There will be a spatial transformation at the Victoria and Albert Museum at this year’s London Design Festival. Ben Evans, director of the Festival, has chosen the “new stars of design,” Japanese studio Nendo, headed by Oki Sato and Akihiro Ito, to create a rare installation that will react to the galleries, corridors, and stairways that make up the V&A’s permanent collections.
Mimicry Chairs (14 September-23 September) is a series of minimalist installations that react to the museum areas they occupy. A single chair will sit in the Grand Entrance accompanied by various chair installations throughout the museum, which together will alter the viewer’s perception of the space and invite them to interact with the art in new ways.
Each transparent chair is made of the same pressed and punched metal, finished in white; each one is intentionally “ghost-like” so they do not overpower the space, but enhance it. The chairs literally “mimic” the different areas and objects they are placed in relation to: a group of chairs echo a salon-like cluster of paintings in one gallery; chairs that expand into great rectangles imitate hanging tapestries in another; chairs with cut-outs copy panes of glass in a hallway.
The delicate transparency of the chairs is intended to make them unobtrusive, but their presence certainly affects the viewer’s “spatial sensibilities,” creating a new experience within familiar walls. Allowing them to see the simple, foundational forms of the museum and its artworks; the shape, the spacing, the outlines, perhaps for the first time.
Together since 2002, Nendo’s body of work is filled with projects that challenge the notion of the object as something solely utilitarian. Nendo explains: “There are so many small “!” moments hidden in our everyday. But we don’t recognize them and even when we do recognize them, we tend to unconsciously reset our minds and forget what we’ve seen. But we believe these small “!” moments are what make our days so interesting, so rich. That’s why we want to reconstitute the everyday by collecting and reshaping them into something that’s easy to understand.”
Object Dependencies (2012 for Pierre Alain Chalier) outlines their responsive design philosophy. It challenges the design mantra of “form follows function” by making what Nendo calls weak-furniture, objects that cannot stand independently and are only made structurally sound through the addition of another object, which can, in turn, change the angles of light and overall space the object inhabits. There is a similar conceptual intention with Mimicry Chairs – the meaning of the chairs is supported/dependent on the ‘place’ in which it stands/mimics therefore the experience of the gallery is dictated by the presence of Mimicry Chairs.
With a developing theme of responsive works, it is no coincidence that Mimicry Chairs is a key project at this year’s London Design Festival. A chair becomes art as it responds to its site, but it maintains its utility as a place to sit and respond to art. Most importantly for Nendo, it creates the “!” by reshaping the traditions of this museum. It is simple complexity like this that reaffirms Nendo really are the “new design stars.”