Friday, 7 July 2017

TVAD Talks 2017/18 - New Series Launched!

The TVAD Talks for the coming year are now scheduled on Wednesdays as follows. All are welcome. Please add these dates to your diaries. Lunches are provided so please confirm your attendance with Antoine Proust, a couple of days beforehand, for catering numbers. We look forward to an exciting series of discussions!

Weds 11th October 2017 – Sahar Khajeh (University of Hertfordshire), ‘Kinetic Typography as a potential solution to the needs of bilingual typography (Arabic and Latin script)’

The aim of the discussion is to demonstrate how Kinetic typography could solve the problem of bilingualism where we need typography that works for two languages (Arabic and Latin scripts) specifically outside of printing environment. Examples include demonstration of bilingual logos on shop signage, presenting of tourist guidelines in airports and road signs or exhibiting the translation of a word where these two different cultures are mixed. Before we can discuss bilingual typography, we need to establish an agreed terminology for discussing similarities and differences between the two different written scripts. Due to lack of a proper Arabic Script’s nomenclature system, a system of classification and nomenclature for Arabic letterforms needs to be compatible with terminologies used to describe Latin script. During the current phase of my DDes, course I am examining the terminology in current use with the aim of being better able to compare the two scripts.

Weds 15th November 2017– 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.

Top: From 'The Object Lesson' (Edward Gorey)
Bottom: Sketch of Titus on horseback (Mervyn Peake)     


Weds 6th December 2017 - Peter Thomas (Middlesex University) and Prof 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 higher 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.

Weds 7th February 2018 – Dr Sorcha O’Brien (Kingston University), Electric Irish Homes: Rural Electrification, Domestic Products and Irish Women in the 1950s and 1960s’ (Title, Abstract TBC)

Dr O’Brien will discuss her Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project which runs from 2016 to 2019. It looks at the effects of rural electrification on rural Irish housewives and homes during the 1950s and 1960s, focusing on the importation, promotion, cultural context and significance of domestic electrical products and their meaning to a generation of rural housewives. Although electric products for cooking or cleaning were seen as modernising and liberating technologies in other countries, this project will use archival research, object analysis and oral history to consider to what extent these meanings held for Irish women, particularly against the background of Irish establishment attitudes to the role of married women as domestic housewives. As the rural electrification project of the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) was rolled out across the State, the majority of domestic electrical products such as irons, fridges or vacuum cleaners were largely imported from Britain, Europe and the United States, and the project will look at the specifics of product ranges available in Ireland, and consider the implications of ‘modern’ influences from outside the state, particularly before the Scandinavian Report on Irish Design (1962) kick-started the native design industry in the late 1960s and 1970s. Outputs include a monograph, journal articles, and an exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland Country Life, accompanied by a series of creative workshops. The project has also been supported by a Design History Society Research Travel Grant, 2015 and the Fundació Història del Disseny 2nd Alfaro Hofmann Collection Research Grant for the Study of Domestic Appliances: The Vacuum Cleaner, 2015. Read more about it on the project website:

Weds 14th March 2018 – Dr Claire Jamieson (University of Hertfordshire), ‘The deindustrialising city as site, symbol and material for design’

This talk will explore a milieu of 1980s British design across architecture and product design that can be characterised by a preoccupation with material salvage, DIY processes of making, an antipathy to mass-modernism, and a post-industrial urban aesthetic. Building on my monograph about the radical architectural group NATØ, this work expands the scope of my investigations into related design disciplines in order to more fully interrogate a period preoccupation that I argue emerged from the distinct urban condition of deindustrialising London. Through an examination of the work of designers including Ron Arad, Tom Dixon and his Creative Salvage group, Danny Lane, Daniel Weil, as well as Nigel Coates and NATØ, and some more tentative links to fashion and graphic design, I will identify a postmodern attitude to design as bricolage and a form of street vernacular.

The decline of London’s urban fabric during the 1970s and 1980s was dramatic and traumatic ­– with vast swathes of the city lying derelict as the it prepared to be reshaped in a new post-industrial era. I will show how the unfamiliar material conditions and destabilising spatial relationships produced by deindustrialisation spurred a new form of creative imagination. London’s ruinous landscape suggested, and indeed provided, the physical materials for this new language, but also evoked an attitude that was translated into ad-hoc, primitive objects that resisted mainstream design culture. Furthermore, empty and derelict buildings provided the space for these works, which were often constructed using industrial techniques, to be made. For the Creative Salvage group, music culture formed an important part of this making process – with huge parties held in abandoned buildings illuminated by the welding iron and the angle grinder. My work brings research on the nature of post-industrial urban landscapes from urban studies into the realm of design history in order to better understand the influence of urban decline on a generation of designers.

With a line of influence that can clearly be traced back to the DIY practices of punk, the improvised and often purposefully ‘anti-design’ nature of these works blurs the boundary between professional and amateur. NATØ described an ‘apprentice’ character – an impoverished maker who could scavenge, construct, sell, swap, repair and fix their environment. Further, untrained designer-makers such as Tom Dixon, who produced hand-wrought one-off objects, put forward a model of practice that falls between art, design, and craft. My talk will expose these complex relations which problematize the role of the professional architect or designer who works in this mode.

‘One Off’, Ron Arad’s studio/shop, (1982)
‘Albionize Your Living Room’ from NATØ, (1984)

For more information, contact Dr Grace Lees-Maffei

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

TVAD Talks 2016-17 Available to Watch on YouTube

TVAD Talks are published on the University of Hertfordshire's YouTube Channel, in a Creative Arts Research playlist and on the TVAD website. If you missed them or if you want to enjoy them all over again, here are the TVAD Talks from the 2016-17 series:

We started the year with TVAD's Visiting Researcher, Professor Rebecca Houze (Northern Illinois University), who spoke to the title ‘Writing Textiles, Fashion, and Design Reform in Austria-Hungary Before the First World War. In this talk, Prof Houze introduced her research monograph (Ashgate) which offered 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 resurrected 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 TVAD Talk uncovered new territory in the history of art history, insisting on the crucial place of women within modernism, and broadening the cultural history of Habsburg Central Europe by revealing the complex relationships among art history, women, and Austria-Hungary. Houze showed us a wide range of materials, from craft and folk art to industrial design, and 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, Houze's monograph weaves together discourses of the academic, scientific, and commercial design communities with middle-class life as expressed through popular culture.

Our TVAD Talk in November 2016 was given by Rebecca Bell (Royal College of Art) on the subject ‘Folk Fever and the Bureaucratic Machine: Craft and Design in early 1960s' Czechoslovakia'. 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. This TVAD Talk focuses on the ways in which 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.Karel Vachek’s 1963 film 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, Bell examines how these aims were realised in the shifting intellectual climate of early 1960s’ Czechoslovakia.

In January 2017, Dr Barbara Brownie (University of Hertfordshire) introduced research in progress for her forthcoming book 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.

Dr Brownie's TVAD Talk specifically addresses environments with reduced gravity, in which the body experiences weightlessness. Clothes must be reconsidered for the reduced environments of spacewalks, space stations and zero-gravity flights within Earth's atmosphere. 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. Designers must consider not only changes to the behaviour 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. Barbara's book, Spacewear: Weightlessness and the final frontier of fashion examines the work of engineers, fashion designers, costume designers, photographers, authors and filmmakers.

The 2016-17 Series continued in February with a presentation by Femke de Vries (HKU University of the Arts Utrecht) titled ‘DICTIONARY DRESSINGS: Clothing definitions decoded and translated towards alternative fashion perspectives’. 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. TVAD Visiting Research Prof Rebecca Houze contributed as a respondent to de Vries' TVAD Talk. You can read more about Femke's work at her website and her TVAD Talk is available to view on  the University of Hertfordshire's YouTube Channel, in the Creative Arts Research playlist

In March, TVAD Chair Prof Grace Lees-Maffei (University of Hertfordshire) presented some writing in progress on the topic of ‘The Written Object’. Lees-Maffei began by recognising that w
ords are constantly present throughout the design lifecycle. They accompany the design process, in formal client briefs, in informal exchanges between members of design teams, in CADCAM software and specifications. Words are used to market and advertise designed objects, images, and services. We use words to describe what we do within, and how we feel about, the designed environments in which we all exist. These verbal processes have been recognised to some extent by design historians in the field’s recent mediation turn. Since the Production-Consumption-Mediation paradigm was posited in 2009, new research has emphasised the importance of words in understanding design. Design journalism, for example, has been critically important in shaping the ways in which we conceive of, and consume, design. And web 2.0, for instance, has complicated the notions of authority upon which design journalism and design criticism have existed. Bloggers and vloggers are now recognised as prime influencers, and their influence extends more and more into mainstream media. We can identify some new directions for the study of the written object, or more inclusively, words and design. The relationship between design and literature has so far remained largely untouched by design historians. Literary sources do not rely for their status, influence and authority upon the veracity with which they describe design, but they have a great deal to tell us about design, and design of the past. By the same token, we might examine the literary and aesthetic merit of design criticism and design journalism. Lees-maffei closes with a rhetorical question: Is it possible to communicate about design in a non-verbal way?

The final TVAD Talk of the 2016-7 series was given by Dr Nicolas P. Maffei (Norwich University of the Arts) in which the focus was ‘The Responsive Brand: Uniformity and Flexibility in Logo Design’. From the uniformity of modernism to the embrace of difference, this TVAD talk explored 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, Maffei 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). Watch Nic's TVAD Talk here:

For more information, Contact Prof Grace Lees-Maffei, TVAD Research Group Leader and TVAD Talks Convenor, 

Friday, 23 June 2017

Where to Publish? An Interdisciplinary Guide

When research is externally evaluated, and even when it isn’t, the choice of venue for your research publications could hardly be more important. The journal you choose, or the publisher you contract with, determine the readership for your research writings, and – to some extent - determine, in addition, the quality ascribed to your work. Whether or not this is as it should be is a separate issue to that of having to respond (a) to the fact that different journals and publishers have diverse strengths and weaknesses, and (b) that hierarchies of judgement will be applied to your work on publication.

In my field, design history, there are only a handful of dedicated journals. The Journal of Design History is world-leading, while Design Issues and Design and Culture each relate to design cultures in distinctive ways. Beyond this small group, many of the journals in which design historians choose to publish are either design journals, more broadly defined, or journals representing the large number of neighbouring or other fields which connect in various ways with the diverse subject of design and its histories. The former group includes The Design Journal, and more specialised journals such as Interiors, Fashion Theory etc.

See the following on design journals:

Beyond design, there is a wealth of resources available to colleagues wishing to make an informed choice about which journals, or presses to publish with. Some other rankings for specific disciplines that TVAD researchers may be interested in are:

More broadly, a standard resource is the European Reference Index for the Humanities and the Social Sciences (ERIH PLUS). It was produced by the European Science Foundation (ESF) in 2008. It is now maintained by the Norwegian Centre for Research Data. Initially it covered the humanities only, but now it also covers the social sciences.

Scopus is the largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature across the sciences, arts and humanities. It offers ‘CiteScore’, ‘essentially the average citations per document that a title receives over a three-year period’.

The most well-known indicator in the JCR is the Journal Impact Factor (JIF). This provides a ratio of citations to a journal in a given year to the citable items in the prior two years. Journal Citation Reports® (JCR) published by Clarivate Analytics (2017) offers a combination of impact and influence metrics from 2016 Web of Science source data covering more than 11,000 journals from 81 countries.

Eigenfactor was set up in January 2007 by Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West to use ‘recent advances in network analysis to develop novel methods for evaluating the influence of scholarly periodicals, for mapping the structure of academic research, and for helping researchers navigate the scholarly literature.’ It focuses on sciences and social sciences.

Princeton’s Wendy Laura Belcher has worked with some Princeton students on this digest of ‘Reviews of Peer-Reviewed Journals in Humanities and the Social Sciences’ (Princeton 2017) This blog reviews more than 70 journals. Belcher recommends her own book Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (SAGE 2009) and the introduction and chapter one can be downloaded from the SAGE website.

Judgments about journal quality can directly inform perceptions of a researcher’s worth. See David Adams', Publish or Perish v. 5 (2017). Consider also this promotion document from the London School of Economics:
The information is arranged by subject area, including some interdisciplinary topics such as gender studies. The journals regarded as the best are shown for each field. The document also advises on academic publishers with some surprising results: Palgrave Macmillan may not be so closely associated with the group of university presses by everyone who expresses an opinion. Conversely, Bloomsbury Academic is a relatively new addition to the Bloomsbury publisher which may not yet have made an impression on the compilers of such lists.

Prof Grace Lees-Maffei with Dr Veronica Manlow.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

TVAD Visiting Researcher 2016-2017: Afterthoughts

Rebecca Houze, Ph.D
Professor of Art and Design History
Northern Illinois University

As the academic year draws to a close with the usual frenzy of final projects and spring critiques, I have been reflecting on my travels over the past several months as a Visiting Researcher for the TVAD (Theorizing Visual Art and Design) research group, which is hosted by the University of Hertfordshire’s School of Creative Arts. It was enriching this year to meet so many energetic students and faculty in a wide range of disciplines, from contemporary craft to architecture, and from graphic and product design to heritage studies.

In the autumn term, October 2016, I had the opportunity to meet with students in Antje Illner’s contemporary craft seminar. I presented there a short talk on Emilie Bach (1840-1890), founder of the Imperial-Royal School for Art Embroidery in Vienna in 1874. Bach was very active in the Austrian reform of design education in the last part of the nineteenth century, and sought to revive historical needlework patterns from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. She advocated for craftsmanship, quality, and creativity in the face of industrialization, and believed that education was the key to cultivating taste. The students in the seminar asked questions that led me to explore Bach’s personal and professional circumstances in more detail in preparation for a paper on this topic. I presented it at the conference, "Design Discourse: Jewish Contributions to Viennese Modernism," at the MAK—Museum of Applied Art in Vienna, organized last fall by Elana Shapira, Design Historian at the University of Applied Art in Vienna.

 "Corner and detached subject in blanket stitch," in Emilie Bach, New Patterns in Old Style 
(Dornach: Thérèse de Dillmont, 1890)

My TVAD lunch talk, “Textiles, Fashion, and Design Reform in Austria-Hungary Before the First World War: Principles of Dress,” presented highlights from my book of the same title (Ashgate, 2015). The book is the result of my research in the museums of applied art and ethnography in Vienna and Budapest over the past fifteen years. It argues that the modern movement in Vienna was energized by an Austrian-Hungarian love of textiles and of dressing up at the end of the nineteenth century, which shaped museology, educational programs, and the history of art, as well as innovations in modern design. The conversation among students and faculty following the talk sparked hypotheses about the role of psychoanalysis and of architecture in that milieu, a reminder that “Vienna 1900” was a dynamic center of intellectual and artistic activity that continues to fascinate us today.

I also had the pleasure of speaking about my more recent book, New Mythologies in Design and Culture: Reading Signs and Symbols in the Visual Landscape (Bloomsbury 2016) with design students in School of Creative Arts Associate Dean Research Steven Adams’ design workshop, and with those who attended my evening Design Talk, as part of the series convened by Julian Lindley. This project took as its point of departure Roland Barthes’ familiar 1957 book, Mythologies, a collection of short, brilliant essays on French popular culture at that time. The essays in New Mythologies examine some our most potent popular symbols today, such as the Nike swoosh, the McDonald’s golden arches sign, and BP’s “Helios” logo, and urge readers to be critical, responsible producers and consumers of our contemporary designed world.

Parody of BP Logo designed by Laurent Hunziker, 2010. 
Winner of Popular Choice in the Greenpeace UK Rebrand BP Competition.

A highlight of my fall visit was meeting faculty and students in UH’s DHeritage program, and hearing the students’ presentations of their research in progress. The day-long symposium was particularly interesting to me as my own research has moved increasingly in the direction of heritage studies in the past several years. My current project looks at relationships between the built environment of world’s fairs and of new national parks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in both Europe and America, where they were designed as powerful expressions of national identity.

As you might imagine, I came back to Chicago from my fall visit to UH consumed with new questions and ideas for future projects! It was thus a privilege to be able to return to the School of Creative Arts again in February 2017.

My visit to campus in the spring term continued conversations that had started the previous fall. It was a distinct pleasure, for example, to attend Grace Lees-Maffei’s lively Graphic Design & Illustration module, and to lead a “New Mythologies” workshop in which groups of students deconstructed familiar icons, such as the Beats headphones logo, the Pringles potato chip trademark, and the international accessibility (wheelchair) symbol. Eva Sopeoglou, with whom I share an interest in the ideas of nineteenth-century German architect and art historian Gottfried Semper, invited me to talk with her First-Year Interior Architecture students and doctoral student colleagues, who, in February, were in the midst of organizing an exhibition on urban revitalization in the historic train depot district of Old Hatfield. I shared with them a part of my current project on historic architecture and open-air museums of cultural heritage in the American southwest.

Hopi House, Grand Canyon, Arizona, designed by Mary Colter, 1904

That same week I attended two fascinating presentations: Artist Femke De Vries’ TVAD talk, “Dictionary Dressings,” and the 2017 Hertfordshire Association of Architects Annual Lecture, “Zaha Hadid Architects: Recent and Past Project,” gloriously illustrated and delivered by architect Jim Heverin. DeVries’ presentation derived from her installation and book of the same title, which is a creative exploration, indeed subversive reading, of textual clothing definitions. If a glove is a “covering of the hand,” for example, then a “glove,” she asserts, might logically be understood as a pocket or a bandage.

Most exciting was the opportunity to participate in UH’s History Department Conference at the seventeenth-century Cumberland Lodge. Staying in the gracious, elegantly appointed country house, which looks out on the green expanse of Windsor Great Park, gave the weekend a dream-like quality. The talks were challenging, the food was delicious, and the company was stimulating and entertaining. Among the most memorable talks I attended were John Styles’ address on the history of fashion, Ceri Houlbrook’s discovery of shoes hidden in the walls of historic homes, Bridget Long’s paper on needlework education for girls in the eighteenth century, and Emma Battell Lowman & Adam J Barker’s talk on writing Canadian history in the “settler colonial present.” Particularly moving was the screening of the powerful film by Tim Slade, The Destruction of Memory, based on the book of the same name by Robert Devan. The film traces the destruction of cultural artifacts and heritage sites as acts of war in several contexts, including in the ongoing war in Syria.

Windsor Great Park

Dorney Court

In addition to presenting and attending academic talks, workshopping papers in progress with members of the TVAD reading group, and making the acquaintance of new colleagues during both my fall and spring term visits, I also had the opportunity to see local sites and landmarks, including the Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Alban, the origins of which date to at least the mid fourth century, Letchworth and Welwyn Garden Cities, designed by visionary urban planner Ebenezer Howard in the early twentieth century, and the charming fifteenth-century Dorney Court in Buckinghamshire.

The Spirella Building, previously a factory for the progressive Spirella Corset Company, Letchworth Garden City, 1912

Ebenezer Howard medallion, Welwyn Garden City

Understanding history relies upon intellectual discourse, which often takes place at conferences and symposia—traditional physical meeting places for the exchange of ideas. With our many new technologies for communication today, international travel for such meetings may seem less necessary; however, the ambiguous space between individuals at a video conference simply cannot compare with the spontaneous conversation in the corridor, the lounge, or at the dinner table. I am grateful to the School of Creative Arts for inviting me to participate in its TVAD research group, a generous and inspiring commitment to fostering academic exchange.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Lyndall Phelps: Museology

In 1890, St. Albans public library held a Conversazione, an exhibition of curiosities that became the predecessor to St. Albans museum. With the museum now closed for renovation, artist Lyndall Phelps has joined with its curators to revive some of the original collection at locations around Hertfordshire, as part of a pop-up museum that also features her own work. On exhibition stands designed in collaboration with students at the University of Hertfordshire, Phelps' collection is touring local venues including the St. Albans Cathedral, The Maltings, St. Paul's Church Hall, and St. Julian's Church Hall, with a different selection of exhibits at each location.

Though her aim is partly to make the St. Albans' Museum collection available while the museum is closed, Phelps is also interested in reviving some of the missing objects that were on display in the 1890 exhibition. Working from a list of artefacts on display at the Conversazione, Phelps displays artefacts that remain in the museum's collection alongside objects that she has made and collected to fill gaps left by objects missing from the list. The artefacts are divided into four main categories - fine art, social history, archaeology, and natural history - all categories that were recognised in the original Conversazione collection.

All of the works that Phelps created herself were directly inspired by, but not always identical to, objects on the list. The list contains no images, and the written descriptions are short and sometimes vague. Phelps has taken advantage of this lack of detail by exercising her creativity, adhering to the description in part, but knowingly diverging from the likely form or design that the listed objects would have taken. Where the list describes fern specimens, she has traced the silhouettes of pressed plants in the Cambridge University botanical collection, and screen-printed them in gold. Where the list describes various cloth items, ranging from scarfs to bags, she has decided "to show the fabric rather than the object", and has framed a selection of fabric "representing other cultures", including sari silk and shibori dyed cloth.

Where the list describes "embroidery on perforated card",  Phelps has diverged from the European, floral patterns that would have most likely adorned the original cards, and instead opted to for abstract patterns, and has displayed the cards next to some tribal jewelry, also her own work. This decision arose from her desire to challenge herself. "Ethnographic pieces [like these] involve problem solving" and provide a welcome excuse to learn new craft skills.

Phelps views her role as curator, collector, and designer, as well as artist. "Because of the nature of the objects [on the list] it made more sense to collect them than to make them," she explains. There are a significant number of religious items on the list, and she felt that these might be best represented by collections of contemporary objects that reflect the continuation of established religious practices, including saints medals and reproduction Medieval pilgrim badges.

All of these artefacts are displayed on a stand of Phelps' own design, inspired by a collaboration with students on the Interior Architecture and Design programme at UH. It was particularly important for Phelps that the stand did not resemble a wall from the St. Albans Museum. She has avoided white, and, where possible, used voids and transparent materials so that the audience is encouraged to "see through" the stand to the environment in which it is sited. The display is modular, so that it can be reconfigured to fit different spaces. "I'm used to making work that is physically related to a site or context," she says, and hopes that the stand will feel integrated into each location. "I wanted it to feel like a display [that belongs] in each location, not like we had brought in a piece of the museum."

Where the exhibition features genuine artefacts from the museum collection, she has chosen to display them in archival boxes, "presented as they were stored". Working with the museum's curators she has become fascinated by how they concerned themselves primarily with the "structural quality" of the objects in their care. This approach has taught Phelps "to look at objects in a different way, not just as visual objects, but as structures" that must be supported and protected in very particular ways.

Housing the objects in protective cases and sleeves, Phelps aims to allow audiences an insight into how the objects are protected for storage and transit, illustrating the "hidden, background processes" of museology. The white foam, with recesses cut to match the shape of the objects that they protect, the labels and identification numbers that are normally hidden from view, and the ribbons that secure objects in place, are as important a part of Phelps' display as the artefacts themselves. Prints are unframed, so that the "scrappily cut" edges of the paper are visible, revealing "the honesty of the object". This, feels Phelps, is far more interesting than the "beautified" displays that are presented in the museum. These references carry through to Phelps' own works, which are mounted on card of the same grey colour as the museum's archival boxes.