Mankind’s oldest stories are perhaps those of love. Twisted and metamorphosed into novel tales every few years, the central plot line often remains the same. Two people meet. They exchange glances, smiles and words. They build castles in the air, and imagine an existence together. And, sometimes, against all odds, things work out well enough for them to share their lives. But, then, this gives way to another series of tales: ones where flaws are revealed and veils are lifted, ones where two souls, despite a clear dissonance, try to build a life together. Two Kettles, No Sofa, an exhibition by British designer James Shaw and writer Lou Stoppard at London Design Festival 2022, narrates a tale of a couple moving in together to begin a new life, through a series of objects and a short story. The design exhibition, presented by SEEDS Gallery at Brompton Design District in London, is on view from September 15 to 25, 2022.
Two Kettles, No Sofa intrigues one from the get-go. The title hints at the duality of the living conditions in a household where two personalities collide. It also clues us in on the domestic corners where the discord manifests, through clashing objects juxtaposed together or merely through an eerie absence of things. A combination of the literary and creative faculties of the couple lends this project a unique identity, one where two ideas, two experiences and two crafts clash and clamour before settling in comfortably with each other.
When two temperaments and personalities come together, desires, tastes and habits collide. Lou Stoppard’s story narrates this through the tale of Edward and Justine. Justine is someone who smokes 10 to 20 cigarettes a week. She is also left-handed, just like Edward. Edward has always been close to his mother. Her drinking habits concern him. Edward finds it hard to understand and enjoy abstract art in galleries. He, nevertheless, claims to enjoy these visits. Both Edward and Justine lie to each other about incidents from their pasts. They also overstep boundaries with each other, but rarely confront one another despite knowing this well. While Edward constantly worries about losing his hair over losing his eyesight, Justine is self-conscious about her teeth. These layered insecurities, doubts and hesitations hover over the strange-looking chairs, tables, stools, mirrors, shelves, beds, lamps, cabinets, vessels and crockery designed by Shaw.
Furniture designer James Shaw’s showcase at the exhibition features objects that are defined by two contrasting styles, thus creating a fictitious environment that represents the living conditions of two people negotiating their choices. The apparent contrast that one witnesses in these objects remind us of the compromises that one has to make when building a life with another person. Slimy-shaped covers cup the base of formally designed wood tables, roughly stitched outlines border cleanly cut glass shelves and classy cushions sit atop crooked chairs.
Shaw’s objects and the exhibition design are inspired by the short story written by Stoppard, which is, in turn, inspired by the contrasting effect apparent when Shaw’s designs are placed next to other furniture. The exhibition gives a glimpse into the tangible disturbance that occurs when two people start living together. Habits acquired from parents, past relationships and past lives get challenged, sometimes blocked or disturbed. A space meant for repose witnesses daily drama, and power dynamics emerge and present themselves in the shared space. In the end, this space becomes the spot for fights, negotiations and bonding. They reflect our ability to tolerate, accept and love.
The ‘Two Kettles, No Sofa’ exhibition is on view from September 15 to 25, 2022 at Cromwell Place, 4 Cromwell Place, London SW7 2JE.
Everything you need to know about London Design Festival 2022. Celebrating its 20th year, the festival takes over the city of London with installations, exhibitions, and talks from major design districts such as Brompton, Shoreditch Design Triangle, Greenwich Peninsula, Design London, Clerkenwell Design Trail, Park Royal, Mayfair, Bankside, King's Cross, William Morris Line, and Islington.