Wellcome Collection

One of my favourite places in London is the Wellcome Collection with its curiosity cabinets.

Located at 183 Euston Road, London, it explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The venue hosts a museum with permanent and temporary exhibitions, the world-renowned Wellcome Library, the conference centre, a café with some great food and a very cool shop where it is possible to find many unusual gifts.

The Wellcome collection space was opened in 2007, but its story goes a lot further back to its founder Sir Henry Wellcome (1853-1936). Pharmacist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector, he made his fame and fortune by his extensive work in the pharmaceutical business. Being one of the first ones to introduce the medicine in the form of a tablet, Wellcome-funded scientists developed medicines to cure a number of important diseases, from tetanus to diphtheria.
In addition to the pharmaceuticals, Henry Wellcome had a passion for collecting unusual items and curiosities from around the world. His personal collection ranged to over a million of items, stacked away at the warehouse in Willesden. After his death, the Wellcome Foundation was established, which lead to the opening of the Collection over 70 years later.

I would like to specifically concentrate on the “Medicine Man” permanent exhibition, presenting the outright weird items from around the world. The extraordinary objects range from Victorian-era diagnostic dolls to Japanese sex aids, from the samples of tattooed human skin to antique artificial arms and legs.

This is quite a different exhibition to discover in London.

All images by Wellcome Collection / Rama Knight.

I have always been attracted to the mysterious wonders of the world, being captivated rather by the unusual than the well known regular things around us. One of my personal early childhood memories includes the blowfish carcass, from my father´s trips to Africa, displayed in the hallway cabinet. Even now our home is filled with the curiosities from around the world, brought back from my extensive travels. Often these are just random remarkable pieces of nature, such as a piece of bark from an exotic tree, a shell of a specific-looking nut or something more mysterious. If the space allowed, the collection would be a lot wider.
Inspired by the Wellcome collection (and other curiosity cabinets of this kind) I am looking to take this passion of mine further, continuing to collect the unusual items along the way and perhaps sharing the most remarkable finds online.

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Cats on the Underground

The Citizens Advertising Takeover Service (CATS) has initiated a campaign to replace all the adverts at the Clapham Common Underground station with pictures of cats.

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The idea behind this takeover is that people are tired of seeing stupid and boring commercial adverts, trying to constantly sell something. The cats are not trying to sell anything(not even cat food), rather just please the eye and humor the busy mind.  a3459f13f81b3ce0862502f779187890

The campaign was started by a group of friends, who call themselves Glimpse (of the better world) and funded by Kickstarter. Many images are modeled by cats from Battersea Cats and Dogs home or Cats Protection charity. So hopefully this will also help them find new cosy homes.

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Now to be perfectly honest, when I arrived to Clapham Common station by Northern Line train, I was not instantly greeted with a pictured cats army. Which even made me wonder a bit, whether I was at the right station… But heading up the stairs towards the exit, I saw that I was where I meant to be – the corridors, all pictures along both sides of the escalators and even the gates were taken over by the feline friends – 68 adverts in total.

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London does not stop to surprise. The only question is – why did they not do it at Catford station?

The Cat campaign is up till 25th of September.

What is Luxury?

The exhibition by such name at V&A explores the meaning of luxury. While in the past luxury was the privilege of a few from among royalty and nobles, in recent years the increase in prominence and growth of luxury brands has made it accessible for more people, while still keeping sharp contrast against the backdrop of social inequity. Here it has been attempted to find out what the term of luxury means to people today, as consumers and as individuals. It is not always just material objects and experiences that symbolise luxury, but it reaches further than that into imperceptible dimensions. Exceptional examples of contemporary design and craftsmanship are presented in the first room, while second room concentrates on conceptual projects which interrogate fundamental ideas of luxury, its production and future.
Luxury production represents an investment in time. This applies not only to the time spent making the object but also to the process perfecting the skills. Making luxury is not concerned with practical solutions but with the extraordinary, non-essential and exclusive.
There are over 100 objects on display. Some of my favorite ones:
“Fragile Future Concrete Chandelier” by Studio Drift – real dandelion seed heads were harvested before opening into “clocks” and individually applied to LED lights to make this chandelier.

Fragile Future Concrete Chandelier by Studio Drift, courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery
Fragile Future Concrete Chandelier by Studio Drift, courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery

“Space Travellers´ Watch” by renowned British watchmaker George Daniels – an entirely handcrafted mechanical timepiece.

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Laser-cut haute couture dress by fashion designer Iris van Herpen.

Voltage Haute Couture Dress by Iris van Herpen
Voltage Haute Couture Dress by Iris van Herpen

“Bubble Bath” necklace by Nora Fok, made from more than 1000 hand-knitted nylon bubbles.

Bubble Bath Necklace by Nora Fok, Photo by Heini Schneebeli, Courtesy of the Crafts Council
Bubble Bath Necklace by Nora Fok, Photo by Heini Schneebeli, Courtesy of the Crafts Council

Luxury gold plated skimming stone with belt pouch by Dominic Wilcox – skimming stone is something you use just once as you throw it “away” skimming along water. Now if it´s made of gold, would you use it if you can only use it once? The designer explores the ideas of value and luxury associated with a humble pleasure. A found stone becomes exclusive, unique and precious but its ultimate purpose is to be thrown away in a special moment.

Luxury skimming stone with belt pouch by Dominic Wilcox, 2009
Luxury skimming stone with belt pouch by Dominic Wilcox, 2009

My good friends from Studio Ruuger are also represented at the exhibition with their hand crafted leather suitcase. The intricate pattern depicts “A Funeral of a Swallow”, consisting of over 1000 laser cut details, assembled on the 3D-printed case frame by hand over 300 working hours. This combines  traditional leather craft skills with modern technology.

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Luxury is a mixture of quality, comfort, exclusivity,  high skilled craftsmanship in terms of an object, precision and long making hours. In times of rush and constant distraction, like the days we are living in(especially if you live in a big city), luxury can be something very simple – time. Funnily enough people who have it, don´t seem to appreciate it to full extent and it only becomes a luxury when you don´t have it. But isn´t it the same with most things. So perhaps the meaning of luxury is exclusivity and availability to the few.

Second part of the exhibition explored the future of luxury and what could be valued “tomorrow”, as perceptions of value are socially established and vary with time.

“Time for Yourself” by Marcin Rusak is a playful toolkit for misdirection, which features a watch with no dial and a compass that spins random coordinates, enabling to “get lost” and “take your time”.

Time for Yourself by Marcin Rusak in collaboration with Iona Inglesby
Time for Yourself by Marcin Rusak in collaboration with Iona Inglesby

“Hair Highway” by Studio Swine – while such rare materials as tortoiseshell, horn and exotic wood become more and more extinct with the growth of the population, there is one material which actually increases in these circumstances – it is human hair. Studio Swine use a combination of hair and bio-resin to create highly decorative medium for furniture and accessories.

Hair Highway Combs by Studio Swine
Hair Highway Combs by Studio Swine

What is Luxury? provokes thinking and debate through fictional scenarios that consider issues like privacy, resources and access that could determine future ideas of luxury. American artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo’s DNA Vending Machine contains pre-packaged DNA samples and invites visitors to consider our increasing access to biotechnology and how privacy and ownership of one’s own DNA may become a luxury in the future.

DNA Vending Machine by Gabriel Barcia-Colombo
DNA Vending Machine by Gabriel Barcia-Colombo

What the exhibition did not cover though is the luxury of human conditions, such as youthfulness and health. While youth has been utterly commercialised in our society by cosmetics and plastic surgery industries, health is nothing we normally view as a luxury as long as we have it, but can be a severely desired extravagance for those who suffer from illnesses. Going further, even salutary food has turned into a luxury of some sort, with just processed “plastic” meals available cheaply for poorer segment of the population and organic food higher priced. Philosophically speaking, good life as such is a luxury, but then again not all people with good life conditions can appreciate it appropriately. Hence, happiness is the luxury, that if acquired can keep you above all materialistic and even some physical needs. But as for happiness, i believe, it is everyone´s personal choice to be or not to be. And by this luxury is accessible to everyone if they want it.

At the end of the exhibition there is the board with a question: What is your luxury? And this is the question I leave you with today. Please comment if you like!

The exhibition is open till 27th September 2015

The future is now

This week 21-23 of May there was 3D Printshow in East London, taking place at The Old Turman Brewery. This relatively new(or at least very modern) phenomenon of creating your personalised objects out of quite wide variety of materials just had to be explored closer.

By this day 3D printing has seeped through to every aspect of our modern life. Even though it still has time to go to reach masses and become an utterly accepted everyday tool, it has been developing for past 30 years and as with home computers and laptops, just 30 years ago not many people could really imagine home computing growing to its current scope.

3D printer

For those who don´t know much about 3D printing: a three dimensional object, designed using computer software, gets printed irl via special 3D printer. A selection of filaments of different nature can be used. The “ink” that comes in a roll, gets heated and applied within the printer layer by layer to create the desired form, taking several hours, depending on the shape and size. Quite a slow process, but very fascinating! Filaments range from plastic, resin, vinyl, to metal, wood and even edibles and live cells, etc. Unfortunately it has not yet expanded to printing in wearable fabrics(for example synthetics) or leather(for obvious reasons), but I am sure, as far as synthetic fabrics go, this is not a far future filament to be created.

As for now, the use of 3D printing ranges from the most extreme – such as medical body part printing, live cells and synthetic bacterium  printing, creating printed food or cars and houses, to extraordinary fashion, art objects and more common everyday items of home decor, lamps, furniture items, games, toys, jewelry, etc.

Julian Hakes Mojito shoeIn fashion Alexander McQueen used 3D printed shoes already in his last fully created collection of SS2010, while Julian Hakes´ Mojito shoes have hit the high street shops.

3D printed jewelry or millinery should not be of any surprise by this day. For clothing items however, due to the restrictive limits of the non flexibility, so far they had to stay rather chain mail-like dresses or movement-limiting haute couture gowns. Iris Van Herpen is most known by her printed plastic collections.

Iiris Van Herpen
Somehow i see the future for not so much fully 3D printed objects, than a mix between 3D printed components and traditional organic materials(such as fabric or leather).The experts predict that in a decade or so 3D printer will be a common home electric machine, for producing necessary everyday items and printing replacement for broken parts. Current scale of over-producing and over-consuming will have to slow down(as we are running out of physical space on Earth) and making more personalised durable projects with return to mending will be prevalent.

3D printing has been used in art and sculpture. In the gallery there were works by several artists. Japanese artist Ryoichi Kurokawa uses various media from video, installation, recording, live performances and 3D printing to produce audio-visual sound pieces for fully immersive experience.
Nick Ervinck explores the boundaries between various media mixing tools and techniques from new media to explore the aesthetic potential of sculpture, 3D print installations, architecture and design.
Michael Winstone´s simple fractal forms examine the human body within the context of the family structure, its relationship with nature and the anatomy of trees and their architecture. I particularly liked how the shadows of his pieces formed shadow creatures of their own on the walls.

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Other most fascinating ways to use 3D technology include 3D scanner , enabling to copy and print body parts or fully realistic looking mini-me-s. It is already available for public at my3Dtwin. Imagine a family portrait of small sculptural figurines or observing the growing of a child in yearly printed life-resembling dolls. Think about hanging printed 3-dimensional heads of the loves ones on the walls of your home, just like some people hang heads of dead animals. 3D pens are already mainstream and accessible everyday objects, working on the same principle as glue-guns, with a different filament. Just makes me wonder with excitement what is next to come…

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Paris in London

Hermés takes Londoners for a walk to their Paris Wonderland, an exhibition called “Wanderland” at Saatchi gallery. The exhibition explores the concept of “Flânerie” – urban wandering and observing, revelling in the unexpected ,exploring the  street settings and oddities of city life. As the name of Hermés company has derived from the eponymous Greek god Hermes – the messenger, who is all about travelling and wandering around.

You are lead through the dream world of joy and fantasy, with a Paris landscape as its backdrop. The exhibition is livened up by numerous interactive installations in various media, created by a diverse selection of artists,  and witty solutions that make you part of the setting, letting you interact with the environment and brings a smile to your face. For example passages through wardrobe doors, syrreal(but fully functional) walking canes, amusing boutique windows. In one room you are able to walk on the upside-down reflections of other people, video projected on the floor. By stepping on the projections´ heads it is possible to hear their inner thoughts. Another room welcomes you to the café of forgotten items with miniature videos displayed inside the bottles and glasses. The graffity-adorned room has a painted Birkin bag by the wall, the covered passage looks so very Parisian and as the “night comes” in one of the rooms, you can peek into the windows to discover the secret world behind – a magic room where strange things come to pass when the inhabitant is not there.

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Objects on display have been gathered from the Hermés archive and mixed with the brand´s contemporary collections. Items range from bags, walking sticks, travelling cases and gloves to small leather accessories and jewellery.

You can´t help but to leave smiling. I will surely go back for more!

The exhibition is open till the 2nd of May 2015.

Morbid fashion

Recently i came across an interesting exhibition that is currently open in Lintz Art Museum, Austria.
“Love and Loss. Fashion and Mortality” deals with fashion´s everlasting game with transience. According to the curator of the exhibition Ursula Guttmann, dark tendencies started to appear in fashion in 1980s, before that it was a subject dealt with primarily in art and literature. Concept of beauty in fashion underwent a radical makeover, turning towards deconstruction, decay, animalism and naturalism, morbid fascination with perishability, romantic sadness and black humour.

“Fashion becomes a mirror in which we come face to face with our own mortality. It emphasizes the traces of time, praises transience and flirts with death.”

Mariana Fantich and Dominic Young Apex Predator male shoes, 2010 Loan from the artists © Fantich & Young

The exhibition consists of over 150 pieces of artworks of High Fashion and Street Fashion, photographs, videos, sculptures, paintings, graphic works and installations by 52 artists and artist groups. Artists incude Jean Paul Gaultier, Rei Kawakubo, Alexander McQueen, Iris van Herpen and many others.

Although the curator has looked at fashion from 1980s onwards, it seems to me the destructive tendencies started already mid-70s with explosion of the punk scene in London and New York, when street style took on an aggressive  “urban warrior” disguise. Back then it was the rebel against the society and current political system, with distressed and torn clothes and bone-applique T-shirts. There is a section at the exhibiton dedicated to punk fashion.

In 1997 Martin Margiela injected eighteen articles of clothing from past collections with bacteria that reacts to oxygen, thus staining the fabric. Slowly – documented by the photographer Bob Goedewaagen – the clothes began to decay and dissolve.

Hussein Chalayan also played with the concept of decay while making his graduate collection „Tangent Flows“  in 1994. He covered the silk gowns with small pieces of metal and buried them underground for several months, so when they were dug out, they were rusty and partly dissolved.

Hussein Chalayan

Among other designers Alexander McQueen is famous for his (emotionally and physically) destructive approach to fashion and “reincarnation” of animalistic features, mixed with skillful craft and advantages of modern technology.

It is interesting how Japanese appreciate traces of time and wear even higher than of the new product. This has been shown in the works of several designers who celebrated the signs of time, as well as deconstruction of the silhouette.

As morbid as the exhibition sounds, there is a special corner for dark humor. Some designers prefer to confront the fact of mortality with sarcasm and life with irony, celebrating it or making fun of things some find inappropriate. Some escape to parallel syrreal worlds to avoid reality.

At last the exhibition looks at the morbidity of fashion as business itself. Nowadays attitude to fast fashion and intolerable conditions that people who produce it have to suffer. Interchangability and disaposal of clothes, fashion styles, as well as runway models. The doomed industry of superficiality that is running after a dream that in reality is the nightmare of doom.

The exhibition stays open till 7 June 2015

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The question of mortality for the purpose of fashion has been quite important for me too. Firstly, because being a vegetarian and a leather accessories designer there is a slight contradiction between those two. The dilemma of how to justify these choices to myself got somehow answered one day when I visited a friend in the countryside of England. Her son had been out hunting(a pastime I do not personally approve of and would not take part of, but this is not my place to judge) and brought back two freshly shot pheasant birds, that were hanging on the wall of the house, as I arrived. The sight was so tragic and beautiful at the same time. While it made me wonder about the perishability of life as such, it also made me wish to immortalize the beauty, by creating something lasting of the magnificent bird´s feathers. It felt that if a designer or maker can “reincarnate” the beauty, once the life has run out, it would be as if giving the animals a new life as leather accessories.

Alexander McQueen “Savage Beauty”

“I want to be the purveyor of a certain silhouette or a way of cutting, so that when i´m dead and gone people will know that the 21st century was started by Alexander McQueen.”

The retrospective exhibition of Alexander McQueen´s works called “Savage Beauty” finally came home to London. When “Savage Beauty” first showed at New York Metropolitan Museum in 2011 it became one of the most successful exhibitions in the Museum´s history. I think of the same fate for this exhibition at V&A.

You can feel tension in the air as you walk in through the doors into the exhibition room. Muzzled mannequins at one wall, with Lee McQueen himself talking on tape about making his first collections off his dole money. Creating gorgeous clothing pieces off absolutely no budget.
Shows were his playground to do whatever he wanted, go wild and stage a performance – never dull.
As you walk through the rooms of perfectly tailored jackets – a skill he learned while apprenticing at Savile Row even before starting his career as a fashion designer – you enter another room titled “Romantic Gothic” followed by the sound of classical music with mannequins wearing gimp masks and couture. The keywords here are: Victorian Gothic inspirations, Edgar-Allan Poe, dealing with dark side of his personality through fashion.
“There is blood beneath every layer of skin.”
McQueen´s women are never naive and innocent, they are dominating, aggressive, tough, someone who won´t go down without a fight and often come out as a winners.

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Then you continue to  the darkened corridor into the room with walls covered in bones, like Parisian catacombs. It is a fully engaging exhibition space with aquarium-looking screen in the ceiling, inspired by his “Irere” collection. “Romantic Primitivism” room explores tribalism in McQueen´s collections. Primitivism of noble savage, Yoruba mythology is used as inspiration for mannequins with horns in the middle of their face. Exotic pieces include beaded pony skin evening dress, a coat made out of hair, crocodile heads on the shoulders of a garment, etc.

4. Romantic Primitivism Installation view of London gallery Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty. Victoria and Albert Museum London

And you proceed to another room accompanied by the sound of classical music again that leads you to experience his “Romantic Nationalism” of his last, post mortem collection. Utterly royal. McQueen tartan mixed with lace and crystals.
“It was time to come out of the dark and into the light”.

5. Romantic Nationalism Installation view of London gallery Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty. Victoria and Albert Museum London

“I want to create pieces that can be handed down, like a heirloom”.
“The Cabinet of Curiosities” filled with a selection of his most creatively outrageous pieces and collaborations with other craftsmen and designers. Wooden dresses, leather molded body pieces, tops made of sea shells, metal pipes or crystals, unbelievable 3D-printed shoes.
“I find beauty in grotesque, like most artists. I have to force people to look at things.”

6. The Cabinet of Curiosities Installation view of London gallery Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty. Victoria and Albert Museum London

The maze of the exhibition continues into the dark room with a glass pyramid in the middle with a hologram of Kate Moss “dancing”. This was created not digitally, as one can assume, but using a “Pepper´s Ghost” technique from the 19th century, involving projectors and mirrors that at a time was believed that real ghosts were being called back from beyond the grave.

Kate Moss hologram

Just when you expect it to be the end you step out into the mirrored room of pastels inspired by the Far East, Japan in particular. It is easy to spend hours there looking at every stitch and guessing the source of inspiration for every pattern or detail.
This is followed by a room of “Romantic Naturalism” with real(or probably artificial) flower dresses from “Sarabande” collection, sea shell dress and feather dresses. McQueen´s love for ornitology and savagery of animal world and nature. You can only wonder which unusual materials did McQueen not use in his collections…
The final room displays his arguably best collection of “Plato´s Atlantis” early era of digital print, and 3D-printed footwear, perfectly captured and evolved within itself.
“There is no way back for me now. I´m going to take you on journeys you never dreamed possible”.

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5 years since his death McQueen´s star shines brightly. During his short life he gave so much to the world of fashion. He was without a doubt one of the most talented, creative and masterous designers of our times.

Utterly inspiring exhibition! I would recommend going there alone to fully experience it, breathe in all the details of his craftsmanship and absorb dark and savage concept.

This story was also published in Estonian web magazine Femme.