Visit the V&A from tomorrow and for the next nine days you’ll see something rather unusual: large red panels with alternative interpretations of twenty-six objects in the museum’s British Galleries. There will be the normal curatorial information: stuffed dragon’s head, Ruritania, c 250 AD, ironwood mount inlaid with mother-of-pearl, taxidermist unknown (possibly George, St). And beside it there will be a more whimsical, reflective piece of writing, 62 words long, which captures some aspect of the spirit of the object.
This is 26 Treasures, part of the London Design Festival, and I make no apology for mentioning it for the second time in as many months. The brainchild of Rob Self-Pierson, a recent graduate of University College Falmouth’s MA in Professional Writing, 26 Treasures invites 26 writers to respond in their own way, in precisely 62 words, to an object with which they’ve been paired. Rob took the idea to the writers’ collective 26, and 26 approached both the V&A and London Design Festival.
The resulting project has grown bigger and attracted more publicity than anyone could have imagined. The V&A has welcomed it as ‘a brilliant idea’, while 26, no stranger to projects of this kind, has set up a second stream of pairings, such was the demand from its members for a place among the original 26 writers (who include poets Andrew Motion – a bust of Homer; and Maura Dooley – an ornate mirror). Soon, anyone will be able to submit 62 words on an object of their choice via the website at www.26treasures.com
Blogging about the project this week, my fellow contributor, Sara Sheridan, the Edinburgh-based historical novelist, mentions the ‘refreshingly egalitarian’ approach of 26, by which she means that it’s not a tight-knit little literary club, but one that’s open to anyone with an interest in words. And indeed she’s right: 26’s members range from poets and novelists to language experts and brand consultants, marketing and communications people to freelance business writers, advertising copywriters and graphic designers.
26 is testimony to the fact that the writer’s life can come in many shapes and sizes, not all of which involve writing books, but most of which are defined by a common curiosity in the workings of the world and a passion for the words that allow us to investigate them. 26 Treasures is a lovely example of the unexpected paths down which that curiosity and passion can take one. Do drop in and see it if you can. If not, have a look at the website.
26 Treasures, British Galleries, V&A, 18-26 September