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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Tomorrow’s Designer; discussion at the Design Museum

Screen Shot from the Design Museum’s website, detailing the evening’s event

Tomorrow’s Designer: What next for Designers in Residence?
Design Museum
Shad Thames, London SE1
23 March 2016

Chair: Justin McGuirk, Chief Curator, the Design Museum.
Speakers: Indy Johar Co-founder of Architecture00; Gem Barton Course Leader in Interior Architecture, University of Brighton; Ineke Hans of Studio|Ineke Hans; and Asif Khan founder of architecture studio Asif Khan Limited.

The opening of the new Design Museum, its latest incarnation, is getting closer, the stand-alone shop on High Street Kensington launched this week, and the main Museum building will be unveiled in late November. Right now, the Design Museum in Shad Thames is closed. So here’s a review of the last event I attended, back in March, which discussed the “designer of the future” with reference to the Museum’s Designers in Residence programme.
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Shopping Paradise; objects on display

Gallery

This gallery contains 33 photos.

Outside looking in, the glazed facade of Brighton’s premier flea market, Snoopers Paradise (“Snoopers”), projects domestic objects right into the street. Close-up window-shopping is only possible out of hours when external stalls have been packed away, but it draws people … Continue reading

Collecting and sharing; the social life of objects

First Instagram post, 23 September 2015

First Instagram post, 23 September 2015

In Russell W. Belk’s journal article, “Extended Self in a Digital World” (2013) (available for download, here), the notion that our digital and online presence extends our self – mind and body – into the virtual realm, builds on Belk’s initial thesis “Possessions and the Extended Self” (1988), which posits that “knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, we regard our possessions as parts of ourselves”. And by parts, Belk goes so far as to suggest they become stand-ins, prostheses, building blocks even, of our selves. Belk’s update looks at how the digital turn both dematerialises the self and ups the ante by networking our presence into a diversity of locations, communities, identities and avatars; we can become “multiple characters” so as “to explore different personality possibilities”.

One particular complication was examined by Belk and co-author Kelly Tian in “Extended Self and Possessions in the Workplace” (2005); “the battle that can take place between the ‘home self’ and the ‘work self’ as the time and place boundaries that once distinguished the two melt”. Admitting and allowing such a “melt” to become a positive enhancement rather than a negative detraction has necessitated accepting social media as part of my practice and most recently, Instagram, the photo-sharing app bought by Facebook in 2012 for $1-billion dollars. From an indie start-up it growth in size and popularity at a rate is now outperforming the parent company by a factor of 7 to 1. Why Instagram? Because I was looking for a way to connect multiple strands of my life – work, research, hobby, leisure, obsession – and Instagram’s informality, flexibility and outreach makes it a potentially useful tool. I have a project in mind, and by restricting my usage of Instagram to that specific task I hope to employ social media without lapsing into narcissism.
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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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Catch the moment; Composite, LDF and the British Council talk design

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Composite
Two Columbia Road
2 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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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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From the Archive; five curators interviewed

As a contributor to Design Week in its print form, I worked with Lynda Relph-Knight and her editorial team for fifteen years; she was the first editor to commission me as when I became a freelancer writre in 1994. Until recently it was possible to search the entire DW print run, via its website, and find “full text” of years and years of design journalism, so I could access my back catalogue of articles including a regular column. Not only was this a useful research tool (with a search box), but it also functioned as a (stop-gap) personal archive too. However, a recent website redesign has adopted a sub-Instagram interface that displays just a handful of results, which can neither be saved nor downloaded, and, mysteriously, DW has cut years off its age!

Scrabbling around at home, I found “some” (but not all) tear sheets of articles and this particular one seemed relevant to share. In early 1999 I interviewed five curators who were producing design exhibitions, and we talked about their current shows. To foreground the curators’ voices I edited our conversations into monologues (the interviews were taped). Each curator also discussed the nascent field of design curating, which was evidently flourishing. Design was in the air during the build-up to the opening of the Millennium Dome (big party 31/12/99, cue Prince); the press was full of stories about architects and designers as controversy surrounded the various exhibits planned for the Dome. Stephen Bayley, ex-Design Museum Director, had been in charge but by the end of 1997 he was ex-Millennium Dome too; he resigned. See Chapter 6 on the Dome, in The Trojan Horse: The Growth of Commercial Sponsorship by Deborah Philips and Garry Whannel (Bloomsbury, 2013).

At the time the prospect of a “Millennium Bug” melting down our PCs was freaking people out but the world was still on the cusp of digital connectivity; the Internet was dial-up and mass adoption of websites by business and government was still to come. So this design-curating activity and these exhibitions remain under-documented online – just try searching for them. When I’ve found “traces” I’ve added links, but it appears that some of the exhibitions have nudged off “past projects” pages (if the curators have a website). I’ve also included links to information on individuals to show their subsequent career paths. The catalogue cover images are from my own copies.

“Display cases”
by Liz Farrelly
Design Week
26 March 1999, pp.41-48

Standfirst: Five curators describe, in their own words, their experiences and the highs and lows of managing and producing an exhibition. Liz Farrelly acts as custodian.
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