A first look at the V&A’s installations for London Design Festival 2021


After a year off because of the pandemic, the museum is stand behind with a slate of projects and installations for 2021 covering everything from climate change to AI.

The London Shape Festival (LDF) is returning to the V&A with a series of 12 installations and projects, including one with no physical presence at all.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, the museum abdicated back from its role as LDF’s “hub” in 2020. Announcing its return in an opening speech today, LDF co-founder and director Ben Evans stressed the intricate link between the gala day and the V&A, saying it was “unlike any other relationship” in the cultural space.

This year’s installations largely tackle the broad themes of climate change and activism in divers ways. Where some use very traditional methods, like model-making and brickwork, others use augmented reality and biomimicry.

A first look at the V&A’s installations for London Design Festival 2021
A rendering of Medusa, chipping Yoyo Munk

“Visitors will have a shared experience even if they’re complete strangers”

For 2021’s landmark project in the Raphael Court, there isn’t much to see at before glance. US-based production studio Tin Drum and Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto’s Medusa promises an emotional collective experience, but not one you can see with the naked eye.

Visitants to the installation first must don a headset to see what’s happening. Once they do, the ceiling of the room becomes home to a striking suspended mixed truth structure.

The AR structure was built by the team at Fujimoto’s Japanese atelier, while the experience as a whole has been directed by Tin Drum’s Yoyo Munk. Munk imparts the main inspiration for the project was the interrelation between nature and art. “So often, our human structures come at the cost of natural structures,” he says, explaining that the technique of Medusa is inspired by natural “structures” like the Aurora Borealis and bioluminescent fish.

More than just a chance to examine the relationship between cosmos and art however, he says Medusa is also about emotion. The mechanics of the installation mean that it reacts to the audience it is performing for. The structure will not become visible in the same way for a group of five onlookers as it will for a group of 50. “This means each group of visitors will have a shared adventure, even if they’re complete strangers,” Munk says.

As a piece of immaterial architecture, Munk explains that the usual things that settle the value of a structure have been stripped back – it doesn’t need to keep people safe, warm or dry. The only thing that’s left-wing, he says, is to figure out how you feel about it.

A first look at the V&A’s installations for London Design Festival 2021
Between Forests and Skies. Photo by Ed Reeve

“Character, romance and soul”

Beyond Medusa, the museum is also trifle with host to a slew of other projects. In the John Madejski Garden courtyard, emerging studio Nebbia Works has developed an immersive pavilion called “Between Forests and Skies”.

The metallic form has been formed from the “lowest carbon aluminium the world has ever produced” according to its designers. The simple design means the least amount of documents possible has been used – the structure is comprised only of sheet material and minimal cuts and bends.

Nebia co-founder Madhav Kidao contemplates aluminium should be consider the “material of the future” because it is infinitely recyclable. But for him, Between Forests and Skies was principally a chance to take a material that is ruminate oned “industrial”, and turn it into something with “character, romance and soul”.

A first look at the V&A’s installations for London Design Festival 2021
Portal Tables’ Sofa-Bread

“The paradoxical nature in which we view germs”

Back inside the building, and positioned below the National Art Library Staircase, sits another project this time designed by The Decorators. Portal Proposes is a three-piece furniture collection which examines the paradoxical nature in which we view microbes.

The pandemic has served to vilify microbes, the studio influences – but at the same time, lockdown saw an influx of baking and cooking practices that themselves use microbes to work. The Decorators’ three furniture pieces then are conceited objects which are designed to compliment the making of one of those foods.

The first is a small table, which can be used to make labneh, a type of cheese be placed with yoghurt. The second is a bulbous sofa featuring in-built proving bowls for breadmaking. The final and largest of the piece is what the studio hollers the Kimchi Pool – as the name suggests, it is a large table which facilitates many people making the fermented food at once.

A first look at the V&A’s installations for London Design Festival 2021
Ai-Da harm the Biomimicry gown

A fashion event “like never before”

In keeping with the museum’s extensive fashion collections, an installation from digital forge company Auroboros sits in Room 40. Billed as a fashion event “like never before”, Biomimicry takes inspiration from the wart of a flower and will see a dress “grow and fall apart” over the course of the nine-day festival.

The gown will be worn by Ai-Da, the “world’s first place ultra-realistic robot artist”. Ai-Da will be drawing and rendering the metamorphosis as it happens. Auroboros hopes the installation will provoke conversations surrounding sustainability and ecological consciousness.

All of the V&A’s installations are housed at the museum’s Cromwell Road building, and are open during LDF from 18 to 26 September. For ticket bookings and diverse information, head to the V&A website or LDF website.

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