Es Devlin and Yinka Ilori design a vibrant labyrinthine set for 2021 BRIT Awards

In London’s O2 Arena, the duo crafted a set reflecting the paths we have tread in overcoming the trials of last year, during a ceremony that marked the return of indoor events in the UK.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : May 19, 2021

A scintillating, vibrant, multi-coloured maze of volumes characterised the set for the BRIT Awards 2021, designed by acclaimed stage designer Es Devlin OBE, and multidisciplinary artist, Yinka Ilori MBE. Heralding the restoration of live music and indoor events in the UK, this year's ceremony was held at London's O2 Arena on May 11, featuring a star-studded line-up of nominees and performers. Attended by an audience of 4,000 - of which 2,500 were key workers and their guests chosen by a ballot, the event celebrated the best of British music from the past year in a joyous outpouring of colour and optimism that sharply contrasted the grim circumstances induced within the nation by the pandemic in the preceding year.

This unique design was borne out of a collaboration between stage designer Es Devlin and multidisciplinary artist Yinka Ilori | Yinka Ilori and Es Devlin podium design for the 2021 BRIT Awards | STIRworld
This unique design was borne out of a collaboration between stage designer Es Devlin and multidisciplinary artist Yinka Ilori Image: Courtesy of JM Enternational

This year BRIT Awards were conducted as part of the UK government's scientific Events Research Programme, which aims to investigate enhanced testing approaches and subsequently devise measures by which similar indoor events can take place without the need for social distancing. Face coverings and other precautions were not mandatory for attendees - although they did have to furnish proof of a negative lateral-flow test to enter the venue and were also requested to get tested after the festivities concluded.

At the event, the presenter’s podium was set against a backdrop of modules layered in maze-like geometric patterns lit up by LED lights to provide an explosion of colour | Yinka Ilori and Es Devlin podium design for the 2021 BRIT Awards | STIRworld
At the event, the presenter’s podium was set against a backdrop of modules layered in maze-like geometric patterns lit up by LED lights to provide an explosion of colour Image: Courtesy of JM Enternational

At the ceremony hosted by comedian Jack Whitehall, the visually striking main podium was set against an expansive backdrop composed of modules layered over one another in labyrinthine geometric patterns. Lit up by LED strips, the zigzagged modules rendered Ilori's stunning signature 'explosion of colour' - a prevalent feature in much of his work. In an interview with Helen Lamont for the BRIT Awards Show Programme, Es Devlin described the set design as “engraved with the maze pattern that celebrates the paths many of those working within the creative industries have had to tread in order to progress through this challenging year”. She elaborated, “The overall spirit of the BRITs this year is characterised using Yinka’s stunning use of colour – which for me embodies hope, combined with my use of architecture”.

Alternatively, the performance stage echoed these jagged, convoluted motifs in a rising curved volume with lighter, milder hues | Yinka Ilori and Es Devlin podium design for the 2021 BRIT Awards | STIRworld
Alternatively, the performance stage echoed these jagged, convoluted motifs in a rising curved volume with lighter, milder hues Image: Courtesy of JM Enternational

On the other hand, the performance stage, adjacent to the podium, consisted of a curved, rising mass that echoed the layered, jagged, and convoluted architecture of the presenter stage, albeit with softer, milder hues and a more compact span. Both structures give off the impression of dynamic, winding three-dimensional mazes - rising over the stages of O2 Arena.

UK-based set building specialists Diagon returned to bring the duo’s artistic vision to life- having worked on sets for previous ceremonies | Yinka Ilori and Es Devlin podium design for the 2021 BRIT Awards | STIRworld
UK-based set building specialists Diagon returned to bring the duo’s artistic vision to life- having worked on sets for previous ceremonies Image: Courtesy of JM Enternational

Diagon, the British set-building specialists - who have realised multiple scenic designs for the BRITs in recent years and collaborated with Devlin previously on her Mirror Maze installation from 2016, returned to bring the duo's artistic vision to life. Fabricated at the company's London studio, the eye-catching set design echoed the air of excitement and positivity that pervaded the event while combining the aesthetic qualities of the unique dual award scheme for the ceremony - also co-designed by Ilori and Devlin.

Devlin and Ilori also collaborated on a dual trophy design that celebrated the spirit of kindness and reciprocity | Yinka Ilori and Es Devlin podium design for the 2021 BRIT Awards | STIRworld
Devlin and Ilori also collaborated on a dual trophy design that celebrated the spirit of kindness and reciprocity Image: Courtesy of JM Enternational

For their innovative trophy design, the pair elected to craft a set of two vastly different yet dazzling figurines - one large and one small. Devlin explained, “Yinka and I thought that the best award that one could receive would be agency to award another...Each recipient is invited to award the second trophy to someone they consider worthy - it might be recognition - or it might be someone that does something entirely unrelated to music”.

The larger statuette features Ilori’s trademark explosion of colour, while the smaller one has maze like patterns and both elements are reflected in the set design | Yinka Ilori and Es Devlin podium design for the 2021 BRIT Awards | STIRworld
The larger statuette features Ilori’s trademark explosion of colour, while the smaller one has maze like patterns and both elements are reflected in the set design Image: Courtesy of JM Enternational

Yinka Ilori, co-Creative Director of the event elaborated, “The idea came from the experience of lockdown, where your neighbour you have lived beside for six years and never say hello to suddenly gave you flowers, foods, acts of kindness. I wanted to capture that...I would describe it as two artists from different disciplines, different inspirations, coming together to design a trophy based around the idea of giving something back - acts of kindness”. The larger statuette features Ilori’s trademark colour palette inspired by his Nigerian roots - which he defined as, “a nod to my aesthetic, based around my storytelling theme”.

Devlin and Ilori (pictured), both have installations coming up at Somerset House with the former serving as Artistic Director for the 2021 London Design Biennale | Yinka Ilori and Es Devlin podium design for the 2021 BRIT Awards | STIRworld
Devlin and Ilori (pictured), both have installations coming up at Somerset House with the former serving as Artistic Director for the 2021 London Design Biennale Image: Courtesy of JM Enternational

Devlin is also engaged as the Artistic Director for the 2021 London Design Biennale, supervising the installation of the Global Goals Pavilion, dubbed Forest for Change at the Somerset House. She has previously worked on set designs for the 2015 and 2018 BRITs as well as for numerous acclaimed musical artists. Devlin also won the commission to design the UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai, slated to begin in October this year. Ilori is currently building a playground in the Becontree estate of Dagenham in east London and also working on an installation at Somerset House, scheduled for unveiling later this summer.

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