The Digital Soane

I recently took part in a really exciting collaborative project between the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London and the Royal College of Art alumni initiative In Tandem, supported by the Jerwood Foundation. For the project, the bust of Sir John Soane was digitally scanned to create a 3D model which was in turn divided into a number of fragments. Each participating designer was then given a digital printout of a randomly selected fragment to work with and design their own object in response. I was fortunate to receive an ear, which I turned into a temperature responsive wall sculpture with detachable necklace, based on architectural elements found within the Soane Museum.

I wanted to create something that looked and felt almost organic while being connected intimately to Sir Soane, his collections and his house. The colour was inspired by the eponymous yellow south drawing room with its black architectural mouldings, while the shapes of the necklace were abstractions of the famous domed ceiling of the breakfast room and Sir John’s urn collection. The title “Soane’s Burning Ear” refers to a story about the betrayal of Sir John’s son George, who published an article in a prominent architectural journal deriding the architectural practice of his father. This has come to be seen as a turning point in Soane’s life as the shock was allegedly responsible for the death of his beloved wife Elizabeth. The title “Soane’s Burning Ear” plays on the expression “My ears are burning”, and reflects Soane’s anger and disappointment with his son after this episode, expressed through the red colour of the silicone.

The object itself consists of two parts – the fragment of Sir John’s ear, taken from the bust and coated in a temperature reactive silicone and a 3D-printed pendant made from SLA plastic with a black, facetted sterling silver chain. The ear fragment acts as a holder for the pendant, and can either be displayed as an object or hung on the wall via the small hook on the back. When the pendant is detached, the ear becomes clearly visible, and a piece of the pendant seems to stay behind, giving the impression of Sir John wearing an earring.  When the temperature of the fragment changes, for example through prolonged touch, direct sunlight or a rise in environmental temperature, the silicone changes colour and slowly transitions from dark red to bright yellow, blending in with the pendant and thus unifying the piece. This change is symbolic of time passing and obscuring the emotional turmoil of the past, shifting the focus onto the fragments of Sir John’s legacy as an architect and collector.

An exhibition of all pieces from this project at the Sir John Soane’s Museum will be open to the public from the 4th – 22nd of November 2014.

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