London Design Festival 2016: Thursday


23 September 2016

Day five of London Design Festival focused on Brompton Design District with exhibitions from Seeds Gallery, The Garage and Workshop for Potential Design.

The Garage – fittingly, a former auto workshop – presents a compelling mixture of process and frivolity. The ground floor of the space is taken up by Breathless, an exhibition of glass design overseen by the Czech Centre London, Dechem and Okolo. The exhibition’s display of historical Czech glasswork is satisfying, but the real pleasure is to be found in a series of glassblowing workshops being hosted in the space by designers such as Marcin Rusak, Studio Swine and Michael Anastassiades. The heat of the furnace, and the manual dexterity of the glassblowers from Lasvit, who are overseeing it, provide a welcome reminder of the industry behind the delicate objects on display.

Downstairs, the Garage houses the ongoing collaboration between design magazine Dirty Furniture and the Museo della Merda – displayed are a series of objects created from the museum’s mierdacotta material made from cow dung, as well as an exploration of the design implications of adult diapers. The latter, in particular, makes for fascinating if uncomfortable viewing – a valuable reflection on the fact that design has a purview far more extensive than commonly admitted.

Out of the shit, sweetness arrives in the form of The Brompton Cocktail, a project initiated by Jane Withers to mark the 10 year anniversary of Brompton Design District. Named for the Brompton Cocktail, a morphine and cocaine mixture used in palliative care, the project has invited a selection of designers to present their own contemporary cocktails. The results are diverse – Peter Marigold’s blind taste test of beer and non-alcoholic beer is funny and oddly thought-provoking; Max Lamb’s White River drink serves up a distillation of geographical features from his native Cornwall; and Tom Dixon’s Penicillin Smoke Bomb is charmingly dramatic and Dixon-esque – and they offer a gentle reminder of the plurality of talent that has come through the Brompton Design District in its lifespan. The Brompton Cocktail is to be celebrated for showing that there is more than one way to be a designer, and for highlighting the role that Brompton has played in cultivating these ambiguities of discipline.

After a day spent in the interior-focused showrooms of South Kensington, the Plinth pop-up shop is something of a relief. The artist Jacques Nimki has recreated an English meadow on the gallery's ground floor, mingling grass, flowers and reeds to bring 650ft² of the green belt into zone 1. Raw Edges' dip-dyed Herringbones, first exhibited at this year's Salone del Mobile, are nestled within the long grass; all pale wood and natural colours, they appear to grow out of the virescent lea.

Plinth is a collaborative publisher of limited edition works by an array of artists, photographers and designers. The pop-up store, open for just over a month, fuses work from each of these disciplines, with a particular emphasis on design objects – in this case ceramic plates – created by artists including Richard Wentworth and Michael Craig-Martin. Further into the store, Kyla McCallum of the geometrically-inspired London design studio Foldability has installed Refraction, 200 panels of folded paper that transform the shop's walls and ceiling into a startling concatenation of elaborate patterns. As gratifying in its sense of order and artificiality as Nimki's field is in its overgrown organicity, Refraction is a keen demonstration of its material's versatility. When viewed through the proffered kaleidoscopes, the tessellations become thrillingly elaborate, if a little vertiginous.

Finally, two group exhibitions in Brompton stand out for their complexity and ambition both in concept and execution. The first is ...ABC at 1a Cromwell Place, organised by Workshop for Potential Design (WFPD). The exhibition takes the interval between encountering an object and interpreting it as its central theme; in doing so, it makes this notional interval physically manifest by exhibiting pieces by Study O Portable (the design studio of WFPD), Gemma Holt, Michael Marriott, Paul Elliman, Peter Marigold and Sam Jacob at Etage Projects in Copenhagen (XYZ... is the title of this display, which runs concurrently with ...ABC) while having writers, curators, designers, and an illustrator respond to the Copenhagen pieces in London.

If this sounds disorientating, it is meant to be. ...ABC demands of visitors to reflect on a series of objects they are unlikely to have seen. From the responses on show, which include a film by curator Matylda Krzykowski, a prose review by design writer and curator Vicky Richardson, and a collection of dialogic remarks on description by Disegno's editor-in-chief Oli Stratford, shadowy forms emerge: a mysterious contraption belonging to one Børging (Marriott's Børging Device); a chameleon ring (Holt's Black); an army of toy soldiers in varying states of formal disintegration (Marigold's Roughed Out Soldiers). The realm of interpretation, ...ABC seems to argue, is further removed from the world of objects than is generally recognised.

The other noteworthy group show is No Ordinary Love: Martino Gamper with Friends, a collaborative display about collaboration, hosted at Seeds Gallery. Gamper's friends include Tiago Almeida, Jochen Holz, Max Lamb, Will Shannon, Silo Studio, Harry Thaler and Bethan Laura Wood and in the special events exhibits space (the "see" in Seeds; its design store is represented by the "ds") they present a collection of clay objects borne out of a ceramic workshop held in August 2016. Visitors are invited to play a game of Daze or Double over the collection: should you be content with a ceramic piece marked simply with the collective's self-styled stamp, you may buy it for a set price (this is the daze option). Should you want know the identity of the designer behind the piece you covet, and be provided with an accompanying authorship certificate, you must pay double the daze price.

It is a welcome interrogation of collaboration and its complex implications, of individual authorship and its market value. The rest of the space at Seeds is inhabitated by objects from Gamper and his friends' individual practices; formal echoes of these objects can be found in the ceramic collection, prompting a game of speculative attribution (Holt's torc-like bracelets, Squeezed, can almost certainly be identified in clay form). No Ordinary Love is an exhibition of beautiful, ingenious objects. But it is also a challenge to the design enthusiast to consider what it is about an object that enthuses them, and why.