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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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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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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