Tuesday, 23 December 2014
TVAD Talks: Dr Barbara Brownie, ‘Shoes Without Feet: The presence of absence in empty-shoe memorials’
The last in our series of reflections on the research seminars presented as part of the TVAD Talks series in the autumn term of 2014 is Dr Barbara Brownie's ‘Shoes Without Feet: The presence of absence in empty-shoe memorials’, presented on Wednesday December 10th 2014. Here is the abstract for the talk, and a film of Barbara's presentation is below, with some images discussed in the presentation.
Personal artefacts left behind by the victims of conflict and tragedy become part of the material culture of war. The piles of clothes and shoes that were left behind at Auschwitz and Dachau, give us a sense of the thousands of victims who once owned them. Holocaust museums in particular display shoes among other primary artefacts as “tangible proof in the face of debate about, and even denial of, what transpired [during the holocaust]” (Williams, 2007, p. 25). Shoe memorials exhibit what philosopher Patrick Fuery (cited in Bille et al. 2010, p. 5) describes as “secondary absence”, that is, not absence itself, but absence that is “defined by its connection to presence”. Memorialists are directly concerned with expressing absence through presence. Shoes are presented as witnesses to past events, and are sometimes the only surviving evidence of the existence of the people who once wore them.
Though they are designed with the intention of referencing the past, shoe memorials often say more about the contemporary communities that construct them than they say about the memorialised victims. Particularly in recent temporary shoe memorials, for which shoes are repurposed (often donated by members of the bereaved community), victims are remembered as through the eyes of the living. There is an artificiality to these memorials that reflects a desire for familiarity rather than authenticity. Repurposed for use in a memorial, shoes are transformed into sacred objects. Once archived, the memorial artefacts are more effective as a record of public grief than of the tragedy itself.
This TVAD discussion will present examples of holocaust shoe memorials at Auschwitz and on the river Danube in Budapest, in which shoes are presented to document the suffering of victims, in contrast to vernacular and temporary memorials of the past two decades, for which shoes are selected to represent the grief of those left behind. I will address how shoes transform parks and streets into "traumascapes" or, in some cases, into data visualisations which precisely quantify loss.
Monday, 22 December 2014
As we were proud to announce TVAD's Visiting Researcher for 2014/15 is Dr Javier Gimeno-Martínez from VU University in Amsterdam (where Dr Grace Lees-Maffei is a Visiting Professor). Dr Gimeno-Martínez joined us for his first visit on 24th and 25th November, and the highlights of his work with us included a session introducing theories of national identity and design for the MA Students in the School of Creative Arts, a reading group session for staff to share work in progress, and on Monday November 24th 2014, Dr Javier Gimeno-Martínez gave his TVAD Talk entitled ‘A graphic negotiation with the past, present and future. Political devolution and the symbols of the Belgian regions (1970–1998)’. Here is the abstract and below it is the link to the film of Javier's talk.
Political devolution results in administrative institutions that are generally created anew. However, these new institutions try to conceal the brevity of their existence by reusing communal symbols from the past, such as flags or coats of arms. Even when these symbols might objectively carry certain polemical connotations, the weight of tradition can become an opportune tool for legitimating institutions, so that the past is somehow forced to conform to the present. Properly analysing this instrumentalization of historical iconography can pose quite a challenge for both historians and designers. Indeed, it is present-mindedness rather than historical perspective that drives these legitimating processes.
This talk analyses the negotiation of signs by the governmental bodies that resulted from Belgian federalization. Along with the conflict between past and present, the Belgian case addressed the future, too. Belgian political devolution evolved in parallel with the Maastricht Treaty (signed in 1992), through which regions attained prominent roles in Europe. Did the need to create competitive regions invalidate the suitability of ancient symbols for legitimizing public institutions? It does not seem to be the case. On the contrary, institutional emblems coupled the necessity for appearing established with the urge to project European regions as competitive entities.
We look forward to welcoming Javier back to the School in spring next year.
Sunday, 21 December 2014
This autumn term has been such a busy one for TVAD that we (I) haven't been able to allow the blog to keep pace with the research activity in the group. But, with the magic of television, or a video camera and the help of colleagues Laith Shewayish, Richard Winter and student proctor Sarah Bennett, we can recall the fascinating talks we have heard again and share them with readers of this blog.
The first TVAD Talk of the year, in October, was Nick Lovegrove speaking about ‘Crisis Communication: A visual history of BP’s use of public relations after the Deepwater Horizon accident’. TVAD researcher Dr Barbara Brownie kindly filmed Nick's talk, and uploaded it to the blog here http://tvad-uh.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/nick-lovegrove-speaks-about-his-project.html
November's TVAD Talk (November 12th 2014) was delivered by Polly Palmer, who lectures for the Interior Architecture and Product Design degrees and has a professional and research interest in developing a pedagogy of museum visiting for design students. Her presentation ‘Out of Study Experiences’ is available here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aUb4uEv_cw It began with the observation that engaging students in a diverse culture of arts, technology and architecture, and asking them to consider where within it their work is placed, has become increasingly difficult for tutors and students alike as a result of perceptible changes in the student demographic. The Arts Council (2010) has identified key changes, not only in the youth demographic but also in the definition of high culture and its audience. This may lead us to question not only existing contextual studies teaching strategies and what might be an appropriate repertoire of learning and teaching techniques to encourage participation, but also the basic assumptions of what constitutes culture and the concomitantly appropriate curriculum. This presentation summarises work in progress for an article that aims to communicate the reasons for this success and thereby provide a recipe for continued future benefits for students using this strategy.
Polly examined the benefits of direct, planned, and facilitated engagement with contemporary design and arts culture for art and design students in higher education, using case studies of her work with 3D design students. Her specific focus was on cultural visits, both local and further afield, and how these can advance knowledge, understanding and skills in studio and academic practice alike. Definitions of culture were discussed, from vernacular culture to traditional high culture. The nature of students’ normal participation in cultural activities was explored, and traditional and unorthodox views of the student demographic, including a rejection of all such classifications, were evaluated, as were expected responses current in contextual studies.
Polly's research presents a new model for student cultural participation and ways to encourage engagement. It shows strategies to draw students into reflective analysis of design and the built environment through ‘out-of-study’ experiences; taking cultural participation out of the lecture room and the library and into the street, site and venue.
Watch Polly's talk here: