outside of our own, tight-knit design community. We wanted the show to be multi-disciplinary and to feature new/emerging designers alongside established designers, and we therefore spent a lot of time researching, picking through online portfolios and sending invitations to complete strangers whose work impressed us. It was very hard to narrow it down to the final 10 participants– once we began our search, we were introduced to so many talented Canadian designers we’d never really heard of. It was very inspiring.


Mechanical Feathers by Michelle Ivankovic

How does the exhibition space contribute to the show?

Bookhou was a natural fit for the show. It’s owned by Arounna Khounnoraj (one of our participants) and her partner John Booth, and it is in the heart of the growing Dundas West Gallery district, not far from MADE. Aside from being a wonderful space, Bookhou has the added benefit of being within the Trinity Bellwoods-Dundas BIA, which means we were invited to take part in “Do Design West” for TIDF’11. This, plus our proximity to “Upstairs at MADE”, “Come Up To My Room”, and “Tools”, has created a west-end “hub” of interest for visitors during the Festival.

A second, very different installment of the CAPACITY show will appear in Studio North, at IDS’11, and will challenge visitors to brave the January weather, and come out to the west end to see the off-site shows in person.

We hope the physical nearness and collaborative spirit of the shows will be evident, and attract an even greater interest in the growing art/design community to the neighbourhood–and to Toronto in general.


The Universe is Full Bleed, one of a three poster series by Ayla Newhouse

How has the curation of Capacity differed from that of Come Up To My Room?

On a broad level, the two shows have a similar curatorial goal: to showcase contemporary Canadian design in an “alternative” or “off-site” venue, during IDS. We do have close ties with CUTMR (we have an ex-curator and some past participants among our numbers), and Upstairs at MADE, yet, Capacity is a very different show.

The most obvious distinction is that Capacity is a themed show, and, from the very beginning, has been about creating opportunity for women designers in Canada. Because of our commitment to this issue, and because we are a new show, Capacity needed to be a smaller, more focused and more intimate exhibit. Of utmost importance was to find political balance within the show: we wanted to create an exceptional exhibit of work by women designers, without creating an exhibit about women designers.

To find this balance, we worked with our participants in the early stages to help them decide how to explore the theme “capacity”, and had many lively discussions around their proposed interpretations of the word. CUTMR is curated in a much more hands-off way; participants are chosen based on past works, and curators stay (mostly) out of the way until opening night, when they get to see the finished projects for the first time.

Another distinction between the shows is the selection process. CUTMR holds an open call for submissions, and has many entrants to choose from, in a variety of disciplines. We did the opposite–we researched and hand-selected designers, and then went about “wooing” them into our show. We don’t yet have the brand recognition of CUTMR, but we do have experience and a wide support network, which gave us credibility, and the courage to believe we could make Capacity happen.


Hanna – Illustrated Children’s Novel by Katherine Morley (working cover)

What are your views on the current state of Toronto’s design industry and community?

As young designers, we missed the era when there was a thriving design and manufacturing industry in Canada. We emerged from school into a time where the future of design in Canada seemed uncertain. Jobs were scarce, demand was low, and it was looking very bad for Canadian Design. Incredibly, what we have noticed is that instead of fracturing the design community in Canada, hard times have pulled us together, and we are united in our struggle to make Canadian Design survive.

A perfect illustration of this phenomenon is this year’s design week. Not only do we have the support of the city of Toronto, with the official designation of the 2nd annual “Toronto International Design Festival”, but we have curators of the various shows collaborating, instead of competing, to figure out how to make the week as successful as possible for everyone. They have put together and launched the “ToDO List”, a resource for visitors to TIDF’11, mapping the many shows, parties and events taking place during the week.

The cooperative atmosphere extends beyond the festival, too. We have noticed more collectives emerging, more designers working together to share skills, knowledge and resources in a way that is almost unheard of in the competitive design industry. It makes us very proud to be Canadian!

What sort of design trends have you noticed in the past year?

There seems to be a trend towards handmade work that actually looks handmade. Makers are leaving their marks, instead of polishing and refining their work to the point of machined perfection. This can be seen in ceramics, fashion, textiles, printmaking–all over the place! Our favourite example of this is the renaissance of the letterpress.

Do you think there is room for Toronto’s Design Week to grow?

Absolutely! We have already hurdled the biggest obstacle– getting designers/curators to see that it is better to collaborate than to compete. The more fresh work offered during design week, the more people will come to expect variety and excellence from Canadian design, and the more attracted they will be to the Festival. Already this year, many new shows have been added to the TIDF roster, and expectations are running high! We just need to keep raising the bar every year with the work we present, and be excellent hosts to the many thousands of people pouring in to see what’s new in Toronto!




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