Tents and blankets in St James's Park might seem more the province of picnics than Nobel Prize-winning science. But the folks behind Nobel Textiles aren't afraid to be unconventional. The outdoor exhibition showcases the work of 5 designers paired with Nobel scientists under the guidance of the Medical Research Council. As might be expected from such an unusual pairing, the results of their interactions range from the sophisticated and the beautiful to the downright bizarre.
Springing up unexpectedly amongst coffee-seeking suits, holidaymakers and swans on the Mall side of the park, the outdoor tents don't show textiles and wallpapers meant for indoor use to their best advantage. But a beautifully-designed guide (free for visitors to take away) gives the science behind the surface design, and shows these projects to be worth at least a second look. Metabolic Media, a modular structure by Rachel Wingfield designed for growing plants, is more than an upscale trellis: the design incorporates dye-sensitised solar cells which in turn can fuel a pump that mists the plants with a nutrient-rich solution, so that plants can grow without soil, an ideal solution for wannabe urban gardeners. Philippa Brock's luxurious textiles self-assemble and fold in patterns inspired by her work with Sir Aaron Klug, pioneer of molecular structure. Less aesthetically, Shelley Fox's The Fat Map Collection tries to represent the physiological process of losing weight through slashed-up clothing, while Carole Collet's macrame poufs sit like bizarre alien life forms in their glass enclosures.
The exhibition follows on the heels of the Wellcome Collection's recent From Atoms to Patterns, which examined the collaboration between crystallographers and textile designers around the 1951 Festival of Britain. These new projects and their intelligent textile counterparts are in many ways the contemporary versions of those optimistic postwar collaborations, and if not always immediately successful, they're at least a noble effort.
By Rebecca Pohancenik, image of St James Park courtesy of Hazel Tsoi-Wiles
Nobel Textiles: Marrying Scientific Discovery to Design, asa part of the London Design Festival, courtesy of the ICA and Saint James's Park, until 21st September, free. For more information, go to the Nobel Textiles page on the London Design Festival website