Wednesday, 18 January 2017

"I Am A Magazine"

Last week students from across Middlesex University's Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries came together to work on an innovative learning project in the Grove Atrium, entitled I Am A Magazine. 

Students from a range of subject areas including Fine Art, Graphics, Fashion Communication & Styling, Photography, Theatre Arts (and more) came together for this inter-disciplinary project.  Their brief was to critically examine magazines in Middlesex University’s magazine collections (drawn from MoDA and the Library). The magazines were a springboard to create new work: students were asked to respond to their content, iconography, discourse and materiality and to the wider context of magazines as communicative tools, as creators of communities and culture.  

Middlesex University Photography tutor, Alison Tanner, helps students get started on the project

Magazines from both MoDA and the Middlesex University Library have frequently used in learning and teaching by students, but this is the first time they were brought together in one large scale project, involving nearly a hundred students.  I Am A Magazine aimed to provide the space and opportunity for disciplines to collide, mix and interweave. 

deep in discussion about the project...

What students produced during the project was up to them: outcomes included a stop-frame animation, a period room-set and several photographic pieces.  But this was a project in which the process was as important as the product: students were learning skills of team work and negotiation, of working with students, equipment and techniques outside of their usual subject areas.

The Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture has an extensive collection of magazines relating to all aspects of home furnishing, DIY, homecrafts and womens' interest.  They are available to everyone, by appointment in our Study Room.  

Students and creative practitioners from Middlesex and elsewhere frequently use MoDA's collections for visual inspiration.  (One example was the Share Academy project we ran a few years ago).  If you are interested in seeing them yourself please email us to make an appointment (

Friday, 6 January 2017

Posters at MoDA

MoDA’s Collections Assistant, Dorian Knight, has recently been working on the museum’s collection of posters. These objects are currently undergoing documentation, conservation and rehousing and will shortly be available for display, loan and further study.

Ever since their birth in Paris in 1869, posters have offered a window into history. Following the Press Law of 1881 posters were given immunity from censorship, thereby documenting propaganda, pop culture, protest and revolution ever since. They also developed as an art form, posters plastered on streets came to be known as ‘the poor man’s gallery.’ Additionally they brought reading into the public domain ensuring literacy was no longer in the hands of a few private and wealthy individuals. Posters have also developed outside the West and are intertwined with histories as diverse as West African Vodoo practises and Palestinian martyrdom.  Perhaps most famously posters have been used as a powerful means of advertising. In the present digital age their materiality still maintains an enduring hold on us, allowing mute walls to continue speaking.

The posters in the collection of the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture are mainly from   our Charles Hasler archive. Charles Hasler (1908 – 1992) was a Graphic Designer and Typographer. He worked as a Graphic Designer on several high profile campaigns such as the Festival of Britain, the British Transport Commisssion and the Ministry of Information and he also collected reference material voraciously. This includes works by many of the big names in mid-century graphic design, placing Hasler’s collection at the centre of London’s graphic design scene.  The posters below include some of my personal highlights from the Hasler poster archive, both works he designed and some he collected. 


This small poster is from a Ministry of Information display, collected by Hasler. The Ministry of Information was set up the day after World War II commenced and was the Government department responsible for publicity and propaganda. This poster is a chilling representation of what was going on in Nazi Germany, showing two young children holding swastika flags and giving the Nazi salute. Indeed during World War II poster art experienced a resurgence as governments circulated emotionally gripping posters to inform and recruit civilians to the war effort.


This poster, designed by Charles Hasler, advertises an exhibition at Euston Station on the history of transport. What is particularly interesting is that it depicts the Euston Arch, built in 1837 and inspired by Roman architecture. The Arch was removed in the 1960s, despite strong protests by prominent figures like the poet John Betjeman. This poster quietly documents a part of London that no longer exists.


This poster is for the British Transport Commission, designed by Hasler. It contains a list of charges for various items left on railways. Although this may seem to be a mundane topic it provides a fascinating insight into what people may have been carrying with them on trains at the time. Highlights include a ‘Tuck Box’, a ‘Gun Case’, a ‘Handcart’ and an ‘Ice –Cream Barrow’!

If you are interested in our poster collection then follow us on Facebook (@MuseumofDomesticDesignandArchitecture) and Twitter (@MoDAMuseum) to see more. 

Alternatively, book an appointment at MoDA by emailing and come and see these objects for yourselves. 

If you want to read more on the topic of posters, we recommend Elizabeth Guffey’s recently published ‘Posters: A Global History (London: Reaktion Books, 2015)

Friday, 14 October 2016

Katagami in Practice: Project Launch

Participants in the Katagami in Practice project met together yesterday at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture for the first time. It was great to see everyone buzzing with ideas and thinking about how their different approaches might work together.
Our intention is that the five participants work both individually and collaboratively to produce a range of outcomes over the next year. We'll also be documenting and reflecting on the process of research itself, through a series of short video interviews with participants. 

We've got a great team, each bringing a range of backgrounds and experience.  Caroline Collinge is a designer maker who comes from a costume and performance background. She has a long interest in Japanese crafts of origami, and in the way in which fabrics move when worn on the body. She is intending to create garments informed by close analysis of the katagami in MoDA's collection, and then to develop these into costumes to be worn for a dance performance. We're hoping to find some way of collaborating with the dance department here at Middlesex University for this aspect of the project.  

Caroline's work chimes nicely with the ideas put forward by Mamiko Markham. Mamiko was born in Kyoto and grew up making katagami from a young age. She has a deep knowledge of the symbolism of the motifs used in katagami design and in the techniques used to make them. Her work for this project will include analysis of images of the katagami created using an infrared camera. This will reveal marks such as stamps and signatures which are not visible to the naked eye, which should enable Mamiko to accurately determine the dates, geographical origins and makers of each specific stencil. It's even possible that she might find we have the work of her great grandfather, who was a katagami maker!

Dr Alice Humphrey's interest in katagami stencils is from a rather different angle. Her PhD at Leeds University looked at the analysis of spirals in decorative designs, and her interest in this project is in using mathematical modelling to determine how the effects of light and shade are created in the stencils using only varying thicknesses of line. She has developed an online tool for manipulating designs using this method, and she hopes to develop this further.  Alice works closely with ULITA at Leeds University, which has a collection of katagami stencils similar to MoDA's. We hope to be able to work together more closely with ULITA through this project, sharing knowledge and developing joint resources.

Dr Sarah Desmarais began her career as a fine artist but found herself always drawn to textiles in particular. Her practice as a textile designer-maker has developed into an interest in the slow and manual processes of making; the interrelationship of digital and manual craft cultures, the meditative and repetitive nature of making things by hand and the deep engagement with the material world that this entails.  Her plan is to engage in the process of making katagami herself - no doubt aided by Mamiko's expertise - and to observe and reflect on that process.

The title of this project refers to "Japanese stencils in the Art School", and part of the aim is to consider how these stencils have been used in art and design teaching both historically, since the nineteenth century, and in a contemporary setting. Katagami stencils exist in many other museum collections across Europe, particularly those which evolved from schools of art or technical colleges.  We want to look at how katagami stencils can engage students' creative practice today in a deeper way than simply inspiring them to reach for the laser cutter.  To this end, Sarah intends to devise workshops for students that will consider katagami as ‘taskmasters’, ‘ambassadors’ and ‘networkers’, in human-material interweavings across time and space.   There will no doubt be many other ways in which this project can support teaching both at Middlesex University and elsewhere.  

All of the participants bring a wealth of experience and expertise from entirely different - yet strangely complementary - fields of research.  Several common themes are emerging already, including perhaps the relationship between the manual and the digital in cultures of making.  This project continues until Spring 2018, and there will be a variety of outputs along the way, not all of which are decided yet.  We’re also interested in documenting the process of research, and we’ll be helped in this by Jack Adams, an historian and filmmaker, who will be recording video interviews with the participants along the way as they reflect on their research, refine their ideas and share their progress. 

This project is supported by Designation Development Funding from the Arts Council England