Sunday, November 1, 2009

Telling Tales

Telling Tales: Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design at the V&A looks at how fairy tales have influenced designers. The exhibition is divided into three sections; The Forest Glade, The Enchanted Castle and Heaven and Hell.
In The Forest Glade are several pieces by Tord Boontje including his fabulous Fig Leaf Wardrobe. Wardrobes have been used in fairy tales as the gateway to other worlds and the camouflage that this one would in a forest adds to its sense of danger. Each enamelled leaf has been hand cast and decorated and has its own specific place on the skeletal canopy that forms the frame. Priced at £350,000 it's a real luxury piece that would have fitted equally well in The Enchanted Castle.
On the opposite side of the Forest Glade sit three of Boontje's chairs including the Princess Chair. This beautiful white chair with its flowing skirt of white tulle is not as innocent as it at first appears for on the underside of the seat swab is hidden an image of a skull embroidered in red silk. As with so much in the forests of fairy tales there is a darker side that is hidden.
Moving into the Enchanted Castle the focus becomes opulence and a sense of 'over the top' prevails. To the right the walls and floor are mirrored giving a sense of mad glitter and glamour (see above).
Heatwave radiator by Joris Laarman is based on scaled up Rococo scrolls which provide a large surface area for the convection of heat. In its setting here it is almost lost amongst the reflected madness but in a normal home would be a major statement piece.
Also in this setting are a series of furniture pieces in black and gold by Studio Job. Designed for the Robber Barons; based on ruthless 19th century American industrialists who amassed vast fortunes these pieces are designed to appeal to today's power-hungry leaders. The use of cast bronze in these pieces references not only the heavy industry in which so many made their money but also the great tradition of patronage of the arts, especially European sculpture. Robber Baron Table is a particular favourite of mine.
Moving into Heaven and Hell the story turns to the awareness of, and anxiety about, death. Works look at life and death, heaven and hell judgement and salvation, some are beautiful others designed to invoke fear or loathing. Damned .MGX by Luc Merx is a modern chandelier that takes its inspiration from Peter Paul Rubens's the Fall of the Damned at the moment of the Last Judgement.
Storm Chair by Stephen Richards looks as if it is an explosion that has been frozen in time and motion. Formed from a variety of different timbers it references the violence that so often accompanies death and the splintering and fragmenting of families and communities that accompanies natural disasters in which so many lives are lost.

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