Wednesday, 18 December 2013

layers of inspiration

MoDA's Head of Museum Collections, Zoe Hendon, looks forward to a project starting in the New Year

Like many museums, at the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MoDA) we often talk about the ‘inspirational’ nature of our collections.  Our annual ArthurSilver Award for students, for example, requires students to use MoDA’s collections as the basis of their inspiration for a piece of studio work.  But having run this Award for a number of years, we’ve observed that – whatever the quality of the students' final work – students often find it hard to explain the process by which they have moved from initial inspiration to final finished piece.

We began to realise that we were making a lot of assumptions about inspiration and the creative process.  So we’re about to embark on an exciting project which will ask students to articulate what’s going on for them.  Work in this area has tended to focus on the visual aspect of ‘influence’, or how history informs current creative practices, but the process by which this occurs has not so far been articulated. 

We’re delighted to have received some funding from the London Museums Group’s Share Academy project.  I will be working with Linda Sandino from Universityof the Arts (UAL); we're inviting students from the MA Textiles course at ChelseaCollege of Art to visit MoDA to explore its holdings, and attempt to articulate the process of ‘inspiration’. We’ll be using qualitative interviewing as the means to articulate and make manifest how designers use museum collections. I'll be blogging about this more as the project develops.

Layers of Learning

One of the really interesting things about this project will be the different layers of learning that are going on at the same time.  For students, the priority will be learning from objects, creating new work, and developing their practice. 

But for Linda and I this won’t be our main concern.  Of course we hope that students produce great work, and we look forward to seeing some of it at the Chelsea MA Textiles Degree Show in September 2014.  But the quality of the final work is less interesting to us than the students’ ability to help us understand the process of inspiration.  What is it that happens when a creative person encounters something that sparks their imagination, gets their creative juices flowing, or takes them in an entirely different direction to the one they would have anticipated?  And by implication, how can we help this to happen for students for whom it all seems like something that happens to 'other people'? 

And interestingly, yet another kind of learning will also be in play.  The project is funded by London Museums Group (LMG), who have in turn received their funding from Arts CouncilEngland (ACE).  For LMG, the aim is to find out more about how people from museums and Higher Education Institutions (HEI) can work together, and to see if it’s possible to draw up any kind of model or guidelines for similar collaborations in future.  So again, LMG is less interested in the ostensible outcomes achieved by MoDA and UAL, and much more concerned with the process by which we get there.  They want to find out what the barriers are (bureaucracy? inertia? workload?) to collaboration between museums and HEI's, and what can be done to smooth this path.

We're looking forward to getting started in the New Year - watch this space for updates on our progress!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

In pursuit of Beauty

Back in 2011, the V&A's exhibition The Cult of Beauty explored the rise of the Aesthetic movement in Britain.  Members of the Aesthetic movement - including artists such as Whistler, Rossetti and Leighton - wished to escape the ugliness they saw resulting from Britain's Industrial Revolution; and wanted instead to create an escapist world of 'Beauty'.

At the time, the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture lent a number of objects to that exhibition, drawn from the Silver Studio collection.  The original exhibition toured to the Musee D'Orsay in Paris, and then to the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco.  Now a revised version of the exhibition is to be shown in Tokyo, with the title Art for Art's Sake, and two objects from MoDA's collections will again be on show.

The exhibition explores the way in which the traditional boundaries between the 'fine arts' and 'design' were blurred by the Aesthetes, as they sought to transform not just paintings, but their whole domestic environments.  Thus interior design, furnishings and dress were just as much of interest to the Aesthetic movement as were traditional oil paintings.

Design for decoration of door and wall, Arthur Silver for the Silver Studio, around 1885
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (SD3)
Design for a drawing room, by Arthur Silver of the Silver Studio, around 1885
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (SD4)

These two designs for interiors are unusual within the Silver Studio collection in that they depict decorative schemes for rooms, rather than the designs for flat patterns - wallpapers and textiles -which form the bulk of the collection.  They show the way that Aesthetic movement ideas were borrowed by designers and adapted for a mass market.  By the 1880s, when these were created, the Aesthetic movement motifs of peacock feathers, fans etc, had become commonplace within the wider market, not just among a small elite.

The exhibition Art for Art's Sake will be on show at the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum in Tokyo from January until May 2014.