“London is the Tower of Babel in reverse. People come from the furthest corners of the planet, unified in the language of commerce.”
Barnaby Barford’s lofty introduction to his most recent project gives an immediate indication of both its scale and scope. By transposing and adapting for the present day one of the Old Testament’s most instantly recognisable stories, the London-based artist sought to provide his own idiosyncratic commentary on the mecca of spending that the UK capital has seemingly become, in the heart of one of the city’s most revered artistic institutions.
The Tower of Babel, a six-metre high structure that dominated the V&A Museum’s Medieval & Renaissance Galleries for eight weeks between September and November 2015, was the spectacular fruit of Barford’s labour. Made up of 3,000 individual bone china buildings, each depicting a real storefront photographed by the artist on his travels around London, it stood as a poignant monument to the economic hierarchy that continues to govern the city. With empty shops and pound stores at its base, and luxury boutiques and galleries at its summit, it is impossible, says Barford, to “look at the tower passively; it forces you to confront where you fit into this hierarchy of consumption.”
In a further blurring of the lines between art and commerce, each of the 3,000 buildings was made available for purchase for the duration of the exhibition, with its price reflective of its position in the larger tower.
Nirvana were asked to produce the presentation boxes that would house these highly collectible, one-off pieces, each hand-signed and numbered by the artist himself. With five different sizes of building available for purchase, we set about creating a single, adaptable design with an interchangeable gusset capable of holding each of the different variants. “In 200 years’ time, it is going to look exactly the same,” says Barford in his video introduction, “but it is instantly broken if you smash it.” No pressure, then.
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