Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Towards a Plastics Research Group


A number of the Arts University Bournemouth’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture staff met with MoDiP staff over lunch for a preliminary discussion about the University’s Plastics Research Group. The meeting was convened by myself, Susan Lambert, Head of the Museum of Design. I set the Group in the context of the University’s research strategy and sketched out the extent to which plastics have infiltrated creative practice. Also, I clarified that the Group’s role was not specifically to champion plastics: exploration of their negative as well as their positive impact and potential is valid.

We were especially glad to have the Faculty Dean, Bryony Conway, with us. Her contributions were invaluable and led to the agreement that the Group aims to stimulate, enable and nurture people undertaking research in this subject area with a view to increasing published outputs.

The participants discussed how the Group could be relevant to and foster their work.

Will Strange, Senior Lecturer BA (Hons) Modelmaking, is currently applying to undertake an MA in creative thinking which will focus on issues raised by a unit he teaches involving the laser cutting of acrylic sheets into intricate shapes. There was synergy between this research area and that of Russell Gagg, Course leader BA (Hons) Interior Architecture and Design, who is interested in the exploration of form that is achievable uniquely through 3-D printing, essentially a polymer technology. A discussion about plastics as simultaneously enablers and disablers and their influence on maker culture, venturing at times into pedagogical territory, ensued.

E-J Scott , Lecturer BA (Hons) Fashion, was previously Assistant Curator of Costume at the National Trust and has a passion for collecting and collections. He is interested in undertaking a PhD with a curated output. Currently he is writing a paper to be delivered to the Costume Society on Crimplene, a polyester yarn developed by ICI in the 1950s, and its role in the democratisation of fashion. He argues that the reproduction in Crimplene of Mary Quant’s A-line mini-skirts was crucial to the wide-adoption of that fashion.

Kirsten Hardie, National Teaching Fellow and Associate Professor who was instrumental in setting up the Museum, has a three-fold interest in plastics: as a teaching resource, in the forms of food packaging and in their relation to popular taste, currently as embodied in plastic flowers. Her use of the word ‘stigma’ in connection with the latter rang a bell with E-J Scott and led Elena Crehan to reflect that the stigma associated with synthetic textiles up to about ten years ago has gone. She believes this is because synthetic textiles are being used less to imitate more expensive natural materials and more to create effects not possible with their natural counterparts: that is for their own properties and their specific contribution to design.

Before joining the Arts University Bournemouth, Elena Crehan worked as a freelance designer for Alexander McQueen and Tom Ford, where she was involved with all aspects of design and make. She also designed and made textiles to create extraordinary couture shoes for Georgina Goodman. She specialises in hand embroidery, stitching and developing textiles for Fashion show garments and accessories. She is currently Lecturer for Fashion BA (Hons) and is specialising in textiles development and techniques with a special interest in the combination of hand and digital methods of making embroideries. This links to the interests of Will Strange and Russ Gagg.

Louise Dennis, Assistant Curator MoDiP, talked about the PhD she is undertaking at Brighton University. Her subject is the value of museums focused on single materials with MoDiP as a case study. One area of her research involves how attitudes to a plastics museum differ from those showcasing traditional materials.

A recurring topic through the lunch was the relationship between everyday classroom activity and research: how the former differs from the latter and also how it can become the latter. A requirement for guidance on mechanisms for the publication of work and clarification about intellectual property in relation to the reproduction of images of designed objects also became apparent.

The need for a statement of intent for the group including targets in terms of outputs and frequency of meetings was raised. People liked meeting over lunch but would have also liked it to be possible to have objects present. We thought we should not be too ambitious but also that momentum should not be lost. Perhaps we should aim to meet once a term and to publish one or two papers annually. A statement of intent for the group will be prepared in time for discussion at the next meeting.

Channa Vithana, Senior Lecturer BA (Hons) Architecture, and Iain Archer, Senior Lecturer BA (Hons) Fashion, had been interested in attending but had other commitments. We hope they may join the group in the future and also that we will gather additional participants from the Faculty of Media and Performance.

Susan Lambert (Head of MoDiP)

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