Ai Weiwei shows his brave, provocative and visionary works.

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Photograph + Harry PearcePentagram 2015_
Photograph + Harry PearcePentagram 2015_

The exceptional and monumental installation of trees in the Royal Academy’s historic courtyard sets the scene for a very exciting autumn in London. These are the weeks when the city shows its best clothes – if the sun is out: Frieze Art Fair is around the corner, auction houses are busy getting ready for the hottest weeks of the year, Kickstarter becomes the Uber of the art world, replacing patrons and sponsors, making new projects possible. The scene is vibrant. Boundaries will be crossed.

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The artwork of Ai Weiwei was made possible thanks to the museum’s first ever Kickstarter campaign, showing how disruptive products can change the rules of the game, even when it comes to sponsorship.

Launched in order to raise the £100,000 – necessary to transport and install the old trees, which began their life in the mountains of southern China – the campaign was a huge success raising more funds than was ever anticipated. Not a big surprise, considering the attention the media paid to Ai Weiwei.

Much has happened in the life of the renowned Chinese artist since his breath-taking Sunflower Seeds – an installation of 100 million hand-crafted porcelain seeds – covered the floors of the Turbine Hall in the Tate Modern in 2010. One of the most memorable and poetic installations of the last ten years, in my opinion.

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Not only was he detained for 81 days without charge by the Chinese authorities over a contested tax bill, but he has also been unable to travel for the last four years. In July this year, he was finally handed back his passport, enabling him to come to London for the opening of his show. His exceptional work is on show at the RAA until 13 December.

Old habits, new habits, no no habits

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So much has happened in the last ten (gulp) years since I moved to London. I have learned to move around town like a cabbie, cycle to work and ask people to take off their shoes when they enter my flat. Most crucially, as I have recorded several times in this blog, I got to observe, and of course, make some fun of my fellow Londoners. Inspired by a recent article of the glorious Garance Dore’ about New York, here is my list of best (and worst) habits, shared, acquired and fought.

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Things Londoners do that I do:
Go to the trendy restaurant/ brunch place. Not getting a table and wait for it while sipping a £10 quid drink at the bar. Get that damn table, which I will need to give back in 75 minutes, and pay £ 25 quid for eggs Benedict, realising that the cost of that drink has inflated the bill significantly.

Saying “we need to get together and have a coffee” and never get in touch.

Plan a very ambitious social week, and cancelling all plans because you have underestimated your workload for that week.

15529963333_e76b40bbfcSimilar to the above, meet a friend by chance, agree to meet up, then look at your diary and the only slot available is in three weeks. Put the get together in the diary and then get an epic cold/ headache on the day, cancelling at the last minute.

Drink coffee in a paper cup, and feeling like I mean business just because of that.

Catching a syndrome that I call londonite. The symptoms are guilt for not fitting in your week a new exhibition, a concert, a newly released movie, Pilates and some development courses, such as coding, pottery or Portuguese. The guilt is immense if you spend your weekend watching several episodes of your favourite series or if you find yourself napping during the afternoon during the weekend.
Talk about the newest doctor on the scene specialised in food intolerances and diets, the magician who enabled so and so to loose tons of weight. The conversation usually happens while you are grabbing salted peanuts and have a glass of wine in your hands. 15565763807_0637857b60
Feeling like people from other countries are superior creatures, who can play a sport on a regular basis before work and have a level of stamina that you never had, even when you were 12.

Feel like you are never doing enough. Socialising Enough, creative work, self development, work.

Keep my shoes at work. Walk in flats and get into power shoes at work, keeping a selection of several pairs in the locker or under the desk.
Things Londoners do that I cannot get myself to do:
Queue. The queue at the bus stop. Queue because it is Open House week, London Design Festival, the opening of a new shop, the launch of the Marni collection for H & M. Life is too short, and my calves get stiffed very quickly.

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Be excited about a picnic. I do not get the appeal of eating cold finger food sitting on the ground in precarious hygienic conditions, getting stuffed on crisps and olives. Bring on table cloths and real food, with my legs under a table. And metal cutlery please.
The tube. It is a wonderful mode of transport and overall it does a pretty good job for such a large city. But do not get me on the tube at peak time. I can just tolerate the Circle and District line. My idea of hell is a journey from Heathrow to Canary Wharf, trying to get there before 9 am on a Tuesday.

Work crazy hours. Life is too short and no one, on their death bed, ever said “I wish I worked longer hours”.

Change my shoes in the middle of the street, just before entering an event, heading into an office for a meeting, walking in a bar for a date.

Do my make up or eat on public transport or at my desk. What would you say if your male colleague was using his electric razor at the desk?

Woman making up on her workplace

Woman making up on her workplace

A new wave of cutting edge performance art – Block Universe

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Over the last few months I spent my Tuesday evenings at the Sofitel hotel in Pall Mall. I wasn’t meeting my lover – as my husband was insinuating. Instead I was meeting an amazing group of people, predominantly young women, working towards the launch of the city’s first-ever performance art festival.

Titled ‘Block Universe’, the event will be a return to midcentury performance values with a contemporary spin. A bunch of artists will be speaking, wriggling and dancing from the ICA to Somerset House, from RADA to the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts. 04-Block 05-Block 08-Block

 

‘We’re seeing an increasing interest in it, despite the way it’s being programmed in London,’ says Louise O’Kelly, the festival’s director and a Goldsmiths grad, ‘but a lot of artists working in performance find they don’t have a home.’

A devotee of the artform, O’Kelly was roused when Tate Tanks opened in 2012 with a 15-week festival heavy in performance art. Then… nothing. It is remarkable that the creative capital of the world has kept for so long performance art in the margins, at a time when Marina Abramovic enjoys rock star status and is escorted by bodyguards whenever she performs or attends the preview of Frieze.

 

On the other side of the pond, New York has a dedicated performance art space called the Kitchen and a biennial called Performa.

The intersection with contemporary art is what gives Block Universe contemporary freshness. We will see Jenny Moore performing a feminist manifesto at the Art Worker’s Guild, surrounded by portraits of the Guild’s forefathers. Conrad Shawcross’s installation ‘The Dappled Light of the Sun’ in the courtyard of the Royal Academy will provide the background for Nicola Conibere’s performance, when she will wrap two bodies in swathes of fabric and send them rolling around the courtyard.
‘Performance art in the Sixties was very much about moving away from an object-space practice to something more intangible,’ says O’Kelly. ‘Now there’s a lot of crossover between dance, painting and sculpture. Those conversations are opening again.’

 
Find out about the festival at www.blockuniverse.co.uk and help with the
Kickstarter campaign

 

 

 

 

Palazzo or Post office

It’s Friday afternoon, me and the Lord are in Rome for a long weekend. Walking through the narrow back streets he suggests sending a postcard to his grandfather and his great aunt. Finding the postcards is easy. We get a beautiful Fountain of Trevi, looking a lot better than the actual one, currently under restoration, and one featuring the Roman Forum, both classic images of the Eternal City. Postcard, checked. I then head straight to a Tobacconist shop, to buy some stamps. They tell they no longer sell stamps. According to the new regulation, the only place to buy stamps is the post office. The irony is that the tobacconist in Italy is called “Sali e Tabacchi”, which means “Salts and tobaccos”. They no longer sell salts, they still sell cigarettes, now they have been stripped off a significant role, and footfall. How many times I bought stamps and I suddenly feel the urge to buy gums? Many.  They eye you, you cannot miss them, so you want to buy them. Easiest strategy in the world. IMG_2888
I confess my bewilderment at the tobacconist – but she reassures me: the post office is twenty meters away. Still, one single image appears in my mind: interminable line, endless waiting time, boredom. Do I really need to do that? Yes, it is the only way. My gut reaction is to let it go. Then I think of the typical day of two ultra octogenarians, one at home and one in a nursing home. Not much happens in their days and receiving mail is an event.
IMG_2932We have to send these postcards.
We reach the entrance. The space is grand, with frescoed ceilings, marble, ancient fragments beautifully displayed.  The Lord cannot believe this is an actual post office. A museum, a palazzo, yes, but this place looks the furthest away from our local post office, which is a room with poor lighting, linoleum floors and five counters squeezed in. The comparison is surreal.
Getting the ticket with the queue number is also surreal. There is no option for stamps. I am in doubt, so I ask a man who is sitting nearby and seems friendly. I shared my concern – and incredulity with him, and he sympathises. He thinks this is completely absurd. I do not understand why I haven’t read about this change in the press, so far. He then explains that the building is the former British church of Rome, which explains the frescoes, the marble and the beautiful building. We didn’t end up here by chance, I think.
My prediction was also right: we have to queue for 20 minutes before being served. Once I finally get served, there are no stamps available at the counter! It takes the post officer five more minutes to dig them out. He needs to go to the other side of the building. The whole experience sounds like a nonsense, and it is.
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The only thing I realise is that the post office has introduced this easy trick to increase their footfall exponentially and sell mobile phones, financial products, prepaid debit cards, stationery, and more. I would not be surprised if, on my next visit, I discover they are selling furniture.

La fine dei Sali e Tabacchi

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È venerdì pomeriggio, sono a Roma per un lungo weekend. Passeggiando per il centro il marito suggerisce di mandare una cartolina a nonno e zia quasi novantenni. Trovare le cartoline è facilissimo: una bella fontana di Trevi, ora in fase di restauro, ed un’altra con i fori romani, immagini classiche e immortali della città eterna. Scelte le cartoline, entro in un sali e tabacchi, per comprare i francobolli. Mi dicono che i francobolli no si vendono più nelle tabaccherie. Tolti i sali, tolti i francobolli, le tabaccherie potrebbero pensare di cambiare nome. Confesso il mio sconcerto alla tabaccaia – che però mi rassicura: la posta sta a venti metri da lì. Alla parola Posta nella mia mente si accende una sola immagine. Coda interminabile. Caldo. Attesa. Noia. Ma come, devo comperare due francobolli e per farlo davo davvero andare in posta? Sì, l’unica soluzione. La mia reazione istintiva è di lasciar perdere. Poi penso alla giornata tipica di due ultra ottantenni, uno a casa propria e l’altra in casa di riposo. Non accade molto, e ricevere posta è un avvenimento. Dobbiamo mandare queste cartoline. La posta è davvero vicina, proprio come promesso. E che posta! Lo spazio è maestoso, con soffitti affrescati, marmi, frammenti antichi in bella mostra disposti sotto lastre di vetro. Il marito non crede ai suoi occhi e mi ricorda l’aspetto del nostro ufficio postale: una stanza, scarsa illuminazione, pavimenti in linoleum e 5 sportelli allineati. Il confronto è surreale. 

Arrivo al dispositivo dove prendere il biglietto, dove, non nascondo, mi trovo in difficoltà. Il pulsante francobolli non esiste. Titubante, scelgo quello che si chiama ‘corrispondenze e pacchi’. Incontro lo sguardo di un signore, seduto su una delle sedie della sala d’attesa. Chiedo se davvero questo è l’unico posto dove comprare francobolli, e chiedo se ho scelto l’opzione del biglietto giusto. La buona notizia è che ho scelto l’opzione giusta, la cattiva, mi dice, è che è davvero così. Hanno introdotto questa cosa assurda, che aggiunge file e perdite di tempo per sbrigare faccende molto semplici. Ma come è possibile che non ne abbia mai letto sui giornali di questo cambiamento?

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Aspetto il mio turno, aspetto per venti minuti. Le mie previsioni erano giuste: coda, caldo, lunga attesa. Per fortuna sono in un bellissimo palazzo, e, come mi spiega questo signore gentile, si tratta che della ex chiesa degli inglesi a Roma. Come a dire, non siamo finiti qui per caso.

Arriva il mio turno, finalmente. L’ironia, perché queste cose vanno prese con leggerezza, è che il mio sportello, nonostante si occupasse di Corrispondenze e Pacchi, non aveva i francobolli!

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Quindi ai venti minuti, se ne sono sommano altri cinque. Che dire, pazienza. Certo è che le poste, con questo trucchetto, si assicurano un passaggio incredibile di persone, a cui possono vendere i loro prodotti bancari, telefonini, cancelleria e altro.

Who made my clothes?

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If next week you spot someone walking round the office, down the street or driving past you with their clothes on inside out, don’t be freaked. You’ll likely see #fashrev trending in the next few weeks as we get closer to Fashion Revolution day, which is set for the 24th of April. The rationale is that consumers wearing their clothes inside out want to ask big brands – who made my clothes?

After the infamous Bangladesh factory collapse and the lightning fast social media shares soon after, it’s evident that we care where our clothes come from. And it sucks to say it, but sweatshops are not just Nike in the 90s. It’s still happening, and it’s still not cool and it keeps on happening. It happens in Asia, in Eastern Europe and in Italy, where Chinese factories produce fake bags and accessories. I have been guilty of the sin of buying a fake LV bag and shopping at Primark out of boredom during a trip in Dublin. I was young, and I wanted to buy something I wanted in the cheapest possible way. Colorful T-shirt

Luckily things have changed and I have developed a pet hate for what I call fast food fashion: you buy an item, which is not going to make it to the next season. Poor quality doesn’t last, so you buy a lot and low quality. Amongst my generation, there is an increasing number of people who are more conscious about their fashion choices, and it is not all about wearing the latest kit.

Luckily things have changed and I have developed a pet hate for what I call fast food fashion: you buy an item, which is not going to make it to the next season. Poor quality doesn’t last, so you buy a lot and low quality. Amongst my generation, there is an increasing number of people who are more conscious about their fashion choices, and it is not all about wearing the latest kit.

Luckily things have changed and I have developed a pet hate for what I call fast food fashion: you buy an item, which is not going to make it to the next season. Poor quality doesn’t last, so you buy a lot and low quality. Amongst my generation, there is an increasing number of people who are more conscious about their fashion choices, and it is not all about wearing the latest kit.

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Wherever we shop for groceries, when we buy our meat and eggs, we are offered a free range or factory produced product. The same option doesn’t apply to clothes. You might think that – by shopping at the upper end of the market – you would be protected from subsidising terrible work conditions in factories, but unfortunately this is not true. There are ranges of ethical clothes in organic cottons and natural fibres, but they look like a good fit for hugging trees hippies and not compatible with office attire.                                                       Amongst the fashion houses, I can only think about Stella McCarthy as someone who took clear position about the ethical clothes, and I salute her for this. You would think that everything Made in Italy doesn’t involve poor work conditions, but you cannot really be sure. A product get the stamp of approval “made in Italy” if only a small percentage of its production happens in Italy, so most companies outsource the largest amount of their production elsewhere, leaving to final touches to the Italians.

Pizza Makers? Fine dei luoghi comuni

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Un po’ di orgoglio Italiano non guasta, specialmente quando passa attraverso un video ben confezionato, con una musica che ispira speranza e delle parole semplici. Lanciato al World Economic Forum di Davos, smentisce la fama che ci precede. Gli stranieri sanno che l’Italia e’ straordinaria. Dobbiamo pero’ ricordarcelo anche noi.

 

 

 

Una parola per il 2015: semplificare

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Per il terzo anno consecutivo mi sono trovata a sistemare casa il primo giorno dell’anno, non per lasciare spazio ai vestiti nuovi comperati durante I primi saldi, ma per liberarmi di molto altro: libri, pentole, cd e gadget tecnologici di qualche anno fa, ma ormai surclassati da telefoni e memorie virtuali.

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La verità è che comperiamo tanto, senza dubbio troppo. L’economia gira poco, ma non ci arrendiamo, abituati comunque a comprare, e incapaci di rinunciare al rito di passaggio che sono i regali di Natale e i saldi di gennaio. Del resto le opportunità di comperare ci vengono sbattute in faccia ad ogni momento, ci inseguono per settimane, grazie alle pubblicità online.

Molte cose sono diventate esponenzialmente più economiche. Esiste la versione low cost di tutto, dall’auto al rossetto, per non parlare dei falsi.

Racconterei una bugia se dicessi che la candela che mi fa sentire in una spa di Bali e la borsa di un designer francese non mi abbiano resa felice questo natale. Il regalo più azzeccato è però stato una capra. Non fisica, ma una capra che un’amica ha comprato a mio nome per un villaggio in Africa. So che state sentendo odore di buonismo e ovvietà. Non lo scrivo qui per dimostrare quanto bravi e generosi siano I miei amici, e di conseguenza io, che mi circondo di persone così speciali, ma del fatto che questo regalo ha fatto centro su tanti versanti.

Ha fatto qualcosa di utile (innegabile), ha reso felice me e spero più di me una famiglia in Africa, e ha contribuito ad eliminare inutili carte, imballaggi, costi di trasporto. Nessun operaio sottopagato nel sudest asiatico si è tagliato le mani per costruire quale regalo.

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La verità è che non abbiamo finito i soldi, ma lo spazio. Se il costo di abiti, libri, cibo, articoli casalinghi e mobili sono diventati esponenzialmente più economici, non si può certo dire lo stesso delle case.

Se anche voi come me vivete in una grande città, la possibilità che viviate in una casa con spazi limitati è piuttosto alta, quindi capirete di cosa sto parlando.

Ripulire gli spazi e le superfici degli eccessi ci fa sentire bene, un po’ come trascorrere una giornata tra sport e cibo sano dopo le abbuffate natalizie. Non è un caso che, ad ogni giornale che mi capita tra le mani, dai femminili inutile al Financial Times, si facciano le lodi della profeta dell’ordine Marie Kondo, che sparge il verbo dell’ordine e della pulizia. Ammetto che tanti dei consigli che ci offre sono un po’ovvii, un po’ strani e vagamenti disturbanti.

Quello che mi sento di suggerire sono altre due o tre cose, probabilmente altrettanto ovvie, che ho capito da sola, ma di cui ho trovato conferma negli insegnamenti di Marie. Liberarsi da tutto quello che non ci piace, sia una maglietta, una tazza o anche un libro. Non importa se chi l’ha regalata aveva le migliori intenzioni. Se non vi piace, non meritate di viverci. Tenete quello che usate e che vi piace. Non tenete vestiti pensando che vi possano essere utili per fare giardinaggio, pitturare le pareti di casa, fare manutenzione alla bicicletta. I vestiti si possono lavare, anche dopo averci fatto la corsa campestre. Quando guardate a questi vestiti “da lavori pesanti”, fatevi questa domanda: se incontrassi un ex con indosso questa cosa, mi sentirei in imbarazzo? Se la risposta è si, allora sapete cosa dovete fare. I capi non tornano di moda. E se tornano ci sono buone possibilità che il vostro corpo abbia proporzioni diverse, causa cambi di peso e ridistribuzione dello stesso. E poi a volte I tessuti si corrodono e consumano. Lo giuro! L’ho visto con I miei occhi per un paio di guanti anni ’80 la scorsa settimana. Vecchi telefoni, cuffie senza fili e oggetti di tecnologia. Tutti questi prodotti pre smartphone non si meriteranno un posto al Design Museum o alla Triennale. Liberatevene senza remora, ma fatelo in modo ecologico, portandoli nei posti che li raccolgono.

E se volete farmi felice e farmi un regalo, sentitevi liberi di regalarmi una capra.

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A word for 2015: decluttering

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Welcome 2015. For the third year, I cleared my flat’s cabinets and bookshelves on New year’s day. It might become a tradition, like having panettone for breakfast during the Christmas holiday. Books, unwanted presents piled up in the last few years, notebooks from workshops, freebies, obsolete technology items, a spare cup inherited during a house move are a few of the items I have given away, or binned. I noticed on Instagram that I am not alone: Louboutin shoes bought during the sales and never worn – too uncomfortable – unsolicited presents and, frankly, just plain junk went on sale through microsites, blogs and the usual channels such as ebay and amazon. 


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The truth is, we buy a lot. Too much. My office is a great observation deck of how people buy and when. Two patterns: shopping happens at lunchtime in front of the computer or when drunk on a night out, on the smart phone. As ever, we buy more than they need. No one seems to want to give up on this ritual called Christmas shopping and January sales, with the addition of American imports such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I shop, ergo I am. Opportunities to buy are everywhere. If we do not find them, they find and follow us, on our laptop, on our phone, so we can buy when we are lacking motivation at work, when we are happy, when happy and in drunken despair, in the back of a cab. Lots of things are far cheaper than they used to be, everything is available in many price ranges, from a car to a lipstick, with a choice between new or preloved. No obstacles between us and a new something, facilitated by virtual payments, of course.

I am not condemning shopping, but a certain way to handle it. I would lie if I said that the scented and upmarket candle and the designer bag I received as Christmas presents were not an appreciated gift. I really like them. However the best gift I received was a goat. I am not starting an urban farm, but a friend of mine made a donation in my name that will to buy a goat for a family in Africa. It might sound cheesy and obvious, I know. I am not trying to demonstrate how amazing my friends are (which they are, btw). 23e190330ea72fc0_0978-w422-h562-b0-p0--traditional-dining-room

It is going to be very useful for one family, made me and the friends who bought it happy. It hasn’t generated any extra paper, cardboard and wrapping. No child labour in Southeast Asia was involved in its making. All pretty valid reasons to make me feel good about it.

We are not running out of money, we are running out of space. And if you live in a large and densely populated city as I do, you probably know what I am talking about. Unless you inherited your house or are the beneficiary of a large inheritance, you are likely to live in a place smaller than the one where you were born and raised.

Living with less is the way forward. Emptying spaces and clearing surfaces make us feel a lot better, especially at this time of the year. I do not think it is a case that pretty much every radio programme I listen to or newspaper that lands on my lap, has a reference to the prophet of decluttering Marie Kondo, who spreads the verb of tidying and cleaning. Lots of her recommendations are, on one side, pretty obvious, on the other hand pretty disturbing.images

There are two or three things that I have realised independently, but that were confirmed in Marie’s bible. Here is what I think:

We can get rid, without feeling any guilt, of everything that we do not like. No matter if it was a present, or we liked it when we bought it. If you do not like it, you shouldn’t live with it. Keep what you enjoy looking at.

Clothes. This is a big chapter in the tidying department. images (1)

Do not keep clothes because you think you might use them for gardening or DIY. Ask yourself the question: “if I was meeting my ex boyfriend wearing these clothes, how would I feel?” If the answer is ashamed or unconformable, get rid!

Do not keep stuff just because you think it will be fashionable again. It might very well make a come back, but the chances are that your body will be different, your proportions might be different and fabrics age too. I experienced it last week. I thought I could use a pair of gloves from the 80’s, but they fell apart in front of me. The fabric just spilt!

Old phones, old technologies. Your old kit will not make it into the Design Museum for an exhibition on icons from the 21st century. Throw them away with no remorse, just do it responsibly, using the dedicated bins.

I think a goat is the prefect present for any occasion in 2015.

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Precious stones

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Shaun Leane Emerald Aeral Earrings

Shaun Leane Emerald Aeral Earrings

Fire Opal Butterfly Brooch by Shaun Leane

Fire Opal Butterfly Brooch by Shaun Leane

Walking through that delightful patch of land between Belgravia and Knightsbridge always feel like taking a little vacation, or even travelling back in time. White stucco mansions, very few well dressed people and plenty of chauffeur driven cars. In the middle of this protected patch – and I really mean it, as there are plenty of gunned man around – I found a cave full of gems.

 

Damien Hirst Butterfly Painting

Damien Hirst Butterfly Painting

Between the red soles of Christian Laboutin, the crafted chocolate of Rococo and the prettiest kids clothes at La Stupenderia, I stumbled across a gallery called Shop, Show Studio. And I am not using the word gem by chance: this art

space is now showcasing the work of the master jeweller Shaun Leane. One off pieces, each one accompanied by the piece of art, or nature, that inspired it. We are greeted by a gem set butterfly brooch, alongside the original Damien Hirst painting that stimulated it. Then is the turn of an elaborate pair of feather hearing with a Philip Treacy hat, a scary laserprint of a snake and the beautiful diamond bracelet that reproduces its sinuous shapes. And if that is not enough, an antique and enormous bridal kimono – from the collection of Daphne Guiness – acting as the impetus for a set of statement cherry blossom cuffs.

 

This small exhibition is a visual spectacle of artisan jewellery.

Shaun Leane SS Full Cabinet 2014Philip Treacy,  “Eden feathers hat with Swarovski Crystal brooch” 2012 (SS2013) (2)-2