The creative team behind OnStone & Lil'Stones have been working with reclaimed natural materials since 2012, bringing together timber and stone, past and present, family and work to create meaningful products that frame key moments in people’s lives.
ACMI Shop manager Leaona Cusick chats with Emma & Nick, the incredible duo behind these two Melbourne brands.
Tell us about your creative practice, what motivates and inspires you?
Our motivation comes from the physical and social environment. Physical – incorporating waste and repurposing materials into our product builds. Social – Presenting memories and moments in a solid tangible form. Somewhere in the combination of materials and memories is our happy-making place.
We do a lot of experimentation; finding balance is the acceptance point. We both respect and marvel when design successfully combines simplicity, beauty and practicality.
Is there a favourite project you’ve worked on? What made it so special?
We worked on a very large piece for the Jim Stynes Room in the MCG, featuring the eponymous Jim Stynes. The piece was made up of about 60 x 30cm square OnStones hung as a diamond polyptych formation. There was some challenging mathematics in cutting, designing and hanging the piece; once up the relief and effect was worth the ride.
How did Lil'Stones originate?
Small isn’t as easily embraced as big; In the size wars, BIG generally comes across as the appealing option in goods and services. Even in jewels it’s the bigger versions that attract the attention. Without attempting to challenge this natural bias, our plan for making a small frame was self-serving. Lil’Stones are not here to impress others they’re for self; small, little grounding stones that feed personal interests, loves and quirks. Owning a totem that speaks only to you, catching your eye as the world moves by – these are selfish little pyramids of wonder.
What are some of the sources of inspiration that you draw from when creating?
Nature, architecture, music, books and food – I think that about covers it.
How does the world of screen culture influence your work?
The screen world was a third parent to me. I learnt most of my lines and possibly a fair chunk of my personality through film and TV. My friend and I would watch an Indiana Jones movie and spend the rest of the holidays trying to source, braid and crack a whip.
My obsession for film inspired one of the sets of Lil’Stones we made for ACMI. When Ferris and Cameron [from Ferris Bueller's Day Off] are in the MET and Cameron is transfixed by A Sunday on la Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, with a cover of The Smiths' ‘Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’ playing and the shot keeps jumping further and further into the painting – that’s what we attempted to emulate with Alfred Sisley’s Small Meadow in Spring.
How does the environment impact your work?
Our original goal for OnStone was to have the product made entirely of waste – every item to be upcycled or repurposed. Time and acceptance creates waste in staggering volumes; something made a year ago becomes obsolete for no good reason and then thrown away. We think it's important for the environment that we create a circular economy, once a set of materials have served their purpose they can be repurposed, or if the purpose is short term built to biodegrade.
What is one of your favourite exhibitions?
One of my favourite exhibitions was the surrealist exhibition in the National Gallery of Australia in 1993. I was introduced to a number of Australian artists whose works I was unfamiliar with. When I’m on the search for inspiration I often recall these pieces to stimulate the creative process.
Another exhibition that comes to mind is Cai Guo-Qiang’s I Want to Believe at the Guggenheim in Bilbao in 2008. Cai integrated art and science in his process of "creative destruction". With cars hanging from ceilings and wolves flying and colliding with an invisible wall. The wolves appeared to push towards the transparent wall relentlessly crashing with full force against the glass barrier, while the rest of the animals behind continue surging forward valiantly and undeterred. You could replace this with a group of small business owners…
How did this affect your practice? Is there an exhibition you’ll like to see curated in the future?
I would love to see a Wes Anderson or Ridley Scott exhibition at ACMI, or a collection of Rene Margrites.
What are you currently watching, playing, streaming?
I cannot stop playing the War on Drugs, I have a wall of records and it’s like there’s only one doing the rounds - it’s addictive.
We just finished Shining Girls and Black Bird and the family is watching The Rings of Power. Em & I try to catch an episode of Veep for a laugh before bed too.
Learn more about OnStone and Lil'Stones.