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London-based Design Museum is honouring the acclaimed Dutch designer Hella Jongerius’ extensive research on colour through an installation-based exhibition called Breathing Colour. The installations consist of 3D objects as well as hand-woven and industrially produced textiles. The exhibition aims to delve deep into the way colour behaves, exploring shapes, materials, shadows and reflections. It challenges and questions all our preconceived notions about colours, and makes a strong case for colours that breathe. We came across the instagram feed for the exhibition and were prompted to dig more, and so we speak to Alex Newson, senior curator at Design Museum, to get an insight into the objective and the making of the exhibition.
After approaching Hella about doing an exhibition with her, it quickly became apparent that she wasn’t interested in a conventional retrospective. Rather than producing an exhibition showcasing her designs and products, she was more interested in an exhibition that revealed her process, specifically her decades worth of research into how we perceive colour.
The exhibition doesn’t include any of Hella’s industrial products but is instead comprised of a series of objects that and experiences that help us question how we perceive colour; how designers use colour to affect form and shape; and how designers such as Hella oppose the limited colours available in conventional manufacturing processes.
One of the key themes of the exhibition is that the way in which we experience colour is dependent on the quality of light. However, the quality of light – especially daylight – changes throughout the day. This phenomenon is reflected in the structure of the exhibition, where visitors walk through spaces that explore the relationship between colour and light at different times of the day.
To achieve an immersive experience, we worked closely with an exhibition designer to produce a space that provided separate zones to examine light and colour at different times. There are three main sections of the exhibition – one dedicated to morning, one to noon, and one to evening. To reinforce the experience and separation of these spaces, we commissioned a composer to create an original score for each of these zones.
Similarly, we worked with a graphic designer to introduce labels and text that interpret the exhibition and its experiences. The exhibition text has been developed with two separate and distinct voices – firstly, there is the subjective voice of Hella, explaining in her own words how she sees and uses colour, and then there is an objective voice that provides information to visitors about what they are seeing and why.
The most challenging aspect was trying to recreate the lighting conditions that replicate certain times of the day in a gallery with no windows or natural light. This was achieved by using specialist lighting fittings from Zumtobel which have the ability to alter the colour temperature of the light they emit. This enabled us to have cool bright light in the noon section and warm light in the evening section etc.
This series of sculptural objects have been designed by Hella as an aide to study and understand colour. Created by folding and glueing complex patterns of cardboard, the convex surfaces and facets absorb and reflect the colours of the panels they rest on. This produces a kind of three-dimensional colour chart, showing gradations of reflected colours mixed with the colour of the object.
Although this colour phenomenon occurs everywhere, we are not always attuned to notice it. Even though our eyes tell us that these colour catchers are made up of multiple colours and hues, the brain knows that the objects are actually in just a single flat colour. This can result in the additional colour information getting filtered out and going unnoticed.
But what’s the more real experience? Our understanding of the ‘actual’ colour of an object or our visual experiences of the same object, which may be full of varied and shifting colours. To fully appreciate the complexity of colour, it is important that we stay receptive to the effect that shape, texture, pattern and colour have on each other.
Many people have asked me what my favourite exhibit in the exhibition is. But my favourite thing is not actually in the gallery at all; it is when you step outside and take this new way of seeing colours with you. Suddenly you see a richer, more complex mix of colours in the world around you, ranging from the greens of the leaves to the greys of the pavement.
This highly intricate and intriguing show dedicated to colours opened at London’s Design Museum from June 2017 and will be on till 24th September 2017.
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