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A Day Out at the V&A Dundee

Illustration by Lucy Westenberger

Isy Platt guides us through the history and exhibitions of Dundee’s famous design museum.

At a loose end? Keen to make a day trip somewhere local (especially with free bus travel!) but unsure where to start? Look no further tha

n the V&A in Dundee.

Officially opened three years ago with a strong emphasis on the design heritage of Scotland, and how it has affected design across the globe, it is the only other Victoria and Albert anywhere in the world. The museum’s installations are constantly rotating, and the diversity has ranged from a retrospective on Mary Quant to an exhibition exploring the connections between design and club culture from the 1960s to the present day.

The building itself is a statemen

t of the museum’s intentions to evoke and inspire. Designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, the building is powered by renewable, geothermal energy, meaning that it provides its own heating and cooling. The endlessly curving walls lined with concrete panels pay tribute to the dramatic shapes found along Scottish coastlines, and the design was selected via consultation with Dundee residents. The first-floor viewing balcony provides one of the best views around over the Firth of Tay and into Fife.

Upon entering the foyer, the youthful child in me was drawn towards British-Nigerian artist Yinka Ilori’s interactive installation ‘Listening to Joy’. Consisting of a brightly coloured, vivid maze of alterable mesh, the pathways towards a pair of xylophones in the centre can be adapted by participants. But there’s more to it than meets the eye; a multidisciplinary artist, Ilori aims for the end product to be a series of musical pieces made up of recordings of the melodies created by visitors.

Moving upstairs, the Scottish Design Galleries are filled with all sorts of material culture, from video games to illuminated manuscripts, dresses for the catwalk to lampshades inspired by the flight pattern of a moth. The current installation has a focus upon the decolonisation of the history of Scottish design, unearthing neglected stories and emphasising global connections, collaborations, and contributions.

The gallery’s staple pieces are its fashion items. It showcases both the contributions of institutions such as the Glasgow School of Art to the industry – in the work of Pam Hogg for example – and the impact of Scottish-made textiles upon 20th and 21st-century fashion, seen in the work of menswear designer Nicholas Daley. My favourite piece was a wedding dress taken from Alexander McQueen’s ‘Widows of Culloden’ collection. McQueen called upon his Scottish roots for inspiration, connecting historical narratives with his own distinctively tailored looks and the now iconic application of McQueen tartan. Originally modelled by Kate Moss, the dress has retained all of its impact in the decade and a half since it made its debut.

In the heart of the museum, you will find Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Oak Room, originally housed within the Ingram Street Tearooms in Glasgow. Designed at the start of the 20th century, the wood-panelled interior was saved from being demolished in 1971 and has been given a new lease of life in the V&A. For the lamps, even much of the original stained-glass has been preserved and reused. The resulting light created inside the high-ceilinged and open space is beautiful to behold.

If this hasn’t swayed you, the building and most exhibition spaces are completely free. Oh, and the little shop sells everything under the sun, from fridge magnets to essentials for your new 2022 wardrobe!

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