Wednesday 30 March 2011

On collecting part 6

As part of the On Collecting art project Sophie Skellern and Ruth Evans have shown an interest in what goes on behind the scenes, the storage, the restoration and preservation and the responses of visitors to the collection.

Julia Flatman, Senior Associate Lecturer, School of Visual Arts

Sophie Skellern

What’s that? is the response I got from most people when they interacted with the objects I had put together from the MoDiP collection. I wanted to enhance curiosity and trigger confusion. I laid out around 30 items that I labelled as strange, peculiar and weird and invited audience response. I sound recorded everybody’s reactions and put together this piece that I hope makes you feel the same element of puzzlement around identifying the objects, as the people who reacted to them did.

Ruth Evans

Every Museum or Art Gallery has a conservation plan to preserve the objects in its collection. The challenges involved in preserving artefacts and minimising deterioration was the focus for this study. The Museum of Design in Plastics was the main foundation of research used, looking at plastic artefacts that have deteriorated whilst being in the collections care.

Acrylic paint has a plastic content, and is a relatively new material, which has meant that Art galleries are still exploring how to preserve and clean works within their care. I have explored the effect that household cleaning products have deteriorating the surface of an acrylic painting, while highlighting the apparent irony of an image that has the quality of painting by numbers requiring restoration and preservation.

On Collecting part 5

As part of the On Collecting art project  Fran Stewart and Bev Miller have responded to the material qualities of Plastic as an art making material, for the production of sound or as a sculptural substance.

Julia Flatman, Senior Associate Lecturer, School of Visual Arts

Fran Stewart


My focus for this body of work was plastic itself, generally viewed as a non-biodegradable substance raising issues of consumerism and recycling.

The Museum of Design in Plastics, houses a vast collection of objects which raise questions about the difference between valuable / precious artefacts and objects normally considered worthless and thus discarded, due to their mass produced status.

In an attempt to recycle this material I have experimented with melting down mass-produced packaging and moulding the substance as sculptural forms. Reconfigured, the plastic takes on the quality of fragments of artefacts or geological sections. There is still evidence of the logos, symbols of the product they endorsed, fragments that are culturally revealing.

Bev Miller


I set out to make a sound piece using only the sounds that plastic objects make.  I wanted to avoid using existing plastic instruments or trying to create an instrument out of plastic.

I used a Zoom MRS 802 8 track studio and an AKG C100S condensing microphone.  After laying down a percussive track I then added in other sounds.

Plastic used to make sounds included - marker pens, plastic jars, empty bottles, beads, a torch, a ruler, plectrum, Sellotape, a comb, polythene sheeting, bubblewrap, a carrier bag and Velcro.

The outcome is four mixes entitled Polythene, Bubble wrap, Vinyl and Perspex.

On Collecting part 4

As part of the On Collecting art project Kayleigh King and Sian Bush look at the nature of collecting itself, the human desire to collect display and tell stories with objects and images, but also as an obsessive-compulsive behaviour.

Julia Flatman, Senior Associate Lecturer, School of Visual Arts

Kayleigh King

Inspired by my grandmother who was an avid collector of pill boxes I was interested in how everyday items end up in museum collections. What determines if an object is worthy of preserving and displaying? Is it value due to age, ownership or what it can tell us of our culture?

These personal keepsakes, charged with memory, indicate an obsessive collection of one type of object, they speak not only of the person but also of a culture. Their individual value in unknown but once part of a collection the artefacts afford a status greater than their individual parts.

By recording them as photographs in a grid and displaying them ‘on mass’ they loose their personal qualities and take on an institutional format.

Sian Bush

My main inspiration for this piece was a collection of paper based writing and imagery that spanned from the 1940s to the present day donated to MoDiP by Tim Coward.

It included newspaper clippings from the Second World War, train tickets and small trinkets. I loved that objects relating to important aspects of history are given the same authority as a sugar cube or a camping receipt. I used the ideas of consumerism, compulsive hoarding and personal archives versus museum archives and I attempted to convey the passion of collection and the eventual turn around, where possessions begin to own and take over the collector’s life.

On Collecting part 3

As part of the On Collecting art project Pascale Wilson and Rachel Di Biaso deal with ‘truth and untruth’, by mimicking classification systems and display devices.  Pascale has created a mythological creature and Rachel responded to existing artefacts with a contemporary revision of the form.

Julia Flatman, Senior Associate Lecturer, School of Visual Arts

Pascale Wilson

Museums have the authority to tell us what is fact and what is fiction, and the public is very much required to trust what is presented to them. I was inspired by scientific records from the 18th century (pre-digital recording), which were always based on personal observation despite being presented in museums as flawless fact. The style of presentation I’ve used aims to mimic fact while the materials and content reveal invention. It is a comment on the fallibility of history; it aims to subtly and humorously undermine the authority of a museum by presenting a fictional yet believable creature.

Rachel Di Biaso

The museum itself provides an atmosphere of authenticity and value to the objects it houses. These official truths are often unchallenged or contested.  The artefacts within seek to demonstrate both ethnographic and anthropological understanding. By selecting a variety of genuine Museum artefacts I sought to construct contemporary equivalents using the same devices of labelling and display to confer authenticity.

On Collecting part 2

As part of the On Collecting art project Rachel Benjamin has explored museums as spatial systems that contain or frame everything they exhibit. The arrangement of the displays, the plinths and the labels are all formal constructions affected by the surrounding elements, other objects, lighting and colour.  Arthur Owen has created new objects in response to those in the collection; in the form of his own unique handmade plastic board game characters, to counter the mass produced object.

Julia Flatman, Senior Associate Lecturer, School of Visual Arts

Rachel Benjamin

When visiting a museum, we are often so interested by the objects on show that we neglect to appreciate how the artefacts are displayed. I was interested in the presentational apparatus. These images are a small selection of photographs taken on visits to Winchester Cathedral, the Wallace Collection in London, Pitt River’s Museum in Oxford and Reading Town Hall.  The purpose was to make visible the elements of display, the vitrines, the architecture and space, the positioning of the artefacts and the lighting.

There is a beauty in the reflections and shadows created by the lights and glass, which goes unnoticed.

Arthur Owen

These figures are made in response to my observations of industrially produced board games and lovingly produced horn ornaments. The rules and rough shapes of the figurines were tailored to function in a board gaming environment. The designs of the figurines represent my collective socio-political observations. The game is a vehicle in the modern information world war to help the leftists win one meme at a time. Memes make up the narrative of the board game.

On Collecting part 1

As part of the On Collecting art project Amy Forrest and Alison Board consider the status of artefacts. The use of the glass display case as a magical device to transform collections or worthless objects into valuable works of art. The vitrine becomes integral to the work sculpturally and spatially. They are concerned with setting a thought process in motion. What kind of treasures would we place in such a box?

Julia Flatman, Senior Associate Lecturer, School of Visual Arts

Amy Forrest

As humans we collect all sorts of things; family heirlooms, letters from loved ones, comic books. Our lives are filled with collections that are probably worthless to other people.  So, why do we feel the need to preserve them?  This question was the starting point of my work that aims to explore why we attribute value to certain objects.  Why do we keep them in museums and personal collections? Are they really worth saving for future generations to see?  Do we want to live on through them? Or do we just want someone to value them like we did?

Alison Board

We connect to our past through artefacts. These artefacts may be materially valuable, historically priceless or solely precious on a deeply personal level. They may be owned by us, or familiar by association. Is the language of an artefact universal? Do we question their authenticity when they are presented to us in a formal manner? Does their authenticity matter when they help us to recall a memory?

Tuesday 29 March 2011

How students and staff use the collection #5 - On Collecting

As part of the unit ‘Articulating Time and Space’ BA Fine Art level 4 students were offered the opportunity to respond to the Museum of Design in Plastics.  Not specifically to the collection of plastics but to the idea of Museology.  Museums, the classification and systems for archiving–which relate to taxonomy, archaeology, ethnography, anthropology and material culture have been a constant source of inspiration to artists. They are aware of how the conventions of the museum turn all artefacts, whatever their background, into potential works of art. Once an object is removed from the everyday and placed in a museum context it is bestowed both status and the stamp of authenticity.

‘On Collecting’ considers personal, professional and institutional collecting. It refers to the accumulation of objects, methods of display, cataloguing, hierarchy and the culture of material things.

The project resulted in a variety of responses;

·         artefacts both real and fictional
·         interventions with exhibits
·         interventions involving historical artworks as a way of starting new visual  dialogues
·         the quest to explore both the rational and the irrational.

To view the students' work please see the blog posts entitled 'On Collecting'.

Julia Flatman, Senior Associate Lecturer, School of Visual Arts

Monday 28 March 2011

Did you know? #6

Did you know MoDiP started life in 1988 as a small collection of objects used as a teaching resource?
A selection of objects from the MoDiP collection
Originally known as the Design Collection, the museum was created to enhance student learning, providing access to international, historical and contemporary design examples ranging from 1880 to the present day.
We now have a focus on plastics and the collection comprises over 10,000 objects all of which can be viewed on request.
Louise Dennis, (Assistant Curator)

Monday 14 March 2011

How students and staff use the collection #4

The MoDiP collection is used in many different ways by the AUB’s students and staff.  Back in October 2010 a member of the teaching staff, Sarah Charles from the FdA Fashion Design and Technology, rang me up to request ‘some weird things, the more bizarre the better’.  At MoDiP we love a challenge!

The FdA Fashion display as part of the MoDiP Highlights exhibition

Butterfly napkin holder, 1950s
The eventual outcome was part of the Personal Planning Reflection and Development unit.  
Byson Stair Clips. 
The students working on this project set up their own blog to document their work.
2nd year BA/FdA Fashion Design and Technology students were given just three weeks to team up and put together a presentation, display boards and a blog to record their team efforts and progress.
Cake box, 1950s
Each team was given an obscure, unbranded object from the MoDiP collection, and asked to design a promotional lifestyle brand based on it.

Tupperware Icing Ball, 2005

This was the first time this project had been undertaken and tutors who viewed the presentations were impressed with their quality and the depth of research given the timescale allowed.

Paper hat, circa 2001

Student feedback was very positive. They enjoyed the fact that the object was unrelated to fashion. It made them think ‘outside the box’ and removed some of the anxiety giving them the freedom to be more experimental.

PA Designs toothbrush holder, 2007
If you would like to know more about this project please contact MoDiP by phone or email.

Louise Dennis, (Assistant Curator)

Friday 11 March 2011

Nature’s Plastic

MoDiP’s current exhibition Nature’s Plastic: Artefacts from the collection of the Worshipful Company of Horners investigates the historic uses of one of synthetic plastic’s ancestors.  This exhibition will be open until 8th April 2011.

Horn is defined as the hard material covering the outer soft core of the permanent growths on the upper part of the head and toes of certain ungulates, hoofed mammals, such as cattle, bison, buffalo, sheep, goats and rhinoceros. It is formed of keratin and other proteins surrounding a core of living soft tissue.

The exhibition includes a display of fashion items.

Horn is a natural thermoplastic substance which means that when heated to a certain temperature it becomes pliable. With little work it can be made into objects which exploit the natural shape of horn, or by the application of heat and/or pressure it can be manipulated to form a wide variety of objects such as spectacle frames, combs and cutlery. It can be carved, engraved, or simply polished to enhance the natural beauty of the material. Splitting the laminations or layers produces a thin, semi-transparent material which has been used in place of glass for windows and lantern panes. Pressing into moulds to produce formed shapes and intricate embossed designs was common practice. Boiling removes the colour from some types of horn leaving a translucent material which can be stained or dyed. The solid tip of horns and hooves is commonly cut, drilled and polished to make buttons.
It is thought the word 'lantern' comes from the archaic English word 'lanthorn' reflecting the use of horn leaves in the sides of the light.

Different species create different types of horn. Oxen produce a soft horn that can be made translucent, and was used for lantern and Church windows, but biodegrades easily and is eaten by weevils. Buffalo horn is much harder and black, so was used for engineering applications such as the nocks of archery bows to prevent the wood splitting. Rhinoceros horn is really a tight tuft of hair, but can be carved and polished. Sheep’s horns can be heated and shaped before carving to make the handles for walking sticks.

This impressive drinking horn is used during ceremonial gatherings.

Horn has been used by man for simple tools and vessels since Palaeolithic times. Evidence exists of its use by early Egyptian dynasties and throughout Europe in the Roman period. Firm documentary evidence shows that horn was worked by craftsmen and that a guild was in existence in London in 1284 during the reign of Edward I of England.

This versatile material is a by-product of the meat and leather trades. Records indicate that where there were butchers and tanners (leather workers), there were often horners near by. Descriptions of the trade in the 17th century show that there were two stages of the manufacture of horn items. Horn breakers or splitters would process the raw horn and then supply the semi-manufactured material to horners or other craftsmen to produce the finished article.  Aware that the processes of working horn emitted unpleasant smells, horn workshops were often located away from residential areas.

The exhibition includes tools, like this spoon cutter, used when working with the material.

The Worshipful Company of Horners has recently deposited its collection of over 400 objects with MoDiP for an initial period of 7 years. This will enable greater public access to these significant artefacts and complement MoDiP’s permanent collection.  Prior to receiving the Horners’ collection MoDiP had few examples of natural plastics. This new collection helps to demonstrate the use of naturally occurring plastics before the development of their synthetic cousins. Objects range from the early 1600s to the present day. Horn is still in use in the UK for button making, shoe horns, combs, musical instrument components, sporting equipment and cutlery.

MoDiP would like to thank The Worshipful Company of Horners for the loan of this comprehensive and unusual collection. 

The Worshipful Company of Horners

The Livery Companies of the City of London had their origins well before the Doomsday Book and are similar to the fraternities and guilds (or mysteries) that flourished throughout Europe for many centuries. The term “Livery” refers to the practice of wearing a distinctive form of clothing.

Horn was used by many tradesmen including jewellers and opticians.

The Worshipful Company of Horners operates under a Charter received from Charles I in 1638 but it is known that there were earlier charters. Originally the Company controlled the purchase and sale of raw horns within 24 miles of the City of London and the early statutes were to protect these rights. In addition, it controlled the trade by limiting its membership, assuring quality and controlling the admittance of apprentices. It also acted as a welfare organisation, looking after widows and attending to funerals.

These combs show the different stages of production.

The Industrial revolution and the subsequent dislike of trade restrictions led to a reduction in the influence of the trade guilds. However, some retained their ancient rites and others became associated with their modern equivalents. Many, if not all, the artefacts previously made in horn are now made from plastics. As craft working with horn declined, in 1943 the Company adopted the emerging plastics’ industry, many of whose production technique were familiar to the practicing horner. For more information please visit the Company’s website:

Louise Dennis, (Assistant Curator)

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Did you know? #5

Did you know that what you see in our exhibition space is only a small percentage of the collection? We have over 10,000 objects many of which are in store.  If you would like to view an object in store please contact the museum and we will happily get it out for your studies.

Louise Dennis, (Assistant Curator)

Friday 4 March 2011

Refreshing Design - The Horners Student Award

Each year the Worshipful Company of Horners runs a national competition for student designers.  This year MoDiP has had the pleasure of displaying three of the prizing winning designs.

The Award was originally established in 1985 as the BASF Design Award and has evolved to become Design Innovation in Plastics, now owned by The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) and The Worshipful Company of Horners, with the continued support of Bayer MaterialScience as the principal industry sponsor. The theme of the 2010 competition, ‘Refreshing Design’, challenged student designers and design engineers to create a product that addressed economic and environmental concerns yet was innovative and ‘refreshing’.  

The Award acknowledges support from the following additional sponsors:
PlasticsEurope, a leading European plastics trade association. Cogent, the Sector Skills Council for Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Nuclear, Oil & Gas, Petroleum & Polymers
Materials KTN, which enables the exchange of materials knowledge and the stimulation of business innovation. PDD, an international product innovation consultancy. DuPont, a global leader in engineering polymers. Hi-Technology Group Limited, a provider of total solutions in plastics design, tooling and moulding. HellermannTyton , a leading supplier of products for fastening, identifying and protecting cables and a pioneer developer of data systems.  Brightworks, an award-winning UK product design and development consultancy.

FIRST PRIZE : SafetyNet, Dan Watson, Royal College of Art
A redesigned trawl net offering an affordable way to improve the sustainability and lower the environmental impact of demersal (bottom) trawler fishing
Dan wins a placement with Bayer MaterialScience, Leverkusen, Germany and a cheque for £1000

Demersal trawling is an imprecise, non-selective practice and fishermen targeting certain fish may inadvertently net other fish during the process. Fish caught in this way are both undesirable and unmarketable, and by European law, fishermen have to throw them back into the sea, invariably dead or dying. In addition, due to quota restrictions, only the largest and best quality fish are kept so that smaller fish are also discarded. Net mesh size should allow these smaller, almost always juvenile fish, to escape, but this is rarely the case. The SafetyNet sustainable trawling system addresses these problems by exploiting the natural behavioral and physiological differences between different species of fish in order to help crews catch the right fish.

The Escape Rings are designed to hold meshes open to allow juvenile, undersized and endangered fish to escape before the net is drawn in. By illuminating the apertures in the net's meshes the rings will act in a similar way to an emergency exit sign, alerting the fish to the danger they are in and providing an escape route away from it. The rings are offered in different sizes and are made of cast nylon with the illuminating lens made from polyurethane.

The redesigned net uses existing materials and technology and is raised off the seabed, massively reducing its footprint, reducing damage to the seabed and reducing friction, which means less fuel is needed to pull it. This not only cuts down on carbon emissions but also offers an incentive for use as it will save crews money in the long-run.

Supporting documents: Dan Watson pdf 1, Dan Watson pdf 2, Dan Watson pdf 3, Dan Watson pdf 4

HIGHLY COMMENDED: Precision D Shin Guard, Jaipreet Bahra, Aston University

A soccer shin guard incorporating smart polymer material. Jaipreet wins a placement with Brightworks plus a cheque for £100

The shin guard is part of a possible future range of shin protection equipment designed to counter the growing number of football injuries. It provides both protection and mobility. The base of the guard forms an innovative part of the design, giving extra protection, and another innovative feature is the provision of protection to the back of the shin.

The components are made with a core of d3o foam, an advanced polymer invented by Richard Palmer, ex RCA and Imperial College and a former DuPont scientist. D3o is an engineered material with intelligent molecules that flow with you when you move, but on impact lock together to absorb impact energy. It is in use in ski and racing suits and in biker jackets. The plastic packaging and point-of-sale have also been designed.

Supporting document: Japreet Bahra pdf

HIGHLY COMMENDED: flow • R • spiral, Helena From, London South Bank University

A shower head based on a ball and spiral mechanism designed to reduce water consumption by more than half
Helena wins a placement with HellermannTyton plus a cheque for £100

Each person in the UK uses 150 litres of water every day, 33% of which is for personal washing. Showering for more than 6 minutes consumes more water than a bath. Most people would like to change their behaviour yet still enjoy a shower. With this product a 10-minute shower will now use only 5 minutes of water flow.

Water flow in the shower head pushes a ball up a spiral inside the flow tube and stops the flow after 60 seconds when soap or shampoo can be used. When the shower head is placed back on its bracket, water pressure is released and the ball returns to its original position.  This saves water, money and energy, and reduces the carbon footprint. In addition, a visually humorous effect of filling a water balloon is created.

Supporting documents: Helena From pdf 1, Helena From pdf 2, Helena From pdf 3, Helena From pdf 4, Helena From pdf 5