Barnaby Barford’s Tower of Babel at the V&A is a richly-layered work that tells an array of stories about our capital city, our society and economy, and ourselves as consumers. Standing an imposing six metres tall, it is made up of 3000 individual bone china buildings, each between 10 and 13 cm high and each depicting a real London shop. Barford cycled over 1000 miles during the making of The Tower, visiting every postcode in London and photographing well over 6000 shops in the process. These photographs were used to produce the ceramic transfers that have been fired onto the shops, making each shop a unique work of art in its own right. And Prick Your Finger features about just under half way up!
Barnaby asks us…..“This is London in all its retail glory, our city in the beginning of the 21st century and I’m asking, how does it make you feel?”
When I went to see it last week I found it very difficult to find Prick Your Finger, but when I did I felt proud to see it hanging on in there.
At The Tower’s base, the shops are derelict, closed-down and boarded-up. Then, as we start to ascend, we find chicken shops, pound shops, and bookies. Climb further and we encounter specialist retailers of all descriptions, chic boutiques and artisan food stores that cater for the aspirational consumer’s every need. Nearing the top, the shops become ever-more exclusive, until finally we reach the pinnacle with London’s fine art galleries and auction houses, where goods are sold at eye-watering prices.
This hierarchy of consumption is echoed in the retail prices of The Tower’s shops, every one of which is for sale. Buy a derelict shop and you might pay £95. Choose a fine art gallery and you could be looking at £6000. Prick Your Finger was suprisingly valued at a sturdy £250, along side some quite major brands.
Playfully, Barford likens our efforts to find fulfilment through retail to the biblical Tower of Babel’s attempt to reach heaven. His seemingly precarious Tower poses questions about the nature of our society and the fragility of economy, exposing the divide between rich and poor.
Text mainly by Alun Graves and Barnaby Barford, 2015. but heavily edited and slightly added to by me.
It is HUGE. Here is a clever picture from the V&A website which makes it look smaller but at lease it all fits in the picture.