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; You never know when you might need them

Spread from ‘Blueprint’ showing University of Brighton Gallery and exhibition design featuring salvaged fire doors

Spread from ‘Blueprint’ showing the University Gallery in Brighton and the exhibition design featuring salvaged fire doors

I was reminded of this article when visiting another exhibition, George Hardie …Fifty Odd Years, also at the University Gallery at University of Brighton. (Look out for a review of that exhibition, soon).

Back in 2005, Professor Hardie contributed his collection of rulers to You never know when you might need them, and they feature in the opening spread of the Blueprint article about the show, see above. At the time, my husband, Gregg Virostek, was an Interior Architecture student and worked on the exhibition build, while I was beginning to explore an obsession with collecting. That interest has developed into a research topic, as evidenced by this blog. So, as this article has yet to be digitised and made available online by the originally publisher it, here it is for reference.
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The Happy Film; graphic design on screen

Stefan Sagmeister in ‘The Happy Film’, seeking discomfort on the streets of New York. Photograph: Ben Wolf.

Stefan Sagmeister in ‘The Happy Film’, seeking discomfort on the streets of New York. Photograph: Ben Wolf.

The Happy Film
Duke of York’s Picturehouse
Preston Road, Brighton, East Sussex
14 June 2017 at 6pm

I’m not a fan of solo cinema visits but even with my partner-in-crime currently ‘away’, I had to see this just released, much discussed film at this special screening. Right on the money, the power-couple hosts of Glug Brighton, Carl Rush of creative agency Crush, and Helen, the renowned Illustration agent and founder of Agency Rush, invited graphic-design hero (and I don’t use the term lightly) Stefan Sagmeister to show his seven-years in the making documentary, The Happy Film. Despite the lure of a glorious summer evening, Brighton’s historic Duke of York’s cinema was packed with the city’s creative community including a good number of Graphic Design and Illustration students from University of Brighton, come to see the legend in action, for after a film of thrills and spills Sagmeister stepped up for the Q&A.
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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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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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Issues around archives, part one; Archiving Design Organisations

Screen Shot of Homepage for University of Brighton’s Design Archives listing the individual archives, news and events.

Screen Shot of Homepage for University of Brighton’s Design Archives listing the individual archives, news and events.

Proving the worth of my own archive (flyers, handouts and notes filed), this post recalls an event that spurred me on to apply for an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award. Overlooking the time-lag, another prompt to this post is the fact (and it’s a surprise even to me) that archives have become central to my methodology. During my doctoral research I’ve attended a number of academic events at which issues relating archives have been discussed; in this and a subsequent post, I’ll attempt to document those debates.

Archiving Design Organisations
“A Design Archives seminar funded by the Design History Society”
University of Brighton
Grand Parade, Brighton
6 June 2011

Being (at the time) a Visiting Lecturer at University of Brighton and therefore on an events mailing list, news of this day-long-seminar popped into my uni inbox…I was enticed…

Curatorial Director of the Design Archives, Professor Catherine Moriarty, welcomed delegates and identified three themes running through the day’s talks: the historical legacy of design organisations and the responsibility of telling their histories; the current activity of design organisations and how to manage material, record activity and make the past public in a digital age; and, shifts in the way designers work, the future of the design profession and of representative organisations. Catherine also posted a write-up of the event, here.

Professor Jonathan M. Woodham, then in post as Director of Research and Development, recalled how in 1994 the Design Council was reorganised following a report that recommended vacating its Haymarket headquarters; staff cuts of 90% followed. During an event at London’s Design Museum Jonathan voiced his objection to a proposal that the Design Council’s photographic archive be relocated to the Museum, pointing out that “it was a free and public library created with public money, so why should we pay to use it”. He later invited the Design Council to deposit its records at University of Brighton’s Design Archives and “two enormous pantechnicons of material” arrived; 17 years later “we’re still mining it”.
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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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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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