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).

Christian Dior at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs

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Second year Fashion and Dress History students Caroleen Molenaar and Donna Gilbert discuss their visit to the Christian Dior exhibition in Paris

Fig. 1: The Colourama Room at the Christian Dior Designer of Dreams Exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. 30 Nov. 2017.

Fig. 1: The Colourama Room at the Christian Dior Designer of Dreams Exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. 30 Nov. 2017. Photograph taken by the authors.

The Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams exhibition at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris (from July 5 2017 to January 8 2018), celebrated seventy years of the House of Dior. It combined the work of Christian Dior with that of the six artistic directors who followed him – Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri – in what can only be described as a sumptuous feast of fashion.

The House of Dior opened in 1946, funded by Marcel Boussac, France’s cotton king. Dior’s first collection in 1947 was described as revolutionary, but was also scandalous, requiring many yards of material in a time of austerity. Dior said “We were emerging from a period of war, of uniforms, of women-soldiers built like boxers. I drew women-flowers, soft shoulders, flowering busts, fine waists like liana and wide skirts like corolla.”[1] Carmel Snow, Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar dubbed this the ‘New Look’ and it took the fashion world by storm, helping Paris to regain its title as the ‘Capital of Couture.’ During his ten-year reign, Dior continued to introduce new shapes such as the Oblique (1950), the Tulip (1953) and the Spindle (1957) and influenced many designers including Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin, who both worked for the House of Dior.

Fig. 2: The Garden Room at the Christian Dior Designer of Dreams Exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. 30 Nov. 2017.

Fig. 2: The Garden Room at the Christian Dior Designer of Dreams Exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. 30 Nov. 2017. Photograph taken by the authors.

In the exhibition, the Colourama rooms were the first to showcase all the different types of items and accessories that the House of Dior created. These included dresses, shoes, purses, tiaras, miniature dresses, perfume bottles, jewellery, gloves, and drawings. This wide array of items were displayed together, by colour, to fit in with Dior’s belief in fashion as an all-encompassing feature, with fashion accessories matching a woman’s dress to create perfect harmony.[2] In the first room (Figure 1), the colours of the items displayed ranged from tints and shades with white, going through different forms of grey ending in black; as well as warm colours, beginning with tan, to yellow, to white, to orange to pink to red. The second room was primarily made up of cool colours beginning with green, leading to dark green, dark blue, blue, grey into lilac, purple, maroon and then red.

From a young age, Dior had always had a large affinity for nature and flowers. His childhood house, Granville, had a large garden that he would sit in and enjoy. As a fashion designer, Dior would often retreat to the garden of one of his six properties to acquire inspiration for his upcoming collections.[3] The design of the Garden room in the exhibition perfectly emulated a garden through the thousands of white paper cut leaves and flowers hanging from the ceiling, and the changing coloured lights representing the different colours of flowers. All of the garments in the room had different influences of nature and flowers: from printed materials, to flower appliques, to embroidered flowers, or dresses shaped like flowers. Figure 2 shows some of our favourite dresses in this room, and shows how the influence of nature and flowers was incorporated in contrasting ways in each.

Fig. 3: Christian Dior’s Junon from the Tulip Collection, 1953. 30 Nov. 2017.

Fig. 3: Christian Dior’s Junon from the Tulip Collection, 1953. 30 Nov. 2017. Photograph by the authors.

The Ball Gown room, the last room of the exhibition, was by far the grandest in its display and content. The design of the room itself encompassed two mirrored walls, with two Rococo-style decorated walls where paintings of women wearing ball gowns by Gainsborough, Winterhalter and Renoir were hung, emulating the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles. Dior’s interest in ball gowns stemmed from his enjoyment of high society Parisian parties held after the Second World War. Attending these balls inspired him to design many lavish garments.[4] One of our favourite ball gowns displayed in this room was Dior’s ‘Junon’ dress; made as part of his Tulip collection in 1953 (Figure 3).

Overall, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams was an exhibition where you wanted to go back to the very first room as soon as you had left the final one, to see the things in each dress or accessory you had missed first time round. For both of us, it was the most visually-pleasing, and fashion-filled exhibit we’d been to, and has set the bar high for future fashion exhibitions.

[1] Roux and Müller, Christian Dior, 40.

[2] Roux and Müller, Christian Dior, 58.

[3] Valerie Steele, Paris Fashion, A Cultural History, (Oxford: Berg 2nd Ed, [1988] 1998) 270

[4] Raphaëlle Roux, and Florence Müller. Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Paris: French Society of Artistic Promotion. 2017) 62.

 

Irving Penn at the Grand Palais, Paris

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Second year Fashion and Dress History student Hon Yan Lau discusses visiting a retrospective of the work of photographer Irving Penn

Irving Penn

Irving Penn on a shoot

Nine covers

Nine of the covers Penn did for Vogue during his 66 years working with the magazine

Over the Christmas break, I visited the best exhibition I have ever seen. This was the touring work of famed American fashion photographer, Irving Penn (1917-2009). The exhibition, held at Paris’s Grand Palais, was organized by The Réunion des musées nationaux in France- Grand Palais with The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in conjunction with the Irving Penn Foundation. It was the first major retrospective of Penn’s seventy year career since his death in 2009 and the 235 photographic prints provided insights into his vision, work and life.

picasso

Pablo Picasso, Cannes, 1957 by Irving Penn

In the exhibition, the curators focused on eleven aspects of his career: ‘still life and early street photography’, ‘existential portraits’ (1947-1948), ‘In Vogue’ (1947-1951), ‘Cuzco’ (1948), ‘Small Trades’ (1950-1951), ‘Classic Portraits’ (1948-1962), ‘Nudes’ (1949-1950), ‘Worlds in a Small Room’, ‘Cigarettes’, ‘Late Still Life’ and ‘Time Capsules’. Penn’s works left a significant impact both on the fashion world and on photography and the exhibition highlighted his methods of working. Before he shot his sitters, for example, he would have a long conversation with them in order to put them at ease and to get the best out of them. He said: “Sensitive people faced with the prospect of a camera portrait put on a face they think is one they would like to show the world […] Very often what lies behind the facade is rare and more wonderful than the subject knows or dares to believe”.

Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent, Paris, 1957

The existential portraits section – my favourite part of the exhibition – included many familiar faces such as boxing legend Joe Louis, Audrey Hepburn, Yves Saint Laurent, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.  Penn converted colour photos to black and white in order to bring out the sitters’ emotion and expression, saying: “A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart, and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it; it is, in one word, effective.”

Irving Penn was shown at the Grand Palais from 21 September 2017 to 29 January 2018

Diana’s dresses

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First year Visual Culture student Sarahlouise Newman reviews Diana: Her Fashion Story, currently on at Kensington Palace

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Fig.1 Tweed day outfit by Bill Pashley

At the end of January, I had the opportunity to see an exhibition of Princess Diana’s dresses. Situated in the gallery at her former home of Kensington Palace, the exhibition Diana: Her Fashion Story documents the evolution of one of British history’s most iconic princesses.

Set in the beautiful front building of Kensington Palace, we were guided through an atrium to plainly-decorated rooms, adorned with sketches of dresses immortalised by the media during Diana’s life. One of these is the well-documented tweed day outfit (Fig.1), designed by Bill Pashley, which she wore on her honeymoon at Balmoral in 1981, in front of the world’s press. The outfit is noted for its lack of structure as it hid her slim frame, which then caused the media to speculate, wrongly, that she was already pregnant.

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Fig. 2 ‘The horse blanket’ by David Emanuel

 

Following on a little further is a long, green, checked coat (Fig.2) that was nick-named ‘the horse blanket’ by the press, which Diana wore when she was she was in Venice in 1981. This was made by her future wedding-gown designer, David Emanuel. The caption beneath the coat states that this was one of her fashion mistakes: it drowned her figure, hiding her slim silhouette with a boxy coat.

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Fig.3 The ‘Travolta dress’ by Victor Edelstein

 

Moving into the second room, the style evolves into an elegant black gown nick-named the ‘Travolta dress’. The off-the-shoulder midnight blue velvet gown by Victor Edelstein was immortalised in a photo when Diana danced with John Travolta at the gala dinner at the White House in 1985. The dress was so iconic that it is the most expensive auctioned dress in the world and even has its own Wikipedia page. Reverting back to the more delicate colouring is the typical Disney-esque style dress, which she wore to the Royal Ballet at the Berlin Opera house in 1987 (Fig.4). The satin off-the-shoulder garment has a hint of true 1980s fashion, but still holds to the feminine image of a princess, with a full skirt and neat cuffs. This dress is a light pink, satin-buttoned, off-the-shoulder, floor-length gown designed by Catherine Walker.

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Fig.4 Dress for the Royal Ballet by Catherine Walker, with Zandra Rhodes design of 1986 in background

Still using the light pink colouring, the dress in the background (Fig.4) is a Zandra Rhodes light pink, chiffon gown adorned with pearls and a satin waist-tie. Diana wore this outfit in 1986. She was, by then, mother to William and Harry and increasingly in the public eye, not just for her position in the royal family but also as charity patron. The main thing I noticed was the length of the gowns. The media never showed the height and build of the Princess of Wales, but it is notable from the length of the gowns how tall and slim she must have been.

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Fig.5 Sketches by Catherine Walker

As I moved from room to room, I noticed many sketches by Catherine Walker who was one of Princess Diana’s favourite designers, and helped her to develop her sense of style (Fig.5). Diana commissioned Walker to make suits for charity events including the well-known hospital visit to an AIDS ward, where Diana famously refused to wear surgical gloves and hugged terminally-ill patients.

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Fig.6 Dresses worn for Mario Testino shoot

The final room was my favourite, having a centrepiece of dresses Diana wore on the Mario Testino photoshoot, which became known as her last (Fig.6). Photographs are placed on walls around the garments, along with quotes from Diana and the designers who worked with her.

The exhibition is an intimate view of the evolution of her fashion style from a young princess to international fashion icon. It shows Diana’s elegance and, at times, her fashion faux pas. But mainly it is an exhibition for all, from art and fashion students, to people who were admirers of Diana. It is definitely worth a visit.

Note: The exhibition continues until April 2018, with NUS discounts available. Booking in advance is advised: I went on a Sunday afternoon and it was not too busy, but Saturdays are usually sold out. Catalogues are on sale and photography is allowed, but can be difficult due to lighting.

Visiting Berlin: art, politics and national identity

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Second year BA (Hons) Visual Culture student Ella Winning on an eye-opening course trip to Germany

Figure 1: Interior of Hamburger Bahnhof

Figure 1: Interior of Hamburger Bahnhof

Back in November, twelve of my course mates and I spent five days in Berlin as part of the second-year Trip to Europe module. During this time, we visited many of the famous tourist sights such as the Reichstag, Berlin Wall and the Bauhaus Archive, as well as galleries and museums in the city.

One place that particularly caught my attention was the Hamburger Bahnhof; a contemporary art museum situated in the west of Berlin. Hosting a collection of modern art works by the likes of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Anselm Kiefer, the exhibition I was most drawn to was the Preis der Nationalgalerie (29 September 2017 – 14 January 2018). This is a biennial opportunity for four artists under the age of 30 who live and work in Berlin to exhibit their work in a group exhibition at the Museum. Additionally, one of them is chosen to be the focus of a solo show and publication. The most recent shortlisters were Sol Calero, Iman Issa, Jumana Manna, and Angieska Polska.

Figure 2: Entrance to Amazonas Shopping Centre

Figure 2: Entrance to Amazonas Shopping Centre

As part of the show, Venezuelan-born multidisciplinary artist Sol Calero exhibited her interactive installation, Amazonas Shopping Center; a brightly coloured amalgamation of a selection of her works from the past five years. Throughout her work, the artist explores themes of national identity and ethnicity, especially in terms of her own, Latino background. Calero does this through her incorporation of various features of Latin culture; her installation includes a hairdressing salon (background of figure 2), travel bureau, consisting of a currency exchange kiosk and travel agency desk (mid and foreground of figure 2), cybercafé, school, and a salsa dance studio and cinema where her telenovela, Desde el Jardin, plays (figure 3).

While Calero is frequently labelled as a ‘Latin’ artist, the artist and her fellow prize entrants reject the practice of describing of them and their work in terms of their ethnicity. In a statement released to Artnet News, the artists

Figure 3: Amazonas Shopping Center Installation views

Figure 3: Amazonas Shopping Center Installation views

explained that they felt their minority backgrounds as immigrants and as women were ‘emphasized much more heavily than the content of their work’ during promotions and advertising for the exhibition.[1] I found this particularly interesting; at a time of changing attitudes towards race in terms of politics (and therefore society), is it even relevant for the nationalities of the artists to be highlighted? Is exercising of nationality allowing pride in ‘otherness’, or is it a tool of isolation which discourages inclusion?

Some might argue that the Museum was simply highlighting diversity in the selection of artists, showing the all-encompassing attitudes towards art, while others (agreeing with the artists themselves) may perhaps argue that the Museum’s focus on the ‘otherness’ of the four women was perhaps a ‘self-congratulatory use of diversity as a public relations tool’[2] for the Hamburger Bahnhof, prohibiting the artists from fully integrating into the German art world.

It can be assumed that the Museum, along with many other organisations across Germany, wish to reject the racist politics that made a resurgence at the start of the twenty-first century, along with far-right intolerance emerging around the globe in the modern day. The renunciation of these politics can clearly be seen in modern German culture; one example being Angela Merkel’s pioneering and controversial open border policy introduced in 2015. [3] It could be argued that, with similar intentions to Merkel, the Museum has consciously tried to denounce intolerance by highlighting or celebrating the differences of the entrants to those of the past. Others might find it patronising and a form of discouraging inclusion to the ‘German’ art world.

Figure 4: Amazonas Shopping Center Installation views

Figure 4: Amazonas Shopping Center Installation views

I found this trip interesting because it opened my eyes to this issue of nationality and its relevance in the culture not only of Berlin, but of the contemporary world; a topic which will continue to be particularly important in the years to come.

[1] Kate Brown, “These Four Artists Were Nominated for Germany’s Foremost Art Prize—and Now They’re Denouncing It” ArtNet News.

[2] Brown, “These Four Artists Were Nominated for Germany’s Foremost Art Prize—and Now They’re Denouncing It”

[3] Reuters in Berlin “Merkel: no regrets over refugee policy despite political cost” Guardian. Web. 27 Aug, 2017.

Gluck: Art and Identity

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Final year BA (Hons) History of Art and Design student An Nguyen Ngoc reviews a current exhibition at Brighton Museum

Image 1: Daily Sketch, You Wouldn't Guess, 1926

Image 1: Daily Sketch, You Wouldn’t Guess, 1926

In November, Brighton Museum opened a new exhibition exploring the life and work of twentieth century artist Gluck (1895-1978), who is now recognised as a trailblazer of gender fluidity. I first learned about the exhibition soon before its opening, when I was taken on a volunteers’ tour of the Museum store and shown a photograph of Gluck in a tailored suit (Image 1), a copy of Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness from Virago Classics, and clothing belonging to Gluck and lovers. The objects were sufficient to demonstrate that the curator – Martin Pel – would not simply be creating a narrative of Gluck’s life. Instead, that the exhibition would encompass the complexities and diversity of the artist’s life and works, presenting not only artworks but also personal artefacts, press materials and an impressive display of Gluck’s clothing.

Gluck, born Hannah Gluckstein, was a member of a wealthy Jewish family in London, where the artist had attended art school to train as a painter. The identity, established with ‘no prefix, suffix or quotes’ was accompanied by Gluck’s appearance, often sporting tailored menswear, masculine barber-cut short hair and mannish demeanour. Much like their unwillingness to adopt a gendered title, the artist displayed no association with any group or movements, despite mixing with circles of artists and having run away to Cornwall with fellow art students during World War I. Displayed only in solo shows and seldom exhibited, Gluck’s artworks have gained cult status among collectors for their technical mastery and the extent to which biographical elements permeate through the canvas’s surface. A pioneering creative in queer history, it is not surprising that Gluck’s personal history has become relevant in contemporary investigation of attitudes towards queer expression of gender, as well as the social forces which cultivated the presentation of the artist’s identity. Hence the diversity of artefacts on display in ‘Gluck: Art and Identity’.

Image 2: Gluck, Lords and Ladies, detail, 1936 (private collection).

Image 2: Gluck, Lords and Ladies, detail, 1936, oil on canvas (private collection).

In the exhibition the first of two galleries displays earlier paintings (Image 2), mostly dating from before the artist’s first solo show, and some personal artefacts. These include meticulous documentation of the artist’s lovers, accompanied by notes and letters from the artist. It is also through this display that viewers are introduced to the forensic nature of ‘Art and Identity’. The curators do not hesitate to portray Gluck’s love life, albeit passionate, as turbulent too. Yet the artist’s queer expression – and the fact that Gluck’s homosexual affairs may not have been the happiest – can be assessed by viewers against contemporary attitudes, such as those expressed in articles which question the artist’s gender expression and sexuality, displayed nearby. In none of these instances, however, is Gluck’s contribution to twentieth century British painting diminished: portraits and landscapes from the interwar period are displayed with paintings of Constance Spry’s floral arrangements, reminding viewers of Gluck’s accomplishment as a painter.

Image 3: smock from Gluck's collection (Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

Image 3: smock from Gluck’s collection (Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

An even more rewarding display is that of Gluck’s clothing in the second room. Here, material constituents of gender and Gluck’s ‘queer’ aesthetics become even more prominent. Two painter’s smocks (Image 3), constructed to be utilitarian – or seemingly so – stimulate speculations about Gluck’s public and private personas: one is of an iridescent, silken material, while the other is made of linen or toile. Also displayed is a group of black evening gowns (Image 4), one which seems to have a pleated skirt but, upon further inspection, turns out to be a jumpsuit. Others display a variety of silhouettes with intricate laces, embroideries and embellishments. The display of these unattributed items appears, at first, to mystify the character of Gluck. But they turn out to embody the artist’s lived experience, encapsulating the diversity and richness of the queer experience in the mid-twentieth century.

Image 4: Dress from Gluck's collection (Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

Image 4: Dress from Gluck’s collection (Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

Gluck: Art and Identity – curated by Martin Pel and Amy de la Haye – is on at Brighton Museum until 11 March 2018.

Gluck: Art and Identity Symposium will be held on 7 February 2018 at London College of Fashion.

Becoming a curator

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Graduate Iona Farrell describes how passion, persistence and hard work paid off in her quest to find a museum job

Image 1: 1950s sateen and lastex swimsuit by duCros from the Plume collection

Image 1: 1950s sateen and lastex swimsuit by duCros from the Plume collection, Southend Museum (image by author)

I graduated in 2016 from Brighton’s BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History degree and am now Assistant Curator of Social History at Southend Museum, where I work with the social and local history collection as well as the extensive costume archive. Highlights of the collection include the EKCO radio archive and the Plume swimsuit archive, the largest collection of swimwear in the country.

Brighton provided me with the starting step to pursue a career in museums. What I most enjoyed was how tutors encouraged primary research through visiting archives and using the University’s Dress History Teaching Collection. This approach has proved useful within my current role, where I am often handling artefacts. In a recent donation to the museum I used my undergraduate training to explore a beautiful silk chiffon dress. The garment’s delicate stitching showed the handiwork of a skilled dressmaker, whilst a tiny tear on the fragile hem pointed to a heel catching in the fabric, perhaps when the wearer was dancing. Details like this will inform how the garment is stored, as well as providing a ‘biography’ of an object crucial for creating an exhibition narrative.

Throughout my time at university I loved uncovering stories like these and spent many an hour at St Peter’s House Library using its extensive periodical and microfiche archive. One of my favourite projects was researching the clientele of 1920s couture, which meant poring over the Vogue archive. At times like these I knew I had chosen the right degree! For all current students, I really recommend making the most of these brilliant resources and, being a current Masters student, I must admit I miss the well-stocked shelves of St Peter’s!

Image 2: 1930s guides to Southend from the archive, Southend Museum (image by author)

Image 2: 1930s guides to Southend from the archive, Southend Museum (image by author)

In my second year I started research for my dissertation, which explored the performance and liminality of 1950s swimsuit pageants. I was keen to ground my writing in archival research and this led me to Southend Museum’s swimwear archive. Being from Southend, it was fantastic to discover the wealth of the collections and this inspired me to start volunteering. A major project I undertook as a volunteer was cataloguing over 500 swimsuits from the Plume collection. Along the way I assisted in exhibition installations and co-curated an exhibition on the history of toys, allowing me to build up a diverse range of skills. Volunteering seems to be a prerequisite for gaining paid work in Museums and local museums truly can provide brilliant opportunities for anyone intent on working in the sector.

After graduation I worked part-time for the University of Essex Library and started a Masters in Museum Studies, a distance-learning course, which has allowed me to continue to work. I must admit studying for a Masters, whilst being in employment and trying to gain entry into the museum sector was a challenge! As many have probably experienced, gaining work in museums can feel like an uphill struggle of endless online application forms. But I must stress that it will happen eventually! Always take whatever opportunities come your way, whether this means volunteering in your local museum like me, or gaining hands on experience within an archive: it’s all relevant experience and it’s fun.

Image 3: Inside the costume store, Southend Museums (image by author).

Image 3: Inside the costume store, Southend Museums (image by author).

By volunteering at Southend I was able to build up a large amount of experience and apply for the post of Assistant Curator. It’s fantastic to work now with such a wide-ranging collection and every day is different, whether this be accessioning donations, undertaking exhibition research, taking part in school visits or co-ordinating a touring exhibition. A major responsibility is undertaking the rationalisation of the social history collection, ensuring it is relevant and usable for generations to come. An upcoming project, Snapping the Stiletto will see museums across Essex collaborate to celebrate Essex women and dismantle the ‘Essex Girl’ stereotype. I am excited to build strong partnerships across Essex and the culminating touring exhibition and events across the county are something that people should look out for in the coming year.

It’s fantastic to be in an industry that is so creative, one that has the ability to tell so many stories and to inspire so many people. I am so glad that I applied to Brighton and grateful for the starting step it gave me.

A prize-winning return to university study

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Thinking of studying as a mature student? Wendy Fraser, a finalist studying BA (hons) History of Art and Design shares her experiences and celebrates her recent success.

Wendy Fraser and Andrew Davidson, Celebration Event

Figure 1 Wendy Fraser and Andrew Davidson, Celebration Event, University of Brighton Grand Parade. Photograph: Philanthropy Department.

In December, I was honoured to receive the Khadija Saye Visual Culture Breakthrough Award 2016/17 for my performance in the second year of my History of Art and Design degree. Khadija Saye, in whose name the award is presented, was a young photographer from London whose work was included in the Diaspora Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017. Tragically, Saye died along with her mother in the Grenfell Tower fire, in the twentieth-floor flat that she also used as her photographic studio.

I am thrilled to have received the award, which is validation for the decision I made to come back to university as a mature student. I wrestled with different ideas of what to embark on next in my life, flip-flopping between a business plan or further education. My first experience at university was embarking on a degree in English Literature and History of Art at Edinburgh University when I was 19. At the time, I regretted the choice of Edinburgh as a University and English Lit as my subject but rather than make changes I left at the end of the first year. Retail jobs led to a career in fashion and giftware wholesale as an Account Manager with trade shows and twice-yearly travel to the Far East, which was creative and fun but ultimately intellectually unfulfilling. After the births of my daughters I juggled lots of part-time jobs to fit in with them – selling on Ebay, baking cakes for cafés, a sales role for a Childrenswear brand and supper club hostess.

I knew that I had not reached my academic potential and it would become a regret if I did not act upon it. The degree programme has exceeded my expectations and I have really appreciated learning about so many different aspects of visual and material culture. It has been a joy to have a legitimate reason to visit so many galleries and museums, rather than just as entertainment. My confidence in my subject has grown incrementally, helped in part by my volunteering roles at Charleston and at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, which we were encouraged to do in first year. Amazingly being a ‘mature’ student hasn’t made me feel awkward and my fellow students have been really inspiring – I have learned a lot from them and really enjoy their company.

The Khadija Saye Visual Culture Breakthrough Award was given at a ceremony in the Sallis Benney Theatre where students from across the University received Breakthrough Awards, Merit Awards, International Scholarships, Sports Scholarships, Enterprise and Employability Grants and Santander-funded awards. The donor of my award is Andrew Davidson (pictured with me above), a University of Brighton Alumnus who studied Visual Culture and is now an Education and Communications Consultant. I was awarded £500, which I plan to use towards a trip to the 2019 Venice Biennale, inspired by Khadija Saye’s achievement. This will be my first experience of an international biennial and further my understanding of contemporary art exhibitions. I haven’t been to Venice since I went on a three-week trip to look at as many examples of Titian’s work as I could before enrolling at university first time around, so this will be a memorable and beneficial use of the award money, representing my circuitous journey back to the History of Art.

 

Volunteering: where might the ‘positive feedback loop’ take you?

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Lisa Hinkins, currently in her final year studying BA (Hons) History of Art and Design, gives an update on the diverse volunteering opportunities available via the University of Brighton  – and the unexpected places they have led…

In my first year of the BA (Hons) History of Art & Design course, I was asked if I could write for our blog about my experiences of volunteering. In it I mentioned the ‘positive feedback loop’ from my experience of coordinating volunteers at a Scrap store I ran, to my volunteering with Photoworks and Fabrica. Since then, I have participated many hours of learning and creating within my voluntary roles. On the way, I have met and made friends with many different people. Fabrica has been a refuge from many stresses and an outlet to experiment in writing for their Response magazine, create workshops and interact with the public in Front of House duties for exhibitions.

The initial few months of volunteering within the arts gave me the confidence to apply for a job at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery as a casual gallery explainer. For nine months, I was part of a team working in the Fashion Cities Africa exhibition, following which I worked with the Constable and Brighton exhibition. While engaged with the Museum, it has led to some other opportunities within the organization, which have been very interesting and invaluable learning experiences. So, my volunteering led to a positive outcome of a paying job.

Not only have I been able to earn money from something I enjoy, I continued my volunteering during my second year of study. Somehow, I managed to rack up over 90 hours of volunteering! It has been important to keep in contact with Kat (neé Turner) Saunders, Volunteering Project Officer for Active Student Volunteering Services, as she was able to ensure I received continued opportunities with Photoworks, which included creating a workshop during 2016’s Brighton Photo Biennial at the Ewen Spencer installation at Fabrica. Another benefit of keeping registered with the university Volunteering Services, is that your volunteering hours are officially recognized by it, so for the past two years I have received certificates recognizing my dedication.

In June, I was completely taken aback when Kat Saunders sent me an invitation to attend the Mayoral reception for University of Brighton student volunteers, part of celebrations for National Volunteers’ Week. Around twenty students were invited from across the Brighton campuses to the reception in acknowledgement of the many hours of dedicated service in organizations across the city. It was an honor to be asked and to represent the City campus. It was also a great excuse to eat far too much cake in the Mayor’s Parlour in the Town Hall! And it was a delight to meet the exuberant Mayor, Mo Marsh, who took time to speak to all of us about our experiences and thank us.

A week later our group photograph with the Mayor was featured inside The Argus newspaper. Rather embarrassingly the callout for students to send a few words about their volunteering experiences, for the article seemed to result in only mine being published, but Fabrica director Liz Whitehead was truly delighted that her organization got a mention in my statement.

That positive feedback loop has endured: volunteering, job, celebration, recognition, continued volunteering. I would encourage my fellow students to sign up with Active Student Volunteering Services. It has been one of the best things I have done during this journey through my degree.

 

Dress Detective: using Brighton’s Dress History Teaching Collection

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Sarah-Mary Geissler (MA in Design and Material Culture), reflects on how one seemingly uninspiring garment led her to unexpected places…

Fig. 1: Front, side & back view of the 1880s Mauve Altered Afternoon Dress. Photo by Sarah-Mary Geissler

Fig. 1: Front, side & back view of the 1880s Mauve Altered Afternoon Dress. Photo by Sarah-Mary Geissler

It really is amazing is how far one project can take you. From what started simply as a class presentation led to assisting lectures, journal publication and even curating a display just a year later!

During my final year studying the BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History at the University of Brighton, we had the privilege of being taught by Professor Lou Taylor, pioneering dress historian. The spring term Special Subject module focused on case studies of objects in the Dress History Teaching Collection. Throughout her career, Taylor has amassed a wealth of dress objects which now reside at Pavilion Parade, an incomparable resource waiting to be utilised by students. Each piece has a fascinating backstory – rejected by museums, donated by alumni, rescued by students – though only a small percentage of the collection has been thoroughly researched. The aim of our module was to improve our own analytical and interpretive skills as dress historians, but also to provide a selection of objects with proper catalogue entries. The garment I had my heart set on was already selected by someone else, so I unenthusiastically settled on researching an 1888 Mauve Day Dress. I began the project totally convinced that there was nothing exciting about the Victorian era, and grumbled to friends how boring this project would be. I was so wrong!

View inside the dress bodice. Photo by Sarah-Mary Geissler

Fig. 2: View inside the dress bodice. Photo by Sarah-Mary Geissler

Eventually I found how to apply my own interests to the research. Once I moved past my preconceptions of 19th Century dress, the analysis process became fascinating. I studied the dress inside and out, then compared it to other dresses from the period: it was clear that it wasn’t a straightforward example of 1880s fashion. As a dressmaker myself, the garment’s messy construction intrigued me. Other evidence in the garment led to the conclusion that it could have been an 1860s dress altered over 20 years. My project became a detective-style investigation into who the wearer was; where/when was the dress first made? Why was it altered so dramatically? And was this dress renovation typical for the period?

View of the skirt hem, showing previous stitch perforations. Photo by Sarah-Mary Geissler

Fig. 3: View of the skirt hem, showing previous stitch perforations. Photo by Sarah-Mary Geissler

Throughout the assignment, I contacted several museum-based professionals regarding the dress, and became more confident networking as a researcher. I looked into museums policies regarding altered garments, and how different keepers of costume interpret their collections. Over the course of the module, I developed a specialist understanding of mid-late 19th Century home-dressmaking, strengthened my ability to read dress, learned how to properly mount costume, and found out a great deal about the theory of dress history and the field today. Outside of university, this project gave me the confidence to submit an exhibition review to Textile History Journal, which was selected for publication last November!

Knowing how invested I was with my case study, Professor Taylor asked me to assist with her first year lecture and object handling session, and to do a small talk about the dress. I was so nervous about speaking in front of a large group, but the session went brilliantly. It was surprising how much information I could recall about the dress; I started to feel like a proper historian! This year I was asked to help out again, and so came prepared with notes and printed images to aid my talk.

Dress on display in the Pavilion Parade Foyer. Photo by Sarah-Mary Geissler

Fig. 4: Dress on display in the Pavilion Parade Foyer. Photo by Sarah-Mary Geissler

The success of this led to a conversation about displaying the dress in the School of Humanities’ Pavilion Parade foyer. With help from Clare in the office, mounting the dress was straightforward, though preparing information for the posters was challenging. I had to figure out what story was being told and how to make it interesting for a public viewer. Revisiting an undergrad project as a postgrad student, it was clear to see how much my work has strengthened in just a year (frustratingly, I found a spelling mistake on the first page of my original paper!). Displaying my research made me consider how museums and heritage sites interpret their collections, and this little display pushed me to develop my own curatorial skills.

All in all, I never expected the work done for one assignment to be the basis for such fantastic things. Having the Teaching Collection as a resource has been an invaluable part of my education at Brighton, and has reinforced the importance of understanding objects as sources of information to be read. I’ve been fortunate to have opportunities at the university to provide me with experience I can take into my career. It would be great for more students to get involved showcasing other pieces from the Teaching Collection in future, as there are many, many more fascinating stories to be shared!