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A six metre high ceramic installation created for the V&A by artist Barnaby Barford will be displayed in the Museum’s Medieval & Renaissance Galleries from 8th September to 1st November 2015.
The Tower of Babel will be composed of 3,000 ￼individual bone china buildings, each measuring 10 – 13cm tall and depicting a real London shop. Barford has photographed over 6,000 shop fronts in the process of making the Tower, cycling over 1,000 miles to visit every postcode in London. The photographs are being created as ceramic transfers and fired onto fine bone china in Stoke-on- Trent, manufactured by 1882 Ltd, to produce the individual shops.
The Tower will reflect London’s society and economy, inviting visitors to view themselves as consumers. At its base the shops will be derelict, while at its pinnacle will be London’s exclusive boutiques and galleries, with the Tower appearing more precarious towards the top. Standing as a monument to the British pastime of shopping, Barford’s ceramic Tower likens efforts to find fulfilment through consumerism with the biblical Tower of Babel’s attempt to reach heaven.
The Tower of Babel depicts London’s streets in the early 21st century, cataloguing a variety of types of shops, including independent shops, department stores, and charity shops and those that have been left derelict. Each of the unique ceramic pieces will be available to purchase through the V&A Shop, blurring the lines of art and commerce. More affordable properties will be situated at the base of the Tower and the more prestigious but less affordable towards the top.
Describing the installation, Barford said “This is London in all its retail glory, our city in the beginning of the 21st century and I’m asking, how does it make you feel? I am overjoyed to be exhibiting in one of the world’s greatest museums, it is fantastic to have the opportunity to explore our contemporary society in such historic surrounds.”
Alun Graves, Senior Curator of the Ceramics and Glass collection at the V&A says of the work; “Part-sculpture, part-shop display, The Tower of Babel is an act of curated commerce. It’s about retail as a pastime, and the idea of shopping as a means (or not) to attain happiness. It is about how we identify ourselves as consumers and how we construct our sense of self through the choices we make when buying. Ultimately it’s about who we are, and where we position ourselves in the extraordinary metropolis that is London.”
Artist Barnaby Barford (b. 1977) works primarily with ceramics to create pieces which explore all aspects of society. Graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2002, he has since exhibited his work internationally and more recently had a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia, USA. Barford is currently represented by David Gill Gallery and since 2004, Barford has taught as an associate lecturer at Central St Martins, London.
Notes to Editors
- This FREE installation takes place in the V&A’s Medieval & Renaissance Galleries from 8th September to 1st November 2015 and will form part of the Museum’s programme for London Design Festival (19 – 27 September 2015). www.londondesignfestival.com/va- museum
- Each of the 3,000 individual shop fronts that feature in The Tower of Babel will be available to purchase from Barnaby Barford through the V&A Shop. Handmade in Stoke-on-Trent by 1882 Ltd and signed by Barnaby Barford, the bone china shop fronts will be priced between £90 and £6,000. www.vandashop.com
- The V&A is open daily from 10.00 to 17.45 and until 22.00 on Fridays
For further PRESS information about the exhibition, please contact Lily Booth in the V&A press
office on 020 7942 2502 or email firstname.lastname@example.org (not for publication).
A selection of press images is available to download free of charge from http://pressimages.vam.ac.uk
Barnaby Barford is an artist who works primarily with ceramics to create narrative pieces. He is best known for his work with both mass-market and antique found porcelain figurines, cutting up and exchanging elements or adding to them and repainting them, to create sculptures which are often sinister and sardonic but invariably humorous. With irony, he draws a portrait of our contemporary lives.
Through his works, Barford explores all aspects of our society. Following in the tradition of Hogarth, Chaucer, Dickens and Shakespeare; with a dark sense of English humour and satire, Barford’s work explores and celebrates the human condition. Over the last few years his practice has developed and his last exhibition ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’ saw him breaking new ground making large scale ceramic sculpture exploring sin in our contemporary world and its association with the breakdown in community.
Barnaby Barford (b. 1977) graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2002. He has shown his work internationally. He has been the subject of several solo exhibitions in the UK and most recently has had a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia, USA. His work is part of both public and private collections. He is currently represented by David Gill Galleries, St James’ London. Barford has worked with museum commissions, private commissions and most recently for Louis Vuitton.
Alun Graves, Senior Curator of the Ceramics and Glass Collection at the V&A says, “Barford is brilliantly puckish, and something of an agent provocateur. By seduction and guile, his work exposes our inner frailties, prejudices and desires, holding up a mirror to us both metaphorically as well – on occasion – as physically. Few are so incisive and insightful.”
Journalist Caroline Roux, says, “Barford’s work always has an instant likeability which serves, at first, to hide its darkness or political position. But there’s always something sinister going on beneath the surface.”
His work, through it’s incisiveness, beauty and humour has the rare ability to speak and engage with a broad section of people from many different backgrounds.
Barnaby Barford has also directed a unique film based on his highly acclaimed artwork made from ceramic figurines for Animate Projects which was broadcast on Channel 4 in September 2008. Damaged Goods is a tragic love story played out by porcelain figurines. It explores notions of forbidden love, material wealth and class divides using the traditions of value within ceramics. This touching film was commissioned by Animate Projects and funded by Arts Council England and Channel4.
The charity auction has been kindly hosted by lotsofcharity.com. Please follow the link to make your bid. The auction will finish on the 31st October.
“This is London in all its retail glory, our city in the beginning of the 21st century and I’m asking, how does it make you feel?” Barnaby Barford
The Tower of Babel is a richly-layered work that tells an array of stories about our capital city, our society and economy, and ourselves as consumers. Standing an imposing six metres tall, it is made up of 3000 individual bone china buildings, each between 10 and 13 cm high and each depicting a real London shop. Barford cycled over 1000 miles during the making of The Tower, visiting every postcode in London and photographing well over 6000 shops in the process. These photographs were used to produce the ceramic transfers that have been fired onto the shops, making each shop a unique work of art in its own right.
At The Tower’s base, the shops are derelict, closed-down and boarded-up. Then, as we start to ascend, we find chicken shops, pound shops, and bookies. Climb further and we encounter specialist retailers of all descriptions, chic boutiques and artisan food stores that cater for the aspirational consumer’s every need. Nearing the top, the shops become ever-more exclusive, until finally we reach the pinnacle with London’s fine art galleries and auction houses, where goods are sold at eye-watering prices.
This hierarchy of consumption is echoed in the retail prices of The Tower’s shops, every one of which is for sale. Buy a derelict shop and you might pay £95. Choose a fine art gallery and you could be looking at £6000. In this way, Barford confronts us with the choices we ourselves make as consumers, through financial necessity or materialistic desire. And he reminds us that, through such choices, we both construct our sense of self and shape how others see us.
The Tower of Babel stands as a monument to the pastime of shopping, perhaps the principle leisure pursuit of contemporary British society. Playfully, Barford likens our efforts to find fulfilment through retail to the biblical Tower of Babel’s attempt to reach heaven. His seemingly precarious Tower poses questions about the nature of our society and the fragility of economy, exposing the divide between rich and poor.
Barford’s Tower is also a survey of the streets of early 21st century London. It reminds us not to take for granted how our city actually looks, and how it constantly changes. It reflects, often delightfully, how shop design and graphics impact upon our surroundings and how we feel about certain areas. Perhaps contrary to expectations, it captures an extraordinary diversity in London’s retailers, cataloguing a plethora of independent shops that cater to the needs of their communities. In a direct reversal to the Bible’s Babel – the architects of which were scattered by God and their languages confused – we see shop owners, entrepreneurs and big brands from all over the world, speaking every language under the sun, together, in the city of London, building a tower of commerce.
Text by Alun Graves and Barnaby Barford, 2015.