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The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at barbican.org.uk

Curator Picks: Tanks

From personal letters, photographs, drawings and artwork, to products, models, multi-media installations and furniture, we tasked our Exhibition Assistant Luke Naessens with the unenviable job of choosing one of his favourite works from The World of Charles and Ray Eames.

Tanks
3-screen slideshow, 39 passes (117 images), 2:50 min
Eames Office, LLC

‘In 1962, the Eames Office worked on a proposal with Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates for an ambitious National Fisheries Center and Aquarium in Washington DC. Ultimately the project was axed under President Nixon, and the aquarium never developed past the proposal. However, the model, booklet, film and graphics that the Office did produce provided a tantalising promise of what might have been.

The staff became experts in marine husbandry

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For Charles and Ray Eames, the connections between things were as important as things themselves. One of the most important features of their aquarium proposal was its emphasis on ecosystems and habitats that included birds, insects and plants as well as fish, ‘with special stress on the delicate balance among them.’ To better understand this balance themselves, they set up a series of large saltwater tanks in the Office containing over 75 species of sea creatures. The staff became experts in marine husbandry, and the tanks stayed in the space long after the project was shelved.

Each slide demonstrates a balance of childlike curiosity, rigorous research and hands-on experience

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This do-it-yourself aquarium resulted in one of the Eameses’ most intriguing slideshows. In Tanks, over one hundred sumptuously detailed photographs of weird and wonderful creatures from the Office are projected onto three screens. Watching the version in our exhibition is an absorbing and fascinating experience – not only because of its spectacular beauty and vibrant colour, but also because it conveys so much of what was important about the Eameses’ approach to design. The work is simple and direct, but each slide demonstrates a balance of childlike curiosity, rigorous research and hands-on experience.

Today, when the ‘delicate balance’ of marine habitats is more threatened than ever, Tanks remains an evocative reminder of both the wonder and fragility of the natural world.’

The World of Charles and Ray Eames is open until 14 February 2016 in the Barbican Art Gallery, London.

Images: Installation view of Tanks, in The World of Charles and Ray Eames, Barbican Art Gallery, London © Tristan Fewings / Getty Images
Sam Passalacqua photographing one of the live aquarium tanks at 901. Photograph by Charles Brittin © Eames Office, LLC.
Frames from Tanks. All images © Eames Office, LLC.