In our beloved V&A museum, there’s a glowing neon sign overseeing the balcony of the entrance lobby that spells out the words “All of This Belongs to You.” Its artist Ugo Rondinone uses bold, white lights to attract our attention and query whether all of this truly belong to us, or the state.
Martin Roth, director of the V&A said, “All of This Belongs to You” is about using art, design and architecture to open up the truly public space of our Museum as a platform for debate. This subversive exhibition reminds British taxpayers of the unlimited access they have to the world of art and history, for free. As part of the build-up to the UK elections (May 7) the exhibition, encompassing a series of commissions, installations and events, evaluates the responsibilities of public institutions in contemporary life and the civic infrastructure of the country.
Australian artist and ecologist Natalie Jeremijenko questions why some museums exclude natural life through her habitat installation on Exhibition Road “Ag Bags”. Her “Phenological Clock” (at the main entrance) depicts 12-months in the life cycle of plants and pollinating insects.
Jorge Otero-Pailos installation focuses on architectural preservation and museum’s duty of care. His “Ethics of Dust” is a latex cast of the unseen interior of the V&A’s largest piece: the Ancient Roman Trajan’s Column. It is a plaster cast exhibiting the passage of time and the dust and dirt that has accumulated over the decades, and also brings to our attention the reluctance from society to deal with certain issues unless they are visible.
Liza Fior, co-founder of architecture and art practice Muf delivers her pieces “More than one (fragile) thing at a time,” which takes place in the Medieval and Renaissance galleries. It focuses on existing sculptures of standing figures and fountain by hosting a series of activities. Fior’s thinking is to bring items and elements that are missing from the historical pieces to the museum. These components make up their context such as weathering, war conflict or other relatable items from its home. She has implemented cushions and chairs for people (and children) to sit on in the galleries as they take part in learning activities to bring out Fior’s ideas and allow the public to reflect on these works in this unconventional way.
James Bridle’s work connects objects from the diverse range of the V&A’s galleries. Set in the tapestries gallery, his installation “Five Eyes” (vam.ac.uk/hyper-stacks) stems from utilizing algorithmic software to draw connections between the 1.4 million digital records of the V&A’s collection, seeking relationships between words, surveillance data and the V&A’s archives. Its name derives from the five major global intelligence agencies, which have this technology. On display are a few interesting objects that Bridle’s software came up with including an ivory lion, atomic man and Indian boomerangs. These objects highlight the role of surveillance states (past and future) and the overall influence of the state.
Other pieces include three displays and two online art commissions. Among the 40 new acquisitions include a silk scarf created by a Dutch graphic design collective, Metahaven, which supports and funds the whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks. Also on loan is the Guardian newspaper’s hard drives that were destroyed as ordered by the British government that document the leaks from Edward Snowden. In the “Ways to be Secret” section the V&A looks at the act of sharing online media versus online privacy through high-tech objects including a USB condom, a device that prevents data being extracted from a memory stick.
A contemporary architectural section analyses urbanization projects and the way public space plays a role in society in Ways to be Public. This includes a variety of pieces including a copy of the Independent newspaper with a headline photograph of Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian Embassy where he claimed asylum. 25 objects are also placed around the museum to highlight “Civic Objects.” This includes a skateboard that symbolizes the 2013 campaign to save the historic home of skateboarders located under London’s Southbank.
Amongst the range of works and items on display is an ambitious idea that is scattered purposefully throughout the museum. Although these pieces are unrelated by genre, history or period the one thing that pulls them together is that they, supposedly, ‘belong to us’.
The methodology in which these pieces are arranged transforms the exhibition into a, somewhat, culture treasure hunt with some pieces you wouldn’t normally expect to see exhibited in the V&A. It’s dispersed approach allows viewers to see more of the V&A and unlock hidden curiosities we might not have seen before. With some objects attached to some great ideas, whilst others tied down to more trivial ones, the exhibition asks spectators to question the role of public institutions in the political sense whilst simultaneously thinking about who should run the country.