Hella Jongerius is Breathing Colour at the Design Museum

Breathing Colour, the new show by Hella Jongerius at London’s Design Museum, is the culmination of 15 years of research by one of the Netherlands' most renowned designers.

Graduating from the Eindhoven Design Academy in the early 1990s, Hella Jongerius was part of a generation of young designers exploring the boundaries between conceptual design, industrial production and emotional engagement in objects. Breathing Colour takes a sustained look at the behavior of colour – on flat and three-dimensional surfaces, and across the arc of a day – and our emotional response to it.

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Taking Monet’s Haystack as a starting point, Jongerius makes a case for embracing the way in which colours change at different stages of light intensity across a 24-hour period. She explains, “There is a phenomenon in colorimetry called Metamerism. This was the starting point in my colour research. It occurs when colours are viewed in different conditions, and describes the effect when two colours appear to match even though they might not actually do so.”

Jongerius goes on to explain that much industrial colour research has focused on eradicating what is viewed as a problem, towards a goal of achieving ‘consistent’ colours, “but I want to make a plea to use layered pigments which provide intense colours that are allowed to breathe with changing light,” she states.

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Designed to capture these subtle shifts of light, Jongerius’s Colour Catchers form the spine of the show. Beginning life as complex cardboard patterns, before being realised as large-scale ceramic forms, their convex faceted surfaces absorb and reflect colour to become a series of three-dimensional colour charts – revealing gradations of the object’s own colour, affected by light and mixed with reflections from their surrounding forms.

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The exhibition sets out to demonstrate how emotionally powerful and engaging it can be to see colour play a mutable role in the design of objects. Beginning in the ‘Morning’, Jongerius captures the hazy quality of dawn light in textile panels and colour crystals, followed by the blue glow of sunrise into the warm intensity of ‘Noon’.

A series of woven panels, the Woven Movie, inspired by Bauhaus textile designer Anni Albers, capture this shift in the depth of colour, supported by a series of projections that capture the shadow play of midday.

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The ‘Evening’ section is a striking exploration of black, a focus of Jongerius’s research for two decades. Rejecting the industrial use of carbon to create black, Hella Jongerius reminds us that there are over ten alternative ways to create darker hues by optically mixing a limited palette of yarns, textures and materials.

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Towards the end of the exhibition, Jongerius presents her Colour Vases a series of 100 unique works from 2010 as part of her studio’s research into minerals and oxides, no longer industrially used as a source of pigmentation due to their instability.

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The vases capture perfectly Jongerius’s plea for colours to play a living role. Jongerius argues that industrial fixing and standardized colour have narrowed our experiences of colour and its cultural meanings.

Breathing Colour by Hella Jongerius brilliantly explores how we relate to colour in a more intimate and personal way. The exhibition is open at the Design Museum, London until 24th September 2017. For more information, or to book tickets, follow the link here.