RdV with Dr Christopher Turner


After delighting critics with his first book– Adventures in the Orgasmatron: Wilhem Reich and the Invention of Sex– Christopher Turner became a contributing editor to Cabinet Magazine and edited Modern Painters and Icon Magazine. He is now the director of the London Design Biennale.

RdV - You’ve had a super busy year…can you tell us where you’ve been?

Dr T - I’ve been to Turkey, Italy, Cuba, Germany, China, and am off to Morocco for Christmas. This year, we put on the first London Design Biennale with 37 countries participating, creating installations on the theme Utopia by Design at Somerset House. I visited masses of embassies in the process – technically sovereign soil, so sort of “abroad”. (I wasn’t offered Ferrero Rocher once, though one ambassador did proffer me a bowl of After Eights.) It was a great success, and next year I hope to do a victory lap of the world to  visit all my new, far-flung friends.

RdV - What were you doing in Cuba?

Dr T - I was giving a talk at the inaugural Havana Design Biennale, and trying to encourage Cuba to join the London Design Biennale, of which I’m director. My hosts put us in an amazing brutalist house just outside the city, which was designed by Emilio Castro, who built Havana’s baseball stadium – it’s in Cojimar, where Fidel has a place and The Old Man and the Sea is set. I’d been to Cuba in 2000, when I saw Fidel Castro speak at a May Day rally, and so much had changed – the country is going through a digital revolution at the moment, a topic they explored at the Biennale.

RdV - Where was your last trip?

Dr T - I went to Nanjing, the Ming capital, to visit another design week. Emperors were buried in elaborate mausoleums on the slopes of Purple Mountain in the east of the city, which is an amazing site. We also went to Suzhou, the capital of the silk trade, which Marco Polo called the “Venice of the Orient”. With its canals and courtyard houses, with their amazing gardens, it’s like a film set. We stayed in Pian Jiang Lodge, a 450-year-old merchant’s house, once owned by the fabulously named Fang family. With its secluded quarters and canopy bed, it was like a scene from Raise the Red Lantern.

RdV – Do you travel light?  What do you never leave home without?

Dr T - I never check my luggage, and don’t use a case with wheels, so have to travel light. Apart from clothes, I pack a Leuchtturm notebook and a few essential toiletries. The bottom third of my barrel bag, which I never get around to properly unpacking, is normally full of pilfered hotel shampoos and soaps.

RdV - How do you juggle a family with a career that takes you so far away?

Dr T -I took my family with me to China, which was fun. My daughters enjoyed the many banquets we were treated to: they tried river crab, pigs trotters, stuffed snails, jellyfish, eel,  the works. And they art directed Claire in the Robe de Voyage shoot we did in the hotel and Master of the Nets garden -  my eldest also posed for a few photos herself.

RdV -  What’s the most interesting journey you’ve been on?

Dr T - When I edited an architecture and design magazine, I sent myself to Svalbard, which is the furthest north you can go by charter plane. I visited the Global Seed Vault, a back-up hard drive for planet earth that is set deep in the mountainside of this barren island. I also met some of the scientists working at the observatories and study stations there, at the frontline of the battle against climate change. When you left the hotel you had to rent a gun in case you encountered any angry polar bears, and there were cards by your bed with instructions on how to shoot one.

RdV -  Where’s your favourite place to relax? and why?

Dr T - I have a crumbling sanctuary in Norfolk, which is by a river and close to the sea. It’s a wonderful place to shut yourself off from the world - to read, write and cook. A trip to Winterton beach, a golden stretch of sand with a colony of seals, blows away the cobwebs.   

RdV – Have you got any travel secrets…?

Dr T - I got most of my travel tips from the slick traveller played by George Clooney in Up in the Air. He always has slip on shoes so he can clear security fast, and knows all the tricks for speedy boarding. In my easy Jet set life, things never quite work like that; I’m many miles off my platinum card, and can’t remember the last time I didn’t get treated to a free massage from border guards.