There is an abundance of creative energy in London. The metropolis is home to a number of leading art and design schools, and its multicultural nature offers a constant flow of influences from other worlds and cultures, bringing their collective and individual experiences from far beyond the city walls.
Many cities around the world stage annual design events – most notably the Salone del Mobile in Milan. However, London also benefits from a vibrant commercial scene; businesses from around the world have headquarters in the capital city and there is a great deal of collaboration between commerce and creativity, which can add a sense of reality to more conceptual work.
This week saw the start of the London Design Festival, a nine-day event that, in its 12-year history, seems to be growing in size and reach this year offering some 400 events across the capital city.
The hub at the V&A saw a range of exhibitions largely addressing materials and processes. Having attended the press preview, I revisited the show with family, and as always it was hugely intriguing to see how others, especially children, interact with conceptual design.
One of the main highlights at the V&A, and throughout other locations in London, is a celebration of the life and work of pioneering British mid 20th century designer Robin Day. Here Work in Wood celebrates Day’s passion for the material. The Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation worked closely with curator Jane Withers and design collective Assemble to create a range of wood installations displaying intriguing work from the Day archives dating back to his childhood growing up among the beech woods and timber furniture factories of High Wycombe.
Another interesting display is the Mexican Pavilion You Know You Cannot See Yourself so Well as by Reflection. Influenced by the multicultural influences of modern Mexico, architect Frida Escobedo has transformed the V&A John Madejski Garden with a series of flexible spaces, and curved and rectangular platforms laid out in a grid-like format, the mirrored ones reflecting the surrounding building. On the sunny Sunday we attended, visitors lounged on these platforms that crawl into the pond sipping coffee and taking in the autumn sun for a brilliant interactive space.
The V&A is something of a church for me – a safe sanctuary where I’ve been losing myself in since childhood. It was amongst the Renaissance sculptures here that I formed a passion for art. And whilst exploring the many many rooms filled with textiles, jewellery, silverware, ceramics… that I began to fall in love with design.
Faye Toogood seems to have captured the spirit of this unique museum encouraging visitors to put on one of her 150 Toogood coats, and using the map inside, explore unseen and unexpected locations in the V&A. The kids, in particular, loved these weighty coats made of high-tech Kvadrat compressed foam, and seemed amused by the different naive faces sketched on the back of each. The garments have a 3D quality, says the designer, and celebrate British textile manufacturing.
Elsewhere, an installation by Grafton Architects and Irish Design 2015 in the Tapestries Gallery explores our relation with concrete by encouraging visitors to touch the columns like tree trunks. Inspired by the fourth century Irish Ogham alphabet, the three-meter high concrete ‘fins’, created with and Graphic Relief, have a tactile quality, and all 23 of them beg to be touched. These robust concrete and metal columns, each with their own individual personality, respond to the fragile tapestries that surround them.
Artist Barnaby Barford’s Tower of Babel explores our relationship with retail and the blurred boundaries of art and commerce. His 6m-high tower comprises 3,000 bone china shops, based on real shops photographed by the artist. The shops at the base are derelict, whilst the tower peak is home to posh boutiques and galleries prompting us to question our choices as consumers.
Mise-en-Abyme by industrial designers Laetitia de Allegri and Matteo Fogale is an immersive installation for the bridge over the Medieval and Renaissance galleries at the V&A. The duo’s fantasy landscape of overlapping transparent shapes play with our sense of perspective and reality, and are a reference to the one-point perspective taken during the Renaissance period.
Other interesting work includes a mesmerising installation by Austrian design duo mischer’traxler in collaboration with champagne house Perrier-Jouët. Here tiny hand made insects dance inside 250 mouth blown glass globes creating quite a meditative buzzing sound – possibly pushing the boundaries of design but still beautifully constructed and attracting enough attention for a queue to form outside the space.
Over at Somerset House, designer Barber & Osgerby worked with Knoll to create a range of furniture to occupy the intimate reading room, and Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec show their first electronic project for Samsung, the Serif TV, a one-colour, one shape seamless frame that challenges the shape of the television.
Somerset House is also staging the winning entries for a nationwide competition by Twitter. #PowerByTweets: The Challenge invited entrants to come up with either a problem solving idea or ‘something beautiful’ using the social network site.
One of the six winning designs The Social Mindscape enables cancer patients receiving chemotherapy to communicate non-verbally and create a visual #mindscape they can collectively enjoy in real time. Possibly a good example of how commerce and creativity can unite for a good cause.
As one colleague commented perceptively about LDF, design, even in its most conceptual form, needs to address the discipline, be it through material, construction, theory or ideology. If left to be completely conceptual then it can, like some of the exhibits this year, run the risk of being an art project and arguably not relevant in a design festival.
The international scene looks upon London for ideas and inspiration. Let’s just hope mounting living costs does not lock emerging creatives from contributing to this vibrancy, and that we don’t let big business completely overshadow raw creativity.
Watch mischer’traxler mesmerising installation at the V&A
London Design Festival runs from 19-27 September at venues throughout London.
Read our reviews of previous shows here, and last year’s Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby’s installation with BMW.
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