Lecture; Temporary Contemporary, the Boilerhouse at the V&A

As a tie-in with Bloomsbury Academic, publishers of Design Objects and the Museum (see, here), Joanna Weddell and myself were invited to give a Lunchtime Lecture at the Victoria and Albert Museum. As we shared the time-slot our talks were short and aimed at a general audience, but both are based on doctoral research, and the blurb draws connections between our projects, so I’ve included it in full before posting an edited version of my talk with the slides, which provided an additional strand of information supplementing the visuals.

Contemporary Design Objects in the Museum: Two Perspectives
The Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre
Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road, London SW7
26 April 2017

‘This lecture will examine the exhibition of 20th century design. Circulation, or ‘Circ’ was responsible for many of the Museum’s acquisitions of post-war contemporary design. Joanna Weddell will discuss Circ’s role as a ‘museum within a museum’ through shows such as Design Review, 1975. The Boilerhouse Gallery was a temporary intervention at the Museum funded and run by the Conran Foundation, as Liz Farrelly will explain. Betweeen 1981 and 1986 the Gallery increased the visibility of contemporary design through thematic exhibitions that booted visitor figures and grabbed headlines, later morphing into the Design Museum at Shad Thames.’ Lunchtime Lectures Summer 2017, V&A.

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First Visit; Tallinn, Estonian

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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

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

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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

Denmark for design museums; a discussion

Design Museums for the 21st Century; a round table discussion
Trapholt Museum and University of Southern Denmark
Kolding, Denmark
23 January 2014

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When your PhD supervisor tells you to go to Denmark in freezing January, you go; the icing on the cake was that it started snowing as we sat in the Trapholt Museum’s meeting room, with its giant picture window, and everyone went “aaaahhhh”. The Museum is housed in a playfully modern building, boasts an unrivalled collection of Danish chairs and is next door to Arne Jacobsen’s summer house (sadly I didn’t get inside, this time), so that made up for the weather. I also got to see the thought-provoking and unprecedented touring exhibition, Out to Sea? The Plastic Garbage Project, which seemed totally appropriate in a country that loves fish.

My reporting of the round table is from my notes, with additional my comments; where they are short and in the same paragraph, they’re in [square brackets].

My supervisor is University of Brighton’s Professor of Design Culture, Guy Julier, and he is also Visiting Professor at University of Southern Denmark. He’d gathered his grad students from Denmark and Brighton, along with “expert witnesses” from the museum world in Denmark and the UK, to discuss design. Guy opened the proceedings by telling us that design museums were “mushrooming”. He counted 45 European design museums with more projects for new, expanding and relocating institutions still in the pipeline, mentioning that Mexico City’s MUMEDI, tripled its visitor numbers by rebranding as a “design museum”. He talked about the tension in museums between the contemporary and history, design and design history, and that a contextual approach to design in museums was the way forward, mixing the excitement of innovation with the pragmatism of solving problems, and heritage and continuity with new technology and innovative design fields. Finally, he pointed to the Index Awards (a Danish initiative) as evidence of design shifting away from a fascination with “heroes”. […and by extension, a recognised canon?]
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From the Archive; Furniture, Jerwood Applied Arts Prize 1999

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Furniture: Jerwood Applied Arts Prize 1999
Jerwood Charitable Foundation
Crafts Council Gallery
441 Pentonville Road, London N1
26 August to 3 October 1999

I wrote an essay for this exhibition catalogue (produced by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation and the Crafts Council, designed by Pentagram) while I was a nomad, living and working between two continents. I remember the irony of writing about furniture when all I owned was in storage, but I was an unrepentant collector, even buying pieces from fellow students while at the RCA (Allison Jane Thomas’s Tutti-Frutti stool (1990) is in the V&A; mine is upholstered in tan leather).

Coincidentally, 1999 was when auctioneer Alexander Payne first coined the term Design Art; he later ditched it due to “misuse” as reported in ICON (8/2/08). So, when I say in the essay, “furniture has no pedestal”, that was about to change, although the turn towards narrative and meaning beyond function was acknowledged.

Another shift of emphasis has occurred in the career trajectories of new designers. Where I listed migration to Milan, the epicentre of the contemporary furniture trade, as a right of passage, subsequent diversification of production has widened the geographical spread of design activity. “Eleven years ago UNESCO launched the Creative Cities Network to recognize cities around the world whose creativity has an impact on their social, economic, and political development”; Business Insider spotlights 16 design-focused cities, here. Through a mix of city council initiatives, the presence of museums and universities (with students travelling to study and then relocating), and Design Festivals and Biennales that disperse the power of promotion, designers are living and working beyond the industry’s powerhouse cities (Milan, Paris, Tokyo, New York, London), in places like Oslo, Cape Town, Istanbul, Los Angeles and Hong Kong. Hints of that trend were evident in the career choices of the designers selected for this award, perhaps because they foregrounded making in their practice as opposed to mass-production. The shortlist featured Jane Atfield, Robert Kilvington, Mary Little, Michael Marriott, Guy Martin, Jim Partridge, Simon Pengelly and Michael Young.
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Turning the century; contemporary design at the V&A

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Design Since 1945
Permanent Display, Room 76, Level 3
Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road, London SW7
www.vam.ac.uk
Visited, 27 August 2015

The other day I popped into the V&A for a quick refresher. It was a busy weekday near the end of the school holidays, and while there were queues outside the Natural History Museum and the V&A’s ground floor galleries were full of bodies, the upper floors were relatively quiet. I took the opportunity to see how the permanent display of contemporary design might have evolved since I last too a look (not sure when that was). On the V&A’s website the Design Since 1945 gallery in Room 76 (one of three rooms labelled “Modern” on the Museum Map) is described as showing art and design from the end of the Second World War to the present day; it also aims to present contemporary developments. Continue reading

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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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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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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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