Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Alarm Clock, Arne Jacobsen, 1939.

Arne Jacobsen (1902 – 1971) was a Danish architect and designer, although apparently he would not want to be called the latter as he famously disliked the term. His industrial designs usually came about through his architectural projects, such as at the SAS Royal Hotel, where he designed both the building and its internal fittings including chairs, textiles, door handles, ashtrays and cutlery. His collaborations with manufacturers like Fritz Hansen (eg. the ant, egg and swan chairs) and Louis Poulsen (eg. the AJ lamp) have become sought after classics with Jacobsen now widely recognised as one of the pioneers of twentieth century Scandinavian modern design.

Image ref: Jacobsen standing in front of the SAS Royal Hotel
Image credit: https://www.scandinaviastandard.com/the-complete-artwork-of-arne-jacobsens-sas-royal-hotel-in-copenhagen/


As Jacobsen was not currently represented within MoDiP’s collections, I began to research his catalogue of work to see if there were suitable objects that we could acquire. I discovered that some of his well-known armchairs did actually employ a moulded plastics frame as well as synthetic foams for comfort, but I thought it might be difficult for MoDiP to display these as the parts we would be most interested by would be hidden and there was no way I was going to cut one in half in order to see the innards!



Image ref: AIBDC : 008680
Image credit: Katherine Pell



And then I came across his alarm clock. Not as well-known as his three metal wall clocks: Roman (designed for the Aarhus Town Hall in 1942), City Hall (designed for the Rødovre Town Hall in 1956) and Bankers (designed for the National Bank of Denmark in 1971), this smaller, electrical mantel clock was made of compression moulded phenol formaldehyde and so perfect for MoDiP. It was originally designed by Jacobsen for the house he had also designed for H. J. Hansen, the director of Lauritz Knudsen, a Danish electrical appliance manufacturer. It was exhibited at the spring fair in Charlottenborg, Copenhagen, in 1939 and can be seen on the desk in the image below, taken at that display.



Image ref: The original clock on display at the Charlottenborg spring exhibition, 1939.
Image credit:
https://arnejacobsenwatches.com/uk/the-story-behind-the-watches



Lauritz Knudsen soon began mass production, offering the clock with nickel-plated legs in either ivory or black colours with Arabic or Roman numerals. It was equipped with a 1.5 metre long cord with a plug that could be connected to a standard light socket for power, and had a luminescent dial and hands.



Image ref: Lauritz Knudsen brochure
Image credit:
https://www.dailytonic.com/arne-jacobsens-table-clock-rereleased-by-rosendahl-dk/


Since MoDiP’s example has a bakelite base instead of the metal legs, I wanted to know when this adaptation to the original design might have taken place but I was unable to source any further information. I reached out to colleagues at the Danish Museum of Science and Technology and Niels Christiansen, Curator of Collections, very kindly sent me some documents from their archive that featured the clock. The first was a Lauritz Knudsen company publication from 1953, with the following translation:

In 1939 LK constructed their first synchronous clock. A small chic table clock designed by Arne Jacobsen. Later this production was expanded with wall clocks in different sizes and also for outside use. In 1948-49 the clock production stopped.



Image ref: The original clock design with metal legs.
Image credit: Lauritz Knudsen 1893-1942. Published 1953, courtesy of the Danish Museum of Science and Technology.



The second was a page
from a 1952 brochure from the clock manufacturer E. Nørgård, København, who took over the production of LK clocks under the name ENK. The original design can now be seen alongside Model 85314 with the bakelite base: MoDiP’s example.



Image ref: The original clock design alongside the version with a different base.
Image credit: ENK Synkronure Katalog No.1. Published 1952, courtesy of the Danish Museum of Science and Technology.



Although I am confident the clock itself is Arne Jacobsen, I am uncertain about the base – was this change from the metal legs his decision or did it come via the manufacturer, Lauritz Knudsen? Or possibly even E. Nørgård when they took over production in 1952? Either way, the Danish Design Museum have confirmed that they also have the same example in their collection, so hopefully we will be able to discover some further detail in the future when they re-open after their refurbishment.

Incidentally, the table clock was re-released in 2011 by the Rosendahl Design Group, who acquired the rights to the design three years earlier. It still has an alarm function but now also includes a light, with the case manufactured in ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) as opposed to the original bakelite (phenol formaldehyde). Of course, MoDiP has one of those too!


Image ref: AIBDC : 008665
Image credit: Katherine Pell


Katherine Pell
Collections Officer
 
References:
ENK Synkronure Katalog No. 1. Published 1952. Courtesy of the Danish Museum of Science and Technology.

Lauritz Knudsen 1893-1942. Published 1953. Courtesy of the Danish Museum of Science and Technology.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

An Orange Tree and a Bitter Orange Tree, Practices of Care

Sarah Carne is a London-based independent artist and educator whose practice employs a wide range of forms including video, performance, text, conversation and drawing. She is interested by status, value and rank and how these determine the opportunities we access, the materials we use and how we are perceived. Her latest project 'A bitter orange tree and an orange tree: practices of care' was a collaboration between the UCL Plastic Waste Innovation Hub and Xenia and involved a Citizen Science Project around plastic design, food waste and composting. The book is an anthology of contributions by those involved. 


As an artist I have an ongoing interest in status - how we perceive it, who gets to define it, and by extension how we value things, often according to whether they are considered successful. By following the usual systems of metrics we can end up giving priority and space to those things considered the best whilst not exploring the prejudices that have influenced these systems or the barriers to inclusion that they engender. To put it more simply I am interested in shining a light on things that are overlooked or underrepresented or the spaces where they should be.




I have previously explored these ideas through projects around missing women artists  - I’m Looking for Barbara (https://www.sarahcarne.co.uk/work/im-looking-for-barbara) and This is for Christine Cadin (https://www.sarahcarne.co.uk/this-is-for-christine-cadin) and in a more abstract fashion in Paper and Vegetables, a two year residency at Great Ormond Street Hospital in which I discussed the relative merits of folded paper and various vegetables with patients and their families. I have also just completed a commission for Trellis, UCL’s Public Art programme, which at first glance is about citizen science, composting and biodegradable plastic but is actually about community and care. The outcome of this commission is an anthology An Orange Tree and a Bitter Orange Tree, Practices of Care, that seeks to amplify the voices of the participants and those involved in its production.


The premise of Trellis is to support engagement between artists, UCL researchers and communities in East London. I was drawn to working with Danielle Purkiss and Charnett Chau from UCL’s Plastic Waste Innovation Hub when, during our first conversation, we established that they don’t believe plastic is the enemy, rather that waste in its life cycle is the problem that their research aims to design out. Danielle had previously set up the Big Compost Experiment in which people around the country have been composting biodegradable plastic and submitting their results but she is aware it is being undertaken by people who already have an interest in composting - if not plastic. She was interested, therefore, in running a smaller version for Trellis with a group of people who hadn’t self-selected and as a result might have little or no experience of composting, better reflecting the population as a whole and shedding light on some of the factors that cause people to engage with composting or choose not to.

 



I was already interested in working with Xenia, a Hackney based organisation for women who are learning English and women who speak English, and the Hub were keen to see if language might be a barrier to the success of some of the changes they are
advocating. Xenia joined us as partners and introduced us to Josie Stevens, the Heritage Learning Manager at Hackney Museum, who they collaborate with, holding their meetings there prior to the pandemic  and using objects in the museum as prompts for conversation.

 

We decided to run a Citizen Science Experiment and with five members of Xenia set out to test whether plastic advertised as compostable would degrade in home composting bins. Alongside this we ran a series of online sessions with the larger group around topics including citizen science, food waste, plastic and, importantly, space. Most of the smaller composting group were using indoor bokashi bins - finding space for these and the accompanying equipment proved tricky for those of us living in small flats - it is something which the Hub is aware of as England moves towards compulsory food waste collection in 2023.

 

The outcome of the citizen science experiment in terms of the plastic was inconclusive - we didn’t have time for a full length test and the integrity of what we did was impacted on by the strictures of lockdown but it was still a success, in essence being more about introducing the idea to the group, sparking interest for future composting activity and raising awareness around plastic waste and food waste. It also led to a strong sense of collaboration with the potential for future partnerships for all of us and gave the Hub valuable insight into real life experience of some of the issues around home composting.

 



The outcome for myself in terms of an artwork is the anthology. Midway during the project I realised that the idea of ‘care’ was becoming central to my thinking. We had been talking about collection care at Hackney Museum having chosen a compostable plastic bag in their collection to discuss during one of our online sessions. When they went to bring it out of the store they discovered it had started composting itself, the object number had detached and the edges were disintegrating. Discussion in the session brought up interesting questions around why a museum collected plastic in the first place and does a damaged item warrant being preserved. This was discussion about care in a practical sense but Josie had also made a short video welcoming the women of Xenia back to the museum virtually and her appreciation of their relationship shone through, echoing how much I knew the women of Xenia cared for each other. 

 

As a result I asked the Hub researchers, Ioanna Korfiati the Xenia workshop organiser and Josie Stevens to consider care as it affected their work or their role in the project and to contribute short pieces of writing around this. I also conducted a recorded conversation with the composting group and the anthology contains extracts of this and the Saturday sessions. Another key conversation was with Fatima whose first language is Arabic. Her commitment to the experiment was so strong I wanted to give her a chance to talk about it without restriction so arranged for a translator to help us in a conversation and it is from this that the title of the anthology comes. Nathalie Thomas the translator put such thought and effort into her work in ensuring she stayed true to Fatima’s voice I invited her to also contribute. Lastly I invited Charlie Abbott from work-form, the designer of the book, who writes about the questions that need to be asked when making a book with the smallest possible environmental impact. The final essay is by myself and concerns my thinking about why I try not to care about doing my best and trying my hardest.

 



You can see a PDF of the book here (https://www.sarahcarne.co.uk/work/a-bitter-orange-tree-and-an-orange-tree-practices-of-care) or request a copy via my contact page (https://www.sarahcarne.co.uk/contact)

 

Sarah Carne 2021

 

 

 

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Casein

Did you know that you can make your own plastics material at home using milk? 

There are various methods and recipes available online to make casein but essentially all you need to do is heat up some skimmed milk in a saucepan and when warm, slowly add a small amount of vinegar and stir. The milk will separate into curds and whey and then, by straining off the liquid, you are left with a doughy material that can be coloured, moulded into shape and left to dry. It is a fun project for short-lived creations such as Christmas tree decorations because over time the material will likely split and break apart or go mouldy. In commercial casein, these issues are resolved by hardening and preserving the plastic with formaldehyde. 

Casein was first patented in 1899 and, like the other early semi-synthetic plastics, at first it played a key role in imitating natural materials, finding a particular market in successfully copying horn. It was commonly used for small items such as buttons, cutlery handles and knitting needles

There is a lovely story that credits the discovery of this plastic to a cat belonging to German chemist Adolf Spitteler: the pet had knocked a bottle of formaldehyde into its milk which, upon discovery the next morning, had turned solid. How ever this discovery did actually take place, the patent was filed by Spitteler and his collaborator, printer Wilhelm Krische, who had been looking for a way to waterproof paper as an alternative to the slate boards used by schoolchildren in the classroom. Further development of the manufacturing process led to the introduction of casein as a stable, mouldable material under the trade names of Galalith (German/French), Syrolit, Erinoid, Neolyte, Lactoid and Dorcasine (UK), as well as Aladdinite, Karolith, Inda and Ameroid (US) amongst others. 

Although MoDiP has a small number of casein objects, we have just recently taken delivery of a whole lot more (see image below) through the private collection of the late John Morgan, a renowned UK casein expert and collector. In due course we will be examining everything in detail alongside the Plastics Historical Society, as we will both be taking responsibility for the long-term care of this superb legacy.
Until such time that we can complete the curatorial tasks of accessioning, cataloguing, photography and re-storing the objects in conservation-grade materials, the collection all needed to be stored away. Just before I did this, I had a quick peek inside some of the boxes and here are just a few of my favourite things: 

Buttons – lots and lots of buttons including blanks and an oversized, extremely heavy, wood-effect, promotional example.
Some lovely dressing table sets, with a close-up of the detail on the mirror back. I particularly love this shade of green.
Several pen sets including the ‘cracked ice’ colour effect seen in the blue example on the right.
Cocktail sticks (left) and a set of six knives (right).
Valuable archival material.
And finally, all of the boxes nicely organised in the museum’s store.
Katherine Pell 
Collections Officer 

References: 

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Classic design: Sqezy

In March, MoDiP was invited by the BPF to provide a short series of webinars about classic design inspired by objects in the MoDiP collection.

The object or objects that have inspired the last talk are the Sqezy bottle created by Cascelloid a division of BXL. MoDiP has 19 different bottles in the MoDiP collection which were donated to the us via an employee of BXL along with other objects, and archival documentation including a great resource of photographs showing products, buildings, and equipment. I will share some of these with you as we go along. This is going to be an image or object heavy post which is pertinent of the mass-produced item of packaging and the stories behind them (click on the images to make them bigger). The image below is from an exhibition, Spotlight on 2…, which highlighted some manufacturers and designers who are significant in the story of plastics.


In the image below, I have attempted to create a Cascelloid family tree of sorts to help us understand the story of the company.

Cascelloid Ltd was founded by Alfred Edward Pallett in 1919 in Leicester and were makers of plastics toys. The company was bought by British Xylonite in 1931.

Toy manufacture stopped during the Second World War and Cascelloid undertook a great variety of work to help the war effort including the manufacture of parachutes, jettison fuel tanks and cartridge clips. In the immediate post-war period the manufacture of plastic toys was still the company’s major activity but it was planned to broaden the field by introducing general moulding and to specialise in plastic packaging for industry.

After the War Cascelloid wrote to the designer Bill Pugh to invite him for an interview, but he replied saying he was too busy and could not come. Cascelloid’s Managing Director at the time, Henry Senior persisted and Pugh was secured by the company. At the same time the company acquired an imported blow moulding machine. In 1949, Pugh designed the first novelty shaped bottle, a pale pink teddy-bear with a screw-top for Vinolia baby powder. He modelled it by hand in clay, then cast it into plaster for mould-making. The squeeze lemon, marketed now as Jif, began life as a wooden core carved by Pugh and covered painstakingly with fresh lemon peel which he cast into a plaster mould, experimenting until he had it just right. Which shows the lengths that he, as a designer and Cascelloid as a manufacturer would go to get the effects that they wanted. Cascelloid then split into two in 1965, with Pugh becoming Director of Design, Research and Development at Palitoy with toys as a focus, and Cascelloid continuing to make bottles.


The very first squeeze-to-use bottle was introduced in the late 1950s and had a metal top and bottom, and a flexible tube body. The design was instantly successful. As you can see many different products were contained within these tubes and so they needed to have very clear graphics to make sure the ant powder was not mixed up with the table salt!


Cascelloid were also making polythene collapsible squeeze tubes. They started production in 1954 in small quantities, but didn’t enjoy the immediate success that the other bottles did, however by 1965 a whole factory at Stamford was given over to their production.


Returning to the original Sqezy bottle.

The containers with the metal ends were known as Cascapak and were sold as being able to withstand 200,000 pressures and releases. As you can see in the image below, both ends could have a different metal fixture depending on the product’s needs. They were promoted to brands as being able to keep their shape and so keep the brand name clearly legible and undistorted. They were promoted as having Poster-like quality, that was eye-catching and had ‘shelf appeal’ to the consumer. The bold print in up to 4 colours was clean and crisp. Polythene offered a key on the surface of the material on to which fine detail could be achieved with the contemporary printing techniques available. The indelible inks that were used didn’t crack, flake or rub off.

This image shows a brochure which came to us as part of the BXL archive and is fascinating as it asks their customers – the producers of the food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and household products to ‘Consider the economies in transport costs’ that these lightweight and unbreakable bottles provide.


Next are a series of images which are not the best of quality – they are scans of photocopies that are part of the BXL archive, and unfortunately, we don’t have the original images.

Firstly, the extruded tube for the sleeve is cut to length. Different sized containers could be achieved by lengthening a standard diameter tool, meaning no retooling is required. The lady in the right-hand image is attaching the one of the end plates before the tube is printed. For powder content the tube could be filled before adding the top plate.



The below images show the printing process. It looks like the top plates are already in place on the tubes as you can see on the conveyor belt in the centre but the bottom plates are not.


The next set of images were labelled as ‘final spin, test, and pack’, the spin referring to the screwing in place of the metal end plate.


Housework was hard work so the Sqezy product was advertised as making it easier to do the washing up. Some people think that the phrase Easy Peasey Lemon Squeezy comes from the Sqezy advert, but it might be a misremembering of the strap line shown here ‘It’s easy with Sqezy!’



The image below, which has been recently acquired by MoDiP shows a page out of an Ideal Home magazine from 1960.

‘Quick as a wink away from the sink.’ This is aimed at the housewife.

What is fascinating about both of these adverts is the fact that the bottle of Sqezy is shown with its print upside down to make it look more attractive on the page. Of course, with the introduction of the silicone valve we are used to seeing products in squeeze to use bottles with their lids at the bottom but at this time the bottle would have been firmly placed the right way up to avoid leakage.



These metal-ended bottles were a huge success from when they were launched in 1956/7. However, over time the price of polythene was substantially reduced and from that point suppliers of detergents wanted blow moulded polythene bottles. This is a blank example in the MoDiP collection which has a blow moulded base and a metal top, like a hybrid bottle – whether this is easing the consumer or the manufacturer towards the wholey plastic bottle I am not quite sure.

 

I thought I would take the opportunity to show a range of Sqezy bottles in the collection. These ones date from the 1960s. As we run through the next couple of decades we will see that the strength of the branding is clear. Yet, the bottle shape becomes more generic.

 These bottles date from the 1970s…



…. And finally, the 1980s.

 

Below are some toys that were made under the Cascelloid of Palitoy name.

 

Here is a range of shaped bottles made by Cascelloid for the HAX and designed by Edward Hack. The fish shaped bottle would have contained lemon juice to put on fish rather than fish flavoured syrup.


And here we have a small group of wooden models for Zoo glue. The red elephant bottle is the final piece.


Despite the fact that the packaging of liquid is necessary, inevitably the Sqezy bottle has proved to be an indicator of the longevity of plastics in the oceans. These images have been accompanied by the headlines: 

  • A plastic washing-up liquid bottle that is at least 47 years old has been found on an Isle of Man beach, just days after a similar find in the UK.
  • Bottle’s 50-year swim shows scale of plastic crisis.
  • A 70-year-old plastic bottle which contained Britain's first washing up liquid has been found in Stamford.

These should be indicators of the hidden value of plastics, and the need to keep materials in the system through recycling. Of course, at the time these bottles were in use the idea of recycling was in its infancy, and the recycling of plastics products was limited.





Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP