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​Turner Contemporary exhibition: Risk

Posted by Sinead on

Design can be a risky business, from the initial stages of R&D where a designer’s sketchpad or ideas board will contain all kinds of crazy and untested propositions (the vast majority of which won’t go much further than that), through to the excitement when we introduce something illogical, unexpected and altogether new into our lives and homes.

Turner Contemporary’s Autumn exhibition, Risk (10 October 2015 – 17 January 2016), presents artists including Yoko Ono, Sophie Calle, Fischli and Weiss, Marcel Duchamp and Francis Alÿs who work on the edge of possibility and experimentation – taking risks, and setting out on unknown adventure. (Below: Bas Jan Ader, 'In Search of the Miraculous', 1975.)

Also featured in 'Risk' is Thomas Heatherwick, designer of the beautiful and awe-inspiring Olympic cauldron for the London 2012 games, and the new Garden Bridge which will span the Thames from Summer 2018. The Spun chair Heatherwick designed for Italian firm Magis in 2010 can be seen at Turner Contemporary as part of the exhibition, and also here at Papillon. Available in anthracite, red, purple or white, the roots of ‘Spun’ go right back to Heatherwick’s college days when he was taught metal spinning by a silversmith. “If it was possible to make large drums with spun metal, might it be possible to make a chair with a completely symmetrical rotational form? And would it be comfortable to sit in?” The answer is yes! The Magis version of the chair is constructed from hardwearing but lightweight rotation-moulded plastic.

Another arch experimenter and risk taker from the design world is Phillippe Starck. His iconic but still revolutionary Salif citrus squeezer has been produced by Alessi since 1990. Instantly recognisable now but almost unthinkable at the time, the 18/10 stainless steel ‘spaceship’ (which is also an excellent functional tool for the kitchen) was designed by Starcke on a pizzeria napkin during a holiday.

Margate, along with Ramsgate and the wider Isle of Thanet, is fast gaining a reputation as a hotbed not only for fine art, music and performance (check out Ramsgate Music Hall and the Tom Thumb Theatre), but also for design. Numerous designers and makers live and work in the area, drawn here by the affordable and available studio space, proximity to London and the Continent via the high speed rail link, and the close community of fellow designers and artists to collaborate and experiment with. Zoe Murphy, who works with surface design on upcycled furniture and fabric, has her studio in Margate, and Jenny Duff, who democratised the design and production process out of the necessity of finding a gift for her mum, is based in Ramsgate.

Margate now also has two iconic design-led destinations for visitors, the re-opened and re-imagined Dreamland, which could be seen as an experiment in nostalgia and thrill-seeking by former Red or Dead chief Wayne Hemmingway, and Turner Contemporary. The gallery building was designed by British architect David Chipperfield, and even its harshest critics would probably agree it is now a familiar and very recognisable local landmark. Just as Thomas Heatherwick applies his experimentation to architectural projects like the Garden Bridge alongside domestic-scale objects like Spun, David Chipperfield is also a familiar name as a designer of cutlery and tableware - his 'Santiago' cutlery and 'Tonale' tableware for Alessi are beautiful and surprising products of risk and experimentation in design.