You Say You Want a Revolution…

…Well, you know, we all want to change the world.
(The Beatles, Revolution, 1968)

Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 exhibition at V&A looks at different aspects of the time that affected the counterculture of the 60s in the UK and the USA.

Armed with a set of headphones, that change the tune automatically as you move through the rooms, one would enter the exhibition maze, running through the spaces analysing different aspects of the era. The time was highly innovative for the rise of the cultural revolution that embraced various topics, from music to design, politics and lifestyle. Inspired by Thomas Moore´s Utopia, written in 1516, people were looking for alternative ways.

The first section of the exhibition is looking at youth identity and “Singing London” as the centre for fashion, music, photography and art. Twiggy sporting Mary Quant miniskirt, famous works by photographer David Bailey, invitations to art “happenings”, the importance of the mainstream pop music of the time are featured.

The second part looks closer at the counterculture and alternative lifestyles, through psychedelia, underground literature and pirate radio. Psychedelic art is featured on the walls accompanied by some trippy tunes coming from the headphones. The music is the king in this section. It was sweet to see an older lady with a distinctively cool style flipping through the album covers of the time – music she probably grew up with and experienced first hand when it was launched. The exhibition must have taken her down the memory lane…

The third section explores revolution on the street, exploring the anti-politics with peaceful protests and anti-war statements in regards to the war in Vietnam. The revolutionary figures of Martin Luther-King and Che Guevara are on display. Among others are displayed the ideas calling for equality including gay rights´ activists and women´s liberation groups.

Next part of the exhibition concentrates on the design innovations of the time, exploring consumerism, fed by the rapid increase in personal wealth and the introduction of the credit card. The 1967 Montreal and 1970 Osaka World Expos look into the consumer innovations, such as home TV-s, futuristic furniture and fashion, featuring innovative Pierre Cardin dress. The television opened the window to the real-time news coverage of the Vietnam War and moon landings, shocking and enthusing the viewers.

Revolution exhibition photography 06-09-2016

The fifth space is dedicated entirely to the Woodstock festival, being designed with a large stage and dramatic backdrop of large screens surrounding the room. One can absorb the atmosphere of the music festival by sinking into one of the bean bag chairs in the middle of the hall. The event that brought together 400 000 people to enjoy music and each others company peacefully despite the rain, was rather unprecedented at the time. Instruments, costumes and ephemera are on display.

Revolution exhibition photography 06-09-2016

The sixth and final exhibition environment looks at alternative communities living on the USA’s West Coast during the period as the birthplace of a revolution in communications. These alternative living communes explored sexual liberation, rejection of institutions and a ‘back to the land’ philosophy to the tunes of psychedelic rock music. They lived in parallel with a different sort of alternative community: the pioneers of modern computing. Both believing in the possibility of achieving a better world through sharing human knowledge more equitably. The Whole Earth Catalog, the American counterculture magazine published by Stewart Brand, served the purpose of ‘Google in paperback form’, according to Steve Jobs.

Revolution exhibition photography 06-09-2016

From global civil rights, multiculturalism, environmentalism, consumerism, computing, communality to neoliberalist politics, the world we live in has been vitally influenced by five revolutionary years: 1966 – 1970. The whole exhibition reveals and explores the origin of tendencies prevailing today and encourages a rediscovery of an imaginative optimism to envisage a new and better tomorrow.

You Say You Want a Revolution on until 26th February 2017.

 

English Medieval Embroidery at V&A

As embroidery is currently back in fashion, it is very interesting to see what were the tendencies some centuries ago. The Medieval embroidery exhibition at V&A looks closely at the old masterpieces, skillfully crafted to tiny details, hundreds of years ago.

It is rather remarkable how intricate handwork this is – so much that one may suspect it being painted instead. The smallest stitches are created by hand in varieties of colour, over the presumably long period of time. The exquisite attention to details is rather outstanding, giving glimpses of both Medieval reality and imagination of the time. From the grim torture of martyred saints to the scenes with baby Jesus and other saints, scenes are depicted with a meticulous precision that the sophisticated embroidery techniques made possible.

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Latin for ‘English work’, the phrase ‘opus anglicanum’ was first coined in the 13th century to describe the highly-prized and luxurious embroideries made in England of silk and gold and silver thread, picturing complex imagery.

From the 12th to the 15th centuries, England enjoyed an international reputation for the quality of its luxury embroideries, which were sought after by kings, queens, popes and cardinals. The exhibition will present an outstanding range of rare, surviving examples – both ecclesiastical and secular. Although documents show that many embroideries were made for secular use at the time, very few survive today as they were either worn out or became unfashionable and were discarded.

This is the largest embroidery exhibition of this kind in half a century, depicting over 100 pieces of work Medieval period of time. Sponsored by the Royal Embroidery specialists of Hand and Lock who carry the traditional craft into the modern day.

Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery at V&A till 7th Feb 2017.

Undressed at V&A

A Brief History of Underwear (I am suspecting this is a clever play of words) looks at the dynamics of undergarments throughout history, from the 18th century to present day. Somehow not surprisingly women´s ones have always been rather complicated and multi-purposed than men´s. Ladies underwear has varied from body modifying to sensually flowing, transforming from underwear to outerwear and evening wear, including loungewear and nightwear. From practical to luxurious, seductive to fetish. Underwear has been used to mold a perfect body, as well as display  and show off the already perfect body shape(depending on the fashions of the day). Display ranges from corsets and crinolines to bras, boxers, pyjamas and modern body modifying underwear.

The most breathtaking displays include Swarovski crystal embellished corset designed for Dita von Teese, rich tulle and bead evening dress by Alexander McQueen and basket weave crinoline by Dolce and Gabbana.

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Exhibition stays open till 12th March 2017.

As every month, V&A has a Friday late event on the last Friday of the month, this time it was dedicated to the current exhibition. In different corners of the museum you could boogie or knit a tit (a special breast prosthesis), see a lingerie catwalk show, chat to a leather fetish bodywear designer Melissa Tofton and observe how corsets are made.

 

V&A Neo Nipponica

Every month on the last Friday Victoria and Albert Museum in London has a late night event happening. Themes vary, but are mostly linked to the permanent or temporary exhibitions. It´s a fun way to spend a Friday evening after work, and maybe before continuing somewhere else.

This months´ event was devoted to the Japanese culture and its futuristic technology, that is still so strongly linked to the reverence to the old traditions. To celebrate the V&A´s newly opened Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art and explore the art, design and innovations of Nippon(this is what the Japanese call their own country).

The museum got filled with sounds of DJ-s and other performers, pop-up sake bar(table built of honeycomb cardboard paper concertina) and listening to the sound of scents.

One of the most memorable installations includes Tranceflora – Amy´s Glowing Silk.

Made with Nishiji Kimono material using genetically engineered silk developed by scientists at the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, Sputniko!´s Tranceflora combines traditional craftsmanship with advanced technology to mesmerising effect. The luminous silk was created by adding the genes of glowing jellyfish and coral to silkworms(creating a so-called “jellyworm” :D) and later woven by master weavers in Kyoto. The dress is designed by a Japanese designer Masaya Kushino.
For full effect the dress had to be viewed through special card/plastic yellow glasses.

Another of my personal highlights of the evening could be found in the garden – V&A recently presented the Elytra Filament Pavilion as part of The Engineering Season – a garden pavilion woven by a robot.

Installed by architects and engineers at the University of Stuttgart, the pavilion is inspired by the forewing shells of flying beetles known as elytra and constructed using novel robotic 3D-printing production process, winding composite materials by a robot arm. At the moment Elytra’s canopy is made up of 40 hexagonal component cells. On average they weigh 45kg each and take an average of three hours to make.

Elytra is a responsive shelter and is expected to grow over the course of Summer. Somehow the sensors in the canopy fibres will collect data on how visitors inhabit the pavilion and monitor the structure’s behaviour, ultimately informing how and where the canopy grows. Sounds interesting!
Let´s see where it goes from here.

 

Fabrics of India at V&A

Victoria and Albert Museum is currently having India Festival and that got me reminiscing about my own travels in India. I will write down some of my memories later on, but for now a few words about the beautiful fabrics exhibition.

The show space, that just half a year ago was overtaken by Alexander McQueen´ s masterpieces is currently filled with the best gems from extraordinarily rich history of handmade textiles from India. The exhibition observes the development of the textile design from the earliest known fabric fragments of naif applique designs to contemporary fashion and the growth of traditional textiles to modern day.
All of the 200 objects displayed are made by hand – from ancient ceremonial banners to modernized saris.

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The exhibition also sheds the light on how these handmade masterpieces were created, from the point of raising silk worms to gold weaving. Ancient natural dyes, such as chai plant roots for red color, tumeric for yellow and indigo for blue, originate from this country. Indigo even gave the name to this country!

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The beauty and complexity of Indian fabrics has spread around the world and inspired many Western designers, as well as made the local ones reinterpret their own traditions. I would say my own personal favorite is New Delhi-based fashion designer Manish Arora, who has been successful showcasing at Paris Fashion Week. His innovativeness of combining traditional handicraft elements with crazy fantasy, using bright colors is quite remarkable.

11.-indias-popup-manish-arora-butterfly-dress
Manish Arora butterfly dress. The image borrowed from the blog, where you can read more about Manish Arora´ s magical designs.

The display reviews the history of how European industrialization made it possible to produce similar cloth at lower cost, especially in British mills, threatening to wipe out Indian handmade fabrics production completely. This lead to consequences where Indian fabrics played an important role in Indian independence. By the early 20th century, Indian textiles became a major symbol of resistance to colonial rule and a political tool, with people spinning and weaving  their own yarn and fabric by hand, to produce a cloth known as Khadi. It is quite surprising to know that the wheel on Indian flag actually derives not  from the “Samsara” – the circle of life – but it is the spinning wheel that has been incorporated into the design of the flag.

indian flag2

The history of Indian fabrics is extremely rich and is worth discovering!

The exhibition is open till 10th January 2016.

Shoes – pain or pleasure?

“Shoes – pleasure and pain” exhibition at V&A Museum captures the dream of a millipede, giving a good overview of footwear development trends throughout the centuries, the extremes and the eccentrics of the shoe-world.

They say the shoes often possess the power to transform the person who is wearing them – be it height or comfort wise, status wise(making it impossible to walk in, so have to be carried around) or even give the person magic powers, if you think of Cinderella, Puss in Boots or the red shoes that never stopped dancing. Just like an outfit(or even more so) a pair of shoes gives the wearer a role to play.
The exhibition with over 200 pairs of  shoes to display, looks back as far as 2000 years.

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Represented is the footwear of many famous people(famous by their shoes or otherwise), works of numerous famous footwear designers, as well as less known oddities.
Beautiful, sculptural objects are explored within the terms of “Transformation”, “Status”, “Seduction”, etc.
Making of a pair of shoes is examined step by step.
The exhibition also looks to the future(that is already present today) to the realm of computer aided design and 3D printed footwear.

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Being a shoe designer and maker myself, of course I couldn´t attend the exhibition without wearing some of my own experimental work.

Toe-heel shoes by Õun Design visiting V&A Shoes exhibition

If I was to suggest V&A to add some more avant garde designs, here is my pick from most outrageous Õun Design collections, designed and made by my own little hands:

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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