Design Museum, London

Beautiful colours made with high-end pigments, which result in colours that breathe with light —taking on new hues under different lighting conditions – Hella Jongerius, TL Mag, 2017

Dutch designer, Hella Jongerius explored the full potential of colour in an expansive exhibition where materials, reflections, shapes, and shadows formed a kaleidoscopic and immersive installation titled Breathing Colour. As soon enter into the basement galleries of this remarkable John Pawson designed-building, the research and scope lasting over a decade that Jongerius has applied to this presentation is staggering as evident in the richness and density of colour environments distributed in spaces that were separated into three stimulated zones representing ‘Morning’, Noon’ and ‘Evening’. The relationship between pigments and light and as the designer observes means that “Beautiful colours for her are made with high-end pigments, which result in colours that breathe with light —taking on new hues under different lighting conditions.”

The walk-through between these three zones begins with the ‘Morning’ and as the name implies, it centres on daylight and all sorts of experimentation light of this time has on both objects and surface. Hanging woven tapestries also create a formidable display of geometric weaving showing both technique and experimentation with a vibrant threaded core framed with blacks and blues.

Across from this work, 300 Coloured Vases reference an earlier work where 300 unique vases produced in 2010 were the result of research on minerals and a glazing technique from the past, which is now redundant due to its inability to create reliable and stable colours. A highlight of the ‘Night’ section is the staggering Colour Wheel against a black-painted wall. The experimental colour wheel was developed by Jongerius and her team to explore variations in tone and hue resulting incremental changes in colour mixture through paper discs showing original pigments.

Jongerius’ research on colours, materials, and textures is ongoing and in her inquiries questions are open-ended meaning her works are imbued in a never-ending. The unfinished provides the potential for the provisional, the possible – they hide in the attention for imperfections, traces of the creation process, and the revealed potential of materials and techniques. Through this working method, Jongerius not only celebrates the value of the process but also engages the viewer, the user, in her investigation. As artist and colour theorist, David Batchelor observes in his book Chromophobia, “Generations of cultural producers, art theorists, and philosophers, claims Batchelor, have treated colour as an object of fear and loathing, as an alien invader within the cultural organism.” Jongerius, on the other hand, embraces it with determination and curiosity, showing its full potential with flyways and all, thus through the unfinished the importance of colour and surfaces in contemporary design is revealed.