Symposium: Interpreting Collections: Idea, Object, Site

Day symposium considering the relationship between ceramic art practice and museum collections within the broader context of contemporary visual culture

This one-day symposium, timed to accompany the exhibition DreamWork by artist and researcher Christie Brown, considers the relationship between ceramic art practice and museum collections within the broader context of contemporary visual culture. The symposium addresses key areas of inspiration for artists within this context, by focussing on the dialogue between the concept, the collection and the specific nature of the site. Papers will feature a subjective response to Freud’s archaic figurative collection, the uncanny notion of the inner life in inanimate objects and the private house as museum, broadening out to raise curatorial and theoretical questions around the nature of this art practice within post modern culture and ideology.

The symposium forms part of the research project Ceramics in the Expanded Field ( funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council through the University of Westminster in London. Researchers Christie Brown, Julian Stair and Clare Twomey and PhD student Laura Breen form the team for this project and the exhibition DreamWork is a key element in the dissemination of the outcomes. The major objective of the project is to investigate the ways in which contemporary ceramic artists have used ceramic practice to initiate new ways of working and new dialogues within the context of museums.

Clare Twomey- Introduction to Ceramics in the Expanded Field:

Christie Brown-Professor of Ceramics at the University of Westminster: Dreaming and Working followed by short Q&A

The parallel disciplines of archaeology and psychoanalysis have inspired my art practice over many years and the ceramic medium is a key presence in museum collections, offering insights into the lives of human beings over time. As a figurative artist I am drawn to Freud’s collection of antiquities which inspired his use of the archaeology metaphor. The figure is especially powerful as a recipient for human emotion and projection giving rise to a rich cultural history of myths of origin and animated beings. In this talk I will present the ideas behind of my exhibition DreamWork and illustrate the development of my practice through figuration, narrative and installation.

Christie Brown is a practising artist based in north London and Professor of Ceramics at the University of Westminster. She graduated from Harrow School of Art in 1982 and her work is featured in several private and public collections in Europe and the USA.

Esther Leslie-Professor of Political Aesthetics at Birkbeck College, London-Houses of the Future Perfect: Freud, Benjamin and Schwitters’ Domestic Collections followed by short Q&A.

This talk considers the notion of the home-museum through three figures – Freud, Walter Benjamin and Kurt Schwitters. These three inhabitants prove to lodge in various ways with each other. For one, under the influence of Freud’s dream analysis, Benjamin writes down a dream about Goethe’s house, which he has visited before and in whose visitor’s book he finds his name ‘already entered in big, unruly, childish scrawl’ and at whose dinner table he finds places set for his relatives, ancestors and descendants. This will lead him to exclaim: when the ‘house of our life…is under assault and enemy bombs are taking their toll, what enervated, perverse antiquities do they not lay bare in the foundations!’. Benjamin’s other homes, his exile homes, real and those imaged – such as the cave-like arcades – are considered as repositories of ‘perverse antiquities’. These homes are set alongside those of a fellow exile, Kurt Schwitters, who built for himself three ‘Merzbau’ home-museums, each one as incomplete as Benjamin’s Arcades Project, each one wrecked by war, like that project too. Freud lodges now and again in these houses, and his own house-museum is considered as a practical instantiation of the project of realising memories objectively.

Esther Leslie is Professor of Political Aesthetics at Birkbeck, University of London. Her first book was Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism (Pluto, 2000). She has also authored a biography of Benjamin (Reaktion, 2007). In 2002 she published Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory, and the Avant Garde (Verso). It excavated the historical relationships between critical theory, European intellectuals and animation, in its avant garde and commercial varieties. Since then she has published and lectured extensively on all types of animation. A subsequent book, Synthetic Worlds: Art, Nature and the Chemical Industry (Reaktion, 2005), investigated the industrial manufacture of colour and its impact on conceptions of nature and aesthetics. She runs a website together with Ben Watson,

Janice West-Writer and curator: Serious Toys followed by short Q&A.

In Freud’s 1919 essay The Uncanny he notes the uncanny effect produced by “…waxwork figures, ingeniously constructed dolls and automata”. and discusses the paradoxical feelings that they produce in the viewer. The contradictions of an object that appears to be alive and autonomous but is created and controlled by man and often built for human enjoyment are acutely pertinent in a world where AI departments are working on ideal cyberhumans. The conflicted desire these creations brings are freighted with fear and anxiety as well as pleasure and will be discussed in this paper with examples from John Joseph Merlin to Hiroshi Ishiguro via Burne-Jones and Bladerunner.

Janice West is a London-based independent researcher and curator. With Tessa Peters she has created a number of exhibitions: The Uncanny Room,( 2002) at Pizthanger Manor, Ealing and re-staged at the Bowes Museum, County Durham;, The Secret Life of the Office (2008) Arts and Business, London, The House of Words (2009) Dr Johnson House, London and Memoranda, 2011 Crafts Study Centre, University of the Creative Arts, Farnham. Each exhibition was accompanied by a publication edited by the curators. She has curated and organized other exhibitions: Made to wear: Creativity in Contemporary Jewellery (1998) Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, London and wrote the accompanying book; and The Era: A hundred years of London Theatre (2008) for the City of Westminster Archives Centre. She has written essays for exhibition catalogues and books, notably Christie Brown: The cast of characters (1995) University of Westminster; Maud Cotter : Mute displacement(1995) Galerie Schlossgoart, Luxembourg, and Footnotes: On shoes Rutgers University Press,(2001).

Calum Storrie-writer and exhibition designer: Turning Around/Going Back followed by short Q&A

In this talk I would like to examine the allure of immersion as exemplified by the visit to the museum/shrine/home of the famous. To what extent does this ‘immersion’ depend on the illusion of an unmediated environment? What are the dangers of travelling in time and space? How can artists or designers find room to operate within these hermetic spaces? The pilgrim’s reading of the shrine can be disrupted in a number of ways…by intervention in the form of adding content (artwork, labels, vitrines and any number of museological knick-knacks) or by the displacement and removal of treasured objects. My usual rôle as an exhibition designer is to conspire in the removal of objects from one context (the collection) into another (the exhibition). So I would also like to look at the process of migration of objects between spaces and discuss what this does to them.

Calum Storrie has designed exhibitions for many of London’s major public galleries including the Royal Academy, the National Portrait Gallery, the Wellcome Collection and the National Gallery. He has worked in the museum sector since 1986 and has worked as part of an exhibition design office, been an in-house designer at the British Museum and now runs his own micro-studio (i.e. he works alone in a basement). As well as teaching on interior design and museum studies courses he has written the book The Delirious Museum; A Journey from the Louvre to Las Vegas – published in 2007.

Andrew Renton-Curator of Applied Art at the National Museum of Wales-Deposits and withdrawals at the ‘collective memory bank’: ceramic artists and the National Museum of Wales followed by short Q&A.

The first ‘intervention’ by a contemporary ceramic artist at the National Museum of Wales took place a century ago, thanks to Bernard Leach’s close relationship with his uncle who also happened to be the Museum’s founding director. However, it is only in the last two decades that the National Museum has engaged with ceramic artists in a sustained and strategic way. This survey of the Museum’s experience of this engagement will reflect on the interaction between curatorial and artistic practices, on the inspirational role of the Museum and its collections, and on the implications for the profile of contemporary ceramics within the Museum’s multidisciplinary context.

Andrew Renton is Head of Applied Art at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. Since joining the Museum in 1999, he has emphasised the development of the Museum’s collection of contemporary applied art, seeking to work with artists and to use collections creatively as part of an active and ambitious acquisition strategy. He has curated exhibitions at the National Museum in Cardiff in collaboration with Edmund de Waal (Arcanum: mapping European porcelain, 2005) and Elizabeth Fritsch (Dynamic Structures: Painted Vessels by Elizabeth Fritsch, 2010). His other priorities have included research into and acquisitions for the full range of post-mediaeval applied art collections, in particular Welsh ceramics and historic silver. Prior to moving to Cardiff, he worked for six years at National Museums Liverpool as a curator of applied art, including three years at the Lady Lever Art Gallery.

Glenn Adamson- Head of Research at the Victoria & Albert Museum-
More Than a Feeling: The Museum as Research Institution followed by short Q&A.

Museums are many things: spaces of entertainment, places to meet friends, repositories of objects. But of course they are also structures built on expertise. In this talk, Glenn Adamson will speak from his experience as Head of Research at the V&A. After a brief description of the way that research operates at this museum, he will address strategic priorities and opportunities for object-led research in the 21st century. Among the topics covered will be research in a digital space; issues of intellectual property; the relationship between academic and commercial content; and transformations in the nature of curatorial work and expertise.

Glenn Adamson is Head of Research at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Dr. Adamson is co-editor of the triannual Journal of ModernCraft, and the author of Thinking Through Craft (Berg Publishers/V&APublications), an anthology entitled The Craft Reader (Berg, 2010), and the forthcoming book The Invention of Craft (Berg, 2013). His other publications include the co-edited volume Global Design History (Routledge, 2011). He was the co-curator for the exhibition Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, 1970 to 1990, which was on view at theV&A from September 2011 to January 2012.

Dr Julian Stair (Chair)

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