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The Tower of Babel by Barnaby Barford, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Tower of Babel consisted of 3,000 individual bone china buildings, each measuring 10 – 13cm tall and depicting a real London shop. Barford photographed over 6,000 shop fronts in the process of making the Tower, cycling over 1,000 miles to visit every postcode in London. The photographs were created as ceramic transfers and fired onto fine bone china to produce the individual shops.

The Tower reflected London’s society and economy, inviting visitors to view themselves as consumers. At its base the shops were derelict, while at its pinnacle were London’s exclusive boutiques and galleries, with the Tower appearing more precarious towards the top. Standing as a monument to the British pastime of shopping, Barford’s ceramic Tower likened efforts to find fulfillment through consumerism with the biblical Tower of Babel’s attempt to reach heaven.

View transcript of video

Describing the installation, Barford said,

'This is London in all its retail glory, our city in the beginning of the 21st century and I’m asking, how does it make you feel? I am overjoyed to be exhibiting in one of the world’s greatest museums, it is fantastic to have the opportunity to explore our contemporary society in such historic surrounds.'

Alun Graves, Senior Curator of the Ceramics and Glass collection at the V&A says of the work:

'Part-sculpture, part-shop display, The Tower of Babel is an act of curated commerce. It’s about retail as a pastime, and the idea of shopping as a means (or not) to attain happiness. It is about how we identify ourselves as consumers and how we construct our sense of self through the choices we make when buying. Ultimately it’s about who we are, and where we position ourselves in the extraordinary metropolis that is London.'

The Tower of Babel: Installation Time-lapse

Read more about the Tower of Babel project on Barnaby Barford's Blog

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