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Barbara Chandler

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Data, angels, chocolate and design at the V&A


The 10th London Design Festival has started, and I made a brave attempt at seeing what was on offer on the very first day – with pushing 300 events listed in the famous little red guide, you feel a bit daunted.

Confusingly, all the happenings have different opening dates, so planning a route is even more complicated. However, everything at the V&A is up and running so that’s where I made a start.

Prism, by London-based Japanese designer Keiichi Matsuda, is undoubtedly the major attraction and is installed high over the entrance hall in the topmost cupola of the museum. This is billed as a “secret space” not usually open to the public. You have to climb a lot of steps to get there, and I am afraid you need to book – though the installation will be there for a week longer than the Festival. You can’t see much of it from the ground floor of the V&A – though we had been told that it would be clearly visible – and you may well crick you neck! Check out details on

For me, Prism (above) works on two levels. First, it is just lovely to look at. Wonderful handmade Japanese paper stretched over wire frames, radiating colours and, it seems, gently pulsating. That is the effect you get from the patterns that are changing over its multi-faceted surfaces. But then the designer (Japanese but based in London) explains that each facet represents a stream of data from a London source, freely available on the internet – info about tides, traffic, crime statistics, transport, news channels, and even bulletins from 10 Downing Street.

These frequently-changing updates have been transformed into the wonderful moving patterns you see on the surfaces of Prism. Keiichi told me his installation is perhaps a little "alien". But to me is beautifully benign. Information is essential for the efficient and safe running of our lives and this simply gives it a poetic face - the stature, if you like, that it deserves. All hail the internet!

I hope you get to see this. And when you have gazed your fill, climb on again to the viewing area right under the cupola itself for a breathtaking 360 degree vision of London.

The Design Festival hub at the V&A
There’s lots more to see at the V&A – ask for the special Festival map at the information desk – or better still go in through the Exhibition Road entrance, where there is a Festival desk. This is a good place to start, as the museum is the official “hub” for the whole Festival. Eat your sandwiches on a special bench in the courtyard, and read all about them on the big red display notices.


There are nine, commissioned from different designers in different materials, including Sam Hecht and Kim Colin of Industrial Facility the Plinth bench in Corian. They told me their bench needed people to complete its effect. There were meant to be ten benches, but sadly the one in glass shattered before arrival – better than after, or, worse still, in use.

Ice-AngelI also loved Ice Angel (right) in the ceramics gallery on the second floor. Stand in front of an enigmatic and very dark screen, which seems to show a pair of folded wings. Raise your arms, and – magic! – you grow your own angel flappers on the screen – the perfect photo-op for family and friends. Read more about this installation here:

I liked Tom Dixon’s interpretation of London landmarks in chocolate (previewed at the V&A) – but am not really sure how this qualifies as “design”. It should be on display at The Dock in West London by now – if it has not melted or been eaten.

Remember that some of the biggest shows of the Festival are “trade only” – and you will need to wait for public days to get in, so check details carefully.

Digital Crystal at the Design Museum
Meanwhile, Digital Crystal has opened at the Design Museum (digitally-enabled design and art is everywhere, and it’s good to see robust ripostes from the craft/hand-made brigade).  Digital Crystal is about memory in a digital age, with a lot of crystals thrown in – which I’m afraid I could not really understand, though I tried hard.

But some of the installations are very beautiful – designer Paul Cocksedge is pictured with Crystallize. Here a series of green crystal shapes are actually an illusion – light beams bounced off perfectly aligned mirrors. Paul showed me how, if he breaks the beam with his hand, the crystal disappears - clever stuff. And if you turn off the light, then everything disappears – apart from the mirror/crystals.

Elsewhere, Ron Arad’s famous Lolita chandelier flashes up text messages if you dial its number (displayed alongside). “Ron, where r u?” I demanded at the private view, since we have known each other for a fair few years. But answer came there none.

For more pictures of the London Design Festival please see:
All photographs by Barbara Chandler @ sunnyholt


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