This year’s London Design Festival has just kicked off, so Yannick and I rushed down to the V&A to take a look. Rushed a bit early, as it turned out, but it meant we got an excellent sneak preview of Barnaby Barford’s Tower of Babel, a conical pile of china shops which has been sited in the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, making for an interesting contrast with the sculptures on display.
The tower is six metres tall and is made up of three thousand individual fine bone china buildings, each one representing an actual shop photographed by the artist. They were made in Stoke-on-Trent by 1882 Ltd, and each one is signed by the artist. Barford cycled over a thousand miles to photograph shop facades from each of London’s postcodes.
There are derelict shops and pound stores at the base, boutiques and galleries at the top. It’s a monument to the great British pastime of shopping, playfully likening our efforts to find fulfilment through retail with the biblical Tower of Babel’s attempt to reach heaven.
I was quite excited when I found Al Pacino’s convenience store somewhere in the middle (you can see it in the photo below) as it’s on Hornsey High St and I know it well.
The Wang Jia Supermarket is on Rye Lane ,SE15
Barford is a British artist who works primarily with ceramics to create narrative pieces. His sculptures can be sinister and sardonic but also display a puckish humour and likability.
The tower will be on display at the V&A until 1st November so there’s plenty of time to take a look. And if you fall in love with one of the shops, you’ll be pleased to hear you can make it your very own. They’re on sale via the V&A shop website, with prices ranging from £95 for run-of-the-mill shops to £6,000 for the most exclusive boutiques.
Al Pacino’s is a mere £175 – I was sorely tempted but someone has already beaten me to it. Ali’s Superstore on Fashion St E1 is still available, though, at £150.
if you want to look for a shop in your area there’s an interactive map which makes it easy.
For other London Design Festival events and displays at the V&A and elsewhere check out their website. The festival runs until 27th September.