At this year’s London Design Festival, The V&A wanted to open up some of its hidden spaces to public view and use them to host projects which would create unique experiences. For the museum’s flagship LDF offering they have achieved this – and then some.
To access Keiichi Matsuda’s astonishing Prism installation you go through a door in an unlikely corner of the ceramics gallery and climb up a ridiculously steep, narrow spiral staircase. Finally you come to the piece, suspended in the building’s cupola where it glows and hums in the darkness.
It is made up of different panels of Japanese paper onto which are projected visualisations of a whole host of the city’s data – the level of the River Thames, the wind speed and direction, the availability of Boris bikes and even the energy usage at Number 10 Downing Street. “If the Prime Minister puts the kettle on, we’ll know about it,” the artist jokes.
Keiichi worked with a team of volunteer coders and programmers to design how each visualisation should look and there’s a range of different styles on display. And the very nature of the project means that it changes throughout the day, so it looks very different during the rush hour than late at night.
“This tower is already quite science fiction so I liked the idea of this alien creature living up here feeding off all the data,” Keiichi said. “Its eyes and ears are the sensors all over the city drawing everything up here.”
It’s as fascinating as it is atmospheric but the logistics of setting it up were challenging to say the least. All the material had to be winched from the museum lobby up through the four metre hole which goes into the dome. A team of climbers then worked on setting up a system of aluminium struts as the V&A’s listed status ruled out making any adjustments to the actual building.
The choice of the Japanese paper reflects Keiichi’s interest in craft and his desire to reimagine the word in a cutting-edge context such as a data project. And he also wanted some kind of counterpoint to the data visualisation which comes in the piece’s jaw-dropping finale. Ascending another staircase to the very top of the museum you are presented with an insane panoramic view of the real city, its sprawling mass contrasting with the neat, orderly data on show below.
This is a really thought-provoking piece and will surely be one of the highlights of this year’s festival. Do whatever you can to get a ticket, but just don’t wear high heels…