Exhibition Histories and Digital Experience

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Hajra Williams, PhD candidate, discusses a stimulating University of Brighton workshop exploring exhibition histories.

To celebrate the Centre for Design History’s new Museums, Archives and Exhibitions research strand and to mark the end of the first year of the Centre’s Exhibition Histories Reading Group, a session was convened at the University on 24 June 2019 to explore the use of digital technologies in exhibition histories. Attended by students and academics from across the university and beyond, this was an engrossing, lively and thought-provoking session.

Most of us will have been to an exhibition at some point in our life and will have experienced the physical, sensory aspects of being in and moving through an exhibition space. We may even have a strong memory of a specific exhibition that touched us or had a significant impact. But what else remains after the physical exhibition is de-installed? When the reviews have been written up, visitors have left, loans returned, objects placed in their permanent spaces and exhibition ephemera archived? Documenting exhibitions through digital technologies is one way of extending the life of an exhibition. It is another way of experiencing it, of revisiting it, or indeed visiting an exhibition that we may have missed seeing in the flesh.

The session was developed by Dr Claire Wintle with special guest Dr Sarah Victoria Turner, Deputy Director for Research at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. Sarah presented her recent pioneering work on the intersection of exhibition histories and digital practices with a focus on the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769-2018.

1923 view of Royal Academy exhibition chronicle https://chronicle250.com

Sarah first introduced the chronicle project, a mammoth task involving digitising 250 years of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibitions. The chronicle is a new open access online publication by the Paul Mellon Centre that explores the Summer Exhibition through stories, artwork, data and essays for every year of the exhibition. The Summer Exhibition is the longest running annual display of contemporary art.

One of the questions Sarah asked was, ‘Is it possible to create a more expanded history of exhibitions, a history of ideas, art of other realms, politics of an institution, types of exhibition viewing?’ For me, as I am sure for many others this was a thought-provoking question – what and who is missing from the material that is collected? One of the key questions in my own research on exhibitions is, ‘What were audiences doing and where have those histories been recorded?’ Sometimes the artworks themselves offer these other views – The Exhibition of the Royal Academy, 1787https://chronicle250.com/1787 unusually shows the audience doing what audiences do, sometimes paying attention, often not, possibly being seen more than seeing.

Following Sarah’s presentation we moved onto an interactive discussion on digital resources to explore precisely these questions. Working in small groups we focused on the Royal Academy’s resource and “The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-War Britain” resource at https://www.afterall.org/exhibition-histories/the-other-story. Exploring the digital sites, we explored – amongst other things – their limits and possibilities, their multisensory and multivocal qualities, their accessibility and the ways in which time and chronology are implicated in digital media. Sarah suggested that a lesson for us all is to future proof our documentation by being aware of and including material that will provide fuller histories.

To round off the session, a short presentation was given on the Exhibition Histories Reading Group by Joseph Long and myself. We reflected on our first year. We have enjoyed putting together the texts – the themes explored evolved in an organic way and we have been focused around methodology, spectacle, transnational, audience engagement, archives and research. It has been an opportunity to explore themes as diverse as historic exhibition making to utopian art museums in the Islamic world, to curatorial ideals and audience expectations. Sessions are being developed for 2019-20 to start on 11 November 2019. Specific themes of feminism, violence, radical exhibitions, decolonisation and queer history have been suggested so far. If you would like to be involved, attend the sessions or offer suggestions please do contact me on H.Williams2@brighton.ac.uk.

What is Curating?

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Wendy Marshall, MA Curating Collections and Heritage student, describes a recent roundtable on a slippery term.

On 26 September 2019, MA Curating Collections and Heritage students were invited to a round table discussion, chaired by Dr Claire Wintle, and supported by the Centre for Design History under its Museums, Archives, Exhibitions research strand.  Keen to discuss the uses of the term curating and to find out what today’s curator actually does, we were treated to presentations from four curators sharing experiences and thoughts about their roles as curators, archivists and exhibition managers.

Fig. 1. Kids Guernica with Future Hope, 2019, Roche Bois Social Welfare Centre, Mauritius. Courtesy of Joe Hague.

Dr Nicola Ashmore, Senior Lecturer in History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton, spoke about her project, Guernica Remakings, which examines and enables remakings of Picasso’s painting by artists, activities and communities around the world (Fig. 1).  Nicola stressed that central to curating the exhibition elements of her project was the need to create a space for people to think, reflect, make and connect.  Its touring phase had included public sewing events in free public spaces (Fig. 2), the commissioning of poetry and working with children in Mauritius to create a children’s Guernica.  As part of the tour to Salford’s Working Class Movement Library the exhibition made connections with the histories of child refugees in Salford during the Spanish Civil War.  The changing nature of the exhibition in each location demonstrated Nicola’s view that curating is always site-specific, with pop-up exhibitions able to make fresh connections with communities.

Kajal Meghani, collaborative doctoral candidate at the British Museum and University of Brighton and previously Exhibitions Assistant Curator at the Royal Collection Trust, also spoke about curating a touring exhibition that changed at each location. Kajal had been a Collections Assistant who was ‘on the spot’ when the Splendours of the Sub-Continent exhibition was proposed. The exhibition aimed to re-create and reinterpret a nineteenth century touring exhibition of the Prince of Wales’s India Collection of gifts presented during his tour of India in 1875-6.

Kajal showed impressive chutzpah in taking on such a major exhibition whilst still a relatively junior member of the collections team. 70 key objects were selected from the 200 available which spoke to the themes of the exhibition. This included the practice of court culture and showcasing local craftsmanship. It also allowed visitors from South Asian communities to take a closer look. Kajal was determined to present a critique of the original 19th century interpretation of the objects, however she alluded to the limitations of critique when working within the parameters of a Royal collection.

Collaborative interpretation was central to this exhibition and at all locations (London, Bradford, Leicester and Edinburgh) responses to the objects were invited from artists such as the Singh Twins, alongside poets and musicians.  These artworks contextualised the exhibition better than any labels; they invited a personal response and allowed visitors to engage with performances in the gallery.

Presenting on the roles of the Archivist and Curator of archive collections were Sue Breakell and Dr Lesley Whitworth from the University of Brighton Design Archives.  Lesley, Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Curator, talked about her career from studying art and design history through to archivist, librarian and PhD scholar, leading to setting up the archival proposition for a design archive with Professor Catherine Moriarty. Lesley’s title of Curator reflected the museums background of her colleague and was seen as the preferred term for her role. Lesley has curated exhibitions, is involved in the committees of learned societies and uses her research activities and networks to position the archive within a broader spectrum of interests than just design. A critical part of her role is to explore the potential of the material in the archive to respond to scholarly research questions.

Sue, Design Archives Leader, spoke about her role in looking after a paper-based archive involving documentation, presentation, preservation and facilitating interpretation. Her previous job title at the Tate had been Curator (Archive), which distinguished museums curatorial practice from archive theory and the archival profession, which is rooted in an administrative practice. Ideas of curating have changed in the digital world and ‘data curating’ is now a new field.  The terms curator and archivist are therefore slippery, shifting and related terms, as can been seen in the work of those who use the term flexibly, such as Jeremy Deller, a conceptual, video and installation artist who works at the borders of artist / archivist / curator / exhibition developer.

Fig. 2. Remaking Picasso’s Guernica, a banner, public sewing, 2013, Jubilee Library, Brighton. Courtesy of Emilia Poisson.

Considering curating more broadly, the roundtable discussed personal responses to objects and collections, the feeling of responsibility and of needing to do justice to objects in their care while also having a personal impulse to get close to objects. We were told of the challenge of needing to step back from the pleasure of objects in order to discuss processes and context. We discussed giving up the power of interpretation and how freeing this could be and were told that at times we would need to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.  The curators spoke of exhibitions, particularly Guernica Remakings, as being a meeting of makers across politically-charged artworks, reinforcing the idea of the curator’s responsibility to artworks and makers, reflecting their narrative but also being ethically selective.  We were reminded that objects have more than one story to tell.






Museums: Changing lives one conversation at a time

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Museums Associations conference T-shirt 2019. Photograph by Jen Grasso.

Jen Grasso, MA Curating Collections and Heritage student, reports on insights generated as a volunteer at the 2019 Museums Association conference in Brighton.

Conversation, collaboration, cooperation, connectivity, storytelling, (re/de)contextualization: within the framework of sustainability and climate change, themes of dialogue permeated the Brighton Centre where the Museums Association held its annual conference, 2-5 October 2019. As a conference volunteer, I was a fly on the wall observing aspects of the conference first hand. In my role in charge of the roaming microphone, I even helped facilitate the discussion.

Sometimes the dialogue was strategic, encouraging networking to make real-life connections with like-minded (and very friendly) individuals.  At other times the dialogue was more literal to the conference theme of sustainability, encouraging open discussions about practical, energy-saving methods. This included pragmatic discussions about shifting temperature and humidity parameters, recycling old exhibition materials and even finding alternative transport options to reduce an exhibition’s carbon footprint. Specific zoning techniques were mentioned, such as grouping objects / collections with similar conservation / preservation needs together in displays, which is not only greener but also recontextualizes the objects within a space, changing the narrative and making a new story.  Presenters also encouraged cooperation with local suppliers of greener / recycled materials or even local institutions to take care of / take part in labeling and other display needs to reduce global impact, produce less waste, and to make reusing the norm.

The importance of dialogue within all departments of an institution was emphasized too – from the gift shop to the cafe, from the ticket sellers to the conservators. It takes each and every voice to make a collection / exhibition / institution successful. These conversations can even become part of the exhibition, for example, when working with unpredictable materials (such as the Fatberg!) where issues of display, conservation, health and safety are interconnected.  Interdepartmental dialogue also helps inform the staff on better approaches for future practice by encouraging an ongoing conversation about roles and responsibilities in an institution.

Specialist hearing aids and site-specific listening devices for the hearing (and visually) impaired were introduced at the conference to help facilitate dialogue between museums and those who might not have been able, or comfortable, to enter into dialogue before. Technology was also used to help broaden the audience even further with live-action in situ video games encouraging younger audiences to take up a dialogue while not even realizing it, through the act of gaming. Digital interventions addressed matters of voice and authenticity through the “polyvocal medium of podcasts” or by reaching out to communities to share their stories directly on institutional websites, giving much needed first-person accounts.  Language can also be used in a virtual setting to increase traffic and thus increase visitors through minor tweaking and embracing the digital “algorithm”, using it to an institution’s advantage.   Innovation is a social process and community engagement is a dialogue that needs to be embraced.

Sometimes the conversation was as simple as being clear about an institution’s intent through using clear signage and providing transparency about the development of a particular exhibition. How can a display facilitate a dialogue about the origins of its objects and tell a story that honours the subject matter while still being engaging? There was also a lot of dialogue about ethics. Importance was placed on changing museums’ narratives as a whole. Issues such as racism, genocide and colonialism have shaped the sector and they need to be discussed.  There are ethical decisions to be made about who to work with (on a micro and macro level) and sponsorship remains a contentious issue. At the conference, climate activists waving pink flags ran through the auditorium praising the National Theatre for ending its relationship with Shell and rounds of applause were given for the Royal Shakespeare Company for ending its partnership with BP.

As Clayton Thomas Müller explained in his keynote speech, we are all individual sardines in a large school of fish and it only takes a small percentage of us swimming the other way to change the entire school’s direction. So while the theme of the conference was sustainability, what it really seemed to be about was dialogue: keeping it open, widening it, letting it evolve, being open to new forms. Keep talking, keep engaging; tell new stories, change the narrative. Campaigner Dr Errol Francis has argued, “[Museums are] polyphonic space[s] for ideas.” They can be transformative, democratizing and inclusive. And that’s not too bad as a mere fly on the wall.

Zandra Rhodes: 50 Years of Fabulous

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BA Fashion and Dress History student, Josie Stewart, explains her recent activities as a volunteer at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, London.

Fig.1: Mannequins dressed and ready for 50 Years of Fabulous. Personal photograph by the author. 17 Sep. 2019.

Founded in 2003 by British designer Zandra Rhodes, the Fashion and Textiles Museum (FTM) has since been bought by Newham College, yet Rhodes maintains a close connection as her studio is located within the building. In 2019 that link has been reinforced with the Museum hosting a new exhibition, Zandra Rhodes: 50 Years of Fabulous, celebrating the designer’s illustrious career. As the Museum displays temporary shows rather a permanent collection, the gallery space is transformed in a quick turnaround of three weeks in between exhibitions by a small team of museum staff and volunteers (Fig. 1).

I have been a volunteer at FTM since 2017. Tasks for exhibition preparation include a lot of odd jobs such as ironing and steaming pieces and assembling mannequins, but it’s also a great opportunity to learn more about conserving and displaying.

Fig.2: Weavers of the Clouds being dismantled. Personal photograph by the author. 9 Sep. 2019.

The previous display was Weavers of the Clouds: Textile Arts of Peru (Fig.2), featuring a range of traditional and contemporary Peruvian garments and art, all of which now had to be dismantled. Everything was carefully placed within layers of tissue and stored in cardboard boxes ready to either be sent back to where it was borrowed from or sent off to a new place to be displayed there.

Fig.3: Feather sculpture and condition report. Personal photograph by the author. 9 Sep. 2019.


In the case of the Peruvian textiles, many items were sent back to private collectors. Some items, such as this feather sculpture (Fig.3), are more prone to damage from pests especially if they have any woollen elements to them. Before they’re packed away, they must be checked over to ensure they’re in the same condition they were at the start of the exhibition, which is all documented in a condition report that is filled out at the beginning and end of its time on display. Pests to look for out include the tiny but troublesome larvae of webbing clothes moths and case-making clothes moths, who embed themselves within the fabric, so a thorough eye is needed to spot them. Luckily none were found within this sculpture, so it was good to go.

Fig.4: Zandra Rhodes garments being condition checked. Personal photograph by the author. 11 Sep. 2019.

Handling garments is the most rewarding part of all – a Fashion and Dress History student’s dream! Condition reports were done for the Zandra pieces (Fig.4), but as most of them date from the 1970s onwards they weren’t in bad condition – just the odd rip or stain. Although they were not particularly delicate, care still had to be taken so pieces couldn’t be picked up by the seams and no pens could be used near them.

It was really fascinating to see the garments up close and how they were constructed, particularly the ‘Knitted Circle’ dress and ‘73/44’ dress. A personal favourite was a costume worn by Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody (Fig.5), recreated by Rhodes for the film based on pieces she had originally made for Freddie Mercury.

Fig.5: Costume worn by Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody. Personal photograph by the author. 17 Sep. 2019.

There is also a small FTM display of Norman Hartnell dresses from the 1950s-60s that I prepared with another volunteer. Most of these pieces had sequins, which would melt under a steamer, so instead we lightly used a hair dryer to remove them. These dresses were very fragile – they looked like they had some fun stories to tell!

Some garments had to be pinned into place because of loose straps or to help them fit better on the dress forms. For this, entomology pins are used, which are the same ones used to pin insects in collections, as they’re less visible and more suited for delicate materials. We also put petticoats under some of the dresses to give them a bit of extra shape (Fig.6).

Fig. 6: Norman Hartnell dresses on display. Personal photograph by the author. 26 Sep. 2019.

It’s always exciting to see the gallery transform between exhibitions and it’s a chance to learn and develop a variety of invaluable, transferable skills in the handling and exhibiting of artefacts that you can’t really get without direct museum and gallery experience. I would recommend volunteering to anyone, whether you want to work in the heritage sector or not, as the experience you gain can be applied to all sorts of careers.

All images by Josie Stewart, with kind permission of Gill Cochrane, Touring and Collections Officer, Fashion and Textile Museum.


Reaching Out: Being a Student Ambassador

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Emmy Sale, MA History of Design and Material Culture, explains her Student Recruitment and Outreach role.

Throughout my BA and MA degrees I have worked as a Student Recruitment and Outreach (SRO) ambassador. The role has provided me with the opportunity to work at a range of events organised by the Widening Participation (WP) and Outreach teams in the university but also to gain valuable and transferable skills alongside my studies.

One of the first sessions involved creating and planning a student-led taster lesson as form part of City Campus visits aimed at Year 9 students. The aim is to introduce students to subjects that can be studied at university as well as the ways in which they are taught. The taster I created was based on my favourite aspects of my studies, that is, object-based analysis and theories of material culture.

Fashion and Dress History student-led taster lesson designed by Emmy Sale, showing the garments and worksheet given to students for the ‘dress detectives’ activity.

Making the taster accessible to younger students was a challenge but with inspiration from Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim’s 2015 book The Dress Detective, I was able to produce an exciting hands-on activity in which the students followed garment clues and examined evidence.

Through a short lecture-style presentation, the students were introduced to Fashion and Dress History at the University of Brighton and its core concepts. They were presented with questions: Why do we study clothes of the past? How can studying clothing artefacts allow us to find out about the people who wore them? In small groups the students were then given a garment to analyse with the help of a worksheet that asks them to think about how it was made and constructed as well as when it was made and worn. For some unfamiliar garments this is tricky. The students are given ‘archival sources’ that help them to find out the answers to their questions. The taster finishes with short presentations from each group and a reflection on the jobs that these skills might lead to.

Political T-shirt activity created by Emmy Sale for Primary School Mentoring scheme.

The primary school mentoring scheme is another regular event organized by the Widening Participation team, where ambassadors go into a primary school with Year 6 students, once a week. Each week, we provided activities that helped the students to think about their futures and to learn about university. As part of this, I created an activity based on political T-shirts, thinking about their impact and letting the students design their own, inspired by issues that they are passionate about. Equality and homelessness were two of the issues that the students chose, but the activity also created thoughtful and important conversations about broader issues in society.

More recently, I was chosen to be part of a team of SRO ambassadors to support the Humanities Summer School. We were working with mostly Year 12 students, to support them through the timetabled days of taster lessons and activities with academics, such as a visit to the Bloomsbury set’s Sussex country home, Charleston Farmhouse, with History of Art and Design lecturer Megha Rajguru. The visit involved a tour of the house, which was exciting to many of the students who had not previously been, and then a reflective and creative activity thinking about the way stories of the people who lived there can be constructed through space and objects. In the evenings, we supported a range of residential activities to show the students university life in halls, what Falmer Campus has to offer and Brighton’s seafront.

Trip to Charleston Farmhouse as part of the Humanities Summer School (Emmy Sale in Student Ambassador T-shirt).

Overall, the SRO role, and my contribution to related events, has been a greatly rewarding experience alongside my studies. I have gained important skills in leadership, adaptability and confidence in public speaking. It has also encouraged me to extend my post-university job search to include Widening Participation and Outreach roles.

The Widening Participation team usually recruit new SRO Ambassadors twice a year. Ambassadors receive training and are paid for the work they do. For more information: https://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/sroambassadors/ 

Brilliant Berlin

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Graham Walton, BA History of Art and Design, recalls his highlight of Level 5.

Park Inn, Berlin. Photograph by Graham Walton.

A trip that involved taking fourteen University of Brighton undergraduates to Berlin was always going to be great fun. The trip, however, was not a holiday and there was also much academic work to be done, including a seminar presentation and an essay.

East Side Gallery. Photograph by Graham Walton.

Students were formed into groups and each took charge of arranging a day and deciding on places to visit. We had a very eclectic mix of degrees on the trip, including Architecture, Digital Music, Graphic Design, History of Art and Design, Fashion and Dress History, and Photography. We stayed in the 40-storey Park Inn hotel, built in the Soviet era, which in itself is a piece of interesting design from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The hotel, built in Alexanderplatz, towered above the Berlin Wall.

Berlin’s art collectives. Photograph by Graham Walton.

On the first day of the trip we visited the East Side Gallery, which is basically a large section of the Berlin Wall now turned into an outdoor art gallery. On the way to the gallery we stumbled upon a collective of small art spaces that artists and entrepreneurs can rent, with a lively and relaxed atmosphere.

Berlin’s Jewish Museum. Photograph by Graham Walton.

Our next visit was to the Jewish Museum, which was very moving experience as much of the display artwork related to the Holocaust. The building is concrete and constructed in a disconcerting sloping style. Memorabilia and family photographs of people murdered by the Nazis were displayed behind glass in the corridors. There was also a tall concrete room with a beam of light from the ceiling that clearly related to the feeling of being detained in a concentration camp. In another sculptural space, flattened round metal discs of faces on the floor were designed to be walked over producing an eerie, echoing metallic sound. This visit was very moving and some became appropriately tearful.

Graham Walton on a Bauhaus chair.

There was naturally much interest in the Bauhaus school. Unfortunately the Berlin Bauhaus museum was shut for renovation for the 2019 centenary. There was however a temporary small Bauhaus exhibition, which we visited.

Kaiser Wilhelm church. Photograph by Graham Walton.

We also visited the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtniskirche, a church bombed in 1943. A decision had been made that it would be not be rebuilt but instead left as a reminder of war with a new church built alongside. The original church, built at the turn of the beginning of the twentieth century, had a wonderful Arts and Crafts-style ceiling. The new church next door was rather unprepossessing-looking, slightly brutalist from the outside and octagonal in shape, however, once inside, the many beautiful little blue square windows gave a wonderful internal light.

An exhibit in the graffiti museum. Photograph by Graham Walton.

A popular choice was Urban Nature, a graffiti museum exhibiting artwork inspired by Berlin’s graffiti. As graffiti is an anarchic street artform, we felt the museum was really a contemporary art gallery borrowing inspiration from street art; as such there was something incongruous about it.

Wonderful items in the Museum of Things. Photograph by Graham Walton.

I felt The Museum of Things was of greater interest to design historians as it showed wonderful late modernist 1950s and 1960s household items. It was interesting to compare West and East German domestic items.

The Trabi Museum. Photograph by Graham Walton.

I have a particular interest in Cold War design and visited the Trabi Museum. The Trabant was a small East German car, designed in the early 1960s, which was manufactured until the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Initially it was a good design but it was never fully developed and it fell behind the more sophisticated designs of cars made in West Germany. Trabants featured in the collapse of the Berlin wall when thousands streamed over the border at the collapse of the Soviet empire. I decided to do my presentation on the Trabant.

Potsdamer Platz. Photography by Graham Walton.

On the last day we could plan our own time, which gave an opportunity to do research and take pictures of possible items for our presentation and essays. I went to the Stasi Museum, which again was full of wonderful Cold War design items. I also went to the Potsdamer Platz redevelopment as this was my chosen essay subject. This redevelopment was once the biggest building site in Europe, but the results were in my opinion were rather dull. Berlin’s main interest for me is its edginess and its alternative lifestyle not corporate office blocks. Twenty years on these buildings already look dated and not in keeping with the Berlin ethos. Berlin has developed into the ‘start-up’ capital of Germany leaving the Potsdamer Platz development looking rather redundant.

Naturally the trip included much partying in Berlin’s lively nightclub scene, however we also gained much insight into the city’s traumatic history and learned so much about aspects of art and especially twentieth-century design. For future students considering their future module choices, I’d say it is an absolute must. It was a brilliant week.

Volunteering at the Old Police Cells Museum

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Caroleen Molenaar (BA Fashion and Dress History) and Emmy Sale (MA History of Design and Material Culture) reflect on the skills they have acquired on the job.

The Old Police Cells Museum opened in 2005 as a mayoral project instigated by Brighton Councillor Pat Drake. It was initially run by a dedicated and knowledgeable team of volunteers and ex-police staff. In 2018, the museum entered a new phase. MA History of Design and Material culture alumnus, e-j scott, was hired as the curator with a mission to help the museum achieve national accreditation status. As part of this process of development, volunteers were recruited to work to improve the museum to the standard required.

Caroleen Molenaar, BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History

When I started my volunteer position at the Old Police Cells Museum in October 2018, I was assigned to be a part of the Costume Collection Team due to my experience, knowledge, and interest in fashion history and wanting to acquire hands-on museum experience.

Within this role I have had a variety of different tasks to complete. In the autumn, along with other Costume Team volunteers, I was responsible for a collection audit of all the costume-related objects that were located within the women’s cells. (At the moment the objects in the women’s cells are not strictly related to women’s policing but encompass both men’s and women’s policing. The name of the women’s cells originates from when the museum was used as a cell and both women and children were held in that part of the building.) This duty included completing accession forms for all items on display and checking in the collections database that all objects on display had been accounted for. Various types of objects were included: men’s and women’s uniforms, police helmets, handcuffs, buttons, epaulettes, whistles, belts, and truncheons.

Since January 2019 my role has shifted into another aspect of collections management. Alongside other volunteers, I have begun to conserve the police uniforms within the collection. This type of conservation is a multi-step process that takes place over several weeks. It involves wrapping the police uniforms in plastic for protection; placing them in a large freezer for two to three weeks to kill any bugs or bacteria that may be on the uniform; unwrapping the uniforms; cleaning the uniforms which a specific conservation vacuum (Figure 1); wrapping them in acid-free tissue paper; and storing them in plastic storage boxes. Condition reports, which include information such as markings, measurements, and overall garment condition, as well as accession forms are completed for each object.

Figure 1: Museum conservation vacuum. Photograph by Caroleen Molenaar. 3 June 2019.

My volunteer position at the Old Police Cells Museum has provided me with invaluable hands-on skills and knowledge about costume collection management within a museum environment. This will be invaluable when pursuing future employment within the sector.

Emmy Sale, MA History of Design and Material Culture

I became involved with the Old Police Cells Museum as a way to gain first-hand experience in a museum environment and to apply the theoretical thinking about museum displays from seminar discussions into practice. The role assigned to me was object and displays researcher for the women’s cell. This includes producing informative A1 text panels alongside displays of objects and images from the museum collection that tell the history of women police in Sussex.

Screenshot from “U.K.: London Policewomen Get A New Uniform.” 1967. British Pathé. https://www.britishpathe.com/video/VLVAA0A0KX6PDW06WVAAKHN7FFVPE-UK-LONDON-POLICEWOMEN-GET-A-NEW-UNIFORM/query/women+police

I was keen to produce a display about women’s uniform and was delighted to find out that not only had celebrated couturier Norman Hartnell designed a women’s police uniform in 1967 but that the museum has an example of the hat that was part of this uniform. A British Pathé video of the press day (Figure. 2), revealed how they wanted to contrast the new ‘modern’ Hartnell-designed uniform with the uniform previously worn. We were able to translate this comparison into a display with both hats mounted in a cabinet alongside a text panel (Figure 3), explaining the significance of Hartnell’s role and how his design was unfortunately unsuccessful due to some impracticalities in its tailoring.

Figure 3: Display about the 1967 women’s police uniform designed by Norman Hartnell. Old Police Cells Museum, Brighton. Photograph by Emmy Sale, 30 March 2019.

The role has offered useful insight into the challenges of working with a museum wanting to achieve accreditation, particularly in terms of appropriate word counts for text panels and copyright issues surrounding the use of images. Research into police history was not something I had undertaken before but it has been an exciting challenge that tests my research skills and the application of them to new subjects. My next project for the women’s cell is to produce a timeline charting the history of women in Sussex-based police services since 1915.


Mod Town Legends: The Lambretta in Brighton Museum and Art Gallery

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Amy Matthews, BA History of Art and Design, selects an item from Brighton Museum that links to local history.

Tucked in the corner of Brighton Museum and Art Gallery’s Images of Brighton gallery is an original model of a red Lambretta Li 150. This scooter tells a story of Mod culture in the 1960s and the infamous ‘Battle of Brighton’ that took place there in 1964.

Photo of Lambretta scooter in gallery with photo of fighting Mods and Rockers behindThe scooter has a red and white body; attached are many wing mirrors. It has various stickers on the front and a headlight and visor with a small GB flag printed on to it. Displayed behind the scooter are two enlarged black-and-white photographs. One shows a group photograph of Rockers standing together and the other depicts a mass of Mods on Brighton beach.

The Mods and Rockers were two rival youth culture groups in the 1960s. Mods dressed sharply, they rode scooters such as this one and they cared about their appearance. Their name derived from Modern Jazz, a new musical genre. Rockers, who also cared about their appearance, wore leather jackets, liked 1950s Rock and Roll and rode motorbikes rather than scooters.[1]  Not only did the two groups’ vehicle of choice differ, but also their tastes in fashion and music.

The so-called Battle of Brighton was a violent clash between Mods and Rockers. The events inspired the 1979 cult classic film Quadrophenia, filmed in Brighton. The film follows an angst-ridden London youth, Jimmy Cooper, who escapes the drudgery of his job as a postal worker by becoming a member of the Mods, riding his scooter to Brighton and taking part in the fighting that occurred.[2]

The Battle occurred on 17 and 18 May 1964, a Bank Holiday weekend in the Whitsun holiday. Saturday was relatively peaceful, with only a few scuffles, but Sunday saw fierce fighting as the town was ‘invaded’ by an estimated 3000 youths.[3]  Brighton police were prepared for trouble as there had been clashes at other seaside towns such as Clacton and Hastings during Easter.

In Brighton, fighting centred on the beach and the seafront near the Palace Pier (now known as Brighton Pier). Violent scuffles took place between the police and the rioting groups, windows and deckchairs were smashed and some 26 youths were apprehended and sentenced to juvenile prison. Nothing on this scale was ever repeated, and although the media massively exaggerated the goings-on, Mods and Rockers will always be remembered for their violent clashes on Brighton beach that year.

The scooter not only reminds us of the Mods and Rockers, but of Brighton itself. Large numbers of scooters and motorbikes still flock to Brighton, lining the seafront on weekends and bank holidays.[4]  It is certain that ‘bike culture’ is part of Brighton’s cultural identity; therefore the Lambretta scooter in Brighton Museum is important, as it not only tells a story about a legendary event in the 1960s, but it also illustrates the story of Brighton as a ‘Mod town’ to this day.

This blog post was previously posted on the Brighton Museum blog: https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/2019/03/27/the-lambretta-scooter-mods-and-rockers-in-brighton-museum/

Victor Papanek’s Social Design Legacy: A Book Review

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Karen Fraser, MA History of Design and Material Culture, reviews a new book that explores pioneering ideas and practices in global social design.

Victor Papanek [1923-1998] was an Austrian-American designer, author and activist who was concerned with design and its social, environmental and ecological consequences.  His pioneering attempts to disseminate the word of social design meant he led a peripatetic lifestyle, and as a result he left traces in institutions around the world. Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design is a 400-page catalogue published to accompany the exhibition of the same name held at the Vitra Design Museum from 29 September 2018 to 10 March 2019. The catalogue could be said to animate the archives; it seeks connections amongst the photographs, drawings, documents, and objects that Papanek created or in some way left his mark upon over a career beginning in the 1940s and continuing through the 1990s. Through essays, interviews and a series of provocations offered by contemporary designers, the catalogue aims to answer the question: what is Victor Papanek’s legacy for the twenty-first century?

Fig. 1: Daniel Streat. Cover of Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design. 2018. First published by Vitra Design Museum and Victor J. Papanek Foundation, University of Applied Arts Vienna.

The front and back covers offer an ambiguous visual introduction. White shapes appear to refer to things in the real world, but it is not immediately clear what those things are. Through five themed sections, it is revealed that some refer to objects designed by his students, some to things he has collected, and others to diagrammatic visualisations made in his notebooks. Further still, one points to a contemporary designed object, the Nike Pro Hijab, which was launched in 2017 and carries functional and symbolic significance for its intended wearers, female Muslim athletes. This inclusion addresses a gap in Papanek’s legacy: for all his merits, he paid little attention to the intersection of design and gender. As curator Amelie Klein notes in the catalogue’s opening essay, there are five contemporary design projects included in the exhibition that expose assumptions about gender, but they stand apart from the works by Papanek and his contemporaries. However, in exposing the Nike Pro Hijab’s potential for becoming a lucrative commodity, the curators link it to an aspect of Papanek’s record that is surer footed, that of his critique of consumerism. Contributor Dr Garnet Hertz identifies that Papanek’s work to ‘shift design from a type of marketing into a type of public service’ is deeply relevant to the late capitalist moment we are in now. As such, the catalogue contextualizes Papanek’s life and career in a way that recognizes its strengths and reckons with its failures.

Fig. 2: Nike Pro Hijab. Advertisement. 2017. Nike News. 30 May 2019. https://news.nike.com/news/nike-pro-hijab. JPEG File.

One aspect of Papanek’s work that offers much to reckon with today is his role with the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID), established in 1957 by European and American designers who aimed to professionalise design through the development of international standards and design education across political and economic boundaries. Among its contributions, The University of Brighton Design Archives provided an image of the Ahmedabad Declaration on Industrial Design for Development, presented at the 1979 United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)/ICSID Design for Development Congress. Professor Alison J. Clarke, who is the Papanek Foundation’s current director and who previously taught at the University of Brighton for several years, acknowledges that Papanek’s contribution to the congress reflected the way socially responsible design was thought of at the time, where the Global South provided ‘fresh fodder for design’.

Fig. 3: Ahmedabad Declaration on Industrial Design for Development. January 1979. ICD-6-4-4-3. ICSID Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.

Thoughtful treatment of controversial topics such as this one characterises the catalogue and, as Vitra Design Museum director Dr Mateo Kries writes in his foreword, ensures that Papanek’s significance within the history of design is developed in a manner that is detailed and academically sound. Alongside many contributors who reside globally, two University of Brighton researchers lent their expertise to the exhibition and catalogue: Dr Tania Messell, who drew heavily on the ICSID Archive for her PhD in the School of Humanities, co-supervised by Dr Lesley Whitworth, Design Archives Deputy Curator, and Professor Jeremy Aynsley; and Dr Leah Armstrong, current head of archive at the Papanek Foundation, whose collaborative doctoral project was based in the Design Archives and was supervised by its former director, Professor Catherine Moriarty. These connections reveal some of the local, national and international networks of researchers whose insights made Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design possible.

This catalogue stands solidly on its own and will be of interest to those familiar and unfamiliar with Papanek’s legacy. Students and practitioners of design and its social, political and global history will find many points of connection to make between the complex issues that concerned Papanek and his collaborators and those that confront us today.



Collectors / Collecting / Collections: A Study Day

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Caroline Hamilton, a University of Brighton / Royal Pavilion and Museums PhD student, outlines how themes of collecting and collections brought diverse student scholars to Brighton.

Collect verb – bring or gather together. Systematically seek and acquire (items of a particular kind) as a hobby

Collector noun – a person who collects things of a specified type, professionally or as a hobby

Collection noun – the action or process of collecting

Fig. 1 Polaroids of the Ted Shawn Costume Collection. Photograph by Patsy Gay, Jacob’s Pillow Archives.

In April 2019 the University of Brighton hosted Collectors / Collecting / Collections, an AHRC TECHNE-funded PhD Study Day. Initiated by Annebella Pollen, the event was then coordinated and delivered by myself and fellow PhD student Claudia Treacher.

Our focus was on collectors, collecting and collections as objects of study and as systems of knowledge that shape research practices. In thinking about and with collections, including their definitions and limits, this training day encouraged interdisciplinary dialogue and methodological reflection across arts and humanities. Over the day we saw all facets of collections and collecting covered from eccentric collectors and artists’ collections to personal wardrobes. How items are collected for exhibitions was discussed, as was how exhibition design itself can be or cannot be collected. We divided the day into four sessions: Collections and Acquisitions, Collections and Engagement, Collections and Ethics, and Collections and Exhibitions.

Eight speakers presented on the day from across TECHNE organisations including Brighton, Kingston, Roehampton, RCA/V&A, Royal Holloway and University of the Arts London. Four of the presenters were undertaking their PhD work directly with cultural organisations including Kingston Museum, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, the V&A and the British Museum. This institutional experience prompted an interesting discussion on collecting policies and how objects acquired as a collection are stored and catalogued.

Fig. 2 Worthing Museum Costume Store. Photograph courtesy of Worthing Museum and Art Gallery.

The day was a great opportunity for participants from disparate fields, universities and cultural institutions to come together and discuss their research in a closed and positive environment. Each participant shared work in progress and contributed to stimulating discussions on acquisitions and omissions; collector biographies and curatorial historiographies; engagement, ethics and the politics of audience participation. This took place through case studies of nineteenth century aristocratic fashion collections and avant-garde ballet costume; collections-based programming at the British Museum and contested Austrian national history collections; interwar ceramics and the art of conscientious objectors; international art events in Brazil and post-war Italian design exhibitions.

In order to increase engagement on the day, participants shared draft writing in advance, and academic respondents contributed structured reflections to enhance open discussion. In the spirit of developing cross-consortium team-building and interdisciplinary exchange, students were involved in all stages of the organisation. This including the selection of papers and the organisation and chairing of panels. Claudia and I developed skills in academic events management and the peer-review of research, while participating students developed subject knowledge, research toolkits and researcher networks.

The study day followed three previous successful collaboratively-organised and cross-institutional AHRC TECHNE training days: ‘New Thinking in Design History’ (Brighton, 2016), ‘Unpacking the Archive: Methodologies and Challenges in Design History’ (RCA/V&A, 2017) and ‘The Printed and Digital Page: Reassessing Form, Content and Methodology’ (Kingston, 2018). The University of Brighton hope to continue the series into a fifth year in 2020.