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Endless World

Tim Walker’s Wonderful Things at the Victoria & Albert Museum

‘Cloud 9’ Section, Wonderful Things, Tim Walker, installation view © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

It has been scientifically proven that almost everyone is born with creative genius. By the time we reach adulthood, however, only 2% of us hold onto that potential. Knowingly or unknowingly, we have all been worn down by formal education and societal pressures, yet a tiny proportion of mankind has risen from the ashes of conformity, like phoenixes ready to use their fire to light up the world.

Tim Walker is one such person. A man who doesn’t just daydream, he day-‘realities’-, creating the real life fantastical worlds we all used to have the keys to unlocking when our imaginations ran wild as children. Walking under the rainbow-tinted balloons spelling the words ‘Wonderful Things’, and into his exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, it feels as though I have been given exclusive access into Tim Walker’s mind – a bold, limitless and wild realm where everything and anything seems possible.

‘Box of Delights’ Section 2, Wonderful Things, Tim Walker, installation view © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

It is perhaps this induced feeling of endless possibility that makes Walker such an appealing and crucial photographer at this present time. In a one-size-fits-all world where order, bureaucracy and impersonal expectations reign supreme, we are hungry to feast our eyes on something disorderly, irrational and reckless. Tim Walker’s photography gives us this chance to dream. Bed-topped car rooves in the middle of a woodland, tents glowing gently in a library, a bird-like lady perched on a frame surrounded by pink flowers, a giant doll towering over a model; Walker’s scenes are a breath of fresh air amidst the anxious fumes of modern-day life.

Walker has created some strange, beautiful and strangely beautiful works throughout his career (many of which are thoughtfully displayed in the V&A’s introductory rooms). From his early career as an assistant to Richard Avedon in New York, he has evolved to become a favourite for Vogue editorials and has established himself as the go-to man for ethereal scenes in uncharted artistic territory. While anyone who has followed Walker’s career knows of his talent, this exhibition offers more than just a collection of his work; it offers an insight into the creative process of Walker, from inspiration to creation.

Two years ago, the Victoria & Albert Museum set Walker the honourable challenge of creating a series of photographs inspired by its archives. Since then, Walker has been exploring the museum, picking out the pieces which have captured his imagination and using them as a platform for his work. The resulting collections of photographs are an ode to the V&A with a flamboyant Walker-like twist.

‘Soldiers of Tomorrow’ Section, Wonderful Things, Tim Walker, installation view © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

It is a captivating experience to follow Walker on the creative journeys leading to each photoshoot. The visitor witnesses Indian animal chess pieces become creatures on stilts, and a snuffbox become a UV-lit dragon-walker. It is evident that Walker’s upbringing in the countryside and his youthful freedom to explore the outdoors has formed and informed the work we see today. Given that he sees objects with the same fascination as a child, this is an apt reference.

A joyful energy emanates from the extravagant rooms, which have each been arranged to set the scene of both the inspiration of the respective collection of photographs and the photographs themselves. A velvet-clad room houses the erotic ink illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley, a pretty-in-pink 1750’s formal court dress found more recently in a dressing up box, is accompanied by nightclub music, and architecture fit for a chapel invites you into a stained glass-inspired room. Everything from the décor to the music has been designed to give the visitor an explanation of how the photographs came to be, each one recreating the thrill that Walker must have felt as he set eyes upon the V&A treasures for the first time. As you come to the final rooms of the exhibition, you can hear a combination of the music from all that came previous, the notes layered over each other like a symphony of inspiration.

Although it can be said that this exhibition is one of beginnings and endings, with the V&A archives as the beginnings and the photographs as the endings, this linear concept is one of much contention for Walker. The exhibition closes with Walker’s giant scrapbook – the pages of it open. Walker writes; “ends are always followed by beginnings. Something new could start right here. There really are so many wonderful things”; alongside a quote by C. S. Lewis, “you can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending”; and D. H. Lawrence, “things men have made with wakened hand… go on glowing for long years”. Walker both accepts and denies endings, affirming the continued life of art long after a piece has been completed, thanks to the touch of creative genius that never wears down. This exhibition is a love song to the V&A, its objects and the people who preserve them. Walker’s ability to connect to the people behind the objects brings all these wonderful things to life.

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things is on at the V&A until 8 March 2020.

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