Hella Jongerius breathes life into colour at the Design Museum
Theory of Colour, conceived by the German poet Goethe in 1810, set out to explore colour, shadow and reflection, their other dimensions and how they impact on our emotions. Turner and Kandinsky, amongst other painters, took much from Goethe’s observations. Later Le Corbusier continued to further explore colour theory. The Swiss architect went as far as to create his own palette in 1931 so he could see how careful applications of colour internally can alter our perception of space.
Now, acclaimed Berlin-based designer Hella Jongerius is challenging us to take a fresh look at colour. She wants us to view it in relation to light, shadow, time; to the shape of an object and to design. Her installation-based exhibition Breathing Colour at the Design Museum in London asks us to observe colours, not in the rigid way they tend to be named, coded and numbered, but in a much more fluid form saying: ‘I rebel against the flatness of the colour industry.’
Jongerius is interested in how industrial design can better respond to our emotions and Breathing Colour draws on fifteen years of her research into this subject. She’s been working with a colourimetry phenomenon called metamerism that describes the effect when two colours appear the same even if different when viewed in various conditions. We’ve all experienced buying an item that appears a certain colour in the shop but finding it a different shade at home.
Whereas mainstream companies tend to see metamerism as a problem, therefore, resorting to using quite a flat colour, Jongerius feels we should be embracing this idea instead. She says: ‘As a designer, I want to make a plea for plastics, varnishes and paints to use layered pigments that provide intense colours that are allowed to breathe with changing light.’
To demonstrate all this, the vast space on the lower ground of the Design Museum has been transformed into three scenes: morning, noon and evening. The spaces allow the colours to breathe through the use of clever light design and painted wall by KT.Colour, a Swiss company that rejects mass, industrial methods of paint-making.
Jongerius has placed a series of objects in various shapes and sizes to further demonstrate the changeability of colours. The shape of these objects completely alter depending on which room we’re viewing in, but also within the same space, colour can transform from different angles. We get to notice shadows more intimately here. As well as making colours breathe, light also creates shadows and without shadows, objects would be naked, says the designer. Shadows, therefore, mark the object’s position in space.
‘My ultimate aim is to pit the power of colour against the power of form,’ says Jongerius. Breathing Colour is an intelligent exhibition that leaves us observing the world in fresh and new ways. It will inspire any designer.
Breathing Colour by Hella Jongerius runs 28 June – 24 September 2017 at the Design Museum.
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