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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Manchester, old and new; accessible history in a city of museums

Gallery

This gallery contains 26 photos.

Manchester is a city well provisioned with museums run by Manchester City Council, University of Manchester, independent charitable trusts, and national museum groups that receive government funding. Courses in Curating and Museum Studies are taught at University of Manchester and … Continue reading

Issues around archives, part one; Archiving Design Organisations

Screen Shot of Homepage for University of Brighton’s Design Archives listing the individual archives, news and events

Screen Shot of Homepage for University of Brighton’s Design Archives listing the individual archives, news and events

Proving the worth of my own archive (flyers, handouts and notes filed), this post recalls an event that spurred me on to apply for an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award. Overlooking the time-lag, another prompt to this post is the fact (and it’s a surprise even to me) that archives have become central to my methodology. During my doctoral research I’ve attended a number of academic events at which issues relating archives have been discussed; in this and a subsequent post, I’ll attempt to document those debates.

Archiving Design Organisations
“A Design Archives seminar funded by the Design History Society”
University of Brighton
Grand Parade, Brighton
6 June 2011

Being (at the time) a Visiting Lecturer at University of Brighton and therefore on an events mailing list, news of this day-long-seminar popped into my uni inbox…I was enticed…

Curatorial Director of the Design Archives, Professor Catherine Moriarty, welcomed delegates and identified three themes running through the day’s talks: the historical legacy of design organisations and the responsibility of telling their histories; the current activity of design organisations and how to manage material, record activity and make the past public in a digital age; and, shifts in the way designers work, the future of the design profession and of representative organisations. Catherine also posted a write-up of the event, here.

Professor Jonathan M. Woodham, then in post as Director of Research and Development, recalled how in 1994 the Design Council was reorganised following a report that recommended vacating its Haymarket headquarters; staff cuts of 90% followed. During an event at London’s Design Museum Jonathan voiced his objection to a proposal that the Design Council’s photographic archive be relocated to the Museum, pointing out that “it was a free and public library created with public money, so why should we pay to use it”. He later invited the Design Council to deposit its records at University of Brighton’s Design Archives and “two enormous pantechnicons of material” arrived; 17 years later “we’re still mining it”.
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Catch the moment; Composite, LDF and the British Council talk design

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Composite
Two Columbia Road
London E2
20 to 25 September 2011

“Composite is both verb and noun, an action and an outcome, a process and a finished product. Within it are roots and hints of other words — compose, composition, posit, position, site and compare — all of which relate to art, architecture, fashion and design. This exhibition brings together a disparate group of creatives who’ve crossed those borders, gone beyond all comfort zones. Often working in collaboration, they’ve mutated their practice to produce hybridised, surprising solutions.

Questioning traditional processes, reusing discarded materials, exploring overlooked technologies, composing disparate elements, exposing the artificial, celebrating the mundane; these are just some of their tactics. The end results, the works on show, are diverse but they share two things in common, a degree of intricacy and ‘a way in’. They’re not exclusive, instead we’re encouraged to engage and play, inspect and manipulate, delve and re-arrange. Complex, interactive, considered, non-precious; this work is of its time. We live in a composite world.”
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Digital histories in Northumbria; a workshop

Screen Shot from The Discovery Museum website showing a permanent gallery where workshop delegates played on interactive exhibits

Screen Shot from The Discovery Museum website showing a permanent gallery where workshop delegates played on interactive exhibits

Digital Histories: Advanced Skills for Historians
Northumbria University Newcastle and Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
24-25 April 2014

Flying to Newcastle for a two-day workshop may seem an extravagant use of research time but this AHRC-funded workshop (organised by Laura Hutchinson and André Keil of University of Northumbria) promised to investigate issues around the digital humanities, to do with archives, text, image, data and metadata, and examine a number of innovative projects into the bargain. Speakers, including a Medieval scholar, a social media maven, community organisers and university- and museum-based IT consultants, were to discuss the implications of: putting archives online; striving for web- and museum-based interactivity; and crowd-sourcing projects that link institutions with volunteers.

The event spotlit concerns around digital and online cultural activity that will now inform my museum-based research. Delegates voiced concerns about unfamiliar material. Text-based historians, comfortable working with online resources be they newspaper archives or scanned records, admitted to lacking confidence when it came to image-based documentation. But there also seems to be a (conspicuous) lack of art- and design-led projects within this digital arena, perhaps because historians with those prefixes prefer to interact with objects and images, offline.
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Conference; data day at the museum

Teamwork and Strategy in the Museum... Lewis Chessmen, Scotland, 12th-Century, British Museum. Photograph by Andrew Dunn. Sourced from WikiCommons/Creative Commons

Teamwork and Strategy in the Museum… Lewis Chessmen, Scotland, 12th-Century, British Museum. Photograph by Andrew Dunn. Sourced from WikiCommons/Creative Commons

“What does data have to do with me?”
British Museum
Great Russell Street, London WC1
5 June 2015

One of the bonuses of working on an AHRC funded doctorate is being able to attend conferences, workshops and seminars that introduce me to subject areas which at first sight might seem tangential to my core subject, but as my research actually crosses disciplinary boundaries I shouldn’t be too surprised when they prove to be incredibly useful. Signing up to the AHRC mailing list and taking notice of emails sent by University of Brighton Doctoral College alerted me to such opportunities. Events that fit this category include a two-day workshop, hosted by Northumbria University Newcastle and Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums, on the subject of “Digital Histories: Advanced Skills for Historians” (reviewed here), and “Using Museum Archives” supported by the Museums and Galleries History Group and the British Museum Collaborative Research Studentship Programme (also, to be reviewed).

I was particularly impressed with another British Museum event, “What does data have to do with me?” and am writing this up in detail because it signposted numerous projects that I wouldn’t otherwise have been aware of. The packed programme featured stellar speakers including representatives from Adobe, the Arts Council, Culture24, Dallas Museum of Art (by Skype), Google, The Guardian, Nesta and News UK. Crucially, though, the day introduced a new resource within the museum…data.
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