Jamie Shovlin – Various Arrangements

Apathy appears to have consumed me over the last couple of months, hopefully I can inject some fluviality back into here and also here, far too easy to think about things and not write them down, or not even think about things at all.

I went back to the Haunch of Venison for the first since the awesome James Lavelle UNKLE exhibition – Daydreaming, which was lots of fun. Suffice to say, the space has changed a lot since then, in fact it’s not even the same space, the back of the RA where it used to be now houses an incongruously placed cafe and stained off white walls that were once adorned with art of all variations. The Haunch shifted a few hundred metres up to New Bond Street, just before the point when commerce moves from the haute couture of Burberry and Cartier to the permanent sales and garish signage of the Italian Suit Company and French Eye.

The new space is devoid of grandeur and feels more like nice unfurnished house that has just being given a lick matt white paint than anything conventional, except for the fact that it is currently hosting Jamie Shovlin’s Various Arrangements.

Shovlin has an interest in exploring the fallibility of classification systems, we have an obsession with taxonomy and like to place things into orders we deem logical, even if what we classifying defies logic all together. Here he focuses on the absurdist premise that intellectual achievement can be ranked or scored according to a points system.

The Fontana Modern Masters series – a set of pocket guides on eminent writers, scientists and philosophers – is the ecosystem of intellect he explores. Written by, arguably the next wave of masters they cover Lacan, Dostoevsky, Derrida and lots of other people I’d never heard of before (a great tool for making you feel inadequate in a more I learn, less I know type way). Their cover designs are considered a design classic and have recognisable abstract geometric feel to them, very much like a less manufactured patterning that you might find in Topman, but better. Obviously.

Of the 49 Fontana titles that were produced between 1970 and 1984, there were an additional 17 that were not published for some unknown reason. And it is these that Shovlin takes and applies his arbitrary system of classification to in an attempt to inform the cover designs of these titles that never were. The first thing you see is his colour wheel:

This pseudo-mathematical wheel arbitrarily looks at a series of factors such as the number of lines on the subjects encyclopedia.com entry, number of books cited in the bibliography and premiums for things like Nobel prizes won. It’s a bit like an intellectual Klout score, representative of something, but on the whole utterly meaningless. He then takes this score and applies it to a palette of colour, so each Master’s work has a corresponding set of tones which are pulled out of the 16 million digital spectrum. This formula is applied to a set of geometric variations that existing covers have adhered to and you thus end up with the colours and designs of the missing titles which fill the walls of the rest of the exhibition.

Intellectual Top Trumps.