London Design Festival at the V&A

I arrived at the Victoria & Albert Museum on a bright day without a cloud in the sky. (Turns out it doesn’t rain every day in London!) There, I met up with a group of collectors known as Spirit Now!, founded by Marie Laure de Clermont -Tonnerre and Anne Pierre d’Albis, to look at several installations created within the framework of the London Design Festival (September 17th-25th). I love the Victoria & Albert Museum, which is one of the biggest museums of Art & design in the world. Behind the majestic Victorian architecture lie a number of surprises perfect for visitors looking to stroll around, letting their curiosity roam free.

The fascinating collections – which feature works of design, furniture, fashion and textiles, stained-glass windows, porcelain, art books, and more – cover over 5,000 years of creativity and craftsmanship. Another aspect I love is the contrast, the unexpected details that catch your eye on the curve of a vault, or at a bend in the hallway, or even in the decoration on a ceiling. There’s a stunning staircase of raw wood that looks as if it came from a medieval tale, or even the amazing library with two floors that you can make out through a glass door…It’s an eclectic, magical, and truly magnificent place.

The entry under the rotunda features the brilliant colors of a chandelier by Dale Chihuly. Created for the museum in 1999, it was significantly enlarged, reaching a height of almost eight meters. I admired the curls of blown glass, these candy-cane-esque filaments that danced joyously, while praying that this enormous work of art wouldn’t fall on my head!

To celebrate the London Design Festival, the V&A displays several pieces. The first of our visit carried the enigmatic name “Liquid Marble.” It is a piece by French artist Mathieu Lehanneur, a leading figure in the international design world. A multidisciplinary artist, he brilliantly combines design, technology, science, and art in his creations.

His project is a humanist mission, and an eager one at that: improve the well being of people. At the V&A, Mathieu Lehanneur invites us into the calm and serene. “Liquid Marble” presents itself in the form of a huge “table of water” under the pretext of meditation. Following the instructions of its creator, I sat down in front of the piece and let myself be rocked by the unmoving waves. The optical illusion is utterly striking. To achieve it, the designer used a software borrowed from the film industry that has memorized the movement of waves. This large block of black marble was laser-cut according to the software’s programming, before being hand polished to perfectly reflect light. It’s a beautiful work, not to mention an impressive technological feat. Let’s all get Zen!

With another impressive design, Studio Glithero presents a piece that immerses viewers in the movement of an abstract watch. This monumental installation, which was inspired by timekeepers (the work was supported by watch brand Panerai), only retains the core principle of the watch: enormous blue, orange, and pink fluorescent curls are linked to a mechanism that makes them rise and then fall, all while turning at the precise speed of one revolution per minute. I felt like I had found myself in the center of a spatial-temporal wave. Spectacular!

After the mechanical movement of the watch industry, it was literature’s turn to be the inspiration. “Beloved,” created by an Istanbul-based architecture studio called Tabanlioglu, resembles a large, 13-meter black box, all made of mirrors. With the strange feeling of breaking the rules, the visitor can observe mysterious film sequences through thin slits on the sides. Built in the style of a curiosity cabinet, this work is an homage to a Turkish cult novel written by Sabahattin Ali called “Madonna in a Fur Coat” (1943). The book recounts the story of a relationship between a Turkish man in Ankara and a German woman in Berlin. This work reinterprets the key moments of the novel in the form of a short filmed play.

“Foil,” a totally immersive piece, occupies an entire room of the museum and is the result of a collaboration between designer Benjamin Hubert and the German razor brand Braun. No fewer than 50,000 pieces of mirrored metal are assembled in a huge strip of 20 meters long, forming a constantly moving wave. LED lights illuminate this moving surface, projecting a light-up motif on the ceiling and walls. The effect is nothing but magical. Using the technology of razors (hence the collaboration with Braun), the work uses small blades and employs the rotating system of the razor head to create the movement of the wave. This installation will be open until October 5th.

I also paused in front of the Elytra Filament Pavilion, a fascinating blend of design and new technology. It’s a robot that creates constructions by weaving together carbon fibers according to human movement. The porous structure draws inspiration from beehives. This piece can be found in the John Madejski garden.

My visit continued into the Carpenters Workshop Gallery, where I was more than happy to find additional works by Mathieu Lehanneur. I adore the fluidity, flexibility, transparence, and purity in the work of this internationally rising star in design. I think what strikes me the most about them is the way that they bring lightness and movement to rigid objects. Just like in “Liquid Marble,” “Liquid Aluminum” appears in the form of a low table; it in turn responds to “Spring Lamps,” which sheds light in the style of a fountain. A suspension of supple cords seems to emerge gracefully from the ceiling, and the series “Smoke Onyx” is made of bubbles so light and thin that I thought they would burst at any second.

The London Design Festival is this and much more: nearly 400 installations and events have moved into the immense city for one week, showing design in all its forms and states, and more creative, innovative, and spectacular than ever!

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