Wednesday, 7 December 2022

Designated Design seminar

In this week’s blog post we would like to look back on an afternoon seminar we held at AUB on 1st December in partnership with TheGallery.  The seminar sat alongside our Designated Design: a plastics collection of national importance exhibition both of which are a celebration of, and thank you to, Professor Susan Lambert who has headed up the museum since it took the step to focus on design in plastics.   MoDiP was established in 2007 having emerged from an existing collection of designed objects at the AUB, Susan saw a specialist and underrepresented vein running through that collection and nurtured it to become internationally recognised with impact on the academic, museum, and public spheres.

Designated Design: a plastics collection of national importance exhibition. Image credit Eliza Naden.

The event was kicked off with a hearty welcome from AUB’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Paul Gough.  This was followed by a session exploring the work of three artists who have worked in different media and in different ways with MoDiP’s collection.  The first speaker was Mariele Neudecker, an artist who took part in a residency at MoDiP in 2015 entitled Plastic Vanitas.  Plastic Vanitas was a series of 49 photographs each one representing the entire contents of a box of stored objects from the MoDiP collection. These boxes were chosen because they contained at least one object that represented the symbolism found in 16th and 17th century Vanitas paintings. Mariele’s self-imposed rule was that whatever else was in the box was to form part of the still life. 

The next presentation was from Karen Wimhurst, MoDiP’s first Musician-in-Residence, who described w-RAP one, a performance she created alongside pupils from Ferndown Upper school in 2018, w-RAP two, a piece written by Karen featuring soprano Brittany Soriano (soprano), Elaine Close (trumpet) and Ole Rudd (vinyl), again in 2018, and w-RAP three, a collage of soundscapes from w-RAP one and two.  These projects subsequently feed into the chamber opera Synthetica: a toxic enchantment in 2019.   

Finally, we heard from Frances Scott, who had visited MoDiP in 2019 as part of her role as Resident Artist for the Raw Materials: Plastics exhibition, exploring the forgotten history of plastics in east London and held at the Nunnery Gallery. Frances spent time with the collection, scanning objects for her filmPHX [X is for Xylonite]’ through which she wanted to explore the relationship between the first semi-synthetic plastics and the chemical and industrial development of photography and film. We were treated to an excerpt of the film (the entire piece is currently on display in TheGallery), with a soundtrack featuring readings from Roland Barthes’ classic essay ‘Plastics’ (1957).

All of the artists were then invited to join together for a panel discussion chaired by Professor Paul Gough.  All three artists spoke warmly about their time connecting with the museum and the collection, and it was a pleasure to work with each of them.

Mariele Neudecker in front of some of the Plastic Vanitas photographs (image credit: Eliza Naden), Karen Wimhurst performing a new piece (image credit Eliza Naden), a still from Frances Scott’s PHX [X is for Xylonite] (image credit Frances Scott).

The second session was hosted by Dr Anna Farthing, AUB’s Director of Civic and Cultural Engagement, and explored the value of the status of ‘Designated Outstanding Collection’.  Speakers came from a range of museums, some of which had collections recognised by Arts Council England in the earliest days of the scheme in late 1990s, and others had been awarded the status more recently.

The museum speakers were Kate Arnold-Forster - Director, University Museums and Special Collections Services, University of Reading and Director, Museum of English Rural Life, Andrea Bishop - Director of Collections & Engagement, National Motor Museum, Carolyn Abel - Director of Culture, Southampton City Council, and Jo Elsworth - Associate Director (Culture and Collections), Library Services + Director: Theatre Collection, Faculty of Arts, University of Bristol.

Panel discussion led by Dr Anna Farthing with Andrea Bishop, Carolyn Abel, and Jo Elsworth.  Kate Arnold-Forster presenting. Image credits Eliza Naden.

The collections and experiences shared were fascinating.  Many of the same themes came up from all four speakers.  They spoke about how the status of designation made the staff think about the meaning and importance of the collections in their care, and how it gave the staff pride and a heightened sense of responsibility.   The status meant that designers and artists wanted to be associated with the collections, and other stakeholders, including senior managers, began to understand their importance.   The most significant statement that came out of the session was that the assessment was made independently.  We can all say that our collections are special but as the accolade has been awarded by an independent, external body it means that the status is confirmation of the significance of our collections.

We would like to thank everyone involved in the event including Paul and Anna for chairing the two sessions, our colleagues in TheGallery, the Civic and Cultural Engagement team, and BA (Hons) Events Management colleagues who supported the online streaming of the event.  We would especially like to thank all the speakers who made the seminar so interesting, and the delegates who joined us.

Louise Dennis, Curator, and Katherine Pell, Collections Officer

Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Joining Forces

MoDiP is very proud to be one of only 33 university museums in 16 institutions to receive funding from Research England to support our research.

With funding from Research England’s Participatory Research Fund, we recently had the opportunity to reflect on our research and it made us aware of the extent to which we participate with people from other organisations. In particular we convene the Plastics Subject Specialist Network (Plastics SSN), one of Arts Council England’s 37 recognised Subject Specialist Networks. Their purpose is to ‘support the development knowledge and care of collections… All the Networks share expertise, ideas and best practice. This is often in the form of research projects, conference days, mentoring and developing best practice guidance’.

The Identifying Plastics Toolkit (left) and
Confronting Plastics Preservation project (right)

Since the refocusing of our collection on design in plastics in 2007, we have worked on three significant projects with the Plastics SSN: A curator’s guide to plastics; Identifying plastics toolkit; and Confronting Plastics Preservation, and currently are coming to the end of a further Plastics SSN project undertaken jointly with the Dress and Textiles Specialists’: A curator’s guide to synthetic garments. We have also undertaken two other joint projects: 10 Most Wanted and Symbiosis. The first, in partnership with the University of Brighton and Adaptive Technologies, aimed to develop a resource to engage the public with finding out information about objects in collections thus engaging them with collections in a new way.  The second brought small specialist museums together to explore how they could engage with their particular industry to mutual advantage and to develop workforce skills in this respect.

The 10 Most Wanted project was undertaken in partnership
with the University of Brighton and Adaptive Technologies

Analysis of these projects has led us to consider what we do in terms of ‘participatory research’, a form of research in which the clear distinction between the ‘researcher’ and ‘the subject’ becomes blurred with the research being conducted ‘with’ rather than ‘on’ participants. Most often this has been seen as research jointly undertaken between those researching a subject and those affected by the research, with the latter often characterised as ‘not trained in research’. However, we propose a new model of participatory research: one in which experts working in museums create resources for their own benefit, albeit ultimately in order to improve public engagement with the subject.

The Joining Forces resource is available online.

This new resource, downloadable from our website, provides a brief introduction to participatory research and an overview of participatory research in museums. It also looks at this alternative model and provides summary guidelines on how to undertake it based on an analysis of the six MoDiP projects which underpin the model.

Do tell us what you think

Joining forces: exploring participatory research in museums is a peer-reviewed resource. We would be so grateful if you were to read it and let us know what you think. Have you undertaken research with partners in similar ways or has it made you see new ways you might get together with people to investigate your subject? How can we improve the resource? We have found that working with others in this way has developed and extended our practice and we hope that other museums, small and large, may be helped by this resource to undertake participatory research and thus benefit from what has for MoDiP been a fruitful research pathway. Please do get in touch:


Susan Lambert
Chief Curator

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

XCountry 118 touring pulk, Fjellpulken, 2021.

When I began researching the ‘polar’ case for MoDiP’s Endurance exhibition, I came across an expedition report written by a team from Imperial College London in 2005. It recorded the experiences of a group of four students who had crossed the Greenland ice cap, unsupported, the previous year, collecting a variety of hydrological, meteorological and physiological data along the way. It made for a fascinating read and was a great opportunity to find out exactly what this momentous 560km crossing actually entails; from the initial planning stages right through to lessons learnt once everyone had returned home safely.

The report provided an appendix with comprehensive equipment lists, and it was from these that I made the decision to concentrate on just one object for my case: the pulk (refer image below).


MoDiP’s pulk, AIBDC : 009127.
Image credit:

The presence of plastics materials within all the kit required to sustain life on such a journey is so vast, I could not see how I could possibly represent everything fairly within just one small display case. For example, the Imperial College trip involved pulks, hauling harnesses, pulk bags, ropes, skis, ski poles, ski boots, gaiters, tents, sleeping mats, bags and liners, water carriers and bottles, personal locator beacons, compasses, maps, a satellite phone, whistles, first aid kits, rubbish bags, wash kits, goggles, balaclavas, insulated jackets, thermal base layers, waterproof jackets and trousers, socks, a variety of gloves, boots and, of course, packaged food (and I have not even listed here everything that they took!). Clearly the pulk becomes a lifeline; the source of safety, navigation, health, hygiene, climbing, skiing, drinking, eating, cooking, camping and clothing.

The contents of a pulk for polar exploration.
Image credit:

A pulk is another name for a small sled, typically towed behind a skier and particularly popular in the Nordic countries. Boat-shaped to glide on top of the snow, they have been recorded in use for centuries, and were traditionally made of natural materials such as wood with animal skin covers. Modern versions are now made in plastics, such as MoDiP’s example from Fjellpulken, which has a glass-fibre reinforced polyester hull which was hand-casted in a mould. Once dry, the RipStop polyester covers were then fitted, and the runners and shaft attachments mounted into place.

The runners on the bottom of the pulk.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

We have also put a harness and hauling ropes on display to indicate how the pulk would be used in practice. Although rigid pole systems are becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to ropes, we would not have been able to fit an example into our cases! We believe the ropes are made of polypropylene with aluminium carabiner hooks for easy connection, welded rings and a shock absorbing rubber line. They were sold as part of a tyre pulling kit, which is common training for polar expeditions where pulks are being employed.

A rope hauling system (left) and a rigid pole system (right).
Image credit:

There are advantages and disadvantages to both hauling systems. Whilst ropes enhance mobility, absorb shock, are useful in lifting or lowering the pulk over ridges, and practical in retrieving the pulk if it tips or gets stuck, they can present difficulties on a steep downward slope when the weight of the pulk becomes dangerous (essentially, it can run into your heels or even overtake you on the descent!). A rigid cross-pole system can provide stability and control but needs to be detached when access to the pulk is required or in a crevasse rescue situation.
Pulks are available in a variety of forms, sizes and weights, each suited to a particular application. MoDiP’s touring pulk is one of the smallest lengths available (selected on the basis of its ability to fit into the display case) and is designed to carry the equivalent load of two rucksacks. The width is calculated to ensure ease of movement and directional stability through snow.

It is a thing of beauty and I want one, despite the fact that I live in Bournemouth which rarely gets any snow (apparently the area has an average of only 4 snowfall days each year, with only 12mm snow actually accumulating on the ground!).

Heron looking confused (and cold) on my neighbour’s roof. March 2018.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

Endurance will be on display in the museum until 10th March 2023.
Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

K-Fair – The Plastic Industry Showcase.

What is K Fair?

As one of the premier events in the plastic industry calendar the 2022 K Fair marked the 70th anniversary of the show. Held every 3 years because it is so big, the K fair brings together thousands of plastics industry exhibitors to showcase the latest technology in materials, semi-finished products, machinery, specialist components, as well as services, research and science. Anyone with an interest in plastics is there (myself included).

K Fair 2022 themes - Circular economy, digitalisation and climate protection

Each edition of the K Fair focuses on themes which are affecting the industry. As was the case at the previous K Fair, the 2022 themes were predominantly environmental. Many of the exhibitors were promoting improved recycling processes and new materials with increased recycled content.

Gneuss recycled pellets
Image credit: Jon Burgess

Sabic Recycled Grades

Polymer supplier Sabic were heavily marketing their Trucircle range as their response to the challenges of circularity (they supplied PP for many of the tooling and machinery demonstrations). Sabic also had a display of products that demonstrated the potential of their new range – including a computer mouse made of ocean plastic, children’s toys and food containers.

Microsoft Corporation ‘Ocean Plastic Mouse’ (Xenoy PC/PET)
Image credit: Jon Burgess

Sabic PP products
Image credit: Jon Burgess

Plastic processing machinery

The range of moulding machinery on display was impressive and included: a blown film machine the size of a house; all sizes of injection moulding machines demonstrating a range of technologies for insert moulding and over moulding; a range of 3D printers with different materials and capabilities; extrusion moulding; and blow moulding.

3 story Blown film moulding machine
Image credit: Jon Burgess

Large format 3D printer – able to print items 10m³
Image credit: Jon Burgess


Attending the show provided a great opportunity to see the latest technology in plastic manufacturing and to understand the challenges the industry faces. It was disappointing not to see more biodegradable polymers for mass production applications – it will be interesting to see the progress at the next K-Fair in 2025.

Dr Jon Burgess
Postdoctoral Researcher - Materials Processes

Image credit: Jon Burgess

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Endurance - in a fire

This post is part of a series of closer looks at aspects in our current exhibition, Endurance. Here I am going to explore a couple of objects in the case looking at fire safety. The objects that I am looking at take their inspiration from glass fire grenades which were used between 1870 and 1910. These extinguishers were designed to be decorative objects that came is different shapes and colours. In the event of a fire, they would be thrown at the flames. On impact the glass outer would break releasing the liquid contents which would supress the flames. They lost favour as it became apparent that they contained dangerous chemicals. 

The Firevase is a modern version of this technology made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and filled with liquid potassium carbonate. The firevase, designed to also hold flowers, was created as part of a fire safety project in South Korea where an estimated 10,000 residential fires occur every year. 100,000 firevases were handed out to households in fire-prone areas between September and December 2018. 

Firevase, Cheil Worldwide for Samsung Fire and Marine Insurance, 2018.  AIBDC : 009357

The AFO Fire Extinguisher ball, thought to be made of a foam casing wrapped in PVC, does not need to be thrown at a fire as it will self-activate when it comes into contact with the flames. It also produces a loud sound which will serve as an alarm for people nearby. Some people use it in the engine bay of their vehicles where it would prevent any fire outbreak before it may otherwise be detected.

Fire Extinguisher Ball, AFO, circa 2015.  AIBDC : 009339 

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP

Wednesday, 2 November 2022

Designated Design: A collection of national importance

Last week MoDiP opened its latest exhibition, Designated Design: A collection of national importance. It celebrates the wonderful accolade we received earlier this year when Arts Council England awarded the museum Designated Outstanding Collection status. The exhibition is based upon themes taken from the original application we put forward, such as considering the scope and scale of the collection and its research potential. We have spent several months working with colleagues from within the AUB’s External Engagement team planning layouts, acquiring display furniture and designing the space etc. so this has truly been a collaborative effort.

Image credit: elizanaden_photography

The image above shows the exhibition curators, Professor Susan Lambert (left) and Dr Louise Dennis (right), standing in front of a mind map illustrated by commissioned artist Bridie Cheeseman. It is a great way of visually representing the work of the museum and takes up the central wall in the lower gallery.

Also to be found in this area are examples of the MoDiP Student Creative project, run each year as a bursary awarded opportunity for AUB students to produce an output inspired by the museum and/or its objects, as well as three examples of projects undertaken by external artists, who have each interpreted the collection in a different way.

Image credit: elizanaden_photography

The main area of the upper gallery features some of MoDiP’s large objects as well as a variety of plastics design classics (refer image below). We were able to re-configure some frames acquired for a previous exhibition within which we have placed objects on open display. It was quite tricky stabilising the Pinarello road bike (refer image below), despite the fact that it has a carbon fibre frame so is incredibly lightweight. We were very grateful to receive assistance from two of our colleagues in AUB Modelmaking – big thanks to Paul Johnson for helping me to hold the bike whilst Louise secured it, and to Gideon Bohannon for pumping up the tyres!

Image credit: elizanaden_photography

We have included some handling collection objects to demonstrate the plastics materials most frequently encountered within museum collections. Visitors are encouraged to pick these up to feel the differences, with some great examples of fake fur, inflatable PVC and bakelite. Once the exhibition closes, we will develop this learning resource into another MoDiP grab box, which will be available for loan to groups interested in finding out more about this amazing material family.

Image credit: elizanaden_photography

The past few weeks, as deadlines were looming, have seen a flurry of activity (refer image below) with the team also having to endure Covid and heavy colds at the same time! But we got there in the end! 

Image credit: MoDiP and TheGallery

Designated Design: A collection of national importance, will be on display in TheGallery until 22nd December 2022.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

Wednesday, 26 October 2022

Endurance - at high speed

When we curate an exhibition at MoDiP we not only create a physical display but also an online version too.  Part of this activity involves photographing objects that are to be viewed and getting intellectual property rights clearances from the designers and manufacturers involved.  Writing to companies and individuals also acts as a way of spreading the word about the museum and creates relationships with those involved.

In our latest exhibition, Endurance, we have a case, at high speed, which looks at the use of motorbike protective clothing and the pads that absorb the impact of a crash. One of these protective pads was made by SAS-TEC, a German company who create shock absorbing systems.  The manufacturer is an innovative producer of body armour founded in 2004. 

The piece we originally acquired for the exhibition was a pair of pads that can be used on the shoulders, elbows, or knees.  As per normal practice, I emailed SAS-TEC asking for permission to use images of these pads and to let them know that they were to be featured in the up coming exhibition.  Holger Hertneck, the Chief Operating Officer of the company, replied with some extremely useful information about the product, especially the fact that the polyurethane used is plant-based and not oil-based and as such the material is more sustainable than if it had been made with fossil-fuels. 

SAS-TEC. SC-1/42 for shoulder, elbows and knees.

Holger also very kindly donated to the collection a range of other pads that SAS-TEC supply:

SAS-TEC SC-1/KA2air for shoulders, elbows, hips and knees, SAS-TEC SC-5/01, SAS-TEC SCF-1 both for shoulder, elbows and knees.

SAS-TEC TF30 for shoulders, elbows, knees, shins, hips or ankles, SAS-TEC SC-1/74 for the hips, SAS-TEC SC-1/CP5 for the chest and SAS-TEC SC-1/B47-2 for the back.

SAS-TEC SC-1/AN for the ankle, SAS-TECSC-1/ECAair for elbows, and SAS-TEC SC-1/EVO1 for shoulders, elbows or knees.

SAS-TEC SC-1/31 for use on the shoulders, elbows or knees, SAS-TECSCA-400 for the back, and SAS-TEC SC-K101 designed to be worn by children on the shoulders, elbows or knees.

We would like to thank SAS-TEC for their support.

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP