‘Unfold’, a work by artist and designer Suzie Stanford, is a centerpiece of the third stage at The Glen shopping centre’s new fashion and lifestyle wing, part of a $460 million redevelopment.
Although modest in size and budget, Stanford’s work exemplifies both the power of art placed in a broader context and the direction the Vicinity Centres is taking in elevating the experience of shoppers.
“We wanted to create a link to the community as well as adding a certain richness to those coming to the centre,” says Barnaby Giudice, Project Director at Vicinity Centres.
Stanford was one of three artists to be selected to create art installations at The Glen, the others being James Gulliver Hancock who created two murals in the food hall, and Carla McRae, responding with a large geometric mural in the car park that greets shoppers on arrival.
NH Architecture and interior designers MTRDC were behind the design of the new wing.
Stanford’s initial foray into public art started two years ago, with her 35-metre-long ‘floral wave’ for Lauriston Girls’ School in Armadale.
Comprising thousands of recycled bottles transformed into flowers and hand-painted this installation put Stanford at the head of the ‘upcycling movement’ (Stanford’s upcycled designer furniture and lighting using everything from tea towels and fine tapestries to souvenir spoons have sold in some of the world’s leading department stores, including Liberty London and Lane Crawford in Asia).
“That installation demonstrated how art can fit into the public arena rather than an art gallery,” says Stanford.
However, this installation, titled ‘Unfold’, also has a personal story to be shared.
Stanford’s 13-year-old son is a student at Glenallen School in Glen Waverly, a special school for children with serious physical disabilities.
“I wanted to create this very special art for The Glen to capture and celebrate the artistic expression of each student’s unique individuality,” says Stanford.
The project started as a three-week-long residency for Stanford where she worked closely with the staff and 184 students, varying in age from 5 through to 18.
With a loose brief from the Vicinity Centres to create ‘fashion by nature’, Stanford came up with the idea of ‘Unfold’.
Placed on a blank wall near the centre’s lift core, the overscaled PVC letters are embedded with everything from simple coloured threads to heavily beaded strands.
“Some students beaded, others knotted and some who had very limited motor neuron skills simply winked at me to make a choice for their coloured threads,” says Stanford, who celebrated the diversity of her students as much as their talent and enthusiasm.
“You could say that each thread captures the complexity of their own needs,” says Stanfod, who enjoyed seeing the strength of the letters overlaid with the fragility of the individual threads.
Every class was allocated a letter and certain rules were set up before the work of threading began.
“What I learnt quickly into the program was that the rules had to be abandoned. One visually impaired girl produced the most extraordinary work and needed to have a completely free rein, as did the others,” she says.
For Stanford, incorporating art into centres not only elevates the experience of shopping but allows people to pause for a moment or two, without the usual visual signage associated with shopping centres or strip shopping.
“It’s a place to digest and connect to the wider community, and with my son’s school, which is integral to it,” says Stanford, who appreciates the foresight of the Vicinity Centres.
“It’s like the town square, where people come to engage and exchange ideas,” says Stanford, who hopes people will also take the time to read the plaque adjacent to ‘Unfold’, including the credits for all the students at the Glenallen School.
“The children are so excited to have their work on show,” she adds.
The new wing of The Glen will also include the Monash Gallery of Art wall (MGA) specialising in Australian photography.
“Shopping is moving towards an experience. It’s more than a retail transaction. It’s about wanting to spend time here and capturing the essence of this community,” says Giudice.