From Brighton to LA

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BA (Hons) History of Design, Culture and Society grad 2015 Veronika Zeleznaja reflects on life, work and study since graduating from Brighton

Eames House

Fig 1. Charles and Ray Eames House (photograph by author).

I completed a BA (Hons) in History of Design, Culture and Society at the University of Brighton in 2015 and just a few months ago I graduated from University of the Arts London, Central Saint Martins’ Culture, Criticism and Curation postgraduate programme. Following my MA, I have relocated to Los Angeles, California.

At Brighton, my studies encouraged an interdisciplinary approach to form and culture. I applied a range of critical approaches to the study of the design and consumption of objects, from one-off pieces to everyday goods, starting in the mid-eighteenth century and running through to the present day. My BA dissertation, on mid-century American modernism in Forbidden Planet, explored how design is intimately bound up with the cultural, social and economic norms of its day. The dissertation looked at the connection between design, architecture and media, and how that science fiction film, and others of its day, reflected increased American leadership in the 1950s and promoted and propagandized its values and lifestyle. It drew on my fascination with the Californian Case Study Houses, a post-World War II modernist residential architecture project, discovered through the Making the Modern Home: Design, Domesticity and Discourse 1870 to the present module (taught by Jeremy Aynsley). It evolved beyond an academic interest when I visited the Eames House in California (Fig 1.), and relates to my recent move to Los Angeles.

After my studies at Brighton, I took a gap year and returned to my home country, Lithuania, and undertook an internship in the LIMIS (Lithuanian Integral Museum Information System) department at the Lithuanian Art Museum, helping to create a common digital archive of museum collections across Lithuania. I was responsible for digitising, managing and editing images to be published online, proofreading and copy-editing as well as working with the LIMIS database.

I did not take the usual route to jobs and internships through applications and posted vacancies online. Instead, I showed up in person at the institution of my interest and offered my candidature directly. This approach not only resulted in the offer of a position but also led to some useful contacts, who have offered sound advice along the way. Furthermore, this internship gave me an opportunity to engage with issues and strategies in presenting cultural heritage objects, and furthered my interest in how public relations relates to curation, presentation, and public engagement in art. It resulted in enrolment to the Public Relations MA programme at the University of the Arts London. After the first term, I realised that my interest in the issues surrounding the presentation of culture in public and social spaces, in what I thought of as the PR corner of the art world, were not addressed in the curriculum. So I switched to the Culture, Criticism and Curation course at Central Saint Martins, aimed at candidates with an interest in research and its application in organising cultural events. The programme offered a critical and historical framework for engaging with the culture that I found resonated with me, due to strong theory foundations in my BA. This MA course emphasized a hands-on teaching method and was mainly structured on ‘live’ projects used as a testing-ground. Led by students but done in partnership with external organisations, these projects taught me how to collaborate effectively.

Unknown Quantities

Fig. 2. Unknown Quantities work in progress (photograph by author).

After putting up an archive-based group exhibition as one of the first assignments, for my final project I chose to address a series of seminars on art criticism within the MA programme and joined the editorial board of Unknown Quantities, an annual collaborative project developed by MA Culture, Criticism and Curation and MA Graphic Communication Design students. Our group created an experimental concept-based physical publication that set out to contribute to cultural criticism and communication design, bringing together contributions from the team and direct external commissions from artists, writers and practitioners (Figs 2 and 3).

For my MA thesis, I examined the interplay of political, economic, cultural, and social forces that triggered interest in Russian art abroad, specifically in London, as well as curatorial choices around national art for international export. The dissertation explored how museums and art institutions have developed their roles as elements of soft power, as sites able to produce a favourable image of a country, by functioning as platforms for cultural display and exchange.

Now I have relocated to America. Los Angeles has a thriving art scene and I hope to put both of my degrees to excellent use here.

Unknown Quantities

Fig 3. Unknown Quantities work in progress (photograph by author).

Costume Society diplomacy

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Fashion and Dress History graduate 2017 Emma Kelly discusses becoming Costume Society ambassador

Costume Society

Logo of The Costume Society

Over the last few weeks, I have been settling into my role as Costume Society ambassador, jumping back into the world of research after months away from books, journal articles, word counts, and deadlines. The Costume Society’s aim is to promote the study and preservation of dress, both historical and contemporary. Their work comprises of events such as lectures, study days and its annual conference. The Society also has its own academic journal, Costume, which it publishes twice a year, as well as its newsletter. One of the other key facets of their work is their financial support: awards and bursaries are awarded by the Society to students, researchers and trainee museum curators.

The ambassador role centres on the Society’s website and social media platforms. The ambassadors’ work focuses on writing a blog proposal and blog entry every month. Every proposal has to be given the all-clear by the editors before it can be written and submitted. We are also given set days on which we run the Society’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds. We each have two days and the themes and topics are chosen by us and we also have the opportunity to run the #CSFashionhour on Twitter (at the Society’s handle: @costume_society), which takes place once a month.

Being an ambassador provides a platform to publish your work and brings you into contact with fascinating people; from the other ambassadors, to the followers of the Society. Fascinating conversations with fellow fashion historians have been a highlight of my ambassadorship thus far. It is an amazing community, which is never short of advice or inspiration. As part of the ambassadorship, I have received membership of the Society, which means I have full access to the website and its archive of past journals and newsletters: an amazing resource.  I also receive the Society’s twice-yearly publications, its journal and newsletter.

I am one of two University of Brighton Fashion and Dress History (FDH) graduates involved in the ambassador programme, alongside Jade Bailey Dowling (current MA History of Design and Material Culture) and we follow in the footsteps of graduates (current MA History of Design and Material Culture students) Sarah-Mary Geissler and Ruby Helms. Final year FDH student Emmy Sale is also a recipient of a Fellowship from Association of Dress Historians. I think this continued recognition of students and graduates by leading costume groups is a credit to the degree programme.

Being involved with the Costume Society in this way is an amazing opportunity and I’m really looking forward to the coming months, when I will be immersing myself again in research. Irish dress history is one of my key interests and will feature heavily in my work. But this role will also allow me the opportunity to look into other areas of interest, including film costume and will be invaluable to my progression as a fashion historian.

Emma.Kelly94@hotmail.com