Exhibition review: Tools For After, Fitzroy Town Hall

A slick display of contemporary Italian design and ingenuity.
Tools For After. A white cylindrical vase lies on its side with a printed didactic placed behind it.

Tools For After is a six-week long festival, celebration and showcase of Italian ingenuity. It brings to Melbourne fresh and contemporary takes on current issues of climate emergency, sustainability and design. 

This reviewer attended on opening night; however, as an exhibition it took a return visit to really “get” what it’s about. It was during the second visit that the complexities of the exhibition became more apparent, when the space was absent of the crowd and waiters topping up glasses of Italian Prosecco and serving delicious Italian fare to match.

What is quickly established is that this is not so much an exhibition of artistic pursuits, but more a celebration of design and ingenuity – such is the point of the broader Tools For After festival.

Presented in the historic setting of Fitzroy Town Hall, the exhibition comprises two main banks of displays. Objects are raised upon sawn timber benches and illuminated by LED strip lights, flanked either side by a series of screens. It is a brilliantly executed and slick display.

Of the various items on view, among the most interesting are Francesca Nori’s Vérabuccia, which proposes the use of pineapple skin as an alternative to the use of crocodile and other animal products in fashion. As it is presented as a single roll, it may require a double take to realise the source of this material. 

The most commercial of these objects is Teddy Boy by Stefano Giovannoni – an illustrious gold table lamp, which infuses the classic teddy bear shape with “boy” features. This work would not look out of place in the pages of Vogue or any similar high-end publication. 

Other objects in the exhibition encompass fashion, furniture, food and even agriculture.

In terms of the work presented digitally, it is Margherita Bertoli’s that stands out the most. Bertoli’s video work demonstrates the versatility of bamboo as a building material, superimposed against footage of a single dancer whose choreography mimics the bends of bamboo.

Across the series of accompanying screens, themes of ecology, environmental destruction and scientific research are explored. The resulting effect is both emotive and apocalyptic.  

As a First Generation Australian of German descent, this reviewer feels a sense of parallel infinity with that of the Italian Australian community. Internment camps used to hold large cohorts of migrants of both German and Italian descent were only closed in 1946. This exhibition, and indeed the size of the opening night crowd, is just one example of how far Australian society has come in terms of accepting at least some migrant communities. 

Perhaps one criticism of this thought-provoking exhibition is that the tactility of some objects such as Vérabuccia is lost due to these objects being exhibited under large glass cloches. Similarly, there are issues around accessibility, with information on each of the objects on display being printed in a font too small for many to read.

Read: Exhibition review: Heather Wunjarra Koowootha, Cairns Art Gallery

All up, Tools For After presents an exciting glimpse into a world of ingenuity and what our future could or may bring, and is well worth a visit. It’s an exhibition that proves sustainable design can indeed be sexy.

Tools For After is on view until 10 October at Fitzroy Town Hall; free.

This review is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Jessi Ryan (they/them) has been creating performance and exhibitions for the past 20 years, both locally, nationally and abroad- in this time collaborating with a huge number of artists from a broad cross section of cultural backgrounds. As a journalist they have written for and been published by some of Australia’s leading arts and news editorial across the last 10 years-and was recognised as a finalist for Globe Community Media Award in 2021. Ryan has also taken photos for a number of print and online publications.