London Design Festival is a huge city wide celebration of design held every September. There are over 400 events dotted around London attracting designers, buyers, students, educators and companies from around the world. It is a wonderful opportunity for anyone interested in design to discover new products and find inspiration.
The Victoria and Albert Museum, and Somerset House hosted some remarkable, specially commissioned installations. This year’s highlights included the Curiosity Cloud by Austrian designers mischer’traxler. A ‘cloud’ of 200 mouth-blown glass balls was installed in an ornate, period room . Each ball contained a life-size hand-made insect. Every so often some of the insects started to flutter inside their glass cages. The tinkling sound carried to the gallery outside drawing in visitors.
Also, at the V&A was the Tower of Babel by Barnaby Barford. Reaching six metres high, the tower was made from 3,000 bone china shops printed with the facades of real shops in London. At the bottom they were derelict shops while perching precariously at the top were exclusive designer boutiques. The facades were familiar to anyone living in the city, or indeed the country. It was a powerful comment on the retail culture – seeking happiness through shopping, just as the biblical tower seeks to reach heaven.
Finally at the V&A, The Art of Luxury exhibition was an intriguing insight into the concept of ‘luxury’. Diamonds are clearly considered luxurious, but only when they are natural. Tendered Currency by Shane Mecklenburger challenged this attitude by manufacturing three diamonds – one from a bullet, one from the ashes of a roadkill armadillo and one from the script of Superman.
Another exhibit explored imperfections in the glassmaking process. The Jellyfish Installation by Steffen Dam exploited impurities in glass with layers of carbon and silver foil to create delicate jellyfish forms in glass specimen jars. They were beautiful because of their imperfections.
Somerset House hosted winners of the ‘PoweredbyTweets’ challenge. The festival and Twitter joined forces to run a competition asking what problems could be solved by Twitter. The most compelling winner was ‘Word by Word’ in which a typewriter was hooked up to the internet. The aim was to type out Alice in Wonderland by finding each word of the story on twitter as the necessary word was tweeted. The machine typed away at a steady pace then paused for around five minutes. It was tense waiting to see what word had tripped it up. Then suddenly it kicked into action; somebody, somewhere in the world had tweeted the next word: tone.
The other fascinating exhibit at Somerset House was ‘My Grandfather’s Tree’ by Max Lamb. An Ash tree on Lamb’s grandfather’s land had to be felled because it was rotting. The designer decided to cut it down in regular sections which were then laid out in rows. The sections revealed the tree’s beautiful 187 rings, its knots and the way the bark acts as a skin. Strolling around the sections became a meditation on life, death and reincarnation.
In addition to the art installations, a number of trade shows run throughout the week. The three big central London shows were: Tent/Superbrands, Design Junction and 100% Design.
Tent/Superbrands was a fabulous show hosting country pavillions – showcases by designers from Finland, Ireland, Korea and many others. It was easy to navigate and had some wonderful interactive stands.
By contrast Design Junction was an interesting idea but a lot harder to stroll around. The show was held at two locations near Holborn. One housed the retail side of the show with pop-up shops, the other housed the design aspect where luxury brand showcased their products. The first site was densely packed creating bottlenecks with some shops squeezed into tight corners. The second was a beautiful derelict building providing a perfect foil for the luxury element. But going up and down stairs, round and round meandering corridors to find the rooms was a frustrating challenge.
The final show, 100% Design was at Olympia and set out in clear areas: kitchen, bathrooms, interiors, work and design and build. It was a great show.
These are our highlights from the trade shows. Click on an image to launch the gallery and press the ‘i’ button for more information.
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Feature Image: Mineral Pendants by Rothschild and Bickers