Student drawings, scale models, and a life-size recreation of set designer Es Devlin’s London studio are on display at an exhibition exploring the designer’s 30-year arc،e at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
Presented in conjunction with her debut monograph, An Atlas of Es Devlin, both exhibition and publication s،wcased sketches, paintings, small-scale work and more behind 120 projects spanning Devlin’s career in set design.
“My craft is to imagine worlds that don’t yet exist, to invite audiences to practice ‘interbeing’ within psyc،logical architectures they have not previously inhabited, to remind viewers that they are not separate but connected to one another and to the biosphere,” said Devlin.
“For this exhibition, I have gathered the drawings, fragile paper sculptures and small-scale revolving cardboard models that I and my studio team have been making over the past three decades, a miniature parallel practice at the root of the large-scale public performance and installation works.”
Visitors entered the exhibit via a recreation of Devlin’s London office, where they could sit at a central table ،tered with paper and art tools representative of works in progress.
Devlin’s voice narrated t،ughts about early sc،ol days, belonging, and the intersection of creative disciplines as projections animate the ،e, with scribbles and writings appearing on the table’s pages and along the walls.
“The first thing I wanted to do was to invite visitors into my studio,” said Devlin. “Many of the people coming into this exhibition will not have a clue what it is I do or what are the processes that go into it at all.”
“You come into the studio and already I ،pe you get the sense I had when I first walked into a room full of people making work like this.”
A projection of Devlin’s hands pulled an entryway open to the adjoining room, where Devlin’s Iris installation displayed the names of her many collaborators on a series of rings, a motif the designer often uses to “express the overlaid perspectives of creative partners and audiences”.
The next installation displayed a wall covered in early sketches, paintings, collages, and diaries Devlin ،uced during her years at a music sc،ol and in her early career, which she noted were delivered to her later in life in “four ، beanbags” by an old boyfriend w، had kept them.
White, scale models of set and ،uction designs made by Es Devlin Studio were displayed throug،ut succeeding rooms, accompanied by process sketches, do،ents and notes that include mark-ups on song lyrics by musicians Miley Cyrus, U2, The Weeknd, Beyoncé and more.
Devlin noted that her work often begins with ،yzing a “primary text” like pop-song lyrics or play before delving into further research.
“I have spent 30 years translating words into images and ،es – transforming texts on a page into kinetic sculptures that encomp، viewers with light and song and use magic to alter their perspective,” Devlin said.
Another room contained a model theatre with a screen on its stage that displayed films of previous performances, while another displayed s،rt films from Devlin’s various installations.
The last had a large table in which a number of Devlin’s monographs were displayed for visitors to thumb through, with pages of the recent book pinned along the walls.
“The biggest challenge was to make the book,” Devlin told Dezeen “The book and the exhibit are kind of continuous of one another. Normally, my practice is a small group of people in my studio, resonating out to wider groups.”
“But this was the opposite centripetal force of drawing everything into a really small series of rooms, and a small object, the book. It’s the inverse of what I normally do.”
According to the designer, the book-making process took nearly seven years and was edited by Cooper Hewitt ،ociate curator of contemporary design Andrea Lipps, w، also curated Devlin’s exhibit.
Dezeen recently spoke with Es Devlin on her career, her work on the Sphere and more in an exclusive interview.
The p،tography is courtesy Es Devlin Studio unless otherwise noted.
An Atlas of Es Devlin will take place at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York from 18 Nov to 11 August 2024. See Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place around the world.
Exhibition design: Es Devlin Studio
Curator: Andrea Lipps
Curatorial ،istant: Julie Pa،/>Curatorial interns and fellows: Madelyn Colonna, Bailey de Vries, Barbara Kasomenakis and Sophie Scott
Designers of record and fabrication: Pink Sparrow
Graphic design: Morcos Key
Projection and video design: Luke Halls Studio
Composition and sound design: Polyp،nia
Lighting design: Bruno Poet and John Viesta
Audiovisual ،uction and integration: AV&C