Just a feeling

Stealing Beauty, at the ICA, uses the ordinary to design the extraordinary. The exhibition is about the work of British-based designers searching for a new method and meaning in their work.

“It’s not a design movement, it is a much more gentle thing – it is simply a mood and an energy,” says curator Claire Catterall.

There is a social and political message reflected in the exhibition design by Urban Salon. The show is democratic – each designer has been allocated a space of equal size. It displays transparancy – the walls have been ignored and there are portholes providing access from outside. And it is inclusive – the work of each designer is clearly explained.

At the entrance, engravings of the design groups by Graphic Thought Facility give each one an identity. In every section a hand-written questionnaire explains what has inspired the designers and where they find beauty in the ordinary and the banal.

Most exhibits have a practical function and, instead of being presented as art, are shown in use.

Design group Bump, which professes to avoid “the abstract, the avant-garde and the unusual”, bases its designs on tabloid culture. White letters, based on the design of electronic display mechanisms are printed on black T-shirts to create individual messages.

24/Seven tries to combine design which engages intellectually and emotionally with design that caters for the commercial market. Pictures of urban scenes are projected on to three white tables which also hold plates and napkins.

The exhibition is brightly lit with white light so that strong shadows are cast against the floor. Design group 6876 suspends classic English tailored jackets from the ceiling. The simple outline of their shadows emphasises the style rather than the designer and reflects the design group’s reaction against the corporate brand and the label-conscious consumer.

The exhibition signage is based on utilitarian office and institution signs. It is a familiar sight that is almost noted unconsciously.

Upstairs the ideas are slightly different.The designers use discarded objects to create designs which challenge conventional perceptions of value and worth. British Creative Decay uses graffiti and old shop signs, Tord Boontje uses recycled wine and champagne bottles and Ann-Sofie Back employs second hand clothes.

Stealing Beauty is positive and imaginative in its use of material. And, although the ICA can sometimes be a tad exclusive, this exhibition is down to earth and engaging.

Stealing Beauty is at the ICA, The Mall, London SW1 until 31 May

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