Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Student Experience at MoDA

As a university museum, much of our time and energy here at MoDA goes into helping Middlesex students explore the potential of accessing a museum collection. Since the beginning of the Autumn term, MoDA's Learning Officer, Richard Lumb, and I have been speaking to Art & Design students from a range of courses. For many the idea of using archive material is something new. Our aim is to demystify this process as much as possible, and to show them just what an exciting and inspiring experience exploring a museum collection can be.

Some have quite definite ideas about what they want to see. Others are understandably less sure. There is no 'right' way of approaching the collections as far as we are concerned, and I'm more than happy to chat to the students about what they are looking for. I can then suggest different aspects of the collection that might be useful. Most students are working to tight deadlines, and we do our best to arrange appointments as soon as possible.

Those looking for visual inspiration might want to focus on original hand-drawn designs or samples of fabric and wallpaper. For others it might be our collection of magazines and journals, furniture catalogues or knitting patterns. They can photograph whatever takes their fancy, sketch particular details that appeal to them, or take notes.

An initial sense of trepidation some feel when they first walk through the door quickly evaporates as the boxes are opened and their contents revealed:"I love that!" "That really reminds me of ...." "That's going to work really well with what I'm doing." "That's a bit strange!" All very typical responses from all our visitors, not just the students who come to see us.

So who's been in lately and what have they been looking at? Pictured is Magda Durka who is in her 3rd year of the BA Fashion & Textiles course here at Middlesex. Her focus is the idea of the future, and the application of emerging technologies in the design and production of fashion textiles. Not a theme you might naturally associate with an archive collection! Yet I was able to point Magda towards designs within MoDA's collections from the 1930s. Many designers deliberately turned away from traditional, historical influences during this period and sought to develop a 'modern', forward-looking aesthetic based on geometric pattern and abstract forms.

A desire to represent and reinterpret a modern and fast changing world is a recurring preoccupation amongst designers. Exploring the designs at MoDA enabled Magda to see her own attempts to do this within a broader historical context, as well as get some fantastic visual inspiration from the designs themselves.

Tomorrow I'll be working with one of our BA Illustration students. Her project involves creating a wallpaper design suitable for a kitchen and bathroom. I'll be showing her a range of papers from our collections designed with these two spaces in mind, from the washable 'sanitary' papers of the late nineteenth century, to the quirky and colourful designs produced for kitchens in the 1950s. Hopefully she'll be just as enthused and inspired as Magda.

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