Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Made of Stone.

On Saturday me and a group of friends took a lovely, autumnal walk, around the Hart district of Hampshire. We walked from Hook to Rotherwick and back and as I sat in the beer garden of The Coach and Horses in Rotherwick nursing a very agreeable pint of Red Rye I became distracted by the aesthetic possibilities of a random stone and its shadow playing out against the painted wood of the pub bench in the late afternoon sunshine.

My friends joked that I'd probably get a blog out of it, maybe listen to The Stone Roses while I wrote it, but what they didn't seem to be aware of was (a) I've already written a blog about (much bigger) stones and (b) I had a blog all about stone and what you can do with it lined up anyway. Stone me, stone the crows, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, and any other relevant idioms that contain the word 'stone'.

I'd recently visited the Design Museum in Holland Park and, while I was there, I'd noticed they were hosting a small exhibition, some indoors, some outdoors, called Set in Stone that aimed to represent 'small moments of monumentality that reflect the solidity and permanence of an elemental material". A material that has "followed Humanity's development since the dawn of time". Capital H the curator's own.

Set in Stone, the project, took place over two years and involved twenty-four international architects and designers, each of whom were given complete artistic freedom to explore the potential of Portuguese marble and limestone by making use of both its colour and its texture. Fifty-one works, in total, were created and the best of them, or perhaps just an arbitrary selection, ended up at the Design Museum.

Mancunian Peter Saville is better known as a founder and art director of Factory Records. Most famously he's created iconic record covers for Joy Division, New Order, OMD, Pulp, and Suede but he's also worked with Roxy Music, Wham!, and Gay Dad (if you remember them). His In Memorium looked like it could've featured on one of those radical sleeve designs. Not least Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures. That album's artwork features an image of successive pulses from CP1919 (the first pulsar ever discovered) and In Memorium is a sculptural extrapolation of the same thing. Michael Bracewell has described Saville's work as "the muniments of a crematorium in deep space". I just wanted, like much in this show, to run my hands along its surface. That and look up the word 'muniments' in the dictionary.

Peter Saville - In Memorium (2017)

Jorge Silva - Pictorama (2017)
Two of the exhibits I didn't feel tempted to fondle were Jorge Silva's Pictorama and Sagmeister & Walsh's Don't Look Back. That's because they weren't actually there as such, replaced by an artist's impression of what they would look like. A bit of a swizz really but the exhibition was free.
The Alfacinha Silva has been given dozens of awards for the work he's done as Art Director for the Portuguese newspapers Combate and O Independente, he's headed up several magazines (20 Anos, Icon, LER, LX Metropole), and over the last few years he's been teaching Art Direction at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Porto whilst running a blog, Almanaque Silva, dedicated to Portuguese illustration. He's obviously very successful and highly respected in his field. Which makes it a shame that his Pictorama is rather boring, a set of three pieces based on the visual culture of signage and pictograms, it did nothing for me.
Marginally more impressive was the effort from New York based duo Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh. Their CV is even more star studded than Silva's. Past clients have included The Rolling Stones, Jay-Z, Levis, the New York Times, Snapchat, and the Guggenheim Museum and their work has been shown globally from Philadelphia to Prague and from Zurich to Osaka. The six panels of Don't Look Back are intended as a reference to the black screens of the smartphones, televisions, and tablets we spend so much of our life staring into these days. The mention of Charlie Brooker's brilliant Black Mirror in the accompanying leaflet only serves to show just how short, both satirically and aesthetically, Sagmeister & Walsh come up. Shame.    

Sagmeister & Walsh - Don't Look Back (2017)

Miguel Vieira Baptista - O Peso Da Pedra (2017)
Once you get away from the weakly worked through concepts and wall hangings and get to the actual stone itself though everything's rather lovely. Sexy even. Can stone be sexy? Probably not but let's go with it.
Miguel Vieira Baptista, born (like Silva) in Lisbon, received his degree from the Glasgow School of Art in 1993. Since then he's been developing projects as a product designer, curating design exhibitions, teaching at ESAD.CR in his native Portugal, and was, in 2013, awarded the Audi Mentorprize in Cologne. O Peso Da Pedra (The Weight of Stone) may look like a top end ashtray but was, apparently, inspired by his research into the construction methods of Roman antiquity.
Jasper Morrison's Alpinina looks even more like an ashtray. The Londoner is best known, we're informed, for his work in furniture, lighting, and tableware (like ashtrays perhaps?). He's collaborated with trendy Italian cheese grater, cutlery, and toothpick designers Alessi and had consultancies with South Korean phone/television giants Samsung and Japanese minimalists Muji. It's claimed Alpinina has been designed to give the bowl (or ashtray) the appearance of floating in mid-air even though a three year old child could easily work out it's not. But it looks pleasant. The leaflet provided for the show really goes out on a limb with this work suggesting that "it is a simple piece, meant to be placed on a table, sideboard or kitchen shelf and contain fruit, vegetables or nuts". Gee, thanks guys. It had long been a mystery to me what bowls were used for.

Jasper Morrison - Alpinina (2017)

Michael Anastassiades - Forbidden Fruit (2017)
Cypriot Michael Anastassiades seems to have provided us with the sculptural equivalent of one of Italian painter Giorgio Morandi's still lifes. In relation to his Forbidden Fruit he has said "No matter how many times a day I decide to consume a fruit, I am always fascinated by the moment when I am about to reveal the inside flesh". Steady on, old boy. The various 'vessels' he's created are easy on the eye but they don't look particularly fruit like and neither did they fill this visitor with erotic thoughts.
You have to go outside for that - and that's just where this exhibition took me. Last month I wrote, enthusiastically, about my visit to the Frieze Sculpture Park in Regent's Park and the three works displayed on the patio outside the Design Museum brought back fond memories of that. Unlike the works inside they seemed like they could be put to practical use too. In the case of Paulo David and Eduardo Souto de Moura as chairs and in the case of Elemental's A Thing Not An Object as either somewhere to park one's bicycle or even a urinal, a pissoir.
Elemental themselves see it as a slide for children (they'd need to be very small children) and something that offers "speed without the need for physical coordination". A member of the Chilean firm, Alejandro Aravena, has been a recent recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize but it has to be said it's the least impressive piece of stone of the three.
Paulo David runs his own studio in Funchal, Madeira. It seems likely that the climate there would be more conducive to sitting and relaxing on his Mult, a three piece sculpture that's been designed so that it can be arranged into different formations. The one the curators have gone for seems to suggest two people sitting back to back and not interacting with each other.
Which is quite the opposite of Eduardo Souto de Moura's Conversadeira which seems to be made for deeply conversing, possibly even kissing and canoodling, with a friend or lover. You'd get a cold bum sat on that stone surface in the British October weather, and that might dampen your ardour somewhat, but what lovely stone it is. In lieu of having another person there to canoodle with I ran my hands along the smooth and curvaceous surface. I like to think it's what Souto de Moura would've wanted.
Conversadeira (Conversation Seat) was the winner for me with Peter Saville and Paulo David taking up podium positions alongside him. I had a fun hour or so looking at stone in new and different ways and, just as my friends had joked, I'm managed to get a blog out of it. Forget blood out of a stone. This is a blog out of a stone and, yes, I did listen to The Stone Roses while I wrote it.

Paulo David - Mult (2017)

Elemental - A Thing Not An Object (2016)

Eduardo Souto de Moura - Conversadeira (2017)

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