Highlights from Clerkenwell Design Week 2016

London is alive with creative energy and it is sometimes hard to keep up with the sheer volume of exhibitions and fairs celebrating visual culture. This week saw Clerkenwell Design Week celebrate its seventh year. The three-day event in May sees international brands, individual designers, and emerging young artists exhibit their latest creations in one of London’s oldest neighbourhoods – creating a striking contrast between the local architecture, old churches and historic buildings and the contemporary design and installations on show. The festival may be a relative newcomer to the scene, yet it has grown substantially in size, confidence and personality.

You enter CDW through St John’s Gate, where this year London studio Flea Folly Architects partnered with Hakwood to create an installation of stacked wood referencing the gate’s austere past. Along the route four glass-tile sculptures by Giles Miller Studio helped visitors navigate the fair.

CDW is as much about the products as the location, and one of the highlights was Icon’s House of Culture, an exhibition space dedicated to international brands and set up in the former Metropolitan Cold Stores in Smithfiled, now Fabric nightclub.

Here Stellar Works, the French/Japanese design brand with headquartered in Shanghai, showed its Valet Collection, first seen at Salone del Mobile in Milan. American designer David Rockwell collaborated with Stellar, interpreting the roots of the word valet for a series of fourteen beautifully crafted, unique furniture pieces that are relevant for contemporary living. We particularly like the clever shelving systems that offer combinations for book and vinyl storage, and a bar.

At EBB & Flow, Danish lighting designer Susanne Nielson with her passion for glass and textiles showed products based on a combination of British and Nordic designs. Elsewhere in Icon, the Scandinavian company NORR11 displayed its collection that aims to rethink classic designs for today with a strong focus on taking inspiration from the natural materials.

The British Collection offered an interesting line-up of local talent. Pluck, for instance, is a bespoke modern kitchen collection by 2MZ, a Brixton-based design studio. Here they have used traditional materials in a fresh way, the clutter-free environment allowing the clean lines and thoughtful application of colour to stand out.

Minale + Mann debuted The Workshop and the new Well Hung collection. An elegant, and a rather sexy, line of furniture that works with combining wood and metal including a cantilevered dining table in American walnut and copper, and the unfolding bureau that appears as if floating from the wall was inspired by the grand piano.

The dim lights and dark corridors The House of Detention, a former prison and very chilly on that day, offered an interesting space to exhibit Platform. Amongst the forty up-and-coming designers showing their work, we particularly liked the clever modular breadboard by Baker Street Boys who also showed their coffee table/stool designs that work with metal, wood and Perspex. And Rubertelli Design saw the London-based sculptor Stefano Rubertelli fuse the world of handmade and mass production to create striking, swirly lights that are almost pieces of art.

Over at Additions the display focused on interior products where Monica Bispo, a Brazilian born Italy based ceramic artist, offered her collection of ceramics. Inspired by artisanal craftsmanship, her pieces are both physically and visually handmade.

Tom Dixon has installed a large central chandelier in the main space of the beautiful seventeenth century church in Clerkenwell Green, as well as setting up a working environment and kitchen that will remain as permanent fixtures here.

Elsewhere, Sam Jacob Design created the 3D One Thing After Another for Sto Werkstatt. The concept aims to explore the dialogue between the digital and physical worlds. Much like a Russian Doll, the original garden shed structure is 3D scanned to create a larger digital copy for the outside with another tiny scaled copy housed inside.

Design Fields at Spa Field saw curated contemporary design on display including work by the main sponsor Renault. Here the carmaker’s focus was on the environment, displaying its futuristic EOLAB concept car that showcases over hundred sustainable innovations. Renault also collaborated with MA industrial design students at Central Saint Martins who were tasked to envisage the interior of a future autonomous car with some intriguing results.

The winning proposal Oura is a single wearable vehicle suit with a gesture-controlled, head-up display visor that uses virtual reality – the cabin is almost entirely stripped away so that the user can interact more closely with their environment as they travel.

Clerkenwell Design Week ran from 24-26 May 2016. To find out more about exhibiting or attending the 2017 fair visit here.

Read our reviews of previous Clerkenwell Design Week here

Nargess Banks

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The Makropulos Case

‘The 337 year old beauty had no heart anymore.” So wrote the Czech composer Leos Janácek on 28 December 1922 to Kamilia Strösslová, a married woman with whom he was passionately involved in a one-sided love affair. He was 68 and she was 31. The unrequited love inspired the most amazing flowering of music from the old man including the operas Katya Kabanova, the cunning little vixen and the Makropulos case to which he refers in the letter quoted above. It was to be his penultimate opera. Janácek died three years after it was finished.

The Makropulos Case at ENO - Amanda Roocroft ©Neil Libbert

The Makropulos is a convoluted story of a beautiful and famous opera singer Emelia Marty, desperate to recover the formula for the potion that had kept her young for over 300 years. Her father, court physician to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, had concocted the potion that rendered immortality at the emperor’s request. The suspicious emperor, fearful of death, feared the unknown even more and had made Elina Makropulos, the physicians’ daughter try it first.

Now, aged 339 and transmorphed into Emelia Marty, the elixir was wearing off and she was aging fast. The plot revolves round a 100 year old court case over a legacy in which Emelia, under her previous name of Elian MacGregor, one of several names she had taken on over the centuries, always with the initials EM, had been involved.

The Makropulos Case is about unrequited love, women with hearts of ice, fear of death, and fear of ageing. It is also about misplaced love when Gregor, Emilia’s great-great-great-great-grandson falls madly in love with her. Above all it is about time, endless time, time on your hand, time that you do, and don’t, want to end. And floating above all this is the love-object Kamilia, alias Emelia. How to show time in the theatre, endless time?

The Makropulos Case at ENO - Laura Mitchell and Alasdair Elliot ©Neil Libbert

The Vienna Volksoper production some years ago emphasized the insistent drumbeats of the overture by having a man upstage beating a huge drum mounted on a clock. That clock was there, upstage, in every scene, reminding us of time’s ever presence.

In Christopher Alden and Charles Edwards’ magical formula at the English National Opera’s revival of the 2006 production, paper documents rain down from the roof as the curtain rises to the drum beats, the accumulated documents of the century-long legal battle over ownership.

Again in act two, time stretches back when all EM’s previous lovers line up behind the row of rectangular glass doors peering in at her, as if in a memory. Later the present and past intertwine as hundreds of flowers send by admirers after the opera performance and brought in by new and old admirers intermingle, and are scattered by an angry Emelia. Edwards also uses a blackboard where the cast write the story in chalk as it unfolds and wipe it off just as Elina Macropolus and all the other EMs dissolved into one another.

The Makropulos Case at ENO - Amanda Roocroft ©Neil Libbert

Edwards’ use of light, the intense white light vertically from above, the light diffused and fragmented by the slightly opaque glass doors reflect the loneliness of beautiful Emelia, loved by almost everyone on stage but ‘already freezing with horror’ as Janácek put it in a letter to Kamila: ‘When she sees how happy we are, we who have such a short life… We look forward to everything, we want to make use of everything – our life is so short’.

She has an endless repeat to look forward to, like a tape loop, exemplified on stage by the identical suite of her present and past suitors. The impersonal décor-less, almost Kafka like, 1920’s set interchanges as the advocate’s office, Emelia’s changing room and the Baron Prus’s hotel room where Emelia sleeps with him to get at the Greek document with the formula.

The question of language always arises with Janácek who used the inflections of the Czech language as the prop for his music. But the acting, especially by Amanda Roocroft as the ageless, apparently cold, but intensely fragile Elina-Elian-Emelia, switching Mary Quant black and blond wigs, was so superb that the words ceased to matter.

The music just pulled you along. In this opera Roocroft showed herself as a great an actress who is a superb singer. She has already sung the lead roles in Janácek’s Jenûfa and Katya Kabanova on stage. In portraying Emilia Marty she excelled herself. The rest of the cast, especially Andrew Shore as Dr Kolentaty, Ashley Holland as the avaricious Baron Prus and Alasdair Elliot as Vítek were superb, among a generally excellent cast. Director Christopher Alden’s beautiful twist at the end brought tears in an unforgettable evening.

This is opera at its best – an experience that marries the aural, the visual and the emotional into an explosive mix. Unforgettable.

ENO’s revival of The Makropulos case will run till 5 October 2010.

Guest blogger Mohsen Shahmanesh

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