@MarDixon Passionate about culture internationally. Run remixing events, workshops, create solutions, and an international speaker. Over sharer and Mom who loses arguments to a teen. Projects created: @CultureThemes @lovetheatreday @AskaCurator @MuseumSelfieDay @TeensInMuseums @52museums
  • A Must See for 2012 – Design Exhibition: Heatherwick Studios @V_and_A

    August 24th, 2012mardixonCulture

    Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2012During my stay in London as a London Ambassador for the Olympics I managed to visit a few museums.  Natural History Museum and the V&A were open late as part of the  Cultural Olympiad Exhibition Road Show. After one of my shifts, I headed over to soak up the atmosphere of being in the Natural History Museum at night.  As it was the first night of the Road Show, things were a little quiet.  However, that was great for me as I essentially had *my* Natural History Museum to myself.

    I left Natural History Museum and went to Exhibition Road Show. There was an exciting carnival feel with people playing free games of chess, lots of singing and dancing and food.  I ran into a fellow London Ambassador as I was on my way to the V&A.  He explained the V&A was closed for a VIP but would be open late tomorrow night.  While I left mumbling about VIPs, I decided to see about coming back.

    And I’m so glad I did.

    After my last shift as a London Ambassador I made my way to the V&A.  I’ve two favourites at the V&A:  The Shop and Joshua Ward sculpture and just seeing them at night would have been enough for me.

    However, I noticed there was a Design Exhibition:  Heatherwick Studios on and remembered hearing someone say they thought it was a good exhibition.  As I always carry my National Art Pass with me, I purchased a ticket. The ticket collector at the front of the exhibition was extremely friendly.  I still had my London Ambassador hat and jacket on and she said something like ‘You’ll find the information on the cauldron interesting…. But no pictures!’ (she said it with a smile as I had my camera out and ready for action.)

     She then told me to go to the left and ‘cut my own program.’


    I went to this huge device and saw a handle.  As I turned the handle, my ‘program’ on the exhibition slowly moved through the device.  This. Was. Genius!  I was having fun creating my own program.  I knew when to stop as there was a red indication saying Tear Here.

    This put me in a cheerful mood as I went into the exhibition.  At first glance, I felt the exhibition was smallish and crowded – not with people but with items.

    When you walk into the exhibition at first it looks like a semi large rectangle filled with items.  As you look closer, there were two aisles of design with a middle row causing an oval affect – already the exhibition is making me think design.  At first I didn’t appreciate it but slowly it dawned on me – the curator have themselves used design as part of the exhibition to its fullest.

    Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2012

    Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2012

    The first item on display is called Throne 1989 which is the first piece of furniture made by Heatherwick. The chair is ornate, large and looks uncomfortable but this is when you can start to see the inspiration and where the importance of construction combined with play starts to rear it’s head…

    Next is the 1992 Pavilion which was a degree project built to challenge a perceived gap between architect design and craftsmanship.  Admittedly, that went over my head but some people seem to be impressed with the design.

    Control system section reveals how intriguing structures and surfaces may develop through the controlled repetition of shapes and patterns – slipcase tile, boiler suit London

    The rolling bridge is another example of Heatherwick Studios’ talent (2004). Hydraulic rams in balustrades roll itself up to create a freestanding sculptural. Why? Because it is taking something functional and making into art. Why not seems to be the Studios’ reply.

    Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2012

    Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2012

    On a similar vain, the Bleigiessen London 2005 piece which was commissioned by Wellcome Trust showcases his ability to think past the obvious and create meaningful pieces. I first saw this piece at Wellcome but I’m not sure I appreciated the thought-process and engineering that went into the art.  Bleigiessen consist of million metres of  steel wire and 15 tonnes of glass beads. The 27k wires had to be threaded individually.

    Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2012

    Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2012

    Research and development. Expanding  furniture was shown as an example – fantastic idea that was only develop with the studio’s persistent.  Studios testimony to that persistent repeated again.

    Collaboration and partnership.  The Spun project began with a focus on a single craft technique. Ambition to create piece of fur other using metal spinning process normally used in production of time pant drums and lampshades. Again we see the Studio’s persistence as the had to commission a metal spinner to create a full scale prototype.

    Other creations include:

    • The redesign of the Route master bus
    • Zip bag
    • Temple commission

    Spontaneous creation of foam (1999 Science Museum) show everything that anything can be made out of. I remember seeing this in the Science Museum and being fascinated with the layers of colours and materials.

    Within the exhibition I started questioning how many of Heatherwick Studio’s designs I have seen but never took any notice us.

    Then I questioned if that was a compliment for them or insult.  I’m hoping compliment.

    Next was the Holy Grail. Since seeing the Olympic Opening Ceremony, I’ve been in love with the cauldron. Seeing the kids carry the cooper kettle, none of us knowing what or why they were there to then seeing them bloom into what is one of the most gorgeous pieces of art – it was just magic.

    Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2012

    Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2012

    The cauldron was designed as a moment rather than an object.  There were 204 individual sculptured cooper petals, one for each country.  They were assembled before the crowd of athletics, spectators and TV viewers but I don’t think anyone knew what exactly was happening until we watched the 7 ‘kids of the next generation’ light the pedals.

    And it was gorgeous, powerful but delicate.

    Christmas cards. At the end of the exhibition are some of great examples of the Christmas Cards Heatherwick Studios designed for customers.  They were so creative and whimsical but would you really expect anything else?

    Heatherwick started designing his own Christmas cards when he was young as he felt all the cards in the shops were rubbish and cheesy (and lets face it, he wasn’t wrong).  He moved the traditional of home made cards for his family to the studio where up until 2010, Heatherwick Studio put a lot of time and detailed effort into creating Christmas cards.  For almost 17 years,  mini production lines were set up each Christmas in the studio and staff used and created bespoke tools, jigs, and other devices that were invented specifically for the fabrication of hundreds of cards.

    The Christmas cards are works of arts in their own right (couldn’t get a photo but Google them – they are brilliant!).

    I’ve been back to the exhibition again and am planning a third trip.  Heatherwick Studios seems to roll art, design, function with a splash of quirky effortlessly.  For someone who has never cared for design, this exhibition has forced me to view things differently. I’ve gone from not caring to wanting a tour of Heatherwick Studios!

    Heatherwick studio Designing The Extraordinary exhibition runs from 31 May – 30 September at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and is a Must See (at least twice) for 2012.


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3 responses to “A Must See for 2012 – Design Exhibition: Heatherwick Studios @V_and_A” RSS icon

  • Hi,

    Would it be possible to use your image of the programe machine and also the chairs in use? I am a design student and yould like to include them in my reserch, but when I went the the exhibition, I wasn’t allowed to take photo’s, so have none of my own to use!

    • Sure, just please credit my site. Not sure why you weren’t allowed photos of the chairs or program machine as they were outside the exhibition. The other photos need to be credited as stated (they are from V&A). Thanks and good luck!

      • I think I may have been over cautious with my camera – I should have just taken them, as you say – it is outside the exhibition. oh well, I have learned for next time! Thank you for your help. I will ensure that I credit your images.

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