Winging it

Whoever had the idea of sending design duo Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons of Timorous Beasties into the dusty corridors of Museums Sheffield to scour the Ruskin Collection deserves applause. Victorian artist and writer John Ruskin amassed a treasure trove of art and artefacts, including more than 6300 ornithological prints – a dream stomping ground for self-confessed ornithology fan Simmons. ‘It was one of those projects that I wanted to go on forever,’ he says. ‘You’re in such a privileged position if you’re able to get stuck into these collections. There are lots of bird illustrators that I would never have known about unless I’d been allowed to rummage.’ Timorous Beasties presents A Bird in the Hand, an installation based on two years of rummaging, launches next week. Inspired by the detail and beauty of the prints, the duo has created a display of lamps and furniture, its upholstery digitally printed with the most intricate illustrations. Etchings were redrawn and reconfigured in new designs, from heraldic birds to dissected insects. The exhibition is a surreally beautiful interpretation of Victoriana, with an element of modern cheekiness. Even though you can imagine the pieces taking off in the commercial realm, Simmons is somewhat reluctant. ‘Part of the joy of going to an exhibition is that you can’t take something home. It’s done to exist in that space,’ says Simmons. ‘And some of the pieces are a bit too weird—they might not exactly fly off the shelves.’Timorous Beasties presents A Bird in the Hand is at Museums Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery, Arundel Gate, Sheffield S1 2PP from 9 May to 25 October

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