Saturday, 17 October 2009

Telling tales: fantasy and fear in contemporary design

This conference on 16 October was linked to the current V&A exhibition Telling tales. Gareth Williams, the curator of Telling tales, spoke about his rationale for the exhibition, most of which is also explained in the book that accompanies the show. Jack Zipes explained that fairy tales are metaphors of adaptation to life. I was interested to hear him speak because I have found the ideas in his books interesting. He explained that the study of the unheimlich helps us to understand the Heimlich and the reconstitution of home on a new plane occurs through reading fairy tales. He gave us a short history of fairy tales and explained how they adapt with the times and concluded by saying that fairy tales keep alive the uncanny impulse of striving for home; they are a resistant force in all art forms.

Justin McGuirk, Editor of Icon magazine, told us that decorative and narrative design has been around for most of civilisation it is only recently that Modernism has caused a blip in this sequence. He also suggested that many items have a narrative even if that isn’t their main design feature, while others use decoration with no narrative. Tord Boontje explained how he uses storytelling in his work. He started by showing us a video of his installation at the furniture biennale in Milan, then described how his figleaf wardrobe required an amazing number of people and skills. He then told us about two of his recent projects the ‘witches kitchen’ range and the work he has done based on the lace at the Design Centre, Philadelphia.

I found Claire Pajaczkowska’s talk on the uncanny particularly interesting. She described the paradox of the wardrobe as being safe, desirable and containing but also suffocating, and linked to a fear of immurement and death. It is a transitional space between real and narrative reality. It has the capacity to allow transition. The designer allows forgotten meanings to come through. The object is a transformational space for the maker and the user. She also talked about the child’s psychological development and the concept of the core complex.

Julia Lohmann’s pieces in the exhibition reference the origin of their materials. She shows us that leather sofas are made from cows. She noted that her pieces are democratic you don’t have to own them to experience the message just seeing it will put you off meat. She often links science and art in her work and has worked with the Welcome Trust

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