Saturday, December 6, 2008

Going to the V&A

So I did go to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and it turned out to be quite exactly four times as big as I thought it was on my last visit.

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They have an amazing collection of status symbols through the ages... especially things that a master craftsman made to show his skill and then gave to royalty and then probably dropped dead from sheer exhaustion. Like the masterpiece of a Parisian craftsman, a trilobite shell set in gilded silver to make a tiny tall ship with all the rigging, carried on the back of a small silver mermaid... and only when you look very very closely you can see that by the main mast two people the size of thumb-nails are playing a game of chess. Yes, you can just about tell that it is chess.

This chair, however, is not unique.

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I made sure to sketch it BEFORE reading what it was, just to give myself a chance to capture the utter weirdness of it (don't think I quite did). I called it The Uneasy Chair, because that's what it looked like quite exactly. It's upholstered in black velvet, and made completely from horns and antlers otherwise, spilling sharply in all directions, with screaming hog faces carved into the ends. - Apparently (as noted down here) it was the kind of thing one would have in a German hunting lodge around 1860 if one could afford to have it made. Which made me wonder - surely under any circumstances sitting in one of these would instantly unleash something to turn you into a minor Dark Lord? Was that intentional? Must have been.
Which got me thinking about status symbols, and how through the ages and places of the human world they have some similarities... you want something portable if possible (or else furniture) that you can whip out or flash for some reason (short sword covered in silver octopi with back-of-dragon-misted blade, owl-shaped teapot, silver time-piece), made from rare materials, tiny tiny or with incredible detail at least (miniature portraits, samurai armor, that silver tall-ship with rigging and chess) or insanely massive (cast of a roman column that only fits into house in separate parts) - but tiny is better on the whole because you can have more of it. If it's intimidating (the dark lord's screaming hog and antler uneasy lodge chair) you're good. If it is the final effort of a legendary grand master of his craft, you're likely the Queen of the Empire.
Which makes me wonder if somewhere out there are a load of people racking their brains how to get mobile phones made by old master craftsmen. Or rather, how to train someone for ten years in the mountains somewhere to make mobile phones.

Anyway. Here's a silver cow creamer and a Taiwanese tiger warrior.

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I could have spent the whole visit just looking at the samurai stuff. I never realised before that if you look at a samurai armor from far away, it makes a good shape - then you get closer, and you notice it's made out of different parts which all make shapes - then you get closer and it's made of silk and leather and fur and tassles - then you get closer and the leather is actually fish-skin - and even closer it is embossed with tiny dragon-flies... then you bump your head on the glass display case, and you'll never know if there's a Japanese novel inscribed along the hems.

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Got some research done in any case, and as you see, the Sleepwalkers are gearing up to return, and because drawn objects are free, they will have some really, really good kit, and the Sleepwalking house will have some interesting new rooms.