News - London Design Festival
Featuring over 300 events from an installation in the rafters of the V&A to a programme of talks at Central St Martins via a sonic sculpture in Trafalgar Square and an awards ceremony held at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, it is physically impossible to see the entire London Design Festival. As a result selecting highlights is an invidious task. The temptation, of course, is to concentrate on the major exhibitions that provide the 10-day programme, which ran from 14-22 September, with a sense of backbone – 100% Design at Earls Court 2, Designersblock on the Southbank, Tent London in the Eastend, and this year’s pick of the bunch, designjunction, which took place in an old postal sorting office on New Oxford Street.
However, my two favourite projects were found in smaller, more intimate venues and both had a distinctly crafty feel. At SCP furniture designer Gareth Neal showed a table with a set of stools and matching candlesticks. The products’ quiet, rough-hewn aesthetic belied an intriguing back story which started a little over two years ago when Neal agreed to take part in the BodgingMilano experiment. Initiated by artist Chris Eckersley, the idea was to take a group of nine designers – including Amos Marchant, Carl Clerkin, William Warren and Gitta Gschwendtner – away from their CAD programmes and milling machines. Instead under the aegis of Gudrun Leitz they learned the traditional furniture making technique of bodging, using poles lathes, draw knifes rather than power tools. Their completed pieces were taken directly from the site and exhibited at the 2010 Milan Furniture Fair, as part of Designerblock’s show held at Spazio Revel.
Duly inspired by this back to basics approach, Neal became intrigued by the possibility of creating a set of products that took more carbon out of the atmosphere than they put in. For In Pursuit of Carbon Negative, he and two assistants cycled to Morton Woods in Herefordshire, attempting to eat only local produce en route. Once the trio arrived they worked for four days alongside coppice workers Jo and Paul Morton making furniture using hand tools, before putting the prototypes on a trailer and cycling them back to London. The finished pieces have immense charm, a wonderful sense of hinterland and are genuinely sustainable. Whether this can be any more than a one-off only time will tell.
While Neal’s project seeks to place ancient craft in a contemporary context, Max Lamb’s work for the nascent British company 1882 LTD – shown at fashion boutique Bamford in South Kensington – may go someway to reinvigorating a behemoth of the nation’s industrial age. Crockery is a family of tableware slip cast in fine bone china from plaster models carved by Lamb himself. Importantly, it’s not made in the Far East but instead comes from the traditional heartland of British ceramics, Stoke-on-Trent.
Lamb is a designer fascinated by process and materials. He combines this with an honesty in his approach that subtly allows consumers into the secrets behind the manufacture of his products. Crockery has an unrefined, raw sensibility that’s both daring and, yes, a little cartoonish (apparently the running joke in the factory that produced the range was to compare it to the Flintstones). They are also eminently affordable with the mug and bowl priced at £35 and the jug £75.
More broadly what the collection – and by extension 1882 LTD – also represents though is a sense of hope. Proving that there are entrepreneurs (aside from Emma Bridgewater) and top-notch designers willing to make things in Stoke-on-Trent, backing the skills of the workforce there and trusting in the buying public to understand the importance of provenance. Nobody is suggesting that 1882 LTD is going to single-handedly revive the city’s ceramics manufacturing base, of course, but it represents a ray of light.