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What We Saw
At the London Design Festival, Via Dan Rubinstein of Surface


We at Sight Unseen are very busy people. We have babies to nurse (congratulations, Jill!), articles to write for other publications, subjects to spend hours and hours interviewing for this publication, and designers to hassle about finishing their submissions for our still top-secret online shop, set to launch in a little over a month (trust us, it’s going to be good). Thus, we sometimes don’t have the chance to attend events like the London Design Festival, even as we cringe with regret watching invitations roll in for Established & Sons and Phillips de Pury dinners, friends’ exhibition openings, and dozens more chances to take the pulse of one of our favorite local design scenes. When that happens, we reach out to folks we trust and ask them to report back on whatever highs, lows, and drunken blurs they may have witnessed on the ground. Here, Dan Rubinstein, the intrepid editor of Surface magazine — both Jill and I are contributing editors — shares some of the details and moments he was privy to during last week’s LDF, which he somehow managed to take time out of his own busy schedule to attend. As for us, you know what they say: There’s always next year.

Fendi and the RCA (top)
“Fendi partnered with the Royal College of Art for an event where students were asked to reinterpret Fendi objects to create installations and ‘performances’ inside their London shop. One of my favorites, by Nicholas Wallenberg and Helena Karelson, distilled the brand’s latest line of leather bags into a range of colors, which were then used to imbue flowers with their hues (as seen in the background). A large contraption on the lower level did the same to bunch of flowers in a mechanized pool of water. Admittedly, I was a little too buzzed to understand the details.”


Boned in China at Jamb

“I visited a new friend, designer Emily Johnson, at her installation ‘Boned in China – 200 White Lights’ at Jamb off Pimlico Road. Her cylindrical, UK-made bone china lights seemed right at home in the space that’s basically the most fabulous antique shop I’ve been to in ages. Case in point: this enormous stuffed giraffe (for scale, some of her lights are next to it). Yes, it’s real, and yours for 22,000 pounds sterling.”

“Tucked into a corner at Jamb was this life-sized wooden mannequin from God-knows-when.”


Studio Ware at Gallery Fumi

“One the best shows during LDF was ‘Studio Ware‘ at Gallery Fumi, which exhibited pieces made by designers for everyday use. It was pretty refreshing to see this line of chairs and tables from Max Lamb, as he’s better known for his pieces made from solid stone. The pieces used standard-sized dowels and were gorgeously crafted, with the mix of different-colored woods taking it to a new level of sophistication.”


Composite at 2 Columbia Road

“At the group show ‘Composite,’ curated by journalist Liz Farrelly, one of the unexpected hits were these little roto-molded cups on a stick called Sugar Glasses made by Central Saint Martins student Fernando Laposse. Some were in a case while others were made on site and served to attendees. The designer — and studio assistant to Bethan Laura Wood, who was also in the show — served cocktails in the cups. As you swirled the drink, the container sweetened it. Some people wrapped their cups in plastic bags to take home as edible collectibles.”


Methods of Imitation at Paper Tiger

“Peter Marigold’s Wooden Forms were a highlight of the very esoteric show ‘Methods of Imitation,’ which was hosted in the basement of Paper Tiger (a Chinese Food restaurant near the V&A, of all places). Marigold used small pieces of wood to stamp lines of grain onto individual fragments of wax that are used to create these vases, which are then cast in plaster.”


“I also spotted these little tables by Liliana Ovalle at ‘Methods of Imitation,’ titled Color Me Red, Color Me Green. The designer’s use of color seemed fairly straightforward, but when you contrasted them with the other conceptual pieces in the show — including snapshots of ‘no photo’ signs and the like — it gave some validity to the claims that the project ‘explores the use of color as a means to bring new significance to an object.’ Or maybe I just thought they were adorable?”


The V&A

“The festival’s home base this year was the Victoria & Albert museum, where two very zeitgeisty shows were on display during the week. One of them was ‘Power of Making,’ which I didn’t get to see, as the line to get in was easily 100 people deep. But I picked up the stand-alone publication, which was edited by the show’s curator Daniel Charny, who also founded London’s Aram Gallery. I sat next to him at the Medal Dinner the next day and we talked about the need for experimental spaces for showcasing design in New York. Anyone reading this care to donate a space?”


“Also on at the V&A was the exhibit ‘Brutal Simplicity of Thought: How it Changed the World,’ based on the upcoming book of the same name by M&C Saatchi. The show continued in the bathroom. Or at least I hope it did, as I used this exhibit myself.”


My London at Established & Sons

“Nendo’s ‘My London’ installation consisted of thousands of giant post-it like maps to covering a large wall at the Established & Sons showroom on Wenlock Road. I met Nendo’s designer Oki Sato at the press preview and… Let’s just say he looked a little bleary-eyed from the recently completed install.”

Gentlewoman release party
“Being a New Yorker, I’m not a starfucker. But the class of actors I spotted in London made me giddy. At the release party of The Gentlewoman’s fourth issue at Thomas Dane Gallery, they had cover girl Olivia Williams attending, who looked sexier in person than she’s typically portrayed in films. My awareness of her was heightened as I had just seen her in Hanna on the flight over. I snapped this tidy-looking menu as it was just too precious. Only these folks would be so precise about the offerings at what was actually a very uncomplicated party. I also learned that ‘Carriages at 12am’ means ‘Please get out at midnight’ in the local tongue.”