Friday, 7 October 2016

Professor Rebecca Houze, TVAD Visiting Researcher 2016-17

Professor Rebecca Houze is a specialist in the history of design and the decorative arts, with an emphasis on textiles and dress. She received her B.A. from the University of Washington (1993) and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1994, 2000). Her research centres on relationships between art, industry, collection, and display in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Professor Houze is author of Textiles, Fashion, and Design Reform in Austria-Hungary Before the First World War: Principles of Dress (Ashgate, 2015), and New Mythologies in Design and Culture: Reading Signs and Symbols in the Visual Landscape (Bloomsbury, 2016). She has published her work over the years in Journal of Design History, Design Issues, Fashion Theory, Textile, and Centropa, and is co-editor of The Design History Reader (Berg, 2010).

She joins TVAD as Visiting Researcher for the academic year 2016/17 and she will make two trips to UH during the year, in October and February. The programme of events through which students and staff can engage with Prof Houze is published here and is open to all.
·       TUESDAY 11th OCTOBER  2016

10.30 am - Gallery Café. Welcome to the School of Creative Arts, and School tour and campus tour, Dr Grace Lees-Maffei.

1.30 pm – 2.45 pm, CDC Studio. “Women’s Needlework Education in the Late 19th Century”, Session with Contemporary Design Crafts and/or MA students. Hosted by Antje Ilner.
·       WEDNESDAY 12th OCTOBER  2016

12.45 for 1 pm, 1A159 Lindop. Lunch provided. TVAD Talks series. Prof Rebecca Houze discusses her monograph Textiles, Fashion and Design Reform in Austria-Hungary before the First World War

This study offers a new reading of fin-de-siècle culture in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy by looking at the unusual and widespread preoccupation with embroidery, fabrics, clothing, and fashion - both literally and metaphorically. Houze resurrects lesser known critics, practitioners, and curators from obscurity, while also discussing the textile interests of notable figures, Gottfried Semper and Alois Riegl. Spanning the 50-year life of the Dual Monarchy, this study uncovers new territory in the history of art history, insists on the crucial place of women within modernism, and broadens the cultural history of Habsburg Central Europe by revealing the complex relationships among art history, women, and Austria-Hungary. Houze surveys a wide range of materials, from craft and folk art to industrial design, and includes overlooked sources-from fashion magazines to World's Fair maps, from exhibition catalogues to museum lectures, from feminist journals to ethnographic collections. Restoring women to their place at the intersection of intellectual and artistic debates of the time, this book weaves together discourses of the academic, scientific, and commercial design communities with middle-class life as expressed through popular culture. 


·       THURSDAY 13th OCTOBER 2016 to SUNDAY 16th OCTOBER

Independent research in Vienna. Prof Houze will speak about her recent research at a conference.

·       MONDAY 17th OCTOBER 2016

10 am to 4 pm, AB146. DHeritage Core Workshop, Year 2: ‘Proposal Development and Presentation’. Workshop Convenor: Dr Grace Lees-Maffei. This workshop examines the development and dissemination of doctoral research in heritage.
·       TUESDAY 18th OCTOBER 2016

11 am to 12.45 pm, AB132 Todd Building. ‘Discovering New Mythologies in Design and Culture’, MA Art and Design, Module: Research and Enquiry workshop led by Prof Houze in which students write their own volume of "new mythologies".

3 pm to 5 pm, Gallery Cafe. TVAD Reading Group. Session with TVAD and School research staff and PG students focused on supportive peer review of work in progress. If you wish to participate, please send your text to Dr Grace Lees-Maffei

·       WEDNESDAY 19th OCTOBER 2016


·       THURSDAY 20th OCTOBER 2016

5.00 – 6.30 p.m., A154 Lindop. Design Talks series, convened by Julian Lindley. Prof Rebecca Houze discusses her work writing New Mythologies: Reading Signs and Symbols in the Visual Landscape (Bloomsbury 2016).

Taking as its point of departure Roland Barthes' classic series of essays, Mythologies, Rebecca Houze considers a range of contemporary phenomena, from the history of sustainability to the meaning of sports and children's building toys. Among the ubiquitous global trademarks she examines are BP, McDonald's, and Nike. What do these icons say to us today? What political and ideological messages are hidden beneath their surfaces? Just as Barthes' meditations on culture concentrated on his native France, New Mythologies is rooted in the author's experience of living and teaching in the United States. Houze's reflections encompass both contemporary American popular culture and the history of American industry, with reference to such foundational figures as Thomas Jefferson and Walt Disney. 

For questions about TVAD, TVAD Talks and the TVAD VIsiting Researcher programme, please contact the TVAD Research Group Leader, Dr Grace Lees-Maffei,

Sunday, 25 September 2016

TVAD Talks 2016-17 announced

An impressive, international line-up of speakers has been announced for the TVAD Talks series for the academic year 2016-17. All are welcome to join us for the TVAD Talks, held regularly on the second Wednesday of each month during term, in 1A159 (Lindop Building, College Lane campus). We start at 12.45 with a buffet lunch for a 1 pm research presentation and discussion after. For more information, contact Dr Grace Lees-Maffei

Weds 12th October 2016 – Prof Rebecca Houze, Northern Illinois University, ‘Writing Textiles, Fashion, and Design Reform in Austria-Hungary Before the First World War'

This study offers a new reading of fin-de-siècle culture in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy by looking at the unusual and widespread preoccupation with embroidery, fabrics, clothing, and fashion - both literally and metaphorically. Houze resurrects lesser known critics, practitioners, and curators from obscurity, while also discussing the textile interests of notable figures, Gottfried Semper and Alois Riegl. Spanning the 50-year life of the Dual Monarchy, this study uncovers new territory in the history of art history, insists on the crucial place of women within modernism, and broadens the cultural history of Habsburg Central Europe by revealing the complex relationships among art history, women, and Austria-Hungary. Houze surveys a wide range of materials, from craft and folk art to industrial design, and includes overlooked sources-from fashion magazines to World's Fair maps, from exhibition catalogues to museum lectures, from feminist journals to ethnographic collections. Restoring women to their place at the intersection of intellectual and artistic debates of the time, this book weaves together discourses of the academic, scientific, and commercial design communities with middle-class life as expressed through popular culture. 

Weds 9th November 2016 – Rebecca Bell, Royal College of Art, ‘Folk Fever and the Bureaucratic Machine: Craft and Design in early 1960s' Czechoslovakia'. Dr Steven Adams to Chair 

At an international conference held on the occasion of Franz Kafka’s 80th birthday at Liblice Castle near Prague in 1963, philosopher Karel Kosík questioned the ‘Kafkaesque world’, raw with controversy in the Communist context. Kosík, a best-selling author whose texts around ‘dialectics of the concrete’ challenged Neo-Stalinism, described Kafka’s ‘world of a monstrous and unintelligible labyrinth, a world of human powerlessness in the network of bureaucratic machines, mechanisms, reified creations’. He posed writer Jaroslav Hašek’s competent but brilliant fictional character, the good soldier Švejk, as epitomising ‘a way of reacting to this world of absurd omnipotence of the machine and of reified relations’ (1975: 87-88, cited by Hames, 2014: 157).

The use of humour and absurdity as a Czech literary device is also seen in applied art and design in Czechoslovakia, such as the popular inter and post-war glass figurines of Jaroslav Brychta. The latter are the focus of my first PhD thesis chapter – in this seminar, I wish to present research for my second chapter, which focuses on the ways in which similar Czech cultural tropes, particularly those relating to folk and craft, are explored amongst the ‘network of bureaucratic machines’ in the State design system during the 1960s. They are used to activate new relationships to traditional forms and question ‘this world of absurd omnipotence’. In particular, disillusion, humour and material juxtapositions will be explored within State design projects, but also that seminal 1960s’ Czech form, New Wave Cinema.

A case study of particular interest is Karel Vachek’s film also from 1963, an important year for understanding the burgeoning effects of de-Stalinisation in Czechoslovak culture. Vachek’s Moravská Hellas (Moravian Hellas), is a part-reportage, part-fiction parody of State approaches to folk festivals, crafts and music in the early 1960s. From a material history perspective, it provides insight into feelings around the State appropriation of folk and craft techniques. As character Dr Pavelčík, Director of the Museum in Uherský Blod, states towards to the end of the film, ‘Ethnography is at its end, everything has perished...It seems to me like a slowly dying cow’. Local storyteller Uncle Lebanek adds that it is ‘some kind of fever’. Meanwhile, designers working for ÚLUV, the Centre of Folk Art Production, are trying to integrate craft and folk methods and themes to negotiate ways of establishing design practices that are both theoretically interesting and commercially viable. Through Interior design projects, fashion and design magazines, I look at how these aims were realised in the shifting intellectual climate of early 1960s’ Czechoslovakia.

Film stills from Karel Vachek's Moravská Hellas, 1963

Weds 14th December 2016 – Dr Thom Cuschieri, University of Hertfordshire ‘The Gorey Groan – A Study in Gothic Voices’

In Jorge Luis Borges’ short story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote (1939), a twentieth-century French writer endeavours to reproduce Cervantes’ seventeenth-century masterpiece Don Quixote – not by memorising the original, but by so fully inhabiting Cervantes’ life and persona that he is able to recreate the work anew, from scratch. Borges’ wry reflection on the nature of authorship and the appropriation of style and voice is the inspiration for The Gorey Groan, which seeks to explore similar concerns at the heart of illustration.

Through a stratagem similar to that used by Borges’ eponymous, fictional Menard, this project seeks to gain insight into the work of two twentieth-century artists intimately connected with the gothic tradition: the American writer, illustrator, and designer Edward Gorey (1925 – 2000) and the English writer and illustrator Mervyn Peake (1911 – 1968). The project involves a meticulous study of Gorey’s visual language, style and approach, and will include the production of a series of illustrations “by Gorey” (in the Borgesian sense) of Mervyn Peake’s gothic novel Titus Groan, as a means of engaging meaningfully with both artists’ oeuvres.

Gorey did not illustrate Titus Groan in his lifetime, and the focus here is not the replication of an existing body of work, but rather the means by which artists create their voice, through conscious borrowing and subconscious influences. There is, of course, a third voice in this project – my own – and, unlike Menard, I aim to scrutinise my role in the shaping of Gorey’s authentic “voice” as I seek to experience Peake’s text through a particular artistic vision.

Weds 11th January 2017 – Dr Barbara Brownie, University of Hertfordshire, ‘Spacewear: Weightlessness and the Final Frontier of Fashion' 

In the new era of commercial space travel, we must rethink our approach to designing clothes. Space, and the artificial environments that aim to replicate it, provide challenges for spacesuit engineers, and that may also increasingly concern fashion designers. These concerns are currently reflected most often at the intersection of reality and fiction, as science fiction speculates about the requirements of future space travel. In recent years, Earth-bound fashion designs have also begun to take a speculative approach to fashion design, which imagines the clothing requirements of future space tourists.

Although there are numerous texts that broadly consider space, this talk will specifically address environments with reduced gravity, in which the body experiences weightlessness. I will address the various features of clothes that must be reconsidered for the reduced environments of spacewalks, space stations and zero-gravity flights within Earth's atmosphere. Learning from the design of spacesuits as well as recent speculative fashion design, I identify how clothes are experienced in reduced gravity, and how designers must accommodate these conditions.

Future fashion designers will be required to reassess many of the dressmaking and design processes that are fundamental to fashion on Earth's surface. The weightless garment contains a body, but is not supported by it. Garments contain the body differently in different gravitational conditions, leading to “a newly found balance between the muscles and the tension of fabrics” (Dominino 2003, p. 278). Drape, which is a staple of garment design, is defined as a product of gravity. This book will ask whether drape can be said to exist without gravity, and how designers' approaches to drape need to change in order to suit weightless environments.

Designers must consider not only changes to the behavior of fabric, but also changes in body structure. As the body adapts to reduced gravity, it adopts a neutral posture, and weight is redistributed as the upper body swells and the spine lengthens. In the long-duration space travel that is proposed for missions to Mars, these distortions will be more extreme. Garment silhouettes must necessarily compensate for the redistribution of weight around the body. My book, Spacewear: Weightlessness and the final frontier of fashion will address these concerns by examining the ways in which they have been handled by engineers, fashion designers, costume designers, photographers, authors and filmmakers. 

Weds 8th February 2017 - Femke de Vries, HKU University of the Arts Utrecht, ( ‘DICTIONARY DRESSINGS: Clothing definitions decoded and translated towards alternative fashion perspectives’. Respondent: Professor Rebecca Houze, Northern Illinois University

Dictionary definitions are generally experienced as factual and rational and in the case of clothing show no connection to the mythical character of fashion. They describe the characteristics of the items, the modes of use and/or the relation to the body but fashion or style is not mentioned. For example: “Handschoen: bekleding van de hand” (Literally translated to English as Glove: covering of the hand). It becomes clear that a hand can be covered by putting it in a pocket, by bandaging it or by sitting on it, turning a pair of trousers into a glove for they cover the hand and therefore suffice to the definition.

In this on-going project the nature of the dictionary definition as a ‘zero condition’ of a piece of clothing is used not to find a general truth of a piece of clothing, but to re-read clothes and explore an alternative fashion vocabulary. This vocabulary will take the shape of an image archive, theoretical and design-led approaches by experts and students brought together in a publication, website, workshops and catalogues of these workshops.

Weds 15th March 2017 – Dr Nicolas P. Maffei, Norwich University of the Arts, ‘The Responsive Brand: Uniformity and Flexibility in Logo Design’ 

From the uniformity of modernism to the embrace of difference, this talk explores the historical shift from static to dynamic logos, from universal international brand identities to more flexible and responsive corporate personalities. This transformation occurred over a period extending from the nineteenth century to the present, and includes the roots of branding, the ideals of modernism, the emergence of the critical consumer, the development of the responsive corporation, and the co-creation of brands in online landscapes. From Peter Behrens’ designs for the German Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG), in 1907, considered the first corporate identity, to Paul Rand’s flexible and humanizing identity developed for International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) after WWII, this talk reviews the rise of the unchanging logo and, in turn, the multivalent brand-mark. In addition, the design responses of corporations to the vocal and ethically informed consumer are surveyed via the anti-branding movement, which has targeted Starbucks and McDonalds among other corporations. Nike is examined through local reinterpretations of the global brand. Gap’s failed logo of 2010 shows the power of the online consumer and the need for companies to listen and respond. Finally, brand reactions to the responsive consumer – characterized by chameleon-like logo transformation and an emphasis on user interaction and co-production of meaning, are investigated through the designs for telecommunications company Ollo (Bibliothèque, 2012), the identity for the Tate museums (Wolff Olins, 1999), and Experimental Jetset’s Responsive ‘W’ for The Whitney Museum (2011). 

Weds 10th May 2017 – Peter Thomas, Middlesex University and Dr Grace Lees-Maffei, University of Hertfordshire, ‘The Poster Session as Fusing Theory and Practice in (Art and) Design Education: Exhibiting an Occluded Genre’ 

This talk presents our research on the pedagogical benefits of poster sessions for teaching contextual studies in design education. The academic poster has been used most extensively in the sciences, but we argue that its particular pertinence in design education is undervalued to date. Design students have visual and design skills which can be applied to the production of a poster, but also their verbal experience of speech acts such as ‘crits’ (studio evaluations) and speaking to design outputs in a client pitch can be applied in the talk which takes place in poster sessions. Because the production of posters and the poster sessions where they are displayed and discussed draw on skills which students use in the studio, they have the capacity to bridge theory and practice when used in contextual studies for design students, in content, form and process.

Much of the secondary pedagogical literature on posters is fundamentally about ‘how-to’ design a poster; it is instructional. Our focus here is, rather, on the pedagogical affordances of the poster and poster session. While the how-to material focuses on the production of an outcome, our approach focuses on the poster as process, bridging theory and practice and affording a site for talk. The instructional approach we deem as being principally of benefit to the learners / makers of posters, and the learning benefits we expect to be of interest to teachers, as well as learners to some extent.

Posters are, in some senses, what Swales calls an 'occluded genre', in that they are often used to support the development of a more high stakes text, and in these cases are to an extent comparatively hidden.’ Our students have found the process of research and making a poster, talking about it and talking to other students about their posters in dedicated poster sessions to be very useful in developing ideas, and learning to express their ideas, about contextual studies topics as part of the preparation for an essay.

We base our talk on primary pedagogical research we have conducted with undergraduate design students in two North London universities and with postgraduate students of design cultures in a Dutch university, and a review of the relevant secondary literature across a number of academic disciplines. 

Friday, 23 September 2016

ResDev16 - The University of Hertfordshire's Second Biennial Researcher Development Conference

Dr Grace Lees-Maffei, Chair, Researcher Development Working Group.  

This week, researchers from across the University of Hertfordshire met in our wonderful Weston Auditorium for the second biennial researcher development conference. The first, in September 2014, sought to promote understanding and awareness of the value and practice of researcher development and the development opportunities for researchers available within the University and externally, through organizations including, most notably, Vitae. But we also took a good look at the actual research being conducted within the University's ten Schools through a dynamic PechaKucha session which promoted, particularly, the work of our early career researchers. 

Theme Champion for Global Economy, Dr Chamu Kuppuswamy, takes a selfie with Prof John Senior, Pro-VC Research and Enterprise, and Dr Sylvie Magerstadt, Heritage, Cultures and Communities Theme Champion.

ResDev16 adapted this winning formula. Following an introduction by Prof John Senior, our Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research and Enterprise), the six research 'champions' spoke about their respective themesProfessor David Barling who leads the University's research on Food drew attention to the parlous ratio of 2 billion obese and 1 billion malnourished people in the world. Work in the CRIPPAC research group analyses the importance of environment and culture in our food choices and opportunities, Prof Barling noted. Dr Chamu Kuppuswamy continued the Global Economy emphasis in introducing work in her area, calling for research to cross boundaries as well as geo-political borders. Speaking of research in Health & Wellbeing, Dr Frances Bunn outlined the sheer breadth of areas of enquiry that it engages. She highlighted the importance of work on the lifecourse, pointing to Prof Claire Goodman's work on dementia. Dr Sylvie Magerstadt champions research in Heritage, Cultures & Communities. She followed up Frances Bunn's point about the importance of communicating our research to academic and non-academic audiences by outlining her plan for a 'Culture Talks' channel on YouTube to promote research on the Heritage, Cultures and Communities theme. Next, Dr Farshid Amirabdollahian introduced the Information & Security research theme as extending from the secure handling of data to cutting-edge research in toxicology, with safety being paramount in each case. Innovation occurs on the friges of discplines, he enthused. Finally, Dr Philip Lucas explained that the University already has researchers working on space in disciplines ranging from from astronomy to fine art. He referred to the prominence of UH researchers in the recently publicised identification of Proxima b, an earth-like planet which may have the potential to host life. Dr Lucas plans to extend research on Space by instituting a buddy system for researchers.

Dr Helen Barefoot, Deputy Director for the Learning & Teaching Innovation Centre talked about the importance of Research-Informed Teaching and Research-Rich Teaching for connecting two core pillars of the University's activity as reflected in our strategic plan: teaching and research. Dr Barefoot explained that teaching and research are not inherently connected, as we sometimes assume; rather the connections between them need to be fostered, and explicitly drawn out. The Learning and Teaching Innovation Centre hosts an online toolkit for doing just that.

Dr Helen Barefoot discusses Research-Informed Teaching and Research-Rich Teaching. Photo: Grace Lees-Maffei.

The next session showcased the work of 18 researchers in just over an hour! How? Using the 3 -Minute Thesis (3MT®) format, we were given snapshots of 8 doctoral projects from finalists in a competition run by the Doctoral College. Speakers included Hayley Goode, who bravely began the session, and Alex Hocking, Jean Petric and David Turner. They talked about topics as diverse as the recognition and experiences of informal carers (Akua Owusu Nyantakyiwaa) and the impact of environment on galaxy evolution (Nancy Hine). The final 3MT addressed the difficulties faced by homeless men, whose lives are precarious and very short, typically extending no further than the forties, as Coral Westaway poignantly explained. Kathryn Kellett won the prize of £1000 in travel vouchers or cash equivalent. All other participants received runner-up prizes of £50 book vouchers.

Akua Owusu Nyantakyiwaa introduces her doctoral research on informal carers. Photo: Wendy Wills.

Prize giving for the ResDev16 3MT Competition. Photo: Frances Bunn.

While the judges deliberated, conference delegates were treated to a whistle stop tour of research being undertake across all ten Schools, again using the three-minute format. From the School of Life & Medical Sciences, Dr Rosalind Fallaize introduced her work ‘E-Nutri: The Future of Digital Personalised Nutrition Advice?’. Law's Dr Thomas Dunk outlined ‘The Role of the Individual in the Process of International Law Creation’. Dr Annabel Jay (Health & Social Work) examined 'How Women Experience an Artificial Onset of Labour’, with her study of 'Being Induced' concluding that the experience is one of liminality, betwixt and between two separate states. From the School of Education, Barry Costas outlined the usefulness of his literature review for uncovering a wide range of different perspectives on ‘The Voice of the Learner’ and its importance in education. For Engineering & Technology, Dr Saeid Safavi spoke about his project ‘Objective Control of Talker Verification’. New recruit to the University, Dr Ceri Houlbrook (Humanities) itemised some of the surprising things that people have put up chimneys and into the fabric of their homes, as has been discovered in her research with Prof Owen Davies in ‘The Concealed Revealed'. From Computer Science, Dr Ben Torben-Nielsen showed vividly how ‘Beautiful Brains Keep Us Healthy’ by examining some medical imaging which makes clear the different patterns witnessed. Next, Dr Wendy Williams (Physics, Astronomy & Maths) explained ‘The Evolution of Radio-Loud Active Galactic Nuclei using Low-Radio Frequencies’ and Dr Nika Balemenou (Hertfordshire Business School) changed the subject completely with her talk about her 'pseudo-longitudinal study from 2003 to 2016' into 'the development of Kavos, Corfu, into a tourism destination and the impacts on the local community’ as one of ‘Utopia or Dystopia?' Finally, Dr Silvio Carta from the School of Creative Arts gave us a snapshot of his research into big data, and 'How Computing is Changing Public Realm Data and Physical Space’.

Dr Silvio Carta (School of Creative Arts) talks about big data and public space. Photo: Grace Lees-Maffei.

Many more researchers from across the University exhibited their ideas at a Poster Session in the Atrium where delegates networked over lunch.

Hock Chye Gan presenting his research poster. Photo: Suzanne Fergus.

Suzanne Culshaw exhibited her poster with a useful mechanism for gathering feedback.

The conference then moved to our Law Court Building for two rounds of four parellel sessions, with each delegate choosing two topics from the following: 'Research-Informed Teaching and Research-Rich Teaching' with Dr Helen Barefoot; 'Setting Up a Mentoring Scheme' with Jill Lees; Bridget Russell and Frances Harris' introducing 'Ways to Raise Your Research Profile'  and Kevin Flinn on 'Career Progression'.

Dr Kevin Flinn puts the roof on the house of career progression. Photo: Beverley Brathwaite.

Throughout the day, colleagues were tweeting positively about what they saw and heard. Take a look at the #ResDev16 twitterfeed for a flavour of the proceedings. Now delegates can reflect on what we have learned and begin to put that into practice, while the Researcher Development Working Group can reflect and use the feedback we will receive to start planning #ResDev18 See you there!

Selfie by Francesca Batzella of colleagues from the Law School in the audience at #ResDev16

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Elizabeth Murton: New artist in residence explores textiles, tissues and tensegrity

UHArts has a new artist in residence, Elizabeth Murton. Murton is interested in the relationship between materials and mechanisms in the body. She asks how the structures of materials inside and outside the body can relate, inspired in part by the architecture of the UH Gallery space, as well as anatomical models in the university’s physiotherapy labs. She will  present her first major solo exhibition and symposium, Between Materials and Mechanisms, at UH Galleries in Hatfield from 17 September.

During her residency, Murton will be investigating the similarities between textiles and the fibres that hold the human body together. She has been inspired by the discovery that the body is not made of separate parts, neatly divided as they are in an anatomical model, but rather, an interconnected collection of tissues and fibres. Her project takes cues from architect Buckminster Fuller, whose work explored tensegrity: structures such as geodesic domes that spread tension through their parts rather than resisting gravity through simple, vertical compression. The human body is an example of biotensegrity, that holds itself together by balancing the tension of its many component parts. No single part of the body rests entirely on another part. Instead, all parts float within a sea of inter-supported fibres.

This initial stage in the investigation focuses on materials and structure. Elizabeth has begun to draw parallels between biological fibres and those that she might use in her work. The potential for internal fibres to be duplicated outside of the body in arts practice has been evidenced in projects such as Neri Oxman’s series of 3D printed masks, adapted from digital scans of bone and tissue, for Icelandic musician Björk. Such examples form part of wider discussions about the intersection of science and art, particularly how the relationship between scientific and creative disciplines are enabled through new technologies such as rapid prototyping. Elizabeth’s project will contribute to ever-expanding interdisciplinary practice by examining contemporary medical knowledge through craft.

More information and a blog accompanying UHArts residencies can be found here.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Things ain't what they used to be: changing roles for museum artefacts in 3D design education

Polly Palmer   Senior Lecturer, Creative Product Design, School of Creative Arts

It is fascinating how a new direction can present itself not by tireless academic immersion but in the manner of a rake inadvertently stepped on. My Level 4 Creative Product Design group returned in March from a study visit to Berlin in a state of missionary fervour about a museum experience. They described a curatorial guided tour of the Museum der Dinge (Museum of Things) and waxed lyrical about both the expertise of the guides and the telling narrative of the displays. They told me I had to go and see for myself, and so I will. How could I not?

My current research explores learning outside the lecture room and ways to engage our millennial students in visual culture and analysis. I have explored extensively the characteristics of Generation Z through diverse sources including cultural organisations, government surveys, sociological research and marketing. Defining preferences include hands-on activity over passive absorption of information and a questioning attitude to prevailing cultural tropes.

However despite their fearsome readiness for critical evaluation and their cynicism in the face of traditional education strategies, the students enthuse readily when engaged through innovative presentation. My research journey to explore learning outside the lecture room has recently focused upon museum collections of artefacts and how they might directly inform the design processes and contextual understanding of students of 3D Design.

The impetus for this is the result of several strands of interest and experience, including years of working in secondary school teaching Art and Design and Design and Technology, and then running design education workshops at the Design Museum and nationwide in schools.

At the University of Hertfordshire I lecture in Critical and Cultural Studies (C&CS) on the Creative Product Design programme, collecting artefacts to use in lectures and seminars. My interest in this area of research has come out of integrating site and museum visits into C&CS modules as part of the student experience.

Far away in another part of the galaxy….
….I was busy finding different ways of teaching contextual understanding and product analysis to Level 5 Creative Product Design. The result was a successful workshop during a C&CS session in February 2016; this involved the year group above the aforementioned Level 4 group on the same course, and a month before the Berlin trip. It was a handling session using a collection of agricultural and woodworking tools from the Salaman Collection, a comprehensive archive in the keeping of the Museum of St Albans (MOSTA). The workshop was facilitated for MOSTA by curators Cat Newley and Sarah Keeling and organised at UH by myself and Julian Lindley, Senior Lecturer in Creative Product Design and Level 5 tutor. 

Cat and Sarah brought a collection of agricultural tools for the students to handle and evaluate as part of a studio project to design a strimmer. The workshop aimed to provide historical and experiential context and detailed functional, social, material and ergonomic analysis for linked C&CS and studio projects.

The workshop was well received by the students. An evaluation by the participants produced some thoughtful observations which we have incorporated into the plan for the next stage of the project. The students showed active interest and enthusiasm in the session, and commented in a subsequent evaluation on, amongst other things, the beauty and emotional appeal of crafted objects and the value of handling the artefacts, assessing weight, balance and ergonomic success.

We aim to build on this experience by planning a more integrated approach in a collaborative pilot project in Semester B 2016-17. This will aim to provide experience of historic artefacts for Creative Product Design students to analyse and evaluate in relation to a combined studio project and C&CS assignment. Students will be encouraged to integrate their experience and understanding of heritage artefacts into their design processes and analysis when designing new products. The studio teaching staff is also keen to develop shared projects to elicit maximum engagement and understanding from the students

MOSTA curators are enthusiastic about a relationship with us and the collaboration could in subsequent years, once the new museum is opened in its central location, draw on elements such as local community involvement, with students curating and displaying work that has come out of the research project, and mutual support for heritage and design exhibitions and student and tutor research.

I wish to go beyond contextual and design historical benefits to unpick elements of the design process and integrate heritage product evaluation. This approach could benefit students’ willingness to take risks and experiment, their knowledge of materials and manufacture, ergonomics, emotional design, user experience and sustainability; all deeply embedded elements of current design processes.

The exploration of good practice in an international context in Berlin and the development of a fruitful and creative collaboration with a local museum, plus an analysis of past, present and future use of the Design Museum’s extensive artefact collection will provide a comprehensive analysis of the role of museum artefacts in the teaching of 3D Design at undergraduate level.

The Level 4 group, who had a taste of the power of displayed products to communicate multi-layered meaning through a carefully nuanced narrative, will this year, as Level 5 students, experience the questioning of artefacts and the application of their in-depth analysis to design process and practice. They have inspired a new direction in my work and they will be fully cognisant participants in the research in progress. I intend to explore their responses to these experiences in the hope that they feel empowered in their practice and engaged with broad and diverse aspects of culture.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Unity by design: why the EU needs a stronger visual identity

Grace Lees-Maffei, University of Hertfordshire

The UK’s referendum on EU membership is upon us, and British people are weighing up a wide range of social, economic and political arguments as they go to the polls. But facts and figures wont be the only thing on voters’ minds. How voters feel – and specifically, how European they feel – will play a significant role in their decision.

One of the ways citizens understand and express their identity and sense of belonging is through design. Designed goods and spaces – from slogan t-shirts, to government buildings, to the ballot papers on which votes are cast – make statements about who we are and how we see ourselves. Because of this, design is a political tool, which can communicate a great deal about national and regional identities.

Influential scholars tell us that nations are imagined communities, formed by the invention of tradition. Both state-sponsored and everyday design have a powerful role to play in the formation of national identities.

With the possibility of a Brexit looming, it is timely to ask how effectively design has been used to promote the idea of a united Europe, and whether EU citizens are really able to express their European identities in this way.


Bland brand

The EU and its predecessors have been consciously designed. The circle of stars on the EU flag symbolises different states coming together. The European parliament in Brussels forms a familiar backdrop to countless newscasts reporting on the policies that shape our lives. And the euro is replete with symbols of European identity; from the architecture featured on banknotes, to the maps of Europe and the national symbols on coins.

Uninspiring. claireonline/Flickr, CC BY-NC

But while these designs clearly promote the ideals of European collaboration and governance, they are often criticised for being bland, and have failed to achieve anything like the popularity of the member states' unique visual identities.

With a few exceptions, Europe is largely missing a distinctive “design identity” – a coherent visual message, with which people can identify. Just as cars are branded in ways that make them attractive to consumers, so nation branding can persuade people to take pride in their national identity. Europe’s struggle for a design identity may stem from the fact that the continent is home to some of the strongest national design identities in the world.


National pride

Germany is renowned for the calibre of its engineering and its design education system, demonstrated most notably at the Bauhaus (1919-33) and at the Hochschule für Gestaltung, Ulm (1953-68). These initiatives underpin successful design education around the world.

The Bauhaus Building in Dessau, Germany. Christian Stock/Flickr, CC BY

And while Italy industrialised relatively late, it has since entered the premier league of design, attracting the most talented designers from around the world to work in its creative hothouses of fashion, industrial and automotive design, among others.

Today, the UK exists principally as a service economy. But it still enjoys a world leading industrial heritage. The strength of the UK’s design identity is demonstrated in its museums and trade fairs, in the international success of the UK’s design graduates, as well as through the Design Council, which works to persuade businesses of the value of design. The economic strength of the creative industries – which include design – is measured by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport: in 2014, they accounted for 5.2% of the UK economy.

De Stijl: Mondrian meets YSL (1966) Nationaal Archief/Wikimedia commons, CC BY-NC

Other European countries are less certain of the value of their design heritage. The Netherlands has a tradition of excellence from De Stijl to Droog (to name just two highlights). But we need more rigorous analyses of its design history. Similarly, design historians in Switzerland and Portugal are working on new national histories of design.


Design for Europe

This brief snapshot of the national design identities of some European countries highlights how little has been achieved in terms of a cohesive European identity. And although the EU has highlighted design as a critically important research topic, and is developing its own museum, these top down initiatives are no substitute for the widespread adoption by European citizens of designed goods which communicate European identity.

Clearly, national identities do not preclude European ones. Being British can be compatible with feeling European. Indeed, national design identities necessarily co-exist with local, regional and international identities in today’s globalised design industry; for instance, Disney World draws on a wide range of European stories and settings and relocates them in radically different cultures around the globe.

The Little Mermaid: from Denmark to Disney World. Brett Kiger/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

As long as citizens turn to national symbols for expressions of their sense of belonging, European identity will take second place. A stronger sense of design heritage for Europe would help to bring these different identities together, and to picture what a European design identity should look like. This would be useful for the common market, and the common good.

The ConversationGrace Lees-Maffei, Reader in Design History, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.