Post-V&A seminar rambling — longwinded

I normally work on Sundays, so this is actually the first chance I’ve had to sit down and type up a reaction to my bargain day of education.

Held on Saturday 29th October at the V&A Museum London, the series of seminars entitled PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE: 25 YEARS OF WALLPAPER was held in close relationship with The Wallpaper History Society and required me rather unusually, to sacrifice a day of my weekend on the alter of genuine curiosity in developing my knowledge of design practices.

For a subject so specific that I envisioned myself falling asleep in-spite of my best intentions, I found all of the speakers (even at the more specialist historical end) extremely interesting. This was all after finding my way to the seminar room of course. Where I normally only use the V&A Tube tunnel or main entrances, I found myself in even less of a position to navigate my way around the complex than usual, irrespective of the help of 3 members of staff. Having asked at the info desk, I bumped into a overseas Masters student who was also looking for the elusive Seminar Room 3, level 5, Henry Cole Wing. Between a broken lift, listings claiming that the floor didn’t exist and 2 more employees, we managed to find our way but I now have a whole new appreciation of the building wings, seeing things I hadn’t previously known existed while en route! Perhaps I might have stood a chance if the Henry Cole Wing didn’t also go by the alias Sackler Wing?

While I could probably write up a detailed summary of each of the 7 half-hour talks using my notes, that would only prove mind numbingly boring for anybody else, so I’ll cherry pick a couple of talks that were most interesting to me.

The piece ‘The Background explains the Foreground: why wallpaper bothers us’ given by Christine Woods of The Whitworth Art Gallery, was particularly intriguing in its opening premise as challenging the audience not to feel somewhat paranoid about wallpaper by the end of the talk. What followed was a well considered and thorough examination of how wall coverings have been marketed, what they promise and how their ubiquity has provided an huge platform for design in its media/sociological implications to sculpt our domestic lives and experiences.

In what was similar in many themes and topics of discussion was the talk a little later on, titled ‘Art on a roll: the rise of artists’ wallpaper’ delivered by Gill Saunders of the V&A Museum. These two seminars marked a change in the tone of the day, focusing more heavily on what I would consider to be the design based issues of wallpaper, such as the content, application, designers, reputation and psycho/sociological impacts of its appearance. This piece was particularly visually stimulating with the multitude of examples that were referenced, probably making my discreet photography from the back of the room, more apparent than I would have liked. I terms of analysis of design content and how this has been affected by the approach of artists to make wallpaper fashionably ‘one-off’ and more contextually relevant to its immediate and larger surroundings.

Yet the final speech of the day was something that I had been looking forward to since receiving the itinerary. The piece by Paul Simmons (the co-founder of Timerous Beasties) was something I found not only myself greatly anticipating. With the student I had previously met to my left, I soon discovered that the 2 immediate women on my right were new design communication students from London who were also great admirers of this studios work. It really was a treat seeing such large scale and high resolution photographs of the applied designs, after spending weeks scouring the internet for images in early stages of project research. While full of visual interest, the talk gave a detailed history of the creation and establishment of the studio with particular attention to the methods of production that are now used.

This was somewhat of a revelation in places, given the current position of my dissertation in considering reasons for the current direction, appearance, application and themes of pattern at the moment. Where this is an example of a multi-platform application of both pattern and more generalised design, technological advances such as those in digital printing and its potential combination with more traditional hand rendered effects are leading to increasingly diverse applications of pattern and imagery. In particular, the brief section on this in relation to architecture was of extreme interest to me!

After having the duration of the Q&A to sift through all of this new information, I found myself with a couple of longer more specific questions to pose to Simmons about design trends in relation to production capabilities. Would digital production techniques boost and continue to revitalise the culture of sampling traditional pattern styles? Would they inspire a new generation to create original responses to contemporary sources of inspiration and capabilities in application- leading to a decline in traditional motifs? Being the chicken that I am and taking into account the queue that was forming, I resolved to meet myself half way and ask for contact details if it would be possible to email a couple of brief questions regarding the similar themes in my dissertation. I chewed out my request and was successful after hearing the very reasonable stipulation that they would be short answer in order to avoid being conned into writing my dissertation for me.

It remains to be seen whether I will, but if only for the fact that I was able to push myself towards something uncomfortably good for me, I would most certainly call the event a success. All the photographs I took are now on my Flickr account (link under the post) and in terms of value for money and quality of specific academic fields, I would certainly encourage others to attend these events if possible. For the student price of £10, there was hours worth of interesting material (which I resolved to record specific sections of audio of on my iPod for future use), a friendly atmosphere, comfortable and convenient for travel venue in addition to more tea, coffee, water and biscuits than you could shake a stick at. I’m not advocating eating them all of course, but as a student its the small things that tip the balance, right? ;)


Personal Flick uploads:

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