Established in 2011, Broached Commissions is a creative agency whose purpose is to commission designers to produce ambitious, finely crafted, collectable design pieces with the capacity to reflect on or disrupt the traditions of design. Through a series of thematically rich collections, Broached Commissions has attained a position unique in the world of Australian design. Each Broached collection is anchored within an overarching creative framework; designers can propose works that must respond to a central narrative, binding the work together.

In 2011, when Broached Creative Director Lou Weis launched the first collection by Broached Commissions, Broached Colonial, with founding designers Charles Wilson, Trent Jansen and Adam Goodrum, a ripple of interest spread across the design industry. Here, for perhaps the first time, amid a local design scene very much geared around the commercial market, was a project founded with the express purpose of commissioning, and importantly investing in, the production of ambitious and finely crafted, collectable design pieces by Australian designers.

Avoiding the language of furniture brands and importers, Broached described itself as ‘a context and research driven design studio’, and stated that it would fuse deep historical research with contemporary design to create new work that combined legacy with functionality and materiality.

Broached was a timely addition to the design world, and ambitious. It was the first Australian group to venture into the burgeoning yet complex international market in collectable and limited-edition design. Broached signalled that modes of practice outside mass production should be explored more fully, and that a culture of collecting design, running in parallel to the contemporary art market, might offer new opportunities for Australian designers.

Broached was a project that gestured towards the maturing of the Australian design scene, accepting that a vibrant design industry must explore many modes of activity, and that it was time for Australian designers to reflect upon their own practices, shifting their gaze from Europe to delve into Australia’s own history, geography and materials to begin to conceive of and articulate a truly Australian design culture.

The first collection, 2011’s Broached Colonial, explored a profound and complex moment in Australian history – the early years of British colonisation. With the arrival of the First Fleet, British rule of law, objects, systems of industry, militarism, science and agriculture came to the east coast of Australia, changing the lives of Australia’s First Peoples. Broached Colonial was the starting point of an ongoing investigation into the forces, tools and consequences of globalisation, and the upheavals it causes.

In 2013’s Broached East, the second collection, Australia’s relationship to Asia in the mid nineteenth century was put under examination. This period saw the massive influx of Chinese migrant workers to the Victorian goldfields, and the rising influence of Japanese culture after the Meiji Restoration. As 100 million people migrated globally, Asia became a trading partner of Australia, yet Asian countries and migrants were often treated with suspicion, and racism. The objects in this collection presented a strong and cohesive examination of the time, from both a sociopolitical and personal perspective. The artefacts shown were designed for use at the times when people retreat from the pace and intensity of the outside world, reminding us that no matter how far we travel, and how much life is disrupted, we all desire privacy, intimacy, and the opportunity to find respect and prosperity.

Looking both backwards and forwards in time, and mixing Indigenous and European beliefs, folk tales, suspicions and stories, Trent Jansen’s Broached Monsters collection of 2017 and his related Jangarra project of 2018 delved into tales of fabulous and sometimes frightening creatures of incredible proportions and improbable anatomy. Through a process he describes as ‘design anthropology’, Jansen created a range of objects that represented both Indigenous and non-Indigenous vernaculars, suggesting that shared myths might become central to a new national mythology that is inclusive of both cultures.

New work presented in Design Storytellers by Korean-American artist Mimi Jung continues the ongoing Broached investigation into the forces and consequences of globalisation, encapsulating her experiences of a life interrupted, disconnected and recalibrated by migration, one of the most fundamental and contested issues facing our world today.

Presented together for the first time in a dramatic exhibition environment, these interrelated collections reveal tales of hardship and privation, of migrant labour, of the systematic cataloguing of resources to be exploited, and of the imposition of laws that nullified Indigenous rights to the land.

Some of these stories are unarguably political, delving into our shared social and cultural history; however, they are also profoundly personal, zooming from the macro to the micro view and revealing tales of struggle, ambition, success, love, fantasy and folly.

While the exhibition peels back the skin of some of the more problematic periods in the evolution of Australia, the overarching message is one of optimism and hope. The exhibition posits the idea that it is through the telling of stories and through the creation of new shared narratives that we might better discover ourselves and continue to update our values as a society.

Broached has successfully produced a contemporary commissioning process with the capacity to bridge art, craft and design, linking some of the most talented designers, makers and craftspeople working in Australia today. It has generated a body of work founded on the principles of individualism, rejecting uniformity and homogeneity of design and the idea of design as solely a tool of industry. In a world already saturated by products, Broached, through this exhibition, proves that designers can successfully step onto a parallel pathway along which they can challenge themselves to respond thoughtfully to the context in which they operate. However, to do this requires the availability of challenging commissions, investment and opportunities to exhibit the work. It is only under these circumstances that designers can fully embrace the role of the designer as contemporary storyteller.