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24 September 2014

Meet the Makers: Terror and Wonder in the British Library Shop

Next week sees the opening of our latest exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’ and once again the Shop area has been transformed. This time, we are entering the study of an old English country house where, by the flickering candlelight, we can see our host opening a leather-bound volume and inviting us to take a seat.

British Library Shop

We spoke to two of the people responsible for supplying the props that transformed this area: Guy Arzi and Cog O’ Two.

Guy Arzi is a designer who uses reclaimed architectural salvage to create modern decorative and functional objects. His repurposed candelabra are perfectly suited for the gothic shop, as they are a modern reinterpretation of a classic icon of gothic melodrama.

Terror and Wonder Shop2

How did you get started in design, and why architectural salvage?

I am a fine art graduate, but I have also studied Architectural Conservation, and I worked as a Conservator for St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

As a conservator looking after the interiors of some beautiful old buildings you get to look closely at objects and architectural features and you get to understand the materials and the craftsmanship involved in making them.

It seems to me that we don’t make things as we used to, by which I mean the quality and longevity of everything we produce isn’t as good as it used to be. So I feel the need to recreate some of the old craftsmanship, and salvage it from distraction or decay - or maybe I simply can’t resist old objects!

But while working at Westminster Abbey I really started to appreciate carvings and the general wit in old art so it came naturally to me to use reclaimed architectural salvage in my art.

Terror and Wonder Shop3

Is there a particular age or style you like to use in your work?

I like mixing styles a little; it is like how our street architecture is full of buildings from different times. When you mix styles you realize how much these styles are a repetition of themselves but with a little twist. And the streets of London can often be a good source of material that I can rework into new pieces.

ArziLamps

You’ve worked at St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and you’ve created work for the British Library and The National Maritime Museum, do you enjoy working with museums and galleries?

Yes, I’m a museum junky! I love so many museums across London for so many different reasons - The Wallace Collection, British Library, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, John Soane Museum, Hunterian Museum, I can go on and on. My all-time favourite museum is the Victoria and Albert; I would love to make a massive work for the V&A.

British Library Shop

 

Cog O’ Two is a real family business. Jon and Micheala and their sons Liam and Nathan produce laser-cut steampunk-inspired props. For Gothic, their aesthetic worked beautifully, being at once antique and modern, ambiguously aged and curiously contemporary. The hanging keys and clock hands help create the ambiance of the gothic study, and the ominous birdcages add a touch of drama.

We asked Jon how Cog O ‘Two came about.

I’ve always been into making things even as a child and probably inspired by my dad who was a keen model engineer and model boat enthusiast. As part of a fancy dress party for my 40th I was persuaded to buy a decent set of Star Wars Stormtrooper Armour and afterwards join The UKG. The UKG ( UK Garrison ) is the UK arm of global costuming group The 501st. Their sole aim is to raise money for nominated charities and have fun whilst doing it – in 2013 the UKG raised over £66,000. The whole family ended up getting involved, Michaela as Ghost Rider with Nathan as Wicket and Liam also as The Ghost Rider, participating at many events all over the UK in a variety of costumes we had made. From there we made a number of props for friends, and since then we’ve just grown.

JonMichaelaNathancrop

Cogtwo

And did you have experience with laser cutting and etching before this business, or did you learn to make these pieces?

Neither of us had any experience other than my attending FabLab Manchester and using their machines, which was a really good foundation in lasers and 3D printing. FabLab was a wealth of knowledge with their staff and volunteers and a plethora of people that popped in to use the machines. So other than learning the basics at FabLab we’re pretty much self-taught.

And it is a real family business, isn’t it?

Liam, our eldest, is 19 years old and he actually created the first cogs we made into sets and sold. Since then he’s designed a number of our products and generally looks after all the cutting and maintenance of the machines. Nathan is our youngest son and is 13 years old, and he helps out with some drawing, selling on the stall when we do events and doing odd jobs around the workshop.

Why steampunk? Was this something you were already interested in, or did it develop through the business?

As well as the UKG, some of our friends within that group were also into Steampunk and we were invited up to Whitby Goth weekend in April 2010. This is probably the second biggest event where Steampunks meet, as there are many crossovers with the Goth scene, and our passion for it grew from there. Our business actually grew through our love of Steampunk, as we’d already made bits for friends in the Steampunk community. Michaela saw an opportunity to take that one step further and provide components that weren’t readily available in a material that was light weight and cheap enough that any Steampunk could afford. Already having the laser at this point made quite good business sense and the machine could be put to good use.

British Library Shop

As well as selling to other Steampunks, who else do you work for?

We’ve created props for The National Maritime Museum, The National Space Centre, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Harvey Nichols, Various TV and Theatre companies, and many high street retailers.

And if money and size was not an issue, what would you most love to make?

A full size Nautilus Submarine from 20,00 Leagues Under The Sea!

Thanks to Guy and Jon for answering our questions. Full length versions of these interviews can be seen on the ExhibeoVM website.

You can also see our full range of Gothic products on the British Library Shop website.

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