On the @V_and_A’s British Design exhibition: thoughts on the past and future

A few factoids that I gleaned from the British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age exhibition at the V&A recently, and some related thoughts:

Robert Freeman’s work on the sleeve for the Beatles’ album ‘Help‘ involved them standing to form flag semaphores that eventually spelt ‘NUJV’ instead of ‘HELP’ because he felt the latter didn’t look good enough. Wikipedia further informs me ‘the original photograph used on the UK album was reverse printed. Holding it up to a mirror reveals the letters LPUS – “Help Us”‘.

RCA student John Pasche designed the famous ‘lips’ Rolling Stones logo on a brief from Mick Jagger who showed him an image of the Goddess Kali as inspiration, it being suitably anti-establishment. The V&A bought the original artwork in 1970 for $92,500.

Director Hugh Hudson made a film about the impact of British design in everyday life of the ’60’s before he went on to make the award-winning Chariots of Fire. The exhibition itself took us through the work of British artists and companies such as Laure Ashley, Jasper Conran, Vivienne Westwood and David Hockney amongst others, but the overall message made itself apparent throughout (as the film states at its introduction): good design speaks for itself.

The British obsession with modernity was well-documented in the Festival of Britain in 1951, yet people still had a reverence for tradition. The Queen’s coronation in 1953 was as traditional as they come, complete with sceptre, orb, jewels and crown. And London prepares for the very same Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations next week, even as I’ve been observing the slow growth of interest in the future. I can’t help wondering how this duality has somehow continued to hold strong. Bruce Sterling captures it especially well:

….historical analogy, is radically inaccurate yet also dangerously seductive, because people are profoundly attached to the seeming stability of the past. In practice, though, our ideas of what has already happened are scarcely more solid than our predictions of tomorrow. If futurism is visionary, history is revisionary.

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