First Visit; Tallinn, Estonian

Gallery

This gallery contains 22 photos.

This gallery illustrates my whistle-stop trip to Tallinn, Estonia. I was invited to deliver a paper at a seminar, part of the 7th Tallinn Applied Art Triennial, for an edited version of that paper, see here. This post is about … Continue reading

From the Archive; Mysterious Absence at the Cutting Edge

Screen Shot from Women’s March on Washington webpage of downloadable graphics.

Screen Shot from Women’s March on Washington webpage of downloadable graphics.

Last weekend women the world over took to the streets to protest, making themselves visible and their voices heard, as they waved an array of protest signs. Hand-made, humorous, strident and strong, the signs were seen in Instagram feeds, shared via Twitter, broadcast on television and pictured in newspapers. The importance of graphic design to protest cannot be over stressed; multiples of engaging graphics will communicate and amplify your message. To that end the Women’s March on Washington website contains a page of downloadable graphics offering slogans and images to be used for free as posters, placards, t-shirt graphics, wherever and however.

That vision of graphic protest was anticipated in a recent a seminar text read with Level 4 Graphic Design and Illustration students at University of Brighton. Teal Trigg’s chapter on “Graphic Design” in Feminist Visual Culture (edited by Fiona Carson and Claire Pajaczkowska) contained a quote from Eye magazine about the activist group she co-founded: “They [WD+RU] aim to talk to women in all walks of life, but the first step is to initiate a debate that will politicise designers and prompt them to address gender issues through their work’ (p.157).
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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 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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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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Conference Paper; The Contentious Constance Spry, or, ‘Not in My Museum!‘

I’m taking some time this summer to document activities over the last few years, including occasional academic papers delivered at conferences and workshops. Images are from PowerPoint presentations and include quotes projected so as the audience can read along with references in the text. This paper was delivered “live”, and although it’s been re-edited for the page, I decided not to include footnotes or formal citations; all documents referred to are in the Design Museum archive, which is being catalogued, and mentioned texts are listed at end. This is a work-in-progress relating to my doctoral thesis, so if it feels truncated that’s because I’m using this blog as an “ideas store”, with the intention of expanding and deepening my arguments in the thesis.

Curating Popular Art
Whitechapel Gallery
77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London E1
14 June 2013

Organised with the University of Brighton Design Archives; a study day to accompany the exhibition
Black Eyes and Lemonade: Curating Popular Art
9 March to 1 September 2013

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As the recipient of an AHRC Collaborative Doctorate Award, pairing the University of Brighton with London’s Design Museum, I’m looking at how definitions of design are produced and evolved within museums.

Good Victorian that he was, Henry Cole’s aim as founder of what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum, was to create an institution that informed manufacturers, workers and the public about the benefits of “good design”, so as to encourage the production, consumption and export of well-designed and efficiently-made “everyday” products, which would reinvigorate British industry. Jump to 1917, and Hubert Llewellyn Smith, Head of the Board of Trade and an early advocate for design education and design promotion suggested that a new museum of industrial design would help this cause. (The Board of Trade went on to set up the Council of Industrial Design, later the Design Council, and administrated the Victoria and Albert Museum up until the early 1980s). Such rhetoric around design promotes a series of promises; that “good design” will facilitate economic development, cultural innovation and social improvement. This discourse of design promotion has been central to the growth of institutions dedicated to the collection and display of designed objects. I’d suggest that now there is a more pressing need to present a truly comprehensive vision of the role and benefits of design; instead of “good design” might we consider “design for good”? But are design museums still fixating on Cole’s vision? Promoting individual designers and showcasing “the best” products of the year may fulfil the aims of a design museum, but explaining the design process and its multifarious activities and outcomes – showing design to be a tool for engagement and change – would more closely demonstrate “what design is now”. So, when it comes to design in museums, we are on the cusp of change.
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MUSCON at Vitra; and a summer of design exhibitions

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MUSCON 2014
European Museum Network Conference
Vitra Design Museum
Charles-Eames-Str. 2, Weil Am Rhein, Germany
www.design-museum.de
15 to 18 October 2014

Last year I was invited to attend a MUSCON conference hosted by the Vitra Design Museum, the institution that instigated the network back in 1996. I was present as an observer (along with fellow researchers Sabina Michaelis and Rosita Satell from the University of Southern Denmark) as the event is intended for staff from member institutions to pitch and negotiate the “buying and selling” of upcoming exhibitions as touring shows (here’s how VDM do it). Every year or so there are regional MUSCON conferences in Europe, the US and Asia. As a crash-course in museum programming and an introduction to a wide range of institutions (from Finland to Italy, Kilkenny to Ljubljana), the conference offered an opportunity to underpin my research with the kind of real-world issues facing museum staff…and put names to faces. Although not every MUSCON institution is a “design museum” they’re all keen to include design in their curatorial offer.
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Tracing the temporary; clues to past exhibitions

I’m apologising upfront for ranging around a few ideas here. I wanted to avoid using footnotes but not lose any tangents either; after all this is a blog post which needs to be a little more condensed than my thesis (!) but at the same time it is discursive. This is a place for me to try out ideas.

While my PhD is not a history or geography of design museums a taxonomy is helpful in order to demarcate the field, the still novel “museum type” of “design museum”. The exhibition catalogue, Design Museums of the World: Invited by Die Neue Sammlung Munich (published by Birkhäuser in 2004) accompanied the show, Design Museums of the World, staged at Neues Museum Staatliches Museum für Kunst und Design in Nürnberg (17 September to 23 November 2003). A rich source of information and opinion, this surveys the field at the start of the 21st-century, and I investigate it at length in my literature review.

If I could travel the world visiting exhibitions I would, but as I don’t…I didn’t see the exhibition and I would guess that few of the MUSCON Europe delegates did either, as when a big box of the exhibition’s catalogues made an appearance at Vitra Design Museum (summer 2014), coinciding with Angelika Nollert’s keynote speech, it was eagerly consumed. Angelika had been Director at the Neues Museum Staatliches Museum für Kunst und Design in Nürnberg and is now Director at sister institution Die Neue Sammlung München; the collaboration between the institutions, which produced the exhibition and publication, is mirrored by Angelika’s career.

As I’m interested in how a temporary show lives on after its “time is up”, this catalogue proves a point – the usefulness of investing in print on paper. Originally produced for the debut exhibition at Nürnberg’s new art and design museum, the catalogue is a unique resource for comparing and contrasting a number of design museums, 29 in all, at a particular moment in history. Worldwide there are about twice that number now, and while many of the institutions listed in the catalogue evolved from museums of decorative arts, or were art museums that extended their remit, most of the newly opened institutions are “purely” design focused. Along with the newbies, some of the world’s most established museums of design are reinventing themselves; this is a time of flux.
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Conference Paper; Design History at the Design Museum, perfect fit or culture clash?

40 Years On: the Domain of Design History. Looking Back Looking Forward
The Open University
Berrill Lecture Theatre
Milton Keynes MK7 6AA
22 May 2015

Here’s an edited and slightly expanded version of the paper that I gave; I’d like to thank Dr. Elizabeth McKellar for organising the event and for inviting me to participate. The images are from my PowerPoint presentation.

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Since 2011 I’ve been working on an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, which partners University of Brighton with London’s Design Museum, so this paper comes out of a larger work-in-progress and started life as a search for mentions of the Design Museum in academic journals.

A bit of background; from thinking that my application for this award was a random act of “career development”, I’ve come to realise how important the Design Museum (“upper case”, meaning this specific institution [capitalized in this text]) has been to my design-focused career spanning teaching, publishing and curating. I started on an Art and Design Foundation Course in 1982, the year in which the first incarnation of the Design Museum, the Boilerhouse, opened in the basement of the Victoria and Albert Museum. During my Art History degree at University of Sussex it was exhibitions at the Boilerhouse – on Memphis, Issey Miyake, Handtools and British Youth Culture in particular – which enthralled me to design, from the objects on display, to the installation and display, and even the much-maligned white-tiled gallery. While the Director of the Boilerhouse, Stephen Bayley was considered “very bothersome” within the V&A and aimed to discourage people “wandering in from the V&A” (as he put it), I wandered the other way onto the V&A/RCA History of Design MA. Graduating in 1989 just as the Design Museum opened in its new Thames-side location, my work as a design journalist included reviewing exhibition; not always nice, not always nasty. For the last four years I’ve been: invited to nominate for Designs of the Year; observed the goings on in the café (not that this is a sociology of the Design Museum); talked to staff (on and off the record); enjoyed sporadic access to an “under construction” archive; visited every exhibition; dealt with the contradictions of a Supervisor who is also top of my list of “interviewees” and a very busy museum Director; and witnessed the museum prepare for its next phase.
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