V&A questions its role as a public institution with new exhibition

The V&A’s All This Belongs to You exhibition looks at what art, design and architecture can tell us about civic identity, citizenship and privacy.

© Peter Kelleher/Victoria & Albert Museum, London 2015
© Peter Kelleher/Victoria & Albert Museum, London 2015

London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is opening a new exhibition which aims to question the concept of the museum as a public space and the role of public institutions in public life.

All of This Belongs to You is a physical and online project that comprises four site-specific installations and three displays at the museum, as well as two online commissions and a series of events. All are free to the public.

Among the commissioned installations are works by muf architecture/art and artist Jorge Otero-Pailos, while the V&A has also acquired items included smashed-up hard drives that held documents leaked to the Guardian newspaper by Edward Snowden and were subsequently ordered to be destroyed by the government.

MacBook Air casing and components from a computer used by journalists to write editorial about the data leaked to The Guardian newspaper by Edward Snowden © The Guardian/ Victoria & Albert Museum, London 2015
MacBook Air casing and components from a computer used by journalists to write editorial about the data leaked to The Guardian newspaper by Edward Snowden © The Guardian/ Victoria & Albert Museum, London 2015

V&A director Martin Roth says: “The V&A’s collection belongs to all of us, and the museum is a space owned by the public. But what can art, design and architecture really say about the idea of civic identity, about privacy and about our lives as citizens?

“With an election approaching, people are deciding their collective futures and their individual roles in society. All of This Belongs to You is about using art, design and architecture to open up the truly public space of our Museum as a platform for debate.”

The exhibition has been curated by the V&A’s senior curator of contemporary architecture, design and digital Kieran Long, with contemporary product design curator Corinna Gardner and contemporary architecture and urbanism curator Rory Hyde.

Long has been with the V&A since 2012. When he joined the museum he told us: “I want to use contemporary architecture and design to reveal new depths to familiar places and things.

“I think the public already has very sophisticated relationships with the objects, interfaces, architectural settings and so-on that frame their lives, and we should take that engagement seriously.”

The V&A has subsequently developed a “rapid-response collecting” concept, which sees the museum acquire and exhibit items “in fast response to contemporary events”.

The museum has already used this principle to exhibit a model of Cody Wilson’s Liberator – the world’s first 3D printed gun – and to buy a pair of Primark jeans in the week that the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, which made clothes for Primark, collapsed, killing more than 1000 people.

Spike studs by Kent Stainless that are intended
 to discourage people from sitting or sleeping 
in various spaces in the city © Peter Kelleher/Victoria & Albert Museum, London 2015
Spike studs by Kent Stainless that are intended
 to discourage people from sitting or sleeping 
in various spaces in the city © Peter Kelleher/Victoria & Albert Museum, London 2015

All of This Belongs to You uses this rapid response concept to show items such as the Snowden hard drives and a “selfie stick” with a remote shutter release.

Speaking to the New York Times, Long described the exhibition as a “banner project” for the V&A, adding: “The founding vision of the V&A in the mid-19th century was very civic-spirited and believed in design and technology’s potential to transform society. We’re trying to reclaim that ethos, and are inviting the public to participate in the debate.”

All of This Belongs to You features four site-specific installations around the V&A. New York-based Otero-Pailos has created The Ethics of Dust: Trajan’s Column. This is a giant latex “cast of a cast” formed from the hollow centre of the museum’s cast of Trajan’s Column, which displays dust and dirt accumulated over decades.

The Ethics of Dust: Trajan’s Column © Peter Kelleher/Victoria & Albert Museum, London 2015
The Ethics of Dust: Trajan’s Column © Peter Kelleher/Victoria & Albert Museum, London 2015

Studio muf architecture/art has created the More than one (fragile) thing at a time installation in the museum’s Medieval and Renaissance galleries. This comprises a series of activities and furniture pieces that aim to create relationships between viewers and the objects on display.

Artist Natalie Jeremijenko’s Re-Public of Air series features a clock in the V&A’s entrance showing the lifecycles of plants and insects as well as interventions to bring plant and insect life to the museum, while James Bridle’s Five Eyes installation uses an algorithm of the sort used by intelligence agencies and “selects” items from the V&A’s 1.4 million digital records for display.

Three curated displays – Ways to be Secret, Ways to be Public and Civic Objects – will showcase new acquisitions alongside pieces from the V&A Collection.

‘Ag Bags’ installed on the V&A’s stone façade as part of a work by Natalie Jermijenko © Peter Kelleher/Victoria & Albert Museum, London 2015
‘Ag Bags’ installed on the V&A’s stone façade as part of a work by Natalie Jermijenko
© Peter Kelleher/Victoria & Albert Museum, London 2015

All of This Belongs to You also features two digital commissions. Dutch studio Bitcaves has created the Liquid Citizenship web app, which collates examples from around the world of how citizenship can be purchased or revoked.

In the second digital commission, US artist Kyle Macdonald’s Exhausting a Crowd project will invite visitors to annotate the actions of people in a video of a major public space in London.


All of This Belongs to You is at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7, until 19 July.

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