‘Cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals; I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object,’ the philosopher Roland Barthes wrote in 1957. Earlier this week the contemporary motor car met with great religious art, with a provocative dialogue emerging between the past and the present.
Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby’s installation for the London Design Festival, Double Space for BMW – Precision and Poetry in Motion, sees a couple of giant mirrored silver structures suspend in the centre of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Raphael Gallery. Their choreographed movement- flat on one side, curved on the other – distorts our view of the seven surviving designs for tapestries in the Sistine Chapel.
The mirrors heighten the scale of the room, and it is dimly lit for added visual drama. As you stand, small, almost insignificant beneath, looking up as you would in the Sistine Chapel, you hear a conversation taking place between the grandeur of the Renaissance artwork and this contemporary structure.
Engineering firm Arup built the structure on site in just over a week. The artwork here is priceless and on loan from the Queen. Known as ‘cartoons’, the painted designs were commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1515, created to guide weavers. Later Charles I purchased them and they have been with the V&A since 1865.
We caught up with Adrian Van Hooydonk, director of BMW design. Standing beneath this overwhelming structure he jokes that one of the 4,000 or so screws that hold it together came loose on completion. All they could hear was its rattling sound so a brave engineer was sent up high and inside the mirrors to locate this.
The project was sponsored by BMW, the idea being for Barber and Osgerby to interpret the design values of the carmaker. ‘I admire Ed and Jay’s work for its clarity, simplicity, openness and I wanted to work with them for years,’ says Van Hooydonk. He invited the duo to Munich to see the process of car design and meet Vision Future Luxury, the company’s latest concept car that expresses the future design philosophy.
He says: ’We told them a car isn’t a static object; it is about expressing movement, reflecting its environment. We stayed up for hours talking and discussing ideas but then we left it open for their own interpretation. Working with them also helped us distil the core values of our design philosophy.’
BMW works with designers from outside the automotive world for their fresh interpretations. Van Hooydonk says the fact that the two are not rooted in car design allows them to work with their own semantics and references. Their architectural thinking also led to a new and dynamic exploration of an existing space.
Barber and Osgerby have long been inspired by cars, planes and boats; fascinated with movement, precision and speed.‘Growing up in the 70s, BMW was absolutely my favourite car due to its strong identity,’ says Barber enthusiastically.
From the start Osgerby felt that the project needed to be grand in scale. He says they wanted to create something which is ‘awesome in the old sense of the word, that it changes your perception of space and it does something very physical to you. ’They wanted to give something back to the Raphael Gallery to make it even more of a magical room.
The end result, they felt, needed to oppose our daily normal view of life – be something that turns it on its head. And for anyone who’s attempted a hand stand as an adult, there is nothing quite as liberating as seeing the world turn on its head. It is addictive.
You can tell Van Hooydonk is delighted with the final design. ‘I loved their idea which is about the fascination with movement; it is showing movement, precision, the poetry of cars reflecting life,’ he says as Barber adds: ‘Our architectural work is concerned with experience and how people behave in that space…this installation ignores all of that and just says it is what it is.’
Double Space for BMW – Precision and Poetry in Motion will remain on display beyond the London Design Festival, until 24 October.
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