Frieze sculpture park 2014

Kaws - Small Lie Kaws - Small Lie

Kaws – Small Lie (2013)


Contemporary art has become big business these days. You can tell by the increasing numbers of visitors to the Frieze art fair each year, but how many of them are buyers? Apparently, only 20%. But prestigious art fairs are places to see and be seen, whether you can afford the work is besides the point.

Aside from the costly entrance fee, the thought of seeing art in a supermarket-style setting (even if it is more Waitrose than Aldi) does not appeal to me very much, however, the free sculpture park is very much appreciated.


frieze sculpture park Marie Lund - AttitudesNot Vital - Head (Mao)Reza Aramesh - Action 137Reza Aramesh - Action 137Caroline Achaintre - four grwwlJaume Plensa - Storm

Top right: Marie Lund – Attitudes (2013-4); 2nd row: Not Vital – Head (Mao) 2013; 3rd row left & middle: Reza Aramesh – Action 137: 6:45pm, 3 May 2012, Ramla (2014); 3rd row right: Caroline Achaintre – Four Grwwl (2014); Bottom: Jaume Plensa – Storm (2013)


This year, there were 20 pieces of art/ sculptural installations, and the most eye-catching and towering was New York-based artist Kaws (Brian Donnelly)’ ‘Small Lie’. There were also some fun and and playful installations like Italian artist’s Gabriele de Santis‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, Austrian artist Franz West’s ‘Sitzwurst’, Matt Johnson’s ‘Baby Dinosaur’ and Michael Craig Martin‘s ‘Scissors (blue)’.


Gabriele de Santis - Can't Take My Eyes Off You Yayoi Kusama - Pumpkin(s)Martin Creed - Work No 732Franz West - Sitzwurst Roelof Louw - Holland Park

Top left: Gabriele de Santis – Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (2014); Top right: Yayoi Kusama – Pumpkin(s) 2014; 2nd row: Martin Creed – Work No 732 (2007); Bottom left: Franz West – Sitzwurst (1999-2000); Bottom right: Roelof Louw – Holland Park (1967)


Other interesting pieces included: Richard Nonas’s ‘Wedge’ installation made up of boulders in pairs where visitors could sit on; a sound installation ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’ by Kristin Oppenheim; Martin Creeds cool video intsalltion ‘Work No 732’; and Not Vital’s ‘HEAD (Mao)‘, which provided lots of selfie opportunities for visitors.

I always believe that art should be accessible to everyone, so I think Frieze’s sculpture park is a wonderful idea. It also provides an opportunity for visitors to enjoy autumn in Regent’s park and watch the squirrels interact with the art installations. I think they enjoyed it as much as the public did.


Richard Nonas - WedgeMatt Johnson - baby dinosaurMichael Craig Martin - Scissors (blue)Seung-taek Leefrieze sculpture park

Top row: Richard Nonas – Wedge (2014); 2nd row left: Matt Johnson – Baby Dinosaur (2013); 2nd row middle: Michael Craig Martin – Scissors (blue); 2nd row right: Seung-Taek Lee – Ppira (1970s)


BFI London Film Festival 2014

I am not sure how other film buffs pick their choices at the BFI London Film Festival, but usually by the time I finish ‘studying’ the brochure, all the films that I intend to see would sell out!

Like always, I would pick the less popular films or films that are less unlikely to be screened in the cinemas. This year, I picked 2 feature films, 1 documentary and 1 docudrama.

Another Year – I have seen many masterful but mostly bleak and somber films made by Russian filmmakers, so I was interested to see a film set in contemporary Moscow about a young married couple directed by Oxana Bychkova. Based on a play, the film is essentially a modern-day love story, but it is realistic and depicts the vulnerability of relationships in this day and age. The film’s young newlyweds are not only different in personalities, but they are pursuing different goals in life. Slowly, we see the breakdown of their marriage due to increasing conflicts. The film also reveals the hipster lifestyle of 20-somethings in Moscow, which is not so different from London, Paris or New York. It shows how globalisation has changed our world. Aside from being slightly too long, the film is engaging, realistic, but not grim. The acting is natural and convincing esp. by the lead actress. If you are interested in contemporary Russian cinema, then this film is certainly worth watching.


Another year/ Esche odin god (2014)


Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait – Some documentaries are not made for comfortable viewing, they are made to tell the world what is going on in the forbidden or war-torn zones where outsiders cannot reach. Before seeing this film, I was prepared for it to be harrowing and gory, but it is actually more distressing than I had expected.

Directed, edited and narrated by Syrian director Ossama Mohammed (now an exile in Paris), with music by Noma Omran, most of the footage in the documentary is provided by a Kurdish young woman Wiam Simav Bedirxan based in Homs. The footage is not shot in high quality, most of the time it is blurry, shaky and frantic, but it does not diminish the content, in fact, it enhances the urgency and desperation of the filmmaker.

Most of us are aware of the civil war going on in Syria for the last few years via the media, yet it’s hard to understand the scope and exigency until you watch this documentary. I am aware that sometimes documentaries can be quite biased, but I think this film’s aim is to reveal the horrors and brutality of this ongoing war. Instead of a few minutes of air time on the news, we see faces of innocent children, soldiers, dead people (including babies and children), injured animals and grief-stricken civilians. The courage of the Kurdish young filmmaker is admirable, and if it wasn’t for her bravery, this film would never have been made. This film won The Grierson Award for the best documentary at the film festival, and it needs to be watched by more people even if it is raw and unbearable. Yet this is the true face of war, and the most tragic of all is that there is no foreseeable end to this conflict.


Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait (2014)


Walking under water – This beautifully-shot docudrama is written and directed by Polish artist-turned director Eliza Kubarska (her first feature film). The film is about the Badjao tribe, a group of sea gypsies living in Borneo with no nationalities nor rights nor stable homes. They are exceptional free divers, yet their unique way of life is threatened with extinction. The film follows a compressor diver (the only one left in their tribe), and his young nephew who loves the sea and wants to learn more from his uncle.

The cinematography is stunning, and it is fascinating to watch the simple life that the Badjao tribe live. Yet their struggle with modern civilisation and the threat of tourism mean that they are unlikely to survive if they continue to live in their traditional way.

The director and producer are now raising fund to help build a school for the Badjao kids, so you can pledge your support via their website above.


Walking under water (2014)


Flowers (Loreak) – Of all the film I saw at the festival, this Basque film that links the lives of three women by the presence of flowers is my favourite. I was also glad to hear the two directors Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga talk at Q & A session afterward the screening.

This is a very intelligent, sensitive, subtle, and insightful film on women, human nature, memories and bereavement (the two male directors seem to understand women very well). The flower motif is a clever metaphor and tactfully used in this film. As the director mentioned at the Q & A, a bunch of flowers can bring joy to one person, yet it can be threatening to another. As with memory, one person tries to forget ends up remembering and another who tries to remember ends of forgetting. Life is full of irony and unpredictable circumstances, and most of the time, we are not in control of what is happening to us. Sometimes we try to escape or forget, and sometimes we cling onto memories or hope.

I felt very touched by this film, and I like the fact that it is full of suspense, which makes you keep wondering what will happen next. It is well crafted with excellent performances by the entire cast. The film also question people’s perception, we often judge at face value, yet this can be wrong as we only see partial of the story. I highly recommend this film if you can get a chance to see it.


Flowers/ Loreak

Open House London 2014

A ‘belate’ entry on the Open House event last month…

I didn’t have time to do much research before Open House weekend this year, and so I missed most of the pre-booked tours. And due to the London design festival (not sure why are these events all crammed within the same week), I only had Sunday to uncover some hidden gems in this city.


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The Mathematical society on Russell Square; Right: An Brunsviga  mechanical calculator produced from 1929-1948


I did not want to queue at the popular spots, and so I decided to concentrate around Bloomsbury, one of my favourite areas in London. I first visited Grade II listed London Mathematical society which occupies two of the nine terrace houses along the south side of Russell Square. Built by James Burton (who was responsible for large areas of Bloomsbury including the Foundling Hospital) in 1800-03 for the upper and middle classes, the interior of the buildings was subsequently converted into offices. Sadly, there is not much to write home about because apart from the original staircases and the ornamental fireplaces, the rooms inside this Georgian building are filled with MFI furniture and carpet. It was a big disappointment despite being lead by an informative and enthusiastic volunteer.

Not from this is the quirky The Horse Hospital, a Grade II listed stable-turned arts venue also built by James Burton in 1797. I was surprised that I have never noticed this venue before even though I have walked past the street several times before (something that seems to happen in this city all the time).


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 The Horse Hospital & Contemporary wardrobe collection


Once inside, you can access to the basement or the first floor via concrete moulded ramps. Both floors have five cast iron pillars, several original iron tethering rings and a mock cobbled herringbone pattern re-enforced concrete floor. The basement provides a gallery space for arts, music and fashion related events, while the first floor is home of the fantastic Contemporary Wardrobe Collection where you can hire vintage and street fashion couture items and accessories.

Unfortunately, this idiosyncratic independent and non-profit art venue is facing closure because the building is to be sold in March 2015. I think it would very sad if this historical building to be turned into some sort of trendy entertainment/retail complex by property developers, so efforts must be made to save this. You can click on the web link above to find out more.


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The art workers guild


On Queen Square, there is a seemingly conventional Georgian building, it is the home of the Art Workers guild. This Grade II listed building was built in 1713 and although altered, it is one of the few original houses remaining in the square.

The Art Worker Guild was founded in 1884 by 25 artists, architects, craftsmen and designers, with the aim to reach out to workers in related disciplines, going beyond the confines of ‘fine’ art set by the Royal Academy. William Morris was elected in 1888, and serves as Master in 1892. In 1913, the organisation moved to this location and in 1914, a new meeting hall was rebuilt by F.W.Troup and W.R.Lethaby in a neo-Georgian style.

It is wonderful to see that a lot of the original features inside the building are still intact, esp. in the back hall. I also love the display of both traditional and contemporary art and craft pieces side by side. This organisation would occasionally host arts and crafts related exhibitions and events, so don’t miss the opportunity to visit this historical and beautiful building.


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 St Pancras Waterpoint


Moving away from Bloomsbury, I headed towards Kings Cross to visit the Victorian gothic-style St Pancras Waterpoint designed under the direction of Sir George Gilbert Scott to complement St Pancras Station and the adjoining Midland Grand Hotel (now St Pancras Chambers).

Built in 1872 to supply water to the rapidly growing steam network at St Pancras, the ornate brickwork and elaborate detailing is an indication of the importance of engineering to the Victorians. In 2001, the Waterpoint was threatened with demolition because of the development of the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link Terminus. Eventually, English Heritage intervened and saved the structure by relocating it 700 metres to the north east of its original location.

In order to move the 238 tonnes and 9 m high structure was no easy task, but it would have a significant loss if this structure was to be demolished. Now the new site of the Waterpoint stands prominently on a viaduct overlooking King’s Cross and St Pancras Stations, St Pancras Yacht Basin, Regent’s canal and Camley Street Natural Park.


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St Pancras old church and churchyard- 3rd row middle & 4th row: The Hardy Tree Bottom: Tomb of architect Sir John Soane and his wife


For a long time I have wanted to visit The Hardy Tree in the churchyard of 4th century St Pancras old church, which is considered as one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England. The history of the church is interesting, but what is more intriguing are the stories and people related to the churchyard…

The churchyard is the resting place for the remains that were exhumed when the Midland Railway was built in 1866 over part of the original churchyard. The vicar of St Pancras insisted that the 8,000 remains be respectfully removed and re-interred, and commissioned the architect Arthur Blomfield to supervise the exhumation and dismantling of the tombs. The Blomfield then passed this ‘sought-after’ task onto his apprentice (and later novelist/poet) Thomas Hardy. And bizarrely, the relocated headstones were placed around an ash tree, which has become known as the Hardy Tree. Now the tree has grown in amongst the tombstones, creating a remarkable sight that looks almost like an art installation! The spooky and horrendous task later inspired Hardy to write the following poem:

“O passenger, pray list and catch
Our sighs and piteous groans,
Half stifled in this jumbled patch
Of wrenched memorial stones!”

“We late-lamented, resting here,
Are mixed to human jam,
And each to each exclaims in fear,
‘I know not which I am!’”

Not far from the ash tree, you can find one of the two Grade I listed tombstones in London that architect Sir John Soane designed for his wife and himself. Believe or not but this mausoleum provided the inspiration for the design of the iconic red telephone box by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

And in 1968, the Beatles were photographed in the churchyard grounds, in the famous publicity photographs for “Mad Day Out”. You can also see a plaque mounted on a bench where the four of them sat.


st mary's churchst mary's churchst mary's churchRoman Catholic Church of St Aloysius

Top row: St Mary’s church designed by W. & H.W. Inwood in 1822-1826. Bottom row: Roman Catholic Church of St Aloysius


After visiting the sites, I wandered around the back streets of Euston (also known as Somers Town) and coincidentally discovered many interesting architecture including contemporary arts venues and Modernist social housing.

In the 19th century, the area used to be slums and it was redeveloped at the beginning of the 20th century and were replaced by new social housing. The scheme was led by Father John Basil Lee Jellicoe, a clergyman in the Church of England who devoted his time and effort on improving living conditions of local people and helping build a strong community in Somers Town.


Ossulston EstateChalton street estateChenies Place Chalton street estateChenies Place Chenies PlaceOakshott CourtIMG_0918 IMG_0926

Top row: Ossulston Estate; 2nd & 3rd row right: Chalton street estate; 3rd row left and 4th row: Chenies Place; 5th row: Oakshott Court


I first stumbled upon Ossulston Estate and was captivated by its white facade. The Grade II listed modernist council estate was built between 1927 and 1931 by G. Topham Forrest of the London County Council in Somers Town. The designer was influenced by Viennese modernist public housing such as Karl Marx-Hof, and this type of modernist social housing was unusual at the time.

Walking towards Chalton Street, a block of housing estate with a streamlined facade caught my eye. This looks very Art Deco like, but I couldn’t find information on the building date and architect of this building. Yet the style is fairly consistent with the nearby Chenies Place, so I assume the two buildings were built probably around the same period.

On the opposite side of the street is a large L-shaped complex, Oakshott Court built in 1976 by Peter Tábori of the Camden Council Architect’s Department. This modernist social housing has 114 flats and maisonettes and looks a lot more pleasant and ‘livable’ than other social housing in London. I think a large part of it has to do with the large green lawn and the well-sized balconies. And from the photographs I found on the internet, the interior is bright and spacious, which is designed better than many of the new and over-priced commercial flats.


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Contemporary architecture in Somers Town


Although I didn’t visit many ‘grand’ venues at the Open House this year, I enjoyed my visits to the smaller and lesser-known gems in the city. However, I must say that stumbling upon an area full of architectural wonders was probably the highlight of the day. Now I would love to return to Somers Town again with a walking tour to find out more about the history and stories of the area.


Sahara soul at the Barbican

I have always had a fascination with the Sahara. I think what appeals to me is its mystery, beauty, danger, scale, harshness, unpredictability and ‘nothingness’. In my early 20s, I read Paul Bowles‘ novels, listened to his music and embarked on an adventure with a companion to the Sahara via Morocco. It was the first time I had ever seen a desert, but the two-hour camel ride into the desert and oasis was far from comfortable. We suffered from heat exhaustion (it was over 42 degrees), so our ‘romantic’ view of the desert was dashed instantly. Yet it was hard to forget the hospitality we received from the Tuareg/ ‘Blue People’ and the breath-taking view of the desert. Many years later, I returned to the Sahara again from the Tunisian side, it was a more pleasant journey, but the desert remained as mysterious as ever.



Sunset at Saraha


Last month I went to the second Sahara Soul concert at the Barbican centre. My memories of the desert returned, and I felt like I was back in time. The evening was a celebration of the desert, its people and music. Although I felt that the programme was slightly too long, the energy and passion of the musicians was felt by the audience and we didn’t need to understand the lyrics to appreciate the beautiful music. Unlike the traditional African or tribal music, the music being performed is influenced by other genres and styles, so it is contemporary and distinctive. Meanwhile, it also acts as a powerful weapon to draw people’s attention to the ongoing conflicts in Western Africa. The performers are not well-known in the UK, but they are talented and compelling, so I want to share their music here:


Nabil Baly Othmani is is the son of iconic Algerian Tuareg singer Othman Bali. Nabil is following in his footsteps, while at the same time carving out his own musical path. His music is a mix of flamenco, fuzzy rock, melancholy folk and even electronica, so it is unique and refreshing.


 Nabil Baly Othmani – Menna (2014)


 Steve Shehan & Nabil Othmani – Awalin (2009)


Tartit is a Tuareg band from the Timbuktu region of of Mali consists of five women and four men, all of whom are Tamasheq-speaking Tuareg. Tartit formed in 1992 in a refugee camp in Mauritania, where their music was a means of survival in the face of the economic, social and political difficulties in the region. Tartit’s compositions include traditional Tuareg ballads, dances and call-and-response songs. These instruments are accompanied by chants and percussive handclaps.


Tartit – Ichichilla


Born in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria and now based in Barcelona, Aziza Brahim is the granddaughter of Al Khadra, the legendary ‘Sahrawi war poetess’. Playing hand drums and backed by a Spanish acoustic band which infuses flamenco and jazz to her Sahrawi rhythms, Aziza is using her music to make people aware of the conflict in her homeland.


Aziza Brahim – Julud (2014)


Young Mauritanian singer Noura Mint Seymali is the daughter of Dimi Mint Abba, the ‘Diva of the Desert’. Noura fuses ancient and modern Moorish influences, blending psychedelic guitars and transcendental grooves with impassioned, commanding vocals.


 Noura Mint Seymali – Tzenni (2014)



London’s summer exhibitions highlights

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Gilbert & George: Scapegoating pictures for London at White Cube Bermondsey


There were many excellent exhibitions that I visited in London this summer, and here are 10 of my favourites ( in no particular order):

1. Matisse: The Cut Outs at Tate Modern

2. Malevich: Revolution of Russian Art at Tate Modern

3. British Folk art at Tate Britain

4. Digital Revolution at Barbican (I have written about it here).

5. Shelagh Wakely: A View from a Window at Camden Arts Centre

6. Primrose: Early Colour Photography in Russia at The Photographers Gallery

7. Lorenzo Vitturi: Dalston Anatomy at The Photographers Gallery

8. Made in Mexico: The Rebozo at Fashion & Textiles museum

9. Hans Hillmann: Film Posters at Kemistry Gallery

10.  Time Machines: Daniel Weil and the art of design at Design Museum


Phyllida Barlow Phyllida BarlowThe human factor The human factormatisse cut outs matisse cut outs

Top row: Phyllida Barlow’s sculptural installations at Tate Britain; Middle row: Outdoor sculptures at The Human Factor, Hayward Gallery; Last row: Matisse: The cut outs at Tate modern



Although I have commented that I am not a fan of big blockbuster art exhibitions, I found both ‘Matisse: The Cut Outs’ and ‘Malevich: The revolution of Russian artat Tate Modern outstanding. And at Tate Britain, I also enjoyed the lighthearted and beguiling ‘British folk art’ exhibition, where many bizarre, hilarious and eccentric historical objects were on display. These objects reflect the British history, culture and tastes, which I found very enchanting.

I often think that the exhibitions at The National Gallery as rather ‘old school’ and rather somber, but their summer hit ‘Making colour‘ was not the case. The exhibition was quite eye-opening, informative, and essential for any one who has to work with colours.

Meanwhile, British Library staged the biggest comics exhibition, ‘Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy at the UK’, featuring an extensive collection of work that traced the history and cultural significance of British comic art. I found the exhibition interesting, but not as exciting as I had hoped. However, I am sure this exhibition excited many comic fans, and I appreciated British Library’s decision to put British comic art in the spotlight which it rightly deserves.

I am still rather undecided on iconic British art duo Gilbert & George‘s exhibition, ‘Scapegoating pictures for London‘ at White Cube Bermondsey. The photomontage series is very much about London, and it is related to religion (mostly Islam), terrorism, drug abuse and youth culture etc. These huge pieces occupied almost the entire gallery, but after two rooms, I found them to be quite repetitive. Hence, I went into the screening room and watched about 20 minutes of their feature-length film, ‘The World of Gilbert & George’ made in 1981. The film is witty and bonkers, and I absolutely loved it!

The duo have never played by the rules and this exhibition demonstrated that they are still alert, controversial and bold as ever. Their attitude has always been ‘take it or leave it’, and perhaps this is the reason why they are still highly respected after being around for decades.

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Shelagh Wakely: A view of a window at Camden Arts Centre


One big surprise for me was pioneer British installation artist Shelagh Wakely’s (1932-2011) exhibition at the Camden Arts Centre. I have often enjoyed exhibitions and events at this art organisation, and this exhibition was a revelation for me as I was not familiar with Wakely‘s work previously. Like two of my most admired female artists, Barbara Hepworth and Georgia O’Keeffe, Shelagh Wakely‘s work is very much inspired by nature.

With career spanning over 40 years, Wakely‘s work ranged from sculptures and installations to canvases, drawings, watercolours, prints, photographs and videos. I was particularly engrossed by her gilded fruits and vegetables that were left to rot on two trolleys; one contained items that have decayed and wrinkled, while the other contained fresh and healthy looking ones… yet we know the fate would be the same. The transiency of life is depicted perfectly in this work, and as I was there, a hint of rotten smell could be detected in the room…

Another memorable installation was Turmeric on parquet(1991), a large, swirling Baroque pattern made of the spice turmeric, sprinkled on the floor with a stencil. The work is delicate, exotic and ephemeral, and this time, the room was filled with the smell of sweet turmeric.

Wakely‘s work explored the thresholds between things; vessels, space and aromas permeating boundaries between people and objects. I am slightly surprised that she was not as recognised as other British artists from her period. I am grateful that Camden arts centre has consistently enabled me to discover inspiring artists that operated or are operating outside the mainstream art world. If you have not been there yet, then I urge you to go and explore this airy, laid-back and tranquil (I especially like hangout in their back garden in summers) art centre.


Inside the White Cube, Mason's YardFredy Alzate’s ball of bricks pangaeaRafael Gómezbarros’s ant installation Art & life: The paintings of Beryl Bainbridge

Top: Inside the White Cube collective exhibition at White Cube, Mason’s Yard; 2nd & 3rd rows: Pangaea: New Art from Africa and Latin America at the Saatchi Gallery – Fredy Alzate’s ball of bricks and Rafael Gómezbarros’s ant installation; 4th row: Art & life: The paintings of Beryl Bainbridge at Kings College, Somerset House


Street art &


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 Sick boy: Make it last forever at The Outsiders gallery


The first London gallery exhibition of UK street art pioneer, Sickboy was shown at The Outsiders gallery in Soho. Originally trained in fine art, the artist emerged from Bristol’s infamous graffiti scene and has been active since 1995.

The exhibition’s ground floor displayed a range of colourful, humourous and satirical paintings, along with his collection of objects including many vintage Disney memorabilia. A large and playful installation was the dominant display in the basement, featuring his distinctive Sickboy coffin floating in a 1950s style display case.

Twenty years ago, graffiti artists probably never thought that their work would end up being exhibited in galleries or sold at prestigious auctions. I wonder how graffiti and street art will evolve in another twenty years’ time? Will kids be taught the techniques at schools? Will these artists become politicians? Only time will tell.


Culture & design


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 Work and play behind the Iron Curtain at Gallery for Russian Arts & design


I am not if it has anything to do with more Russians living in London now (I hear Russian speakers almost daily these days), but I have noticed more Russian-related arts and cultural events taking place in town. And I was a bit surprised to find out that there is a gallery that is dedicated to Russian Arts & design near Oxford Street.

I visited Work and play behind the Iron Curtain at Gallery for Russian Arts & design, an exhibition that examined Soviet design featuring everyday life objects, models and photographs from the famous ZIL factory. There were many kitsch, quirky retro objects on display and I am quite certain that many can still be found in people’s homes in Russia from what I gathered while I was living there! Fascinating and nostalgic.


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Made in Mexico: The Rebozo at Fashion and Textile Museum


Moving from cold Russia to hot Mexico… I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to the Fashion and Textile Museum where I saw the exhibition, ‘Made in Mexico: The Rebozo’. The exhibition examined the classic Mexican shawl made famous in the 20th century by artist Frida Kahlo. The vivid, exotic and delightful exhibition traced the origins and historical contexts of the rebozo, featuring paintings, photography, textiles, fashion, folk art and shrines etc. Most importantly, it was informative about the production methods and the skills required to produce this traditional garment. Like with many other traditional crafts around the world, there are fears that this skill may be lost if it is not being supported.

The curation here was excellent, and the exhibits blended well inside a museum designed by award-winning Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta. It is fantastic to see brilliant exhibitions being organised by smaller art organisations, galleries and museums in London. It is a shame that many tourists (and even locals) don’t venture beyond the major museums and galleries.


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Left & middle: Time: Tattoo Art Today at Somerset House; Right: Tove Jansson: Tales from the Nordic Archipelago at ICA



Sadly, I missed Dennie Hopper‘s photography exhibition at the Royal Academy of arts, but I did catch internationally-renowned British photographer Martin Parr‘s ‘Signs of the Times at Beetles + Huxley gallery. The exhibition showcased modern and vintage prints documenting the personal tastes of people in the British home, they were created to accompany a documentary made by the BBC in the 1990s of the same title.

Parr‘s photography is an insightful observation of culture, history and people. He captures humour and social changes in ordinary life, objects and people. His humour is very British but his photography language is universal.


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Top left & middle: Lorenzo Vitturi’s Dalston Anatomy; Top right & 2nd row left: Primrose: Early colour photography in Russia; 2nd row right: Martin Parr’s ‘Signs of the Times’ at Beetles + Huxley gallery; Bottom: ‘Return of the Rudeboyat Somerset House


At The photographers’ gallery, I saw two excellent exhibitions: Lorenzo Vitturi’s ‘Dalston Anatomy’ and ‘Primrose: Early colour photography in Russia. I love London-based Italian photographer Vitturi‘s photography series that captures the threatened spirit of Dalston’s Ridley Road Market (I am also a fan of this wonderful market where you can buy exotic fruits and vegetables like mangoes and lychee for 1/4 of the price you pay in the supermarkets!).

Vitturi arranged found objects and photographed them against backdrops of discarded market materials, in dynamic compositions. These are combined with street scenes and portraits of local characters to create a unique portraits. I was enchanted by the vivid colours and the surreal still life compositions. It also saddens me to think that London’s gentrification means that the city is losing local characteristics and it is replaced by homogeneous chained shops and people of the same class. Vitturi‘s series celebrates London’s multiculturalism and individualism that makes this city unique.

‘Primrose: Early colour photography in Russia’ examined the history and development of colour in Russian photography from the 1860s to the 1970s. There were propaganda photomontages, films, Socialist realist and humanistic photography. The exhibition served as a documentary of Russian history, its people and culture throughout the turbulence period.


 Graphics, design & architecture


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Hans Hillmann: Film Posters at Kemistry gallery


Kemistry gallery is a small gem in Shoreditch dedicated to graphic design, a design discipline which is often overshadowed by other forms of art and design.

The exhibition was a tribute to one of the most important Modernist German graphic artists, Hans Hillmann, who died in May this year. Hillman designed 130 film posters between 1953 and 1974, and his style varied from the painterly illustration of the 1950s to more experimental works of the 1960s and the Minimalist offerings of the 1970s.


Hillmann‘s work reaffirms that that good design stands the test of time. He designed mainly for arthouse films, including Akira Kurosawa‘s The Seven Samurai and Robert Bresson‘s Pickpocket, as well as films by Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman, Jean Cocteau, Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, and Luis Buñuel (what an impressive resume!). His film posters are bold, minimal, stylish and eye-catching, and each one is related to the essence or nature of the film itself. Outstanding and inspiring work.


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Form through Colour: Josef Albers, Anni Albers and Gary Hume at Somerset House


I went to the Design Museum to see ‘Designs of the Year 2014‘ and ‘Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture’, but I ended up spending most of my time at ‘Time Machines: Daniel Weil and the Art of Design’ admiring objects created by Argentinian designer and former partner of Pentagram Daniel Weil.


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Design museum exhibitions – Top 2 rows: Designs of the Year 2014 – Top left: PET lamp by Alvaro Catalán de Ocón; Top right: Public voted winner – Phonebloks by Dave Hakkens; 2nd row: Chineasy by ShaoLan; Last row: ‘Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture’


People always talk about ‘think out of the box’, well, Daniel Weil literally did that in 1981 when he designed Bag Radio, removing the standard box and putting all the radio components – a circuit board, speaker and battery pack into a clear plastic bag before sealing it. This later became a postmodern design icon.


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Time machines: Daniel Weil and the art of design at the Design museum


The exhibition provided an overview of Weil‘s 30 year career in the design industry including his role at multidisciplinary design consultancy Pentagram. There were many versions of the Bag radio on display, but I was particularly intrigued by his recent projects in the design of timepieces. These new ‘deconstructed’ timepieces are constructed to show the mechanism as the focus of the design, and they look more like sculptural pieces.

“This new group [of clocks] tries to address how we relate now to machines and to instruments,” Weil explained. “The clock has been so conventionally arranged behind the face and the identical quartz movement that’s been around since the 1970s so I wanted to create this relationship between the movement and the power source.”

Simple, beautiful, insightful and inventive. This is what good design is all about.



Sonic city: The art of sound

Recently I have been contemplating sounds and silence a lot.

My relationship with the sounds and silence changed when I started practising meditation; and as a consequence, my senses have been heightened significantly. Yet I had to go through a transitional period initially because I was overwhelmed by my increased sensory sensitivity. I couldn’t cope with being in a crowded and noisy room full of people because I felt like the noise had been amplified more than usual. At the same time, I was learning to ‘listen’ again and appreciating the sound of silence. But I soon realised that it is almost impossible to be in a completely silent environment because there is always background noise, even in nature. There are sounds of animals, insects, rain, wind and leaves rattling, but to be able to detect and differentiate these sounds require some kind of awareness. City dwellers would block out certain sounds in order to cope with the noise level in the city, and over time we become more immune to sounds in the city (and this applies especially to those who constantly have their headphones on).


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Mobile phone conversations across London are highlighted in this map


When we listen to music, it has an ability to trigger our emotions, and we can be transported to a different state of mind, be it sentimental, joyful, irritable or calm etc. Yet sounds of nature or random noise contain no narrative, and so we rarely pay attention to the background noise that surrounds us all the time. In a recent interview, Sir John Hegarty, ( founding creative partner at Bartle Bogle Hegarty advertising agency and author of the book ‘Hegarty on Creativity‘) made this valid statement on how people nowadays choose to block out their surroundings rather than interact with it:


I get really, really pissed off when I see my creative people coming in with headphones in… and they put a little wall round themselves. They listen to their music – and yes music is wonderful, I made a career out of using great music. But if you walk around cutting yourself off you are eliminating influence, you are eliminating the possibility that you are going to pick up stories, ideas, thoughts that are happening all around you and as a creative person that is completely wrong.”


His statement reminds me of American avant-garde composer, writer, artist and sound lover John Cage‘s 1952 conceptual piece 4′33″. This Zen Buddhism-inspired piece is ‘performed’ by the musicians on stage without sound, which not only challenges the audience’s expectations but it also makes them listen and become aware of the surroundings. The clip below reveals his insightful views on sounds and silence, and I found it fascinating that he regarded sounds as ‘just sounds’ but nothing else…


John Cage on sounds and silence


Over the last few years, I noticed the term ‘sound artist’ popping up more frequently. Sound or sonic art, which is regarded as a form of conceptual art has been receiving more attention than ever. Last year, both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented a sound installation and an sound exhibition respectively. Yet this form of art has been around for about a century, and its roots can be traced back to Italian Futurist artist Luigi Russolo‘s L’Arte dei rumori (Art of noise) published in 1916. This manifesto revolutionalised the way people perceive noise and sound, and it has influenced many musicians (including John Cage), acousticians, artists and so forth.

Another pioneer who greatly influenced Cage and many others including contemporary sound artist Bill Fontana was the Dada artist Marcel Duchamp (Cage and Duchamp even collaborated on several occasions including a short sequence in the film by Hans RichterDream that Money can buy” made in 1947). Although not a musician, Duchamp composed two musical works and a conceptual piece around 1913. And his profound and thought-provoking view on sound as a sculptural medium was noted in The Green box (1934), “Musical Sculpture: sounds lasting and leaving from different places and forming a sound sculpture that lasts.

American experimental composer and sound artist (also a friend of Cage), Alvin Lucier has been exploring the physical properties of sound since the 1960s. His career’s turning point arrived when created “Music for solo performer” in 1965; in this piece, electrodes are attached to his head so that his alpha brainwaves are amplified in front of an audience (it sounds very bizarre even by today’s standard). Then in 1969, he created “I am sitting in a room”, in which Lucier records himself narrating a text, and then plays the recording back into the room, re-recording it over and over again. Both of his pieces are ground-breaking and like Cage‘s work, they challenge the listeners/audience to view sound as wavelengths rather than musical notes.


I am sitting in a room from Brodo on Vimeo.


Yet for decades, sound art has not been fully recognised by the public, probably because most people are not quite sure what category it falls into. Is it installation art with sound? Can sound be an art form? I think these are the most common questions that puzzle the general public. And when the prestigious Turner Prize was awarded to Scottish artist Susan Philipsz for her sound installationLowlandsin 2010 (the first time a sound installation had been nominated and won), it helped to change the public’s perception on sound art and made them more aware of this art form.


Susan Philipsz‘s Lowlands


This year, Thinking Digital Arts paired artist/designer Dominic Wilcox and creative technologist James Rutherford together to collaborate on a new commission in Newcastle. Taking tourist binoculars as inspiration, they created Binaudios, a device that enables the user to ‘listen’ to the sounds of the city. The Binaudios can be pointed at over 40 different locations, seen out of the Sage Gateshead window and different sounds can be heard associated to each specific location. Here is a video of the device and the sounds that can be heard:


Binaudios: Sounds of a city from Dominic Wilcox on Vimeo.


Last month, I attended a Late London event called Sonic City at The Museum of London Docklands, which explored sound and hidden noise in our city. Sound artist Scanner (aka Robin Rimbaud) created a multi-channel sound work, an installation that featured an expansive collage of voices from all over the world. I was particularly intrigued by contemporary sonic explorer and collector, Ian Rawes of the London Sound Survey‘s sound talk, where he played a recording of the mechanical engine sounds inside Tower bridge. The website also contains a sound map of London, where you would find recordings of background atmospheres and incidental noises from all over London. Utterly fascinating.

I also took part in another event called The art of listening, created by sound artist Helen Frosi, of the SoundFjord lab. Participants were invited to respond to sound through the medium of drawing, creating something visual using your sonic perceptions. It was fun to draw by following the sound waves because it was spontaneous and quite liberating to go the flow of the sound rather than planning on what to draw.

The final event I took part in was a sound walk led by sound artist Maria Papadomanolaki from Points of Listening based at the University of Arts London. The walk took place on the quayside outside of the museum, we were divided into groups and each group was given a designated point and a card to write down our thoughts, feelings and ideas at each point. I have never been on a sound walk in the city before, and so the experience was quite an ‘ear-opener’ for me. It is quite astonishing how much extraneous noise our human auditory system can filter out without us even realising it!


Next time if you are out on a busy street, instead of putting your headphones on, try to detect and differentiate all the noise around you and ask yourself if you can hear a pattern? What is the frequency? Are you feeling irritated by the the noise? But why? Does the noise cause any vibration? Does your body feel the vibration internally? Like Hegarty said, don’t cut yourself off from the world around you, embrace and observe it, it is only by doing so that we can fully experience life as it is and appreciate the wonders the city has to offer us.


Henry Moore at Perry Green

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Main: Henry Moore’s Large Reclining figure in bronze; Bottom left: Henry Moore’s house, Hoglands


I love seeing sculptures outdoor, and one of my favourite sculpture parks is the Hakone open-air museum near Mount Fuji in Japan, where you would find over 100 sculptures by masters like Picasso, Rodin, Miro and Moore etc set in a stunning landscape. In the UK, I have long wanted to visit the Yorkshire sculpture park, which was awarded Museum of the year 2014, though somehow not quite managed it yet. However, I did make a trip to Perry Green in Hertfordshire at the end of summer with a group of art lovers to see the sublime sculptures by Henry Moore and their current exhibition, ‘Body & Void: Echoes of Moore in Contemporary Art‘ (until 26th October). In some ways, I feel like this extraordinary place is still a relatively hidden gem in the country, and I am not quite sure why.

Moore and his wife Irina moved to Perry Green in 1940 after their home and studio in Hampstead, London, had been damaged during the war. Originally planned as a temporary home, the Moores eventually settled in Perry Green for the rest of their lives and built up an estate which included their home Hoglands, a collection of studios and 70-acres of grounds in which Moore‘s sculptures could be displayed. Today, the estate is run by the Henry Moore Foundation, and it is open to the public every year between April and October.


body void Richard Deacon Associate Lygia Clark's Fantastic Architecture 1Rachel Whiteread's Detached 3 Thomas Schütte - Stahlfrau No.1 2000 perry greenrichard longbody void

Top right: Richard Deacon’s Associate; Main & bottom right: Lygia Clark’s Fantastic Architecture 1; 3rd row left: Rachel Whiteread’s Detached 3; 3rd row right: Thomas Schütte – Stahlfrau No.1 200; Bottom left: A telephone booth filled with artwork; Bottom middle: Richard Long’s North South Line


Soon after our arrival, we visited Moore’ former house, where most of its original furnishings and contents are still intact. There is a guide in each room to explain the stories and history behind his collections and their daily activities. It is fascinating to see the books Moore used to read, his ethnographic collection, as well as his private art collection, which includes a Picasso in the kitchen!

After the house tour, another guide was assigned to us for a longer tour of the estate, including Moore‘s former studios, the stunning tapestry barn and the current exhibition. ‘Body & Void: Echoes of Moore in Contemporary Art’ draws connections between Moore‘s investigation of internal space and its relationship with the human body, and reveals how his ideas have inspired subsequent generations of contemporary artists including Antony Gormley, Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor and Richard Long etc.


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Top left: Sheep piece; Top right: The Arch; Main: Large Reclining figure surrounded by sheep; 3rd row left: Draped reclining figure; 3rd row middle: Large upright internal/external form; 3rd row right: Family group; Bottom left: Double Oval; Bottom right: Large figure in a shelter


One of the reasons why Perry Green is so special is because you can see many sheep surrounding Moore‘s sculptures in the fields behind his studio. Moore was born and grew up in Yorkshire, so he had a long fascination with sheep and used to sketch them all the time when he was living in Perry Green. Moore commented that sheep were “just the right size for the kind of landscape setting that I like for my sculptures, as opposed to cows or horses whose larger size would reduce the sense of monumentality in his work.”

There are about 23 outdoor sculptures by Moore at Perry Green, and most of them are in bronze. I have seen many Moore‘s sculptures inside museums before, but the impact is less powerful than seeing them out in nature against the beautiful landscape. Moore‘s sculptures are inspired by nature and organic objects, and so they look most at home out in the open air. Like the artist once said: “I would rather have a piece of sculpture put in a landscape, almost any landscape, than in or on the most beautiful building I know.”


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In order to appreciate Moore‘s outdoor sculptures, you need to walk around them and observe them from different angles. These sculptures change according to the sun light, clouds, shadows, and it is hard not to be mesmorised by them. Like Moore said: “Sculpture is like a journey. You have a different view as you return. The three-dimensional world is full of surprised in a way that a two-dimensional world could never be.”

Interestingly, this insightful statement seems to be relevant to how we live today… as we are so bogged down and obsessed with the two-dimensional world behind the screens that many are unable to experience life or interact with other human beings and their surroundings in reality.


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Top & bottom right: Henry Moore at Tate Britain; Bottom left: The Arch by Moore at Kensington gardens


Although we all felt quite exhausted after walking for hours, the day excursion was inspiring and uplifting for us all. And if you cannot make a trip to Perry Green before the end of the month, you can always visit Tate Britain, where you would find two permanent galleries dedicated to his work.

I also discovered an interview of Moore from the from the BBC archive: Henry Moore at Home, where you can hear him talk about private art collection and his fascination with sheep.


The Henry Moore Foundation, Perry Green, Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, SG10 6EE.


SIRO-A in London



I remember seeing the promotional poster for the Japanese multimedia theatrical performance group SIRO-A in London last year, and it triggered my interest to see the show. But as always, with so much happening in this city, it is easy to miss events even if you made a mental note of it.

Thankfully, and to my pleasant surprise, I was invited to the preview of the show this year, their third successive year in London. I have heard a lot of praises for the award-winning group ( it won Mervyn Stutter’s ‘Spirit Of The Fringe’ award at the Edinburgh Festival in 2011) prior to the show, but I didn’t want to set my expectation too high in case of disappointment. Now I can honestly say that the group deserves all the praises and I enjoyed the show immensely!


SIRO-A siro-a


Often described as Japan’s answer to the Blue Man Group, SIRO-A composed of 6 male members is unlike anything that I have seen before. The name itself reveals something interesting, aside from ‘white/colourless’ (hence, they all perform with white faces), it also means ‘Belong to no group, impossible to be define as anybody’. The show fuses stunning digital-generated visual effects with choreographed mime, dance, and electro music.

It is hard to write a review on this show because there is so much packed in the hour-long show. Normally, I don’t like to use the term ‘mind-blowing’, but in this case, it is quite fitting since the show stimulates the audience’s sensory system in every way. If I have to dissect the show for this review, I would categorise into three parts: visual effects, sound & light and performance & dance.

Perhaps it is due to my design background, what stands out for me most is the show’s strong and bold use of graphical visuals. The Japanese have always been known for their excellent graphic design and innovative digital graphics, and this show demonstrate it perfectly. My favourite section is the group’s homage to the cinema when the performance is acted out in accordance to the bold typography that appears on the screen behind. It is humourous, clever and highly creative.



Admittedly, I am not that into techno music ( though I did listen to YMO when I was younger and was a big fan of Ryuichi Sakamoto), but the music here works well with the digital graphics and the overall tone of the show. It is dynamic, upbeat, and accompanied by lots of flashing lights, so it makes you feel like you are inside a club except that you are not permitted to stand up and dance.

If we remove all the show’s cool technology, we are left with the core, which is the performance itself. And I am glad to say that the four front performers (with two at the back in charge of video and music) are superb, they are well-synchronised, skillful and precise (this is crucial when they have to interact with the images behind them). But best of all, the audience can feel their energy and playfulness, which is extremely infectious. And the last section involves the audience’s participation, which makes the show more interactive and engaging.



The show is suitable for all ages, it is cool, fun, entertaining and stimulating. It is not a show that requires intellectual debate, so you just have to go and enjoy the ride. My only complaint is more to do with the venue, because I think it needs to be performed in a more spacious and contemporary setting. The traditional setting with narrow velvet red seats in a dark basement is more suited for cabarets or musicals, but not a technodelic show like this. I hope that the organiser will change the venue to a more suitable one next year, perhaps they can consider the legendary Ministry of Sound?


SIRO-A will run until 11th Jan 2015 at Leicester Square Theatre, 6 Leicester Place, London, WC2H 7BX.

Serpentine gallery pavilion 2014

Smiljan Radić
The Serpentine Pavilion 2014 by Smiljan Radić


I have a backlog of blog entries and this is one of them as I want to publish it before the pavilion gets dismantled after next week ( and apology for the rather dark photographs).


It took me a while to visit the new Serpentine gallery pavilion designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić (until 19th October). At first glance, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this odd pebble/rock-like structure (for some, it looks more like an egg or UFO). Walking around it, I began to appreciate its organic shape and the seemingly random rocks that support it. Yet what fascinated me most is the thinness of the GRP fibreglass shell and the curvy mushroom-like interior.




When I first saw the photographs of this papier mache-inspired pavilion before my visit, like many others, I thought that the pavilion looks quite ugly, especially when compared to the previous pavilions by more established architects. Yet when I was there, I was quite mesmorised by this ‘ugly’ structure. It stands out for me because it is completely different from the design-oriented pavilions from the past. For some reason, the structure and its surrounding remind me of the Japanese rock garden, there is something quite primitive and zen/ wabi sabi quality about it.

While architecture these days is predominantly developed based on aesthetics elements and forms, Radić has proposed and developed something opposite. He challenges viewers/visitors to see architecture differently, and in a way, it strips away the aesthetic value, placing it low in priority. And this why I think this pavilion is the most challenging and thought-provoking pavilion that I have seen for years. The architect said that it is also partially inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant, and the the romantic, transformative power of follies. To me, it is almost like an giant art sculpture, it feels raw, poetic and calming. Don’t judge this pavilion from the photographs, you need to visit it (without the crowds) to feel its presence and appreciate its uniqueness.

And for those who are still not convinced, all I can say is that, ‘Beauty in the eye of the beholder‘.


Design shopping at London design festival

My last entry on the London design festival is related to shopping… As someone who is involved in the retail business, shamefully, I don’t think I am out and about enough, and so the design festival was gave me an opportunity to see what is happening in the design retail world.


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The Saturday Market Project


While I was in East London, I made my way to Shoreditch, where many shops, galleries took part at The Shoreditch Design Triangle, an event in conjunction with the design festival. I first visited The Saturday Market Project‘s pop-up store on Leonard Street, which is all about making and experimenting. On their website, there is a marketplace where you can find high quality supplies, tools and raw materials. There are also instructions on how to make crafts at home.

At the temporary space, there were masterclasses, material experimentation, demonstrations, workshops and a temporary shop. The most eye-catching though was the Himmeli installation at the back. Himmeli is wheat straw that has been used for centuries as the material for traditional Scandinavian harvest decorations. At the event, visitors were invited to create their own himmeli creation using traditional methods and technology.

I love the concept of the project and what it aims to achieve. Ironically, after seeing so many ‘polished, thoughtful and beautiful’ designed objects at the festival, I felt slightly ‘anti-design’. This project reminds us that design does not have to be that way, and everyone has the ability to create. All you really need is some good tools, materials, instructions and passion!


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Top right & 2nd row middle: ‘The Formal Beauty Of Type’ exhibition; 2nd row left: Glyphics shop display; 2nd right & bottom: The Goodhood Store; 3rd row: The art of skateboarding exhibition


On the same street, I also visited The Book Club where I saw the typographic exhibition ‘The Formal Beauty Of Type’ (until 16th Nov) by Susanna Foppoli. The exhibition is comprised of a series of typographic abstract compositions, designed using a restricted colour palette of black, white and red. I like the simplicity and boldness of the work, and in our image-driven world today, it is refreshing to see typography being the only focus here. Long live typography!

My next stop was The Goodhood Store, one of the coolest independent fashion and lifestyle shopping destinations in East London. The shop recently moved from Coronet Road to this new 3000 square foot site on Curtain Road (151) that spans over two floors. The ground floor is dedicated to fashion and accessories, and in the basement, you would find beauty and grooming products, stationery, homeware and a small cafe. There is also a small exhibition area at the front, and ‘The art of skateboarding‘ was the exhibition during the design festival. The exhibition payed homage to this subculture by asking leading artists and designers, including Jake & Dinos Chapman, Will Sweeney, James Jarvis etc, to contribute to the creation of skateboards. The designs were then auctioned off and the proceeds were donated to the Long Live South Bank charity.


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Top left: Material shop; Top right: Tokyo Bike; Main & bottom: Tord Boontje’s shop


There are many cool design and lifestyle shops in Shoreditch, and one of them is Material (3 Rivington Street), where you can find interesting design led prints, books and stationery. Another one is Tokyo Bike (87-89 Tabernacle Street), where not only you can find minimalistic bikes and bike accessories, but also Momosan‘s wonderful pop up shop (I think the shop may have moved to Serpentine Sackler Gallery for the time being).

Dutch designer Tord Boontje‘s shop (23 Charlotte Road) is also a popular destination for design lovers. After the success of his iconic Garland light for Habitat in 2003, the designer launched Bouquet light at the design festival as a successor to the Garland for Habitat’s Design Reunion, a collection to celebrate it’s 50th anniversary. At his shop, you will find the designer’s signature romantic and delicate lighting, as well as tableware and other home accessories.


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Top left: Luna & Curious; Top midde: O’dell’s; Top right: Leila’s shop window: Main: Maison Trois garcons‘ fun window display; Bottom left: Charlene Mullen; Bottom right: Larache.


On the other side of Shoreditch, I visited the cute lifestyle and fashion shop Luna & Curious (24-26 Calvert Ave), where daily extrusions and firings took placed at their open ceramic workshop. The shop is connected to O’Dell’s, which stocks a a range of minimalistic menswear, lifestyle accessories and homewares.

If minimalistic style is not your cup of tea, then walk down a little you will find the exotic Larache,where owner Hassan Hajjaj sources  and colourful and well-made home furnishings from Pakistan, Morocco and India. Or cross the street where you will find Soboye, an African-inspired shop full of colourful yet contemporary fashion, accessories and lifestyle items.


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The RIBA Regent Street Shop Windows Project: Mobile Studio for Jack Spade


Back in the city centre, RIBA’s Regent Street Windows Project matched RIBA architects with flagship retailers to create stunning architectural installations in the windows of shops, restaurants and cafes around Regent Street for 3 weeks to coincide with London Fashion week and The London design festival. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to see all the shop windows, but you can find the photos of these installations via the weblink above.


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Top left: Skandium; Top right, 2nd row: Mint shop; 3rd row: 4th left: Han Jungeun‘s ceramic stools; 4th row right: Alcarol’s Fisheye stools; 5th row: Squint; Bottom: The shop at Bluebird on Kings Road


After spending hours at the V & A museum in South Kensington, I had a bit of spare time to check out the shops nearby including the institute for cool Scandinavian designs, Skandium on Bromptpn Road (245-249 Brompton Road), followed by Mint (2 North Terrace, Alexander Square). For more information for design shopping in the area, you can also check out Brompton design district.

In order to compete in the highly competitive retail sector, independent retail shops need to have quite distinctive characteristics. And I think high-end design shop Mint has always been one of its kind. While many retailers prefer to play safe or stock according to trends, Mint has always been willing to take risks. Aside from supporting emerging designers, their eclectic selection of furniture, lighting and interior objects often showcase skilled craftsmanship, and many can even be viewed as functional art objects rather than design objects. If you visit their store, you will see that the boundary between art, craft and design is almost not distinguishable. And this is what makes them stand out. During the design festival, shop owner Lina Kanafani curated an exhibition focusing on the influence of craft in design. The shop was filled with classic pieces from the 70s & 80s, together with over 40 established and emerging designers to create a visual harmony of contrasts. I was particularly intrigued by Italian design studio Alcarol‘s FishEye stools, featuring sections of timber poles dredged up from Venice’s canals. By filling the gaps of the wood left by shipworms with a transparent resin, the log was given a new life and function. Cool.

For the more eccentric types, Squint next door (1 North Terrace) is ideal if you want something rich, decorative and bespoke. Most pieces are made to order by long-established independent workshops in the UK. My final stop in the area was The Bluebird shop on Kings Road (350). It has been a few years since I visited to ‘this end’ of Kings Road, so it was interesting to see how much Bluebird has changed since. Aside from stocking many cool fashion brands, the 10,000 sq ft space also offers design-related books, stationery, beauty products, interior/ home accessories and it even has a spa. This design-led concept/lifestyle store injects a younger and ‘hipper’ vibe in a rather grown-up and sophisticated neighbourhood, which is quite welcoming.