Forgotten Masterpieces: Indian Painting for the East India Company

forgotten masters  forgotten masters

 

Even though I am a regular art exhibition-goer in London, I often miss many excellent but less publicised exhibitions in town. Luckily, I did manage to see the rare and wonderful “Forgotten Masterpieces: Indian Painting for the East India Company” at The Wallace Collection before my travels to Asia.

Guest curated by renowned writer and historian William Dalrymple, the exhibition is the first in the UK to showcase 100 artworks by Indian master painters commissioned by East India Company officials –ranging from botanists and surgeons, through to diplomats, artists, governors and judges, and their wives – in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (1770 to 1840). These Indian artists include Shaikh Zain ud-Din, Bhawani Das, Shaikh Mohammad Amir of Karriah, Sita Ram and Ghulam Ali Khan, who were all uncredited for their intricate artworks. Until now.

The exhibition explores the four main centres of what has traditionally been described as ‘Company School’ painting: Calcutta and Lucknow, where provincial Mughal painters from Murshidabad, Patna and Faizabad were employed; Madras and Tanjore, where artists from the South Indian traditions received patronage; and Delhi, where Imperial Mughal artists created some of the finest works of this period. India’s natural world appeared to be a popular subject for the British officials at the time.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters  forgotten masters

 

After I started to do botianical illustrations as a hobby in recent years, I became very interested in botanical art. Hence I was immediately drawn to all the bold and meticulous botanical paintings of Indian flora at the exhibition. There is a timelessness feel to these paintings, and you could easily see them being transferred to wallpaper or fabric and sold at House of Hackney to trendy East Londoners.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters  forgotten masters

 

The fauna paintings are equally interesting. I particularly liked the study of “Great Indian Fruit Bat” (around 1777-82) by a well-known Indian artist Bhawani Das, who was trained in Mughal miniature painting and commissioned by Sir Elijah Impey, Chief Justice of Bengal (1774–1782), and his wife, Lady Mary, to make extensive natural history studies at their estate in Calcutta. I have never liked bats, but the paintings are so intriguing that I found it hard to move away from them.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

 

Aside from the natural world, another highlight was the painstaking architectural drawings of India’s manmade wonders including the Taj Mahal. I felt like asking for a magnifying glass in order to study these drawings! These drawings were done by an unknown artist (possibly Sheikh Mohammed Latif), and each drawing showcases the detailed ornamental patterns and calligraphy on the facades of the buildings. I am not sure if such drawing techniques and craftsmanship still exists today – these works are immaculate and priceless.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

 

The exhibition also displays masterpieces from the famous Fraser Album for the first time since the album was broken up and sold in the 1980s. Fraser Album is a collection of paintings documenting various aspects of Mughal life, made between 1815 and 1819, commissioned by a British Indian civil servant, William Fraser. The last court painter of the Mughal empire, Ghulam Ali Khan, was commissioned to illustrate Mughal life using traditional techniques but with English watercolours on English paper. This fusion style is known today as the Company School. 

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

 

Of course this exhibition is not just about art; the exhibition is fascinating because of its Anglo-Indian history and context. Through these works, we could get a glimpse of the last days of the Mughal Empire, and appreciate the last phase of Indian artistic genius before photography and the influence of western colonial art schools – ended an unbroken tradition of painting going back two thousand years. From the exhibition, we could see that the commissioned Indian artists not only responded to European influences, they also maintained their own artistic visions and styles, therefore these works are truly original and remarkable. Sadly, the vast array of ‘fusion’ works produced during this period were largely forgotten by the world, which is why this exhibition could be seen as a late tribute to the ingenious Indian masters from that period.

 

Emmanuelle Moureaux’s ‘Slices of Time’ exhibition at Now Gallery

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

I have been a fan of Tokyo-based French architect Emmanuelle Moureaux and her colour-driven architecture for some time. Since 1996, she has been living in Tokyo where she established Emmanuelle Moureaux architecture + design in 2003. I have never actually seen Moureaux‘s architecture and installations in real life, so I was really looking forward to seeing her first art/design exhibition “Slices of time” in London.

Moureaux invented the concept of shikiri, which literally means ‘dividing (creating) space with colours’. She uses colours as three-dimensional elements, like layers, in order to create spaces, and her work ranges from art, design to architecture.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

Inspired by the location of the gallery, near the Greenwich Meridian, “Slices of Time expresses the past, the now and the future through 168,000 numbers cut out from paper. The cut-outs are hung in the gallery space, as a representation of the round earth floating. 100 layers of numbers in 100 shades of colours visualise the next 100 years to come (2020 to 2119), while 20 layers of numbers in white represent the past 20 years (2000 to 2019).

On the preview night, I headed to NOW Gallery on the Greenwich Peninsula, and a long queue had already formed outside of the gallery. At the door, we were assigned a timeslot and when it was our turn, we had to queue (again) outside of the exhibition area. We were allowed to walk around the installations for a short period before being hurried out to let the next group in.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

It was wonderful to see the striking installations from above and up close. I am also glad that the architect has chosen paper as her medium – the installation truly reveals the beauty and power of paper. I only wish that I was given more time to linger, but since I was going to be away for several months, this was the only opportunity for me to see the exhibition before leaving. And for those who don’t live in London, there are currently two other exhibitions being held in Taipei (“Forest of Numbers” ) and New York (“100 colors”) where visitors can be stimulated by vast array of colours.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux  Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

 

“Floating worlds: Japanese woodcuts” exhibition at Brighton Museum

brighton musuem

brighton musuem

 

I have visited exhibitions on Ukiyo-e (Japanese Woodblock prints) in Japan, France and London before, but never in Brighton. After reading some positive reviews on the “Floating Worlds: Japanese Woodcuts” exhibition at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, I decided to head to Brighton to see the exhibition before it ended.

Oddly enough, even though I have visited Brighton several times before, I have never been to the museum nor The Royal Pavilion. As I was approaching the museum located within the Royal Pavilion garden, I was immediately impressed by its architecture, which was built in a similar Indo-Saracenic style as the nearby Royal Pavilion.

 

brighton musuem

brighton musuem

brighton musuem

 

Opened in 1873, the museum was one of the first purpose built museums in England. A major refurbishment costing £10 million took place in 2002, moving the entrance from Church Street to the Royal Pavilion garden, and its galleries redesigned with new interpretation.

The museum has a interesting collection of pottery, which was the collection of one of its founders. Henry Willett, a wealthy local brewer.  I was also surprised to see the 20th Century Art and design collection in the main gallery featuring artists and designers like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Eric Ravilious, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Grayson Perry etc.

 

brighton musuem  brighton musuem

brighton musuem

brighton musuem  brighton museum

brighton museum

brighton museum  brighton musuem

 

The ukiyo-e exhibition occupied two rooms upstairs, and it showcased woodblock prints from the Edo period (1615-1868), which are part of the museum’s collection. Guided by haiku poetry, the exhibition enabled visitors to learn more about lives in Edo ( Tokyo) through the exquisite prints.

The term ‘ukiyo-e’ literally means ‘pictures of the floating world’. The ‘floating world’ referred to the ‘pleasure quarters’ that were filled with teahouses, Kabuki theatres and licensed brothels in Japan’s cities during the Edo period. The hand-carved and hand-printed prints depict actors, courtesans and geisha, who became style icons of their day. I love the detailed patterns on the kimonos of the courtesans and geisha, which reveal the splendid craftsmanship of the period.

 

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img_5592-min

 

Besides the ‘pleasure quarters’, the exhibition also explored the Hanakotoba, the Japanese language of flowers. Meanwhile, countryside and the transient seasons are common themes featured in ukiyo-e, alongside with Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji, which was illustrated either explicitly or implicitly in the background.

 

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Unlike the extremely crowded and overhyped Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum, I utterly enjoyed this low-key and wonderful exhibition. It is hard to appreciate an exhibition in a stressful environment (where people kept pushing, chatting and refusing to move), hence the quiet and spacious setting of this exhibition truly enabled visitors to appreciate the poetic quality of the prints. I only wish that the museum will showcase more of its ukiyo-e prints to the public in the future, because they are just too beautiful to be locked away.

 

brighton museum

Drawings by the visitors at the exhibition

 

“Olafur Eliasson: In real life” exhibition at Tate Mordern

Olafur Eliasson

Model room (2003), Olafur Eliasson in collaboration with Einar Thorsteinn

 

Although I have seen Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson‘s works before, I was still hesitant to visit his “Olafur Eliasson: In real life” exhibition at Tate Modern fearing that it has been overhyped. Then when I went with a friend on one Friday evening, we both enjoyed the exhibition immensely – it was also more fun to go with a friend.

As soon as I stepped into the first room, I was immediately captivated by all the geometric origami architectural pieces behind the glass case. Since I completed a paper art course recenly, I found these pieces utterly fascinating. These preliminary and experimental models enabled the artist and his team to develop larger geometric installations that could be seen in the other rooms. Though seeing these models helped us to understand the concept and work process.

 

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

 

Eliasson often creates works that aim to challenge viewers’ perception of reality. “Is Seeing Believing?” is the question that we sometimes ask ourselves, yet our past experiences are leading us to think otherwise, since we are constantly deceived by our brains. The truth is that most of us are able to grasp reality.

Eliasson’s most famous work ‘The Weather Project’ drew 2 million visitors to gather beneath his artificial sun installation in the Turbine Hall back in 2003. This ‘fake sun’ became the talk of town for a long time.

This time, an 11-metre-high waterfall constructed from scaffolding was installed on the terrace outside of the museum. According to Eliasson, the piece is meant to probe questions including: “Is nature constructed? Is nature real? Is it fake? Does nature exist?”

 

Olafur Eliasson

 

Since Eliasson spent much of his childhood in Iceland, nature and environmental issues play prominent roles in his works. In one of his earlier works Beauty (1993), for example, Eliasson wanted to recreate something he’d witnessed first-hand in Iceland. Visitors would enter a dark room and see mist coming out of a punctured hose pipe with light illuminated from a single light bulb. If you stand there long enough, you are likely to see a rainbow. Is this nature or manmade? It is up to you to decide.

 

Olafur Eliasson

Beauty (1993)

 

In another room, visitors would be surrounded by a dense fog that changes colours as you blindly navigate yourself through it. Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) was first presented at Copenhagen’s ARKEN Museum of Modern Art in 2010, and at this exhibition, it has been recreated in a 39-metre long corridor.

The artificial fog is actially made from non-toxic polls, a sweetener often used in food production, hence you can taste the sweetness at the back your throat when you inhale the fog. Not only you might feel disoriented, but all your senses would also be evoked in this space.

 

Olafur Eliasson Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) (2010)  Olafur Eliasson Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) (2010)

Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger), 2010

 

Another immersive installation Your uncertain shadow (colour) focuses on light and colour. Five coloured spotlights, directed at a white wall, are arranged in a line on the floor. These colours combine to illuminate the wall with a bright white light. When the visitor enters the space, her/his projected shadow, by blocking each coloured light from a slightly different angle, appears on the wall as an array of five differently coloured silhouettes. The deceptive and playful installation is probably the most ‘instagrammed’ at the exhibition.

 

Olafur Eliasson Your uncertain shadow (colour), 2010

Your uncertain shadow (colour), 2010

 

Beyond the interactive installations, there are also works that employed a more conventional method focusing on the effects of global warming and climate change. A series of photographs of Iceland’s glaciers taken by the artist in 1999 are hung alongside with photos taken 20 years on to illustrate the changes in the landscape that are happening now. They act as a stark reminder that global warming is not a hoax and needs to be addressed asap.

His other ongoing prject, Ice Watch (2014–) is a collaboration with the geologist Minik Rosing in which large blocks of glacial ice cast off from the Greenland ice sheet were installed in three locations, including outside of Tate Modern a year ago. The melting ice installation raises awareness of climate change by providing a direct and tangible experience of the reality.

 

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

 

Like I mentioned earlier, many of his geometric origami models in the first room were later developed into larger installations, like ‘Your spiral view’ (2002), featuring a eight-metre-long tunnel constructed from steel plates that are assembled into two sets of spirals coiling in opposite directions. When visitors walk through it, they would find themselves within a kaleidoscope, in which the space they have just left is reflected fragmentarily together with the view out on the other side. It is another fun and disorientating installations at the exhibition.

 

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson Your spiral view 2002

Olafur Eliasson Your spiral view 2002

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

 

Outside of the exhibition, visitors could also view his other projects, including Little Sun, developed with the Danish engineer Frederik Ottesen. Little Sun is a very efficient solar-powered LED lamp, aimed at children in Africa and other developing nations. Since the lamp’s debut in 2012, more than 200,000 have been distributed, over a third of them to regions in Africa with no electricity, the rest at venues like Tate Modern or Coachella.

 

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson The structural evolution project 2001.

 

In my opinion, Olafur Eliasson is undoubtedly a persuasive and important artist of our generation. It is hard to put him into a box as he is also a designer, philanthropist and environmental activist. Even if you don’t consider his works as ‘art’, he does have the power to make the public engage and think about our environment, which hopefully will bring about positive changes to our planet.

 

 

African Textiles – Karun Thakar Collection at Brunei Gallery

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Often it is easy to miss many excellent exhibitions in a big city like London, especially after Timeout got rid of its exhibitions listing when it became a free magazine. Meanwhile, the few art listing apps don’t seem to be comprehensive either. This is when Instagram can be useful sometimes… it was a post that caught my attention and brought me to The African Textiles – Karun Thakar Collection exhibition at SOAS’s Brunei Gallery. Thanks to this post, I managed to see the remarkable exhibition before it ended. I felt that the show was not given the publicity it deserved, and many people who are interested in the subject probably would have missed it like I almost did.

The Karun Thakar Collection is one of the world’s largest private collections of African textiles, and this exhibition showcased 150 exhibits and textiles from west and north Africa including Morocco, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. Karun Thakar is a passionate collector of textiles, and it would be hard not to be impressed by the outstandling and vast collection.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collectionimg_4997-min

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

In recent years, I have devoted more of my time to the world of textiles. One of the reasons why textiles fascinate me so much is the important roles they play in every culture throughout history. Every handmade textile tells a story, which reveals the fascinating tradition of where it comes from. Often I am surprised by the similarities between textiles made from different parts of the world. The language of textiles is universal and it can break through all cultural barriers.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Before the exhibition, I knew very little about African textiles, so I was quite blown away by the vibrant colour combinations, primitive patterns, and the variety of weaving and dyeing techniques. Aside from large hangings, there were also rugs, costumes, jewellery, and even a wonderful selection of woven hats.

There were some distinctive stripweave ‘kente’ or ‘nwentoma‘ cloths made by the Ashanti and Ewe tribes from Ghana at the exhibition. The cloths have interwoven checkered patterns made of silk and cotton fabrics, and each colour has a symbolic meaning.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

I particularly loved the Indigo room, which was full of indigo-dyed textiles. Indigo is an ancient dye, and the oldest known indigo-dyed textile was discovered in 2009 at Huaca Prieta, Peru dating to 6,000 years ago. Yet the practice of indigo-dyeing also has a long history in India, Japan, China, S.E.Asia, Iran, Africa and Europe. In Egypt, blue stripes found in the borders of Egyptian linen mummy cloths were dated around 2400 BC.

Inside the room, there were many indigo pieces from West India (partcicularly from Mali, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon), where the tradition of indigo dyeing has been practised for centuries. It was really interesting to see works created by the resist-dyed technique; although they are not as refined and sophisticated as the ones in Japan, the primitive aesthetics make them unique, and immensely different from the bold and colourful ones in the other rooms.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

If you missed the exhibition, you can buy the book ‘African Textiles’ published by Prestel, 2015. My wish, though, is that one day Mr Karun Thakar’s collection would get a permanent space somewhere so that the public can admire and learn more about the beautiful textiles from this continent.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

The splendid Dale Chihuly exhibition at Kew Gardens

sapphire star dale Chilhuly

Sapphire Star, 2010

 

I am not sure why it took me so long to visit the ‘Chihuly – Reflections on nature‘ exhibition at Kew Gardens, but I finally managed to catch it a few days before it ended. It was not the best day to visit Kew, but the autumn foliage made up for the grey and drizzly weather.

I was glad that I made it because I thought it was was the best U.K. exhibition I saw this year. American artist Dale Chihuly‘s stunning nature-inspired glass sculptures did not look out of place at Kew, in fact, they undoubtedly enhanced the gardens in many ways.

 

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Chihuly at Kew

 

With a map in hand, I wandered around the gardens in search for his 32 sculptures installed at 12 different locations. Aside from the Rotunda Chandelier at the V & A entrance, I don’t recall seeing a lot of Dale Chilhuly‘s works in the U.K., so this exhibition was a fascinating opportunity to see an artist who has spent the last 50 years perfecting and experimenting on a skill/craft/art that he loves. Even on a grey day, Chihuly‘s glass sculptures still looked magnificent, and it was hard not to be gobsmacked by the intricate craftsmanship and dazzling colours.

 

Temperate House Persian

Temperate House Persian  Temperate House Persian

Chihuly at Kew

Chihuly at Kew  Chihuly at Kew

Fiori Verdi

Chihuly at Kew

 

Besides the outdoor sculptures, the indoor ones looked marvelous too. The Temperate House Persians – a new artwork specially designed to be suspended inside the world’s largest and newly restored Victorian glasshouse could be admired from below and above. Meanwhile, some of his other works inside the glasshouse appeared to be camouflage e.g. ‘Fiori Verdi’ among the exotic plants, which was quite a pleasant surprise for the visitors.

 

‘Summer Sun’, 2010

Opal and Amber Towers, 2018

Lime Crystal Tower, 2006

 Scarlette and Yellow icicle tower

Top: ‘Summer Sun’, 2010; 2nd row: ‘Opal and Amber Towers’, 2018; 3rd row: ‘Lime Crystal Tower’, 2006; bottom row: Scarlette and Yellow icicle tower, 2013

 

One of the most conspicuous outdoor sculptures at the exhibition was ‘Summer Sun’, a bold piece consisted of 1,483 separate elements. Yet the most complex one is ‘Scarlette and Yellow icicle tower’, which has 1,882 separate elements.

Out of all the installations at the gardens, my personal favourites were the ‘Niijima Floats’ and ‘Ethereal White Persian Pond’ inside the Waterlily House. Named after a volcanic island in Tokyo Bay, the ‘Niijima Floats’ installation at the Japanese rock garden was made up of brightly coloured glass spheres in various sizes, some of which weigh up to 60 pounds (27 kg). A series introduced by Chihuly in 1991, the colourful spheres looked unexpectantly harmonious with its surroundings; I especially liked the Chinese pagoda backdrop. I felt a sense of tranquility and balance looking at this installation, and it was unfathomable by intellect – you could only feel it, which probably made it more powerful.

 

'Niijima Floats' (1992 - 2008)

'Niijima Floats' (1992 - 2008)

'Niijima Floats' (1992 - 2008)

‘Niijima Floats’, 2019

 

‘Ethereal white persian pond’ inside the Waterlily house was another breathtaking installation. As soon as I entered the glasshouse, my eyes were captivated by the extraordinary white and translucent striped glass flowers supported and rimmed with steel standing on the surface of the pond. Again, I felt that the glass flowers belonged there, in the pond with the water lilies and lotus leaves. The reflection of the glass sculptures on the water created a dreamlike/surreal effect, which made me believe that these flowers are part of nature and that there is no difference between the sculptures and nature.

Chihuly has said that he wants his work “to appear like it came from nature, so that if someone found it on a beach or in the forest, they might think it belonged there.” And I believe that he has certainly achieved this.

 

'Ethereal white persian pond', 2018

'Ethereal white persian pond', 2018

'Ethereal white persian pond', 2018

‘Ethereal white persian pond’, 2018

 

The last location I visited was the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, where visitors could see his sketches, drawings, smaller glass sculptures and a film detailing Chihuly’s creative process. It was interesting to see many artisans working alongside with Chihuly in the production process, hence the collaborative efforts are essential for his final pieces.

 

Chihuly at Kew

Chihuly at Kew  Chihuly at Kew

Chihuly at Kew

Chihuly at Kew

Chihuly at Kew

 

Although I have visited Kew Gardens almost annually (usually with a friend who lives locally) for the last few years, I have never been able to cover the entire area. There is always something new to discover here, and on this visit, I spent almost an hour inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory examing the carnivorous plants in a maze-like glasshouse.

 

kew gardens  kew gardens

KEW

kew plants  kew plants

kew

kew gardens

 

Although Kew is popular with visitors all year round, I personally love coming here in autumn. I enjoy hearing the rustling sounds of autumn leaves being blown in the wind, and the crunching sounds produced when my shoes made contact with the leaves. Perhaps it is due to global warming, but I feel that autumns here have become shorter, and if this is the case, then we need to cherish this season before it vanishes altogether – which will be almost unthinkable but not impossible. Watching the autumn leaves fall onto the ground is a reminder of our fleeting lives, although it comes with a sense of melancholy, there is also much beauty in it. I think nature is our best teacher, and maybe this is the reason why I will always want to return to Kew in autumn.

 

Chihuly at Kew

autumn foliage Kew  autumn foliage Kew

autumn foliage Kew

autumn foliage Kew

autumn foliage Kew  FOLIAGE KEW

FOLIAGE KEW

autunn foliage

 

 

Historic Colchester – the former capital of Roman Britain

Colchester Castle

 

Although Colchester is only 50 miles from London, I have never visited this historic market town before. Regarded as Britain’s oldest recorded town, it used to be the capital of Roman Britain, but it does not seem to attract as many visitors as Cambridge and Oxford. After visiting The Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmsmarket, I took the opportunity to trace its history and learn more about Roman Britain.

 

Colchester

colchester

Colchester   Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

 

The MUST-SEE sight in Colchester is the Grade I listed Colchester Castle, an imposing Norman Castle dating from 11th century. Built on the foundations of the Roman Temple of Claudius, Colchester Castle is the largest Norman keep in Europe. The museum displays artefacts up to 2,500 years old, from Celtic Britain, through Roman invasion and Boudiccan revolt, to Norman conquest and medieval life. Visitors can also see the prison cells in the basement.

Personally, I was fascinated by the Roman artefacts especially the beautiful mosaic floors. There is a large Middleborough Mosaic (made up of around 250,000 tesserae) on display dated to about AD150-175. It was laid inside a large villa in Middleborough outside of the town wall, and was discovered in 1979. Although it is damaged, you can still appreciate the design which features two wrestling cupids being observed by a bird in the centre, four sea creatures (hippocamps), and an acanthus scroll border with large flowers, heart-shaped fruits and four more birds.

This museum has a vast array of collection that includes pottery, vessels, armour, coins and jewellery etc; it is a gem not to be missed.

 

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester castle/museum

 

Hollytrees Museum

Colchester

Hollytrees Museum

 

Another interesting sight is the ruins of St Botolph’s Priory, founded about 1100, one of the first Augustinian priories in England. The building was badly damaged by cannon fire during the Civil War siege of 1648, yet it was never rebuilt. This is an example of early Norman architecture built in flint and reused Roman brick, and it still looks impressive with the remaining arches and piers.

 

Colchester St Botolph's Priory

Colchester st botolph's priory  Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory  Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory

St Botolph’s Priory

 

Holy Trinity church is the oldest surviving Saxon building in Colchester. The Saxon-style tower has a triangular arch over the west door and features re-used Roman bricks. The tower dates to the mid-11th century, probably around AD1050, but the body of the church was built in 1349. The church was made redundant in 1956 and now not opened to the public.

 

Colchester trinity church

Colchester Church

Colchester

Holy Trinity church

 

The Minories Galleries houses a contemporary art gallery run by Colchester School of Art, part of Colchester Institute. The A listed Georgian building also has a shop selling arts and crafts made by local artists, as well as a Tiptree’ Tea Room with a spacious and relaxing garden.

 

Colchester Tiptree’ Tea Room

Colchester Tiptree’ Tea Room

Colchester Tiptree’ Tea Room

Colchester The Minories Galleries

The Minories Galleries & Tiptree’ Tea Room

 

Honestly, I was rather surprised to see a contemporary art institue in the middle of this historic town. Designed by starchitect Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly (also known for his car-melting Walkie-Talkie building in London), the conspicuous gold metal structure looks a bit out of place here. Built in 2011, the controversial Firstsite took 8 years to build and costed £28 million (!). It has received criticism for its sloping walls and failing to attract footfall. When I visited the venue, there were only a few visitors, which felt quite strange… However, I was impressed to see the Berryfield Mosaic reinstalled at its original site after it was unearthed in 1923 and moved to the Colchester Castle. Dating from around AD200, the mosaic originally formed part of the dining room floor of a wealthy Roman townhouse; its design features a central rose motif surrounded by four panels depicting sea monsters chasing dolphins.

 

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester Berryfield Mosaic

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester FirstsiteColchester Firstsite

Firstsite

 

Due to time contraint, I didn’t have enough time to visit more places, but I had a good time and would want to explore more around this part of the UK in the future.

 

LDF19: Biodesign Here Now at Open Cell

open cell

OPEN CELL

OPENCELL

 

After my recent visit to the biotech hub Open Cell at the Shepherds Bush Market, I was keen to learn more about biodesign and its future. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long because at the London Design Festival this year, Open Cell organised an event called Biodesign Here Now at its premise over one weekend.

The event showcased over 30 emerging international designers and startups with innovative ideas that are breaking boundaries between biology, design, and technology. Although I missed the fashion show on the opening night, I did manage to visit the exhibition and listen to some designers talk about their projects.

 

bio design now

Yggdrasil

Yggdrasil – an architecture collective of PhD researchers from Newcastle University specialising in living technologies for the future. Our mission is to challenge conventional methods of construction by proposing an ecocentric alternative. We believe that the buildings of the future should be living, breathing and inclusive of nature.

 

Paula Nerlich

Paula Nerlich – her current research explores vegan biodegradable bioplastics and foams from industrial and household food waste with diverse possible applications within interiors and product design.

Nina Jotanovic

Nina Jotanovic

Nina Jotanovic

Nina Jotanovic (in collaboration with Bartlett School of Architecture) – ‘Biogenic Luminosity’  is a research project that questions ‘flat’ appearance and unsustainability of synthetic materials in comparison to those of biogenic and geologic origin.

 

Mohammad Jawad

Mohammad Jawad

Mohammad Jawad – Manufactured by Nature: Growing Generatively Designed Products

 

Post Carbon Lab

Post Carbon LabPost Carbon Lab

Post Carbon Lab – a design research studio launched their service pilots of two pioneering microbiological processes for sustainable and regenerative fashion applications: Bacterial Pigment Dyeing and Photosynthesis Coating on fabrics and garments.

 

Studio Aurelie Fontan  Studio Aurelie Fontan

Aurelie Fontan is a sustainable fashion designer, with a focus on bio-design and circular economy (including zero-waste production methods in texture making and cutting). Her collection includes a bio-designed dress from bacteria, recycled materials and four fully recycled leather outfits, none of them being sewn together but rather linked through innovative re-usable elements that allow complete disassembly and recycling.

Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture  Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture

BIO DESIGN  Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture

Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture  Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture

Piero D’Angelo’s Wetwear Couture uses Physarum Polycephalum/slime mould to create fascinating fashion pieces

 

OPEN CELL

Nicole Stjernswärd KAIKU Living Color

Nicole Stjernswärd KAIKU Living Color

Nicole Stjernswärd – KAIKU Living Color is a sustainable alternative to colours made from petroleum. KAIKU uses plant waste to create natural powder pigments. Many plants & fruits we eat every day, such as avocados, onions, and oranges, have valuable colors within their skins and peels. Normally these are left to rot in landfills, but KAIKU transforms this waste into a high value resource.

 

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Nikoletta Karastathi & Zafer Tandogdu’s ‘Awareness of the Microbial World’ explores antimicrobial resistance and the human-microbe relationship as key concepts for creating bio-textile.

 

Carolyn Raff

Carolyn Raff uses Agar Agar, an algae based gelatin substitute for many different experiments as a new kind of bioplastic. The complete biodegradable material can be created in many different shades, looks and structures. It is dyed with natural dye, mainly with algae based colours, such as astaxanthin and phycocyanin.

 

Mira Nameth Biophilica

Mira Nameth Biophilica  Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia - 'Made by moths'

Top & bottom left: Mira Nameth – ‘Biophilica’ is the result of a year long material development, working with plant-based resources. Biophilica materials are truly local, biodegradable, and recyclable.
Bottom right: Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia – ‘Made by moths’ is a project that investigates the potential of clothes moths and their digestive enzymes as collaborators in selecting and breaking down keratin-based textile-waste.

 

Silvio Tinello - 'Grown Objects'
Silvio Tinello – ‘Grown Objects’ is a collection where all the producrs have been bio-fabricated. This means, grown and harvested using biological processes. Grown in two predominant materials: A fungi bio agglomerate and bacterial cellulose, both grown in yerba mate: part of the “argentine cultural DNA’.

Lindsay Hanson, Margot Vaaerpass and Zaki Musa Resistance Runner  Wearable Lab on Body

Left: Lah Studio – ‘The Resistance Runner’ is a bio-formulated shoe that utilizes cloned bacteriocins and micrococcus in a nutrient broth cocktail; essentially harnessing the bacteria’s own defense system as a protective layer. 

Right: MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group creates ‘Wearable Lab on Body’ wearable systems and interfaces for cognitive enhancement.

Valentina Dipietro Mychrome

Valentina Dipietro – ‘Mychrome’ is a project that explores the possibility of mycelium and its surface applications. Mycelium is the vegetative part of mushrooms and it has been used to bind agricultural waste and create new sustainable materials which are naturally fire retardant, insulating and sound-absorbing. Dipietro likes to focus on designing with waste as well as using it as a pigment to dye and finish her materials.

Midushi Kochhar A waste project

Midushi Kochhar – ‘A waste project’ is made from by-products of poultry industry, namely, eggshells and feathers. The aim is to create alternatives for plastic disposables and encourage sustainable living. All the objects are 100% biodegradable and once their purpose is over, they can literally be crushed and thrown away in the compost.

 

Pat Pataranutaporn wearable lab on body

Pat Pataranutaporn from MIT gave a talk on the future of ‘Wearable Lab on Body’

 

Denimaize

Denimaize

Denimaize gave a talk on denim made from corn husk

 

The last talk of the day was by Denimaize, a studio from the University of Pennsylvania, which includes bio-designers, artists and engineers. They use wasted and diseased corn husks and process them to extract their cellulose fibers. The corn fibers are spun with flax and woven in a twill pattern. The fabric is then coloured with microbial dye and relaxed with cellulase enzymes. Denimaize is a response to the dominance of the corn crop in the U.S. and the waste it generates, as well as the pollution in the denim industry. Denimaize is proposing a biological (albeit corny) alternative to the old way of denim processing.

The weekend event was interesting and inspiring, and it is very encouraging to see so many designers, startups and innovators coming up with sustainable solutions to address the issues our planet is facing right now. Sustainability is not a trend, it has to be here to stay for the sake of our future.

 

 

London design festival: Kings Cross design district

coaldropsyard

coaldropsyard  coaldropsyard

Coal Drops Yard

 

This year, the ever-changing Kings Cross was chosen as the design district for the first time at the London design festival. Aside from the annual design trade show, DesignJunction, there were many exhibitions and activities taking place during the festival.

I received a trade preview invitation to visit Designjunction, so I set off earlier to see what was happening in the area. The initial installations I encountered were two giant wooden sculptures that resembled robots. Designed by Steuart Padwick, the “Talk to me” installations were designed to ‘converse’ with passerby, as part of Designjunction in support of the charity Time to Change to encourage Londoners to talk about mental health.

 

img_1841-min  img_1842-min

‘Talk to me’ installations

 

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Camille Walala’s installations

 

Probably the most ‘bizarre’ installation at the design festival was “Disco Carbonara”, by London-based Italian furniture designer Martino Gamper. Inpspired by the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and a Potemkin village, the designer used film sets and scaffolding to create a temporary structure. There was disco music playing inside and a bouncer standing outside stamping visitor’s hands, yet there was nothing inside… it was just a façade.

The fake disco structure was made from a patchwork of cladding created from waste offcuts from an Italian company called Alpi. The conceptual installation aimed to make visitors think about urban design, and the sustainability of temporary structures created for short-term events like the London design festival.

 

Disco Carbonara by Martino Gamper

Disco Carbonara by Martino Gamper

 

Tottex and Kiosk N1C 

Textile waste banner installations by Tottex and Kiosk N1C

 

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img_1905  img_1907

STORE Store making meringue

 

Granby Workshop launched a new range of ceramic tableware made from 100% waste materials. The range has grown out of extensive research by the Liverpool-based ceramics studio gathering, testing and analysing materials from a wide range of post-consumer and industrial waste streams including glass, metal and ceramic recycling, steel production, quarry spoils and water filtration. Collectively, these sources generate hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste per year which otherwise goes to landfill. The range is now available for purchase on Kickstarter.

 

Granby Workshop

Granby Workshop  Granby Workshop

Granby Workshop

Granby Workshop

 

tom dixon  tom dixon

tom dixon  tom dixon

TouchySmellyFeelyTastyNoisy at Tom Dixon

 

PRINT - Bill Amberg Studio

PRINT - Bill Amberg Studio

PRINT - Bill Amberg Studio

PRINT - Bill Amberg

PRINT – Bill Amberg Studio‘s new ccollection of digitally-printed leather hides are made with collaborators including Marcel Wanders, Calico Wallpaper, Solange Azagury-Partridge, Lisa Miller, Alexandra Champalimaud and artist Matthew Day Jackson.

 

Out of all the exhibits and events that I saw on the day, ‘Designing in the turbulent times‘ initiated by Maison/0 – the sustainable innovation programme created at Central Saint Martins in partnership with the luxury group LVMH – was by far the most interesting and thought-provoking. The exhibition showcased graduate projects from Central Saint Martins offering compelling propositions for more sustainable and equitable futures. “How can we break away from our current systems and adapt a more sustainable way of living?” is the question that we should all be thinking about, and here, these young designers are trying to address this issue in their work.

 

designing in turbulent times

designing in turbulent times  designing in turbulent times

designing in turbulent times

Maria Cuji

Bottom: Maria Cuji’s worked with artisans from Ecuador tp produce woven textile made from factory offcuts and leftover yarn.

 

'Weighting feathers' by Jing Jiang

'Weighting feathers' by Jing Jiang

‘Weighting feathers’ by Jing Jiang uses waste feathers from the farming industry to create a jewellery design range

 

Olivia Page

Olivia Page

Olivia Pages exploration on bio-waste materials and has created a “Recipe Book of North Portugal, Abundant Biological Wastes for Construction Materials”

 

designing in turbulent timesi  designing in turbulent times

designing in turbulent times

Grayshan Audren‘s ‘Seamless: Woven workwear for the automated future’ addresses the waste issue in the fashion industry; Top right: ‘Wool: Re Crafted’ by Nathalie Spencer is a vegan alternative to wool by utilising the discarded waste leaves of pineapples from markets and juice bars around London and processing the fibres into a wearable material. 

 

Tansy Hamley  Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley  Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley’s ‘An Indian traffic jam” display of blockprinted and indigo-dyed textiles at Central St Martins reminded me of my textiles trip in Indian earlier in the year.

 

designjunction: The Greenhouse by LSA & Friends

designjunction: The Greenhouse by LSA & Friends

designjunction: The Greenhouse by LSA & Friends

designjunction: The Greenhouse showcased LSA’s new CANOPY collection, a partnership with the Eden Project alongside a range of products and concepts from brands such as Vitra, String Furniture, Artcoustic, with plants decorated by The Botanical Boys.

 

The organiser of designjunction changed this year, and the locations of the show were scattered around different parts of Kings Cross. I skipped the Canopy pop-up shops because there were too many activities happening at once! At the main Cubitt House Pavilion, there were less emerging designers and fewer exhibitors than before, which was quite disappointing. I visited my friends from Di Classe, had some drinks and decided to call it a night.

 

diclasse  di classe

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isokon  isokon

Designjunction at Cubitt House Pavilion

 

The last stop of the night was Designjunction’s Rado Star Prize in the King’s Cross Light Tunnel where they showcased design pieces by the next generation of young British designers. The theme, ‘Re:Imagine’, explored different ways design can improve life: by evolving existing product forms through materials, function, technology, end-use or even, re-use. Surprisingly, this section of the show was more interesting than the main pavilion, so I believe the organiser need to make some changes to improve the show next year.

 

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Top: Judges’ winner 2019 – Huw Evans’s Concertina collection

 

A visionary’s mind: Stanley Kubrick exhibition at the Design Museum

stanley kubrick exhibition

 

Although I haven’t seen all the art and design exhibitions in London this year, but out of all the ones that I have seen, I would say the Stanley Kubrick exhibition is the cream of the crop (alongside with Christian Dior at the V & A); it is certainly the best exhibition that I have seen at the Design Museum.

The exhibition is dedicated to the fans of Kubrick, so if you have not seen his films, then you are unlikely to appreciate this exhibition. But as one of most iconic and revered directors of the last century, it would be odd to not have seen any of his films, unless you were born after 2000.

 

design museum

 

Initially, I was quite apprehensive about this exhibition, and I didn’t quite see the link between Stanley Kubrick and the Design Museum (I guess I saw him more as an artist). Yet the vast exhibition really blew me away since it enabled visitors to catch a glimpse of Kubrick‘s creative mind. As we all know, he was a perfectionist or so-called ‘obsessive’. Life is never easy being a perfectionist, because you would want to control everything; nothing is adequate enough, and you believe that there is always room for improvement. However, it was Kubrick‘s drive for perfectionism that provided his audiences some of the most mesmorising cinematic experiences of their lives.

I still remember the shock of watching the rape scene in ‘A clockwork orange’, and the anxiety felt when Danny was running away from Jack in the haunted hotel in ‘The shining’ (while feeling irritated by Wendy‘s screams). I didn’t quite understand ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ the first time round because I was too young, but I was awed by his visions of the future when I watched it again (the restored version) a few years ago at the cinema.

 

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

 

I had no idea that this exhibition had been touring around the world since 2004. It first started at Deutsches Filmmuseum in Frankfurt, and has taken over 14 years to come to the country where Kubrick lived and worked for 38 years until his sudden death from a heart attack in 1999. It has been a long wait, but it was well worth it.

Curated by the museum’s curators with help from Pentagram’s designers, the huge archive was transported from Kubrick’s Hertfordshire home, where his wife still resides. With over 700 exhibits on display, including photographs, slides, cameras, lens, film posters, props, costumes, illustrations, sketches, personal letters, models, and storyboards etc; you could easily spend hours here and be astonished by the meticulous work that went on behind the scenes of all his films.

 

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition  stanley kubrick exhibition

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

 

This comprehensive exhibition is almost overwhelming (in a good way) because there is a lot to take in… and when you see the attention to detail Kubrick applied to all his work, you would understand why he is considered as one of the greatest directors of all times. Unfortunately, we are now living in a fast-paced world where speed has become the priority, and this attitude has lowered the standards of everything around us. Perhaps Kubrick‘s work ethic can be seen as the antidote to our speed-driven society today.

 

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

Sketches of A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) were sent to Stanley Kubrick, the original director and producer, but he later handed it to Steven Spielberg, and the film was made after his death

 

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition  stanley kubrick exhibition 

Spartacus (1960)

 

stanley kubrick exhibition Barry Lyndon

Barry Lyndon (1975)

 

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

A Clockwork orange (1972)

 

Extensive research was crucial in all Kubrick‘s productions, and one of the most fascinating exhibits is the set of panorama photos of Commercial Road in East London (see below), which was originally considered as the location to recreate Greenwich Village in Manhattan for the set of ‘Eyes wide shut’. Although the majority of film ended up being shot in a studio, it was still amazing to see the scrupulous research done in preparation for the film.

 

stanley kubrick exhibition  stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

Eyes wide shut (1999)

 

stanley kubrick exhibition  stanley kubrick exhibition  stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition  stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

The Shining (1980)

 

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

Sketches for ‘Dr Strangelove’ (1964)

 

After seeing this exhibition, it made me want to watch his earlier and less well-known films, as well as rewatch his famous ones. I think that at different stages of our lives, we would interpret his films differently; but one thing for sure is that I am most likely to appreciate his work even more from now on.

 

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition  stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

stanley kubrick exhibition

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)