What would the Victoria & Albert Museum’s precious artefacts say if they could speak? Perhaps they’d express their pleasure at being admired all day long or maybe they’d complain at their cramped glass cases.
It’s a question that writers’ collective 26 have asked, and answered, as part of project 26 Treasures for London Design Festival. Twenty-six writers, including poets Andrew Motion and Maura Dooley, have been paired with the same number of objects chosen by curators from the V&A’s British galleries and have been challenged to give their treasure a voice in just 62 words.
Writer and brand consultant John Simmons, who is one of the founders of 26, says that the aim of the project is to build on the interest in projects like the British Museum and BBC’s A History of the World in 100 Objects but to get away from a stuffy and scholarly way of writing about historic treasures. ‘The project aims to encourage people to look at these objects in a different way and feel confident to have a personal response,’ he says.
With only 62 words to play with, each writer has to make every word count. Unsurprisingly since it’s a great exercise in getting inside the psyche of the treasures and developing a fitting brand language and tone of voice, many of the writers have ended up pitying their objects and fighting their corner. This includes Simmons, who was paired with a Rococo candle stand from James II’s wedding suit. He says, ‘I didn’t fall in love with the object at first but I felt quite sorry for it. It was used to light up soirées and had a grand life, now it’s stuck in the corner of a museum.’
Although each object and writer were paired randomly, there has been a fair amount of serendipity, according to Simmons. Andrew Motion, who has written a biography of Romantic poet John Keats, was assigned the bust of Homer, whom Keats idolised in his poem On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.
During LDF, the voices will appear beside the objects on panels designed by Pentagram’s Dominic Lippa, as well as on the 26 Treasures website. In the lead up to the festival, responses to the same challenge from a wider net of writers will be posted on the site, which has been created by Dan Oparison. The project has also been given a smart identity by Pearlfisher.
The project has been so popular that its life looks to extend long after the festival. Members of the public will be able to submit 62 words on an object of their choice and London College of Communications has set it as brief for their first year graphic design students.
To get involved yourself check out the 26 Treasures website or watch out for the panels at the V&A during LDF, which runs from the 18-26 September.