Barber Osgerby’s Forecast installation at the London Design Biennale is purposeful in appearance, but is in reality a deliberate exercise in futility
Reputedly inspired by a chance encounter with a knackered old mariner, Thomas More’s book, Utopia, told of a mythical island where life was perfect. Or was it? More’s ambiguous prose hinted that it might all be one big joke. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the book, a timely hook on which to launch London’s first design biennale at Somerset House from 7–27 September. Over 30 countries from six continents have interpreted the idea of ‘Utopia by Design’.
The UK entry is designed by London-based studio Barber & Osgerby. Called Forecast, the ambitious installation focuses on wind and its role in shaping Britain, while attempting to link back to the present day by referencing the country’s leading status in offshore wind farms. In practice, this means a 16m-tall anemometer, savonius turbine and weathervane on a plinth. What with all the moving parts, the object suggests it will provide a systematic collection of data from its vantage point in the courtyard of Somerset House. In fact, the instruments are merely an appliqué. For instance, the weathervane, bereft of a pointer, is a deliberate exercise in futility. As the pair explain, Forecast is an attempt to capture some of the book’s mysterious nature.
‘It’s a sculpture in the sense that it doesn’t perform any function,’ says Edward Barber. ‘In the book, the only way to reach Utopia would have been by using the wind to sail there, but because it doesn’t exist it could be anywhere. It is a way of extrapolating the concept that the weather, and wind in particular, has been important to the history of England. As an object it leaves an awful lot of space for interpretation. It is not a finished piece that is to be adored, it is very much an object that raises questions, particularly in this moment in our history where we feel quite rudderless as a nation.’
Image: Ed Reeve