Programme

Please scroll to the bottom of the page to see the programme complete with abstracts.


09:30 – Registration. Details on how to find the Sackler Rooms can be found here.

09:55 – Introduction from the co-organisers.

Session 1 – Object Stories: Art Meets Function

10:00 From Wall to Small: The Depiction of Art in Portable Form. Jemma Jones, University of Southampton (PhD candidate).

10:20 Exploring the Everyday: A New Investigation of the Early Bronze Age Axes of Ulster. Caroline Chestnutt, Portable Antiquities Scheme.

10:40 The Relationship of Design and Function in Early Medieval Coins; or Why has Aethelred the Unready got a Mohawk? Anja Rohde, University of Nottingham/Nottingham Trent University, Museums and Heritage (PhD candidate).

11:00 Coral Dolphins at the British Museum. Jack Davy, University College London/British Museum (PhD candidate).

11:20 – Discussion, chair TBC.

11:40 – Tea break.  

Session 2 – Object Stories: Everyday Aesthetics in a Globalised World

12:00 From the Ruins of Empire: The Afterlives of Colonial Objects in Shimla, the Summer Capital of British India. Siddharth Pandey, University of Cambridge (PhD candidate).

12:20 Everyday Propaganda: Children’s Magazines. Mary Ginsberg, Department of Asia, British Museum.

12:40 Beyond Islamic Art: Tales of Objects Inspired by the Qur’an. Ambreen Shehzad Hussaini, Aga Khan University – Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilization (AKU-ISMC) (MA candidate).

13:00 – Discussion, chair TBC.

13:20 – Lunch, participants to make their own arrangements.

Session 3 – Designing the Everyday

14:20 Contemporary Arts Practice & Archaeology: Interdisciplinary Practice Based Research. Helen Marton, Ceramic Artist.

14:40 Unknown Pleasures: Visible Aesthetic/Invisible Function of the Portable Sound Recorder. Katy Beinart, University College London (PhD candidate) and Frank Cartledge, Kingston University.

15:00 Look Again, Think Again: Exhibition Everyday Design. Dr Helen Charman, Director of Learning and Research, Design Museum, London.

15:20 – Tea Break. 

Session 4 – Displaying the Everyday

15:40 The Pursuit of the Vernacular: Museum Objects, Local Aesthetics and Everyday Life. Dr Magdalena Buchczyk, Goldsmiths, University of London.

16:00 ‘Your Jewish Museum’ Crowd-sourced Series: Celebrating the Sacred through Everyday Objects. Carolyn Rosen, Royal Holloway (PhD candidate) and Project Manager, ‘Your Jewish Museum’ series.

16:00 The Aesthetics of Everyday Museum Objects. Dr Jody Joy, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge.

16:40 – Discussion, chairs TBC & Closing remarks.

 Finish by 17:30.


Session 1 – Object Stories: Art Meets Function

09:30 – Registration.

09:55 – Introduction from the co-organisers.

10:00 From Wall to Small: The Depiction of Art in Portable Form. Jemma Jones, University of Southampton (PhD candidate)

Cave art research is dominant within the field of Palaeolithic art research but what about the small or not so small matter of portable art? The 13,000 year old swimming reindeer of Montastruc is an example of a small yet incredibly intricate object.  This poses the question of purpose, were these objects purely aesthetic or functional? What is the significance of moving from cave wall to miniaturisation? Miniaturists such as Slinkachu & Wigan discuss ideas of returning to childhood & Microworlds can these themes be applied to the Palaeolithic?

My research is concerned with different levels of interpretation regarding Palaeolithic religion and how excavation, display and reading of Palaeolithic material have shaped the way we understand religion in an archaeological context.  I begin by introducing the earliest excavations of Palaeolithic objects at Les Eyzies and how the earliest excavations of Palaeolithic material set the scene for our understanding of our ancient ancestors.  A discussion of how Palaeolithic material is collected and displayed in the Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford further advances our knowledge of the period. The way knowledge was acquired through aspects of aesthetics and display demonstrated through the eyes of the collector offers knowledge of the Palaeolithic to modern day art historians. An understanding of the aesthetics of Ice Age Art is as important ad knowledge of functional properties if we are to ever understand the Palaeolithic mind through artistic expression.

10:20 Exploring the Everyday: A New Investigation of the Early Bronze Age Axes of Ulster. Caroline Chestnutt, Portable Antiquities Scheme

As archaeologists we are often guilty of concentrating on the exemplary, frequently at the expense of the commonplace, and the study of Ireland’s Early Bronze Age has been no different. Gleaming gold lunulae have captured public imagination while comparatively humble copper alloy objects have been overlooked. Axes are the most abundant metal object from this period in Ireland, with over two thousand examples consisting of decorated and undecorated objects; of the examples that survive from Ulster, one axe in three is decorated. This is a notably high proportion, representing a large investment of time for the prehistoric communities that created these tools.

This paper investigates the axes of the Early Bronze Age in the area of Ulster. Time has not been kind to these artefacts; today their original splendour is concealed with a layer of patina and corrosion. Although their appearance may have changed, the carefully punched and hammered decoration remains discernible. This talk discusses the development of a classification system, created through the examination of different techniques, organisation of ornament and how aesthetic decisions could have impacted upon the axe as a tool. This method will form the basis for an investigation of potential regional traditions and the change of motif over time.

The importance of axes to Early Bronze Age communities has been commented upon by a number of researchers; this study seeks to concentrate on the aesthetics of axes to understand how people perceived them and how decoration could be used to explore wider cultural phenomena.

10:40 The Relationship of Design and Function in Early Medieval Coins; or Why has Aethelred the Unready got a Mohawk? Anja Rohde, University of Nottingham/Nottingham Trent University, Museums and Heritage (PhD candidate).

This paper will examine how the design of coins may reflect and influence their function within society. It will focus on English coins of the late Saxon and Norman period, but many of the issues considered can be applied to coins of other periods and provenances.

Early Medieval coins are aesthetically pleasing objects, showing quirky royal portraits, religious symbols, and crosses with a variety of interesting forms. Some aspects of their design are clearly related directly to their physical function as money but this paper also looks to investigate those aspects which may relate to more abstract functions, such as communication of political ideas and propaganda. The way the ruler chose to be represented, and the particular design of the symbols on the reverse of the coin, both have the potential to express ideas about the ruling authority. The paper will examine the possible messages encoded in these representations and emblems, and raise the question of who the intended recipients of these messages were. This will allow discussion of how useful Early Medieval coins may have been as tools of communication.

The link between the design of a coin and its various original functions is one which is not commonly examined in museum interpretation. However, it is an association with great potential to help build historical and thematic narratives, and to engage audiences therewith. Many museum collections include coins, and this paper may offer a different way of thinking about their interpretation.

11:00 Coral Dolphins at the British Museum. Jack Davy, University College London/British Museum (PhD candidate).

The British Museum holds one of the most important collections of Floridian archaeology outside North America, numbering some 300 objects from a dozen sites. Of these, by far the most aesthetically arresting is the collection from Key Marco, which has been continuously studied and displayed since it was acquired in 1895.

This presentation is not about the Marco collection, but focuses instead on an overlooked body of material from the Florida Keys acquired in 1907. Being a wet environment, organics do not survive well in the Floridian archaeological record: the Marco material is so famous precisely because wood did survive. The 1907 collection is in consequence dominated by coral and shell net sinkers, deployed by the Natives of the Florida Keys in fishing. Most of these sinkers are carved to accentuate their natural wave-formed shapes, taking an array of sinuous and bulbous forms, but two in particular stand out: they appear to depict leaping dolphins.

Zoomorphic net sinkers are known in Floridian archaeology, but are uncommon. What were the indigenous Floridian’s invoking by depicting dolphins on their fishing equipment? Was it because, as Norman Feder says, “man everywhere seems to enjoy having beautiful things around him”, or were the dolphins, in the words of Lévi-Strauss “mythical symbolism as well as practical function . . . inextricably bound up with each other”. Are these animals purely decorative, or did they hold appreciable practical, intangible functions untestable by modern archaeology?

11:20 – Discussion, chair TBC.

11:40 – Tea break.

Session 2 – Object Stories: Everyday Aesthetics in a Globalised World

12:00From the Ruins of Empire: The Afterlives of Colonial Objects in Shimla, the Summer Capital of British India. Siddharth Pandey, University of Cambridge (PhD candidate).

This paper is based on my yearlong fieldwork in my hometown Shimla lying in the Indian Himalayas, arguably the most famous hill station of the country in the colonial and post-colonial times. It aims to shed light on Shimla’s colonial material culture as appropriated by the town’s citizens in the contemporary times, by looking into old objects scattered throughout the homes of Shimla. In light of failed conservation practices – symptomatic of a larger nationwide scenario regarding heritage conservation – these homes serve as curious museums in their own right, where one may just come across anything from the Raj era, around which some people continue to build their identities and relationships with the town.

I will begin my paper by briefly discussing the various official ventures (and the politics therein) of preserving Shimla’s material culture through museums and architectural conservation practices- understanding architecture as an object in its own right. I will then move to a discussion of a few case studies of old colonial-era homes that I discovered during my yearlong stay in Shimla, charting the nature of human relationship with these objects. I will particularly focus on the ideas of fondness, wonder and contentment that reveal themselves whenever Shimla citizens start discussing their materiality.  The presentation will be accompanied by numerous photographs of many of these objects and will eventually make a case for studying these object-human relationships in order to write a new spatial-cultural history of the town.

12:20Everyday Propaganda: Children’s Magazines. Mary Ginsberg, Department of Asia, British Museum.

Commentators on socialization agree that character education begins in early childhood (Jesuits, Lenin, Durkheim, traditional and modern Chinese educators).  In highly mobilized societies (USSR, PRC, wartime Japan), all agencies of socialization were well-coordinated by the state (school, youth organizations, mass media). Children’s magazines are but one aspect of the unified programme.  They are little-studied, as are other types of children’s ephemera, such as postcards and paper board games.

Kids’ magazines are a hybrid of official literature (e.g., textbooks) and popular media (comics).  They offer a variety of text, imagery and activities. Their features require active participation from their audience.  They are also up-to-the-minute transmitters of policy and action programmes, as they are published frequently and highlight current propaganda campaigns.

The Soviet Union and China each published a magazine for the 5-8 age group, from the early 1920s through the early 2000s (Murzilka and Xiao Pengyou, respectively).  Other publications catered to older children, and some were published for shorter periods, but these two are usefully comparable.  Examining their formats, covers and content across the decades illustrates the changing function, ideological practices and symbolic imagery of revolutionary children’s propaganda.

Kids’ magazines in other, wartime societies are also enlightening and will be referenced in this short talk.  Every aspect of life in wartime Japan was highly mobilized, and children’s magazines were an important agent of patriotic socialization. The USA and UK were less highly-charged, but kids’ magazines–published commercially–carried their share of wartime propaganda.

12:40 Beyond Islamic Art: Tales of Objects Inspired by the Qur’an. Ambreen Shehzad Hussaini, Aga Khan University – Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilization (AKU-ISMC) (MA candidate).

The Qur’an is the foundational text in Islam, regarded as a book of metaphors, parables and allegories. It is approached from multiple perspectives including, but not limited to, language, history, exegesis, sociology, anthropology, aesthetic etc. People approach the Qur’an from diverse perspectives based on their interests and experiences. One of the less known approaches is to experience the Qur’an using an artistic mode.

The purpose of this research is to explore various forms of material art, commonly produced and utilized particularly in the present-day context of Pakistan, inspired by the Qur’an. The paper investigates the function of these artworks by discussing the perceptions of artists who create these art-pieces, and of the local-population who observe/experience/utilize these objects in their everyday life. The implication of this study is to broaden the perspectives of teaching and expressing the Qur’an using imaginative techniques.

A qualitative framework has been adopted for this research by observing and interviewing artists in order to understand their motives behind production. It is traditionally maintained that the poetic language of the Qur’an has a mystical rhythm which creates a state of ecstasy for both the artist and the observer. Artists’ creative attempts to understand the Qur’an allows them to show gratitude to God. They also gain energy and spiritual elevation through it. While creating motifs and designs they feel that their hands and thoughts are divinely guided. Observers utilize these objects not only for decoration or beautification but also for the expression of their faith, belief, identity and spirituality.

13:00 – Discussion, chair TBC.

13:20 – Lunch, participants to make their own arrangements.

Session 3 – Designing the Everyday

14:20 Contemporary Arts Practice & Archaeology: Interdisciplinary Practice Based Research. Helen Marton, Ceramic Artist.

“If we accept that mind and matter achieve co-dependency through the medium of bodily action, then it follows that ideas and attitudes, rather than occupying a separate domain from the material, actually find themselves inscribed “in” the object.”

Thinking through Material Culture – Knappett, Carl

The human condition hasn’t changed all that much, in stark contrast to our comprehension of the world which has expanded exponentially, and yet our drives and needs remain the same as do our most basic preoccupations, hopes and fears. I explore the presupposition that in the process of making and in the use of material we truly encounter, relate and communicate a degree of shared experience and understanding.

I increasingly turn my focus upon the domestic, the repetition of use, the wonder and beauty of a vital tool, the meditation in the everyday task and the rhythm of doing. By slicing into the past we inevitably reflect upon the present; for me, the domestic sphere seems to expressly illuminate those elemental experiences that have changed so little through the ages. As an artist maker, I reinterpret and translate what I consider to be significant.

I have sourced and used unique clay dug only from the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall.  Gabbroic clay was used from the start of the Neolithic period lasting roughly 5000 years. In addition to pushing the technical boundaries with this material, I have explored the use of varied digital technologies to enhance and examine thin sections of 4000-year-old shards from bowl forms. Working with staff from Exeter University, Truro Museum and Camborne School of Mines, I was able to obtain Bronze Age Gabbroic clay shards collected from an archaeological dig at the site of Cornwall’s combined University. Using *QEMSCAN, housed at the same site, (digital microscopy and petrography) By combining both traditional and digital techniques I have produced unique works, which transfer 3D object into 2D slice and then print to 3D object.

14:40 Unknown Pleasures: Visible Aesthetic/Invisible Function of the Portable Sound Recorder. Katy Beinart, University College London (PhD candidate) and Frank Cartledge, Kingston University.

Reading Heidegger’s notion of tool being one could suggest the Walkman Professional WM-D3 tape cassette recorder as an aesthetic object of display is Vorhandenheit (or ‘presence-at-hand’) a broken tool made visible through its lack of function. In use it would have been regarded as Zuhandenheit (or ‘readiness-to-hand’) concealed from a need to recognise its presence whilst it still functioned.

There are two divergent themes proposed within this presentation that attempt (we stress) to explore the potential reading of the Walkman recorder as firstly Vorhandenheit, an object of possible aesthetic contemplation falling within the field of analogue sound and reproduction equipment, and secondly; as Zuhandenheit, discussing the role of portable sound equipment in social and ethnographic study from a more subjective position. In the case of a technological device like the Sony Walkman its ‘objectness’ does not directly indicate what it does or how it came to ‘look’ like it does. The challenge of the Walkman is that it walks the line between haptic knowledge of the mechanical and the closed field of the digital rendered invisible under its minimalist skin.

As an object of contemplation its tool nature remains broken which draws our attention but tells us little. As a functioning object it loses it presence yet becomes a facilitator of social interaction and a producer of cultural content that is rich and polysemic. We have to ask then if encased in a museum display the Sony Walkman will ever live up to McLuhan’s aphorism ‘the medium is the message’.

15:00 – Look Again, Think Again: Exhibition Everyday Design. Dr Helen Charman, Director of Learning and Research, Design Museum, London.

Design is everywhere. We are surrounded by it but often don’t think about why things are the way they are – often not until they fail to meet our needs. What we see in everyday objects is the result of deliberate choices: about colour, shape, pattern, texture, decoration or the initial inspiration for the design. Learning at the design museum develops critical engagement with everyday design through an enquiry based approach. This includes exploring why an object looks a certain way, and how factors such as materials, the manufacturing processes, available technology, cultural context – and of course the intended function of the object –  informs its appearance. Exhibiting ‘design of the everyday’ in a museum context promotes aesthetic engagement as a primary mode of engagement and understanding, but this mode does not necessarily reveal the essential design thinking (the ‘why’ and the ‘how’) that sits behind stylistic appearance, nor the impact of the object in the wider world where it affects change and can act as a catalyst for action.  Visitor research at the design museum suggests that reading design in the exhibition context provides a counterpoint to notions of ‘resonance and wonder’ that are predicated on aesthetic engagement.  My 15 minute presentation will take the most ordinary of everyday objects – the light bulb – as a focus to consider how design can change a stylistic archetype in response to broader contextual drivers arising from today’s complex world.

My object of choice will be the Plumen 001, grandly described as the world’s first ‘designer’ energy saving light bulb. Designed by product design graduate Samuel Wilkinson for the company Hulger, this bulb aims to make an everyday household item something special – by uniting aesthetic pleasure with pragmatic functionality. Instead of the uninspiring shape of most energy saving light bulbs, the Plumen is, arguably, a piece of sculpture in itself.

15:20 – Tea Break

Session 4 – Displaying the Everyday

15:40 The Pursuit of the Vernacular: Museum Objects, Local Aesthetics and Everyday Life. Dr Magdalena Buchczyk, Goldsmiths, University of London.

Are traditional objects necessarily defined by standardised conventional aesthetic style? Are functions of such objects fixed in time and place? Based on historical research and anthropological fieldwork in Romania, this paper explores the complex interactions embedded in vernacular objects. Although defined as markers of local style and traditional everyday life, museum artefacts can often carry stories of rupture, transformation and contested aesthetics. Romanian rural material culture is renowned for its elaborate decoration and is often considered as a valuable part of museum collections in Britain. Drawing on artefacts assembled for the Horniman Museum, this paper investigates the potential of object stories in uncovering the layers of meaning, knowledge and choice.

The paper focuses on the production of pots and domestic textiles. The case studies of vernacular artefacts highlight the tangled nature of aesthetic and technological choices through which these objects emerge. I present some of the contrasting examples of makers following regional aesthetic traditions and those who choose to produce transgressive, outsider objects of differing function and design. I will demonstrate that these transitional acts can remove such makers out of the community of legitimate producers but also can provide opportunities for aesthetic experimentation.

The paper aims to dislocate the objects from their regional setting. Rather than mediating the lifestyles of ahistorical communities, rural material culture tells a story of performative actions as well as multiple negotiations between the makers of the objects, the state and international cultural diplomacy.

16:00 ‘Your Jewish Museum’ Crowd-sourced Series: Celebrating the Sacred through Everyday Objects. Carolyn Rosen, Royal Holloway (PhD candidate) and Project Manager, ‘Your Jewish Museum’ series.

I am currently working as the Project Manager for the team at the London Jewish Museum, working on the ‘Your Jewish Museum’ series of three exhibitions.  The series is funded by a grant from the King’s Cultural Institute (part of King’s College London), and the first of our three shows, Love, is on now at the Jewish Museum.

This series takes a different approach to shows by crowd-sourcing the works on display.  For the Love show, on until 20 April 2015, members of the public—including students, artists, and clergy—have submitted their own objects, heirlooms, and works of art, alongside intimate, surprising, and moving testimonies about what these pieces mean to them.  Displayed alongside treasures from the museum’s Judaica collection, the exhibition brings together objects ranging from the everyday to the rare and precious, representing religious and cultural traditions from around the world.

The following shows, on Journeys and Sacrifice, will take a similar approach.  Above all, this project was designed to help the London Jewish Museum truly become a museum for everyone.  The vision was that people of other faiths, or none, and people who had never visited the Museum before, could come and be part of a series that foregrounded their personal and beloved objects.  I think this series is unique in a very interesting way, and would be honoured to take part in the Everyday Objects workshop at the British Museum to learn more about other approaches.

16:00 The Aesthetics of Everyday Museum Objects. Dr Jody Joy, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge.

The focus of this presentation is to consider how the aesthetics of everyday objects may influence the choices made by museum curators and therefore the future trajectories of their lives once they enter museum collections. Curators choose or select objects for display and for other purposes such as publication, loan or reproduction based on their aesthetic appeal but other factors such as whether it is a ‘representative’ piece, or ‘it tells an interesting story’, also come into play. It goes without saying that decisions such as these are made by individual curators in a given context and time so they are by their nature unpredictable. Through everyday museum work objects languishing in museums stores can be reencountered and re-evaluated from fresh perspectives. Different trends in museology, for example the current preoccupation with making objects in museum stores more visible through initiatives such as visible storage and collections online can also cause objects to be reassessed. Through a consideration of museum practices and everyday objects I hope to demonstrate how aesthetic choices made during manufacture can have long-term consequences.

16:40 – Discussion, chairs TBC & closing remarks.

Finish by 17:30.

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