Amy Knight is a London-based arts writer. Having gained a Masters degree with distinction in Art History and a first class BA in Illustration from the University of the Arts London, she has written for publications including Aesthetica Magazine, Amelia's Magazine, Mix Future Interiors and 'Sup Magazine, as well as trend research and writing for Dom Pérignon, M&S and Condé Nast. With specialist knowledge of late-Victorian British painting, Amy has a keen interest in everything from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and Byzantine architecture to cutting-edge contemporary art and graphic design. She currently covers all arts and media news, reviews and a dedicated blog for WAN, and will be launching a new independent art magazine early in 2012.
- 400m Imperial Tower designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill
- Interview: Jenni Reuter
- Q&A(rchitect): A discussion on how emerging architects see the future of our profession
- Souta de Moura defies critics and accepts Israel’s Wolf Prize
- Israel and the Architectural Narrative
- High-Performance Facades: Performance Attributes – What to Consider & Measure
- Interview: Peter Rich
- The Face of the Future: Façade Engineering and Environmental Performance
Yesterday, the V&A opened a new exhibition that celebrates British design from 1948 to the present day. With the previous and upcoming Olympics in London as its two polar axes, British Design 1948–2012: Innovation in the Modern Age brings together over 300 objects that are not only brilliant in isolation but also as symbols of important stages in the trajectory of British culture. It is an indulgent celebration of the country’s achievements in design, fashion and art, which by no coincidence ties in neatly with the imminent opening of the 2012 Olympic Games, and the V&A state that the exhibition highlights ‘how the country continues to nurture artistic talent and be a world leader in creativity and design.’
The flux of any country’s social and political state is inevitably responded to through design, and the V&A breaks this acknowledgement down into three core eras: from the struggle between modernity and tradition, to the experimental movements and subversion through creativity in the fifties and sixties to the post-industrial innovation of today. Even the term ‘Britishness’ itself has shifted throughout this period, from its proud, patriotic, post-war meaning in 1948 – the year of the triumphantly optimistic ‘Austerity Games’, when rationing was still in force – to its nostalgic, at times superficial and increasingly anachronistic use in today’s globalised, post-internet Britain.
Shops are incessantly heaving with the nauseatingly twee appropriation of the ‘keep calm and carry on’ slogan and pre-distressed Union Jack flags, plastered onto as many domestic furnishings as possible with an emphasis more on light-hearted irony as patriotic candour. At the same time, an obsessive focus on branding and packageability has resulted in an infinite stream of widely accessible, palatable products that are often rendered more satisfying as marketed representations of desire for an object, than the object itself. It is perhaps worth noting that today’s consumers are far more inclined to spend money on decorative accessories for technological products such as the iPad or Kindle, than on the literary, musical or cinematic content which these products are ostensibly made to host.
Alastair Sooke’s passive remark in his review of this exhibition about the ‘unwelcome air’ of the inane branding that has washed over British design in recent years (thus ruining his charming experience) fails to pick up on the fundamental fact that this in itself is a symptom of British culture in its current, information-saturated state – made manifest in products – and is as important a reflection of today’s consciousness as Vivienne Westwood’s counter-culture fashion of the 1970s. Like it or not, we should be focusing on this as a prevalent cultural trend – another fascinating stage in the trajectory – rather than as an aesthetically displeasing, non-nostalgic reality that we’d prefer to sweep beneath the vintage Union Jack carpet.
Isolated in grey, context-less spaces, the subject of Ofra Lapid’s photographs at first appear to be pieces of crumbling architecture, Photoshopped out of their respective landscapes. Yet the series of wooden houses and barns are in fact miniature replicas of existing buildings that have fallen into pitiful disrepair.
They are made with precision and care by the Tel Aviv-based artist in response to the pictures of an amateur photographer from North Dakota, USA, whom she discovered during her search for material on the Internet. According to Lapid, the photographer obsessively documents the process of deterioration of these houses and shares them online. Using this primary source material, Lapid creates small-scale models of the unfortunate buildings before photographing them, creating a kind of magic mirror effect of endless repetition – a sense of infinity out of something that is approaching the end of its tangible life.
Whilst on one level the project seems willfully subversive – devoting hours to the construction of a deconstruction – the plain, grey backgrounds in which she places them, devoid of any earthly relevance, and the countless hours that must have been sacrificed in order to make them, lend to the buildings a new air of dignity and mystery.
The remote interaction between Lapid and her anonymous amateur photographer across the planet is characteristic of the exponentially expanding manipulation of the virtual landscape of the Internet – as a tool and cultural device – and the appropriation of found online images in the paradigm of contemporary art. Yet at the same time her approach unites the instantaneous gratification of the Internet with the ancient traditions of time-consuming, painstaking craft and technical skill; it is in her own words, a bid to ‘humanise the computer’.
Alongside the Broken Houses, the artist has applied the method of extracting elements from photographs, rebuilding them and photographing them once more to a range of themes, including the interiors of empty movie theatres and modernist architecture. It will be interesting to see how this curiously dichotomous method will manifest itself next in Lapid’s work.
In 2004, photographer Alex Hartley discovered a floating island in the High Arctic region of Svalbard, revealed by the melting ice of a retreating glacier. As the first ever human being to set foot on this piece of land, the artist ensured its registration on all maps and charts that have subsequently been produced. But upon his return to the island in September last year, with authorisation from the Norwegian government he had the official territory removed, and began to sail the island through the seas towards England, as a new nation in its own right. Applications to become a citizen of Nowhereisland are open to all through an online process, and over 5,000 people have registered so far.
With Hartley steering its way through a sequence of new domains, Nowhereisland is headed towards England and is due to arrive off the south west coast this summer, voyaging from the Jurassic Coast to the Bristol Channel over a period of six weeks. It will be accompanied by the Nowhereisland Embassy, a mobile museum which tracks its remarkable journey.
Hartley’s work has previously focused on altering perspectives of architecture and the built and natural environment, but this project stands apart as a groundbreaking venture, encompassing wide-reaching political and socio-geographical issues; in fact, Nowhereisland’s impending arrival has become a catalyst for critical international discussion.
Raising polemic issues about citizenship, land ownership and national identity, as well as the imminent environmental topic of climate change, Hartley’s nomadic embarkation has sparked debates and activities centred around this unprecedented set of circumstances and the notion of digital democracy, including a site dedicated to ‘Letters to Nowhereisland’ from eminent thinkers from around the world.
“It is also an exploration of the romantic and problematic notion of the pioneer or explorer, and our poetic idealised relationship with island landscape,” states the artist; the poignancy of which is alloyed with the fact that 2012 is the centenary of Captain Scott’s intrepid yet doomed journey to the South Pole. Nowhereisland was a winning proposal for the Artists Taking the Lead project as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and will be one of 12 projects taking place around the United Kingdom.
350 years after his birth, Nicholas Hawksmoor is the focus of a new exhibition at the Royal Academy, London, which attempts to trace the architect’s posthumous impact on British artists, architects and writers.
In the late seventeenth century, the young Hawksmoor studied under Sir Christopher Wren with whom he worked on projects including Chelsea Hospital, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace and Greenwich Hospital, and by about 1700 he had become recognised as an eminent figure of the English Baroque. However, his interpretation of the prevalent style was imbued with influences derived from his own research; from the decadent monuments of Antiquity and its Renaissance, to the mysticism of the Middle Ages.
Many of his own projects were sadly never realised, such as the financially doomed project for Oxford and Cambridge colleges, and his design for the west towers of Westminster Abbey was only executed after his death in 1736.
His legacy would be ecclesiastical. As part of an act passed by parliament to build 50 new churches in and around London in 1711, Hawksmoor designed six churches and a further two in collaboration with his co-surveyor, John James. Only twelve of the initially proposed fifty were ever completed, thus his designs constituted half of the entire series.
These six churches have come to be synonymous with Hawksmoor’s extraordinary vision and confident injection of anomalous architectural signifiers of other ages; his own designs merge otherworldly Gothic with the elegant regularity of Classical design, while his obelisk spires and comet-shaped weather vane remain the presiding features of the collaborative work between Hawksmoor and his more conformist contemporary, James.
Yet today Hawksmoor’s churches are perhaps most well known for their retrospective association with the occult. In 1975, poet Iain Sinclair published Nicholas Hawksmoor: His Churches, claiming that the pattern of the architect’s designs – geographically forming a pentagram – are indicative of Theistic Satanism; a notion that was elucidated upon in a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell that contentiously suggested Jack the Ripper performed human sacrifice in Hawksmoor’s buildings as part of a preternatural experiment.
This preoccupation with Hawksmoor has emerged in the work of artists and writers throughout and beyond the twentieth century; referred to in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922) and Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop (1938), and forming the axis of Peter Ackroyd’s postmodern novel, Hawksmoor (1985), to name but a few. Piecing together such relics of the architect’s lingering presence, the Royal Academy’s original form of tribute, Nicholas Hawksmoor: Architect of the Imagination shows how Hawksmoor has continued to permeate Britain’s cultural sphere beyond the grave.
When the recession began to loom over Western society four years ago, the realms of art and design reacted with a return to the instinctual and homemade. Primitive techniques and a contemplative rejection of our increasing reliance on digital technology created a shift in paradigm that reflected our changing priorities. Part of this trend was the sudden, ubiquitous exploration of such a rudimentary material as paper, using intuitive craft skills and a great deal of patience to create incredibly intricate pieces of work. Yet Dutch architect and artist Ingrid Siliakus has been quietly operating in this vein since the 1980s.
Inspired by her tutor, Japanese architect Professor Masahiro Chatani, who was the originator of this specific art form, Siliakus began making complex replicas of existing pieces of architecture with the simple tools of scissors and paper, after years of studying the technique. The artist says: “Working with paper forces me to be humble, since this medium has a character of its own that asks for cooperation… Working with paper the way I do, namely by means of cutting and folding to create paper sculptures, asks of me to work with meditative precision. Paper architecture does not bare haste…”
Paper was for thousands of years the primary medium for artists, and it seems that no amount of technological progression will ever completely halt its creative use. A plethora of other contemporary designers with extraordinary skill, notably Jen Stark and Noriko Ambe have embraced the medium in recent years. But for Siliakus, it has and always will be indispensable to her practice. At least twenty prototypes are made before the artist begins work on the final piece – a slow, careful, meditative process that seems to assimilate traditional Eastern values. Earning her a place as a finalist in the Dutch Design Awards 2009, Siliakus’ work is indicative of the timeless axiom, ‘good things come to those who wait.’
As the Hayward Gallery opens its doors to the first ever survey of Jeremy Deller’s socially conscious work, British homelessness charity Shelter are echoing this notion of the relationship between art and social responsibility with the launch of their new exhibition, Up My Street. While Deller’s work has persistently evaded classification, primarily existing as it does in the form of the artist’s own direct engagement with British communities – essentially extracting the art that dwells unwittingly in everyday life – his significant exhibition, ‘Joy In People’, is a timely reminder of the power of artistic intervention in societal issues.
It is hardly comparable, as Shelter’s venture takes place in the more traditional form of an auctioning of works donated by a plethora of celebrated contemporary artists; yet its message is redolent, and past experience has shown that the element of celebrity is undoubtedly an effective means of stirring society into action. With the support of sponsor British Land and a line-up of participants that reads in part like a ‘who’s who’ of the artworld, including Jake and Dinos Chapman, Grayson Perry, Antony Gormley and Gavin Turk, the event has been organised to not only raise funds for the charity, but to increase awareness about the issues of homelessness and housing crises that affect people across Britain every two minutes.
Alongside the work of the aforementioned artists, amongst others, will be that of sublime fashion photographer Tim Walker, illustrator Jon Burgerman and the legendary designer Peter Saville, as well as a piece from renowned East London street artist Ben Eine. There is even an architect thrown in for good measure, with an offering from Amanda Levete Architects. Each were asked to contribute work that has been inspired by a street with particular personal significance, which has resulted in a vast, seemingly arbitrary curatorial grouping of photography, fine art, fashion, graphic design and illustration.
Participating artist Patrick Hughes says: “Shelter is a charity that is close to my heart. Having a roof over your head is something we should all be able to take for granted, and most of us do. However, not everyone has a place they can call their own. I hope this exhibition will make people think about the importance of a home and raise awareness of Shelter’s work.”
All artwork will be auctioned in aid of Shelter. The online gallery is viewable from today, enabling people to bid from anywhere in the world, and the exhibition will be on physical display at the Coningsby Gallery, London from 5-8 March.
It needs little explanation that upon entering an exhibition, one’s attention is naturally drawn towards the work on display. Yet how much of the experience is owed to the conditions in which the work is placed?
Under the indicative name of Post-Works, artists Melissa Appleton and Matthew Butcher focus their creativity on the environments that surround works of art, creating all-encompassing sensory backdrops to films and live performances that alter the overall experience of an exhibition space.
Their work dwells in the relatively under-explored space between art and architecture, and as tutors, their pedagogic work also spans these two realms at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, The Bartlett School of Architecture and Chelsea College of Art and Design.
Having recently exhibited at the Architecture Foundation and the Institute of Contemporary Arts (both in London, UK), their latest collaborative venture is a dual environment for London-based artist Daria Martin’s exhibition at the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes, UK. Their design accommodates Martin’s survey exhibition, which includes a series of short 16mm films made over the last 10 years and the premier of her new film, Sensorium Tests, based on a neurological condition called ‘mirror-touch synaesthethesia.’
In direct response to Martin’s work, Post-Works have created two contrasting environments in which visitors will experience the series of films. Traditional viewing environments ‘reflect the hermetic laboratory settings’ of the films exhibited in the two smaller rooms of the gallery, while the larger space encourages free-flowing movement amongst its visitors, enabling them to meander between a cluster of dark, shadowy, mysterious enclosures interrupted by phosphorescent pools of light. The effect is a deeper, more physical engagement with the projections on display that in turn strengthens the relationship between viewer and subject.
Describing this second exhibition area as ‘a space that deconstructs the traditional viewing environment and acts as a fragmented but continuous element, supporting multiple and diverse viewing experiences of the works’, Post-Works emphasise the highly emotive yet often overlooked importance of environmental context, and the virtues of acknowledging the spaces in between.
Berlin has recently welcomed a new addition to its ubiquity of contemporary art galleries. But this is an exhibition space with a crucial difference – as the first ever Chinese-owned and managed gallery to exist in Europe, the Zhong Gallery is a signifier of history in the making.
This groundbreaking new territory is suggestive not only of the continual expansion of China’s economic development, but perhaps more interestingly of a new dawning of cultural exchange between Eastern and Western art practice.
The gallery, which opened on 21 January this year was founded by Beijing collector Gaowen Zhu and will be directed by Jiangnan Wang, whose previous experience in the interchange between contemporary Eastern and Western art is indicative of the gallery’s defining curatorial approach. As Gaowen states: “Though Chinese contemporary art and the Chinese art market have already gained attention from all over the world, there are still sometimes quite stereotypical opinions outside China. Art is art.” The gallerist aims to break away from such stereotypes, and in particular the Western perception of otherness in Chinese art in general, by presenting the work of up-and-coming artists from China alongside their Western counterparts.
Berlin’s position at the forefront of progressive art-making makes it the ideal host for such a revolutionary new creative platform. And the exchange will not just be one-sided; Gaowen has announced plans to introduce Berlin artists’ work to an equivalent gallery in Beijing.
The first exhibition to be held at Berlin’s Zhong Gallery, Dawn: New Art from China exemplifies the recent diversification and exploration of the personal in Chinese art, and emphasises the shift away from its political focus in the late twentieth century. Of the group of exhibiting artists, namely Chen Yujun, Li Jikai, Li Qing, Wang Guangle, Wang Yabin, Wu Di, Yuan Yuan and Unmask Group, the latter’s collaborative work shows the most promise with its strange fragmented busts and humanoid, fiberglass sculptures reclining in cell-like ellipses.
While Ai Weiwei’s overtly political work has had an enormous impact on the Western artworld over the past decade – the fact that the artist himself was put at the top of last year’s Power 100 solidified his status as one of the most influential figures in the Western art market – there has previously been no native curatorial ‘voice’ for contemporary Chinese art within European galleries. Weiwei became a household name after the Tate’s Sunflower Seeds exhibition under the direction of Nicholas Serota; now it is the turn of native gallerists to present Chinese contemporary art to a Western audience.
Popularly referred to as the hotel that once hosted twentieth-century icons Coco Chanel and Ernest Hemingway, the Ritz Paris will be closing this summer for a 27-month renovation period. In an ‘unprecedented’ transformation its interior is due to be stripped and entirely re-fitted for the first time since 1979, when it was bought by its current owner, Mohamed al Fayed.
“Few hotels evoke a sense of place and history like the Ritz Paris”, gushed AnOther Magazine in a recent, obituary-like article about its imminent temporary closure. Indeed, the 115-year-old establishment in Paris’ Place Vendôme evokes a bygone era of literature, Bright Young Things and glittering scenes of ’20s and ’30s glamour, in which Greta Garbo and F. Scott Fitzgerald float through dining halls swollen with smoke and chandeliers.
But such wistful reflections on the hotel’s inextricable link with its bourgeois past simultaneously highlight its destabilized position in the present. The hotel was founded by César Ritz and chef Auguste Escoffier in 1898 with the intention of providing for its guests ‘all the refinement that a prince could desire in his own home’; yet apparently its planned revamp this year comes in direct response to its failure to meet the ‘palace’ standard last year, falling short of the qualifying factors that put nine other French hotels into this prestigious category.
Whilst evidently in accordance with the hotel’s original reason for being (after all, what prince could reside in anything less than a palace?) the decision to cut 470 jobs in the attempt to reclaim the 160-room hotel’s former glory also draws attention to the disparate gap between a flailing European economy and a rapidly inflating luxury market in Paris, due to growing demand from the current generation of super-rich Russians, Arabs, Indians and South Americans.
So for now it seems the question of whether it is possible for the Ritz Paris to regain its princely status – and indeed its contemporary relevance – is yet to be answered.
Dubbed ‘the Oscars of the design world’, the Design Museum’s international Design Awards annually showcase its pick of the best innovations from the creative sphere. Yet its division into seven distinct categories – Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Furniture, Graphics, Product and Transport – is perhaps becoming an anachronistic framework into which some of today’s more progressive, boundary-merging creations don’t neatly fit.
Such is the case for one of this year’s nominees for the Fashion category: the Late Night Chameleon Cafe (LN-CC) in Dalston, London. An architecturally stunning interior is the nest for an ‘all-encompassing world’ designed by renowned artist and set designer Gary Card. The 6,000 sq-ft space combines traditional fashion retail with art galleries, record and arts book outlets and a ‘club space’ complete with vintage sound system, elegantly woven together by a labyrinth of wooden passageways.
The physical presence of these ‘concept rooms’ extends into LN-CC’s virtual counterpart, with a website that hosts interviews with designers and photographers as well as mixes from its in-house DJs, all fully interactive in English, Japanese and Chinese, and partial translation in Korean.
Of course, it’s not the first of its kind – Paris’ Colette, to name but one, has been successfully running a comparably concept-focused boutique since 1997 – but it is dawning upon the retail industry with increasing perspicacity that it’s not enough just to sell things anymore; nowadays, it’s more about the mood than the product. LN-CC describe their project as ‘more than a store, it’s an evolving platform of curated ideas encompassing clothing, music and art in both a physical and digital environment.’
It can be dangerous turf though. As numerous cases have shown, it’s all too easy for an innovative ‘concept store’ to spiral into the pit of pretension. Take for example Shoreditch’s painfully self-conscious Boxpark, ‘the world’s first pop-up mall’; aren’t we all just a little bit tired of upcycled shipping containers now?
But it’s so far, so good for LN-CC. And with that fragmented, honey-coloured, octagonal tunnel that navigates you through its haven of carefully considered consumerism, it’s worth going in for the architecture alone.
See more about the Design Awards here. All nominations will be exhibited at the Design Museum, London from 8 February, with results announced in April.