Seminar Paper; Mediating Design, a case study in diversity

Modes of Mediating Applied Art and Design
7th Tallinn Applied Art Triennial
Soprus Cinema
Vanna-Posti 8, Tallinn, Estonia
21 April 2017

This is an edited version of a paper I presented amidst Art Deco splendor in Tallinn. While the city was still waiting for spring the reception was warm, and the audience and fellow speakers contributed to a lively discussion around the role of media in the mediating art and design. I’d like to thank Triin Jerlie and Keiu Krikmann for inviting me to speak, and the organising committee of the Tallinn Applied Art Triennial and the British Embassy Tallinn for funding my trip. Look for another post about Tallinn, the city-wide Triennial and the Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design.

This paper is still in the form of a ‘talk’, but also constitutes work-in-progress that will inform the last chapter of my doctoral thesis on the future of design museums. In May, I presented a longer version to University of Brighton MA Art and Design History students as part of the module, Critical Reflection, at the invitation of my colleague, Megha Rajguru, and that version of the talk provided an opportunity to explore changing definitions of ‘interpretation’. The images are from my PowerPoint presentation, and either taken from the Internet or using my Apple iPhone 4S.
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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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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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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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Anthony Dunne: two meetings

Anthony Dunne on Design Week website

With the news last week that Professor Anthony Dunne, Head of the Design Interactives programme, and his partner Fiona Raby, a founding member of CRD Research Studio and a Senior Research Fellow, are stepping down from their roles at London’s Royal College of Art at the end of the 2015 academic year, I’ve looked back through my archive of design magazines and found a couple of interviews with Tony. Now Fiona and Tony plan to concentrate full-time on their joint practice, Dunne & Raby, which has brought us, among other memorable moments, the “design fiction” United Micro Kingdoms (in exhibition form at London’s Design Museum), reviewed here.

Part One

“Loewy’s Children”
by Liz Farrelly
Blueprint
No. 76, April 1991, p.44-47

Standfirst: As the Design Museum celebrates the father of industrial design, Michael Horsham assesses its history and Liz Farrelly looks to its future (profiling five young(ish) product design practices)…

Tony Dunne’s intrepid move to Japan, after graduating from the RCA, led him to a full-time job at the Sony Corporations’s Design Centre. Being one of only two western members of a design staff over a hundred strong, and being expected to develop ten products a year, Dunne has been exposed to a rate of technological change, and social and cultural differnces, that have profoundly affected his view of product design. Using this as material for a redefintion of perception and information, he has come up with a product aesthetic that attempts a “mapping of the void”.
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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 interviewed by Liz Farrelly, 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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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 University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH)
Parks Road, 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. Here’s a summary, and some slides.

Drawing the Future: Exhibiting Illustration

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 auto-destructive, 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 apocalyptic blockbuster movies seems worn out; not so much because we can “see the wires”, but because we’ve developed “explosion fatigue”; such gargantuan, special-effects-driven destruction just doesn’t “feel real” anymore.
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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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Phil Ashcroft’s Solar System Parameters; interview

Phil Ashcroft and Liz Farrelly
Interview, 26 June 2013

Solar System Parameters

Last summer, I met Phil Ashcroft to talk about his upcoming, limited-edition monograph, Solar System Parameters (published by Gamma Proforma, with an essay by my CSM colleague, Simon Hollington) and an exhibition, “Galácticos”, at Gamma Transport Division, Edinburgh; now both are up and out — the exhibition runs until 6 March 2014. We talked about his diverse work practices, and his career, which spans fine art and design; here’s the interview.
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