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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Ballets Russes: Synthesis of three ways of expression

It is a fitting epitaph for Serge Diaghilev, a man who started life as an exhibitor of Russian art, that London’s Victoria & Albert museum should host this major retrospective of his life as the founder and artistic director of the Ballets Russes. A difficult though charismatic man, Diaghilev, who was neither dancer, musician or designer, was able to assert an unprecedented influence on 20th century design, music, and dance.

Leon Woizikovsky, Lydia Sokolova, Bronislava Nijinksa and Anton Dolin in Le Train Bleu, Photographed by Sasha in 1924, Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929- photo© V&A images

Diaghilev brought art, music and dance together to create theatrical spectacles, whilst releasing dance out of the shadow of opera. A consummate collaborator, he achieved this through working with some of the most forward thinking choreographers, composers and designers of his time.

Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929 is a chronological guide through his work – from his life in St Petersburg to his arrival in Paris, an unknown, penniless Russian with huge ambition, ending in 1929 by which time he and the Ballets Russes had achieved great status in European culture with everyone clamouring to work with him.

The journey is effectively conveyed using the actual costumes and giant backdrops, music, and restored films of the performances. The development of the three separate strands of design, music, and choreography are explored in parallel through the accompanying text and specially created short films.

There are some amazing pieces of original costume – fascinating not least because it is difficult to imagine how they could dance in such elaborate costumes, set-designs, posters and props. Pieces that are created by a roll call of leading avant-garde artists and designers of the time – Leon Bakst, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Jean Cocteau, Auguste Rodin, and Ivan Goncharov.

Front cloth used for Le Train bleu after a painting by Pablo Picasso 1924 from Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929 - photo© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2010

Pablo Picasso’s huge front tableau for Le Train Bleu, together with the bathing costumes designed by Coco Chanel, is amongst some of the highlights of the exhibition. The visuals are enhanced by text describing how Diaghilev brought a Slavic flavour to the stage to resonate with the growing fascination in the west of all things ‘oriental’ and ‘exotic’.

We learn that some of the costumes bold in colour and geometry, were influenced by Russian Folk clothes, whilst others such as one designed by Vaslav Njinsky was inspired by Cambodian temples. We also learn that the costumes influenced the fashion of the time – Bakst inspired Paris fashion through Paul Poiret, whilst another of company’s regulars, the painter Natalia Goncharov, doubled up as a fashion designer.

In a series of short films, the composer and broadcaster Howard Goodall, provides an excellent examination of the musical influence of the Ballets Russes. The 1913 production of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at the Theatre de Champs Elysees – built by Astruc to showcase contemporary dance and opera – infamously caused a riot not least because of the awkward costumes.

Costume for a Mandarin in Le Chant du Rossignol by Henri Matisse, 1920 from Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929 - photo© Succession

Goodall shows how Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s music was the culmination of two separate developments in music- both in opposition to the dominant Austrian-German tradition. One was the emergence of a Slavic music in Diaghilev’s St Petersburg, starting from Alexander Borodin, to Modest Mussorgsky, to Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, and culminating in Stravinsky’s mentor, Rimsky Korsakov’s use of Russian folk music.

Stravinsky himself was fascinated by the rhythmic and hypnotic sound in recordings of Russian Folk music sampled for the first time by a Russian anthropologist.

The second influence was French composer Claude Debussy’s layering of sound – like colour on a canvass, an antithesis to the Wagnerian Leitmotif. Diaghilev commissioned the hitherto unknown Stravinsky to compose the Firebird where the composer uses the folk score to signify the human and the exotic octotonic scale to signify the fantastical.

This synergy between music, dance and design are brought to life in a huge projection of the Firebird. The final chapter of this musical narrative finds Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes isolated from Russia following the revolution and entering a period where their work lost some of its Slavic nature.

Front cover: Costume de Chinois du Ballet Parade with costume design for a Chinese Conjurer by Pablo Picasso 1917 from Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929- photo© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2010

The work, though, remained fiercely modern and it is here that we see the emergence of music that continues its influence today – the playful and childlike (Erik Satie); repackaged old masterpieces (Ravel); and repetitive speech and percussion (Stravinsky’s Les Noces).

The strength of the V&A exhibition is in presenting these parallel narratives of music and design, and their interaction with each other. If there is criticism to be made, it is that there is little on the socio-political context, the backdrop of war and revolution, and how that interacts with the artistic narrative.

The greatest disappointment, though, is in the absence of an equally strong examination of the dance and choreography. There is little attempt to contextualise the Ballets Russes within the Russian ballets tradition – that of the Kirov and the Bolshoi.

Although much is made of the relationship with contemporary dance, including a beautiful version of the Rite of Spring by Pina Busch and a moving contemporary piece by Akram Khan and Sophi Guilem, there is no equivalent of Goodall to explain to us how these pieces and genres relate to one another: how does the elaborate staging of Njinsky’s Rite relate to the minimalism of Pina Busch? Is the minimalism of Les Noces the missing link? The names of choreographers such as Fokin, Njinsky, Massine, Bronislava and Balanchine, are mentioned but there is no systematic examination of their contribution to dance.

Caricature drawing of the composer Igor Stravinsky playing the music for Rite of Spring by Jean Cocteau, 1913 fromDiaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929 - photo© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2010

Diaghilev and the Golden age of Ballets Russes is an altogether very satisfying exhibition. The wonderful costumes, set-design, and posters, the interspersion of films – sometimes projected dramatically onto the huge backcloths from the Ballets – accompanied by the dramatic music created for Diaghilev provides a holistic completeness to the exhibit.

The sensual experience is greatly enhanced by the amazing story of a man in his top hat and monocle with his dance troupe, who changed the face of western art, dance and music forever.

Guest blogger Maryam Jap

Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929 is at the V&A in London until 9 January 2011.

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