Sunday, October 14, 2001

Grand Dinner Party in Grand Central

If you're seeing a lot of Union Jacks around town, it's not because there's another subversive effort going on here in NYC. It's because storefronts, restaurants and galleries are displaying the United Kingdom's flag along with our Stars and Stripes in support of the two-week festival UKwithNY that is going on in New York City from October 14th through the 28th. I attended a few related events this week and found inspiration on many levels.

The grandest dinner party of all was the 'Great Expectations' exhibition produced by the Design Council in London to promote British innovation and design excellence. I chatted with designer Roger Mann of Casson Mann, who oversaw the design of the exhibition. The idea for the dinner party theme came up when he saw the glorious space of Vanderbilt Hall and the massive chandeliers. "Nothing is better than a banquet to set up dialogue, which is what this whole festival is about - setting up a dialogue between the UK and New York."

The entire setup was designed in London and constructed in and shipped from Birmingham. The massive table had to be done in two sections so people could walk through the hall where they normally do as opposed to walking all the way around the table, which most likely would've inspired much animosity towards the Brits. To retain fluidity with the table, a gigantic hard-fabric tablecloth was suspended above the walkway as if it was "whipped off the table." The ends of the cloth touch down on the table ends, to maintain connection with the two separate pieces. The table was set with oversized white plastic foam plates and silverware. Angular chairs and benches were infused with sound so you could "overhear" conversations (interviews of the designers). Casson Mann also designed the lighting, which was a subtle rotation of florescent colors to accentuate the whiteness of the table. Ambient sound was created by Runnie of Runnie and Clyde, who's quite big in the UK music scene.

When the exhibit ends, one half of the table will travel throughout the US and Canada while the other half will go throughout the Far East.

Among some of the "wow" displays atop the table were:
· i.c.can - a self-chilling can by Crown Cork & Seal Tempa Technololgy. Dr. Ian Maxwell, Scientist
· Ranger Self-Sufficient Radio - a wind-up, solar, rechargeable radio by Freeplay Energy Group
· E-pen - a pen that receives email by Cambridge Consultants Ltd., Donna Wilson
· Pogo - a handheld web browser, email, calendaring, cellphone, mp3 player by PogoTech
· FireSpy - a series of large construction-like trucks and vehicles that can drive into a fire and withstand extreme heat to put out fires by JCB, West YorkShire Fire Service, Noel Rodrigeuz
· Cellopore - rehydrating sachets that will ensure good drinking water wherever you go by UCB Films, Osmotics Division

UkwithNY has many, many exhibits, performances, lectures and events. Check out the ones you'd like to see at: