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

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