From plywood stag antlers, to expensive crockery and a curvaceous red foam chair, tricks of the eye are everywhere at RMIT Gallery's international design exhibition.
New Olds: Design Between Tradition and Innovation (to 9 March) brings together work by more than 55 designers and design teams from Europe, the US and Australia.
The expansive travelling exhibition is presented by Professor Volker Albus, from the Karlsruhe State Academy of Design, and the German Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut, Australia.
The exhibition was opened in December by the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany Dr Christoph Müller, who cut short his vacation to attend and praise the quirky and imaginative works.
"I have always been fascinated by design, because it tells you a lot about the zeitgeist - the times that you live in," Dr Müller said.
"Things that you might miss otherwise, you see in design developments.
"It could be that the central challenge in our lives is to invent something new, to join forces in trying to find innovative answers, which is what this exhibition is about."
In keeping with the German focus, Becks beer was served and the crowds munched on warm bretzels (large German pretzels), as the last exhibition for the year at RMIT Gallery took on a festive turn.
Curator, Professor Volker Albus, was in showman mode, hoisting up furniture and objects for Dr and Mrs Christine Müller and special guests including Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Director of the RMIT Design Research Institute, Professor Mark Burry; Mr Hiroyasu Ando, President of the Japan Foundation; Dr Terry Cutler, Deputy Chairman Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO Dr Amanda Barnard, leader of the Virtual Nanoscience Laboratory (VNLab) for CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering and former RMIT Alumnus of the Year; Professor Heinrich Schmidt, RMIT e-Research director; and Mr Michael Pearce SC, Honorary Consul General for Germany in Melbourne.
Professor Albus included the work of three local designers in the exhibition - Tim Collins, RMIT design student Dale Hardiman and Scott Mitchell. He said that he wanted to remind people when they start thinking of design they should think of what is happening in their country.
"I don't want to be nostalgic with this exhibition. Some of these pieces are very experimental - they show how you should leave all borders and think very openly, looking forward as well as looking back," he said.
"In nearly every item, there is a certain relationship as to how to transform tradition into a contemporary design, with a reminiscence of the past."
RMIT Gallery Director Suzanne Davies said this was the third major international exhibition curated by Professor Albus that had been held by RMIT Gallery, and it brought cutting edge work to Melbourne.
"It is quite appropriate that RMIT is the venue for a contemporary exhibition that showcases designers' wit, integrity and respect for materials, given that we are a university of design and innovation," Ms Davies said.
She praised the enlightened vision of the German government in relation to its support of the arts and culture as vital components of public diplomacy.
Taking up the theme, guest speaker Dr Arpad Sölter, Director, Goethe-Institut Australia, highlighted the enduring 40-year partnership the organisation had with RMIT and praised Ms Davies' emphasis on the importance of the "soft power" of art to affect change.
"Contemporary German culture is very much in demand in Australia, and as soon as RMIT Gallery posted the New Olds invitations we had calls from around Australia from other galleries wanting to host the exhibition. Next stop Sydney," he said.
Everyone at the opening night had a favourite object in the exhibition and for Dr Sölter it was the small scale "souvenirs of disaster" by American design Constantin Boym, who chose to represent moments of horror such as the plane crash into the Pentagon on September 11, or the Parisian tunnel where Princess Diana was killed.
"They may not be everyone's idea of a Christmas present, but these works are about the design of the world, not just about the world of design," Dr Sölter said.
All photos: Vicki Jones Photography