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Royal College of Art The Great Exhibition (London)

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      21.06.2007 20:53
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      If not * The * Great Exhibition, then definitely one of them!

      Well, it seems Dooyoo have been up to speed today and added this in the nick of time! I apologise for the drama of my title, but this isn’t on for long and if you can possibly go, you shouldn’t miss it. This week sees the 150th anniversay of the Royal College of Art, which was founded from the proceeds of the original Great Exhibition held in Hyde Park in 1851.

      I’ve always had a certain interest in this, it sounds like it must have been a Victorian version of the Ideal Home Show, the Crystal Palace filled with all those wonders of modern design. Very appropriately, the 2007 Royal College of Art Summer Show is being held in a marquee on the very spot where the palace once stood and just across the road in a normal building too.

      Dad and I have been to this in the past, I’ve got fond childhood memories of seeing a huge silver Lizard with ruby eyes, made from hundreds of tiny lizards, and a glittering room filled with glass bubbles. So, what can you expect to see? Everything from animation and ceramics, to textiles, silver and plastic.

      The marquee setting is certainly novel and I can’t have been the best company as I snivelled my way through Hyde Park with a bout of hayfever. Getting in out of the pollen and adjusting my swollen eyes, the marquee seemed far bigger inside. The usual ‘gallery white’ backdrop and the smell of turps prevailed over a sloping wooden floor and the maze of exhibits lent a cosy feel to what might otherwise have been a cavernous space.

      Dad seized upon the pottery section (his latest interest) and as we made our way through, we were called into a garden shed. The lady inside stood with a huge blob of heavy plaster in her hands amongst a mass of polaroids showing other people doing the same. “Take one” she cried enthusiastically, “they’re meant to be held!” There were several, Dad took a smooth grey one, while mine was more yellowing with the texture of a rounded barnacle. Surprised at the weight of it, I sat down on a seat provided and held it close. We tried swapping them over, but while Dad preferred the smooth texture, I was reluctant to let go of mine with its beautiful bobbly surface.

      “Do you know what they are?” she asked eagerly and we paused, looking down at the cool comfortable blobs. The lady was Bonnie Kemske and these were “hugs”, portable stone-like hugs, which formed part of her exhibit ‘Towards the Embrace’. (I'd welcome comments on this idea) She explained to us in detail how she’d gone about making them and then depersonalising them with their rounded edges. We talked about how some prefer one and some another and we gave our reasons for choosing the ones we held. There lies a great opportunity we had to handle some very original art and interact with the artist, which is one of the fantastic things about this show.

      Feeling somewhat refreshed from holding the cool rock, I rounded the corner by a series of chairs. Forget Conran, here was an innovative chair made by Baz Kools from a huge ball of melted cable rope, in my favourite colour, blue! This only occupied my attention for a moment as I almost immediately spotted a chair in the shape of a complete cube. Squishing my way through the cushioned teeth, I sunk into it so completely that only my head and feet protruded with me and my (not insubstantial) handbag firmly gripped in the centre. Not only was I comfortable, but I was sleepy from my hayfever tablets and I sunk in. Just as Dad was about to snap my repose with his new silver camera phone, the chair burst into life, the teeth pulled back, the seat became hard and the back inflated, leaving me shocked and in a standing position, bag in hand.

      I settled instead on a huge stretchy black hammock of a sofa, which appeared from the outside like a flat vertical wall, yet gave to your body shape as you leant against it. From here, I could see an exhibit by Angela Palmer, with a container holding the cleanest air in the world (from a Tasmanian weather station). Unfortunately for the artist, the dirtiest air in the world (from Linfen, China) had gone missing on route and a sign sat sternly in place of it. Ever wondered how your white tennis shoes might look if you visited the cleanest or dirtiest place in the world? Or your make up remover pads? It was all here for inspection.

      A tall man with a laptop sat down next to us on the sofa. Dad commented to me how strange the hanging globes in front of us were and he leaned over to ask if Dad would like to ‘try’. I hadn’t quite worked out what Dad was supposed to be trying and my attention was momentarily caught on another exhibit. I looked back over to see Dad stood over the ceramic balloons lamps taking a swing with a small sharp pickaxe type implement in his hand. There was something of a crowd looking on and as he chipped I was pretty convinced (and concerned) it would shatter. Instead light shone out from a tiny hole in the ‘make your own’ balloon lamps’. It’s well worth having a look for Jordi Canudas and becoming a part of the exhibition with your own little glittering fragment of light .

      I won’t relate everything I saw, for fear of spoiling it for anyone who plans to go. Needless to say, there was plenty of innovation, my favourite being the postable jewellery by Nutre Arayavarnish, a series of very buyable bracelets, rings and necklaces. These push out from envelopes and balsa postcards which I know Best Friend would be over the moon with – you saw it here first girls! I would love to have gone home with one of these, but the little red sticker spots spelt sold. Instead I made do with the free postcards provided by the artists, right now, the postcard of Michael Burton's 'Human Farm', a hideous hand with three dirt encrusted nails on each finger is pinned to the posterboard behind my desk and drawing a stream of complaints from colleagues who find it in their eyeline.

      I would encourage anyone who lives or works in or near London to seize upon this brilliant opportunity and get down there pronto. The official website is http://show2007 .rca.ac.uk/, it runs until the 28th of June and the full visitor information, directions and map can be found at http://show20 07.rca.ac.uk/Default.aspx?CategoryID=1 0562&C1=10562& TemplateRequest=Text. If however, this is all a bit too far and Londoncentric for you, I apologise and I hope I’ve at least given you a taste of what it’s like and a few names to look out for in design.

      Entrance is of course FREE and you can check out the newly re-gilded Albert Memorial, which we both thought looked better in the previous brooding black.

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