From the Archive; Aubrey Powell interview

Screen Shot of Pink Floyd's exhibition website

Screen Shot of Pink Floyd’s exhibition website

With the Victoria and Albert Museum staging the blockbuster exhibition, Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains, and an upcoming talk by Aubrey Powell titled, ‘Art of Hipgnosis and the Album Cover’ (14/9/2017), here’s an interview with the man himself. Back in 2000 I spoke with Aubrey on the phone while curating an exhibition, Sound Design, for the British Council, which featured the very best British record sleeve designs from the heyday of Rock to the rebellion of Punk, the eccentricities of New Wave and the innovations of Rave and Rare Groove.

The exhibition included extracts of interviews with all the contributing record sleeve designers but the complete interviews were not published, even though the designers gave permission for them to be compiled into a book. The publishing industry being what it was, at the time, the book didn’t fly, so look out for more interviews on this blog. My questions were quite general; the aim was to get the designers talking about what interested them. The interviews were edited from longer conversations, but I tried to keep the designer’s tone of voice, and each interviewee signed off on the final version. What’s particularly interesting is that at the time vinyl had been replaced by digital technology in the form of CDs; Web 2.0, online downloads and MP3s were still ‘experimental’ and the first Apple iPod wouldn’t be launched for another year. The implications of the Internet for the music industry were beginning to be talked about but not yet felt.

Why am I posting this interview now? To celebrate the work of Aubrey Powell and his (late) partner, colleagues and clients, and the V&A exhibition that he helped to create, which I also hope to review. For more information on the exhibition visit the band’s exhibition website and the museum’s extensive programme, here. To see masses of images check out the websites dedicated to Hipgnosis and Aubrey Powell; for the best of Hipgnosis’s work in print have a look at Aubrey’s book, Vinyl . Album . Cover . Art: The Complete Hipgnosis Catalogue, published by Thames and Hudson.

Aubrey Powell, interviewed by Liz Farrelly on 5/7/2000.

Liz Farrelly: How did you start Hipgnosis?

Aubrey Powell: We started Hipgnosis in the 1960s…It’s not what you know it’s who you know and Storm Thorgersen and I came from Cambridge and Pink Floyd originated in Cambridge – Syd Barrett, Dave Gilmore, Roger Waters – we all came to London at the same time, around 1965/66 and were all attending various art schools. Storm was at the Royal College of Art film school, and I was at the London School of Film Technique. Syd Barrett was at Hornsey Art School. And we were very together, all coming from Cambridge. We shared flats; Storm and I and then Syd and Dave had a big flat in South Kensington. Storm and I were looking to get some holiday money and we had a connection to photograph some cowboy book covers, and at the time everybody was getting stoned and dropping acid and were very drug-oriented. We were right in the middle of that psychedelic revolution. We were all part of that. Pink Floyd were doing gigs in tiny clubs like the UFO club on Tottenham Court Road and had just released their first album and were about to have a hit called See Emily play.
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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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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; summer anarchy

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It’s the Summer Solstice and I’m re-posting this article as the Glastonbury Festival kicks off and protesters take to the streets for a Day of Rage. In heatwave temperatures (warmest since 1976), the soixante-huitards’ slogan, ‘les pavés, la plage!’ (translates as, under the paving stones the beach) is ringing in my ears. It’s twenty years since I went to Glastonbury; 1997 was a mud bath, two years before it had been glorious sunshine. Both times friends were made and tested, and despite the odds familiar faces popped out of the crowd. That era was all Parties & Protests and although my plans to visit a Euro Teknival didn’t materialise, later that summer I made it to Burning Man in the Nevada desert and learnt the mantra of hydration from the daily newsletter, Piss Clear!

Much has changed; the underground events mentioned in this article were organised without the aid of social media and minimal Internet coverage, even though I make much of ‘the daily mayhem of mobile phones, faxes and pagers’! One source of information (not mentioned in this article, but I wrote about it another time) was the indomitable SchNEWS, a photocopied newsletter reporting on legal and political campaigns and listing direct actions. It worked like this; you posted them a pile of stamps and they mailed you weekly issues. I met the photographer, Nick Cobbing, through SchNEWS, and by an odd quirk of fate have ended up living next door to their old office!

Now, come the summer there’s a stage in a field catering to every taste and subculture. Festivals are bespoke, niche, glampy affairs, with fancy dress, boutique beers, Insta-Stories and Twitter-Moments. This branch of the music, entertainment and events industries has blossomed, fanned by the British love of a camp-fire sausage and a piss-up in a tent. But I’d suggest that the roots were there back in the 1990s, as innovation and diversity were the order of the day. So I’m not complaining, just suggesting that an updated article would be a whole other story. On a more serious note though, the Millennials have discovered politics, and protest is once again in vogue…plus, we have the weather for it.
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From the Archive; listening to Kalle Lasn

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The outpourings of unease, dread and fear that recent political events have caused reminds me of an earlier era, 1999 (although back then we were asked to party too). The run up to the Millennium witnessed the kind of end-of-days headbanging practiced by religious zealots since the Middle Ages, spiced with a dose of fin de siècle decadence and topped with the techno-paranoia of the Y2K Bug and the predicted meltdown of communications, power and defence systems worldwide. With the Internet still in its infancy and social media merely a glint in its circuitry, hysteria was polarised. Mainstream media presented experts and button-holed politicians while conspiratorial survivalists used grass-roots networks to challenge official messages meant to placate the public.

One media practitioner commanding attention was Kalle Lasn not because he peddled doom-laden prophecies, although he was angry, but because the magazine he had launched a decade before seemed to (now) perfectly fit the zeitgeist. Adbusters gave a message of resistance and not from a place of despair. It advocated for urgent action using the incendiary power of the image, documentary and manipulated, while retaining a stance of positivity, and the look and feel of the magazine – colourful, glossy, eye-catching – helped promoted that can-do, future-focused message.
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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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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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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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