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There’s something hidden in the V&A museum…

Did you know that there are three bustling art studios hidden in the depths of the Victoria and Albert Museum? Well, there are and three artists-in-residence are busy using the museum’s vast archive to inspire and sculpt their work. We were lucky enough to speak to one of them, German graphic designer and photographer Helmut Völter about his free pass to explore one of London’s famous landmarks whilst preparing to show at this month’s London Design Festival.

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Born in Berlin, Völter’s work explores ‘the double character of scientific images as rational evidence and aesthetic objects often form the starting point of his work.’ Usually working as a graphic designer, he’s spent the past six months looking at the V&A’s photography collection and is set to unveil not one but two installations to the public. His residency is also thanks partly to the Goethe Institut. The Institut promote the study of German abroad and encourage international cultural exchange including the collaboration with the V&A on this ongoing residency programme.

What is an artist in residence?

It generally means you’re given time and space to work, while exploring a specific subject. In my case, the photography collection here at the V&A is my subject. So, I have this big studio, I have connections to many people working here in the museum and I have access to the collections, which is really an amazing thing.

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How did you get onto the programme?

It all began with an open call from the V&A and the Goethe Institut.  They responded and I got through the interview and now, I’m here. [Check out more about Helmut on the Goethe Institut here.]

What attracted you to London and the V&A in particular?

I think London as a city is probably very attractive to everyone but for me, it was the museum and the photography collection. As an artist, I tend to work with archive and scientific photography and the V&A has one of the best and largest photography collections in the world.

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What are the benefits of the residency?

I started working with scientific photography. I was mainly interested in the overlappings of science and art, so images taken for science but which can also be seen as aesthetic objects. Here, I think my work mostly starts with people and talking to people, because the collection is so vast you can’t try to see everything, it is possible. Everyone working here has his or her special interest and this is invaluable to me.

Have you unearthed any hidden secrets while working in the V&A?

One thing I was especially interested in seeing before coming here was William Morris and the arts and crafts movement. Two things that are very famous but not many people get to see the originals, and at the V&A you can see just that.

There’s the details of the museum that other people may not notice either. For instance, everyday on my way through to my studio I pass two wooden sculptures. They’re placed in the middle of the walkway, so you can see their back. And this is interesting to me because they were not supposed to be seen from the back side, so you can see where the sculptor has more or less stopped when he reached the back.

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How do you find the open studio sessions?

Open studios are more like tours and we spend 45 mins together where I speak about my project. They’re always quite interesting, each time there is a different crowd so different questions and reactions to work. I just try to make it different every time.

Want to see more of Helmut’s work?

Full details about his installations can be found here and here. You can also meet the man himself as his last Open Studio tour on Sept 23rd. Book here.


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