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

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Katagami in Practice: Japanese Stencils in the Art School

The Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA) has been awarded funding from Arts Council England to support a major research project on Japanese stencils from the Silver Studio Collection.   

The Silver Studio Collection at MoDA includes around four hundred Japanese katagami, traditional resist-printing stencils for textiles, dating from the late nineteenth century.  They were acquired by designers working in the Silver Studio as a source of inspiration.  The Silver Studio was a commercial design studio that operated from 1880 to 1960, producing designs for wallpapers and textiles.  MoDA’s collection of katagami is one of the largest and most significant public collections of katagami in Britain (others are at the V&A and Leeds University).   

The katagami in MoDA’s Silver Studio collection are among the Museum’s most popular objects.  They hold a fascination for students and creative practitioners because of the intricacy of their cutting and the beauty and stylisation of the motifs depicted.  As such they hold enormous potential for research that brings together an historical perspective with a practice-based approach, focussing on the importance of this kind of collection as a source of inspiration for artists and designers, both historically and today.  

This project will employ four researcher/practitioners to investigate and respond to the collection between October 2016 and March 2018.  Their brief will be to consider MoDA’s katagami from a variety of perspectives, both historical and practice-based.  We intend that this research will enable us to contribute to ongoing international discussions about the place of katagami as objects which transition between East and West, and between past and present.  The project will also develop new approaches to the use of katagami within current teaching in Art and Design.  

Full details of all the participants and their research areas will be announced here next week.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Katagami research project - Call for Proposals

The Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA) is seeking to employ four researcher/practitioners to consider the katagami collection at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture from a variety of perspectives, both historical and practice-based, between October 2016 and March 2018.

Katagami stencils are a Japanese technique for applying printed pattern to cloth, traditionally for kimonos.  These stencils are increasingly recognised as having had an important relationship with, and impact on, art and design in the West. 

katagami stencil (k1-25)
Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

The katagami in MoDA’s Silver Studio collection are among our most popular objects.  They hold a fascination for students and creative practitioners because of the intricacy of their cutting and the beauty and stylisation of the motifs depicted.  As such they hold enormous potential for research that brings together an historical perspective with a practice-based approach, focusing on the importance of this kind of collection as a source of inspiration for artists and designers, both historically and today.

We're excited to be launching a new research project, funded by Arts Council England as part of the Designation Development Fund,

Please read full details in the Call for Proposals.

Deadline for submission of proposals is 18th September 2016

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Colour our Collections!

The first week in February saw Twitter being taken over by collections crying out for colour! Led by The New York Academy of Medicine, libraries and special collections were invited to share images suitable for colouring on social media along with the hashtag #ColorOurCollections.

We had a great response to collection images from MoDA (Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture) posted on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. We were particularly delighted to see this beautiful work-in-progress sent in by one of our Twitter followers.

Design for a textile or wallpaper by Archibald Knox from the Silver Studio Collection SD25628, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, thanks to @soy_evelyna 

For museums, it’s another great way to encourage people to engage with collections, as well as highlighting the multitude of applications for museum objects. Through colouring a Silver Studio design (as seen above), greater attention is paid to its intricacies, as well as imagining what colours may have been intended for the final product.

With a tendency for increasingly busy lifestyles, particularly in London, we can see how taking the time to stop and be ‘mindful’ can help with relaxing and de-stressing.

The craze for colouring appears to be continuing, with colouring books topping Amazon’s best-sellers list, the Wellcome Trust trialling teaching mindfulness in schools, and even hospitals using them as a calming technique, for example before an operation.

With a whole host of claimed therapeutic effects (as well as fun and nostalgia!), why not give it a go yourself? Visit our Pinterest page for a selection of images to download and colour in.

And don’t forget to share your masterpieces on Twitter - #ColorOurCollections @modamuseum.

Palladio wallpaper design, SC51, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

UCL student explores MoDA's Japanese collections

Museum Studies student Sahava Baranow is currently on a placement at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA).  Zoe Hendon finds out how she's been getting on:

ZH: Sahava, can you start by telling us about yourself and your course?

SB: At the moment I am doing an MA in Museum Studies at UCL, where I am learning about the history of museums, and how they can be effectively studied to improve what they are doing. The course is divided into a theoretical part and a practical part, so I have had to write academic essays as well as budget plans, and I have also learned things like how to build crawling insect traps.

My previous academic background is in transnational history, with a focus on the period around 1900, but I have always loved museums and the work they do. So after having done some volunteering, I decided that completing a degree to learn about museums in a more structured way would be the best thing for me to do.

ZH: Why did you want to do a placement at MoDA?

SB: Since I have developed a focus on Japanese collections in the last year or so, I got quite excited about the possibility to work with MoDA and when I found out that they were looking for somebody to do some work on their Charles Hasler collection, I applied immediately with the hope of being able to look into Japanese objects along the way. When I came in for an interview, however, I ended up talking more about Japanese material culture than anything else. The museum got back to me and told me that I could do a research project around katagami (Japanese stencils) to create a placement that fits the needs of the collections as well as my personal interests.

ZH: What have you been doing at MoDA?

SB: I have been doing some research into katagami, which are part of the Silver Studio collection to find out more about their design and their significance in Japanese aesthetics and mythology. I also got a chance to go to ULITA in Leeds, to look into their collection of katagami.

At the same time, I have been able to make the most of my German by looking at some of the German-language objects in MoDA’s collections.  [look out for another blogpost on these in the next few weeks].

ZH: What have you learnt as the result of your placement here?

SB: During my time here I have learned practical things, like how to use the museum catalogue and how to handle fragile books and magazines. I have learned about the intricacies of archival and object-based cataloguing methods and how a museum within a university can operate. Working here has also led me to be more creative in thinking about different ways of displaying objects in museums. Of course, I have also learned a lot about katagami and their meaning within the collection, and the culture they came from.

ZH: Was there anything unexpected about this placement?

SB: What impressed me most at MoDA was how nice everybody here is. I have worked in other museums before and I have always found that people in cultural institutions are friendly, but at MoDA I felt welcome, taken care of and I was always looking forward to my days here.

ZH: What’s next for you now?

SB: After this placement I am going to focus on finishing my MA and some projects I have been working on at other museums in London.  But I’m also really pleased that I have just been offered the post of Assistant Curator at the Museum of East Asian Art in Bath, where I will help to redevelop the permanent collection displays.

Sahava has been a great asset to the team while she's been here, and we wish her every success in her future career.  

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Images of Inspiration

How have designers used photography to inform their work?  Zoë Hendon, Head of Collections at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture looks at this question in relation to the Silver Studio Collection. 

Where do designers get their ideas from?  These days we are familiar with the idea that designers might look to instagram for their reference sources, but in the late nineteenth century photography was a new technology that enabled creative people to get access to new ideas. 

Design museums often intended that their collections should be a resource for contemporary manufacturers.  But they did not  expect people to necessarily visit in person: they published collections of images of items in the museum for the purposes of inspiration.  This example is from the Museum of Art and Industry in Lyon, France.  

Silks and Specimens of tissue  from the collections of the Museum of Art and Industry, Lyon, 1870-1900
SR210, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

Arthur Silver, who established the Silver Studio in 1880, was chiefly a designer of wallpapers and textiles.  But he was so convinced by the usefulness of museums as sources of inspiration that he published his own selection of photographic images from the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A).  He called this the Silvern Series and marketed it to manufacturers as a design resource. 

Label for the Silvern Series (here shown as 'Silvein') of photographs from the
South Kensington Museum, published by Arthur Silver in 1889
SD484, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

Some of the loveliest photographic images in the Silver Studio collection are by Japanese photographer Kasumasa Ogawa, who pioneered photographic techniques in Japan. 

Image from Ogawa's Some Japanese Flowers, 1894
SR189, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

It is clear that the Silver Studio's designer used this kind of reference material frequently in the development of designs for wallpapers and textiles:

Design for textile or wallpaper by the Silver Studio, 1890s
SD9323, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

Correspondence in the Silver Studio collection also confirms that Rex Silver frequently bought books like this well into the twentieth century in order to keep the Studio's ideas fresh.   

The use of photography as part of the design process has been explored recently by MA student Mercedes Giralt from the University of Sussex, and her thesis makes interesting reading.  There is probably plenty more research to be done on the ways in which photography influenced the design process in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In the meantime, students and practitioners continue to use museum collections as a source of inspiration, only nowadays they are able to view images online.  Many images from MoDA's collections are available on our website. A further selection of 500 more images will be made available on the Visual Arts Data Service in the next few weeks - so watch this space!

If you would like to make an appointment to see MoDA's collections in person, please contact us by emailing