From the Archive; revisiting Norwegian design

2016-05-15 13.12.18

“Non-competitive Advantage”
by Liz Farrelly
Blueprint No.336, pp.148-164

On the occasion of an exhibition promoting Norwegian design in New York, here’s an article from my archive, “Non-competitive Advantage”, available on DesignCurial. Originally published in Blueprint magazine, I wrote it after a snowy trip to Oslo in February 2014, organised by the Norwegian Embassy in London and hosted by DOGA, the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture. A group of European journalists met and mingled with Norwegian designers, and as well as seeing and hearing about new work the big surprise (for me) was the Norwegian government’s commitment to promoting Norway’s nascent design industry.

Back in the UK the effectiveness of design promotion has been questioned; the embattled Design Council, suffering from an identity crisis exacerbated by ideological manoeuvring and a long drawn-out attempt to curry favour with successive governments, has been criticised by both designers and manufacturers. The long-standing remit of design promotion — to point industry to the miracle cure that is design, with its promise of stimulating exports, reinvigorating national industry and equalising the balance of payments — seems naive and unrealistic. By contrast, in Norway’s case it is the design industry itself — a small but perfectly formed community of collaborative firms and individuals — that is being promoted. Exhibitions at annual industry events around the world have raised the profile of Norwegian design; now clients, buyers and consumers look to Norway for fresh ideas and product-based solutions for contemporary needs, and in the process Norway has upped its cool quota.

VAVA stacking stool in Ash, by Kristine Five Malvaer, featured in a Screen-Shot from DOGA’s exhibition coverage

VAVA stacking stool in Ash, by Kristine Five Malvaer, featured in a Screen-Shot from DOGA’s exhibition coverage

A Few Good Things
WantedDesign
Terminal Stores Building
269 11th Ave, West Chelsea
New York, USA
13 to 18 May 2016

Curated by Paul Makovsky, editor, Metropolis magazine. Part of NYCxDESIGN, New York City’s annual celebration of global design.

Makovsky refers to “peak furniture” (a term coined by Steve Howard, Head of the Sustainability Unit at IKEA) and sets the scene with a statement that sounds about right in the context of American consumerism: “At a time when all have too much stuff…our everyday lives are overcrowded with ‘things’”. A Few Good Things offers an alternative: “We need fewer but better objects in our daily lives”. The prototypes and products displayed are by designers who “place sustainability at the heart of their practice, creating long lasting works with an emphasis on functionality and clean, simple lines”.

Not to deny the issue of over-consumption, but bringing such a message to an American audience at a design festival, and suggesting that more “stuff” might solve the crisis, might be heard as doublethink. But, on a fundamental level, prompting a paradigm shift in our attitude to objects could be a way out of this; and I’m sure multinationals, such as IKEA, are examining these strategies. Objects excite a range of emotions, from attraction (purchase) to boredom/repulsion (disposal), but expectations can be re-programmed, and this is what A Few Good Things suggests. So instead of the quick fix and the long languish in a land-fill, objects might build emotional attachment, enabling longevity of use (as circumstances change) via flexi-/multi-functionality, and reconfiguring notions of wear and worn-out by facilitating durability and patination via traditional and high-tech materials.

Sadly, I’m not in New York to see the show, but am basing these comments on press information kindly shared by Sabine Zetteler of Zetteler Creative Publicity, along with knowledge of featured designers, some of whom I wrote about in Blueprint, back in 2014.

A Few Good Things features Anderssen & Voll, Andreas Bergsaker, Fimbul, Kristine Five Melvaer, Lars Beller Fjetland, Noidoi, Runa Klock, Sara Skotte, Sverre Uhnger and Martin Solem.

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Shopping Paradise; objects, displays and stalls

Gallery

This gallery contains 33 photos.

Outside looking in, the glazed facade of Brighton’s premier flea market, Snoopers Paradise (“Snoopers”), projects domestic objects right into the street. Close-up window-shopping is only possible out of hours when external stalls have been packed away, but it draws people … Continue reading

Snoopers Paradise, the long view

Snoopers Paradise Exterior: Photo by Lisa Båtsvik-Miller

Snoopers Paradise Exterior: Photo by Lisa Båtsvik-Miller

Snoopers Paradise Interior: Photo by Lisa Båtsvik-Miller

Snoopers Paradise Interior: Photo by Lisa Båtsvik-Miller

Snoopers Paradise
Kensington Gardens
Brighton, East Sussex
Photographed on 14 January 2016
Frequent visits since 2001

Snoopers Paradise is an indoor flea market made up of over fifty individual stalls, varying in size from one IKEA display cabinet to fully-individuated and merchandised “corners”. The stalls sell a mixture of old and new goods, some handcrafted others mass-manufactured, from around the world and across the centuries. From jewellery to furniture, ephemera and books, china and glass, fashion and accessories, from toys to art and that catch-all, the “collectible”.

The building was once a department store; when I was an undergraduate living in Brighton I remember it selling household goods, the sort of cookers and chests of drawers that furnished student houses back in the 1980s. The history of how it morphed into a paradise for snoopers is a little mysterious and depends on who’s telling it.
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Collecting and sharing; the social life of objects

First Instagram post, 23 September 2015

First Instagram post, 23 September 2015

In Russell W. Belk’s journal article, “Extended Self in a Digital World” (2013) (available for download, here), the notion that our digital and online presence extends our self – mind and body – into the virtual realm, builds on Belk’s initial thesis “Possessions and the Extended Self” (1988), which posits that “knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, we regard our possessions as parts of ourselves”. And by parts, Belk goes so far as to suggest they become stand-ins, prostheses, building blocks even, of our selves. Belk’s update looks at how the digital turn both dematerialises the self and ups the ante by networking our presence into a diversity of locations, communities, identities and avatars; we can become “multiple characters” so as “to explore different personality possibilities”.

One particular complication was examined by Belk and co-author Kelly Tian in “Extended Self and Possessions in the Workplace” (2005); “the battle that can take place between the ‘home self’ and the ‘work self’ as the time and place boundaries that once distinguished the two melt”. Admitting and allowing such a “melt” to become a positive enhancement rather than a negative detraction has necessitated accepting social media as part of my practice and most recently, Instagram, the photo-sharing app bought by Facebook in 2012 for $1-billion dollars. From an indie start-up it growth in size and popularity at a rate is now outperforming the parent company by a factor of 7 to 1. Why Instagram? Because I was looking for a way to connect multiple strands of my life – work, research, hobby, leisure, obsession – and Instagram’s informality, flexibility and outreach makes it a potentially useful tool. I have a project in mind, and by restricting my usage of Instagram to that specific task I hope to employ social media without lapsing into narcissism.
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Imaging New Tate Modern

2016-03-23 15.14.01

From digital to analogue, consider this a signpost to a printed, published article in Blueprint, issue 345. After interviewing Peter Saville, reading Tate Modern press releases, navigating official webpages and searching the media coverage, I wrote a review of an image created by Saville and team that was commissioned to accompany communications about the extension and renovation of Tate Modern, aka “New Tate Modern”. Eventually the image will be incorporated into a revamped identity for the entire Tate empire.
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From the Archive (and now); Destroy, punk and DIY

So an email arrived inviting me to the launch of Punk.London at Oxford Street’s 100 Club, and I have to admit it didn’t totally intrigue me. Instead in gushed cloudy memories of a dark, sweaty cellar and an uncomfortable din, which I must have endured (it feels like) a hundred times over a couple of decades. But a closer look at the invite revealed this to be an occasion for nostalgia, a celebration of a 40-year anniversary marking London’s punk moment and the start of a movement, a subculture in fact, the long-tail of which has affected both attire and attitude.

Screen Shot from Punk.London website, designed by Brody Associates, inviting D-I-Y participation in a city-wide cultural event

Screen Shot from Punk.London website, designed by Brody Associates, inviting D-I-Y participation in a city-wide cultural event

“Subversive Culture” is the strapline (pardon the bondage-tinged pun), which it is claimed has fuelled creativity (now the Creative Industries) ever since. Over the coming year a host of venues will stage events big and small, backed by the Greater London Authority (GLA); shouting about London’s past punk credentials must have tourist-attracting potential. With an identity and online hub branded by Neville Brody (still demonstrating punk attitude by being “notoriously abrasive”, according to Digital Arts), for me the most innovative element is an prompt to organise your own event; tagged “D.I.Y.” the page offers links to branding and fundraising advice, via the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Regardless of designated anniversaries punk is perennial, and it doesn’t need much of an excuse to hit the headlines. In 1998 I reviewed an exhibition, Destroy: Punk Graphic Design in Britain, and because it isn’t available on the magazine’s website I’m re-posting it, see below. Yes it was cheeky of me to declare punk to be the only “memorable cultural event in the 1970s”, but that’s a clue to my age. I may have been “witness” to the “heyday of punk” but only just; the article is unapologetically London-centric, too, hardly surprising as I was still at school and London was home. What isn’t mentioned is that I was a lender to the show too, having amassed a substantial collection of vinyl due to a fascination with indie record shops. I sold most of the best bits (the vultures were already circling at the Private View) as I became nomadic, leaving London in April 1998, and had neither the means (no turntable) nor inclination (changing musical tastes) to listen again.
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Design Objects and the Museum; the book

Cover DOATM Bloomsbury

Design Objects and the Museum
Edited by Liz Farrelly and Joanna Weddell
Bloomsbury Academic, 2016

Contributors: Leah Armstrong, Nicola Ashmore, Sue Breakell, Helen Charman, Jason Cleverly, Liz Farrelly, Guy Julier, Marianne Lamonaca, Virginia Lucarelli, Magha Rajguru, Gillian Russell, Jana Scholze, Nicola Stylianou, Deborah Sugg Ryan, Damon Taylor, Joanna Weddell, Gareth Williams, Tom Wilson, Ness Wood, Jonathan Woodham

Having worked in publishing – commissioning, editing and writing – it was interesting to see how the process of co-editing a book of academic papers for a peer-reviewed press differs from creating visual books for mainstream publishers. Why? Because myself and a colleague, Joanna Weddell, a fellow AHRC CDA candidate at University of Brighton, have completed just such a “tome” for Bloomsbury Academic.
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Symposium: Hewison revisits his heritage

Old postcard found on Pinterest

Old postcard found on Pinterest

Heritage in the 21st Century
Centre for Research in Memory, Narrative and Histories Annual Symposium
University of Brighton
Grand Parade, Brighton
7 February 2015

The programme promised critical analysis of literary guide books, prime-time costume dramas, gourmet vegetables and redesigned bank notes, the cherry on top being a keynote lecture from Professor Robert Hewison (Lancaster University), an academic legend, living and breathing. Professor Graham Dawson (Director of CRMNH) introduced the day by highlighting some issues; heritage is cross disciplinary and “slippery” and has supplanted “culture” as the buzz word du jour, but that doesn’t make it easier to define as, since the 1980s, its meaning has shifted especially in an era of the New Right and consumer capitalism. Plus, “tensions” between practitioners and critics, especially in the museum world, make it more difficult to question orthodoxies; leaving us with a big question to ponder, “how might heritage function in the 21st-century, in an age of austerity and new technology?” Co-convener, Professor Deborah Philips was also looking for definitions; “how do you describe heritage”, and provided a clue from The Oxford English Dictionary, which lists the root of the word as “inherited from the French”. I like that it’s borrowed from the language that also gave us “bureaucracy”, and also that Deborah went to the dictionary. Updating that methodology, the pr-installed Dictionary program on my MacBook includes “property, inheritance, value and preservation” in its definition. Then Deborah complicated the issue by suggesting that heritage has “many competing” definitions, and brought in a Guardian travel supplement offering “culture and heritage tours” as evidence, setting the scene for Hewison’s end of the day lecture. A PDF of the full programme is here.
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Issues around archives, part two; Using Museum Archives

Screen Shot of the British Museum’s Libraries and Archives webpage

Screen Shot of the British Museum’s Libraries and Archives webpage, with information about the Central Archive

Using Museum Archives
British Museum
Great Russell Street, London WC1
13 July 2015

The audience was welcomed by the event’s organisers, Laura Carter of University of Cambridge and Sarah Longair of the British Museum, who urged us to join the Museums and Galleries History Group and read Museum History Journal, both of which were new to me.

Francesca Hillier, Central Archivist at the British Museum, began her talk with what I consider a shocking fact, that she is the only archivist employed by the Museum, and went on to describe an institution built on eccentricities, which made me realise (again) that I’m as fascinated by the history of museums as by the objects within them. We heard that the Central Archive holds the deeds for the land and buildings of the British Museum; minutes from Trustees Meetings, since 1753; and internal reports and administrative records. Francesca emphasised the Museum’s “very complicated” history that has led to departments also having archives (perhaps due to their quasi-sovereign power despite name changes and reshuffles). For while Keepers were required to justify collecting activity to the Trustees, they also managed to “slip stuff in”, bought or acquired independently, which meant that record keeping was a hot potato. The hiving off of Museum departments into separate institutions – the Natural History Museum and British Library – has further complicated matters as archival material may have followed the objects, or not.
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Sound Design UK Music and Graphic Design; reconstructing an exhibition

Welcome to Sound Design: UK Music and Graphic Design, an exhibition from 2000. Staged on the cusp of the digital communications revolution it has no online presence and is therefore “invisible”. This post is an attempt at digital reparation, an experiment in creating a “trace” for a long-gone temporary exhibition by providing details of the exhibition-making process. The idea for an exhibition on the graphic design of popular music came from David Elliott, then Head of Arts at the British Council in Japan and a keen vinyl collector. I was asked to pitch a concept that would fit the brief and then employed as curator. The exhibition was designed and organised in the UK by the British Council and toured Asia and Australia. Sometimes in a venue for just a few days, it proved extremely popular and surpassed expectations, travelling for nearly three years; before opening in Tokyo it was already booked into venues in Sydney, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. However, there is no British press coverage, probably because the exhibition wasn’t shown in the UK. Masses of media was generated in Asian and a pile of clippings probably resides in the Tokyo office; I saw the fast-growing folder. (Eventually the British Council realised it was missing a trick and started to give touring shows a short run in the UK, with a Press and Private View to provoke media interest; then the LDF launched and constituted an even better reason).

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This is the poster, in situ, displayed at the entrance to the Tokyo venue, The Ground. Instead of installing the exhibition at the British Council headquarters, it opened in this concrete-lined bunker (not the easiest place to hang a show) close to the epicentre of Japanese trendiness (between Harajuku and Meiji-Dori). However, in some correspondence The Spiral is named as venue, which would have been an even bigger deal! David’s brief called for an exhibition of UK music graphics; from the golden years of vinyl when British designers helped to invent the genre of “album sleeve art”, to recent annexation of the aesthetic high ground by indie labels and various subcultures. The aim was to come right up to date with examples of ingenious CD packaging.
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