The Kissing Cabinet, by industrial designer Adam Goodrum and straw marquetry artisan Arthur Seigneur – a collaborative duo known professionally as A&A – has taken out this year’s prestigious Melbourne Design Week Award presented by Mercedes-Benz. Part functional furniture and part artwork, the piece combines abstract aesthetics with the centuries-old craft of straw marquetry.

The annual $5000 prize recognises an outstanding contribution to Design Week, as well as the Australian design industry. Previous winners include Paula Savage and Robbie Neville.

Award sponsor, and major partner of the NGV, Mercedes Benz is now in its fifth year presenting the prize. Its CEO, Jaime Cohen, said in a statement that the company “is pleased to salute this year’s deserved winners. We are also thrilled to announce the continuation of our partnership with the NGV until 2027, including our support for various programs such as Melbourne Design week.”

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A&A’s winning cabinet is impressive in scale, and captivating with its sinuous shapes and bold colours. It unfolds to reveal hidden drawers, perfect for hiding treasures and trinkets, and when put back together, its shapes meet like a surreal pair of kissing lips. It’s an unconventional take on the classical art of marquetry – as you’d expect from this artistic team, which creates collectable design objects that push back against the imperatives of mass production. Goodrum and Seigneur say they feel free to experiment with marquetry in the Australian market, where the art form is less established.

“In Australia, we have this freedom to explore things that maybe have a little bit more personality – things that are quite different to the norm,” Goodrum tells Broadsheet.

The Kissing Cabinet was first conceived three years ago, then took a full year to produce. “It’s a nice response to where we are as a society at the moment,” says Seigneur. “Now we’re forced to produce, produce, produce, whereas with this we were able to create a one-off piece that takes time.”

Originally from Paris, Seigneur has spent the past decade refining his marqueterie de paille. Popularised in the 17th century, the highly specialised technique involves painstakingly splitting, soaking, ironing and dying strips of wood veneer or straw to create intricately patterned veneers on objects and furniture.

“These days, it’s normally a situation where you want to manufacture something as quickly as possible, but straw marquetry … gets laid by hand, so you can’t rush it,” says Goodrum.

An award-winning industrial designer, Goodrum first noticed Seigneur’s skill back in 2015, shortly after the Frenchman arrived in Sydney. Seigneur was working about 100 metres from Goodrum’s studio and approached him with marquetry samples to pitch the idea of working together.

The duo’s first piece was for Cult Design’s Chairity Project, a fundraising event during Melbourne Design Week that invites creatives to reimagine a famous chair design. Their straw marquetry revamp of the classic Series 7 chair inspired them to continue collaborating. Their first large-scale piece, Bloom, showed in Milan before being acquired by the NGV. Tolarno Galleries soon asked to represent the pair, leading to their first full showcase.

The A&A ethos is to create emotionally evocative art that challenges the creators and builds on their past work. The Kissing Cabinet is an evolution of a piece they created for Louis Vuitton’s 200th birthday event – a trunk that turns inside out.

“It’s a huge honour to receive the award,” says Goodrum. “We’re thrilled. We’re very humbled as well, because there are so many creatives doing such incredible things.”

The Kissing Cabinet is on display at Tolarno Galleries – level 5, 104 Exhibition Street, Melbourne – from May 25 to June 1.

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