Q & A Interviews

Q & A with exhibition curator and UAlberta design studies prof Aidan Rowe

With files by TJ Jans. Feature image from an Edmonton Wayfinding Society Project, photo by Louise Asselstine.

As part of the 50th Anniversary celebration for the University of Alberta’s Department of Art & Design, the FAB Gallery is showing Design Latitudes until June 6, 2015.

This international exhibition maps the innovations, influences and future directions of design studies in the north. It showcases 59 submissions from students, graduates, faculty, instructors and design professionals affiliated with Industrial Design and Visual Communication Design at the University of Alberta.

TJ and I have strolled through Design Latitudes several times since the show opened May 12. We were both awestruck by the diversity of ideas on display. Design Latitudes truly embodies the curiosity-driven, people-centred, progressive design-thinking that underpins the interdisciplinary design studies at the University of Alberta.

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Aidan Rowe. Photo by Louise Asselstine.

Aidan Rowe. Photo by Louise Asselstine.

We caught up with one of the show’s curators, UAlberta design studies associate professor Aidan Rowe, to learn more about how, and why, Design Latitudes came together.

Q: Can you tell me where the idea for Design Latitudes first came from?

Aidan Rowe: In 2013, the UAlberta Design Studies team (Tim Antoniuk, Robert Lederer, Cezary Gajewski, Bonnie Sadler Takach, Sue Colberg, Gavin Renwick) and I sat down to plan out a project that explored our past work and research, (examined) possibilities for our future (and interrogated) the relationship between how we teach and practice design and our northernness.

We decided to host Design Latitudes, which explores “innovations, influences and future directions of design studies in the north.”

All the work in the exhibition needed to have some form of connection with the University of Alberta’s Art & Design program here, so you will see work from current students, staff, alumni, research partners and collaborators local and from afar.

We also wanted to ensure the beginnings of a broader, longer conversation and this was found in the Counterpoints public seminar, hosted on May 21, 2015 with panelists Courtney Chetwynd, Jorge Frascara, Richard Issac and Dr. Gavin Renwick.

Q: It seems like curating Design Latitudes was as much about creating discussion as it was about being an interesting exhibit of design.

Aidan Rowe: Ideally that is what I hope all exhibitions do, or at least it is one of my key goals in curating and designing exhibitions.

There is a greater need for public debate and discussion on the role that design, and design education plays — and can play — in society. I think we hoped that these discussions would help contribute to these needed conversations.

Q: With 59 exhibitors / exhibitor groups, you had quite a wide range of materials and designs to work from. Can you tell me about the challenges in pulling so many pieces together into a cohesive exhibit?

Aidan Rowe: The variety in the show does make it challenging. We were looking to really showcase the breadth of work that is being explored in this area. We chose to featurework that ran the gamut from installation to fashion, architecture to product design, animation to book design, in  a variety of formats from film, posters, 3D installations, product, prints, and combinations.

Then we worked to design a system for the exhibition that would be flexible enough to showcase all the work.

Keeping with our design education focus, assisting us with this design and installation were three international undergraduate students that we had working with us on the exhibition: Marcella Gadotti, Daniela Fernandez Manzo, and Stephan Boufleur.

Q: I heard that you even had people from New Zealand coming to Edmonton to attend the opening reception! Were there any other significant international connections made within this exhibit?

Aidan Rowe: Yes, in addition to local and Canadian designers, we had work from about 10 countries including New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, the Netherlands, the UK, and the US.

Q: What did you learn curating the show?

Aidan Rowe: This show helped to confirm to me the breadth and depth of the work that we do here in Design Studies at the University of Alberta. I am constantly amazed at the work completed from our staff, students, alumni and collaborators.

Q: What do you hope viewers will leave the exhibit with?

Aidan Rowe: Hopefully viewers leave with a better understanding of the work that is done here in Design Studies at the U of A. I hope, as well, that there is a greater appreciation of the work in design and design education going on in the north. I think it is also important to note that this exhibition is not meant in any way to be the definitive record of design in the north, this is our point in time response.

Event title: Design Latitudes: An exhibition mapping the innovations, influences and future directions of design studies in the north.
Exhibition dates: Until June 6, 2015
Venue: FAB Gallery (1-1 Fine Arts Building, University of Alberta)
FAB Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Friday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday: 2 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Closed Sunday, Monday and statutory holidays
Admission: Free
More info: http://uofa.ualberta.ca/events/design-latitudes and http://www.designlatitudes.ca/

After you experience Design Latitudes in the FAB Gallery on the ground level of the Fine Arts Building, make sure to pop upstairs to the second floor to check out various student projects related to Design Latitudes, completed this Spring Session, May 2015. 

Design Latitudes installations for Transforming Spaces of Communication course, taught by Eleanor Lazare and Kevin Zak.

Design Latitudes installations for Transforming Spaces of Communication course, taught by Eleanor Lazare and Kevin Zak. Photo by TJ Jans.

2 replies to this post
  1. I hope you bring native studies into your design as well. They are heavily invested in the north. . Great to see originality bloom!

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