Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Cole & Son

Researching the collections at MoDA often results in the discovery of interesting information about designers and artists, some famous some not, that have a connection with the collections. In this case the link is not with an individual but with a company that manufactures wallpapers, Cole & Son. Based in Tottenham in North London, Cole & Son have been making wallpapers for over 130 years. If you are interested in how Cole's makes wallpapers using the original method then check out this amazing film clip.

MoDA has over 60 objects that have a connection with Coles, including the wallpaper below that features a fabulous large scale gothic pattern of hexagons, designed by John Aldridge and printed by Cole & Son in 1946. Currently this particular paper along with a number of other wallpapers, have been selected by sound artist Felicity Ford for the Sonic Wallpapers project. Felicity has been given permission by Coles to undertake some sound recordings in the factory in the next stage of the project.

Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SW2074)

So in recognition of our historical and contemporary links with Coles, I have selected a number of other papers that have' caught my eye' and reveal the links with the collections.

The first paper that I have chosen is from a collection of Coles wallpaper samples dating from 1926. It feels quite light and fanciful and conjures up images of the archetypal english country cottage.

Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SW150)

This next wallpaper sample features a design of masonry blocks, some of which are decorated with low relief ivy sprays, in off-white and seal grey, on a stone ground. Not something that I would want on my walls but I like the way that designer has added the ivy sprays to 'soften' the bricks. This paper is one of the 'Bardfield' range of papers designed by Edward Bawden and John Aldridge and was produced by Cole & Son in 1938 from blocks cut by the artists.

Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SW2070)

This wallpaper design with an abstract design in white, on a yellow ground was designed by Graham Sutherland and appeared on the cover of Architectural Review(July 1945). I like this paper because it looks hand drawn and unfinished and it feels so different to the design above with its bricks and straight lines. It was bought by Coles and printed at Perrys.

Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA 2037)

Entitled 'Stella' this paper was designed by Lucienne Day and is so typical of the 'Contemporary' style of the 1950s which I like. This paper was colour screen printed by Coles in 1951 at their new screen print studios at 18 Mortimer Street, in the heart of London's West End. Opened in 1949 the studio was the first of its kind in Europe.

Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SW2226)

Today Coles still prints wallpapers by hand, and has provided wallpapers for many historical houses including Buckingham Palace and the White House. The company has worked on  collections with top international designers such as, Tom Dixon, Pierro Fornasetti and Vivienne Westwood.

You will be able to see these wallpapers and other objects from the MoDA collections with the launch of the museum's website early next month.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Sonic Wallpapers Update Feb 2012 part 2

Here is the second part of our recent interview with Felicity Ford, sound artist, talking about the Sonic Wallpapers project:

RL: You mentioned that you were considering a more innovative approach to exhibiting the wallpapers and audio sounds. Is this still going ahead and what are your thoughts behind this approach?

FF: I am in discussions with MoDA at the moment about the best way to display the Sonic Wallpapers alongside the actual wallpaper samples. We are exploring the potential for displaying the wallpapers in sites where sounds have been collected for the Sonic Wallpapers. Collecting all the sounds for the Sonic Wallpapers is going to involve some research into different kinds of places and buildings, as there is a huge variety of different atmospheres and sounds to record. Once I have found appropriate locations and made field recordings in them, it would perhaps be exciting to exhibit the associated wallpaper samples in them. For example, if I visit a historic house to record the creaky staircase and the particular sounds of opening an old, casement window for one of the wallpaper interviews, the wallpaper for which I needed that sound could perhaps be displayed there.

Installing speakers in each location would be extremely costly, so the plan is to provide a QR code and a sound-list in each location. This means that people with a smartphone can scan the barcode and download and hear the Sonic Wallpaper associated with each piece in situ, on their mobile phone.

I am excited about exploring these options, because I think there are many different ways of giving sounds to audiences besides sticking a pair of speakers in a room or presenting sounds in a concert setting. I think the audience will have to work a little bit harder to get the sounds in the ways that I am proposing to exhibit them, but I am hoping that the sounds, the moments of discovery and the sense of participating in a treasurehunt will be exciting enough to make it worthwhile!

At its simplest, the wallpaper interviews are like a virtual tour through many different kinds of imagined spaces and rooms. People describe tall rooms, small rooms, toilets, staircases, kitchen drawers and all sorts, and while I hope to recreate this sense in the soundpieces, I think it would be just fantastic if people could experience that idea in a very physical way, journeying to all kinds of quirky or interesting buildings to see the wallpaper samples, and to hear the sound pieces which I have created in response to them.

RL: Where will they be exhibited?

FF: I can't say yet, as we haven't finalised the recording locations! But I am hoping that most of the sites will be public venues, lying just a little ways off the beaten track, and free to access.

RL: If people cannot get to the venues can they see (and hear) the exhibition online?

FF: There will lots of material available online, because obviously the QR codes are not a technology which everyone is familiar or comfortable with, and not everyone will be inclined to go on a soundhunt around London looking at wallpaper samples and searching with their phones for downloadable pieces of Sonic Wallpaper! It will be possible to hear and see everything from the comfort of your desktop, and it may be worth encouraging people to download the sounds to a personal mp3 player if QR codes prove to be less successful or user-friendly than they currently seem.

RL: Yes, speaking of QR codes; are you planning to test out the feasibility of QR codes as a way of giving sounds to audiences?

A QR code is basically a barcode which links directly to an internet address, and there are loads of phone applications which will turn your mobile device into a barcode scanner. If you want someone to be able to download a sound and hear it through their headphones, it is advantageous, because it is much easier to introduce a small image into most environments than it is to introduce speakers! We're still thinking about how this will work in practice, though.

RL: You have recently created some learning resources as part of the Sonic Wallpapers project. Who are they for and what do you hope they will achieve?

FF: I have created a 3-part worksheet series which basically unpacks my own creative process behind making Sonic Wallpaper, so that other students of sound can see the rationale behind what I am trying to do here. I think there is a lot to be discovered through the process of doing something, so I have tried to explain the process in practical terms, step-by-step, and I have provided a set of audio samples which people wishing to experiment with the process have something to work with. I would say this learning resource is really aimed for people who already know how to make field-recordings and edit sounds, as I haven't provided any instruction on this in the worksheets!

I am developing some other resources, which will be a little bit less complex, and which are aimed at anyone who wants to experiment with considering wallpaper from a sonic perspective! Over time I am hoping that the Learning Resources page will come to be a useful collection of sounds and worksheets for contemplating the everyday ritual of decorating our homes from an entirely different, sonic perspective.
For the latest info about the project go to the Sonic Wallpapers blog.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Sonic Wallpapers Update Feb 2012

We're really enjoying working with sound artist Felicity Ford on our Sonic Wallpapers project. Felicity has blogged about the process quite a bit already, but we decided it was time for an update here too. She had so much to say about the project that we couldn't fit it all in one post. This the first part of the interview:

RL: You were interviewing people for a week at the end of last year; how did that go and what did you make of interviewees' responses?
FF: How people feel about wallpaper is quite personal, and I wanted the interviews to have that informal nature of discussions about decorating which people have in their own homes. For this reason we decided that I would interview people already known to me so that they would feel relaxed enough to share their real views on the wallpapers. We also decided that some people would come in pairs so that I could try and capture the specific dynamics of two people arguing about a wallpaper design! One fear I had was that some of the wallpaper samples would be so outside of what people are used to looking at that they wouldn't be able to say much about them, but in fact this didn't happen at all. Instead, everyone went into a lot of depth about what I showed them from the MoDA collection, and everyone commented on how inspiring it was to look through such a varied and unusual selection.

RL:You spent most of January listening through and editing guest responses to MoDA wallpapers; was that straightforward? Were there many surprises?
FF: I had over 9 hours of interview material in the end, and these long, rambling conversations had to be pulled into some kind of order, so it was a time-consuming process and it took a while to listen through to everything. I decided the most efficient thing would be to match up all the comments relating to individual designs, and - through that process - to start understanding which wallpaper samples contained the most interesting potential for making sound pieces. I now have a massive audio file which has twenty sections in it, each one relating to one of the samples which has made it into the final shortlist!

The most surprising aspect of the interviews is which wallpaper samples evoke the richest responses. Some designs which seem at first glance to be quite unremarkable stimulate very interesting conversations, whereas some of the more outlandish designs which catch your eye have almost the opposite effect. Listening through to the audio, I realised we all have a tendency to look at a piece of wallpaper and build a narrative around it; very rarely did anyone discuss paper purely in terms of its design or formal qualities. I was also surprised by how evocative everyone found the smaller samples - particularly the ones with a faded, vintage appearance. Nearly everyone commented that such wallpaper pieces were hard to think of as samples for a room, because they seem a bit like an artefact - or a trace - from someone else's life, and not at all like a page in a fresh sample book.

RL: Shortlisting MoDA wallpapers – what was thinking behind reducing the number of wallpapers from 50 to 20?
FF: This was entirely led by the sound-editing process. Wallpaper pieces which only generated a couple of comments were culled because I want the sound pieces to offer several perspectives on each design. I also culled wallpaper samples which hadn't really provoked discussions which I could imagine recording sounds for. It's very important to me that there is a strong relationship between the sounds and the wallpaper; where I couldn't see how to build this, I rejected a wallpaper.
This process was not straightforward, and some of the designs which I personally love from a visual perspective were reluctantly expelled from the shortlist, because there just wasn't enough usable interview material to work with. I was also sad that one design (see image below) featuring many nails printed on it didn't make it, as I had been looking forward to recording the sounds of scattering nails on the floor after one interviewee commented that the design made him think of this! On the other hand, some of the wallpaper samples which I wasn't initially thrilled about working with have become much more interesting to me, because of the things people have said about them.

Tacks designed by Alan Shillingford
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA 4755, 4756, 4757)

This project is all about exploring the MoDA wallpaper collection through sound, and what people said about the wallpaper samples really had to lead the selection process. Listening to other people's perspectives on the wallpaper samples made me see them differently, and I hope that this will be true for people who hear the Sonic Wallpaper pieces at the end of this project.

RL: Once you had edited the responses and culled the papers the next stage was to match everyday sounds – have you started this process?
FF: At the moment I am making lists of sounds which need to be recorded to best animate the things said in interviews. I love lists of sounds; I think they are very evocative, and the more I reflect on a list of sounds, the clearer I become about where I need to go to actually record what I can hear in my head. One sound-list associated with a wallpaper design so far reads:
  • thorns - perhaps the sound of teasels? "sparkly" "spiny"
  • twigs snapping underfoot
  • the sound of wind in pine trees
  • the specific dead air of a closely-planted wood
  • peeling bark off a birch tree - just that very thin layer
  • air, the slight tinkle of a dog-collar jangling you'll see it's quite specific, and I need to consider quite carefully what sorts of places might yield up some of these sounds, and to look at maps so that I don't end up going to a woodland area which is right beside a motorway, for instance, because in that case the sound of cars would dominate and not conjure up the imaginary world inspired by this particular wallpaper design at all! All the interviews refer to earlier periods in history in one way or another - because of the historic quality of MoDA's wallpaper collection. I think the process of recording sounds needs to be in accord with this. If someone talks about a wallpaper reminding them of an old, Victorian house, the sounds which follow should evoke that period, and the acoustics of a space which is not kitted out with 21st century technology (photocopiers, electric kettles, mobile phones etc.).

As you can see Felicity has been very busy. Catch the second half of the interview with Felicity next week. For more info about the project go to Felicity's Sonic Wallpapers blog.

Friday, 3 February 2012

MoDA Online

MoDA's website is still in the final stages of development; it should be ready in the next few weeks after what feels like endless delays. Thank you for your patience, and let's hope it will be worth the wait!

In the meantime, object records from the museum'scollections are already being shared online in various ways, notably through a website called 'Exploring Twentieth Century London'. This site brings together objects from a number of museums across London, to tell the story (or rather stories) of the century in away that no single museum would be able to do on its own. The site is well worth a look; you'll find some of MoDA's objects in the sections related to the home and suburbia, as well as loads of interesting stuff from elsewhere. You can browse by theme, by decade, or by geographical area.

page from 'Beautility' furniture catalogue, 1958
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA219)

Interestingly,the record which gets most 'hits' each month by users of the site is a furniture catalogue from MoDA's collection; the 'Beautility' furniture catalogue from1958. I have no idea why this should be receiving so much interest. If anyone has any thoughts on the reasons for the remarkable popularity of this object, I'd be fascinated to hear them!