“The two thousand tenants formed a virtually homogeneous collection of well-to-do professional people – lawyers, doctors, tax consultants, senior academics and advertising executives, along with a smaller group of airline pilots, film-industry technicians and trios of air-hostesses sharing apartments. By the usual financial and educational yardsticks they were probably closer to each other than the members of any conceivable social mix, with the same tastes and attitudes, fads and styles – clearly reflected in the choice of automobiles in the parking-lots that surrounded the high-rise, in the elegant but somehow standardized way in which they furnished their apartments, in the selection of sophisticated foods in the supermarket delicatessen, in the tones of their self-confident voices. In short, they constituted the perfect background into which Laing could merge invisibly.”
JG Ballard, “High Rise”.
Blades House, Matthew Darbyshire’s first solo show in a public UK institution takes as a departure the domestic interior of a fictitious, urban middle-class professional in his mid-thirties. The character and his choice of furniture, textiles, art and other paraphernalia are used as a vehicle to address issues of taste, style, aspiration, class distinction and demographic blurring.
The actual floor-plan of Darbyshire’s installation is based on a two-bedroom flat in Blades House which is part of the Kennington Park Estate, next to Gasworks. Darbyshire’s life-size mock-up draws its inspiration from numerous conversions of two-bed council flats into spacious and airy contemporary-style ‘one-beds’.
Our young professional, taking his first step onto the property ladder, could well be inspired by one of the protagonists of JG Ballard’s High Rise. His taste in furniture reflects an endeavour to assimilate and maintain the social standing of his peer group who shares a similar age, upbringing and occupation.
Owing to the recent timing of his purchases, the occupant’s furniture and accessories are invariably unified by a pervading fun, pop-feel colour scheme of deep turquoises, alluring pinks, buttercup yellows, salsa reds, lime greens, ocean blues and bright oranges, not so far away from the eye-bulging CMYKRGB inks that make up the pages of the countless lifestyle magazines he reads, the library facade he keeps meaning to enter, the hoarding on the other ex-authority flats nearby that weren’t high-rise enough to survive regeneration, the estate agent emblem from whom he purchased the flat, the glass he was given free with the McDonalds breakfast he hurriedly bought on his way to work yesterday, the vinyl upholstered Jacobsen egg chair he hoofed it down on, the iPod nano onto which he’s just downloaded tumblin’ dice, having been blown away by it at the Stones O2 gig last week, or the vertical stripes of the public artwork under the bridge.
Not as punk as pop, and not as wacky as Memphis, it is this colour scheme that dominates our material world, which on this occasion interests the artist. By reflecting upon old, new, national and international movements in art, architecture and design, Darbyshire hopes to identify some of the forces which affect our tastes and influence the look and feel of where we live.
As well as containing furniture and accessories from interior decoration stores ranging from George at Asda to Fritz Hansen, Matthew Darbyshire will include his own components alongside those of other artists and designers, thus producing a composition that goes beyond representation, by allowing for gaps, antagonisms and doubts to slip in.
Matthew Darbyshire’s engagement with modern and post-modern design as a social and economical mirror of contemporary society is formalised through a display system – the hypothetical replica of the Blades House flat, once occupied – drawing from London’s Geffrye Museum’s depictions of the quintessential style of English middle-class living rooms from 1600 to 1997. As a proposed continuation of the museum’s chronology, the artist opens a window onto the recent past and the present, one that is notably marked by a tendency for the reuse and remodelling of cultural material.
Matthew Darbyshire graduated in 2005 from the Royal Academy Schools, London after completing his BA (Hons) at the Slade School, London. Recent exhibitions include 2007: Colour and Style, Ibid Projects, Remap (KM), Athens, Greece; Parade Gallery, London; Recreate, Pumphouse Gallery, London; 2006: Minotaur Blood, Fortescue Ave, London; Published and Be Damned, Canal, London.
Wednesday 20 February 2008, 6.30-8.30pm
Matthew Darbyshire in conversation with Melissa Gronlund, critic and associate editor at Afterall. Followed by a panel discussion with Eleanor John, head of collections and exhibitions, Geffrye Museum and Gareth Jones, artist.
Sunday 16 March 2008, 4-6pm
Short films by artist Guy Ben-Ner and filmmaker Jamie Johnson, followed by excerpts of films looking at interior design and its social implications. For more information see the webpage.