The motor car has shaped our modern world and is about to define its future. In its 130 years, this object of desire and destruction has been critical in enforming our lives – from the design of our cities and our relation to the countryside, to how we work, live and communicate with one another. In its golden age, the motor car conjured up such strong visceral feelings, yet it remains a disturbing symbol of our current climate emergency.
This is the premise behind the V&A’s latest exhibition ‘Cars: accelerating the modern world‘. Together with the accompanying book, the show is a fascinating overview of the motor car’s complex past, and acts as a useful tool for navigating the second stage of the automobile. What’s apparent is that, just like the beginnings of the motor car revolution, the future clean, autonomous, shared drive will need greater cooperation and coordination with urban and country planning. It needs to be a global effort, and performed well and without profit at its very core, it can be an exciting future.Read my full story here.
Image maker, explorer, wanderer, dreamer – Tim Walker’s photography is about elaborate staging and romantic motifs. He creates fairy-tale worlds, magical sets, then turns them on their heads. Spanning some 25 years, his is a fascinating body of work captured in an enchanting exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
‘Tim Walker: Wonderful Things’ is as much about Walker’s work as his relation to the gallery hosting this exhibition – for he has formed an intimate conversation with the V&A. Walker once called the museum ‘a place for dreams’, noting that the eclectic collection here has long resonated with him. ‘The V&A is the most inspiring place in the world,’ says one of the most successful fashion photographers of his generation.
For 25 years Walker has photographed models, celebrities and artists. His work appears in Vogue, W, i-D, AnOther and LOVE. He certainly has some favourite muses – Tilda Swinton features frequently and the photographs of the actress are some of his most powerful.
This is the largest-ever exhibition of Walker, though don’t expect a straightforward retrospective. There are plenty of his well-known photos here, but more exciting are the new works informed by the V&A’s collection. In preparation, Walker spent a year exploring the archives, rummaged through the maze of the V&A’s 145 galleries. He scaled the roof of the west London site, and the labyrinth of Victorian passages below in search of arts, ideas and objects to inspire a new body of work.
Amongst his finds are stained-glass windows, vivid Indian miniature paintings, jewelled snuffboxes, erotic illustrations, golden shoes, and a 65-metre-long photograph of the Bayeux Tapestry. This curious collection, also on display, have informed his narrative to form ten of the main installations in the exhibition.
Walker believes what happens in his artificial, staged worlds have to seem as real as possible for the photograph to be believable, and to resonate with us on a visceral level. His is, therefore, a very human brand of fantasy. Yet these are grand ideas and the complex production requires creative help. For the V&A, Walker worked with one of his frequent collaborators, the set designer Shona Heath, to form these ethereal settings.
‘Each new shoot is a love letter to an object from the V&A collection, and an attempt to capture my encounter with the sublime,’ says Walker. ‘For me, beauty is everything. I’m interested in breaking down the boundaries that society has created, to enable more varied types of beauty and the wonderful diversity of humanity to be celebrated.’ Preparing for this exhibition, he admits, has pushed him into new territories. ‘It is very exciting, and I’m at a stage in my life where I feel brave enough to do that.’
Access to a decent smartphone and an Instagram account has made photographers out of many of us. And we need talents like Tim Walker to remind us all that great image-making isn’t a matter of a good lens and photoshop skills. Timeless photographs – from Man Ray to Lee Miller to Cecil Beaton (whose work inspired Walker) and Richard Avedon (for whom he was an assistant) are about constructing images, choreographing a stage, narrating a story. These are moving images captured in a still moment.
Ultimately, ‘Tim Walker: Wonderful Things’ is a meditation on the beauty of the imagination. And much like the V&A, each room unravels a new and wondrous world.
Tim Walker: Wonderful Things is on at the V&A from 21 September 2019 – 8 March 2020
Extinction Rebellion (XR) is an exciting movement. This progressive collective, calling for urgent action on climate change through acts of non-violent civil disobedience and disruption, has grown into an international force. XR’s first public action was in October 2018, when it urged the UK government to declare an ecological emergency and commit to reducing emissions to net-zero by 2025. Now there are some 363 XR groups active in 59 countries – all with a unified message. XR makes a visual statement wherever they appear thanks to the Art Group, an XR coalition of graphic designers and artists responsible for formulating a visual language that is powerful and works on a global scale.
Now, the V&A in London has acquired a series of XR protest artwork to explore how design, strong graphics and illustration, as well as the use of colour have contributed to the success of this explosive movement. On display in the Rapid Response Collecting gallery, are a collection of symbols and flags including the brilliant ‘extinction symbol’. Originally created in 2011 by the street artist ESP, it has since been adopted by XR featuring a circle to represent earth and a stylised hourglass to signify the end of time.
‘The strong graphic impact of the extinction symbol, alongside a clear set of design principles, have ensured that their acts of rebellion are immediately recognisable,’ says Corinna Gardner, senior curator of design and digital at the V&A, who feels design has been a critical component of the group’s success. ‘Punchy colours, woodblock prints, and carefully worded slogans available for download empower members of the public to produce their own creative responses that collectively amplify the XR’s call to action.’
XR’s graphics are characterised by four core design elements: the use of the extinction symbol, the XR logotype, and a colour-palette of 12 playful tones including ‘lemon’ yellow and ‘angry’ pink – influenced by pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi – and the fonts ‘FUCXED’. Theirs has been about balancing joy and anger and with a bold, tongue-in-cheek approach, juxtaposing imagery of the natural world with skulls and bones. Gardner says XR’s design approach stands in relation to earlier protest movements, namely the Suffragettes who encouraged the wearing of purple, green and white to visually communicate their cause.
The V&A’s Rapid Response Collecting programme enables the acquisition and immediate display of design objects that address questions of social, political, technological and economic change. Since 2014, the collection has grown to over thirty objects that chart the impact of contemporary design on the world today.
These latest objects are fascinating in that they collectively reveal how XR has harnessed the power of open-source design to develop a coherent and impactful visual identity. The rebellion to save this planet is a global protest and XR have shown that design can play a crucial role in amplifying the message. The group’s urgent visuals articulate hope, simultaneously outlining the grave consequences of climate change.
All images (c) Chris J Ratcliffe Getty Images for the V&A
The opening ceremony at the 2012 London Olympics would arguably not have been as dramatic as it was if not for the cauldron. Designed by Heatherwick Studio, it was conceived as a moment rather than an object to provide the ultimate climax to the Games ceremony.