Wednesday 28 December 2022

Endurance - in a coldstore

One of the cases in our current exhibition, Endurance, looks at what workers in a coldstore need to keep them at a healthy body temperature.  Hot and cold working spaces are assessed for risk under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Under this act, organisations and companies are expected to do what is ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect their employees and visitors. There are some workplaces which are extremely hot or cold and measures need to be put into place to ensure that staff are not harmed by such environments. These measures could be in the form of rest periods, appropriate rotas, or the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE). Extended exposure to cold can cause health issues that range from frostnip, the early stage of frostbite where the skin becomes cold and numb, to hypothermia, which causes shivering, slow breathing, tiredness, and confusion, as well as pale cold skin, and slurred speech. Effective PPE for chilled environments, down to -5°C, and frozen environments, -5°C and below, include thermal undergarments, jacket and trousers, gloves, safety boots or shoes with thermal socks, and a hat or balaclava.  One item of clothing which helps to keep a warehouse employee safe is the FlexiTog Endurance Active Coldstore Jacket.


FlexiTog Endurance Active Coldstore Jacket AIBDC : 009328

FlexiTog Endurance Active Coldstore Jacket, image provided by FlexiTog.

This jacket coat incorporates Vivo Teknica technology by Clo Insulation which keeps the wearer at an optimum temperature, even when highly active. This breathable insulation has been utilised in the high sweat areas of the garment to help regulate the body temperature and keep the wearer comfortable. The Vivo Teknica material is 100% recycled polyester made from post-consumer waste bottles sourced in Europe locally to where it is manufactured. Due to the use of tiny fibres and a unique fabric structure, this product allows moisture vapor to pass through making it breathable and improving overall comfort. The addition of perforated holes in this sample, which are big enough to allow moisture vapor to escape yet small enough to retain warmth, increase the breathability by 30% compared to the non-perforated material.

FlexiTog Endurance Active Coldstore Jacket AIBDC : 009374 

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP

Wednesday 21 December 2022

The life of a MoDiP volunteer.

We are very lucky to have a volunteer join us every Wednesday morning. Her name is Maxine and she retired from working at the AUB Library a few years ago. Wanting to contribute something back, she very kindly volunteered her services to the museum in 2020 and has been a member of the team ever since.

Maxine has been involved in all aspects of museum work, starting with organising the MoDiP Library. She stamped the books for us and gave each one a unique museum number so that we could set up a searchable catalogue record to go on our object database and website. In the image below, she is carefully writing the number in a conservation grade pencil and the MoDiP stamp can be seen, bottom, centre. The books are not security tagged so they are not available for open access, but they can be viewed in the museum, on request.

Accessioning the MoDiP library.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

After that job was finished, she began helping us with our ongoing Collections Review programme. We are assessing each of our objects to ensure that they continue to offer relevance to the work of the museum. Firstly, we are looking at whether the objects contain plastics content or context, as there are a number that were collected prior to 2007 when the museum changed its focus to become MoDiP. Maxine has helped locate objects, make assessment referrals, deaccession items and pack up objects to send them on to new homes within other museum collections across the UK.

In the summer of 2021, MoDiP took receipt of a legacy of casein objects that we will be jointly caring for alongside the Plastics Historical Society. The objects arrived in a muddle of boxes that all needed to be organised so that we could make sense of what had been gifted. Maxine stepped forward and spent several weeks carefully unwrapping each piece, documenting and photographing it before re-storing the collection into a MoDiP box with acid-free tissue paper. Later this year we will begin the process of accessioning everything so that we can start to put some of these beautiful objects out on display.

Documenting the casein objects.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

One of Maxine’s most recent tasks has been helping us to treat the Worshipful Company of Horner’s collection with neatsfoot oil. This is a conditioning treatment that prevents the horn from drying out and in the image below, she can be seen applying a small amount of the compound via a cotton swab. With over 600 items to examine, it will still be a few months before this project is completed!

Cleaning the collection of horn.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

We are very grateful to Maxine for all of her hard work and would like to say a very big thank you to her and all of the people that have kindly offered their time and skills to the museum over the years.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer.

Wednesday 14 December 2022

Groasis Waterboxx plant cocoon, Pieter Hoff, 2009.

A desert is commonly defined as an area of land that has less than 25cm of precipitation in a year; a climate that is too dry to support extensive vegetation. Despite this problem, people have managed to survive in these hostile regions for thousands of years. Methods for accessing water supplies have included the transferal of water, for example through modifying river systems, building canals and dams, or the abstraction of groundwater, such as drilling into underground aquifers. However, these solutions are very expensive and can be unsustainable; if communities use water faster than it can be replenished then shortages will occur.

MoDiP’s current exhibition, Endurance – in the desert.
Image credit: MoDiP

The Waterboxx plant cocoon from Groasis is one alternative approach, currently on display in the museum as part of the exhibition, Endurance (refer image above). It was designed by company founder Pieter Hoff, a Dutch Lily breeder, who had been travelling across the world to import and export bulbs. In 2003 he became aware of customers reporting declining water tables caused by drip irrigation and he began to consider potential solutions for planting in degraded land in a water-saving way.

Within one year, he had built a model of his very first Waterboxx plant cocoon (refer image above, on the left), made from iron and circular in shape with a diameter of one meter. A further year of development saw the introduction of plastics materials (polypropylene), moulded over a square former (centre image, above). Fifty of these were produced and tested in the Sahara Desert. The design was altered again in 2006 to a rectangle (above, right), but Hoff discovered that the long sides of the box were now too weak for hot climates. Reinforcement of the walls required more raw material, which then raised the price of production. After continuous and extensive development, testing and adaptation, the finalised round model design was introduced in 2008 (refer image below) and manufacturing began in 2009 with a further testing of 30,000 units in 19 different countries.

Cross-section diagram of t
he Waterboxx® plant cocoon.
Image credit:

So how does it work?
Injection moulded in polypropylene (PP), the green coloured water reservoir is placed over trees, shrubs, flowers or vegetables, which grow though the opening in the middle of the container. The beige-coloured lid is grooved to collect and funnel water from rain and dew into the storage cistern, with two blue coloured siphons guiding the water in and a cap sealing the unit, both designed to prevent evaporation. A black coloured centre plate sits beneath the lid to promote condensation water production on the underside, and a polyamide (PA) wick drips a continuous supply of water through to the plant; enough to ensure survival whilst encouraging the development of the taproot. Any stored water stabilises the temperature underneath the Waterboxx, creating a micro-climate which further supports growth.

The Waterboxx can be removed after one year, by which time the plant will have become established with deep roots and able to survive without assistance. The product can then be re-used, up to ten times, and MoDiP’s example includes an optional Growsafe Telescoprotexx plant protector, a sheet of PP which when folded into a tube to wrap around the plant, prevents damage from grazing animals and offers additional frost, storm and wind protection.

A Beechwood tree grown in Ecuador at the 2,5,7 and 13 month stage of growth.
Image credit:

The system has now been successfully applied in over 40 countries and has been proven to save time, water and money as plants grow faster and are more productive. The technology has been commercially available since 2011 and has won numerous innovation and environmental excellence awards, including being appointed a 'National Icon' by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs in 2016. Since then, Groasis has contributed to reforestation, food production and ecosystem restoration projects across the globe, testing the Waterboxx in extreme conditions such as within the deserts of Kuwait and the Galapagos Islands.

You can see this ingenious object on display in the museum until 10th March 2023.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

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