Category Archives: Fragment

Objects in Real Life

Upside down beaker being lit by a torch with a blue gloved hand holding it

Upside down beaker being lit by a torch with a blue gloved hand holding it

I had narrowed down my selection to the final two objects ready to be explored further, with thoughts on their display coming into vision now I could finally see them in the non virtual world. It was a wonderful experience to meet Courtauld curator Alexandra Gerstein, Science Museum curator Katy Barrett, and Courtauld technician Matthew Thompson all in one physical space to sit, discuss and handle the objects as we encountered them.

The pair of glass beakers were first. They were initially smaller than I thought, but more beautiful and delicate in-person with a lovely weight to them. I had only seen one side of the gold illustrations however, due to what is on the photo catalogue website. So it was very refreshing to see all sides of the story unfold, beyond the hunter on horseback, as well as being able to compare and contrast the differences in the illustrations of the two beakers.

Hand held gold engraved cup

We played around with lighting from different angles to see how the object changed. On my initial video call I had enjoyed ‘seeing’ them rotating against the light, giving the illustrations with the faceted edge a feeling of a zoetrope, so wanted to see how that worked with moving the torch.

Lit up beakergold beaker with black insert

Thinking about possible display, we tried different ‘fillings’ inside the beakers to either see the illustrations more clearly or to obscure them for the sense of illusion. Black works well to properly understand the scene, however we lose the immersive interaction from the blurred faceted edges when seen through the glass.

We can also see the bubbles emerging from the up-lit torch which help to make visible the zwischengoldglas technique in which two glasses are cemented together, with the gold foil beneath, also trapping air bubbles with the illustration. This poses display questions such as how to light the objects; whether to disguise or highlight the illustrated scenes; and how to evoke how contemporaries would have seen the beakers by candlelight.

close up of scarf

Next up was the scarf. It comes in this very large archive format box filled to the brim with tissue paper. We delicately placed it onto the table and began to study it; the close-up stitching, the painting technique, the blending colours. I also found it to be a really good size, weirdly I was expecting it to be larger, even though I knew the measurements, but found myself thinking it would work well in the display cabinet – however ‘how’ would prove a longer discussion.

full length of scarf, with laptop showing photo

Our first port of call was figuring out which way round the ‘scarf’ was intended to be. We based it off the photograph on file with definitely one side feeling the more ‘finished’. I’d initially done a little colour and rotation test to see which way round I thought the scarf would be best to hang so we got this out to compare with the real object. We continued to survey how the dyes might have been painted on. Asking The Courtauld’s paper conservator, Kate Edmondson, whether a wax batik could have possibly been used. She was also very helpful in terms of discussing display ideas and looking at ‘runs’ in the ink or possible water damage.I also found that the colours on the photograph I’d been working with were much more muted than on the real textile. I’d been looking at synthetic dyes in my research and I thought it would be helpful to try to pull direct colours from the scarf to create a swatch palette that could be used for designing and to link a specific colour to how a specific synthetic dye would have been made. But as you can see these are very different from the ‘real life’ object.

digital image of scarf with colour pallete

This visit to the storage room to see my chosen objects has automatically propelled my research even further. The objects have given me new things to consider and work towards, as well as highlighting areas I need to focus more on. The next steps are drawing up plans for the design of display, as well as getting together my visual and technical research for the web content. Exciting things ahead!

Extended selection process – a reflection

A hand drawn image of the four objects being held at different angles

Having trained for 3 years in Bespoke Tailoring at London College of Fashion, followed by working for 3 years at different designers and now studying for my Masters in Design: Expanded Practice at Goldsmiths, I was thrilled to learn about my acceptance for the internship Illuminating Objects at the Courtauld and Science Museum. 

I look at construction and making as part of design. I come to the Illuminating Objects Internship in a different context from previous students due to the current pandemic. While I will select my object entirely through a computer screen, I have been utilising my design background to examine these objects creatively. I have been drawn to objects in the collection which can be described as fragments, and to the narratives they enclose or inspire, exploring conversations that may arise from them, through gestures of movement and touch. The idea of fragment is a starting point in thinking how these objects relate to today’s material culture. Although both touch and ‘real life’ viewing have been removed from the internship thus far, I  will use my design skills and my interest in drawing to connect with and understand the pieces I have selected for display. In contrast with previous internships, this one will have a strong focus on the process of selection itself.  The eventual chosen object will be on display at the Science Museum in 2021.

My practice stems from being drawn to certain materialities. I make/design because I find the object, the point of intrigue: the rusty button, the hanging scrim cloth, the found dug up clay. I draw because I see the movement in the cloth on or off the body and where that can lead to in a design. I am particularly fascinated by even the word ‘object’ – the aesthetic look of it, the sound of it – which is what initially drew me to the Illuminating Objects Internship. With my course often looking at material libraries and the material processes in a scientific manner it seemed a wonderful opportunity to express these research threads. You can view more of my work here.

The whole process from my interview, to how I’ve been working has been a fully socially distanced process, from not being able to physically meet new people or see the storage areas or learning facilities, to not even entering the Science Museum. While this might have brought initial slight sadness, the internship is also focused in its digital platforms to showcase the process, and limitations I have found can often bring more interesting insights and pursuits. Along with guidance from the two curators at the Courtauld and Science Museum and the Courtauld’s gallery technician the conversations at our weekly meetings have offered a wealth of knowledge and inspiration leading down different paths for the objects.

I have always been interested in working for a gallery within this design frame, looking at how objects are displayed. When viewing other objects, I feel that taking an inanimate ‘dead’ object and displaying it in its own right gives it a specific a way to be viewed aesthetically rather than for purpose. With the object eventually being displayed at the Science Museum, it will bring a whole new concept to me in terms of the sculptural frame where my object will stand, compared to an art associated gallery format.

In light of the current circumstances, I have been able to have a longer selection process which has been wonderful. From scrolling through many image files and document files, your eye really starts hone in on the type of things that its drawn to and the type of language that spikes interest in the object documents. Because of the scope of the collection I was initially drawn to the backs of objects; their markings, their faded colours, their shapes correlating to the object itself, their almost minimalist artistic manner.

Notebook pages with Object Document files and photos of the backs of objects Notebook page of a mood board of a series of objects from the courtaulds collection

I have gradually narrowed down my search to four objects. The scarf, the fragment, the cups and the drug jar.

Objects that could be seen as fragments, or overlooked pieces, seemed to be the direction I was drawn towards but with a focus on the object’s everyday use within our material culture and how their narrative in the design could be obscured. Last week Matthew, the gallery technician, was able to go to the museum stores and show me these four objects through a video call. Holding, hanging and turning the objects around delicately, we discussed elements of the objects individually and then together. Seeing the fragment on its edge was beautiful, the bright colours of the scarf I was not expecting, the mirrored effect of the cups and the illustrated costume on the drug jar. It was so lovely even just to see a hand in a glove touching them, particularly within our pandemic context where touch and physical contact have been removed. It really brought new questions and conversation points to the objects. I was physically able to see them from different angles and how that changed their aesthetic appeal. I will be bringing these ideas together towards a design question for my proposal.