Caring for Collections: Learning about pest control in the Museum Lab

MA Curating Collections and Heritage student Lola-May Baldock reports on study visits to the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery’s Museum Lab

As part of our second semester module ‘Caring for Collections and their Users’, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to partake in two workshops at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. Both workshops provided us with invaluable sectoral skills that are important to carry into any job role within the gallery, museum and heritage sector.

On the morning of Tuesday 3 May, we had a practical session on Integrated Pest Management with Gaye at the Brighton Museum Lab. Starting with an informal presentation delivered by Gaye on identifying pest types, how to trap them and preventative measures, the second half of the session consisted of practical collections care. We learnt about the handling and process of moving objects, artefacts and works of art. The session finished with a demonstration of how to pack objects for moving. Acid-free paper was used to create packaging called ‘puffs’ that would help safely transport a fragile taxidermy pheasant.

Our second visit to the museum lab, on the morning of 17 May was a session on disaster and risk planning. The first half consisted of a presentation on types of risk within a museum or heritage environment. We learnt about the importance of a disaster plan and what it should entail. The session included a few group tasks such as a discussion on what we would do in a crisis. The second task was a constructed situation in which we would also use the information given to handle a certain minor incident. Lastly, in groups, we got to handle ‘water damaged’ objects and delicately salvage the items using relevant techniques to dry them.

The first session taught me how to identify pest infestation. It helped me develop an understanding and awareness of how pests affect artefacts and learn about signs of infestations to look out for. This also helped me to build upon my observation skills. By extension, problem solving was necessary to help create solutions to prevent further damage caused by pest infestation. In both workshops, we had the opportunity to work in small groups and use our new skills to brainstorm how we would plan around a crisis scenario. In any role within the museum, gallery, archive or the heritage sector, being able to communicate effectively  with colleagues is imperative. Both sessions really helped solidify the academic readings and seminars that we had undertaken throughout the semester, especially when thinking about the importance of preservation of collections in the event of disaster and risk to artefacts within the museum and heritage environment.

For more information about the course, please visit: Curating Collections and Heritage MA (brighton.ac.uk)

Exciting news! Our MA graduate Arisa Yamaguci wins a prestigious award

Reporting on MA History of Design and Material Culture graduate Arisa Yamaguci’s successes, including completing a PhD, winning a prestigious award and making important contributions to the study of dress history.

On March 26th 2022, Arisa Yamaguci, graduate from the University of Brighton MA in Design History and Material Culture, was awarded her PhD from Seitoku University, Matsudo, Chiba, Japan. She was also given the honour and prestige of receiving The President Award at graduation, which recognises highly esteemed accomplishments.

Allie joined our MA Design History and Material Culture programme in 2014, researching a dissertation titled: Japonisme in France, Japonisme in Japan: issue of the cross cultural design and consumption of silk textiles 1880 – 1914 and its related museum exhibition in Kyoto and Paris.

Her PhD from Seitoku University built on this MA research, but with a focus on the reception and use of the kimono in Britain in the late 19th and nearly 20th centuries.

Advertisement in the Bexhill Chronicle May 1914 for the local department store Miller and Franklin’s ‘real Japanese kimonos’.

Allie  is now a Lecturer at the University of Tsukuba. On March 27th she was a member of the virtual panel “Fashioning Misunderstanding – Transcultural Engagements and the Material Culture of Fashion,” chaired by Toshio Watanabe, University of East Anglia, at the annual Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference, with presentations by Elizabeth Kramer, Northumbria University , Sarah Cheang, Royal College of Art, Keiko Suzuki, Ritsumeikan University  and Arisa Yamaguchi, University of Tsukuba on “Fancy Dress Described” (1879-1896.)”

Allie is currently developing a book proposal for a UK publisher with a provisional title of Kimono Circulates: Sartorial Japonisme and the Experience of Kimonos in Britain 1865-1914.

Corbin Shaw’s latest exhibition ‘Nowt as Queer as Folk’ at the Guts Gallery, London

Piers Courtney, final year BA (Hons) Visual Culture student reports on artist Corbin Shaw’s exhibition Nowt as Queer as Folk at the Guts Gallery, London.

In the newly relocated Guts Gallery, situated opposite automobile repair shops under the arches of Hackney, artist Corbin Shaw’s newest exhibition Nowt as Queer as Folk stands in solidarity with its working-class surroundings. It’s a fitting exhibition for London’s most exciting new gallery, founded to combat London’s major institutions, a business model the gallery describes as “socio-political austerity.”

Shaw first came prominence creating St George’s flags that criticise the toxic masculinity of his own upbringing, working class routes in Yorkshire that mirror my own. The flags inscribed within the blank spaces, with the survival tactics of a young man growing up in austerity “GET A JOB, GET A CAR, GET MARRIED, GET A MORTGAGE” or simply “WE SHOULD TALK ABOUT OUR FEELINGS.” The simplicity of Shaw’s poetry has gained traction within the political background of rising right-wing politics, rising poverty through the economic turmoil of the pandemic and the scenes of rowdy young men shouting through the streets following England’s national football teams’ journey to the Euro 2020 final.

His latest instalment has a similar eloquence, but instead it is inspired by Adam Curtis’s 2021 film Can’t Get You Out of My Head, the documentary outlining the history of folk music and it’s hijacking of musicians such as Cecil Sharp, who used folk music to bolster British pride whilst spreading messages of right-wing radicalisation and racism.

Corbin Shaw, Nowt as Queer as Folk, Guts Gallery personal photography by author, 19 Feb 2022

Shaw uses iconography and cultural elements of folk as a social commentary of rural communities such has his own in Harthill, South Yorkshire. Shaw weaves in his usual slogans from his upbringing such as “PLAYING ON THE PARK UNTIL IT GETS DARK”, but instead of against the background of English nationalism, he plays upon the practice of ‘well flowering’, a pagan custom in which a water source, such as wells, are adorned with flower petals as an appreciation to the Gods for a consistent water supply. Whilst also adding badges to the tapestries, and creating vibrancy, Shaw plays on the myth of contemporary and historical village life, by juxtaposing practices as well-flowering, or adding ribbons to public drinking penalty notice signs to mimic a maypole. By accompanying working class slang with passages of rural myths, Shaw is reminding us of the instability of progress, illustrated by the roots of Brexit through nostalgic ideals of an imperial and independent Britain advertised by right-wing TV personalities.

Corbin Shaw, Nowt as Queer as Folk, Guts Gallery personal photography by author, 19 Feb 2022

The romanticism of Shaw’s tapestries, however, is what drives the work. As a Yorkshireman living in the south, I couldn’t help but smile at the largest piece, undecorated by flowers or badges. It reads like an echo chamber of memories if you’re brought up in those working-class northern cities; “BABYCAKES YOU JUST DON’T KNOW KNOW” was my first song sent on Bluetooth as a child ‘larking’ on the park. “HELLY HANSEN, TRACKIES TUCKED INTO SOCKS” was not only embroidered, but, coincidentally, was the outfit I wore to visit Guts Gallery that day.

Shaw’s work mirrors that of the gallery’s ideals, “when trying to be a force for change, we must all ask ourselves, do you want to uphold traditional views or models, or join in with change?” The artworld cannot sustain its financial disparity, nor can Britain, change is a must, and it seems to have begun with the sprouting of a flower.

Nowt as Queer as Folk runs from 10th February – 3rd March 2022.

Amy Winehouse Wardrobe: Fashion and Dress History graduate contributes to the Design Museum exhibition

Imogen Warner-Dart in front of the ‘Amy: Beyond the Stage’ credits, in the Design Museum. 24th November 2021.

Imogen Warner-Dart, BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History graduate shares her experiences of collecting Amy Winehouse’s clothes and working with The Design Museum curators on the Amy: Beyond the Stage exhibition

Over the past eighteen months throughout the various lockdowns, I decided to develop a project as a form of continuation after graduating from the University of Brighton’s BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History in 2019. As both, a fashion and dress historian, and a massive Amy Winehouse fan, I started my Instagram fashion archive blog called @amywinehousewardrobe which explores not only the brands worn by Winehouse, but also her own designs and fashion collaborations, investigating their historical connotations with Mod and Ska culture through her Fred Perry designs and so on. By discovering the brands of her most famous dresses and iconic pieces she wore on stage, I started to collect Amy’s clothes. I also sourced the designs as second hand items online.

The third room of the exhibition ‘Amy: Beyond the Stage’. A display of her worn clothing among some of my ‘replica’ pieces from my collection. Pieces which are mine (Left to right) first row: the blue dress half cut off from the image with belt, the multi-coloured pastel dress second along with the gold anchor necklace, the black and nude bustier ruched tulle dress, the red polka dot silk halter neck dress. Last row towards the back, in the middle is a tiger print halter neck wiggle dress which is also mine. Plus other pieces cropped out of the photo.
December 19th 2021. Imogen Warner-Dart

During this period, my work was recognised by Fred Perry, friends and collaborators of Amy Winehouse, and finally the Design Museum curators who were putting together the exhibition ‘Amy: Beyond the Stage’. Initially the museum had two free mannequins, so they approached me to borrow two outfits from my collection to be displayed among Amy’s own clothes in the exhibition. However, due to mistiming with some of Amy Winehouse’s estate shortly before the opening of the exhibition, the museum found themselves needing more pieces at the last minute to fill the places of the missing outfits. I worked in collaboration with the curators to provide them with the pieces that they needed from my personal collection. What I hadn’t realised was that the curators in charge had been following my work for a long time while putting together the exhibition, and so were already aware of most of the pieces I owned. This made it a lot easier to figure out which items I would loan to them to stand alongside Amy’s own clothing.

A display of both Amy Winehouse’s owned and worn pieces among my own in the Design Museum. The red satin corseted Karen Millen dress, white palm print Miss Sixty Dress and abstract Dolce and Gabbana dress are my own. 19th December2021. Imogen Warner-Dart.

I believe that Amy Winehouse has been one of the most culturally significant influences on style and art in popular culture from the twenty-first century. This is why I find it so fascinating to explore her fashion to further understand her impact on style today while exploring her own stylistic roots and inspirations. The twelve pieces which I have loaned to the exhibition will remain in the Design Museum in Kensington, London until April 2022.

A plaque describing my involvement in the exhibition. Featured in the exhibit ‘Amy: Beyond the Stage’. Taken 24th November 2021. Imogen Warner-Dart.

Rediscovering 35mm Colour Slide Family Snaps

PhD student Jayne Knight reflects upon her family photo collections, photo technologies and their relevance today. Jayne is researching the Kodak Collection at the National Science and Media Museum for her PhD.

1. The family 35mm colour slides in storage. Personal Collection.

The family photography collection of my paternal grandparents has been a source of intrigue and inspiration for much of my thinking about popular photography however, one decade of family photos in the form of 35mm colour slides from the 1960s, was until recently, the forgotten decade of family snaps.

In the 1930s, my nan, in her teens, began capturing family life, events and holidays on her Kodak Brownie camera, snapshooting with my grandad until the 1990s with various cameras and creating many family photo albums, with Bonusprint being the last processing company of choice for my grandparents favoured 5×8 prints. Eventually my grandparents succumbed to the decline in popularity of analogue, never feeling the same enthusiasm for digital. For over seventy years, my grandparents snapshooting practices captured birthdays, Christmases, weddings, childhood and holidays, subjects shaped by companies like Kodak, Ilford and Boots whose guides, advertisements and packaging encouraged these events to be recorded with their products and services.

My family photos, characteristic of many other family photo collections take many different forms, reflecting the changes in technology and popularity of new products, services as well as ways of viewing. Studio photographs, assorted Kodak Brownie negatives and prints, real picture postcards, itinerant seaside photographs, 35mm negatives and prints, collages and albums represent some of these different types. Examining the seventy years of my family’s photos, identifiable photographic trends have seamlessly connected different decades of family life, except for one, the 35mm colour slide transparencies from the 1960s which were until recently detached and a forgotten part of the family collection.

2. The family Argus PreViewer, made in the 1960s. Personal Collection.

Colour transparencies, small card or plastic frames measuring 2×2 inches holding a 35mm colour positive image, were mostly viewed through photographic apparatus such as pocket viewers and projectors. Taken on the family’s Halina 35x camera, and often using the popular Kodachrome film, the existence of the colour slides was known to my immediate family, stored under the bed for twenty years in the plastic containers of processing companies. Last year, blowing off the dust I decided to take a closer look at the 35mm slides, seeking to find images of my dad as a child which were notably absent from the well-kept, and largely chronological, photographic family collection that resides with my grandad. Not only did I rediscover a decade of family photos, but I also became fascinated with 35mm colour slides and the experience of viewing them.

3. My nan, on holiday in Dymchurch c.1965. 35mm slide. Personal collection 4. My dad and his many toys, c.1966. 35mm slide. Personal collection.

Spanning the 1960s, the Kodachrome colour snapshots still impress through the vintage Argus PreViewer that had been gathering dust alongside the slides, acting as a window on a decade that embraced bold colourful prints and family fun. Deckchairs, garden toys and patterned dresses, like the slides and viewing apparatus themselves, provide a snapshot of 1960s lifestyle and design.

In a decade that saw a spike in photographic activity, due to the arrival of my dad, 380 35mm colour slides and hundreds of feet of cinefilm captured his childhood.  Separated from the rest of the family photo collection, the 35mm slides (and cinefilm) had until now been largely side-lined due to their form. Considered by my family as trickier to view, susceptible to dust, awkward to store and reliant on other ageing apparatus, they have been considered an obsolete media. For me, viewing slides through a pocket viewer or setting up a projector is as interesting as the image subject, reminiscent of handheld three-dimensional stereo-viewers and shared viewing experiences of magic lantern shows.

4. My dad and his many toys, c.1966. 35mm slide. Personal collection.

As the 35mm slides have shown me, some types of family photography, such as photo albums, have remained at the forefront of reminiscent viewing experiences with the more apparatus dependent 35mm slide viewing fading into the background, despite their shared subjects. The 35mm colour slides have now been scanned and printed as more conventional 4×6 prints for other family members who had never seen them, but for me, the act of viewing through the original 1960s projection is as much a part of the forgotten decade as the images themselves and will remain a ritualistic viewing experience when revisiting the family snaps in the future.

At Your Bidding: eBay as An Archival Resource

Sally Jones MA History of Design and Material Culture student reflects on her use of eBay as a resource when access to things were curbed during lockdown.

At the start of my MA last autumn, museums were still partially open, albeit for limited, pre-booked visits, but enough to satisfy my love of being near old things, to soak up their aura and experience the joys of historical artefacts ‘in person.’  I could also use them to complement my studies, visiting Worthing Museum to look at mourning jewellery for my first assignment.  Semester two was a different situation altogether.  We were in the heart of lockdown three and everything had shut.  As a student of material culture this was a challenge.  My MA centres around stuff, and for me, my real passion is old stuff.  So how to bring my studies to life when I could no longer access museums, historic sites and archives?  Life had moved online so I turned to eBay, the virtual equivalent of foraging around a flea market, and what I discovered was that, used wisely, it could be a productive source of primary material.

Selection of gas fire themed playing cards purchased from eBay, author’s own collection. Digital scan by author

eBay first came up trumps in supporting a presentation I put together based on a 1937 gas fire catalogue, which is held in the University Library St Peters’ House Special Collection.  Basic searches revealed a wealth of ephemeral material and led to some fascinating discoveries, my personal favourite being a ubiquitous supply of playing cards advertising gas fires.  Cheap, accessible and in widespread use at the time, playing cards were an ideal medium through which to market domestic technology, although I was unaware of this until I stumbled across them listed for sale.  I compared the illustrations to gain a greater understanding of how the technology was mediated.  I also looked at the depiction of women, who were prominent in many of the designs, to consider how their role and position within the home was represented and shaped by gas fire advertisements.

Selection of Edwardian postcards purchased from eBay, author’s own collection. Digital scan by author.

eBay continued to be a rich hunting ground for my next assignment, which focused on the use of ridicule in anti-suffrage Edwardian postcards.  This time, I purchased a small collection of postcards, printed and posted in 1911.  Most online archives of suffrage postcards favour the printed image on the front and neglect the information on the back, but it is the reverse side which bears evidence of contemporary consumption practices.  I was able to draw on this from my own case study sample.  I could also see how the material attributes of the postcard contributed to its effectiveness as a propaganda device.  One of the great advantages of eBay was that the listings photographed both the front and the back of the postcards – you can even hover over the images to pick up finer detail and read the handwritten messages – an option which wasn’t available through online archive records.

Of course, eBay isn’t an archive and researchers should exercise caution, remaining aware of issues around provenance, and titles and descriptions which are designed to sell the item and enhance its appeal, rather than maintain historical accuracy.  On the other hand, many sellers are collectors themselves with a knowledge and enthusiasm for their particular specialism.  eBay certainly introduced me to artefacts I would not otherwise have been aware of, and it opened up new areas of research, providing inspiration at a time when access to collections was severely limited.  The random, ephemeral nature of objects listed on the site makes for a serendipitous approach which I particularly enjoyed.  There’s also something about the tangible experience of handling objects that can really enrich a research study and whilst I am very much looking forward to getting back into a museum, eBay proved to be a valuable resource, offering direct access to historic material culture at the click of a mouse.

Keep your Masks on and Protect your Identity!: The Anonymity of Mask Wearing

Third Year BA Fashion and Dress History student Rachel Ng shares latest discussions on the face mask and surveillance

Figure 1: Under Surveillance, 2021. Rachel Ng. Digital Illustration.

A few weeks ago, I read Rachel Kraus’s article titled ‘The Future of Anti-Surveillance Fashion is Bright’ about the potential of a facial covering to cover identity. Over the past year, face masks have become commonplace and necessary for public health and safety. Kraus states, ‘In the future, they could be the ultimate anti-surveillance fashion statement’.

I recently visited London to see family and we were taking photos in the underground. When I returned home, I was editing the photos with Procreate, one of my hobbies. However, I noticed the sheer numbers of CCTV cameras there were dotted around the station. Of course, they are there for safety, but it left me wondering how difficult it must currently be for people to identify someone. In response, I sketched an image of what it feels like to be on camera all the time. (Fig. 1)

This post comes at an appropriate time that coincides with the recent protests and the use of a mask to conceal one’s identity. The mask seems to have become a political statement that cannot only hide your identity but also highlights political uncertainty. @KateRoseBee (Twitter) shared a short video of herself in a new mask that had printed on it ‘I do not consent to search’. (Fig. 2) The mask prevents the possibility of facial recognition whilst protesting.

Figure 2: @KateRoseBee Wearing a Mask, 2021. Twitter.

There has been rising concern, in parallel with the rise of Artificial Intelligence technologies, regarding increased surveillance in our digital as well as physical lives. Although these technologies are said to tailor content, protect, and look out for us, what is to stop them from being exploited? Growing distrust in the police and government, especially amongst young people, could lead to these technologies being used to track down peaceful protestors.

Is there longevity in mask wearing? Will it continue in a post-pandemic society? Is this the future of identity protection?

Kraus’s article discusses PhD student Chiang Xie’s research into anti-surveillance fashions. Xie’s recent publication explored the idea of creating a Universal Physical Camouflage. Put simply, it is a patterning which can trick recognition systems into thinking you are something other than a human – for example, a potted plant. (Fig. 3) Science professor Tom Goldstein states, ‘now that you have the ability to wear a mask, you can cover more of your body. The more of your body you can cover with adversarial patterns, the more susceptible these attacks are’. This suggests that there is a potential for an individual to be completely anonymous whilst walking the streets.

Figure 3: Universal Physical Camouflage, 2020. Cihang Xie.

For me personally, I enjoy having the option to cover my face in an outdoor area. It prevents the spread of the Coronavirus but also provides me with comfort that if someone takes a photo of me, (accidently or not) I know that most of my identity is protected.

What are your thoughts on anonymity and surveillance?

Is surveillance necessary for the public’s safety?

Are you concerned about your own privacy?

You can read Kraus’ article here: https://mashable.com/article/anti-surveillance-masks/?europe=true&fbclid=IwAR0t-bTVU3Sb_RL4VGLH7PAUQGOLbDkvcmbBuzfmgATZdHFDLm5h7eCULIY

Chiang Xie’s recent publication on Universal Physical Camouflage: https://cs.jhu.edu/~alanlab/Pubs20/huang2020universal.pdf

Olafur Eliasson’s “Forked Forest Path” at Fabrica Gallery, Brighton, 2021

Second Year BA Visual Culture student Piers Courtney completed the course-related work placement at the Fabrica Gallery in Brighton, UK, as part of a module called Behind the Scenes. Piers shares a review of a current exhibition at Fabrica.

I was placed in Fabrica Gallery for a work placement towards the end of the spring 2021 ‘lockdown’, participating in installing and running workshops. On the 18th of May until the 20th June, Olafur Eliasson’s Forked Forest Path opened to the public to celebrate Fabrica’s 25th anniversary, in partnership with Brighton Festival. The artist may be well-known, but the installation, one of his earliest works, will be new to many. I was inspired to write this short review.

The work has been loaned from the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne. The interior of the Fabrica Gallery has been transformed into an immersive, magical path that leads the visitor deep through twists and turns, mimicking the suspense and relief of being lost in the deep forests of East Sussex.

Eliasson has formed a career of bringing to light ecological and sociological issues with immersive, fun and educational “socio-sculptures” that connect with the natural world to highlight issues such as climate change, including his epic recreation of the sun in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall in 2003. Forked Forest Path is no different.

Olafur Eliasson, Forked Forest Path, Fabrica Gallery, Brighton, 2021. Photography by Piers Courtney.

Within the 5000 branches of birch, oak, ash (and others) sourced from Foxwood Foresty near Lewes, Stanmer Park, Wilderness Wood and Laughton Greenwood, the visitor is faced immediately with a question: ‘Which path do I take?’ This is both a literal and symbolic question. As you venture through your chosen path dodging twigs and smelling the rich earthy tones, the environment, alien to the gallery space, challenges you and takes you back to walks in your childhood. For me, to Yorkshire. You then may find yourself asking ‘which path environmentally shall I take, so that all our forests can
thrive to be this dense and immersive?’ This is the beauty in simplicity of the installation. Eliasson has captured both the sublime and the subliminal.

Other questions that arose, for me, at least, were as simple as ‘how in the world did they get these branches in here?’ to as complicated as ‘what does it mean to have a overgrowing forest within a disused church?’ Fabrica’s research team has collected many resources to satisfy the need for answers, and the volunteers are always happy for a discussion. Who knows? Maybe the answers were in the path you chose not to take.

Working at a Fashion, Costume and Textiles Auction House

Sarah Carnall, Third Year BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History student discusses how knowledge from the course helped her work as an intern at an Auction House and how her practical experience helped her on the course.

Mannequins Styled in Pucci Blouses for Photographing. Kerry Taylor Auctions, London. Photograph by author.

Last Summer I received the opportunity to complete an internship at Kerry Taylor Auctions; described on their website as ‘the world’s leading auction house specialising in exceptional fashion, fine antique costume, European, Asian and Islamic textiles’. This year, I returned to work there to help with their reoccurring ‘Vintage Fashion, Antique Costume & Textiles’ auction. This type of auction specialises in vintages pieces. Some may be damaged or stained, but can be repaired and worn again.

Fig.2: Rachel Steaming a Bridal Slip Dress. Kerry Taylor Auctions, London. Photograph by author.

As an intern, the main role is to work with another intern and assist the photographer in shooting the garments for sale, including steaming and dressing mannequins. I was fortunate to work with my friend and fellow dress history student, Rachel, and we worked together in keeping the shoot moving quickly in order to work to a deadline. This job has taught us important dress handling skills, as many of the garments have tears or dropping beads, as well as how to dress a mannequin to reflect the assets of the clothing. I utilised the knowledge learnt from my course to help understand what these assets were. For example, dresses from the eighteenth century need particular attention to ensure the silhouette is perfect. By using items such as bustles and petticoats, as well as stuffing mannequins with tissue, the desired silhouette is achieved. These tasks have complimented my degree well as it has been helpful to actually visualise a specific shape in person, rather than simply looking at pictures. This has been especially helpful during the pandemic when access to physical material has been greatly limited.

It was interesting to work in this environment during a pandemic. We have to ensure we wear our masks and maintain social distancing where possible, making certain tasks such as dressing more complicated. I was also saddened we missed the opportunity to be able to meet potential customers and have them explore the garments in the normal environment, as health measures meant only private viewings were possible and distances were kept.

This internship was a fantastic way to gain skills and work experience to add to my CV, and have the opportunity to work with professionals like Kerry and Lucy in learning what goes into producing an auction, the photographer George on how to style and shoot a garment, and Victoria on the behind-the-scenes of the business. The environment is welcoming and friendly, and they are more than willing to help with any research you may be doing.

Victorian Bodice Being Mounted onto a Tailor’s Dummy. Kerry Taylor Auctions, London. Photograph by author.

Kerry Taylor Auctions usually offer internships in the run-up to their auctions, so I would recommend following their Instagram, @kerrytaylorauctions, to find out when they’re available, as well as their website to see their archive of amazing garments!

Blinding Lights: spectra III by Ryoji Ikeda

Kevin Hayes, First Year BA (Hons) Visual Culture student anticipates a visit to see the work of artist Ryoji Ikeda showing at 180 Studios, London.

Ryoji Ikeda, spectra [london] (2014). Installation photo © Ryoji Ikeda Studio

When lockdown properly ends, one of the things I am most looking forward to is the Ryoji Ikeda exhibition at 180 Studios in London. Ikeda is a Japanese composer and conceptual artist who creates immersive light and video installations and soundscapes, many of which seem, to me, to be in part, a response to the difficulties of comprehension caused by the data-driven nature of 21st-century life.

Ikeda is probably best known to British audiences for his piece, spectra. Presented as part of the WWI centenary commemorations, it was a column of light, created by 49 searchlights by the Houses of Parliament, which dominated the London night skyline for a week in August 2014. Visible from over 12 miles away, it appeared almost like an illuminated pillar, but up close, the movement of moths and insects attracted to the lights meant that the individual beams seemed to be alive and moving.  As Ikeda said, ‘When you experience it, any kind of context is suddenly gone. From a distance, it looks monumental and solid, but when you are in it, it is entirely meditative.’

His new London exhibition will showcase 12 works, including spectra III, which I originally experienced at the 2019 Venice Biennale. spectra III could be viewed as the epitome of “but-is-it-art” minimalism, as it’s “just” an empty corridor, with semi-reflective white walls lit by fluorescent lamps. However, as you proceed through the space the work reveals itself. The combination of the reflective surfaces and harsh lighting produce a dizzying, disorientating effect that becomes more intense the further you go. By the time I reached the middle, I felt utterly dazzled, which is, of course, the point. This is a piece that leaves the visitor momentarily blinded, with pure bright white light achieving the effect we would typically associate with pitch-black darkness.

Ryoji Ikeda, spectra III (2019). Installation photo courtesy of La Biennale Di Venezia, The Artist and Audemars Puget © Ryoji Ikeda Studio

Something I have enjoyed about my degree so far has been the sense of “joining the dots” between art I’ve already seen and academic theory. Recently I was introduced to Georg Simmel’s writings about the alienation caused by the overwhelming stimuli of urban life, which reminded me of Ryoji Ikeda’s work (Simmel, The Metropolis and Mental Life, 1903).

In Venice, spectra III was shown alongside Ikeda’s video installation data-verse 1, which visualises scientific information from sources such as CERN and NASA. Both pieces appear to respond to the overwhelming “noise” of our constantly “switched on” modern existence but in opposite ways: data-verse 1 tries to make sense of the flood of information by converting it into imagery, whereas spectra III overloads our senses.

Both pieces will be in the London exhibition, and I’m really looking forward to seeing them again, this time with some more academic context.

RYOJI IKEDA is at 180 Studios, 180 The Strand, London, WC2R 1EA from 20th May to 1st August 2021. www.180thestrand.com