Creative duo Isabel Gibson and Helen Chesner (Isabel + Helen) were commissioned to create a Christmas tree for the V&A, following in the footsteps of previous designers include Alexander McQueen, Es Devlin, and Jasper Conran. ‘Power Plant’, Isabel + Helen’s abstract Christmas tree for the V&A South Kensington’s Grand Entrance, is inspired by orbital paths of planets and festive skies and reflects the V&A’s dedication to spotlighting innovative and dynamic design. ‘Power Plant’ is over 4 metres high and combines industrial design with decorative festive influences. Isabel + Helen reimagine the traditional Christmas tree symbolism through an exploration of light and movement, using rotating wind-powered turbines to power light sources as a metaphor for nocturnal festive skies.
Isabel + Helen’s practice centres on a love of analogue design processes and understated kinetics. Since 2015, they have gained widespread recognition for their experimental, engineered installations and animated sculptures, which hover at the intersection of art and design. The duo have collaborated with luxury brands including Dior, Hermés, Moncler and Bottega Veneta, and held their first solo exhibition, ‘In Orbit’, at the Saatchi Gallery in 2021.
Meneesha Kellay, V&A Senior Curator, Contemporary said: “We are thrilled to commission Isabel + Helen for this year’s V&A Christmas tree installation inspired by the dark winter sky. Through this monumental yet delicate installation, Isabel + Helen have turned functional, everyday objects such as oven and computer fans into an improbable spectacle to delight and intrigue this festive season.”
Power Plant is a continuation of the artists’ creative exploration of movement and energy transfer, which was showcased with ‘Power Suits’ at the V&A in September 2023.
V&A Christmas Tree Installation 2023 by Isabel + Helen. Photography by Sam Lort Studios
Isabel + Helen said: “Growing up we both had a carousel Christmas decoration which was the centrepiece of the festive table. As you lit 4 candles at the base of the carousel, heat would rise up and power the propeller above, causing it to rotate and in turn angels would spin around the flames, glinting in the candlelight. A simple mechanism but completely mesmerising. We wanted to capture this hypnotic transfer of energy through our V&A installation.”