DesignLab: Sky Arts Ignition Memory Palace

V&A Schools ran a DesignLab project this summer in collaboration with Sam Winston, one of the 20 artists asked to make work for Sky Arts Ignition: Memory Palace. The exhibition is a walk-in story that brings to life a new work of fiction by the author Hari Kunzru. The book is set in a dystopian London, describing a world where reading the memories of others is forbidden and by recording your own thoughts you are committing a crime.  Sam was aked to interpret a chapter of the book that describes ‘something sacred and mysterious , called the Great Table of Elements’. In response, he took three seemingly ordinary objects that we ‘worship’ in contemporary culture; a gold watch, a sim card and a book and broke these down into their most basic elements. Connecting to the periodic table or ‘great table of elements’, Sam created a tryptich of type that played both visually and conceptually with the idea of worship, religion and modern science.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The students who took part in the project were yr 12 & 13 students from St Aloysius School in Islington. The group, who are currently studying for AS/A Level Graphic Design were invited to visit the exhibition with Sam to explore the themes of the works on display as well as the processes and techniques used by the artists involved in bringing this text to life. Sam also invited the group to his studio in East London where he was able to explain in more detail the working processes he went throught to approach this unique commission. 

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In order to understand Sam’s practice more deeply, the students were taken through a short workshop at the V&A, which focussed on the final question in the exhibition – if you could keep only one memory what would it be?  With this in mind, the students were asked to write their memory down onto card layered with carbon copy paper. The group created layers of memory using the layers of paper and different techniques as instructed by Sam, revealing their memory drawings at the end.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The  students went on to create two large collaborative works, taking this technique and working together to create collective memory drawings. Sam asked them to think about their memories of the exhibition and the museum and to write these down. Students explored the galleries looking for interesting letter forms, from Islamic calligraphy to 20th Century typography, they returned to layer drawings with key words and texture from prints found in the British Galleries or Pattern gleaned from South East Asia.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Creating the larger drawings showed students how to develop an intial technique and push it further to create a more in depth work. The final pieces were content rich and really examined both the exhibition itself and Sam Winston’s working practice.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The DesignLab: Memory Palace workshop was great for two reasons. One was being able to work with Sam Winston and visiting his studio, the other was the big piece we did on the final day. Sam’s studio was the first time I had the experience of being in an artist’s work place. It was great we got to see how different artists go through different processes when they’re working, the space they use and some of the equipment they use. The big piece we worked on was great fun. As a group we worked on two big pieces using carbon paper. This was great because it’s the first time as a class we collaborated on a piece and it was great having Sam guiding us through it.’

Yenayetul Shahid

Y12 Graphic Communication student – St Aloysius School

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

For more information about DesignLab, please visit our Schools pages online: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/d/designlab/

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