Up close and personal with an exhibition:

As a history student, I have always been fascinated by exhibitions. Learning about the topic of the exhibition is quite remarkable. When I was asked to help with one at my placement, I jumped at the chance.

The exhibition I helped for was on the Balkans. Preparation for it took up two of my daysexhibition_1.png at the placement. Firstly, I had to do a bit of research on the Balkans. If I did not know anything about the Balkans, how was I supposed to find sources for the exhibition? Once that was all sorted out, I looked through the special collections and library catalogues to find sources. In order to keep track of the sources I found, I made a table. These tasks marked my first day working on the exhibition. The next day was a lot more varied. I was moving around, which was a nice change from having my fingers glued to the keyboard. I had to physically collect the sources; most of which were luckily in Special collections. The exception were 2 vinyls from the vinyl collection in the library. I spent about an hour trying to find the vinyl collection, only to find one was not available. I actually checked their availability on the catalogue before I went, just in case anyone was wondering. This part was right up my street: I had to analyse the sources to see if they were suitable. I kept most of the sources, apart from a few books and letters. The letters were very difficult to decipher — rich coming from me with my handwriting. When I eventually did decipher them, I found them to be irrelevant. Was it a waste of time deciphering them in the first place? Maybe, but if the source turned out to be detrimental to the exhibition, I would have slated myself for being so lazy.

exhibition_2Setting up the exhibition was the highlight of my day. It was a lot harder than I first anticipated. Getting the books to stay on the pages I wanted them to required a lot of DIY on my behalf. I eventually figured out the solution: making a stand out of foam blocks, binding together the blocks and book and then taping them together. I was pretty impressed with my efforts. They were not on the same level as many other exhibitions I have been to, but ju st being able to help with an exhibition was so enjoyable. I tried my best to present the items in an organised and creative way. The images of Balkans dancers were my favourite source. The women resembled dolls and I could hear the instruments, probably because I listened to Balkans music the day before. The other sources used were books on Balkans textiles, a CD and the vinyls mentioned earlier.

If asked to help at an exhibition again, I definitely would. It teaches you a lot about how to be selective and creative. When you see the joy the exhibition brings to people, it makes all of the work that goes into it 100% worth it.

 

This blog was written by Danielle, a history at work student, who completed her placement at Goldsmiths Special Collections.

 

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Passion for fashion?

Clothing. What comes to mind when you hear that word? Basic necessity? Maybe my livelihood? Everyone has their own view on the matter. The one thing that is certain about clothing is that it is a hot topic. Visiting the textiles collection at Goldsmiths made this more apparent.

The Textiles collection is housed in Deptford Town Hall, which I think is a pretty good match. Nothing but beauty surrounded me upon entering the collection. Fabrics, fashiontop guides and clothing filled the archives. I was blown away by the phenomenal attention to detail that went into the clothing available. The stitching was great, and the prints were stunning. I am particularly in love with embroidered garments, and there were so many. There was one outfit; it looked almost tribal in design. It was beautiful. The embroidery was so elaborate. I wonder if anyone else wanted to wear the outfit — I certainly did. The price of similar clothing in shops can have a maximum price range of well into the thousands. Why should self-expression come with such a high cost? It is because the 21st century likes to associate itself with being very fashion forward.

laceA lot of the prints in the collection are making a resurgence into fashion today. Some never even left — plaid and lace for example. Elegance is the word I would use to link together all of the old fabrics. Would I use that word today? Maybe not as much. I commend people who take risks, but some risks are just too much. I am a firm advocate of body confidence, but what is up with those see-through jeans? You might as well wear only your underwear, especially since they are not cheap. If your see-through jeans are your favourite clothing item, then good on you. Each to their own.

The one downside of the clothing in the collection was the limited options available for skirtwomen in England, predominantly in the 19th century. They all dressed in similar coloured and styled clothes: suede skirt suits with crisp white shirts. There was no real sense of individuality — more a sense of professionalism. That is the biggest change from the 19th century to now. Clothes are more powerful as instruments of our identity. They reflect what we stand for. I wish there was a compromise between the two generations: individuality, decent prices and informed fashion choices.

The Textiles collection taught me a lot about the importance of clothing, and moreover, the shift in the use of clothing from the 19th century to now.

 

This blog was written by Danielle, a history at work student, who completed her placement at Goldsmiths Special Collections.

 

So you want to be a cataloguer?

When I think of cataloguing, the first thing that springs to mind is Argos. I used to go there so many times as a toddler, watching my dad navigate through the pages quickly to buy me masses of toys. Toys I got bored of playing with after a day. I never thought about how catalogues were created at that time; neither did my dad. To be fair, I was 6 and my dad was in a rush.

Getting to help catalogue the Women’s Revolutions per minute collection has provided me with a crash course in cataloguing. The Women’s Revolutions per minute collection is essentially a collection of music composed, produced and performed by women. If you have time, you should definitely visit Goldsmiths Special Collections to check it out.

Moving swiftly on, the system I use to catalogue with is called CALM. I find that pretty ironic as using it makes you anything but calm. As many people who have catalogued before know, it is not the most stimulating job. It is pretty straightforward — especially since I have catalogued for the majority of my time at my placement. One of the biggest positives of cataloguing lies within its simplicity. After a long day of extensive researching and writing, it is a nice break. I have learnt that if you want to be a successful cataloguer, you have to follow three steps. Number one: get into a steady rhythm. Once you get the hang of cataloguing, you should be able to catalogue fairly quickly. Having a steady pace will also help to build up momentum, meaning you can catalogue more entries. Number two is make sure you fill out fields accurately. When you are in a rush to catalogue as fast as you can, it is easy to make errors. I know that feeling all too well. My cataloguing task at the placement revolves around me changing the field artist to creator, and choosing the option item from a drop down list. After I while, I would get complacent and accidentally add the wrong field or delete a field. The panic added a new lease of life to me, and I managed to correct my errors. So, lesson of the day is do not think you are too good for any task. Even if a task is easy, it does not mean you get to be complacent. The final step is take breaks after a prolonged period of cataloguing. Yes, take breaks. It is often so easy to get lost in the process that you forget to stop for air. As everyone already knows, staring at screens all day is not a good idea. A break away from a task is never a bad thing — it means you will be more alert after your breaks, rather than having to be peeled off of a table from exhaustion.

I have a great appreciation for cataloguers: cataloguing is time- consuming. So whenever you are looking through a catalogue and moan because you cannot find an item, think about how a cataloguer would feel when making that catalogue.

 

This blog was written by Danielle, a history at work student, who completed her placement at Goldsmiths Special Collections.

Witness the wonders of the Women’s Art Library:

The Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths is brimming with amazing material. I have been fortunate enough to browse through the archive material on several occasions. Moreover, the library has been involved with a host of prestigious events. Take for instance the PILLOWTALK exhibition at Tate Modern. The exhibition focused around pillows, engraved with images that reflected the experiences and histories of women in South London. The main aim of the exhibition was to celebrate the historic milestone of women (only those over 30 and who met a property qualification) getting the vote in February 1918, as well as the achievements of women artists. To be able to host an exhibit at Tate Modern to me spells success. I felt a part of the exhibit, even if I did just shoddily place labels on some books used in the event.

The Women’s Art Library is a place where you can get lost for hours in the pages of magazines and artists’ slides. I am particularly enamoured by magazines from the company Spare Rib. Why is it called that you ask? Don’t worry, you were not the only one to think that. At first, I thought why would a women’s magazine company name themselves after a Chinese dish? After a bit of digging, I realised the title is fitting for the magazine after all. It was originally used as a joke, referring to the Bible. Eve was formed from the rib of Adam, and so it would be assumed that women were inferior to men. The title stuck as it perfectly reflected what the magazine company was all about:Susie reversing this stereotype. You really have to read some of the magazines- they are beyond empowering. For more information about Spare Rib, please click on the link attached: https://www.bl.uk/spare-rib. Many of the topics broached are so relevant to today. One interview that really drew me in was called: Fat is a feminist issue by Susie Orbach. Susie, co-founder of the Women’s Therapy Centre in London, was a compulsive eater. She describes the unfair reality of being fat; being ordered to lose weight by going on every diet under the sun. She also links fat to power. I never would have thought that fat could represent strength, assertion and health until I read her interview. She also stated that you had to look beyond a person’s weight to uncover who they truly are. She argues that fat is commonly used by women as a means of bringing their intelligence to the forefront, instead of their beauty. Many people who lose weight said they felt like a doll, constantly drooled over by herds of men. Why must women try to hide away their physical attractiveness to be taken seriously in the work place? One has to wonder, can’t being self-indulgent be a way of showing you love your body? Restricting yourself to certain foods is just for an artificially constructed image.

SkinnyFeminism is about far more than just physical appearance. It is not as simple to define as many would like to believe. Does feminism mean equality between the sexes, or superiority of women over men? There are internal debates on every topic under the umbrella of feminism. What must a women do to be a feminist? Some would argue that having a family equals a bad feminist. They are letting their family take precedence over their career and life goals. What about if a women’s life goal is to have a family, and since when did having a family mean you were giving up your career? womanThe other side of the argument links infertility to being flawed as a woman. We need to see women as more than just mothers and objects, or feminism really is not for all women after all. The thought-provoking moments that I get every time I visit the Women’s Art Library are insane. It is true that we never really stop to think about topics unless we are exposed to them frequently.

Please visit the Women’s Art Library. Bury your head in the wealth of journals, smell the glorious aroma of history and make it a visit YOU won’t forget.

 

The blog above is written by Danielle, a history at work student, who completed a placement with Goldsmiths Special Collections.

Cybernetic Serendipity on the Electronic Superhighway

 

By Jack Mulvaney, Special Collections Assistant

Electronic Superhighway, a major exhibition currently on display at The Whitechapel Gallery (29 January – 15 May 2016), focuses upon how contemporary art has adapted its creativity towards new digital mediums. It brings together over 100 works from established names such as Nam June Paik, from whom the exhibition title is borrowed, to more recent innovators such as Ryan Trecartin  and.  In the Whitechapel Gallery’s own words:

Arranged in reverse chronological order, Electronic Superhighway begins with works made at the arrival of the new millennium, and ends with Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T), an iconic, artistic moment that took place in 1966. Key moments in the history of art and the Internet emerge as the exhibition travels back in time.

A narrative is forged in this idiosyncratic manner, as the inverted journey through a moment of art history reveals both the convergences and differences in how artists approached the information revolution. As Electronic Superhighway examines the fascinations and malaise of virtual reality in a rhythmic fashion, it becomes interesting to look back to artists such as the aforementioned Nam June Paik and examine how the reality of our predicament matches the hypothesis of previous artists. Although the delivery and medium differed by looks dated by today’s standards, such as June Paik’s now ubiquitous TV screen sculptures formed of clunky CRT monitors, there is a clear expectation that digital life would reshape our inner lives. This is reflected in the offerings of contemporary artists, where a clear trend towards simulating the uncanny vertigo of an increasingly hyperreal virtual reality emerges in Electronic Superhighway.

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Cybernetic Serendipity (1968) ephemera on display at Electronic Superhighway (2016). Images by author.

It was exciting for Special Collections & Archives of Goldsmiths Library to find an exhibit in Electronic Superhighway of documentation from the Cybernetic Serendipity (1968) exhibition, the spiritual forerunner of Electronic Superhighway, including copies of some of the rare ephemera that is held here in our very own collections.

Opening in London at the ICA in 1968, Cybernetic Serendipity was radical for its time, exploring the frontier of communications technology long before it would become a point of cultural fascination. Curated by Jasia Reichardt, the emphasis was on algorithms as a productive force generative force of artistic content.

Several mediums were used to explore this notion. There was a large emphasis on aural creativity, with a significant part of the exhibition dedicated to devices that generated unique compositions of music. Taking inspiration from composers who wrote in mathematically informed manners such as the precociously modernist Charles Ives, much of the sonic work in Cybernetic Serendipity sought to use operations taken from computing for the production of harmonious sounds.

Whilst computer’s new found utility for producing new symphonic compositions was experimented with in one manner, another aspect of Cybernetic Serendipity focused on the ‘serendipitous’ ecologies that could be produced by building systems of exchange between the user and technology. One piece performing this exact idea was an interactive installation by early synthesizer pioneer Peter Zinovieff that allowed sounds made by visitors to be sung into a microphone which then translated the sound waves and attempted an improvisation of an original piece of music.

The ICA produced a vinyl compilation of audio pieces to accompany the exhibition, featuring the likes of John Cage and Iannis Xenakis, as well as the aforementioned Zinovieff. For years this has been a scarce object as only a handful of copies were ever made and sold at the exhibition itself. Fortunately for those interested in this early foray into electronic music production, Special Collections & Archives managed to acquire a copy via a re-release run in 2014 by the label The Vinyl Factory. As the ICA website describes in their promotional materials:

Both unique and extraordinarily influential, Cybernetic Serendipity Music captured a nascent scene on the cusp of a synth-led electronic revolution and was the only compilation of its kind to bring together the musicians, composers and inventors pushing the boundaries of early computer music on one record, a good six years before Kraftwerk’s Autobahn changed modern music for ever.

Though the aural aspects of Cybernetic Serendipity were prescient, there was also much attention given over to visual manifestations of creative computing. Media art pioneer Nam June Paik was present with the mechanical sculpture Robot K-456 and some of the aforementioned interactive television sets that make an appearance in Electronic Superhighway. Jean Tinguely contributed two machines able to autonomously paint in a similar fashion to the self producing music machines described elsewhere in the exhibition, whilst his cohort in auto-destructive art Gustav Metzger created a typically terminal creation called Five screens with computer programmed to gradually disintegrate over time. Gordon Pask arranged a group of large mobiles that integrated the viewers via large moving parts. Bruce Lacey anticipated the drone age with radio-controlled robots and other automaton such as a light-sensitive owl.

A particularly curious feature of the Cybernetic Serendipity monograph is the amount of attention given of to Computer generated images, or CGI as it is often referred to now. It is clear that artificially constructed computer visuals, though not fully understood, was being anticipated on the horizon. The monograph features several pages of text and images that investigate how concepts such as pattern recognition and geometric depth will be essential to the exchanges users perform with technology. This was strongly reflected in the main exhibition in a permutations with pieces such as a simulated Mondrian piece and the iconic decreasing squares spiral that appears on the exhibition’s poster and monograph. A video from the Boeing corporation featured a demonstration of wire frame modelling, the skeletal system of interconnecting points that is now an industry standard in CGI production. This dimension of Cybernetic Serendipity highlighted the gestalt-like ability of the human brain in organizing simple shapes into complex images with depth and shade, something that would prove necessary for the later production of virtual reality.

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Cybernetic Serendipity (1968) poster, on display at Electronic Superhighway (2016). Images by author.

Though dated by the immersive and hyperreal standards, Cybernetic Serendipity was radical in beginning a conversation in art about the impact information and computer technology was to have on aesthetics. It’s legacy was considered significant enough that the ICA decided to return to it in a retrospective in 2014. The nostalgia for mining previous incarnations of digital life is perhaps drawn from the interesting observations to be gained from some of the differences in how technology and culture have developed, as well as the uncanny similarities. It’s location in The Whitechapel Gallery’s Electronic Superhighway provides it with such a context, as it locates the exhibition within a series of historical trends in visual art continues into the contemporary with artists such as Cory Archangel and Hito Steyerl.

Though the monograph and vinyl record are bound behind glass at Electronic Superhighway, here at Special Collections & Archives we have both available for viewing and listening in our Goldsmiths Library facilities all year round. To inquire about arranging a booking for Cybernetic Serendipity materials or any of our other research material, please email special.collections@gold.ac.uk or call on +44(0)20 7717 2295.

A Remedy for Rents: Darning samplers and other needlework from the Whitelands College Collection

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Following the private view on 26th January for A Remedy for Rents, the exhibition will be running in the Constance Howard Gallery (home of the Goldsmiths Textile Collection) until 10th March 2016.

Opening of the Exhibition ‘A Remedy for Rents – Darning Samplers and Other Needlework from the Whitelands College Collection’ held at the CHG 19/01/2016 to 10/03/2016

Curated by Vivienne Richmond, head of Goldsmiths History Department and author of Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-century England (2013), A Remedy for Rents showcases a rare collection of exceptionally fine needlework by working-class women in the last quarter of the 19th century. As students at Whitelands College, the first all-female teacher training college, now part of the University of Roehampton, the women were training to teach in elementary schools for working-class children and their needlework focused on the production and repair of simple garments and household textiles.

As students at Whitelands College, the first all-female teacher training college, now part of the University of Roehampton, the women were training to teach in elementary schools for working-class children and their needlework focused on the production and repair of simple garments and household textiles. Yet such everyday purpose belies the creativity and skill displayed in their work and the exhibition takes its title from a quotation by John Ruskin, a patron of the College, who marvelled that ‘work of so utilitarian character’ could be so beautiful.

The centrepiece of the exhibits, all from the Whitelands College archive, is an album compiled by Kate Stanley, Head Governess from 1876-1902, containing 26 darning and 17 plain needlework samplers worked by students, the stitching on which is extraordinarily fine. In addition, a number of loose samplers are displayed together with a variety of small-scale practice garments, also of a high standard, made as an economical and time-saving way to learn techniques.

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Whitelands College students went on to teach at schools and training colleges across the British Empire and so the ideologies, techniques and style of garments they learned at Whitelands entered the minds and homes of millions of poor and working-class girls. The exhibition, therefore, not only offers a rare opportunity to see needlework by non-elite Victorian women, but illuminates also the history of working-class dress, female education and gendered roles, experiences and expectations in 19th-century Britain and beyond. Further information on the history of Whitelands college can be found here.

A pdf with more information on the exhibition can be downloaded here.

A Remedy for Rents is available for viewing during the Goldsmiths Textile Collection & Constance Howard Gallery’s opening hours of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 11.00-17.00. For more information visit Goldsmiths Textile Collection’s website or contact us.

Christine Risley: Works and Research

Constance Howard Gallery
Deptford Town Hall Basement
24th November 2015 – 23rd December 2015
Tuesday – Thursday
11am – 5pm

Late opening and Christmas drinks: 8th December 2015
5−8pm

Event info

Christine Risley was a key member of Constance Howard’s remarkable and innovative textiles department at Goldsmiths College, and an influential figure in the craft of textile art in her own right. It is with great honour that the Textile Collection is able to host Christine Risley: Works & Research and honour the memory of an integral member of staff in the development of textiles as a craft at Goldsmiths.

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Curated in collaboration with former colleagues and personal friends of Christine. Using original artworks and materials from the Textile Collection, Christine Risley: Works and Research presents an exclusive look at the life, works and influences of the late textile artist.

Christine was introduced to textiles at an early age by her Mother and Grandmother, who taught her to sew and knit. After winning a scholarship to Prendergast School, Lewisham, she was expected to go to University. However, she instead decided to go to Art School and enrolled on the intermediate Exam in Art and Craft at Goldsmiths in 1944. Christine specialized in painting though found it uninspiring as the style taught at the time favoured photographic representation over personal interpretation of subject matter. It wasn’t until she saw an exhibition of fabric collages by Constance Howard’s education students that she re-connected with her early interest in textiles, immediately identifying with this way of working that allowed for freedom in choice of imagery, colours and design.

After completing her Art Teacher’s diploma at Goldsmiths in 1949, Christine taught at Central Saint Martins. During this time she continued to produce her own work, exhibiting and selling through the ‘Pictures for Schools’ scheme, the Society of Designer Craftsmen and various galleries in the UK and abroad. ‘A Bird in a Cage’ (1951) is an example of her work from this period, which was pictorial, whilst often fantastical. Christine also undertook Design work for a range of companies including Sandersons, House and Garden Magazine, Triplex Glass and Jaeger. She often favoured pen and ink drawing. Recurring motifs can be identified from her sketches and drawings, such as the bird, which appear in her Design work for Yardley and the Palladio wall paper, as well as in her fabric collages.

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Drawn to the speed and accuracy of Machine Embroidery, Christine studied under Dorothy Benson at the Singer Work Room in 1952.  She then went on to Bromley College to learn how to use the Cornelly and Irish Machines. Having worked part time at Goldsmiths since 1959, Christine accepted a full time position as head of Machine Embroidery under Constance Howard in 1967. She relished the opportunity to encourage individuality and creativity through tutorials and seminars, a teaching approach remarkably different from her own early experiences. From this time Christine specialized in Machine Embroidery, having published Machine Embroidery (1961) and Creative Embroidery (1969). She became heavily involved in the research for her third book Machine Embroidery: A Complete Guide (1973) having been awarded a grant to research Machine Embroidery in St. Gallen, Switzerland.

Christine enjoyed gathering together material and information, amassing a diverse collection of examples of machine embroidery, a selection of which are on display. The cabinets of objects and ephemera assembled from shelf displays in her house are also testament to her love of collecting. This tendency to gather, bring together and assemble is reflected in the fragmentary nature of her woks made in the 1980s, which came to characterize her style. She would combine influences from experiences and events captured through photography and drawing, as well as textiles she collected, and create scraps of Machine Embroidery which would later be pieced and stitched together. Much of this work was started in her sabbatical year from Goldsmiths in 1981. Around this time Christine began to experiment with abstract linear designs of Machine Embroidery, often working on clear plastic and layering or weaving together sections. This work is less known but an interesting insight into Christine’s continued commitment to pushing the possibilities provided by machine embroidery.

From starting out as a student at Goldsmiths, Christine Risley went on to leave a significant influence upon Goldsmiths and Textile Art more broadly, establishing the Machine Embroidery subject in the 1960s and later becoming the head of Textiles, before retiring in 1990.

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Please join the gallery on Tuesday 8th December for a late private viewing of Christine Risley: Works and Research with Christmas drinks. Please contact the Textile Collection at textiles@gold.ac.uk, call 020 7717 2210 or visit http://www.gold.ac.uk/calendar/?id=9313 for more information on Christine Risley: Works and Research. Opening times are Tuesday – Thursday, 11 – 5.00 pm.