Shona Heath’s design for Tim Walker show reflects their decades-long collaboration

Shona Heath Tim Walker exhibition design

Set designer Shona Heath’s exhibition design for the Tim Walker exhibition at London’s V&A reflects the many outlandish sets she has created for the fashion photographer.

Each of the eight spaces in the exhibition, called Tim Walker: Wonderful Things, has been designed in wildly varying styles by set designer and collaborator Shona Heath, from a clinical white box to a chintzy pink bedroom complete with TV.

Shona Heath Tim Walker exhibition design

Visitors enter the exhibition under plastic bubbles that spell out its name, with coloured lights illuminating the dark entrance space. A swirly blue and brown carpet marks the way.

The first room is a long white space with a shiny white floor and a bright-white lightbox running the length of the ceiling. Stylised white paint appears to be dripping from the corners of the room.

The adjoining room at the end of the space, the Chapel of Nudes, is finished with peach-coloured plaster walls, brown curtains and wall-sconces with fabric lampshades.

An upholstered pink sofa and wood sofa stands at the centre of the space.

Shona Heath Tim Walker exhibition design

Walker has themed the exhibition around certain objects from the museum’s collection which have inspired his work over the years. These pieces are dotted throughout, providing a foil to the photography and Heath’s designs.

The pair have worked together on fashion shoots for titles such as Vogue, Love and W for more than two decades, before collaborating on the exhibition.

Shona Heath Tim Walker exhibition design

“Designing an exhibition is so different – I had no idea,” Heath told Dezeen. “Working with the public and visitors throws up all sorts of health and safety challenges that in the end effect the creative.”

“I was having to fight for more creative solutions to each dead-end, and I suppose that in the end has made for more deeper problem solving of a different kind,” she continued.

“The best bit for me on a shoot is when we jumble it all up, change our minds in real time and start to freestyle, this can’t happen in an exhibition.”

Shona Heath Tim Walker exhibition design

The next room in the exhibition, called Illuminations, features a gothic-style embossed wall.

Vaulted buttresses and stained glass windows reference medieval illuminated manuscripts and glass found in the museum’s collections.

One corner of the room features a green-suede-covered undulating cabinet that houses a small display on illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, an influence on Walker’s work.

The following room is a clinical, off-white, lacquered box with a lightbox ceiling set slightly away from the walls to allow a small shadow around its perimeter.

Shona Heath Tim Walker exhibition design

The chintzy pink lounge follows, with 1970s floral wallpaper, a baby-pink staircase in one corner and framed photographs illuminated by picture lights.

The room also features a plush bright-pink carpet and a TV enclosed in a box papered with the same wallpaper.

“To wrap up the pictures that I have worked on and love with another layer of storytelling, it has made me dig deeper for inspiration and meanings,” said Heath. “I have challenged myself more.”

Shona Heath Tim Walker exhibition design

The lounge leads to a dark, high-ceiled space decorated with fantastical creatures, such as a twisting illuminated tree and a dragon that looms down from the ceiling.

The adjacent corner is papered with wallpaper that depicts clouds, with one wall punctured with convex peepholes.

Shona Heath Tim Walker exhibition design

The next space celebrates curators and conservators. The fabric coverings that protect clothes in museum stores are hung from the ceiling like sculptures.

A neon yellow, classical pediment doorway provides the next niche, with yellow and blue silk tasselled curtains held with tiebacks, and a fireplace adorned with ceramics.

Shona Heath Tim Walker exhibition design

Before exiting the exhibition, visitors walk past a padded semi-circular structure which functions as a gallery for Walker’s photographs of models posing in a similar padded set, and some two-metre-high scrapbooks.

“For me, beauty is everything,” said Walker. “I’m interested in breaking down the boundaries that society has created, to enable more varied types of beauty and the wonderful diversity of humanity to be celebrated,” he added.

“The V&A has always been a palace of dreams – it’s the most inspiring place in the world. The museum’s collection is so wide and eclectic, and I think that’s why it resonates with me so much.”

Shona Heath Tim Walker exhibition design

Last year, designer Yinka Ilori applied his graphic, colourful style to the exhibition design of Get Up, Stand Up Now, a show at London’s Somerset House that celebrated 50 years of black creativity in the UK.

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things is on show at the V&A until 8 March 2020.

Photography courtesy of the V&A.

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