EST. 2009

January 27, 2016

That Diary of Decoration

"IT'S BASICALLY THE NEW BARCELONA - minus the Brit stag and hen parties." was how the Evening Standard recently described Lisbon, the hilly coastal city that enjoys an average of 2,800 sunshine hours per year. The westernmost capital city of Continental Europe, Lisbon is also one of the most affordable, offering a standard 500 ml serving of beer at 2 Euros or less. unfortunately doesn't list an official average price for a glass of house wine but I can at least say from experience that you don't need to overspend for a decent red or white.

Having lived three and a half years in Barcelona, and visiting thrice before doing so, I did find many similarities between the Catalan city and the Portuguese capital; Lisbon's Marquês de Pombal particularly reminded me of Barcelona's Zona Alta, which is still sometimes home in my night-time dreams. But it was precisely the similarities that made the differences more apparent. Lisbon is distinct from Barcelona, and any other city I've visited, in its use of decoration. Whether embellishing surfaces or configuring the city's actual topography, adornment seems inherent to the Lisboeta, lending pattern, color or texture to every step, glance or panorama.

The hand-lain calçada portuguesa pavement decorates sidewalks and squares with patterns in black and white stone. Ceramic tiles or azulejos, in colorful geometries or religious and historical depictions, cover both building façades and interiors. Sumptuous Manueline ornamentation, incorporating oceanic, maritime, botanical and Christian motifs, texturize churches, castles, convents and the fortified Belém Tower. Even the buildings cascading down Lisbon's hillsides appear like ornaments on the slopes.

While too much embellishment can be tacky, what Lisbon seems to have mastered is harmony. In "Art: Perception and Appreciation", the authors assert that harmony may be achieved through repetition, and indeed Lisbon's colors, patterns and details are so regularly repeated that they manifest as texture rather than independent elements.

Considering that eighty-five percent of Lisbon's buildings were destroyed in the great earthquake of 1755, with a subsequent fire burning down surviving churches, palaces, hospitals and the opera house, most of what can be seen in Lisbon today are no more than 250 years old. Home to two World Heritage Sites and a plethora of hand-worked embellishments, the city is undoubtedly committed to its aesthetic aspects, with relative devotion to its crafts.

But is it in fact "the new Barcelona?" To most visitors, perhaps. Adornment after all is also one characteristic of Barcelona's Modernisme. Personally though, I have a much too superficial experience of Lisbon to compare it to a city that is still subconsciously home to me. But for imparting the familiarity I secretly long for, and for delighting me with a new perspective on decoration, I couldn't have been happier to be there.

Alfama, Chiado, Rossio Square, Praça do Comércio, Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara and Torre de Belém, Lisbon. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

January 12, 2016

That Golden Recovery

CLOSING THE GAP BETWEEN FUNCTION AND ORNAMENTATION, Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold-infused lacquer. The practice adheres to the philosophy of treating breakage and repair as natural parts of an object's history, rather than incidents whose evidence is to be concealed.

While essentially functional, Kintsugi is appreciated for imparting new aesthetic qualities onto objects. The Washington Post even suggests that in its origin days, Japanese collectors "developed such a taste for kintsugi that some were accused of deliberately breaking prized ceramics, just to have them mended in gold." Such acts would be contrary to both Kintsugi's philosophy and origins, but perhaps deliberate breakage is just another kind of event in an object's lifespan.

Contemporary artist TJ Volonis conducts studies on Kintsugi, applying the joinery techniques to sculpture and reclaimed tiles. Mixing lacquer with pure silver or 24-karat gold, the resulting pieces seem devoid entirely of function, while also leaving ambiguous whether the breakage was deliberate or incidental. Gold-mended marble or slate look more like objets d'art than building material, and the ceramic heart labelled "Not For Sale - Collection of the Artist" sounds precious and prized.

In a culture where disposable items, fast fashion and quick technological turnovers are the norm, a good repair is ever so rare. Breakage is inevitable with objects, as with anyone or anything. Hearts not exempt.

Mend the cracks. Join pieces back into a whole. Just think of Kintsugi should you ever feel embarrassment, guilt or shame over a recovery. A good history is golden, however flawed.

Repaired Heart, Kintsugi Study #4) and Kintsugi Study #2 by TJ Volonis,

December 28, 2015

Those Interlocking Influences

INTERLOCKING THE INFLUENCES OF COCO CHANEL AND KARL LAGERFELD, Mademoiselle Privé was described by The Guardian as "less a retrospective of a long-dead designer than an exhibition about how Karl Lagerfeld invented the character Coco Chanel as we think of her today." Indeed, the exhibit combined history and imagination in presenting the origins and manifestations of Chanel's codes.

There were rooms dedicated to fragrance, fabric, film and ephemera, as well as workshops for embroidery with Lesage, feather and flower making with Lemarié, and olfactive enlightenment through the legendary Chanel N°5. My favorite of the rooms was the jardin à la française, which featured interlocking C-shaped pathways curving through real hedges.

With only a few pieces remaining from the original Bijoux de Diamants collection designed by Coco Chanel herself, the entire jewelry line was recreated for the exhibit and worn in portraits by celebrities including Julianne Moore, Vanessa Paradis, Kristen Stewart and Lily-Rose Depp. Also replicated was the famed mirrored staircase from which Coco Chanel secretly watched her fashion show audiences. The rest of her Rue Cambon apartment could be visited virtually through the Mademoiselle Privé app.

To most of the world, Chanel is a sphere one could only peer into through pictures and videos. The exhibit at Saatchi Gallery was a delightfully accessible way to "C the World" built in turns by Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld. Although taking its title from the "Mademoiselle Privé" sign Coco hung on the door of her atelier to work undisturbed, the exhibit was anything but unwelcoming. Chanel CEO Bruno Pavlovsky affirmed: "We felt it was a good time for the brand to give away some secrets."

Mademoiselle Privé at the Saatchi Gallery, October 13 - November 1, 2015. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.



December 27, 2015

That Heavy Art

90 TONS OF REBAR STACKED IN UNDULATING FASHION recall seismic waves. On each side of the room stretch a list of names: 5,000 students whose lives had been taken by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. From the rubble where the poorly-built school had collapsed, Ai Weiwei and his team collected mangled steel rods, straightening each one by hand, and assembling them into a field of rusting metal. The installation, entitled Straight, is peaceful, poignant and powerful. It commemorates the lives lost while presenting a symbolic act of making what's crooked straight again.

Such is the nature of Ai Weiwei's art, with over two decades of it brought together for a first major UK exhibition. Inspired by Marcel Duchamp, Ai Weiwei works with readymade objects to create, assemble or simply present challenging themes through the condition of Chinese life. Souvenir of Shanghai is made with concrete, brick and woodwork taken from the site where the artist's studio was demolished by authorities in 2011. Tree comprises bolted parts of different trees, alluding to the modern Chinese nation of ethnically diverse groups. Bicycle Chandelier illustrates the bike's fallen/risen status as a chief mode of transport now a luxury afforded only by a few.

The works inspire awe for their scale and shock value; the exhibit also shows pieces like Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, which features three consecutive photographs of the artist dropping an urn, possibly from the Han Dynasty. But past the striking first impressions, the artworks provoke thought or inspiration. "The message should be carried through knowledge, not just visual." explained Ai Weiwei, well-known to have been many times held or beaten by authorities for expressing ardent, provocative messages.

Appropriately so, there was no social media censorship at the exhibition. Where museums and galleries nowadays tend to prohibit the social sharing of exhibit assets, Ai Weiwei's art is hashtag friendly. "In today’s condition, I do not think that anybody can stop the exchange of ideas." says the artist.

With ideas of all sorts cluttering online and offline spaces, the challenge for most of us is not perhaps in exchanging ideas, but in dedicating more energy towards ideas worth exchanging.

Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy of Arts, September 19 - December 13, 2015. Photos by Lady San Pedro.



December 26, 2015

That Past, Present, Future

IT'S THE PAST. IT'S THE PRESENT. IT'S THE FUTURE. Louis Vuitton Series 3 - Past, Present, Future brought together all three in an immersive exhibition reinterpreting the fashion show. Third in artistic director Nicolas Ghesquière's Series installations, the exhibit showcased the influences and creative process behind the house's Autumn-Winter 2015 collection.

Craftsmen in film, and in person, meticulously created luxurious leather goods. Models put on an infinite runway show on multiple screens. 3D-printed "avatars" melded out of walls with eye candy accessories. It's thematic how past, present and future were assembled in the exhibit. Past existed in heritage influences and the creative process, present manifested through a collection currently available in-store, and future radiated through technology, all stamped with the Louis Vuitton savoir faire.

"This isn't about celebrating the heritage of Louis Vuitton - we've done that and we do that but it's not what the exhibition is about." explained Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke. "This isn't a Vuitton lesson. I just want them to feel it."

The feeling was definitely there, of curiosity and desire. Watching "Artists' Hands" construct the petite malle felt strangely hypnotic, as did watching the models walk on loop like life-sized GIFs. The 13-room journey through Series 3 transcended many aspects of the fashion show, from schedule to duration and accessibility. Where traditional shows offer short previews to a limited audience, months before a collection is available, the exhibit provided the public a month-long presentation of what they can actually purchase in the present.

Perhaps "the future" also figures in the exhibit's transendence of a fashion show. It's not something that whizzes by in minutes, captured by a hashtagging front row. We're not seeing it through our mobile phones while sitting in a bus or loitering in bed. "In this digital era, fashion shows are diffused online and immediately accessible for the public." Points out Ghesquière. "But it takes more than that to feel the ambiance and share the intense creativity, energy and emotion around one show."

Besides, you can't taste food off a screen. Those light bites on that Louis Vuitton menu were actually quite yum. #onetrackmind

Louis Vuitton Series 3 - Past, Present, Future at 180 Strand, September 21 - October 18, 2015. Photos by Lady San Pedro.