Parts of a Whole

Evolving the legacy of Sir John Soane

September 2015
What is the potential of fragmentary information, and how does our imagination clarify the incomplete? An exhibition at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London explores these ideas, taking his eclectic, diverse collection of curiosities as a point of departure. Each ancient fragment within the museum draws an incomplete yet intriguing picture of the whole. While being highly disparate, the pieces seem to embody something significantly bigger, inviting us to speculate, imagine, and eventually form our own interpretation as to what that is.
Sir John Soane’s museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, is quite the opposite of a neatly organised, didactically structured museum. Loaded with antiquities, artworks, and seemingly random finds, this is the place where one of Britain’s most original architects lived and worked, and where over the years he accumulated his eccentric collection, until his death in 1837. When visitors now come to see Soane’s precisely restored private rooms (recently opened), they’re surprised to find a very contemporary conversation with the architect happening on the ground floor. Through their Workshop for Potential Design, Bernadette Deddens and Tetsuo Mukai organised a group exhibition that mirrors Soane’s legacy by looking at the fragments from different angles.
One can easily be overwhelmed by John Soane’s diverse domain. Visiting the place that was once his home, workplace, and personal museum, feels like walking straight into the mind of a genius with an endless imagination. Each of his rooms is an architectural cabinet of curiosities in which the brain is stimulated by the most wondrous objects one can think of. A griffin’s claw, some old teeth, an architectural model… all were equally important to Soane due to both their outer form and inner history. John Soane’s library of objects teaches us to see through things, to question the familiar and to search for the unsuspected.
[caption id="attachment_9436" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Timbrephone, by Peter Marigold "pieces", Sir John Soane's Museum The exhibition mirrors the architect's legacy through contemporary objects. Timbrephone, by Peter Marigold "pieces", Sir John Soane's Museum The exhibition mirrors the architect's legacy through contemporary objects.[/caption]
London-based Bernadette Deddens and Tetsuo Mukai, initiators of the exhibition called “pieces”, had intensely studied Soane’s collection and decided to focus on the character of the fragments, commissioning four other local designers and artists to come up with a piece that could communicate with the existing domestic room. A loose brief, on the one hand, and a quite dominant space, on the other – that was the curatorial challenge. The duo’s own piece demonstrates how playfully they responded: a set of building blocks, familiar in shape and size, where the blocks are made of glass and partly painted with artificial wood grain. Stacked and assembled, they create a mysterious pattern of shadows and surfaces that can’t be clearly defined. Deddens and Mukai had understood Soane’s architecture, art, and interior elements as an invitation to speculate and form own versions of these. Which is exactly what Gemma Holt did. She designed a group of vessels made of sections of architectural marble. Solids and voids, used in an alternative way, make a whole in the shape of a vase or a simple block. Do these items perhaps refer to Soane’s mantelpiece that occurs directly in the background? We can only guess. If Soane had known about 3D scanning, he would certainly have liked the idea of experimenting with the technique for the purpose of learning more about his beloved objects.
Sam Jacob scanned and reproduced a railing finial found outside the house where Vladimir Lenin once lived, achieving a gloomy effect – scaled up, as it is, the original urn form appears sombre and ungraspable. Peter Marigold created a xylophone with found objects: a bathing shoe, an old bike pump, and a beer bottle, amongst other things, are organised according to timbre rather than tone. Looking in the mirror that Soane placed in the Breakfast Room, we can observe ourselves playing the timbrephone while making up stories about these found objects and the sound of their individual values. Paul Elliman’s work depicts the dimensions of various currencies. On display is a series of eroded metal coins, bottle tops, tokens, and a set of stones collected from the streets of London, remnants of the riots of 2011. A stalwart hint that the city’s financial system is at risk? There surely must be a link here to Soane’s Old Bank of England, the building he is most known for: it took 45 years to construct and was soon demolished, as it didn’t offer enough space at the beginning of the 20th century.
Although he was a polarising figure at the time, Sir John Soane wasn’t a radical; he simply enjoyed gathering people together who shared the same enthusiasm for things. In this regard, “pieces” is a thoughtful and dedicated dialogue that doesn’t aim to over-interpret Soane’s heritage, but rather to open a new window to today’s world.
“pieces”, organised by Workshop for Potential Design, at Sir John Soane’s Museum, London until 26 September 2015.
[caption id="attachment_9437" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Sam Jacob, Lenins Urn A railing finial (reinterpreted), by Sam Jacob Studio. The historical dimension of the object is depicted anew through 3D-scanning and scaling up. Sam Jacob, Lenins Urn
A railing finial (reinterpreted),
by Sam Jacob Studio.
The historical dimension of the object is depicted anew through 3D-scanning and scaling up.[/caption]