Creative Translation visits the Memory Palace

Here at Creative we feel honoured to work with some fantastic museums and art galleries, on some really interesting projects. Which is great, because in our free time we love visiting these places, too!


Being a fan of the graphic arts, literature, Sky Arts and the V&A myself, I was interested and intrigued to visit the museum’s current Memory Palace exhibition. The author Hari Kunzru wrote a specially commissioned work of fiction for it, and 20 graphic designers, illustrators and typographers were asked to bring his text to life. The resultant effect, hoped the curators, would be an innovative, “walk-in book”. A novel exhibition, if you will (oh no – I promised myself no puns. Sorry).


I visited on a quiet Saturday morning and, although I felt it a shame that the exhibition hadn’t drawn a greater crowd, from a selfish point of view it did improve my personal enjoyment of it.


Reading a book is generally, of course, a peaceful and solitary activity. It also requires engagement and concentration – something that this exhibition also asks of you. Unless you have read the book, and unless you treat this space as a regular art gallery. In truth it is difficult not to. But that I think is because we are not used to this type of experience. To aid the “immersive” element, the decision to dispense with information labels on the walls was a good one. The artworks’ vital statistics are instead given in a leaflet upon entering the room, thereby encouraging the visitor to regard the art solely as illustrations accompanying the text. Incidentally, the novella’s 10,000 words were reduced to roughly 1,000, which adorn the gallery walls in a chunky and somewhat old-fashioned metal typeface. Someone had taken a letter as a souvenir. I managed to resist the temptation to prise one off and pocket it myself.


The above said, it does fall short of the intended truly immersive experience. Perhaps because there is no sound, but then again books don’t have sound (unless they are audiobooks, bedtime stories or tales told around the campfire, of course. And actually, those children’s books with buttons to press that make noises. But I digress!). The exhibition nevertheless has a lot to offer. I found it more accessible than many other art galleries. Perhaps all commissioned art is easier to connect with, due to knowing the whys and wherefores of its creation, but this is stronger still here, because there is the narrative, and the collective element holding everything together. It also helps if you enjoy the story – set in a future London where an electrical storm has wiped out our global information infrastructure, and reading, writing and remembering the past are banned, the plot centres on a renegade group of ‘memorialists’ who are trying to revive the art of memory.


There is humour in the protagonist’s misremembered definitions from before the storm, such as “Photoshop: A ritual conducted before going out into the world, in which the face and stomach are anointed with a powder called picksels”, or “the City of Westminster” remembered as “the City of Waste Monster”.


But what about the art itself? If you like illustration, typography and graphic design, you’re in luck, because there is plenty of each here.


From Oded Ezer’s wonderfully experimental typographic videos, to artist collective Le Gun’s impressive 3D black and white installation, Peter Bil’ak’s beautiful steel letters and their shadow play, Luke Pearson’s illustration and Sam Winston’s complex and perplexing letterpress plate piece, I can only speak for myself, but I relished this unique opportunity to see the work of these designers displayed in a new – and interrelated – way.


These artists don’t generally enjoy as much exposure in galleries as those of other artistic disciplines do. And even if perhaps the concept of creating a walk-in story was difficult to execute truly successfully, this exhibition has served to showcase these talents to a greater audience. I think the V&A and Sky Arts should be commended on this daring and enjoyable exhibition. More please!