Meet MECCA X NGV’s 2023 Women In Design Commission Designer, Bethan Laura Wood

The award-winning artist reveals why colouring outside the lines is the space where limitless possibilities take shape.
MECCA X NGV women in design commission artist, Bethan Laura Wood.

Bethan Laura Wood still remembers the first time she disrupted the system for her craft.

“In my early teens, when I started to become more self aware of my individual identity, I began experimenting with makeup and the way I looked,” the esteemed designer recalls via Zoom, her makeup a playful kaleidoscope of colour in the style of a vintage Pierrot doll.

“For our school uniform, you could either buy a summer dress or buy the fabric and make the dress. So mum and I made one that looked like a giant doll’s dress with massive buttons. The next year, I made a double breasted jacket and I would adorn my hair with all styles of clips. It was quite cool because I couldn’t get in trouble as I was technically wearing the uniform.”

Image credit: Mark Cocksedge

It was in the classroom where Wood’s love affair with art and design also began to take form, after discovering the limitless opportunities of dimensional design and creating objects for interaction. “I love that conversation between the things that I make and the person,” says the London-based designer. 

It’s a rare experience to understand the inner workings of an artist’s creative journey, but for those following Wood’s career they only need to look as far as her wardrobe to witness her imagination  unfolding.

“When I became more confident in my work, I was able to allow the integration between how I personally choose to look and then my work.”

While not all of her work is as colourful as her sartorial style, she reveals that her wardrobe is often the first place she tests patterns and colours to better understand the materials that will later be used within a body of work.

Photography: Kate Shanasy.

Her latest exhibition, a second instalment in a five year project displayed annually by the NGV x Mecca as part of the Women in Design commission is a layered presentation of furniture, textiles and scenography, that delves into the gendered history of education and learning.

“I was invited to make a piece of work in the room that normally holds 18th and 19th century British regency pieces. So I was up for the challenge of trying to understand how I might make a piece of work that’s still very much my universe, but that would have a conversation with some elements from these periods.”

And if walls could talk inside the National Gallery of Victoria, they would likely sing with insightful musings on politics, art and feminism, with one of the female voices in Wood’s work referencing the historical Blue Stocking Society, a social collective where women came together to share knowledge.

Bethan Laura Wood with Kaleidoscope-o-rama, 2023, the MECCA x NGV Women in Design Commission, on display from 3 December 2023 – 7 April 2024 in NGV Triennial at NGV International, Melbourne.
Photo: Amelia Dowd.

“I like to make work that has a visual impact and that you can engage with in a very quick way, but also have the opportunity to zoom further to learn about different things that I’ve researched.”

As for what viewers can expect from her third instalment in the commission? The answer, it seems, lies on her nightstand.

“I’m currently reading ‘The Other Side’ by Jennifer Higgie, which is about female artists and spiritualism. Maybe out of this book something will come…”

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