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The Then-Now Show

The Then-Now Show The Aram Gallery © Christina Theisen

The Aram Gallery © Christina Theisen

8 April 2011
by Ellie Parke

The idea for The THEN-NOW Show began in January 2010 when Zeev Aram, Director of The Aram Gallery spent some time looking through his archives. He came across a file of small exhibition booklets which were produced for his Aram Designs Graduate Shows.

Held between 1988 and 1992, these shows were a platform for graduating designers to show their work. They were aimed primarily at industry, received no outside financial support and were not geared towards making a profit. The emphasis was on introducing young designers to various industries, and showing these industries what young designers were doing.

Leafing through these exhibition broadsheets Aram was encouraged to spot a few names whom, in the twenty years since graduating, had become respected names in the design field. Thinking it would be interesting to juxtapose their THEN work with work from NOW, The THEN-NOW Show was born.

When I first received facsimiles of these exhibition booklets I was struck first by the sheer number of participants involved – 89 designers in 1992 (!), and second by the variety of works shown. I hoped that in the selection of NOW exhibits made for this show, we would still be able to represent that diversity; in some respects this was a game of chance.

The first planning hurdle was to find out whether each of the fifteen participants still had their THEN exhibit, the second was to ask them to nominate an exhibit for NOW. The NOW choices we didn’t supervise, we simply asked that they be a piece each designer was most proud of. The responses came back quickly; ‘Can I make something new?’, ‘Can I show something that’s NOW-ish, as in from this decade?’, ‘How much space can I have?’ were just some. More than anything these responses showed us that our participants were keen and they were excited.

On the whole we agreed to show exactly what each exhibitor wanted. However, there were some pieces we couldn’t show, simply because we couldn’t get them up to the gallery on the 3rd floor of the building!, like Peter Naumann’s Horex Six-Cylinder Motorcycle from 2010. These pieces, as well as some THEN works which had been lost or thrown away, are represented by a photograph instead. Happily the NOW works are just as diverse as the THEN, interestingly revealing not only the different career paths taken by each participant, but also what makes them proud as a designer.

During the course of planning this exhibition I became easily distracted by each exhibitor’s stories of late night prototyping, fall-outs with tutors, and delights at the unexpected success of a design. Despite these setbacks each looks back with enormous pride and in some cases disbelief at what they managed to achieve.  How they feel about revisiting their work over twenty years later, can be read in the texts displayed next to their work.

One statement of particular interest is that by a designer who along with her graduate design, featured in Blueprint Magazine. Victoria Jessen-Pike appeared on the front cover in 1990 as the winner of the first Blueprint/Aram Award for excellence in graduate design. Designed as a ‘familiar-looking chair that could be upholstered in quite an original way’, her Ghost Chair was taken into production by Aram Designs. And coincidentally at its launch, Jessen-Pike was introduced to David Chipperfield for whom she went on to work for twelve years, working on the recently completed Turner Contemporary, Margate. Even though she has such a successful career now, Jessen-Pike explains that this progression was not intentional, it was the result of a ‘series of events which led to a career embedded into the working practice of architecture‘.

It has been thrilling working on this exhibition and seeing the variety in these designers’ paths. Better still has been to listen in on young visiting designers’ opinions on the progress these now established designers have made, and hear them give their assessment on who has progressed furthest. In that respect this exhibition continues the motivation behind the Aram Designs Graduate Shows: providing a platform for the exchange of ideas about design. 

The exhibition is open until 24th April 2011.