Right here, right now; The Future is Here

This blog is intended as a place for comment on a wide range of activities, but specifically, it is an adjunct to my doctoral research so I’ll be posting interviews, reviews and articles about contemporary design in museums. The following is extracted from a longer interview with a Curator at London’s Design Museum, which will feature in my thesis, but also relates to my on-going interest in visions and versions of the future.

Neon welcome sign/exhibition logo hangs over laser-cut graphic of an industrial/technological timeline and points towards the Future Factory

Neon welcome sign/exhibition logo hangs over laser-cut graphic of an industrial/technological timeline and points towards the Future Factory

The Future is Here
Design Museum
Shad Thames, London SE1
24 July to 29 October 2013
Alex Newson and Liz Farrelly
Interview, 2 December 2013

Installation shot of The Future is Here with exhibition design by dRMM Architects and graphics by LucienneRoberts+

Installation shot of The Future is Here with Exhibition Design by dRMM Architects and Graphic Design by LucienneRoberts+

“The Future is Here” grew out of conversations between the Design Museum’s Director, Deyan Sudjic, and David Bott, Director of Innovation Programmes at the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), the UK’s innovation agency, which invests in new technology for the UK Government. The TSB backs start-ups with the aim of creating new manufacturing jobs. Wanting to do more than simply promote a string of TSB projects, Curator Alex Newson hit on the idea of telling the story of the “Third Industrial Revolution”. He opens the show with an historical “time line” of inventions and scientific breakthroughs, that have fuelled industrial manufacturing from the early 18th-century to today; a “Future Factory” is installed at one end of the gallery; and a wide array of exhibits explore a range of new technologies, and include: customisable dolls delivered by post (Makie dolls); compostable trainers, demonstrating that “unmaking” may be customised too (InCycle by Puma); and a crowd-sourced sofa, designed and voted on my the public and put into production by MADE.com.
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From the Archive; Pop Panel at Pick Me Up (version three)

Pick Me Up: Contemporary Graphic Arts Fair
Somerset House, London WC1
24 April to 5 May 2014

Over the years at Pick Me Up, the importance of getting visitors involved in workshops and events has become more and more central to the whole project. By Pick Me Up 2010, Somerset House Curator, Sarah Mann, had responsibility for programming the vast and varied offering, from academic conference to kid’s weekend. She invited me to co-organise and chair a panel discussion examining the role of Illustration and Graphic Design in the music industry, tackling such issues as how the packaging and branding of music and bands has changed as digital delivery rocks the edifice of corporate control and a DIY spirit emerges. The speakers brought a range of expertise to the discussion, drawing on their experience working with music, from the late-1970s to now. The review below first appeared on Eye Blog.

Review of Music x The Graphic Arts at Pick Me Up 2012
22 March to 1 April 2012
Music x The Graphic Arts panel discussion
23 March 2012

Screen shot 2014-05-02 at 08.18.09

Wednesday, 7:48am
28 March 2012
Pop panel
Music design session at Pick Me Up with Malcolm Garrett & Kate Moross

On Friday night, as part of a “packed programme” of events, talks and workshops at Pick Me Up (the graphic arts fair at London’s Somerset House, now in its third year), I chaired a “Music x The Graphic Arts” panel discussion. Since the digital revolution of the 1980s, the music industry has undergone radical changes in formats, distribution, style and substance.

The panel: designer Malcolm Garrett (Buzzcocks, Duran Duran); critic (and Varoom editor) John O’Reilly; the prolific Kate Moross; and Tom Oldham (label boss at No Pain in Pop and Berserker, an online music/comics magazine).

Malcolm kicked off with his schoolboy Hawkwind obsession, which led him to Barney Bubbles. Highlighting the polarised nature of Britain’s tribal counter-cultures in the 1960s and 70s (naming IT and Oz magazines as “the birth of blogging”), he suggested that with Punk, “it all changed”. Later, in the 1980s, the zeitgeist was celebratory; the music industry sold lifestyles, with video and “merch” paramount, and the first sponsored tour was by Duran Duran, brought to you by Coca-Cola.
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Guest blogger; revisiting Pick Me Up (version one)

Pick Me Up: Contemporary Graphic Arts Fair
Somerset House, London WC1
24 April to 5 May 2014

Five years in and Pick Me Up is now a headline event in London’s creative calendar; undoubtedly it’s evolved and mutated, and much discussion has been generated about how it reflects and influences the graphic arts in London, the UK and beyond. But more of that later, when I visit this year’s PMU. Also, watch this space for an archival re-post of a PMU debate that I chaired in 2012, here.

Meanwhile, here’s guest blogger John O’Reilly, editor of Varoom, the magazine of the Association of Illustrators, with a long-form review of the very first Pick Me Up, back in 2010. I commissioned this for étapes magazine; it was published in “issue zero”, an experimental, white-cover experiment intended to rehearse the redesign/relaunch in the form of a quarterly “bookazine”. John explored the widest implications of PMU, as an expression of zeitgeist and as a reinvention of the exhibition/artfair.

Nobrow’s nook, Pick Me Up, 2010

Nobrow’s nook, Pick Me Up, 2010

Peepshow Collective’s DIY installation, Pick Me Up, 2010

Peepshow Collective’s DIY installation, Pick Me Up, 2010

Photography: © Sylvain Deleu
Courtesy: Somerset House

Review of Pick Me Up 2010 by John O’Reilly
23 April to 3 May 2010

Two exhibitions bookend transition moments in recent British visual culture. Back in the late 1980s a young art student took over an empty building in London’s docklands and put on an exhibition that would shape the Art World over the next two decades. Born in a recession, Damien Hirst’s show, “Freeze”, introduced the general public to a type of brash, spectacular art, and over time these Young British Artists (YBAs) combined the two-fingered, anti-establishment sensibility of their roots with a growing awareness of big-budget, Art World thrills. It evolved into brash, boom-time art, and whereas artist Robert Patterson described the YBA tag as “a kind of licence to show tits and arse more than anything”, with this second exhibition, the invitation implied in the informality of “Pick Me Up”, of a cultural cheap date, is ideologically, temperamentally and aesthetically very different.
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Voting for Design; Designs of the Year

For its annual Designs of the Year award, London’s Design Museum employs social media, an email campaign and a micro-site to engage with its audience and entice it to judge the exhibits. It also suggests that talent-spotting curation offers a glimpse into the future.

For its annual Designs of the Year award, London’s Design Museum employs social media, an email campaign and a micro-site to engage with its audience and entice it to judge the exhibits. It also suggests that talent-spotting curation offers a glimpse into the future.

Designs of the Year 2014
Design Museum
Shad Thames, London SE1
26 March to 25 August 2014
Nominees’ Party
25 March 2014

An exercise in engagement, a sure-fire media event, and a comprehensive round-up of the best design launched in a year, the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year award and exhibition is now in its seventh year, showcasing design across a range of categories; Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Furniture, Graphic, Product and Transport. Designs of the Year was instigated by the current Director, Deyan Sudjic, to replace the “Designer of the Year” award, when a winner was picked from just four nominated individuals whose careers and recent achievements were being judged rather than any particular outcomes. Increasingly, that competition attracted criticism for pitting star-designers against rank outsiders, and for some controversial decisions. Opening up the nomination and judging process to a wider panel, Designs of the Year provides the public with an annual, international round-up of headline-grabbing ideas, solutions and products.

The selection process for this new format has also generated a worldwide network of judges and nominatee from across the design industry — the museum’s extended “family” — who are now known to curators, with both parties mutually benefitting from the association. For the past three years, I’ve been asked to nominate, and each year had a couple of my choices make it through to the “exhibition” round. Proof of how much designers and their clients appreciate this opportunity to exhibit at the Design Museum may be judged by the massive amount of social media and personal thanks generated on the “shortlist” day, when the selection is announced; and by the packed, riotous party on the eve of opening. I’m writing this after attending the nominees party, so excuse the lack of focus on particular exhibits; this show demands repeat viewing as there’s so much to see.
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Conference; Drawing the Future

4th International Illustration Symposium, Oxford
7-8 November 2013

At this symposium, not only did I hear Johnny Hardstaff deliver a keynote address, which prompted me to request an interview (we talked about imagining a graphic language of the future), but I also delivered a paper.

Drawing the Future: Exhibiting Illustration
8 November 2013

Here’s a summary, and some slides.

In the Spring semester I deliver a series of lectures on the “future” to Graphic Design and Illustration students (Level 5/2nd Year) at University of Brighton, and start with a couple of definitions so as to debunk such notions as, the future isn’t really anything to do with us right now, and, it’s all just science-fiction anyway.

“The ‘Future’ is everything that happens from [beat] now (…as they say in the movies…)” …is my playful opener; then I hit them with Tony Fry’s definition (from Design Futuring: sustainability, ethics and new practice, 2009); “The future is not presented here as an objective reality independent of our existence, but rather, and anthropocentrically, as what divides ‘now’ from our finitude. In other words, we exist in the medium of time as finite beings (individually and as a species) in a finite world; how long we now exist — the event of our being — is determined by either an unexpected cataclysmic event (like our plant being hit by a massive meteorite) or by our finding ways to curb our currently autodestructive, world-destroying nature and conduct.”
…and that’s how I began this talk too.

I set out to show that perhaps by way of a heightened familiarity with drawn and animated futures peopled with cute and cuddly characters, used to entertain and promote (everything from breakfast cereals to banking services), a more positive, friendly, utopian version of the future is being proliferated. In comparison, the “scary”, sci-fi, dystopia future of apocolyptic blockbuster movies seems worn out; not so much because we can “see the wires”, but because we’ve developed “explosion fatique”; such gargantuan, special-effects-driven destruction just doesn’t “feel real” anymore.

Looking at how we got to this point, I present a wide range of examples from artists, writers, film-makers and designers who’ve helped us imagine the future: from the first use of the word robot (in the play R.U.R by Karel Capek); to the first on-screen robot (“Metropolis”, Director: Fritz Lang, 1927); to future-gazing predictions on a series of Scottish cigarette cards from the 1930s; and on to post-war Japan’s love affair with manga and anime’s re-telling of natural and man-made destruction (comprehensively documented by Takeshi Murakami in the seminal exhibition and catalogue Little Boy: the arts of Japan’s exploding subculture.

Slide12Slide13Slide16
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Johnny Hardstaff imagines the future; interview

Michael Fassbender in David Promo, by Johnny Hardstaff (RSA Films)

Michael Fassbender in David Promo, by Johnny Hardstaff (RSA Films)

Johnny Hardstaff and Liz Farrelly
Interview, 13 December 2013

A shorter version of this article appears in étapes 218, translated into French; the issue is themed, Fiction and Anticipation, published March 2014.

A director and designer who includes the title “modern storyteller” in his biography, Johnny Hardstaff studied Graphic Design at St. Martins School of Art (now called Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design), graduating in the early 1990s and going on to teach design and illustration at Camberwell College of Arts (both are part of University of the Arts London). Hardstaff’s exploration of graphic imagery and use of drawing within his practice are prompted by a desire to build fantastical but believable on-screen worlds; two early short films, “History of Gaming” and “Future of Gaming” suggest that the concepts of utopia and dystopia are inextricably linked. Whether working with commercial clients (Sony, Smirnoff) the entertainment industry (often in collaboration with filmmaker, Ridley Scott) or cultural institutions (Tate, Victoria and Albert Museum), Hardstaff aims to imagine the future.

Liz Farrelly: How do you imagine the graphic language of the future? Do you see other designers trying this too?
Johnny Hardstaff: I used to think that I worked in a cultural vacuum and it was a positive thing. I was adhering to the principle that you don’t have heroes, don’t look at other designers’ work. Instead, you look at interesting triggers and stimuli that are erratic, and fuse them together in a postmodern way. When I try to help students to be original, I say, take two things that do not belong together and see what happens when they implode.
LF: Like the quote by the 19th-century poet, Lautréamont: “As beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella”.
JH: That’s absolutely the principle. I love thumbnails of things that you can’t quite see, images that are so broken you don’t know what they are, so you have to decide what they are.
LF: Like an inkblot test; by deciding what an image is, you are interpreting those half-formed marks, and that comes straight out of your head.
JH: And it’s a trigger. I like industrial languages and detailing on cars, things that already exist, but then you mess with them. They already have cultural resonance, but you remake it. It comes down to monsters; I like the idea of weird cultural monstrosities.
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Guest blogger; assessing Peter Saville, legend

Peter Saville Blueprint spread

Interview, 13 September 2013
Published, Blueprint, issue 331, 10 December 2013
Interview: graphic design legend Peter Saville talks to Liz Farrelly
Further contribution by Paul West, Form

For as long as this interview is available on the Design/Curial website, I’ll redirect you there; after that, I’ll repost it. It was a pleasure to be commissioned by Blueprint again after a few year’s hiatus. I worked in house from 1990 to 1994 beginning as Editorial Assistant, and writing from day one; I reached the heady heights of Deputy Editor, then freelanced under every editor until about 2006. Being asked to interview Peter Saville was the bonus; this is the third time I’ve had the opportunity to conduct a long interview with Peter, as well as having a few good chats along the way. He’s a great talker and it shows in the two and half hour transcript! Peter was to be honoured with the London Design Festival’s major award, which prompted the coverage. The award spiel mentions the winner’s contribution to design in London, and I realised that Peter’s amazing affect was as an inspirtion to and an incurbator of a considerable amount of graphic design talent that has gone on to make London the most important city in the world for graphic design. So, I asked around, and got a bunch of people to talk about their favourite work by Peter. Paul West had worked for Peter, and so I’m posting his contribution here as I couldn’t get it to the magazine by the deadline. Thank you Paul for adding such a great further contribution to the story.

Paul West: Where to start with Peter’s output. Who can’t love FAC1; the “Unknown Pleasures” pulsar; the “Closer” tomb, photographed by Bernard Pierre Wolff with the beautiful Lapidary typography; the “Blue Monday” floppy disc, his Section 25 work — the list is endless. To even go on more is redundant, so well catalogued is his work (alongside designers including Martyn Atkins, Brett Wickens, Richard Smith to name but three) that it’s entrenched in our popular counter-culture, in turn influencing culture.

True Faith

If I could name ONE piece of work I have loved above all other it is the fabulous “True Faith” 12″. This beautiful gold leaf suspended or floating on Yves Klein’s “International Klein Blue” backdrop, with the absolute minimum of information on the back cover (Name — Title / bside — Copyright — the all important Fac183 catalogue number — pre barcode!) and the way it fused art, hi-tech, independent couture, anti-couture; it feels as new now as it did then.

In 1987 I wrote my college thesis on Peter Saville Associates and Vaughan Oliver (V-23) and as a result I got through the doors and worked at PSA ’88 to ’89. I remember asking Peter about this cover and I him saying that the expanse of white on the back sleeve made the front sleeve look like an art piece, with the back cover serving as the catalogue descriptor. I loved that. It was so Warhol.

Of course so much of Peter’s great “visual” work is thanks to the genius of Trevor Key who had a studio space next door. I remember watching the exploratory work Peter and Trevor were doing for “Fine Time” and “Technique” and thinking how great it was, to be so progressive with such a spirit of discovery and invention, it was incredibly inspirational for a 20-something graduate. One day I was in Trevor’s studio talking to him about his work and looking through a massive pile of old test polaroids (including, X-Ray Spex “Germ Free Adolescents”) and I saw THE polaroid of “True Faith”. l had to ask. “Can I have it?”. “Piss off” came the reply. #legend.

From guest blogger, Paul West, Form

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From the Archive; advice from Howard Tangye

Thinking about fashion exhibitions, and the way that fashion designers and students use museums and galleries for inspiration, reminded me to re-post this account of a round-table discussion at London’s Design Museum about Fashion Illustration, as a discipline, practice and commodity. This event was very well attended and super informative, and part of the programme around the Drawing Fashion exhibition, which I reviewed on Eye Blog, here, and reposted on this blog too, here.

Drawing Fashion
Design Museum
Shad Thames, London SE1
3 November 2010 to 6 March 2011
Drawing Fashion debate
5 November 2010

Another reason for reposting this now, is because Howard Tangye had an exhibition this month at the Hus Gallery, “Casting the Line”; the catalogue may be downloaded, here. I became an instant fan of Howard’s work on hearing him talk at this debate, and when Stina Gromark and Louise Naunton Morgan of STSQ launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the design and publication of a monograph of Howard’s work, I was happy to contribute. The resulting book, Within — Howard Tangye is proof that Kickstarter is a very good thing!

Eye Blog Fashion Illustration Debate

Thursday, 4:58pm
18 November 2010
Drawing Fashion debate
The nature, collectability and status of fashion illustration

On a rainy evening, a large and avid audience was treated to behind the scenes revelations, and much insight about the state of contemporary fashion drawing. Chaired by Colin McDowell, the panel included gallerists Joëlle Chariau of Galerie Bartsch and Charian, and William Ling of Fashion Illustration Gallery, who kicked off by discussing the growing market for fashion drawings, both originals and prints.

Chariau declared that finding an audience isn’t the issue, but that finding the drawings is, as so much was originally made to commission. She recounted how, when she first opened her gallery, she prompted René Gruau to search his house and cupboards for “packages” of artwork, which he had never considered saleable.

Ling admitted that the collecting market is still nascent, much like the graffiti scene was a decade ago. But, he added, “the art market is starved of beautiful, hand-drawn work…when I show a new client the work, and explain it, it’s extremely powerful.” Both revealed that they sell to a number of fashion photographers, musing that they are attracted by what drawing can achieve, that photography cannot.
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From the Archive; Drawing Fashion at the Design Museum

Drawing Fashion
Design Museum
Shad Thames, London SE1
Visited 5 November 2010

Drawing Fashion Eye Blog

Monday, 4:47pm
15 November 2010
Beyond the body
Fashion drawing lies between representation and abstraction

Fashion illustration may have been marginalised in the past (and it’s not just me saying so), but right now London is being treated to a series of exhibitions and events showcasing this very rarified genre of commercial image-making. At the Design Museum, Drawing Fashion is an historical and scholarly exhibition featuring work from the extensive collection of gallerist, Joëlle Chariau, curated by fashion critic, Colin McDowell, and Nina Due of the Design Museum.

On show is an illuminating edit of original drawings, commissioned for editorial and advertising use, building into a concise history of the genre. From early Art Nouveau and Art Deco examples by Erté and André Édouard Marty, to George Lepape’s illustrated covers for Vogue (one features the “model” drawing the masthead onto the picture plane, behind her). René Gruau (famously of Dior), Eric and Christian Bérard represent the middle decades, when drawing was used by luxury brands in full-page print adverts, as well as to report seasonal trends right off the catwalk. The chronology reveals the glory years of “drawing fashion”, mirroring the most glamorous moments of twentieth century design.
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Club to Catwalk, legacy or nostalgia?

Club to Catwalk poster

Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
10 July 2013 to 16 February 2014
Visited 18 August and 20 September 2013

This long running exhibition was hotly anticipated, but it was not without its flaws, which became more obvious, as I made two extended visits to the show, and thanks to my VandA Membership card, countless quick pop-ins. Each visit brought more to my attention, and also made me wish for more…like a kid in a candy shop. I lived through this time and as a young Londoner was a regular at a wide range of night clubs from the rockabilly Gaz’s Rocking Blues to the proto-rave of Delirium (I even worked at The Wag). I also shopped like it was going out of style (of course, it wasn’t) and owned garments by many of the featured designers, picked up in their tiny Covent Garden shops, at Kensington Market on a Saturday and Camden on a Sunday, at Jones and Browns, and up and down the Kings Road. Most of those treasures are long gone as I gave piles of clothes away before going on a long trip in the late 1990s, and sold some of the choicer pieces. There are just a few frocks still carefully preserved… One of my students asked me what from my early 20s (her age) am I nostalgic about, and mostly it is these garments, as I try to recall particular outfits and what I might have looked like. Back then we didn’t walk around with camera phones and there are so few photos of those nights out.

About the show…
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