A Tower of Babel of 3,000 bone china buildings at the V&A by artist Barnaby Barford

A major sculptural installation created for the V&A by artist Barnaby Barford will be displayed in the Museum’s Medieval & Renaissance Galleries from this September.

The Tower of Babel will be composed of 3,000 individual bone china buildings, each measuring up to 13cm tall and depicting a real London shop. Barford has photographed over 6,000 shopfronts in the process of making the Tower, cycling over 1,000 miles to visit every postcode in London. The photographs are being created as ceramic transfers and fired onto fine bone china in Stoke-on-Trent, manufactured by 1882 Ltd, to produce the individual shops.

The Tower will reflect London’s society and economy, inviting visitors to view themselves as consumers. At its base, the shops will be derelict, while at its pinnacle will be 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 likens efforts to find fulfilment through consumerism with the biblical Tower of Babel’s attempt to reach heaven.

The Tower of Babel depicts London’s streets in the early 21st century, cataloguing a variety of types of shops, including independent shops, department stores, and charity shops and those that have been left derelict. Each of the unique ceramic pieces will be available to purchase through the V&A Shop, blurring the lines of art and commerce. More affordable properties will be situated at the base of the Tower and the more prestigious but less affordable towards the top.

Describing the installation, Barford said: “This is London in all its retail glory, our city at 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.”

Barford works primarily with ceramics to create pieces that explore all aspects of society. Graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2002, he has since exhibited his work internationally and more recently had a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia, USA. Barford is currently represented by David Gill Gallery and since 2004, Barford has taught as an associate lecturer at Central St Martins, London.

Image credit: Andy Dunn

Image credit: Andy Dunn


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