London Design Festival @ the V&A

The V&A have had a number of special displays on during this year’s London Design Festival and I spent a sunny day there on Friday checking them out. There were a few which really caught my attention.

First, The Tower of Babel, by Barnaby Barford (the visiting tutor from last year, who I still think gave me the most important insight I’ve had on this entire course). The Tower is made from 3000 unique china shops, showing a real London shop which was photographed by the artist. I didn’t notice when looking, but apparently at the base the shops are derelict, while at its pinnacle are the crème-de-la-crème of London’s exclusive boutiques and galleries.

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Next, and by far and away the stand out piece for me from the Design Festival this year, was
The Ogham Wall. Made by Grafton Architects and concrete experts Graphic Relief, this installation was created under the theme: ‘Liminal – Irish design at the threshold.’

Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects said that “we wanted to create something with an architectural presence that doesn’t establish a boundary.” The blurb from LDF reads as follows:

Inspired by the Irish Ogham alphabet, which dates from around the 4th century, The Ogham Wall interprets letters from this ancient language as an architectural construct of three-metre-high cast concrete ‘fins’. A central linear element brings order to the installation, with an arrangement of smaller perpendicular and angled fins projecting off it to create an abstract rendering of each letter. “The Ogham script looks very architectural – like the plan for a colonnade – and we were interested in exploring that idea and translating this series of letters into architectural elements,” say Grafton Architects. Each Ogham letter traditionally references the name of a species of tree and Grafton Architects have worked with Graphic Relief to cast magnified and abstracted tree -bark patterns into the fins. The result is a tactile surface that references the richly textured tapestries in the room, and is described by Grafton as “man-made geology that is beautiful to touch and to look at”.

This piece was stunning to look at, particularly in the setting of the dimly lighted, rather grand Tapestry Gallery at the V&A. It is a lovely display of material memory of the trees being imprinted directly into the concrete casting. Aside from the fact I like language inspired work anyway (and I do actually know how to carve/write Ogham!) this spoke so nicely of the point of materiality I’ve been working with lately.

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Finally, the last mention goes to the Curiosity Cloud, which was a interactive installation which celebrates moments in nature and how people interact with the natural world. A few hundred glass globe things hanging from the ceiling, each containing a single hand-fabricated insect which co,e to life as the visitors come near them. It was actually quite playful and delightful, which is a refreshing change from all of the ‘serious’ work you see around.

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