Humberto and Fernando Campana, Favela Chair (des. 1991); made by Edra Italy; coll. Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton
Subversive Design: a not-to-be-missed exhibition at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery
Subversive Design, Brighton Museum’s exciting new exhibition, runs from 12 October 2013 – 9 March 2014. It shows objects that challenge perceived ideas, contain hidden messages and address social issues and political comment. Historic exhibits, as well as modern and contemporary items by leading and emerging designers, are on display.
The accepted brief for designers and makers has always been to produce well made goods, fit for practical use. However, many have also employed shape and decoration to ask questions about political and social issues of their times, or about form and function. These themes are illustrated and debated through 130 objects, divided into three sections: Big Issues; Form Vs Function; and Subverting the Body. Here are just a few examples.
“Designers have employed shape and decoration to ask questions about political and social issues of their times”
Designers have used the chair to comment on, or ask questions about, uncomfortable political issues. For example, Michael Sanders comments on the Greenham Common issue with his piece, ‘Sitting Comfortably’ (1987), a chair form made from razor wire; whilst each ‘Favela Chair’ (2003), by the Campana Brothers, is assembled from scrap wood, referring to the sprawling shanty townships around Rio de Janeiro, where homes are constructed from a wide variety of recycled materials.
Homelessness is another issue discussed. Michele Walker, who engages passionately with social issues, has constructed a quilt, ‘No Home, No Hope’, from disposable materials: hessian, newspaper, vinyl and bin liners. Racial stereotypes are explored through Simone Brewster’s ‘Negresse Chaise’ and ‘Mammy Table’ (2010), which represent the servant roles traditionally played by black women in mid-20th century Hollywood film.
Several items show how designers have ‘transformed’ rubbish. Tapio Wirkkala’s ‘Tutenvasen’ (1970s) are ceramic vases fashioned to look like crumpled paper bags. Rebecca Joselyn reproduces exquisitely the crumpled forms of tins in precious metal, as seen in her silver ‘Crushed Can Jug’ (2009), which is lined with gold.
Georgina Godley’s ‘Vest’ (c.1986) is an example of body modification, questioning the accepted notion of ideal body shapes, a theme taken up by many designers since. ‘Vest’ is a garment of padded underwear to be worn under a dress.
Fashion with political messages includes a Westwood/McLaren ‘Seditionaries’ outfit and, from an earlier period, the Regency ‘Empire’ line gown, inspired by dress from the Greek and Roman republics. ‘Empire’ line gowns, which became fashionable during the French Revolution, and reflected the new political structure of France under Napoleon and his Empire, were soon popular throughout Europe. The exhibition also explores the cult of the skull, now a trendy design motif, where once it would have been taboo, as illustrated by Barbara Hulanicki’s ‘Wellington Boots’ (2011) created for George at Asda.
Michele Walker, No Home, No Hope (1994); hessian, bin liners, paper; coll. Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton
Simone Brewster, ‘Mammy’ table (2010); stained tulip wood and leather; coll. The maker
Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren, ‘Seditionaries Outfit’ (1977); coll. Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton
Michael Sanders, Sitting Comfortably (1987); coll. The maker
Tapio Wirkkala, Tutenvasen (1970s); glazed porcelain and stoneware, made by Rosenthal; coll. John Clark (Brighton)
Brighton Museum & Art Gallery: Royal Pavilion Gardens, Brighton BN1 1EE; 03000 290900
Tues to Sun 10am–5pm; Closed Mon (except public holidays 10am–5pm)
Tickets: Brighton & Hove resident (with proof of address) £3; Adult £6; Child (5-15 years) free; Concessions £4; Members free