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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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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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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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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