Voronoi shelf  by Marc Newson

Marc Newson

Voronoi shelf , 2006, Carrara marble, The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2015.1717, © Marc Newson, Ltd.; Photo: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra / Bridgeman Images

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Piercing Beauty

Commentary by

The Voronoi shelf of Australian industrial designer, Marc Newson, materializes a geometric concept. Voronoi diagrams are formed when a given set of points is plotted on a plane. This plane is then ‘divided into cells, each cell covering the region closest to a particular centre’ (Lynch 2017). The resultant cells form convex polygons, variable in size. Newson’s polygon cells are sinuously organic, pierced into a massive stone block. First excised using precision machinery, their smooth edges are rounded by hand-finishing.

The word ‘shelf’ immediately suggests a storage unit or piece of display furniture, which this object was designed to be. At the same time, Newson’s ‘shelf’ references the word's geological usage, as in ‘a projecting rocky ridge’—though this sculpted form visually challenges the massive solidity which that latter phrase evokes.

The Voronoi shelf constitutes itself as a lace-like pattern of negative space. The excised cells are made legible by the seamless boundaries of connecting Carrara marble. This confounds expectation of how stone is used. Carrara marble is valued for its quality, beauty, and strength, and is well-known for its historic use by sculptors. Newson’s design repeatedly punctuates and evacuates that precious material. Here is a different iteration of stonework. Stone’s aesthetic potential is expanded through the sacrifice of much of the material. Eviscerated, the multiple excisions expose an inner patterning of mineral veins.

Habakkuk 3 may be read as a spiritual-literary equivalent of the positive possibilities of negative space. Babylonian violence meant ‘the fields yield no food … and there is no herd in the stalls’ (v.17). God appears to be silent and inactive while wickedness destroys the good. God had intervened in the past to destroy oppressors but this now seems relegated to the past. The prophet, then, faces a stark choice. He can either abandon hope in a loving God, or retain faithful trust. The latter requires humility, relinquishing a desire to force God’s hand. Habakkuk makes a virtue of his negative space, able at last to ‘wait quietly’ (v.16b).

His suffering results in moral virtue. As with Newson’s delicately traced yet weighty sculpture, Habakkuk’s piercing realizes inner beauty.



Lynch, Peter. 2017. ‘How Voronoi Diagrams Help Us Understand Our World, 23 January 2017’, www.irishtimes.com, [accessed 7 April 2019]

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