Has consumerism become a modern religion? In a critique against London’s rampant consumerism, artist Barnaby Barford crafted the Tower of Babel, an enormous art installation that likens society’s attempt to find fulfillment through retail with the biblical story of the Tower of Babel built in an effort to reach heaven. The six-meter-tall sculpture is made up of 3,000 china-bone replicas of real London retail outlets, from corner mini-marts to posh boutiques.
Barford’s 21st century Tower of Babel was created as a feature piece of London Design Festival 2015 at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The installation took months to design and complete. Barford cycled more than 1,000 miles across London to photograph over 6,000 shop fronts that he then whittled down to the final 3,000 images applied to tiny ceramic building sculptures. The bone-china shops measure 10 to 13 centimeters in height.
The shops on the Tower of Babel are organized by reputation and appearance. The more derelict and lower class stores are located at the base, while London’s expensive boutiques and galleries are arranged at the precarious-looking top. Some of the exclusive high-end shops are perched so high up that viewers need binoculars to see the names.
“Part-sculpture, part-shop display, The Tower of Babel is an act of curated commerce,” says Alun Graves, Senior Curator of the Ceramics and Glass collection at the V&A. “It’s about retail as a pastime, and the idea of shopping as a means (or not) to attain happiness. It is about how we identify ourselves as consumers and how we construct our sense of self through the choices we make when buying. Ultimately it’s about who we are, and where we position ourselves in the extraordinary metropolis that is London.” Each of the unique ceramic shop sculptures is available for purchase through the V&A shops and are priced differently depending on their location on the installation.
Photos by Liz Eve for Inhabitat