Review: Super Contemporary @ Design Museum

Dean Nicholas
By Dean Nicholas Last edited 108 months ago
Review: Super Contemporary @ Design Museum

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Head To Toe
Super Contemporary is the Design Museum's triumphant summer show, a look at the white-hot edge of British design while casting a nostalgic view through rose-tinted glasses at a half century of quality craftsmanship.

The gallery's modest space looks in danger of being overwhelmed by the material on display. Wrapped around the edges is a comprehensive timeline that trawls through the museum's ample archive to present the definitive resume of British design, laid out along architectural, artistic, and aesthetic axes; curiously, the detail telescopes as we near the present, suggesting that the we're reaching the most fecund moment of our creative exertions only now. It's an idea not wholly supported by the show's central conceit: the curators invited 15 leading practitioners, each born, schooled and / or discovered in London, and asked them to design something which would "give back" to the city that bequeathed them their livelihoods.

Among the more interesting proposals are the most improbable: Nigel Coates' reinvention of Battersea Power Station as the Batterseum, a pantheistic amusement park — think Church meets Crescent meets Chessington World of Adventures — is even more unlikely than the Rafael Vinoly eco-tower project, while the gravity-defying Horatio's Garden by El Ultimo Grito floating above Trafalgar Square would certainly give dear Nelson a new view but might cause seizures in a certain Royal personage. Another winsome idea come from Paul Dixon, whose idea of marrying the smooth lines of the Bentley Mark IV's body with the chassis of a milk float in order to cut down emissions sounds fine, until you envisage the whine of a hundred emasculated motors clogging the city's streets.

Some ideas are already in place around the capital, including Ross Philips' Head To Toe booths (pictured), in Covent Garden, Selfridges and the Idea Store, whose cameras at foot, waist, and head level turn Londoners into a living version of the old Surrealist "exquisite corpse" game. A more ingenious use of video cameras comes from Neville Brody who, inspired by the (now discredited) canard that Londoners are filmed 300 times per day, built the Freedom Space, a circular booth in which people are wittingly filmed, with their movements and conversations publically broadcast.

Lots of originality then, but few things that could claim to be worthy projects, though Paul Cocksedge's umbrella replacement would be a worldwide sensation if it worked. One exception that could and should make the jump from conception to reality is the K9 Post Office Kiosk by Industrial Facility. This idea takes the classic, Gilbert Scott-designed red phone booth and repurposes it into a petite post office, with the user, speaking to a remote operator via video screen, able to perform simple tasks like renewing car tax or paying for parcel shipments. It neatly solves two current dilemmas, namely the closure of post offices and what to do with a familiar piece of underused street furniture, engaging both culturally and politically with the landscape, and comes up with an innovative, reassuringly British solution. If only the show's other entries had been so well thought out.

Super Contemporary is at the Design Museum, SE1 2YD (map), from today until 4th October. Entry is between £4 and £6.

Last Updated 03 June 2009