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 http://www.stalbansmuseums.org.uk/collection/social-history-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.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

UH artists in residence

UH Arts has an ongoing commitment to host artists in residence in the School of Creative Arts. During the 2015/16 academic year, Permindar Kaur was resident in the studios alongside Fine Art students, and the work she produced during her 6-month residency was exhibited in the Art & Design gallery throughout April.

Permindar Kaur, 2016, work-in-progress being installed as part of Interlopers, at the University of Hertfordshire Art & Design Gallery.
UH Arts took this opportunity to establish a relationship between their residency programme and researchers in the School of Creative Arts. Initially, this took the form of a blog, written by Barbara Brownie, that tracks the development of Permindar's exhibition, and reflects on the themes explored in her work. The final blog post has just been posted, and the complete list can be viewed here: https://uhartsresident.wordpress.com/blog/ The blog provided readers an opportunity to engage with Permindar's work as it developed in the studio, and prompted Permindar to consider a variety of possible responses to her planned installations.

UH Arts now intends to expand the blog, to record and reflect upon future residencies, with artists including Elizabeth Murton, Lyndall Phelps and Katy Gillam-Hull. They also hope to expand the authorship of the blog, to invite contributions from other staff across the University of Hertfordshire.

Elizabeth Murton, Neuron 2, 2014, calico, shellac ink, polycotton thread, H 28cm x W 38cm

Monday, 23 May 2016

Grunts & Grapples Exhibition

Grunts & Grapples Exhibition      
Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery (15 September 2016 – 14 January 2017)

‘Greetings Grapple Fans!’ Kent Walton

For those of a certain age (and one could argue class), Kent Walton’s welcome will evoke the routine of Saturday tea-time’s in front of the TV, anticipating an exciting 45mins of grapples, grunts, and the ubiquitous incensed Granny scolding a wrestler. While wrestling was first broadcast on newly launched ITV station in 1955, its established slot (just before the football scores) came about with the launch of World of Sport a decade later in 1965, and would last for 24 years before being axed by the then Director of Programmes, Greg Dyke, in 1989. The magazine format sports show was originally intended as a direct response to BBC’s Grandstand, and ‘The Wrestling’ became a central feature of its programming. Part sport, part entertainment, at its peak wrestling garnered audiences of over 12 million, and the new commercial station seemed like a fitting home for a pastime that had emerged from the traditions of the music hall. Yet, in many ways, the balance between these two areas was always an uncertain one, and the pull towards celebrity and spectacle that the commercial element of the sport demanded, would eventually be wrestling’s downfall (at least in the UK).

Grunts & Grapples seeks to explore this much neglected area of social and cultural history. It is drawn primarily from my own personal collection of posters, photographs, programmes, and a handful of wrestling outfits. The aim of the exhibition is very much one of capturing how central the sport was to British life for most of the second half of the twentieth century and how it drew on earlier traditions of public entertainment. For example, in terms of design, there are various billposters, which in style reveal wrestling’s origins in the aforementioned music hall tradition, but also to those of the circus. The influence of these two forms of popular culture ran throughout the sport, from the portrayal of the wrestlers as baddies (‘heals’) or goodies (‘blue eyes’), to the widespread encouragement of audience participation. In terms of the wrestlers themselves, prevailing narratives of Otherness and racial stereotypes would commonly be utilised in the creation of personalities. Hence, you would have Johnny Kincaid and Dave Bond wrestling under the name the ‘Caribbean Sunshine Boys’, although as Kincaid noted in a recent BBC documentary, he had never been further than Wandsworth! Other such figures included the supposed Native American ‘Billy Two Rivers’ who would perform an “Indian” dance before each bout. And most famously, Kendo Nagasaki, who drew on popular imagery of ‘Japan’, in his use of Samurai swords and distinctive masks, all of which were frequently embellished by Kent Walton’s commentary on Nagasaki’s ‘mysterious origins’. This Otherness served as a uncomplicated signifier of badness, while in this crude worldview, ‘whiteness’ functioned as shorthand for decency and righteousness. Not that this binary was fixed, as there were many wrestlers who throughout their career switched from a ‘heal’ to a ‘blue-eye’ and back again. This play of characters across the hundreds of venues that hosted the wrestling during the week, and on the TV screens on a Saturday afternoon, was a carefully choreographed storyline, with long running grudges, feuds, and resentments. All of which were stage managed by the wrestling promoter Joint Promotions, who held a near monopoly on the sport during the period Grunts & Grapples explores (1955 – 1990).

When ITV’s broadcasting of wrestling was cancelled in 1989, one of the arguments appeared to be that the contrived storylines, larger than life characters, and manufactured bouts – the entertainment side of wrestling’s heritage - had overshadowed the sporting aspect. For many, the protracted battle between Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks throughout the 1980s served as prima facie evidence in the case for the prosecution. Judged as a mockery of ‘real’ wrestling – with the notorious 1981 Wembley clash contest lasting just 2mins 30secs – many fans and wrestlers alike considered the absence of skill and technique a step too far. With the arrival of Sky TV and the import of World Wrestling Federation (WWF) from America, it appeared such opinions were shared by Greg Dyke. Following its cancellation, wrestling continued in town halls and seaside piers well into the 1990s, but it never loomed as large in the public consciousness as it had throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s.  


Wednesday, 18 May 2016

TVAD talk on the Heritage of TV news

As a second year student on the DHeritage programme, I am still far from clear about my research question. So, when I was invited to give a TVAD talk, it was a good opportunity to think about where I was in the process, and how my research so far is beginning to collect around topics of interest.
As a professional doctoral student, my research is closely aligned to my practice as a corporate film-maker and broadcast journalist, so I tried to bring the two things together as a starting point, by looking at the heritage of radio and TV news.
From an outsider’s perspective, I would suggest that the heritage of TV news is its archive: the news broadcasts, on the spot reports and coverage of historic events, and this archive most definitely has a value. Every broadcaster has a department dedicated to selling the reuse of these assets.

But from my point of view, there is something just as important behind the scenes that is less obvious as ‘heritage’. The stories that have made up my career have come from production in the newsroom, using the most up-to-date technology available (and affordable) to bring the news to the radio waves and TV screen.

So, I started to look at the machines I used to work with every day.
What is interesting about looking again at these machines is that they sparked off memories about the way we used to make the news, and I started to think about the things that have changed, and the things that haven’t.

I remembered what it was like to edit using razor blades and splicing tape, and how everyone who has ever cut tape has the same semi-circular scar on their thumb from the time when they were in a rush, decided not to put the tape into the editing block, and ended up embedding the razor blade in their thumb, which resulted in even more panic as they tried to get their report on air without bleeding on it.

Or the time when the beta-cart machine chewed up a report on tape, leaving me with a minute-long black hole in my bulletin. To add to that, the autocue also failed while we were on-air. When the presenter tried to read the ‘spare’ stories from the printed scripts to make up the lost time due to the tape being chewed, he found that the printer was short on ink and had not printed them legibly. So, he had nowhere to go, and wrapped up the bulletin, leaving us sitting on the ‘end slate’ of the weather for a full minute – the longest minute of my professional career.

Those memories were attached to these obsolete machines, that are in themselves not valued in any way except by collectors of niche technology, and rarely exhibited as heritage objects. But to me, those machines are a vital element of the heritage story of me and my colleagues, as the technology we used shaped and affected the way we brought the news to the listener or viewer.

Because these machines are obsolete, my own heritage - news programmes I have worked on and reports I have done - are inaccessible, because they are stored on reel-to-reel tape, Beta SP and video tape, none of which I can access without seeking out someone who keeps and uses these technical relics of newsrooms past.

This led me to think that this will probably soon be true of CDs, and perhaps even USB sticks and hard drives. So, thinking about technology from a perspective of heritage collections, could it be that museums and archives are better off with pre-digital systems such as card catalogues, because these have remained accessible for many years without becoming obsolete, since we can simply copy the information onto new cards when they get old and hard to read. Is technology really helpful at all for holding and accessing data in the heritage sector?

And, thinking about the old technologies that are now considered obsolete, what formerly vital machines and technologies are mouldering away in the back rooms of museums and archives, no longer considered of any value? What heritage stories might be attached to these?

My research question centres around digitisation, looking at how putting collections online may have altered the work of the heritage professional, and the way they communicate with the outside world. I would like to look at the way technology has both helped and hindered heritage professionals with their work, and will ask them to reflect on how the rapid rise of the internet has changed their practice, and the way they present their collections. 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Reflections on my time as TVAD Visiting Researcher

D.J. Huppatz

As TVAD Visiting Researcher for 2015-16, my three weeks at the University of Hertfordshire in February seemed to fly by. After the initial shock of acclimatising from a hot Australian summer to an English winter, I settled into a busy program of events. Everyone I met at UH was friendly and I soon found that starting each morning in the café meant I would run into someone I’d met previously – intentional or not, the centrally placed café was well designed for a visitor to get to know people! As for the more formal program, over a period of three weeks, I presented lectures on contemporary art in Melbourne, modern Asian design and global design to students and staff across the art and design departments. I also reviewed Interior Architecture student work-in-progress, went to the opening of the Postgraduate Interdisciplinary Exhibition and participated in the postgraduate DHeritage Workshop. 
Cumberland Lodge

For me, one of the highlights of my time with UH was attending the History Department Annual Conference at Cumberland Lodge, over the weekend of 12-14 February. The location, a grand 17th century country house on the grounds of Windsor Great Park, was appropriately historic. The program of presentations, though varied, had two provocative threads. The first was a debate about historical agency, or, a series of questions around how we might recover the stories of everyday people – beyond kings, queens and “famous” individuals, researchers in history are working on issues such as the autonomy of 19th century working class women, for example. A number of the presenters focused on such finely nuanced histories that sought to give voice to “ordinary” individuals. 

 Windsor Great Park and Cumberland Lodge
The second provocative theme was the impact of new technologies on history. From analyses of “big data” such as population or environmental statistics to crowd-sourcing information, the “digital humanities” approach to historical research presents numerous new avenues for research. Perhaps because of the emphasis on statistics, information and data, the new approach seemed a little at odds with the more traditional, archival research presented at the conference. It may also be that the individual voices tend to get lost in such big picture analyses. Finally, both the surrounds of Cumberland Great Lodge and the chance to walk around Windsor Great Park rounded off a great weekend. 

I managed to squeeze in a day trip up to Norwich where Dr Grace Lees-Maffei treated me to a wintery English walk (complete with ankle-deep mud) and a day at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. I had read about Norman Foster's large hanger-like construction for the Sainsbury Centre - one of his earliest designs - so it was good to finally see it. There was also an excellent exhibition of Alphonse Mucha's posters, paintings and graphics (no photos allowed though!). 

Norwich in winter and Norman Foster's 1978 Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

Heritage was a topic I spent a lot of time pondering while at UH. In fact, heritage was something I felt like I couldn’t escape while in the UK. Even turning on the TV at night, I saw several documentaries on heritage topics such as railways, canals and historic homes. For me, it was therefore a great opportunity to participate in the University of Hertfordshire DHeritage workshop. This was a chance to hear postgraduate students’ projects and perspectives on heritage and to understand a little about heritage as a practice in the UK (and globally). A  starting point for understanding heritage – a shared past, protected for all to remember – soon became more complex with questions such as which past should we protect? How should we protect it and whose past is it anyway? From the many questions that emerged, I left with the idea of heritage as a contested, dynamic and contemporary practice. 

A sign warning motorists of the high-tech surveillance equipment in operation in Hatfield

Beyond my TVAD Visiting Researcher trip to Hatfield, I also spent a few days in London at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s National Art Library and the British Library, as well as a couple of days in the University of Brighton’s Design Archives. This archival research and the chance to have another look at the V&A collection provided invaluable material and ideas for my forthcoming book, Modern Asian Design. Back at UH, I also gained a great deal from an informal research workshop with Dr Steven Adams and Dr Grace Lees-Maffei in which I presented some work in progress from the book.  Overall, my three weeks in the UK as TVAD Visiting Researcher was a fantastic opportunity to engage with stimulating ideas and meet a lot of great people.