When I was studying in London, the Victoria & Albert Museum opened its furniture galleries. I had become increasingly interested in modernist furniture. I enjoyed Le Corbusier but found wood more appealing. A trip to Kettle’s Yard had satisfied and continued my taste in wooden modernism. I looked forward to seeing the V&A chart the history of furniture. I cycled down from college, skirting around traffic and pedestrians on Exhibition Road and pulled up outside the museum. In the entrance hall, I took a moment to look up. I always try to look up. Here I was ringed by Edmund de Waal’s installation of white vessels, sat within red and placed in the domed roof above the ticket desk. I had come to see furniture but was prepared to stop at ceramics.
As a child, my parents brought me to the V&A. Our house was one dotted with ceramics. Ornamental plates rested on bookcases; a one eyed lion named Nelson sat on a windowsill and figurines, repainted by my mother, appeared throughout the house. In the museum’s ceramics gallery, my mother showed me the wider families of these pieces. It was interesting but they were fussy and decorative and served only to be looked at. At home, the pieces provided paused moments. I held the objects and studied them. I turned them in my hands and looked for seam-lines and discrepancies in the painting. But, behind glass, they lost me. It was the earthenware pieces and plain teapots that got me. Simple and beautiful in shape and finish, they could be used and asked to be handled. It was almost saddening to see them behind glass.
As an adult and with a bicycle parked up, I walked through the ceramics, to the new furniture gallery. In the glass cabinets, I noted the ornate pieces that I had seen throughout my childhood and the simple, utilitarian pieces that I enjoyed so much. In the furniture gallery, I walked through the different periods, the varying styles and materials. There were the heavily carved and decorative, dark wooden chairs that spoke of historic drawing rooms and dynasties. But, as with the ceramics, it was the minimally decorative pieces that had function and form at their centre. These are the pieces that can be used and their construction enjoyed. Their material is at the fore and celebrated without decorations.
As it is too, with Isatu Hyde and Kai Venus-Demetrio’s work. Theirs echoes the utilitarian pieces of furniture and ceramics of the museum but also brings quiet contemplation. Things can be monastic without involving God or religion. Experiences are full of reverie and thought without being hung on belief. Experiences like this extend to making, especially when this is solitary. Material and form are deeply considered. Function and usability are tested and resolved. These pieces by Isatu and Kai, provide paused moments in which to examine and pay attention to the details of construction.