During the London Design Festival in September I was wandering around the V & A when I came upon this wondrous exhibit.
The Tower of Babel is Barnaby Barford’s representation of London today. Barnaby photographed over 6,000 shops whilst making the tower. The 3,000 that made the final installation the photographs were made into ceramic transfers and fired onto bone china. Video here.
At the bottom of the tower are the tiny shops hidden away in London, either derelict or serving the local community with their needs and then rising layer by layer through to the private art galleries and auction houses which sell products fiscally unreachable to all but a very few.
It is true we are a nation of shopkeepers, but it would seem we have become a nation of consumers, no longer happy to make do and mend, it would seem we need to shop, trying to reach fulfillment through retail rather like the biblical Tower of Babel’s attempt to reach heaven. Then I found the most interesting part of this exhibition, one could purchase a shop, which led one down a very interesting conundrum. You see the more expensive the shop, the more expensive the piece. Where do you fit in? Does one buy a cheap and cheerful fried chicken shop tucked away at the bottom of the structure or stump up for a designer shop you know and love. What do you want to be perched on your sideboard, showing your cultural capital to the world? And where, financially, can you afford to stump up to? It must have been an interesting conundrum to all those that played.
Some of course, would have just bought the best and some of a creative bent, but not much in the pocket may well have bought from the bottom of the tower, just wanting to own a piece. But its all those shops in the middle that I find the most fascinating, what led a person down that path, which emotional response directed you to choosing your piece?
And which piece would I love on the mantelpiece above the fire, I aspire to this because of its prettiness, Fortnum and Mason but in reality, affordability and loveliness, the Cookery Nook, and I love the basic honesty of the small independent fruit and vegetable shops that abound in London, to me, they epitomise the hopes and dreams of the average Londoner.