A new secret society has taken over London's Somerset House.
The neoclassical building's terrace rooms have been converted to an exhibition hall and headquarters -- complete with gin bar -- for the Learned Society of Extra Ordinary Objects, a fictional society based on the private societies that were residents of Somerset House during the 18th and 19th centuries.
According to a placard at the entrance, the Learned Society was founded in 1717 and closed in 1973 "due to the Society's crippling debts," but has now been revived by a group of 30 designers, artists and makers. Together they have furnished the space with everyday objects with compelling origins.
Most objects -- rubber bands, playing cards, a framed blonde mustache -- have been borrowed from members' personal collections and are accompanied by explanatory text from their owners. Some of the stories are true, some of them are not, resulting in what British furniture designer Carl Clerkin, who curated the exhibition with artist Danny Clarke, called a collection of "absolute truths and half-truths about the history of the place."
A wall of portraits show to member-contributors to the Learned Society of Extra Ordinary Objects. Credit: Courtesy Somerset House
Others, like a broom a broom handle that turns in on itself and black waste baskets full of ceramic coal, are works of art and design, and invite the viewer to devise their own stories.
"We wanted to talk about a fascination with the everyday, the mundane, the ordinary," Clerkin said. "I feel like a really broad audience can come and understand what we're talking about."
Clerkin and Clarke are old hands at the immersive exhibition game. In 2015 the two collaborated on "A Proper East End Pub," a traditional London pub constructed out of cardboard, and last year they reconstructed Maltasingh's Indian Kitchen, a fictional restaurant sold as London's first curry house, complete with staffed kitchen. All of this was intended to make design more accessible and enjoyable to the general public.
"It's funny watching people reading the stories, designs and exhibits and having a little chuckle. That's very rewarding as a curator," Clerkin said. "It all comes down to really lovely stories."
"The Learned Society of Extra Ordinary Objects"
is on at Somerset House in London until Sept. 3, 2017.