Design exhibition: The Future Starts Here

‘The future is up for grabs,’ according to Rory Hyde, co-curator of The Future Starts Here, an upcoming exhibition at London’s V&A which sets out to explore the power of design to shape the world of tomorrow. ‘This is not a speculative show,’ he warns me at the preview this morning. Rather this exhibition, which has taken two years to research – working with architects, designers, scientists, inventors around the world – is more about gathering evidence of the future to see what social and cultural impact objects can have on our lives. ‘These objects point to where we are going.’

On show this morning were only a few examples of the sort of objects and ideas to expect when the exhibition opens here in May 2018. All the 100 or so selected pieces are currently in development in studios and laboratories around the world. From smart appliances to satellites, artificial intelligence to internet culture, this will be the first opportunity to not only see projects by the likes of Google and Apple, but in the context of alternative futures presented by smaller institutions and independent thinkers.

For instance, Bento Biowork’s Bento Lab is a portable DNA lab that makes it relatively easy to take biological samples and conduct simple genetic analysis. As the name suggests it is compact and designed to be portable and affordable to appeal to universities but also ‘hobbyists’ – bee keepers, brewers, say the inventors. Radical Love is Heather Dewey Hagborg’s DNA portraits of Chelsea Manning – the life size, three-dimensional printed portraits were generated using her DNA, which was extracted while in prison from cheek swabs and hair clippings and posted to the artist.

Netherlands-based artist Jalila Essaidi’s Living Network project imagines a future of the internet as a worldwide web of trees, allowing communication over great distances.While, Luchtsingel is a 400-meter pedestrian bridge connecting Rotterdam’s declining Central District to north of the city with its own park and rooftop garden. A community initiative crowdfunded by citizens, each of the bridge’s timber panels is inscribed with the name of every donor. Elsewhere, Facebook’s Aquila aircraft is part of a solar-powered high-altitude platform station system which is in early development as part of the company’s efforts to bring affordable connectivity to unconnected regions around the world.

The Future Starts Here will explore not just these objects and ideas, but crucially what impact they may have on us, our daily lives, our work, cities, larger politics and the planet. Hyde likens it to the smartphone, an object that has merged our work, home, personal and leisure lives, unknowingly completely altered how we live. The exhibition highlights the reality that the future isn’t some abstract concept that we don’t have control of – we can monitor, direct, select the objects and ideas that define our future in a positive way.

The Future Starts Here is supported by Volkswagen Group
The exhibition will be on from 12 May to 4 November 2018 in The Sainsbury Gallery, V&A, London


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Ferrari: Under The Skin opens at Design Museum

‘If you can dream it, you can do it,’ said Enzo Ferrari famously. His is a fascinating story and a brand built entirely on passion and determination. Enzo, in the midst of post-war austerity in Italy, and against all odds, set out to conceive a company that creates pure and efficient sports and race cars, incredible examples of industrial design and objects of great beauty. According to Sir Terence Conran: ‘We have all at some point had delicious dreams of owning a Ferrari.’

A new exhibition Ferrari: Under The Skin at the Design Museum sets out to explore the life and work of this visionary man and the marque he conceived seventy years ago. Read the full review here.


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Exhibitions – Basquiat: Boom for Real at the Barbican

‘I get my facts from books, stuff on atomisers, the blues, ethyl alcohol, geese in Egyptian glyphs,’ wrote Jean-Michel Basquiat, the American artist who, in his short life (1960-1988), drew, painted, wrote, made lyrical, vibrant, radical, exciting, colourful, powerful works of art. ‘I don’t know how to describe my work,’ he said later. ‘It’s like asking Miles, how does your horn sound?’

Basquiat: Boom for Real at the Barbican Gallery takes us on a journey into his world. It reveals a raw energy as fresh today as when Basquiat began creating art, first on the streets and subways of New York with his classmate Al Diaz under the pseudonym SAMO© (same old, same old shit), then on canvas in the late 1970s and early 80s.

He remained part of the underground art scene even when he gained recognition following New York/New Wave, the landmark 1981 exhibition by Diego Cortez of the Mudd Club, which portrayed the city’s vibrant downtown countercultural scene. Here the work of the young Basquiat was shown alongside the more established Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, David Byrne and William Burroughs. Together they captured the sprawling, dizzying energy of New and No Wave music and its impact on visual art.

The Barbican, its open industrial gallery spaces, large slabs of raw concrete softening the volume, the sounds of Duke Ellington echoing in its double-height, feels the exact right setting to be showing the first large-scale exhibition in the UK of one of the most significant painters of the 20th century.

Through image, text, sound Basquiat comes alive as he comments on the injustices in society making clear statements against racism, colonialism, class war, slavery. We discover his inspirations. Music is a powerful source – free jazz, early bebop, Bach even – and he rarely worked without something playing in his studio. Basquiat had a library of some 3000 records and his obsession was so much that he traded paintings for rare blues and bepop LPs. His hero Charlie Parker is referenced in the title of Basquiat’s 1983 record Beat Pop.

On exhibit are his notepads. He scribbled lines, poems, lyrics in neat capital letters as if he knew they would one day be on show. In one he writes: ‘I feel like a citizen. It’s time to go back and return as a drifter.’ Elsewhere, ‘Nicotine walks on eggshells medicated, the earth was formless void, darkness face of the deep, spirit moved across the water and there was light. It was good. Breathing into the lungs, 2000 years of asbestos.’

This is a show about life and time. We are immersed in Basquiat’s world but also raw New York of the early 80s. We learn of his fascination with art history and philosophy, his liking of the abstract expressionist Cy Twombly (an overriding influence), and fondness of Beat literature and poetry. Basquiat takes energy from the clash of high and low culture, from growing up in the chaos of 70s Bronx and later from downtown Manhattan’s countercultural scenes, street life, black-American life. He said: ‘I never went to art school. I just looked. That’s where I think I learned about art by looking at it.’ What’s evident here is that Basquiat gives us a new space for thinking. He foresees how we have come to navigate the labyrinth of information, of stuff, and our thoughts today.

Nargess Banks

Basquiat: Boom for Real is at the Barbican until 28 January.

Watch Jean-Michel Basquiat ‘Shooting Star’.


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Interview Yana Peel: Serpentine Gallery CEO discusses arts and ideas

The Serpentine Galleries hold a unique position. They are nestled in Kensington Gardens in London’s glorious Hyde Park. They occupy discreet spaces and you may not even notice them walking by. Yet the two boutique galleries – Serpentine and Sackler – have held some of the most exciting exhibitions in the city. Then there is the annual commission for the Serpentine Gallery pavilions – one of the most anticipated events in the architecture calendar since its launch in 2000 showing work by Zaha Hadid, Frank Ghery, Bjarke Ingels and now Diebedo Francis Kéré.

Yana Peel became chief executive of the organisation over a year ago when she took over the position from its founder Julia Peyton-Jones. She has an extraordinary record of service to the arts, co-founding the contemporary art fund Outset, co-chairing the public debate forum Intelligence Squared Group; she sits on many arts advisory boards, and still appears to have time to write children’s books.

Peel also brings a very different approach to the Serpentine programme which I discovered when I met with her in March for an article for Weatherbys Private Bank Magazine. Below is an edited version of our interview.

Nargess Banks: You’ve spoken passionately about making exciting art and ideas available to a broad audience, and there is something egalitarian about the Serpentine Galleries being accessible and free, which also relates to your background at Outset and art philanthropy.

Yana Peel: I am incredibly excited about this open landscape for art and ideas. What we are trying to do is lure in the visitor who would normally not come in, for instance with the Pavilion, whether it’s the wireless access in terms of the mobile app, or virtual reality with Zaha Hadid. It is about creating programmes around art, architecture, fashion and music. It is about collapsing these universes and being a hub for these kinds of multiple discussions which are so relevant in the world today.

NB: How do you see the Serpentine expanding on its mission to bring these visions to an even wider audience?

YP: Well, as with all things we do at the Serpentine, it starts with the art and the artists we work with. Take our 2017 Summer season – we are excited to present Grayson Perry, the first solo UK show of the American filmmaker and artist Arthur Jafa, and our Summer Pavilion by architect Diebedo Francis Kéré.

As you can tell by the show’s title ‘Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!’, Grayson addresses front on the question of popularity and populism – who comes to an art gallery and why. AJ is someone with a cult reputation for work with Spike Lee, Stanley Kubrick and Solange Knowles. Here he reinvents the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, taking his message right across London with a series of interventions in unexpected places. And Kéré is a marvel, and perhaps the nicest man you will ever meet, with community at the very heart of his practice. All these artists are excited by the opportunities the Serpentine presents and we’re excited to work with them. We are a small gallery in terms of our footprint, but with a local, national and international reach.

NB: I’ve read you admire creatives with disruptive ideas, a vision you share with the artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist. Given our current political climate, how crucial is the role of galleries like the Serpentine to provoke open debates, explore how the arts can help shape society, agitate even?

LP: Essential! And it is the artists who are best place to do this. That’s why everything we do is artist led. The late John Latham (who exhibited at the Serpentine at the time of our interview) believed powerfully in the artist’s role in society. His Artist Placement Group put artists in industry long before the concept of residency became cool. At Sackler, we showed four contemporary artists picking up this radical mantle.

NB: The younger generation consumes art in different ways, perhaps in a less linear fashion. How do you see the organisation responding going forward?

LP: It is a given that we must be where they are. This mean across all social media platforms, those we know and those we don’t yet know about. Technology is a key focus for me, and something Hans Ulrich and I work closely on with our curator of digital. How can we use technology to give bigger and wider audiences access to our art? More importantly, we need to make sure we are listening as well as talking. It has to be a dialogue, always. Whether that is Hans Ulrich’s 89+ project (co-founded by Simon Castets), our educational outreach on the Edgware Road, or our fantastic Future Contemporaries fundraising board. To be meaningful, the dialogue must reach across all areas of the organisation.

NB: Events such as the summer marathons, although open to all, can be intimidating for some. How can they be made to be more inclusive?

YP: The Marathon is an annual joy, and last year’s Miracle Marathon was our best yet. The second day was held just off Brick Lane, mixing our West London magic with East London cool. The atmosphere was fantastic and the audience definitely younger than ever. We also broadcast the entire event on the Serpentine Radio, opening it up to a whole new audience, giving people the chance to engage with the material on their own terms.

NB: The annual Serpentine Pavilion commission has become one of the most respected events in the architecture calendar. How do you see this project pushing the envelope even further?

LP: (The 2017 Pavilion winner) Francis Kéré’s work is so exciting and a way of bringing his village of Gando, Burkino Faso into Kensington Gardens. The Pavilion has such a history and Hans Ulrich and I, in making our first joint selection this year, were so mindful of that. Equally, we did want to push things forward. Kéré’s practice is rooted in community and sustainability. He is also the most wonderful storyteller. His design, based on a tree which is the focal meeting point in his hometown on Gando, is the inspiration for a new piece of programming that will bring even wider audiences in to what we call an open landscape of art and ideas.

Watch this space as we are going to bring in different groups. We’re looking at how we can use our privileged position, use our platform to bring in dissenting voices. Always better to debate a question than to answer…

Nargess Banks

‘Grayson Perry: Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!’ and Arthur Jafa ‘A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions’ are on at the Serpentine and Sackler galleries until 10 September. Francis Kéré’s Serpentine Pavilion will be at Kensington Gardens until 8 October.

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
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The new V&A Exhibition Road Quarter in picture

Last night saw the opening of V&A Exhibition Road Quarter – the much-anticipated new addition to my favourite London gallery. The work of Amanda Levete and her architecture practice AL_A, it includes a dramatic entrance onto Exhibition Road, and an impressive courtyard that celebrates the V&A’s storied past. New spaces for exhibitions include the Sainsbury Gallery, Sackler Courtyard and Blavatnik Hall.

The scheme has taken some six years to complete and marks the first major construction work at the museum in almost a century. V&A Exhibition Road Quarter opens to the public today with a week-long celebration through a series of art and design commissions. It is really worth visiting.

Find out more about the festival here.

Caption for all images: V&A Exhibition Road Quarter designed by AL_A picture ©Hufton+Crow

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©