Breathing Colour looks at how colour behaves, in a variety of media and conditions. “One major aspect is the changing quality of light during the day and its transformational effect,” explains Alex. “We have more control over light now – you can buy LEDs in particular temperatures – but don’t always consider its impact on colour.
“We see the world in colour, so it’s always an important area,” notes Alex Newson, curator of a new exhibition at the Design Museum. “We commissioned Hella Jongerius to produce a series of works engaging with colour in new and interesting ways. It’s the culmination of her decades of research”.
“In the process of industrialising colour, we’ve stopped asking people to look at it; this encourages visitors to rediscover their emotional connection. Rather than restrictive paint charts and chemical optimisation, it’s harking back to mixing pigments and imagining an infinite number of shades and tones.”
There is a scientific element to Hella’s work, observes Alex, “with the optical effects of light broken down into a spectrum, but we’re also interested in the subjective – each individual’s appreciation of colour.
“Another thing you might not think about is positioning. Hella has a series of vase-like installation objects she calls tumblers painted in a single colour, but when placed next to other colours they change. The eye perceives them all as grey, editing out that they’re made up of 10 different hues.
The exhibition also explores reflections and various shapes, textures and materials. “I really hope it’ll inspire visitors to question the role of colour in their lives.
Hella’s used abstract forms designed specifically to exhibit certain phenomena, but there are also more domestic objects like furniture, so you can see how a piece might change from hazy morning sunlight through to evening.
“It definitely has a practical application, and it’ll be interesting to see different engagement from visitors and designers or manufacturers. One reason for the industrialisation of colour is that it’s easy for consumers, but perhaps we’re moving towards wanting something freer and more personalised – we’re accustomed to bespoke tailoring that reflects who we are.”
Alex was particularly struck by the display examining shadows. “We think of them as black or grey, a non-colour, but actually they’re made up of an incredible range of reflections – and they help us locate an object in its space. Since I saw that, I’ve been walking round for ages looking at shadows!
“We can be so oblivious to the fragility, instability and complexity of colour. The brain processes out information to make it simpler for us, like the changes across a surface, but allowing those patterns and contradictions back in opens up a whole new way of seeing.”
JUNE 28-SEPTEMBER 24
Design Museum, Kensington W8
Adults £10.50, 6-15 £5.25, under-6s free