Opened this week at London’s Design Museum, Hella Jongerius’s joyful 'Breathing Colour' exhibition guides visitors through a day in vivid colour. Separated into three sections – Morning, Noon and Evening – the show explores how colour and form behave in different light conditions and how it can affect our perception of them.
‘There is a phenomenon in colorimetry called metamerism,’ says the Berlin-based Dutch designer who drew upon her studio’s 15 years of research into the topic when creating the show. ‘This was the starting point in my colour research.’
Metamerism refers to the way in which colours can look completely different depending on lighting conditions. ‘I think everyone has once bought a piece of furniture or clothing in a certain colour, and experienced a shock when unpacking it back at home,’ says Jongerius. Throughout the show, Jongerius makes a plea that we embrace the phenomenon of metamerism, stating that while most manufacturers see the effect as problematic and try to produce products with flat, unchanging hues, she encourages the use of ‘layered pigments that provide intense colours that are allowed to breathe with changing light.’
'Colour Catchers’ by Hella Jongerius. Photography: Luke Hayes
While the 'Morning' section of the showcase explores the differences between lightness and brightness with hanging resin beads and tapestries, the 'Noon' section examines the intensity of the overhead midday sun.
In the centre of the ‘Noon’ space, a crisp display of paper sculptures take centre stage, displayed across a series of coloured plinths. These are Jongerius’s ‘Colour Catchers’, versions of which can also be found throughout the 'Morning' and 'Evening' sections of the exhibition. Created by folding and gluing complex patterns of cardboard, the convex surfaces and facets in the 'Colour Catchers’ absorb and reflect the colours of the panels they rest on. The gradations of reflected colours mix with the colour of the sculpture, producing a three-dimensional colour chart. 'They are the ultimate shape to research colour, shadows and reflections. They are my canvases,’ says Jongerius.
In the darkened 'Evening' element of the exhibition, Jongerius explores shadows through an arrangement of black, customised versions of famous furniture designs by the likes of Charles and Ray Eames, Jean Prouve and Verner Panton. On the walls, large scale textile experiments in wool, linen and cotton threads demonstrate Jongerius’s quest to create black tones without the use of black materials. ‘The print industry commonly uses carbon to produce the colour black, this is effective but it lacks intensity and depth,’ says Jongerius. ‘It stops the colour from breathing and kills it. Replacing carbon black with another black pigment would be revolutionary.’
‘With this exhibition, I hope to build an archive and create a tool for understanding colour,’ says Jongerius of her solo show. ‘I want to demonstrate how powerful colour can be.’