Tuesday, 8:00am
19 February 2013

Walk-in book

In the V&A’s upcoming ‘Memory Palace’, twenty illustrators and designers will give graphic form to Hari Kunzru’s post-apocalyptic narrative.


The idea for the Memory Palace exhibition, which opens this summer at the V&A, came from a desire to find different ways of showing contemporary graphics and illustration in a museum context, write Ligaya Salazar and Laurie Britton Newell.

We were aware that displaying this type of material in a group show can be far from engaging. Books and printed matter are often displayed out of context, trapped in perspex cases and behind panes of glass, while graphics that make varying statements can compete for attention. One way of dealing with some of these challenges is to commission new works that can come together collectively to communicate different parts of the same message.

Le Gun, Ambulance.
Top: Mario Wagner, Room 11 (crop).


Throughout our research, we kept coming back to what predominantly connects the fields of graphic design and illustration; their inherent link to storytelling and the world of books. In response we had the idea to create an exhibition that would bring to life a new work of fiction, a sort of walk-in book. So we commissioned Hari Kunzru to write a story that would be visually interpreted by multiple practitioners.

The plot of the Kunzru’s post-apocalyptic story is set in London, several hundred years after the world’s information infrastructure has been wiped out by an immense magnetic storm. The resulting social breakdown has led to a dark age, a world where writing and the very act of remembering is banned by those in charge. The central character is in prison, a member of an illegal group who practice the ‘art of memory’ to try and preserve as much of the past as they can.

Némo Tral, The Limpicks.


We are now working with twenty practitioners, each of whom we have paired with a passage from the text. Some of the central passages of dialogue in the story have been given to the children’s book illustrator Alexis Deacon and the graphic novelist Luke Pearson. Typographers Oded Ezer and Hansje van Halem are developing a series of films and ceramic floor tiles that respond to misremembered words and definitions that feature in the story.

The remaining commissioned designers and illustrators include Åbäke, Peter Biľak (see Reputations, Eye 75), Francesco Franchi, Isabel Greenberg, Jim Kay, Johnny Kelly, Erik Kessels, Na Kim, Stuart Kolakovic, Frank Laws, Le Gun, Stefanie Posavec, Némo Tral, Henning Wagenbreth, Mario Wagner and Sam Winston.

It was integral that the sequence of the story and the design of the exhibition were the focus of the project’s early developmental stages. We brought in architect C. J. Lim of Studio 8 Architects to do the 3D design of the exhibition and Sara De Bondt studio to do the 2D design and the exhibition publication. As a result, the words from Kunzru’s story and the twenty new commissions of graphic design and illustration will come together in a story that can be walked through, observed and read.

Stefanie Posavec, The Withering and The Wilding.


Sky Arts Ignition: Memory Palace opens at the V&A 18 June and continues until 20 October 2013.

Mario Wagner, Room 11.


To read more about the contributors, see Luke Pendrell’s review of Le Gun ‘Room with a collective view’ in Eye 80 and ‘Circle logic’ about Stefanie Posavec from the Eye blog in Eye 38). See also the feature ‘A certain smile’ on Sara De Bondt in Eye 80.

Laurie Britton Newell and Ligaya Salazar are curators at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

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