The RCA Show is a not-to-be-missed annual spectacle of the some of the best of contemporary art, architecture and design - and everything in between. You’ll need a big ol’ dose of energy to gear yourself up to take in a show that seems to grow bigger every year. To my shame I haven’t even made it yet to the painting and sculpture show at the Battersea site, but have seen enough of the design sections at South Ken to get a glimpse of just some of the talent on show. What follows are just some of this year’s highlights, first from the more design led end, and, in the next post, some stars from the more craft-orientated side of things.
As ever, the Design Interactions department, led by Anthony Dunne of the British critical design duo Dunne and Raby, cast their speculative gaze onto the future – as well as the past, if Marguerite Humeau’s recreation of the sound of the Mammoth is anything to go by.
One of the most fun-looking projects was Charlotte Jarvis’ The Future is Not a Noun; It’s a Verb, that considers what happens when you put people and clown masks, party hats and custard tarts in a confined space. Her findings? Not suprisingly, that more people = more chaos faster.
On a (slightly) more serious note, I would happily sign up to Elliot P Montgomery’s ideas for making renewal energy more business like. Imagine being entered into a lottery every time you paid your electricity bill, the numbers being determined by a solar powered lottery ball tumbler on the power station's roof.
While the Design Interactions department’s offerings can seem rather out there, are all grounded in real, existing technologies and scientific fact. What marks these designers out is that they question our applications of and relationship with technology of the present and future. More grounded examples of alternative, more considered, uses of technology can be found in the Innovation Design Engineering department, such as Mohammed Daud’s admirable Stephoe project, that not only offers a design improvement on otherwise back-breaking agricultural work but also an ethical business model: buying the product in the UK sees another hoe given free to a farmer in a developing nation such as Daud's native Pakistan.
Representing some of the engineering-based talent was Hegan Koo’s Buggygo, a baby buggy that with two deft flicks of the wrist turns into a scooter. Parents shouldn’t get too excited though as it hasn’t gone through the rigmarole of health and safety testing yet...
Engineering ingenuity was combined with fine craftsmanship in some of the exhibits in the Design Products department. Ignore its name, Tien-Sheng Huang’s Beautiful Mistake table was based on a serious amount of skill in order to calculate the right amount of thermal expansion to shrink fit the brass joints into the table’s wooden surface.
With its design focused on the table’s joint, Huang’s work is exemplary of the larger interest in process and making amongst designers today, as seen in work of eminent designers such as Tom Dixon and his Flame-Cut series from 2010. At the RCA show it was also in evidence in designers such as Thomas Hatfield, whose project was a standardized system of joints that reflects the blurring of boundaries between work and domestic spaces: Hatfield's system allows you to create, and modify a workspace whenever, and wherever, it is needed.
Hatfield's practical design that shows that the show isn’t just a spectacle, but full of useful stuff too. It goes without mentioning that this is just a fraction of the innovative and exciting products on display. The next step of course for these designers is not just to get their products noticed, but put into production too, something that the post-industrial manufacturing landscape - in Britain at least - represents a real challenge.
Posted by Cat Rossi
The RCA Show is free and open to the public until 3rd July
Regular blog readers will have spotted our review of the V&A exhibition The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860 - 1900, on now until mid July. What you might not know is that the Fiells have their own Aestheticist-inspired interior, which was profiled in The Telegraph earlier this year. As a follow up, we thought we'd share with you some more snapshots...
Displayed on this oak sideboard are three Japanese-inspired brass and copper teapots designed by Christopher Dresser for Benham & Froud from around 1890 of which Peter Fiell is a particular fan. He says:
'with their pared back and massively simplified forms, completely devoid of any extraneous ornament, you can see the origins of modern design in these pieces which enabled true, industrial mass production. You take away anything that is unnecessary, and leave only what is fundamental - not only are you saving cost, but you're maximising the efficiency of the industrial process. At the same time you're providing the consumer with way more value because so much more of the effort has gone into the intrinsic object and not into elaborate and unnecessary surface treatment. Most people associate Dresser with his silver pieces, but it is the copper pieces that he did for Benham & Froud that were truly mass produced. Not only are they astonishing for their beautiful design, but they're timeless too.'
Spoken like a true modernist!
Amongst the treasures in their living room are a wooden mantlepiece and brass fire screen, both designed by Thomas Jeckyll. The fire screen is decorated with a brass sunflower on each end, one of the decorative motifs closely associated with the movement.
Made by the Wolverhampton firm Henry Loveridge & co. at the turn of the century, the design of this rounded brass jug with two raise horizontal bands is also attributed to Dresser, who is widely recognised as one of the first British industrial designers.
Posted by Cat Rossi.
Our thanks go to Michael Harding for the photographs.
Whenever a book is published it's so hard to cut pages which have been meticulously worked on, designed, and edited, but it's inevitable that a handful of pages (if not more) won't make the final cut. Here's a couple from Rian Hughes' 'Cult-ure' that didn't make the transition from draft to published book, exclusively given by Rian to the FIELL blog.
"A book is a delivery system - as is the Internet, as is conversation, as is anything that can transmit ideas. Traditionally, the book has been the most powerful idea replicator we have, because it is duplicated in large numbers without alteration (unlike the oral tradition – or conversation, or gossip) and carries the word to new places and forward through time. It probably isn't an exaggeration to say that most of the major ideological movements, both political and religious, have been transmitted, inspired and codified by books. The problem arises when people have no way to distinguish between good ideas and bad - and here, I'm aware that "good" and "bad" are slippery terms, ones that make a stab at defining pragmatically ("How to be good", page 244).
The most dangerous ideas that are virally spreading through cultures at the moment are fundamentalist religious ideas, which by their very nature are bulletproof to reason. They offer a complete worldview that actively discourages doubt and enquiry, the pluralistic "democracy of ideas". The main purpose of the book is to describe the way ideas are transmitted in order to help people sort good ideas from the bad, to encourage a rational approach to evaluating ideas - the scientific method, basically - rather than to just accept the unproven statements of authorities. Today, when all ideas, whatever their worth, are freely available on the Internet, we ourselves have to be very savvy about weighing up divergent opinions, about which sources we trust and what who we choose to believe.
Because the world is now so interconnected we have a situation where a YouTube video made in the Middle East can inspire someone across the other side of the world to stab their MP. Ideas, good, bad and indifferent, can travel further and faster than ever before. To a greater or lesser degree, we all need to be aware of our own "memetic footprint"; as well as developing the tools to deal with other's ideas, we have to also take responsibility for the ideas we ourselves pump out. That goes double for designers and writers! As I say on the back of the book, "In the new democracy of ideas, cultural power is devolving to the creative individual. Soon, we will all have the means to create. We just have to decide whether it be art or bombs".
In the process of writing the book I coined a bunch of phrases that are a bit like advertising slogans, that I hope will easily stick in people's minds, like infectious memes. Here's a few of my favourites: "Your memetic footprint", "Culture is your local consensus reality", "The history of art is the archaeology of culture", "In the digital realm, form no longer follows function; form illustrates function", "Are you a good idea?" "The opposite of popular culture is unpopular culture", "This book is an object and a vessel", "Style has a function", "The most exact description of a thing is the thing itself", "Some thoughts can be bad for your health", "Science is not a belief system or an ideology, it is a methodology", "Protect me from your best intentions", "The popular arts are your cultural GPS", "Ideas don't have rights" (I heard this one independently from some other source recently - it's 'steam engine' time!) and "The best way to kill an idea is to have a better one". I also discuss the danger of oversimplifying something by turning it into a slogan in the first place, just to undermine myself again - all very meta.
I first printed a hard copy of the book using Lulu Press' print-to-order service, which gave me some distance and helped me see what it was I was doing more clearly (see "externalisation" page 36). I then refined and reprinted it seven times, adding, removing, rewriting, and getting other people's opinions on which parts they didn't get or needed further explanation.
Up to this point, I didn't have a publisher lined up - this is the first time I've designed and written an entire book without going through the usual process of proposal, synopsis, etc, which meant it could have ended up being a time-consuming personal project and no more - which would be a shame, but weirdly on some level I was not entirely unhappy about as it had actually started out that way. But ideas are there to be communicated, so I gave a copy of the seventh version to Peter Fiell after a meeting about something else entirely, and asked him to read it. The next time I saw him he enthusiastically insisted on publishing it. Which was very nice of him.
In the 'Arts' chapter I attempt a definition of art: "Art is the song we would sing if we could hold a note, the words we would choose if we were more eloquent, the image we would create if we could just see more clearly". I hope CULT-URE provides some kind of inoculation against infection by contagious ideas. I'd be very happy if it encourages even the casual reader think a bit about how and why they think what they think.
Here at FIELL we are pretty excited about the news of David Lynch's latest project, creating a real life version of Mullholland Drive's haunting Club Silencio. We became even more intrigued when we discovered that Lynch is designing the interiors, including the furniture, in collaboration with luxury furniture brand, Domeau & Pérès. We haven't seen a David Lynch chair since the 1980s, but these two images released suggest Lynch's latest ventures are not to be taken lightly (see also: David Lynch Coffee, which I can report, is genuinely "a damn fine cup of coffee").
Club Silencio opens this September 142, rue Montmartre - 75002, Paris
Posted by Jane