” I started by thinking about a time capsule, a little bit like Dorothy’s ruby slippers I guess – you click your heels three times and be at this place,” says Gareth Pugh, describing his latest video installation, VOID, created as part of Selfridges’ new multi-sensory exhibition, titled The Flipside. Only instead of Kansas, here the London designer transports us to his hometown of Sunderland.
Set in a black sand-filled room, two mirrored screens project a short film of the designer and his mother taking a meditative walk along Sunderland’s Roker Beach. A sense of serenity and escapism emerges from the piece, as Pugh’s impression is deeply rooted in nature and familiarity.
The grey landscape loops on continuously, as Pugh creates a time capsule of a perfect, contained moment. By playing with the senses, a seemingly mundane scene is transformed into something ethereal, as ‘home’ becomes a retreat from the upheaval of everyday life.
Here, we talk to Gareth about the meaning of radical luxury, finding oneself ‘at home’ and its significance in a frenetic and highly digitalised world.
Aïsha Diomandé: Being part of Selfridges’ latest exhibition, The Flipside, which explores the idea of ‘radical luxury,’ what initially drew you towards the project?
Gareth Pugh: Well, I’ve done a lot of things in the past with Selfridges – they’re a really great partner to work with because they give you a lot of freedom with regard to what you end up doing. It’s always an enticing idea to be allowed free rein, and so obviously that was quite a big draw. We’ve also just come off doing this takeover that we did in the corner store space, so it has been a Selfridges-centric couple of weeks! Like I said earlier, they’re a really great partner to work with regard to how receptive they are to keeping things fresh and to have people bring their spin on things. Obviously, they set the brief, but whatever we responded to that, we were allowed to do that. It was really nice to work with people who have that sense of freedom.
AD: In your short film VOID, there is a sense of escapism and freedom that inspires a moment of reflection. In light of this, what themes were you keen to explore and develop?
GP: When Selfridges asked me to do this project based on my idea of radical luxury, it really got me thinking…obviously if they ask a brand like Louis Vuitton, they’re going to come up with a different response to the specific brief, but if they’re asking me, it’s going to end up being quite personal. For me, when I go home to see my family, that’s quite a luxury in itself. The idea of being on the edge and looking out onto the vastness of the sea is something that I find to be super important, it’s always something I’m drawn to. It’s something that I really miss when I’m in London, to not be by the sea. For me, I have quite a fear of the sea and of water – I’m not sure whether it’s the depth or the fear of the unknown – but I think that’s it’s an important thing to explore, and the idea of going to do this, kind of really breaking it down on a pedestrian level of me and my mum having a walk on the beach – I thought that was quite a nice way to frame things, because it’s one of those ‘everyday’ prosaic sort of things, but presented in such a way where it is thoughtful. We also played with the grade of the film to make it look a little bit hyperreal. I guess in a way, it feeds into what we try to do with the work that we do in the shows, it’s quite Judy Blame-esque in that you’re trying to work with things that are quite ‘usual’ or quite ‘strange’ that aren’t quite beautiful, like bin bags, and we try to make something ordinary into something quite beautiful.
” For me, when I go home to see my family, that’s quite a luxury in itself.”
AD: On a technical note, what was the thinking process behind the design of the installation? How did you tie together the different elements?
GP: I worked with a guy called Roly Porter who I worked with on my SS18 film shown at the IMAX – a film that I did with Nick Knight – to work on the sound design. We had a little bit of a backwards and forwards initially on whether or not I wanted it to be naturalistic or whether I wanted it to be something more man-made. We ended up going for something man-made, but it ended up sounding quite naturalistic when it was put with the visual. It’s kind of a white noise sound that he developed that builds to a crescendo as we pass through and emerge back up again as we walk away – just to highlight the oddness of it, I guess. I have tinnitus, and white noise is basically the only thing that you’re prescribed by the doctors to aid restful sleep. It’s kind of a little speaker that you put under a pillow, and it sounds like an un-tuned radio. It’s supposed to eradicate your tinnitus, and you end up listening to this white noise – it doesn’t really help. I liked that abstract notion of white noise ‘cancelling out’ other noises, and I guess it feeds back into the idea of that contemplative moment of reflection, kind of cancelling out other distractions around you. We live in such an age of distraction, whether it’s Instagram or whatever it may be, and it can all get a bit much sometimes. I think that it’s important to go home, or in that abstract sense of ‘going home’, and taking a breath.
“I have tinnitus, and white noise is basically the only thing that you’re prescribed by the doctors to aid restful sleep. It’s kind of a little speaker that you put under a pillow, and it sounds like an un-tuned radio.”
AD: During the process of experimenting with the meaning of ‘luxury’, did you face any conceptual challenges?
GP: The one thing that I really wanted to get away from was representing ‘luxury’ as an object. I really didn’t want to make something to define what my idea of luxury was. I think luxury for me is more of a sensual thing. I’m not necessarily a materialistic person, I quite like something that’s more experiential, and I think that is something that feeds into my notion of what luxury is. The idea of presenting an object is certainly something that I wanted to steer away from, which led me to the idea of doing a film. Obviously it’s something that is quite temporal that constantly changes, a bit like the sea.
AD: VOID is a multi-sensory experience that can alter each viewer’s unique perception, how did you play with the boundaries between time, vision and sound?
GP: It’s the simple idea of trying to break that fourth wall, that golden rule in film where one shouldn’t look at the camera… it’s kind of using the device of the screen as actually being a portal to somewhere else. I started by thinking about a time capsule, a little bit like Dorothy’s ruby slippers I guess – you click your heels three times and be at this place – but also feeding into that idea of Groundhog Day, where this perfect, sublime moment is something that loops, so then it becomes a bit hyperreal and a bit dreamlike. I personally, quite selfishly enjoy the idea of going to Selfridges and being transported to my hometown, to the beach, walking along with my mum! It’s not often that I get to do that, so it was nice to capture that moment.
The Flipside runs at The Old Selfridges Hotel until 20th May.