Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Student Creative: Ellie Jones

I am­ an MA Illustration student and I am very grateful for the opportunity of working with the MoDiP collection. What first drew my interest was the collection of old photographs from British factories, they are mostly black and white and show an age when plastics became really popular – the 70s, which actually isn’t really that long ago. The people photographed seem full of personality and you can see what era it was by how they have styled their hair and clothing. I feel a personal connection to those people too, as my mother worked in a factory at that time.

Shrink-wrapping with Polyethylene film

I went to the museum to do some preliminary sketches to gather further ideas and to immerse myself in the museum collection. I found that I was captivated by the transparent clock, and the cicada brooches.

Coloured pencil sketch of three cicada brooches designed by Pat Thornton

Coloured pencil sketch of the translucent clockwork alarm clock

These objects made me think about the layering in plastics. Plastics can be transparent, revealing the workings of machines underneath, and it can be translucent with other colours in it which is beautiful.

So, I’ve been exploring both the photographic elements and transparency/layering in my work, using tracing paper, acetate and paper cutting.

Photograph print depicting dip coating polyethylene cut
out with watercolour pattern behind.
Layered cicada. Ink on layers of tracing paper.

I am going to continue exploring these ideas, and I look forward to seeing where it will lead me!

Student Creative
Ellie Jones - MA Illustration

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Student Creative: Judith Allen

I was incredibly excited to be given the opportunity to be a student creative for MoDiP this year. 

When it came to choosing where to do my MA in illustration, MoDiP was one of the main assets that drew me to studying at AUB. Having a museum with a rich history of design and an extensive collection of fascinating objects right on campus, is an incredible bonus for any arts student. It’s like having your own cabinet of curiosities, full of inspiration! 

Coming from a background in social anthropology, I’m particularly interested in how objects have meaning to us, the history and stories behind seemingly ordinary everyday objects, and why we collect the objects we do. 

Figure 1 Initial sketches from MoDiP at the beginning of term

Working with MoDiP has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to explore this further through my creative practice, whilst also learning how the development of plastics technology and attitudes to plastics over time has helped to shape the design of different objects over the last century. 

My original idea was to explore the stories behind certain objects within the museum by making small polymer clay models of the objects, and placing them in shadow boxes, that had paper cut illustrations showing the story of the object behind them.

Figure 2 Initial experiments with paper cutting and shadow art

However after a little more research into building shadow boxes and several failed polymer clay experiments, I decided to take a more illustrative approach to my project.
My new idea is to create an interactive picture book with pop up and lift the flap elements, exploring the last 100 years of history through objects within the museum in a fun and tactile illustrative way that all ages can enjoy!

Figure 3 Sketches Through the Centuries- 1920's objects

Figure 4 Ink and pencil sketches of early objects in the museum

This is going to be an exciting experiment that involves me relying on my key skills of observational drawing and painting, whilst also drawing on new skills of book binding and paper craft. I’m excited to bring this project to life and to illustrate the stories behind the fascinating objects MoDiP holds.

Student Creative
Judith Allen - MA Illustration

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Student Creative: Jak Hansford

I was really pleased to get the chance to write a proposal for the Student Creative project with MoDiP. As an Undergraduate at the Arts University Bournemouth, I was able to familiarise myself with MoDiP and the collection it houses. Using the fantastic objects on offer, I was inspired to kick start projects, essays and sketchbook work.

Now studying on the MA Fine Art course at AUB, I have the chance to bring my perspective to this project and develop exciting pieces for MoDiP. As a textile artist I work a lot with colour, shape and texture. I will bring these elements of my work to the project and take full advantage of what MoDiP offers.

Observing, drawing and photographing carefully selected objects, I will be creating something exciting and tactile through one of my key skills, tufting. The image below will show you how a finished tufted piece will look, drawing inspiration from MoDiP objects that had previously inspired me.

Image 1: Close up of tufted piece showing interesting details

This process weaves fibres such as threads and yarns into a backing fabric and is mostly used within the industry of rug making. These are referred to as a pile and the length or technique can be changed for different purposes. Such as a ‘Cut pile’ in Image 1. They are cut to leave ‘tufts’ or fringed yarns. The second type of pile is known as the ‘Loop pile’. This forms a loop woven through the backing fabric leaving more of stitched look (Image 2).

Image 2: Combining techniques and introducing new fibres to loop pile tufting.

Tufting creates a soft, inviting and interactive surface that is very tactile and comforting. Self-teaching this skill, I have been able to find ways of making more contemporary pieces that really challenge the potential of this as an art form - some of which can be by combining techniques and introducing other fibres by hand (Image 2 and Image 3).

Image 3: Adding additional yarns for a fringed look and create more interactive movement

This commission will help further my research and allow a freedom of style through my inspiration of MoDiP's objects. Having studied them before, I know you don't have to work in or with plastics to use this resource effectively. My intention is to showcase this idea and show how beneficial MoDiP's collection can be to any area of study. This will be a fantastic chance to visit new areas within my own work and produce a piece entirely unique and new. I am excited to share this experience and cannot wait to update you all at the halfway point with how it is progressing!

Student Creative
Jak Hansford – MA Fine Art

Wednesday, 27 November 2019


We all need permission to play sometimes…permission to down tools, permission to stop worrying about deadlines and permission to well, just have a bit of (very sociable) fun. That was partly the idea behind Playtime, but we also saw it as a way of welcoming students into our wonderful museum space - the gateway to the amazing research resource that is MoDiP.

The first session saw students coming in tentatively at first, not quite sure what to expect - but within a few minutes becoming totally absorbed in a strategic game of Connect 4, giggling over a silly game of Funny Bunny or going all out (great for those with a competitive streak) with the fast and furious Hungry Hippos game. And for those with a steady hand, they were even able to defy gravity playing the ‘will they/won’t they’ balancing game comprising of lots of tiny chairs!

We also got the Lego out, all of it, all over the floor and went back to relive those magic moments as a child, when the possibilities of creating whatever you could dream up was at your fingertips.  It is actually a great way to let your creative juices run free, with no expectation of creating a masterpiece at the end of it. It can be a truly liberating experience – and of course it’s lots of fun, which is really the point.
And STOP PRESS, Playtime will be running each Wednesday lunchtime in MoDiP (12-2pm) from now until Christmas (except for Wednesday 4thDecember).  And talking of Christmas, look out for our Christmas Lego Challenge coming very soon – we want you to create six themed Christmas cameos during December, take selfies and share the festive fun on Instagram (tagging MoDiP of course!)

Julia Pulman, Museum Digital Communications Officer.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Le Mans

The cinema release of the film Le Mans 66 starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale this week transported me back to June this year when I experienced the historical race for the first time.  The 24hours of Le Mans is a motor race not just of speed but of endurance too.  The fastest car is not guaranteed the win if it is not reliable enough to keep going for the whole 24hours.   There is nothing worse than waking up in the morning to find that the car you were supporting broke down in the early hours.

I went on a ‘girls only’ trip, with an ex colleague from our time working at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, which was great fun.  Whilst we were there I did a bit of plastics spotting and some not-plastics spotting.

Plastics spotting

We arrived on the Wednesday to take in all the support races and qualifying sessions on track, as well as the drivers parade through the streets of Le Mans itself.  We stayed in a campsite right inside the track with the now sadly departed Thomas Cook.  Having travelled by ferry, train, and tram, we were very pleased to not have to carry a tent or bedding as these were all provided as part of the package – the tent was even put up for us.  The nylon tent did a great job keeping us dry as the rain came down over night but did nothing to mask the sound of the cars on track, which actually became quite soothing, or our neighbours snoring, which did not.

 Our pre-erected Thomas Cook orange tent.

Some, but not all, of the cars had bodywork made of carbon-fibre composite which helps to keep the weight as low as possible.  Being lightweight means the cars can run faster and use less fuel but because they are so light they tend to want to take off so they need to have rear wings to help keep them on the ground.  The rear wing works in the opposite way to that of an aeroplane which uses the higher air pressure directed below the wing to lift the plane.  On the car the higher pressure is directed above the wing to push the car down so that it remains in contact with the road surface.

A rear wing for one of the LMP1 cars waiting to be put back on the car.
The weave of the carbon fibre can be seen here clearly.

With the cars being lightweight, it is easy to lift them off the track when they crash or break down. For the safety of the volunteer marshals, all the drivers and the other cars, it is vitally important that cars can be removed from the track as quickly and as safely as possible.  The efficiency of the actions of the marshals and safety crew was demonstrated in front of where we were sitting during one of the qualifying races.

Lifting the car by two points on the roof.

Right next to the track, and open all year round, is a fascinating museum full of amazing historical cars and objects relating to key drivers.  One car that caught my eye was the little 1967 British Mini Marcos which has a fibreglass body.  In 2013, I came across a bright yellow Mini Marcos from the 1980s and wrote a blog post about it. 

A 1967 Mini Marcos, a similar car came 15th in the 24hour event in 1966.

The grandstand seats were made of a plastic material which is probably something like polypropylene although some spectator seats are made of high density polyethylene.  What was interesting is how the seats have degraded outside in the elements and how they are only replaced when they really need to be.

The new green seats stand out against the different degrees of faded yellow.
The degradation takes its time to run across the whole seat.
The seats looked like they were crumbling but still had a useful life in them.
Even with a hole in it this seat can still take the weight off your feet.

Not-plastics spotting

When at a race track full of fuel-guzzling cars it might seem strange to find small environmentally friendly activities, but the quiet way some of the food stalls were moving away from wasteful single-use plastics was commendable. We were charged an extra Euro for souvenir cups which could then be reused (saving you that extra Euro on your next beer).  There were different cups with a range of sizes including pint, half pint, espresso, and champagne.

The reusable cups were too good to throw away.

Where there could have been plastic used to serve food, some stalls used paper plates or trays.  I had a delicious waffle covered in Nutella which could have proved disastrous on this flat card tray, I am so glad I didn’t drop it.

You will have to take my word for how delicious my waffle was.

To counter the quiet environmentally-friendly activity, was the shocking number of unnecessary give-aways that were thrown to the crowds during the drivers’ parade.  The streets were scattered with wrist bands, flags, hats, toy figures, keyrings, and frisbees that the people in the crowds called out for but then discarded.

Drivers handing out give-aways
The crowds grabbing for goodies that they probably won’t keep.

I am not sure what the outfit this poor person had to wear was made of but it was a warm afternoon and they must have been rather hot, I hope it was breathable.

The Michelin Man offered high-fives and hugs for all.

Louise Dennis (Curator of MoDiP)

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

The dynamic Hokki stool

MoDiP has recently added a Hokki stool to the collections, donated by the designer John Harding who graduated from AUB in 1991 having studied HND Industrial Design.
The Hokki has been designed as a flexible, physical learning aid to counter traditional views that educational seating should be rigid, without any form for free movement. With supporting research suggesting that stillness of the body for long periods can actually inhibit concentration, the convex base encourages the body to move in all directions leading to healthier sitting, reduced tension and mental fatigue.
This is John’s story about how he developed the stool.

Katherine Pell, Museum Collections Officer.

A seven year journey

The inspiration for the Hokki began with a cedar wood rocking stool I designed as part of a range of garden furniture, launched in 2003 at the 100% Design exhibition in London. As I became more aware of the ergonomic and cognitive advantages of active seating, I thought about developing a new lightweight, more commercial version of the stool for children and adults alike.

The first step forward from the solid cedar stools was the design of a hollow version made from plywood tube with a removable lid for storage. The next major development was to focus on making this a product for children, so I changed material from wood to polyethylene (PE) plastic, with a non-slip rubber base. Polyethylene’s chemical and structural properties lent themselves to the small volume rotational moulding process used to produce fifty stools for school trials. I took out liability insurance and selected ten different primary schools who ‘tested’ the stool over a period of six months. Having received praise from both children, teachers and parents, I was convinced that this was a genuinely beneficial product but importantly there could be a market for it.

Having approached and pitched unsuccessfully to virtually all of the UK school furniture manufacturers, I paid a marketing director to help me produce a one page “Product CV”. This featured information such as images, a comprehensive description and the financial opportunities the product could offer. I sent it out to a number of European companies recommended to me by the Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA) and was subsequently contacted by Vereinigte Spezialmobelfabriken (VS), a school and office furniture supplier based in Germany. 

The final design saw the last development from polyethylene to polypropylene, as this material was more suitable for volume injection moulding, with the Hokki being launched in March 2010 by VS in both Germany and America. Whilst it had been through several changes in both materials and shape, the fundamental principle always remained the same: to create a stool that rocked in all directions, promoting better posture and providing health benefits. It's also fun to sit on!

John Harding.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Stair carpet clips

Recently acquired by the museum is a set of arrow head design ‘XL Grip’ bakelite (phenol formaldehyde) stair clips.  

A mundane but practical everyday item in the 1920s when these examples were produced, they are a reminder of my childhood days when the stair carpet in our 1950s family home was held in place by a chromed metal version, similar to these in design. 

Before the fashion for fully fitted, wall to wall carpeting, stairs were carpeted with a runner which was held in place by stair rods or clips. The practicality of using this system lay in the ability to move the carpet up or down to alleviate the inevitable wear or fading on the ‘nose’ of the carpet – the point at which the carpet turns from the riser to the tread. 

I believe the fashion for stair runners is returning but stair clips or rods are likely to be more of a decorative feature than a practical solution, as carpets are now, more likely than not, to be tacked in place. MoDiP has other examples of bakelite stair clips and a growing range of other domestic fittings made using this ubiquitous material. 

Pam Langdown
MoDiP Documentation Officer.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Sea change: how can museums turn the tide on ocean plastics?

I was pleased to be invited by Dr Rupert Cole from the Science Museum, London, to take part in his panel session at the Museums Association’s conference. Inspired by the conference location on Brighton’s sea front, the session explored the issue of plastics, sustainability and the environment from the perspective of seaside heritage, asking what can museums do to engage with this global problem. 

Dr Kathryn Ferry, author of forthcoming books on the history of the seaside in 100 objects and a social history of plastics, placed current beach pollution in historical context. Her engaging talk identified three sources of pollution: the working coast for example fishing nets; plastics that belong to the seaside like buckets and beach balls; and plastics that get washed up carried from all over the world. She outlined a long history of pollution, citing sewage disposal directly into the sea in the early 19th century and trains carrying people to the coast in their thousands, day trippers as well as holiday makers.

Collection: Dr Kathryn Ferry

I found this poster especially piquant because there was a display at the conference in which someone said they had gone searching for what they called glass pebbles, which by now this broken glass will have become. Disappointed, they found only plastics detritus. Could there come a time when, likewise plastics waste could be treasured?
My own contribution looked rather literally at three ways in which museums might address the question posed in the title. This is a précis of my main points.

Karl-H. Foerster, formerly executive director of PlasticsEurope, has stated that: ‘To protect our environment effectively, we need to educate citizens so they understand that plastics are too valuable to be thrown away.’ Thus, firstly, museums can help to engender respect for plastics so we no longer want to dispose of them carelessly. Ways of doing this could include telling people about their hugely democratising influence; how they can be used instead of animal products; how they prevent food waste; and how they have transformed world health.

Oxfam’s simple plastic bucket, has dramatically improved the life expectancy of the 46% of the world’s population who still don’t have piped water at home.

Secondly we can show how appropriate design, consumption and disposal of plastics products can enable realisation of their value at every stage of their lives. The problem with plastics is not so much the material but rather human behaviour. Plastics mainly end up in the oceans because of the absence of effective end-of-life-procedures. Thus we can demonstrate the importance of designing so that different plastics can be identified and disassembled from a product at the end of its useful life to ensure that the various plastics enter the correct recycling stream. We as consumers also have responsibilities. If we continue to buy plastics products made without consideration of their disposal, they will continue to be made. Thus opting for headphones like these is responsible consumption.

This modular design for headphones by Domus Galama and Tom Leenders, 2018, provides an example of responsible design and an opportunity for responsible consumption.
We can also champion the use in manufacture and consumption of recycled plastics.
Minnowskateboard, Bureo, 2017
This product is made from 30 feet of discarded fishing net which would otherwise have ended up polluting the oceans.

Thirdly, museums can act as platforms to promote and increase understanding of the ongoing research into environmentally friendly plastics, for example the different pros and cons of biodegradable fossil fuel plastics and plastics made from crops. We can also, in tune with Dr Errol Francis’s contribution to the plenary session ‘What is a museum?’ referred to in one of our recent posts, act as venues for debate.  The meaning of individual, collective, industrial and global responsibility for consumption and disposal of plastics is high on my agenda for any such discussion.

These are just a few ideas. I am sure there is much more we could and should be doing. Do please let us know your thoughts.

Susan Lambert, Chief Curator

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Memorable memories of the Museum’s Association Conference 2019

I was lucky enough to attend one day of the Museums Association’s conference. It was remarkably environmentally conscious: name badges were not contained in plastics, only tapped water was on offer, all food was vegetarian, the programme was accessed solely online, and there were no wasteful goodie bags. The content was stimulating, even inspiring too.

The day started with a breakfast at which leading museum figures from across the United Kingdom’s four nations addressed ‘The case for museums’. The message I took away was that we must be less apologetic and more pro-active with internal and external stakeholders about the value of museums to economic strength and thus the reasons to invest in them. The cases made included that they are beneficial to education, health and wellbeing; they are the rock of many communities; they are good for tourism; and that they could even take the place of retail to draw people to town centres.

The plenary session that followed, chaired by Sharon Heal, the Museums Association’s Director, took the theme ‘What is a museum?’ It, following on from the theme of ‘The case for museums’, made me wonder if the museum community were suffering from a loss of confidence but the speakers were quite wonderful.

I was especially struck by the contribution of Errol Francis, the CEO of Culture&, an independent arts and education charity which aims to open up who makes and enjoys arts and heritage through work-based training and public programmes. I was not surprised to hear his viewpoint that the dominant western museum model, with their cabinets of curiosities collected by powerful men and hierarchies of civilisations, provides a colonial viewpoint. But I was astounded to hear him question the need for museums to collect anything at all, putting the emphasis rather on exchange and dialogue. He suggested a form of cultural exchange based on what he termed dispersal, preferring the term dispersal to disposal, as a more sharing and participatory word. He emphasised the need for museums to appeal to all the senses and not prioritise looking.

Richard Sandell, Professor of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, made the point that although to some people museums are welcoming and safe places, to others they are alienating. Having recently worked on the new ’Being Human’ gallery at the Welcome Collection, he cited a disabled person as having found its predecessor, ‘Medicine Now’, ‘red hot and full of hate’. He stressed that equal access for disabled people is a fundamental right. He agreed that museums are places to air different views but that they are also places for stating what is not up for debate. Referring to the recent experience of Naga Munchetty, he said it was important to hold on to non-negotiable issues. He also said that often the most important work done in museums was in spite rather than because of the collections.

Jett Sandahl, founder of the Women’s Museum of Denmark and the Museum of World Culture, Sweden, and currently a member of the European Museum Forum’s board of trustees, placed people and planet at the heart of her model, which involved the bringing together of research and ideas with physical examples. She described this as ‘the both/and’ rather than the ‘either/or’ approach. This was for me, as a traditional curator, a much more comfortable standpoint but the other speakers have opened up a radically new approach. I would love to know how they would tackle our subject, design in plastics.

Susan Lambert, Chief Curator

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

The Colour Orange

Orange, an uplifting colour of autumn among other things, apparently represents fascination, stimulation and creativity.  So, I thought I would dip into the collection and find objects that are not only orange, but also have a fascinating purpose, will stimulate conversation about design in plastics and inspire creative thought.  Plastics are able to take colour completely – not just a covering – so plastic objects that are orange, can be made to look particularly vibrant.

My first object is a ‘Novelty orange pencil sharpener’ which imitates a real orange with great attention to detail. This shows the playful side of plastic as it is almost a surprise to discover, that this apparent orange, actually turns out to be a pencil sharpener!

My second object is the infamous ‘Orange Panton chair’ (injection moulded polypropylene) which readily stimulates discussion about the design of this tough, consistently dyed chair.  As well as being a design icon, this chair demonstrates how well polypropylene is able to take on a strong colour such as orange.

My third object is a pair of ‘Jelly Jolly boots’, the soles of which are again injection moulded, this time using a bright orange PVC.  Maybe they could inspire you to create a complete costume around them for a performance or exhibition, or perhaps develop and create a character in a play or story – someone who might wear a pair of boots like these. 

These appropriately called Jelly Jolly boots, also reflect another meaning of the colour orange – happiness – so they will help you walk through autumn with a much jollier step!

Julia Pulman, Museum Digital Communications Officer.