Wednesday, 26 February 2020

The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman

The Shape of Jazz to Come is the highly influential third album by Ornette Coleman and was issued on the Atlantic record label – his first record for the label - in 1959. 

The album has been categorised as either avant-garde jazz or free jazz – a term Coleman coined from the title of one of his albums - and has been named by The Guardian as one of their 50 great moments in jazz. It has also been listed as one of Rolling Stones 500 greatest albums of all time and in 2012 the Library of Congress added the album to the National Recording Registry. 

Interestingly, Coleman’s early sound was due in part to his use of a replacement Grafton plastic saxophone – pictured on the cover of the record - bought in 1954 because at that time he couldn’t afford a metal one when his first tenor was broken (Litweiler, 1992). 

Other notable Grafton saxophone players included the legendary Charlie Parker, John Dankworth and even a young David Bowie (bought by his father as long as he paid him back from a part-time job). 

The Grafton saxophone was an injection moulded, cream coloured acrylic plastic alto saxophone with metal keys and was manufactured by between 1950 and 1967. Today these items are highly valued by collectors and you can view one in the MoDiP collection here.

Andrew Pulman, Guest Blogger.

Further reading:

Litweiler, J., 1992. Ornette Coleman: A harmolodic life. William Morrow & Co.

Our Museum Collections Officer's previous blog post about the Grafton alto saxophone:

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Horn (part 1)

`Swift is the hare, cunning is the fox,
Why should not the little calf grow up to be an ox,
to get his own living midst the briars and thorns,
and die like his daddy with a GREAT PAIR OF HORNS.`
(Song of the Dorset Ooser).

Rebecca Davies

My name is Rebecca Davies and I am a graduate in Archaeology.
I have a few vague specialities in study, but in many ways I am fascinated by everything.  For my dissertation I had read about Anglo Saxon helmets.  Most were similar to the famous Sutton Hoo Helmet.
But the one that caught my attention was the Benty Grange Helmet.

Benty Grange Helmet

This was constructed rather differently to the predictable spangenhelm; it was an iron framework - the outside had deteriorated, but was found to be originally heat shaped cows horn. Yes, this was a plastic helmet which raises a lot of questions; Why was horn used?  Was it because the owner was not rich and so couldn’t afford iron? Was it stronger than metal? Lighter?  The existence of this artefact makes us see material science in a different way - which is what plastics are about. And, it presented a challenge to my understanding.  

First of all I had to learn about horn, the sourcing, working, using and its archaeology.  It turns out to be a material that doesn’t preserve well at all, and so we are also searching for secondary records such as early writings.  At first I was doubtful as to my choice of was pretty obscure.  But, with perseverance, I located sources and talked to people.

I fondly remember a fun afternoon spent in MoDiP, I got to meet Rufus!  My Dissertation was completed and I got a First for it.

Looking back it seems so amateurish, I have learned so much more about the subject now.  These Blog pages are a way to share my understanding. Nowadays it feels like I am an authority on Horn!  I do not know how this happened.
In this Blog I will talk a little about horn, its archaeology, the literature on the craft, current practitioners, and artefacts in the Worshipful Company of Horners collection, artefacts I own, and maybe ones I would like to own…Maybe I will even learn more about horn lore.

Rebecca Davies, Guest Blogger.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Student Creative: Jak Hansford

MoDiP Midway Progression

It’s now halfway through my student creative journey and the project has really begun to transform through experimentation. The process began from selecting key objects from MoDiP and observing them through drawing and photography. Studying these was helpful in deconstructing the pieces and thinking about where it will go from here. 

My choice of objects had mundane functions but innovative shape and form within their design. I found this a bit tricky as in the past I have focused on the mundane and then redesigned. The fact that these items have existing design quality meant it would be more exciting to push how I think or see them differently. 

Figures 1 & 2 Still Life of selected objects

At the time of writing this, I’ve been working hard on my master’s degree where I’ve explored a wide range of materials and ideas. This explains why I’ve taken a similar approach to the student creative journey and how my thought processes are merging between the two. As I’ve started to get a better grip on my own practice as a fine art student, I’ve been able to understand how I can reinterpret the MoDiP items. Not only that, my own practice has also given me specific concepts and techniques I could be using. Such as images 3 and 4 which show a recent piece focusing on application of materials and the importance of surface texture which also contains many other meanings or research led from practice.

Figures 3 & 4 Images of recent Fine Art practice exploring surface texture and other research discussions

Digital design is something I’ve started to bring to this creative project. In the past I’ve always created repeat designs or digital artwork to be used for something else, not stand-alone digital artwork. So this presents a new challenge to me as the focus will be on that one object itself. Since I started playing around with digital ideas, I think it’s great the way a 3D object can take on a new life when digitised, especially once I’ve added some transformative adaptations. What became more interesting was combining my own studies with the project and learning something new about myself as an artist.

Figures 5 & 6 Digital artwork combining both experiences

I admit this isn’t where I saw this going at the start, as I had a pretty good idea of how my outcome would look and be finalised. However, this is something I enjoy about fine art as producing work becomes a process itself and you can start somewhere and end up completely off track. Since my BA, I’ve realised going off track is not a bad thing as I could be trying things I would never initially think of. The good thing is though, I’m still able to come full circle if what I’ve tried out isn’t how I imagined, and return to my initial ideas. It’s all a valuable learning experience!

At this stage of the project I am fully immersing myself in this experience and have already achieved a vast arrangement of ideas and experiments and those will continue to develop. The fact that I can be so explorative with the MoDiP collection goes to show how adaptable their pieces are. Also, with the right mindset there really are no limitations and you can work in any specialism to convey the beauty of the MoDiP piece, while still not representing or illustrating it literally. All my documentation of drawings, sketches and images will still hold an importance going forward and I will document these along the way.

 I hope this can help inspire other creatives to reinvent their perspective using objects and that artwork based on plastics doesn’t need to be... plastic! I really look forward to sharing how valuable this experience has been and where I ended up in my next instalment.

Jak Hansford – MA Fine Art

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Student Creative: Ellie Jones

I have been continuing to make work with/about MoDiP’s collection of photographs. The museum has a wealth of historical documentation in the photographs of factories that is a part of their enormous collection, and I continue to find myself drawn to them and inspired by them.

I want to show the excitement of the factories around the time that the photographs were taken – in the 60s and 70s, when plastic had just exploded with popularity. The English plastic factories produced so many everyday objects and provided employment for a huge number of people – great grandmas and grandads of many living in this country today. I believe that these factories and the photographs of them have immense historical importance, and I want to use my art to draw attention to them.

I have been using the museum’s collection of objects to inspire me to make the patterns that I have been inserting into the old photographs, by printing copies of them and cutting pieces out. 

Abbey Lane, Leicester: Exterior. BXL. (photograph). Cut out sky with watercolour rubber ducks.
I am thinking about whether it is more effective to cut out elements of the factory, or to cut out the people. I feel that cutting out the people has negative connotations, but it could be used as a comment on modern factories and the loss of camaraderie as a result of less employees. For me, honouring the people that worked in the factories is important, so I think my focus will be on the objects that the factory workers were helping to make.
Aycliffe: weighing sheets of material. BXL. (Photograph). Cut out workers. Pattern inspired by Poppit Bead necklace.
Aycliffe: weighing sheets of material. BXL. (Photograph). Pattern inspired by taps designed by Martyn Rowlands.
I am going to continue being inspired by MoDiP’s collection of objects and photographs, and I’m excited about what will come out of it!

Ellie Jones - MA Illustration

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Student Creative: Judith Allen

We are now half way through the MoDiP creative bursary and it’s been incredibly exciting to see how my project has changed and grown. I applied to the bursary with the goal of wanting to use my practice as an illustrator to tell the stories behind the objects within the museum, drawing on my academic background as an anthropologist. 

Over Christmas I found the project quite challenging and I have to admit I was struggling to find a way to create imagery that told the stories behind the objects in a way that added to what MoDiP already had on offer. However after experimenting with different ideas, making initial sketches of the objects within the collection, and getting feedback from other people on the MA illustration course, I decided to go back to my roots and take a narrative driven approach. 

Initial sketches and ideas for illustrations based on the poems 

I started writing poetry for each decade from the 1920s to present day inspired by objects from those decades within the museum. I wrote my poetry from the perspectives of the people who may have used the objects, exploring what the objects meant to them and the symbolism the objects had in peoples lives. I’ve been particularly interested in exploring the  ideas of collection, kinship and memory, and how the objects we choose to collect and hold on to, may continue to connect us with significant moments in our lives. 

The poems I wrote have then inspired images that show the objects within the museum in use, rather than just being static still life studies – something I was previously doing and wanted to move away from. 

 A work in progress photo of a more developed illustration showing someone using a comb and mirror from the 1920s from the museum collections

I have also drawn on patterns and motifs found on the objects which I have incorporated throughout  my images. For example, for one of my illustrations of the poem, I have incorporated the Art Nouveau floral motif found on one of the hand held mirrors, and the Art Deco shape of several of the combs from the museum collections from the 1920s, throughout the image.
Two of the Art Deco combs from the 1920s from the collections at MoDiP that have inspired this piece
Art Nouveau hand held mirror from the 1920s - also an inspiration for this illustration 

Using this new approach, I am also exploring things I am learning on my masters, using this image as a chance to experiment with different media, collage and  mark-making. 

I’m excited to continue to take this project forward and see how it develops over the next two months!

Student Creative

Judith Allen - MA Illustration

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Seaweed (algae) Plastic

Over Christmas, my daughter and I had a go at making some seaweed (more accurate to call it algae) plastic as part of her GCSE Graphics project work. She had been inspired by a news story referencing the 2019 London Marathon, where runners had been given edible seaweed pouches filled with Lucozade instead of plastic bottles. The intention was to replace 200,000 bottles with the Ooho pouches, produced by Skipping Rocks Lab, a UK based, sustainable packaging start-up company.

The Oohopouch

Whilst acknowledging the limitations of the idea as a solution to reducing single-use plastics, my daughter was particularly interested in the fact that the pouches are marketed as being edible, compostable and will naturally biodegrade in four to six weeks.

She found a recipe online and we bought in the ingredients we needed: essentially agar and glycerol. We mixed the correct quantities with water, stirred the solution and heated it to boiling point, constantly stirring to prevent the formation of lumps. The liquid was simmered for about 15 minutes with any ‘froth’ that developed being scooped out. Then, after cooling, we poured the mixture into an ice cube mould and an upturned lid. It dried very quickly but we still left it for several hours before we dared to remove the plastic from the moulds.

'Our Attempt'
By Lauren Pell

The image shows (from the top): the plastic material cast into an ice-cube mould, cast into the lid mould and the ‘froth’ that had been removed from the solution during heating, all melted together. The material felt slightly wet (although it wasn’t), robust (being surprisingly difficult to ‘squash’), was tasteless (definitely edible) and we were confident that it would work well as a container. We thought we would like to repeat the experiment using a bowl-shaped mould so that we could test the material’s ability to hold and store liquid without leakage.

After 3 weeks, the samples had begun to dry out a little and mould spots had started to appear so, without the addition of preservatives, it is clear this recipe produces only a short-term material. However, for the storage of food/drink with a limited lifespan this bioplastic would certainly seem to have potential.

Already, an Indonesian start-up company called Evoware have started to produce single-serving sachets made out of seaweed plastic and, using similar technology, Loliware are selling seaweed straws, available to purchase later this year. Skipping Rocks Lab have developed the Ooho pouch into their own version of a single-serving sachet that food delivery company Just Eat is currently trialling.

We ended up throwing our efforts into the compost bin and intend to have a go at producing casein next.

Katherine Pell, Museum Collections Officer.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

We’ve Got a Fuzzbox Picture Disc and We’re Going to Display it!

We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use it! were an all-girl English alternative rock/pop punk band from Birmingham who formed in 1985 and after shortening their name to Fuzzbox, recorded 6 UK Top 75 hits during their career (to date).

Fuzzbox  AIBDC : 0_2235 

The Top 75 Singles Chart now utilises a combination of CD and vinyl sales, audio and video streams and downloads to measure success - but during the halcyon days of the sensational seventies and stylish eighties, only actual physical product sold was used to compile chart placings. So, picture discs of singles were often utilised as a canny method of obtaining additional sales to bump a record further on up the charts (as fans would often want to buy multiple versions and formats of the same song).

Sadly this quirkily designed picture disc wasn’t enough to power the single up the charts on release, as it only managed to spend a single week in the UK Chart at 100 on 09.06.90 and then disappeared into the ether the following week. The band disbanded due to ‘musical differences’ shortly afterwards in the same year but happily have subsequently reformed in 2010 and then again in 2015 and are still going strong today:

Fuzzbox  AIBDC : 0_2235

Interestingly enough, even though the record is labelled as needing to be played at 33 and a 1/3 RPM the disc actually plays at 45 RPM according to the vinyl gurus at Discogs and any canny investor buying it for £1.99p on release might be sitting on a profit of £4 for a cut copy like the one shown here from MoDiP's collections (where the original circular unused bits of vinyl have been disposed of). Uncut versions being rarer are worth more to collectors.

Fuzzbox  AIBDC : 0_2235

Luckily enough for you though, you won’t need to take out a mortgage or contact the Doctor, enter the Tardis and set the time dials to return to 1990, as MoDiP has the picture disc available in the collection for you to view and admire in all its glory.

Groovy baby!

Dr Andrew Pulman