POWER OF MAKING: Craft as innovation transformation

By Laura Chan – Design Guest Blogger

Greeting visitors at the V&A’s Grand Entrance is a giant guerrilla – but not just any gorilla – one made of thousands of bent clothes hangers.  Named King Silver and created by David Mach, this hand-twisted wire sculpture stands tall outside the Porter Gallery.  Currently housing the Power of Making exhibition, the Gallery space contains over 100 handcrafted delights, curious objects that focus on the process of making.

The show’s curator, Daniel Charny, states: ‘Making is the most powerful way that we solve problems, express ideas and shape our world’.  So, who better to voice these solved problems and concepts than the likes of the late Alexander McQueen, Charlie Le Mindu, Thomas Heatherwick and Dalton Ghetti?

Blonde Lips headpiece by Charlie Le Mindu, 2009, © Manu Valcarce

One of the most beguiling pieces in this collection of curiosities is Ghetti’s Alphabet, consisting of each letter of the alphabet meticulously carved in the graphite of 26 pencils.  Made by painstakingly shaving and filing the tip with a sewing needle and razor knife, I wondered how many times each letter had to be re-carved and re-filed to achieve the perfectly formed letters sitting atop each end.

With a nod to Charny’s statement that ‘There is no more precise tool than the eye of a master craftsman’, Ghetti not only reveals how hand and eye can work in harmony to produce a thing of elegant refinement, but also reminds us that language; writing and editing, can also be a craft.

A Prosthetic Suit for Stephen Hawking with Japanese Steel by Michael T. Rea added to the playfulness of the show, its conception based on providing bionic action hero, Hawking, with a costume for fighting evil! Fittingly made for the pioneering physicist with a preoccupation of extraterrestrial life, this suit is one of many otherworldly pieces in the collection.

Visitors are invited to sit on this Urban Picnic Table by Gareth Neal and watch films of designers making, including: glass blowing, using a pottery wheel, baking and crafting a double-barrel gun.  Much like Jackson ‘the Dripper’ Pollock and his abstract paintings that aim to crystallise his movements over the canvas, the films show how design is about more than functional performance, but highlights the process itself as an inspirational force.


Other striking pieces include an eerily realistic looking Sculpted Baby Cake made of marzipan by Michelle Wibowo and Snowflake Address Christmas Card by Heatherwick Studio.

I recommend this exhibition for anyone interested in types of making, innovations in materials and ingenious (and even simple) design.  It will remind you that whether you’ve just made a cake, a card, a hat or a bionic suit for Stephen Hawking, there’s no greater satisfaction than being able to say: ‘I made this’.

Power of Making runs until 2 January, admission free. Check out the Power of Making Symposium on Friday 9 December from 10.30 to 17.00 when the public are invited to join leading makers and thinkers to explore recent innovations in contemporary objects; £45/£35 concessions/£10 students.


Images: V&A,  Manu Valcarce,  Gareth Neal Ltd,  Sloan T. Howard Photography