V&A Late: The Secret Life of Furniture

On Friday I went to a V&A Late – always an enjoyable experience but this one was particularly special as the focus was on furniture, there were chairs aplenty! The evening began with drinks and acid jazz in the foyer, a better combination I struggle to think of! The exhibit is on one of the higher floors so in the ascent there were TV screens set up on each floor to show the development of furniture including wood carving, ergonomic designs and some early silent movies where the focus was on the surroundings rather than the characters. One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition was the focus on construction and the process of making. One of the films focused on dolls house furniture which was painstakingly carved and required dozens of sculpting hours to create mini versions of cabinets and dressing tables. It was fascinating to see the dexterity of the workers in emulating the intricate patterns on small scale.


The new furniture exhibition is great, not least as it is such a tactile and accessible collection. Throughout the space there are elements to touch and experience up close such as wood carvings so you can feel the intricacies of the sculpture. There are also two interactive islands with numerous materials including woods and metal which upon touch will activate screens with several slides of information about the process these materials go through to become part of the furniture.


One of the best interactive elements was a suspended chair display. At first glance it looks as though the chairs are suspended from above as they are stood at such unusual angles but upon invitation by the guides guests were allowed to attempt the balancing act themselves.

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In addition to the interactive elements within the exhibit there were also story tellers about the room who could elaborate on the history and families the furniture belonged to. This made for a great night out – and all of this was before we even reached the hat building stand! Having seen dozens of folks wandering around with paper hats Tom and I were desperate to make our own ‘carpenters caps’, the very thing for keeping sawdust and paint out of your hair.




All in all it was a great exhibit – as per the usual standard at the V&A. The pieces were well laid out, perhaps a little close together on occasion, but overall the space the collection inhabits suits the magnitude of some of the works (Surrealist wardrobes and Baroque sofas being some of the biggest) Would definitely return for another visit, and Friday night museum trips will certainly become part of my regular calendar.





Political architecture or men’s fashion?

I know – they have nothing in common. I have tried to link the two but after careful consideration it seems political architecture might have better prospects long term. Prospects that could include PhD study – and I would be a fool to turn that down!

I have been thinking it over lately and have now contacted tutors and pulled my previous plan on men’s fashion in favour of following along the lines of my Scottish Parliament project. I still feel a bit uncertain about the direction I will take – I’d like to focus on European modern political architecture but need to rein in my ideas to make a clearer focus. At present its all a little bit fuzzy but I have every intention of knuckling down and getting the work covered in the next few months – ideally by trying to get a title nailed down. Though saying that I also need case studies. And to find out if I can visit those case studies. And to see if they have already been done to death… So really, its a pretty big hill to climb! That said, I have really enjoyed the last three weeks attending classes, it has got my brain ticking over again and got me thinking about all of the things I would love to write more on. Now I just need to narrow the focus.

One of the best things about Scottish Parliament was how new the construction was. It had barely been written about making it an ideal masters topic. To be able to break new ground is always exciting, but also so much harder as I struggles to find much of the information and had to do a lot of the fact mining for myself. Having read through literally hundreds of newspaper articles from the press files at the Central Scottish Library made for a fantastic hands on approach but if I now cast the net wider to European cities I could be up against a language barrier. Not sure if this year I have time to be learning languages on top of everything else!

So – some days off are planned to aid with going full steam ahead into political warfare over brick work, site selection and funding! And men’s fashion isn’t forgotten. I think this will become more of a hobby – and as such I will continue to read and appreciate it, but perhaps without writing thousands of words in support, defence and admiration for it. Perhaps one day I will still get the chance to create the much loved idea of a dandy exhibit.


The Art of Memory

Jochen Gerz

Jochen Gerz, 2,146 Stones – Monument Against Racism

In an attempt to keep my brain switched on and engaged with architectural ideas I have attended three Saturday lectures on monuments and memorials. Initially I had thought this would offer some interesting crossovers for my dissertation topic on political architecture but after the classes it looks like it might be an interesting standalone topic. There have been a few points of interest which will inform further reading and areas for exploration so I will be bearing those in mind over the next year, but on balance I think the course has shown little overlap into the areas I would look to probe further in my own studies. In terms of anecdotes and ideas for cultural trips though it has proved a fantastic weekend pursuit.

The Art of Memory, Monuments and Memorials has so far covered a wide variety of topics and debates regarding specific case studies, focusing primarily on war memorials. Engaging with counter monument theory amongst others, Theodor Adorno and Susan Sontag have been focal points in the critical responses to these memorials. The case studies have at times been obscure and drawn baffled looks from around the room as no one has visited or heard of the site in question but through a mixture of first-hand accounts of the location, interviews with the architects and photographs from the sites the class has quickly been brought up to speed.

The above, Jochen Gerz’s 2,146 Stones at the Monument Against Racism proved one of the most interesting examples covered so far. Upon taking up a teaching post at Saarbrucken, Gerz and his art class began a guerrilla art project which would memorialise the 61 Jewish communities whose families graves had been desecrated. The Jewish communities submitted the names inscribed on gravestones which had been taken from cemeteries and used as paving slabs for the roads created by Nazi’s. Gerz and his students stole stones from the forecourt of the Saarbrucken Castle, the seat of the Provincial Parliament, and began secretly inscribing them with the details of those whose gravestones were stolen. ‘Initially, the work was carried out without a commission, in secret and illegally. The stones were removed at night and replaced with engraved ones. All stones were placed with the inscribed side facing the ground and therefore the inscription is invisible. In the course of the project the artwork was approved by Parliament and retrospectively commissioned.’

The course has proved an interesting mix of theory and case studies that have proved controversial or well-known but once unveiled have not been entirely understood. Well-known monuments such as Lincoln’s statue compared to the lesser known, and lesser publicised monuments such as the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial and The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe have proved to be an interesting study in the traditional compared to the modernist. The course is top heavy on contemporary modernist monuments and without much reference to more traditional which has proved thought provoking and informative – both for ideas for cultural trips and the importance of preserving memories and history.

One idea which struck a chord with my ideas for further study into political architecture was the idea of site specificity. Is it appropriate to build on Ground Zero? Should the Vietnam War Memorial have been placed within yards of political seat? Do monuments to those lost at sea have any bearing if they are not in proximity to the scene of death? Loads of questions were raised – and more often than not elicited controversial and conflicting viewpoints. Overall the class seemed to agree that monuments – and the effect they have both on the individual, and society could never remain closeted or objective, subjectivity would prevail – as with all art, it is a matter of opinion.

‘…to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness.’

Upon review 2012 feels like it was impossibly hard – three jobs, two lost friends, 20 hour days as standard and numerous moments when a nervous breakdown seemed imminent – but somehow at the end of it all I feel a bit bigger and braver. So many things this year have felt too much; cruelty in others in their lack of compassion, illness, 80 hour weeks with working and studying combined, insomnia, self doubt over my academic ability and unhappiness following the loss of important people – but somehow it all carried on. Even more impossibly,  I managed to maintain good grades, gain the long hoped for arts job and have been recommended to study at PhD level.

In many ways this last year has been the making of me. Knowing that the worst can happen, that the most stressful and demanding environments can challenge me without crushing me has been illuminating, and has shown I am stronger and a bit more tenacious than I knew. But with hindsight it has also changed me a lot. I would now consider myself much tougher and more prepared to say no, to work harder and to value myself a bit more.

In part I am delighted that 2012 is over as it really hasn’t been a good one – but it also in the knowledge that 2013 brings with it hope and happiness. I will be witnessing the wedding of dear friends, will be a bridesmaid to beloved sister and will recommence studying by taking on the dissertation later this year.  I will also continue to learn and celebrate working at the gallery – an achievement that has come much sooner than anticipated.

2013 will be about celebrating small victories as they come, complaining less about the imbalance in the universe and doing more to right it in small ways.

History of the cravat?

At last, some much needed time to work on my dissertation proposal! After a really hectic few months and several false starts I will now be spending a few days becoming immersed in men’s fashion trying to pinpoint what era / what movements / which styles I would most like to study. Continuing my undergrad fascination with the dandy I initially had every intention of looking at Byron, Wilde and Brummell in more depth and possibly examining the Great Masculine Renunciation – but suddenly that feels too broad. But I don’t know if I can choose just one of those characters. I had also thought about the move from the Decadent period to the Modernist, specifically in Paris (because a field trip might be needed and that would delight the flatmate if I dragged her off to another beautiful city all in the name of learning!) and maybe looking at the history of the uniform. Uniformity as opposed to high fashion and dandies…

Obviously its a good thing I have so many ideas; and the decision to take a year out to research the dissertation means time is on my side, I can read as many articles as I like, and with special access to London School of Fashion and V&A libraries there are numerous avenues I can go down to see if I think I can get 15,000 words out of it.

The alternative to looking at time periods or whole movements would be to look at one item of clothing, such as the cravat and chart the historical and cultural importance and the trajectory of one style over time… Which could be a possibility, after all, the pictures alone in contemporary culture could make it worth it.

And I dance with your ghost, oh but that ain’t the way / I can’t move on and I can’t stay the same

This week nothing seems to fit.

I am exhausted; I haven’t slept properly for weeks. I’m not hungry but drink a lot of wine. I’m not cold but wear about 8 layers a day because at random intervals I become icy. I have an enormous build up of frustration and fear and sadness but I can’t seem to cry or laugh or express deep emotion. I have submitted my biggest piece of work since my undergrad dissertation yet I don’t feel elated or relieved or even that happy, and I think if I had to pinpoint one specific reason asides from the overwhelming tiredness, stress and anxiety it’s because Dan isn’t here to share it with me.

He was so involved in my masters that without him the triumphs mean less. I know he would be incredibly proud of me for pulling it off; he would be amazed at my rock star ability to stay up for almost 4 days straight to complete it, and would have insisted that we go out to get wrecked now that it’s in. And we planned on exactly that: a Camden bar crawl to cement my status as a nearly scholar. Rock climbing because I said I wanted to. He would advise on a trip to Berlin so I could go to Museum Island and see in practice political architecture… But not now. And as such I haven’t felt much like celebrating because this week isn’t what it was supposed to be.

However, there are those who won’t forgo how much this means – how much of an achievement this year has been – lovely, kind hearted people who won’t let it pass without affirming that this is the biggest thing I have so far accomplished. Those people (Annika, Nic, Rachelle and Jo S) mean the world to me and I am incredibly lucky to have people who know me better than most; who will offer a hug when most needed, leave me flowers, take me for a walk, hold my hand and force other people to celebrate my brilliance (and berate questions about typos!). Thank you for bringing this week closer to what it was supposed to be, for looking after me, and for knowing that it’s not quite right but making it better.

Scottish Parliament project