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:

Chiang Xie’s recent publication on Universal Physical Camouflage:

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.

Nature and Dark Romanticism in Art and Fashion Design

Olivia Terry, Third Year BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History student shares her research into nature and dark romanticism in the work of an artist and fashion designer.

Back in the spring of 2020, I was in the midst of writing my presentation for the second year module After Modernism: Postmodernism and Beyond, when university as we had known, changed. The pandemic seemed to have loomed in the background for so long, and then with breakneck suddenness, everything was moved online. Unfortunately, in all of the chaos of transition, I never got to share my research to my classmates, yet when I reflect back on my time at Brighton, I consider it to be my favourite presentation.

Fig. 1. Anna Dumitriu. The Romantic Disease Exhibition. Pictured: Where There’s Dust There is Danger, Rest! Rest! Rest! And Pneumothorax Machine. 2014. Waterman’s Gallery, London. Still from The Romantic Disease at Watermans. 2014. Vimeo.

I was assigned the topic of fashion and nature. Ironically, months prior to the pandemic taking over every aspect of our lives, I chose to focus on disease, when I read about a 2014 postmodern exhibit titled The Romantic Disease: An Artistic Investigation of Tuberculosis (see Fig.1). Anna Dumitriu, a British bio artist, combined science with art to create an exhibition that redefines the division between art and nature, by introducing disease to her collection. Textiles in the exhibit were literally impregnated with extracted DNA of sterile Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Centered around mankind’s relationship with the disease, Dumitriu simultaneously played scientist while creating an exhibition that inspired strong feelings of romanticism and horror, similar to that of postmodern fashion designer, Alexander McQueen. The artists differ in their approaches to communicating nature as a theme, but the end results are blaringly similar: nature is at the heart of beautiful suffering.

The exhibition featured a 19th century altered maternity dress known as the Romantic Disease Dress (see Fig. 2).

Fig.2. Anna Dumitriu. The Romantic Disease Dress. Victorian Maternity Dress stained with natural dyes.

It had been stained with walnut husks and embroidered with madder root and prontosil dyed silk. Madder root dyed flowers decorate the neckline and safflower dyed bows were placed on the cuffs. Walnut husks, madder root and safflower, were once used as ancient remedies for tuberculosis. The dress is also stained with extracted DNA of killed TB. Dumitriu chose the maternity dress because TB was once thought to be genetic, so infected individuals were discouraged from marrying, and in some cases, pregnant women with TB were given forced abortions. The dress combines fact and feeling, making it a powerful piece. It uses historical remedies and strains of TB, while representing the emotional toll and extreme loss of the disease.

Similar to Dumitriu, Alexander McQueen dramatizes the killer side of nature, while still communicating beauty.  His Oyster Dress (click to see an image) brilliantly combines nature and romanticism: Originating from the 2003 “Irere” collection, the dress seems to be a “poetic rendering of a disaster at sea.” (Met Museum) A layered sand coloured silk organza resembles the curved lip of a mollusk, and tossed over the shoulder, is reminiscent of a shredded fishing net. The dress and mannequin both invoke dramatic feelings surrounding a tragic disaster at sea.

Both Dumitriu and McQueen’s work stem from nature. While Dumitriu chose to explore nature at its most microscopic level, her exhibits share similar postmodern elements such as unconventional materials, nostalgia, romanticism, and horror as McQueen. While their creative approaches differ dramatically, both create highly emotional art that communicates the cut-throat beauty of nature.

Drawing with the Dress Detective: Learning to See

Rachel Ng, Third Year BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History student discusses her experience of attending a workshop with Dr Ingrid Mida on observing a garment through drawing.

Screen grab from the drawing with dress detective workshop. The image illustrates Ingrid Mida handling dress and a detail of a drawing

Figure 1: Screengrab from Drawing with the Dress Detective: Learning to See, 2021.

Author of The Dress Detective and Reading Fashion in Art Dr Ingrid Mida recently hosted a drawing workshop online via MS Teams. Her ‘Slow Approach to Seeing’ methodology demonstrates how to analyse a garment, focusing on slowing down and using drawing as a tool for learning. In her 2020 book Reading Fashion in Art, Mida states that ‘[…] drawing as a method of slowing down can help identify specific elements of dress as well as the nuances of an artist’s process’. (42) The workshop allowed us to understand the difference between looking and seeing and how one can look but not really see.

Mida describes: ‘For me, drawing facilitates seeing and a deeper level of engagement with a thing. I record the path of my eyes on the paper as I study the object or artwork, and even if my drawing bares little or no resemblance to the thing I am looking at, when I finish a drawing, I feel like I have touched that thing’. (2020: 42) To fully understand this process, we were asked to complete three short drawing exercises to warm-up for a larger drawing piece later. The short tasks allowed us to break down any expectations we may have had about the ways in which our drawings may have looked. Instead, we were encouraged to focus on the process over product. We were drawing a Chinese dragon hat. We started by using two pencils in one hand, focusing on the aerial view of the hat. Then we were asked to draw with our non-dominate hand, focusing on the side view. Lastly, we looked at the front view, drawing in one continuous line without glancing at the paper. As you can see in Figure 2, my drawing did not look too much like the hat, but then again it wasn’t supposed to. For our final longer task, we drew a jacket and then had a discussion which revealed the details people picked up on, that might have been otherwise overlooked. For example, the piece’s overall construction, hidden buttonholes, and the lack of pattern matching. This process has allowed me to think differently about the next time I view a garment and how drawing can really help to highlight the details that may point to the wearer’s intentions, such as the points of stress on a piece.

line drawing of mask illustrating the process of drawing

Figure 2: Side-by-Side Comparison of a Continuous Line Drawing with Object, 2021. Pencil on Paper. Photograph. Author’s Own Image.

Due to the pandemic so much of our lives now inhabit the internet and screen time. People’s attention span has dropped, and this workshop has reminded me of how much you can easily miss when you do not slow down and really focus on something. This method can, of course, be challenging for people who have expectations of how they want a drawing to turn out, but as Mida said in her talk, you have to let go of expectations and return to a childlike mind to fully appreciate this method of research. What resonated most with me was her closing statement, ‘wanting to discover the information has to be more important than the drawing’.

It was great to be able to put a face to the well-renowned author and gain a better understanding of how to break down and construct garment drawings. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and will be using this approach in the future.

Screengrab showing tips on drawing from a garment

Figure 3: Screengrab from Drawing with the Dress Detective, 2021.

Museums and Social Media: Is Instagram damaging to museum practice?

Susanna Connolly, Third Year BA (Hons) History of Art and Design student assesses the use of Instagram in current museum practice.

Tate one-minute challenge Instagram post, 29 March 2020

Over the past decade, museums have begun to embrace social media as a promotional tool and a means to encourage engagement within the museum setting. Critics, however, are concerned about how engaging in social media devalues the museum experience and undermines museum authority. This discussion has become more relevant with the global pandemic forcing many museums to re-evaluate their practise and broader role within their community. Within this piece, I argue that utilising social media platforms such as Instagram can be extremely beneficial in creating and consolidating connections with museum artefacts and audiences.

Instagram is a social media platform that is centred around the posting and sharing of images. Designed to be accessed predominantly through mobile phones, the platform encourages personal photography grounded in individuals’ everyday experiences. The rise of Instagram has been closely entwined with the selfie phenomenon and as a result, holds negative connotations with critics believing the site fuels superficiality and vacuous entertainment.

With the events surrounding the global COVID-19 pandemic beginning in March 2020, museums and cultural institutions were forced to close their doors to the public. In doing so, these institutions had to re-address relationships with its visitors with social media platforms to reconsider how to overcome physical barriers to access. I decided to use the @Tate Instagram page to examine how museums used social media to encourage interaction, engagement, and education with their collection.

Over lockdown, Tate sought to engage their audience by organising various art related challenges and promoting entries on the Tate Instagram page. An example of this was the one-minute sculpture challenge. Posted on the 29th March, Tate challenged followers of their Instagram page to create a one-minute sculpture and post it on their personal account, tagging Tate so that entries could be shared on the Tate platform.

Tate shared 86 responses to the challenge which are pinned permanently to the highlights section of their account. The entries featured responses from a diverse range of participants, suggesting how social media can be an accessible site to engage with art and art institutions. The quality of responses was also varied, implying that difference in art ability was welcomed and encouraged. The one-minute element of the challenge made it easy to engage with and informal which encouraged participation. As mentioned in the announcement, the challenge was inspired by the work of the artist Erwin Wurm, and information of his art practice alongside photos were also shared on the Tate Instagram page. This is an example of how Tate was able to use Instagram as a platform to reconcile accessible forms of art education while encouraging audience participation and entertainment.

A benefit of utilising social media platforms is that they can eliminate not only physical barriers to access but social ones too. Anyone with an Instagram is invited to participate within the one-minute challenge. This active engagement centres the viewer within the experience and consolidates informal learning. The immediacy of social media allows for objects to be re-framed within current cultural contexts, making them more relevant, and draws out different understandings of the artefacts. Involvement within challenges such as the one-minute challenge was a much-welcomed escape from the anxious realities many of us were facing during the first lockdown. Within these uncertain times, museums can provide a sense of community and escape, vital for collective mental health. With this considered I would argue that museum social media profiles foster interactions with the audience, which in turn, can be beneficial to both the public and museum practise itself.

Investigating a Retro Marks and Spencer Biscuit Barrel

Kay Lawrance, Third Year BA Fashion and Dress History student, shares her research into a charity shop find.

M&S biscuit barrel

Marks and Spencer Biscuit Barrel. c2004-2014. Stoneware. 18cms x 15cms diameter. Personal photograph.

As part of our Third Year module The Past in the Present: Retro, Vintage and Revival, we were asked to choose and research an item directly related to the themes of the module.  I chose this stoneware biscuit barrel produced for Marks and Spencer.  The exact date of production is unclear, but from the style of the backstamp, it was produced sometime between 2004 and 2014.  I bought it from a charity shop a few years ago so I am unable to date it any more precisely than that.

At the time this was produced there was a trend in homeware and home furnishings which is commonly called Mid-century Modern.  Interiors were heavily influenced by the 1950s, with Ercol furniture becoming desirable, and the sludgy browns, dark teals and mustards of this biscuit barrel reflect that.  The Pantone colour of the year 2009 was Mimosa, a sludgy yellow, and 2010s was Turquoise – slightly lighter than the mugs on the biscuit barrel but a similar shade.  In 2009, Sanderson, manufacturers of furnishing fabrics and wallpapers, released a design by Fiona Howard called Dandelion Clocks which they describe as ‘a fun and funky 50s retro design‘, available in similar colours.

The underglaze design on the biscuit barrel is printed with a black outline and colour infills that are deliberately mis-aligned.  This captures the style of the scourer pot in the image below, which, coincidentally, I also bought in the same charity shop as the biscuit barrel, but at a different time.  This small scourer pot by the Toni Raymond Pottery in Devon was produced somewhere between 1956 and the mid-seventies.  However, unlike the M&S biscuit barrel, the designs were all hand painted and the “approximate” painted infills were part of the style.

This images is a scourer pot and is copared with the M&S biscuit barrel

Toni Raymond Pottery Pot Scourer Holder. c1956-1976. Ceramic. 7cms x 9cms diameter. Personal photograph.

In Retro: The Culture of Revival Elizabeth E. Guffey suggests that the term retro ‘serves as shorthand for a period style situated in the immediate post-war years’ or ‘material culture at mid-century’ and that is exactly the feel of this design (2006: 9-10).  She describes how ‘retro does not seek out proud examples of the past; it shuffles instead through history’s unopened closets and unlit corners.’ (2006: 14) Although the pottery produced by studios such as Toni Raymond was hugely popular, it was domestic and reasonably cheap and not what I would describe as a “proud example of the past”.  Many homes had a piece, or something similar, but it was usually something as useful and at the same time as unconsidered as this scourer pot.  Items that were used and seen have become an almost half-forgotten memory.  I was struck by what Guffey wrote about the word nostalgia originally being used to describe a kind of homesickness, but that it has now come to mean a ‘bittersweet yearning for things […] of the past’ (2006: 19), a kind of time sickness, and it seems to me that this is captured in the feeling of this design.  And yet, the retro design is just slightly too good.  The misaligned print is too precisely done.  The edges of the infill are too sharp to be hand painted.  It is a knowing copy designed to be read by knowing consumers.