02 July 2015

CreateInsights: Staging Alexander McQueen

During the last CreateVoice meeting we met Rachel Murphy, Exhibitions Manager at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Rachel is currently working on the infamous Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition at the V&A. 

Portrait of Alexander McQueen, 1997 photographed by Marc Hom

Rachel started her career studying literature in Glasgow, which resulted in her working as an Exhibition Officer whilst still in Scotland. Through her work at smaller galleries Rachel was able to become experienced in many fields and gain a broad understanding of the various roles within a museum, before becoming an Exhibitions Assistant at the V&A some 6 years ago. Since then she has been involved in many of the exhibitions that the V&A has held in South Kensington and also those that have toured around the world. 

Contrary to the more traditional course of an exhibition (starting in South Kensington and then touring), Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty actually originated at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It opened in 2011, just over a year after McQueen passed away. Therefore, some time has passed since it was felt appropriate for the exhibition to come to McQueen’s home town of London.

There has always been an association with McQueen and the Victoria and Albert Museum, as he stated himself: ‘The collections at the V&A never fail to intrigue and inspire me.’ Therefore some changes were made to make full use of the space in the V&A to display and respect McQueen’s work to the upmost. These included adding 66 new pieces, enlarging Pepper’s Ghost, a 3D hologram of Kate Moss and creating new galleries: Romantic Primitivism and London.

Coiled corset. The Overlook, Autumn/Winter 1999. Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen

It was enlightening to hear from Rachel about all the different aspects that she had to consider when constructing this exhibition. For example: liaising with the Met to ensure that they were happy with any changes, analysing contracts and agreements with third parties who would may loan objects or construct the physical galleries within the exhibition space, the safety and security of the objects, the transport and insurance of loaned items, the text to accompany the garments and the maintenance and take down of the exhibition.

These tasks increased dramatically on the run up to the opening of the exhibition meaning that the team expanded from one person to around 3-4. The exhibitions team would work with various departments such as the Press department, the curators and fortunately for us the Learning Team! As a result, the McQueen exhibition has also provided avenues for the museum and visitors to explore, including specialised talks and tours linked to the exhibition.

I feel privileged to have seen Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A and to hear from Rachel firsthand about all the hard work, time and thought that has gone into making it an amazing experience and one that does justice to the late designer.

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty remains open until 2 August 2015, although tickets are now limited. 

Lottie attended the monthly CreateInsights meeting for CreateVoice members in June, to check out upcoming Insights for the youth collective head to http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/c/create/  

Words by: Lottie Moss
Images: © Marc Hom/Trunk Archive and the Victoria and Albert Museum

19 June 2015

Indian Summer workshop at Glastonbury Festival

Last year, the V&A acquired the Glastonbury Archive from the Eavis family,This year, CreateVoice were given the opportunity to get involved with a public workshop for festival goers at Glastonbury. The workshop would be based around the upcoming India Festival at the Museum, and in particular the 'Fabric of India' exhibition, the first major exhibition to explore handmade Indian textiles from as early as AD300. Over several meetings with members of CreateVoice and the V&A staff, we developed our project - and next week we'll be delivering it at the festival!

During our development session with artist Jasleen Kaur, we decided to base our festival workshop on something that the museum's South Asian textile collection and Glastonbury have in common: tents. A recurring item in the V&A collection are tent hangings - so we decided we'd use the workshop to make our own - one of a contemporary design, and one featuring more traditional motifs. In our meeting with artist Alexa Galea, we took a wander around the museum's Nehru gallery, taking inspiration from the South Asian collection's textiles and artwork, and we also paid a visit to the British contemporary galleries to gather ideas for the contemporary hanging. Having gathered all of our research, images from the collections, previous Glastonbury materials and other design ideas, we then created mood boards (seen above!) from which Alexa created the design for our final tent hanging backdrop. 

On the day, visitors at the festival will be able to make their own decorations for us to attach to the hangings - flora and fauna for the more traditionally inspired, and contemporary items, shapes and patterns for the other! We're going to be in the Field of Avalon, so if you're at the festival pop by and say hello!

The Indian Summer workshop is free to the public, Wednesday 24th June - Sunday 28th June in the Avalon Cafe Tent at Glastonbury Festival

Click through for more information on the items below:
Indigo cotten tent hanging with silk embroidery, late C18th or early C19th, western India
Block printed & painted cotton tent hanging, late C18th, Burhanpur, India
Red cotton tent hanging with silk embroidery, early C18th, northern India

Words: Laura Blair
Image 1: Laura Blair
Image 2, 3 & 4: courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum

03 March 2015

Slow Journalism at the V&A: Protest and Dissent

The Slow Journalism Night at the V&A: Protest and Dissent was hosted by V&A Connects and Delayed Gratification to coincide with Disobedient Objects, the V&As recent exhibition on protest, political art, communication and revolutionary artefacts.

Delayed Gratification is a British publication that was established in 2010. As a publication their aim is to return to media stories three months after they were originally covered to see how the story and situation has developed. So rather than slow journalism it could just as easily be referred to as fast history.

The evening speakers included contributing journalists and photographers from Delayed Gratification. The evening began with journalist Alan Rutter who discussed the concept of Digital Dissent, he was followed by journalist Sakhir Al-Makhadhi who explored the Arab Spring and finally photographer Ed Thompson who covered the Occupy Movement.

Some of the stories covered in recent editions of Delayed Gratification have included insights into Anonymous. Many features have been written about this group of Guy Fawkes mask-wearing bandits who possess the determination to bring down enormous corporations. Delayed Gratification have also covered Wikileaks, exploring the footage of diplomatic cables that have been leaked into the public domain and its subsequent impact.

Alan Rutter reflected on some of the international stories he had uncovered for Delayed Gratification, which have included a lively account on a Mexican standoff.  He recounted a story where a notorious drug cartel were responsible for the murder of journalists and bloggers for publishing information on those involved in their illegal activity. This lead to the cartel taking a journalist hostage. Because a lot of officials involved were corrupt it made it harder for authorities and governments to respond appropriately. Anonymous took charge of the situation by declaring to have information on the cartels political, authoritative and financial associates and threatened to release this to the public. This extraordinarily resulted in the cartel releasing the hostage.

Rutter explained the value of making the mainstream aware. He referred back to Anonymous describing how their unidentified status affords them power. He explained the power of being faceless and explained the importance of collaborative work and a collective ethos, clarifying that individuals dont have the power of institutions. In regards to newspapers he cited The New York Times and The Guardian as examples of publications that have journalists that are able to bring controversial stories to light but have the security of a larger publication backing them. Rutter concluded by noting that with anonymity, there is both the temptation of being unknown but that its power can also be easily misused.

Sakhir Al-Makhadhi primarily spoke about the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan and examined what the story of the camp tells us about the Arab Spring. Zaatari is the worlds fourth largest refugee camp. It was originally opened in July 2012 to host Syrians fleeing from the bloodshed and ferocity of the ongoing Syrian civil war that began back in 2011. Today there are currently 84,615 refugees living on site and has grown into the nations fourth largest city. Zaatari hosts the biggest radio show in Jordan embracing free speech, so in some ways the camp provides a democratic platform for uncensored expression.

Al-Makhadhi explained the many hardships and complications faced with residents and the loss of control that they experienced when they first moved into the camp, as they thought it was a temporary position rather than an ongoing living framework. At the beginning, this caused a lot of tension between the refugees and the aid workers as the refugees were living in awful conditions and many verbalized that they were dying a slow death (Ali and Mohsen residents of the camp) whilst others vented their frustration through violence due to their fury at the living conditions.

Al-Makhadhi spoke from first-hand experience when he acknowledged the many changes in the running of Zaatari which came in being when Kilian Kleinschmidt was hired by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Kleinschmidt was brought in to help stop the spiral of chaos in Zaatari. Al-Makhadhi explained how Kleinschmidts unorthodox approach soothed the brutality and calmed the violence.

Kleinschmidt is certainly not a typical UN official. He chose to live away from his family with the residents of the camp so that he could relate to the population of Zaatari that he became responsible for. For the duration of his position he spent three evenings a week walking around the campsite talking to residents to gain an insight into their visions for Zaatari. Under Kleinschmidts supervision of the camp a huge internal economy developed. The camp grew from 30,000 inhabitants to 120,000 in one year - which exemplifies how he had transformed the camp. Zaatari became so successful that people wanted to return rather than escape. Kleinschmidt made it a better space as he provided an infrastructure to those living in what could be seen as a city in exile.

Ed Thompson was the final speaker, he considered the Occupy movement with an authentic understanding. For the duration of Occupy London, Thompson spent each night on site photographing. The imagery he presented captured the diversity of Occupy, as much of his work dealt with perception and reality. Thompson explained how sensationalist imagery gets attention and as a result of the digital age it is crucial for photographers to shoot local, think global. Thompson was keen to encourage the audience to consider the importance of an idea and he claimed you cant evict an idea.

The evening provided a great insight into the impact journalism has on a movement. It gave the audience the opportunity to reflect on the importance of continuing to read up about ongoing struggles. It made it clear to the audience that despite a story no longer being the most prominent feature in the news, it doesnt mean the issue has been resolved. Delayed Gratification provides a platform for the untold stories giving a voice to those that need to be heard.

Grace attended the Slow Journalism event as a member of CreateVoice. To find out more about the opportunities with the V&A youth collective email create@vam.ac.uk 

Words: Grace Radford
Images: © Delayed Gratification

20 February 2015

Disobedient Objects: John Pilger in conversation with Robin Denselow

Taking place on 9th December, John Pilger in conversation with Robin Denselow was programmed as part of a series of events celebrating Disobedient Objects, the V&As recent exhibition on protest, political art, communication and revolutionary artefacts.

John Pilger is a global broadcaster, journalist, writer and correspondent, and has written a series of books and articles, as well as directing and producing films on war, protest, and indigenous people. Harold Pinter declared that Pilger "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

The evening comprised a conversation between Pilger and fellow broadcaster and journalist Robin Denselow, who described Pilger as one of the most distinguished, most controversial of his generation. Their discussion spanned topics which Pilger had covered during his career, from the Vietnam war, through to Aboriginal victims, Wikileaks and other key political moments. He discussed with passion, the role and moral obligations of the journalist.

Building on the V&As theme of Disobedient Objects, Pilger asserted that if you're not disobedient as a journalist, you're not a journalist.  And to reduce his eloquent discourse to a simple quote, he argued that one of the most important moral qualities that a journalist should possess is to question above all power that imposes itself on us ensuring that power is accountable to the people. Pilger firmly believes that not enough journalists today do this.

John Pilger in his first film

Prior to reflecting on his career, Pilger talked of his initial fascination with newspaper as a child, he had an attraction to the romance of journalism, making sense of the world and other people, This embedded in him an understanding of the way the world works, and the power of the media which gave him an insight into how privileged the Western World can be.

Pilger talked of his extensive travels as a journalist, which included South East Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. He described the chaos of thekilling fields and the free fire zones of the Vietnam War, talking of his interviews with soldiers and combatants and the mechanics of war reporting. He discussed the self-imposed censorship exemplified by journalists and how the questions this war raised for journalists are still pertinent today.  He spoke also about the role of television reporting and how this visually impacted on America, in that it changed attitudes to the war by showing the worthlessness of all suffering, and contributed to the rise of the anti-war movement around the country.

Referencing the Iraq War, he continued his comments on the duty of the journalists by suggesting that [the war] was a fraud and questioned why people in studios, in these countries, didn't... ask the questions? as he felt that could have brought more answers to light as to why the regime of Bush and Blair enabled the invasion to happen. With tremendous devotion he considered the importance of freedom of speech and claimed that the institutional media buckled and ultimately failed to serve the publics best interests. He continued with this line of enquiry, questioning whether the role of the journalist in effect ultimately promotes war.

The  saturation of the 24-hour information age and the constant immediacy of social media to Pilger is a distraction, social media is not journalism, and he advocated for those within the system who were whistle blowers, considering them essential to the craft of the journalist.  He decried the repetitive media and technology that gives the impression that we have a world of information, a world of news, whereas in reality all we have is a world of repetition.

Pilger concluded his inspiring talk, remarking that “society that has the privileges, needs to come up with the answers” and in order for us to move forward as a society, we need to develop an awareness of what is wrong with the world so that we can develop and improve.

Grace attended the John Pilger: In Conversation event as a member of CreateVoice. To find out more about the opportunities with the V&A youth collective email create@vam.ac.uk.

Words: Grace Radford
Image: © John Pilger

01 December 2014

Horst: Photographer of Style

For an exhibition to be entitled 'Horst: Photographer of Style', I realised that the photographer behind the exhibition must be someone with an astonishingly good eye for what looks good. Consider how many people out there would wish to claim ownership of that prestigious title, 'Photographer of Style'. 

I must admit that I was not familiar with Horst's work before I visited the exhibition at the V&A, and what intrigued me to learn more about Horst's work was not the prestigious accolade, but the stunning image used to advertise the exhibition. An image that made me stop and stare at the Underground poster whilst in a hurry to get home in the rush hour. The image (below right) depicts a woman in white sunglasses applying red lipstick, which may sound simple enough to execute. But it is an image of such, well, what it says on the tin, style. I needed to learn more about the photographer who could create such an iconic shot.

Left: Hat and coat-dress by Bergdorf Goodman, modelled by Estrella Boissevain, 1938
Right: Muriel Maxwell, American Vogue, 1939

Entering the exhibition, the mood is set by a low lit corridor lined with what felt like hundreds of black and white prints. Socialites and It girls, Horst had contacts in high places. A picture of the man himself with Coco Chanel at a glamorous masquerade party was a favourite of mine. Each small black and white print is exquisitely executed. I love the way Horst used the fabrics of the dresses worn in the images, like satins and silks, to add a fairytale aspect to each print. A selection of beautiful gowns are displayed on mannequins at the head of the corridor. I can only imagine how wearing such a stunning dress must feel.

Turning left out of the corridor, you enter the rest of the exhibition. Only then can you realise how vast and impressive the collection of Horst's work is; the walls are filled with his prints. Interestingly, Horst worked with Dali for a number of images, and this surreal aspect feeds through the exhibition into all of his pictures. Nothing is quite what it seems, there is a dreamlike quality to Horst's style, encouraging the viewer to look again and again at each image and question what is out of the ordinary.

I particularly enjoyed looking at the collection of the many Vogue covers captured by Horst. They are fun fashion images, undoubtedly stylish. A favourite is a summery shot of a model with a beach ball (below left); who could look at such a playful shot without smiling? Horst certainly knows how to add the fun to fashion, whilst still retaining that Vogue level of chic.

Left: Summer Fashions, American Vogue cover, 15 May, 1941
Right: Mainbocher Corset (pink satin corset by Detolle), Paris, 1939

Whilst Horst is perhaps most celebrated for the immense number of Vogue covers he created, the exhibition still offers plenty for those who care little for fashion. Also displayed are Horst's images of the Persian Empire; incredible shots of the architecture of a lost culture. Just through gazing at the jaw dropping image of a huge Bull's head statue excited an interest to find out more about the people who could create statues of such magnitude.

A selection of Horst's still life work is displayed. Again, the playful and surreal element carries through. A close up image of a red cabbage and a mosaic style print of foliage made me look twice, questioning what it was I was looking at. 

Patterns from Nature Photographic Collage, about 1945.

There is a display and slide show of Horst's images of interior design, many from his own home. These are decadent interiors, mirroring the high society images and the subjects he was evidently mixing with at the time.

Horst not only worked well with the fabric of dresses in shots, but also the human form. There are a number of prints displaying the body in unusual and intriguing contortions. Some are with props that add a mystical edge, like a golden harp that looks like it belongs to a Greek God. 

Thus it came to register with me that by being named 'The Photographer of Style' did not mean simply a photographer of fashion. Horst's work has so much more to offer, skills that feeds into all his work, making him a worthy recipient of the title. The surreal, fun and intriguing undercurrent runs through all his prints, meaning it cannot be questioned that his sense of style transcends both fashion and time.

'Horst: Photographer of Style' is an epic collection, offering a whistle-stop tour through Horst's career. There are so many incredible images on display you could lose days examining his work. The exhibition offered the perfect introduction to Horst's unquestionably stylish work, and I left wanting to know more about the man behind the pictures. Horst evidently has a fascinating life story to accompany, which I learnt more about here.
I strongly urge you to visit this exhibition, whether you have an interest in photography or not. Hopefully you will come away as impressed and inspired as I have.

Words: Nicola Bligh
Images: © Condé Nast/Horst Estate

27 November 2014

Constable: The Making of a Master

What really struck me about this V&A exhibition is the personal aspect of Constable’s work.  The exhibition not only demonstrated his ability to transform the subtleties of the outdoors onto paper in intense & powerful sketches and oil paintings but also recreated the artistic learning processes that shaped Constable into ‘a Master’. A quote by Constable possibly summarises the work of this master most poignantly; ‘I should paint my own places best’. The exhibition starts with a film of various Suffolk and outer-London scenes. I felt that this interaction placed me in the position of the observer and in the mind-set of the painter. Like Constable, this exhibition allows one to observe moving nature and study the work of those who influenced his work. Although Constable’s later pieces produced for the Royal Arts Academy are considered his masterpieces, I favoured his quick studies of the Suffolk Landscape, probably made on a small piece of paper that rested on his lunchbox as he sat on the downs. For instance, Constable beautifully renders the low horizon in the sunset scene, ‘Dedham Vale: Evening’, 1802, as the red/orange lighting settles on the outline of grazing livestock and the rise and fall of the meandering hills.  Constable recorded this scene many times as he enjoyed painting places that he knew best; I felt a real sense of nostalgia and familiarity when looking at his oil sketches.

Dedham Vale: Evening, John Constable, oil on canvas, 1802.© Victoria and Albert Museum
Constable’s 1805 ‘Weymouth Bay and ‘Rainstorm over the Sea’, 1824-1828, were particular favourites of mine because both pieces capture nature’s every action so that the viewer feels a part of the environment itself.  Constable imitates the weathering and movement of light so meticulously that it is clear when Constable was painting this scene he was fighting against the elements, though this did not stop him. Constable does not just record what is in front of him but captures the scene’s transient nature. This skill was possibly taught by one of Constable’s artist peers who advised him to, ‘Always remember that light and shadow never stand still’. 

Rainstorm over the Sea, oil on paper laid on canvas, 1888 © Royal Academy of Arts

Weymouth Bay, oil on canvas, 1816 © Victoria and Albert Museum

Thomas Jones, J.M.W. Turner and Benjamin West are all artists that Constable studied and learnt from. I really enjoyed the fact that this exhibition gives the viewer the opportunity not just to see Constable’s final pieces but to gain a greater understanding of how these were produced. Through Constable’s ‘The Leaping Horse’ 1819-1825 series it was clear that his masterpieces were not just thought up in the spur of the moment but instead part of a lengthy process which attempted to produce the scene with all the dynamic of nature’s changing state. I really admire the work of Constable and feel that it is his revolutionary dedication to the places that he knew best and experimental study of the natural, experiencing all sorts of weather conditions whilst painting outdoors, that drove his mastery and influences the way that we now depict nature, in art. Outside on this sunny autumn afternoon, I saw scenes of silhouetted football players running across the common and clouds playfully moving across the sky, resting shadows on the grass, which were reminiscent of Constable’s work.  I felt I began to see my environment through a Constable-like lens.

Words: Leonie Rousham, 17

24 November 2014

In Conversation: Kerry Taylor and Claire Wilcox

Kerry Taylor Auctions specialise in antique vintage fashion and textiles. Its founder, Kerry Taylor, discussed her career and her passion for vintage fashion, accessories and luxury textiles with Claire Wilcox, the V&As senior curator of textiles and dress. She began by talking of how she started her career at the age of 19 at Sothebys Chester offices as a Junior Receptionist. Today Taylor is highly regarded as an historian, curator and leading auctioneer. Jo Banham, Head of Adult Learning at the V&A, describes how Taylor knows the age and value of items and is responsible for dressing the famous and the stylish and is known enigmatically as the farmers wife of fashion, surrounded by beautiful things.

Taylor described her inspirational career starting off with her progression through Sothebys from Receptionist to Cataloguer to Auctioneer and ultimately to Director. Taylor acknowledged how hard (it was) to make it as a woman in auctions yet despite this Taylor loved it and didnt care - (she) had fun with auctions as she felt she had a more relaxed approach to auctioning than the typical auctioneer.

The Kerry Taylor Auction House has 6 auctions annually, and produces catalogues which are of immense interest to academics for their research and detail.

Taylor spoke of how it was a source of pride  when she would see pieces that had passed through her auction house now being displayed in the V & A exhibitions, recognising the privilege of handling historically important items.  She discussed the qualities of a good auctioneer explaining the significance of knowing the subject, knowing the buyer and the importance of being fast, accurate, intelligent and fun.  Recognising that one of the joys of her career is to be always learning she went on to explain that technology, however, can often slow auctions down, describing that once a sale went on for five hours due to the slow paced nature of phones and internet.

Items with Royal Provenance have a particularly high monetary value and are of particular interest to the public and private collectors. Key items have included Princess Dianas taffeta dress worn in 1981 that sold for £192,000 and the notorious dress worn by Kate Middleton in the St Andrews fashion Show.  Another historical royal piece was the wedding suit of James II at his marriage to Mary Modena in 1673 which at that time of her sale was in perfect condition. 

Left: Princess Diana's Elizabeth and David Emanuel black taffeta dress
Right: Kate Middleton's see through dress at auction

Other significant pieces that have passed through her house have included those owned by Wallace Simpson and clothes that have been supplied for Downtown Abbey, The Royal Opera House and to costume designers for other productions and for the archives of fashion houses. Taylor spoke about her own all time favourite item, a Schiaparelli Zodiac Jacket which was highly embroidered.

The Zodiac Jacket From The Elsa Schiaparelli Zodiac Collection

Taylor suggests that Ungaro, John Bates and Zandra Rhodes are all highly collectible pieces whose monetary value is on trend. Whereas she would not consider items that are in poor condition, that have been associated with the Nazi Party and would be concerned about selling items associated with scandals, citing John Galliano as an example. Items from high street shops were also unlikely to make an appearance in her auctions, yet she recognised the iconic value of certain pieces, such as the 1960s Campbells soup dress and the difference between vintage and jumble commenting that the design aesthetic has to be paramount in her choices, design has to speak through the ages.

Taylor explained the labour intensive aspect of auctioning clothes, expressing the importance of cataloguing and the vigilance needed when sourcing provenance. Taylor acknowledged that economically they are not in the same league as contemporary art.  Her talk ended with her describing the relevance of condition reports and the importance of knowing ones buyers and how she looks at each piece separately, evaluating them for their design and craftsmanship as well as their context.

Words by: Grace Radford
Images courtesy Kerry Taylor Auctions