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16 weeks of objects

Luisa Coscarelli & Emily Aleev-Snow

 

Sixteen weeks ago the V&A/RCA History of Design online platform Unmaking Things, run by the class of 2014, went live. Along with it we started this column – ‘Object of the Week’. Since then sixteen posts about sixteen different objects have been posted, and we are incredibly grateful for all the amazing contributors who have participated in our discussion of designed things.

This post is a tribute to them, as well as a recap of all the objects posted thus far. Putting all these objects next to each other, one is amazed by the range in geography, time, and function that have been discussed in under twenty posts!

Two altar cruets, possibly Lübeck (Germany) or Bruges (Belgium), ca. 1450-1520, Amber mounted in silver-gilt. Champieve Enamel, V&A Museum number(s): 4261-1857, 4260-1857. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Two altar cruets, possibly Lübeck (Germany) or Bruges (Belgium), ca. 1450-1520, Amber mounted in silver-gilt. Champieve Enamel, V&A Museum number(s): 4261-1857, 4260-1857. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The first objects discussed on the column were these two altar cruets. In this post Luisa introduced the discipline  History of Design and showed that by looking at materiality and shape one can gain an idea of the function of an object.

Images from left to right: Falling-drum clepsydra, English, c. 1690-1710. Science Museum. Image © Science Museum, London; Tin-glazed earthenware bottle, London, 1646, Museum no. 414:819-1885, Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Pillar Clock, Japan, c. 19th C, British Museum, Museum no. 1975,1202,1. Image © British Museum, London.

Emily and Sophie thought about objects related to time. These posts were dedicated to the continuous measuring of time with the clepsydra and Japanese pillar clock, and the marking of a specific moment in time with the New Year’s bottles.

Images from top left clockwise: Cup in the form of a falcon, c. 1600, Ulm, Germany. Cast, raised and chased partially gilded silver (parcel-gilt), carved coconut shell and carved semiprecious stones. Museum no. LOAN:GILBERT.61:1, 2-2008. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Pyx, made England ca. 1600, Unknown maker, silver-gilt, Museum no. M.18-2012. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Toothpick holder (?), unknown maker, ca. 1580, Germany, gilt bronze, Museum no. M.496-1956, Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Images from top left clockwise: Cup in the form of a falcon, c. 1600, Ulm, Germany. Cast, raised and chased partially gilded silver (parcel-gilt), carved coconut shell and carved semiprecious stones. Museum no. LOAN:GILBERT.61:1, 2-2008. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Pyx, made England ca. 1600, Unknown maker, silver-gilt, Museum no. M.18-2012. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Toothpick holder (?), unknown maker, ca. 1580, Germany, gilt bronze, Museum no. M.496-1956, Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

These objects can give you an insight into what kinds of pieces we wrote our first term essays about. Coincidentally all of these objects were made around 1600, and show the variety of fields that these essays were concerned with. While Luisa was very interested in the function of her object, Emily looked at the materiality of the coconut falcon cup to find out more about it. Annie explored themes like religiosity and revelation when she was looking at this pyx.

From top left clockwise: Locket, unknown maker, ca. 1810, England, enamelled gold set with plaited hair, Museum no. M.123-1962. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Matthew Cotes Wyatt, Bashaw – ‘The Faithful Friend of Man Trampling under Foot his most Insidious Enemy’, 1832 – 1834, London. Coloured marbles and hardstones; eyes of topaz, sardonyx and black lava, snake of bronze with ruby eyes; cushion mounts of gilt bronze, h: 149.5 cm (including base), Museum no. A.4:1 to 6-1960. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Eye miniature, unknown maker, early 19th century, England, pearls, diamonds, Museum no. P.56-1977, Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

From top left clockwise: Locket, unknown maker, ca. 1810, England, enamelled gold set with plaited hair, Museum no. M.123-1962. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Matthew Cotes Wyatt, Bashaw – ‘The Faithful Friend of Man Trampling under Foot his most Insidious Enemy’, 1832 – 1834, London. Coloured marbles and hardstones; eyes of topaz, sardonyx and black lava, snake of bronze with ruby eyes; cushion mounts of gilt bronze, h: 149.5 cm (including base), Museum no. A.4:1 to 6-1960. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Eye miniature, unknown maker, early 19th century, England, pearls, diamonds, Museum no. P.56-1977, Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Luisa was more concerned with what one could call the material culture of love. This hidden series started off with the over life-size memorial for the Newfoundland Bashaw, continued with love tokens that incorporated the beloved’s hair, and culminated in last week’s post with eye miniatures capturing the lover’s gaze. However, one could also see these objects as material manifestations of sadness and grief, as each of these objects might imply the absence of a loved one.

Images: Scale Model of the Bone Chair by Joris Laarman. Still from the video ‘Dutch Profiles: Joris Laarman,’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EO1lPlGLKoE; Photographic print, photographer unknown, ca. 1948, Nigeria, gelatin silver print, Museum no. Af,B61.20. Image © The British Museum, London.

Images: Scale Model of the Bone Chair by Joris Laarman. Still from the video ‘Dutch Profiles: Joris Laarman,’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EO1lPlGLKoE; Photographic print, photographer unknown, ca. 1948, Nigeria, gelatin silver print, Museum no. Af,B61.20. Image © The British Museum, London.

In Unmasking the Truth Lani introduced us to the art form of masquerading that is common among many nations in Africa, and considered how the notion of a homogeneous African identity, rather than the reality of disparate and distinct cultural groupings, was mediated to Europeans via photographic Christmas cards.

Elodie wrote about the coming together of nature and design, specifically the process of biomimicry. In order to discuss this she showed us the examples of scale models for a Charles and Ray Eames chaise longue and compared it to the model of the so-called Bone Chair by the Dutch contemporary designer Joris Laarman.

From top left clockwise: Trade Beads, Glass, Venice, C17th-first half of C18th,  Museum no. 4551:3-1901. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; A dish featuring the classic Willow Pattern. Plate, Spode, Stoke-on-Trent, England, c. 1800-1820, earthenware, transfer-printed in underglaze blue. Museum number C.847-1925. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Construction bricks, 1960s, LEGO (manufacturer), UK, Injection moulded plastic and cardboard, Museum no. B.62-2004, Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; The Popular Service Suits All Tastes, 1913. Double Royal standard poster format, W 625mm x H 1010mm. Printed by Johnson, Riddle & Company Ltd, Published by Underground Electric Railway Company Ltd. London Transport Museum Number: 1983/4/370. Image © Emily Aleev-Snow, 2013.

From top left clockwise: Trade Beads, Glass, Venice, C17th-first half of C18th, Museum no. 4551:3-1901. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; A dish featuring the classic Willow Pattern. Plate, Spode, Stoke-on-Trent, England, c. 1800-1820, earthenware, transfer-printed in underglaze blue. Museum number C.847-1925. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Construction bricks, 1960s, LEGO (manufacturer), UK, Injection moulded plastic and cardboard, Museum no. B.62-2004, Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; The Popular Service Suits All Tastes, 1913. Double Royal standard poster format, W 625mm x H 1010mm. Printed by Johnson, Riddle & Company Ltd, Published by Underground Electric Railway Company Ltd. London Transport Museum Number: 1983/4/370. Image © Emily Aleev-Snow, 2013.

Hannah explained to us the unsettling history behind these beautiful trade beads. They were made in Venice, and “taken by explorers and traders, who exchanged them for goods such as furs in North America, and gold, ivory and slaves on the coast of West Africa.“[1] This happened from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, and shows how tracing the origins of objects and following their path around the globe can reveal extraordinary connections. This same global connection is true for the Willow pattern that Emily wrote about in the context of a tube poster from 1913, and a ‘willow patterned’ plate from c. 1800. The Willow pattern design has been used over and over again in a variety of design contexts that attest to its popularity. Another popular object that was discussed on the column was LEGO, and its development from shaky building blocks to the interlocking building blocks they are today – an endlessly expandable design system.

The variety of objects discussed is truly fantastic and we – Emily and Luisa – would like to thank all our great contributors for these wonderful posts! They were and still are truly inspiring us to think about more objects and all the possible ways we as design historians can think about material culture. However, we believe that anyone can participate in this conversation, and hope that your inspiration has been sparked by this short recap. If you would like to talk about a particular object, then please write to us and get the conversation going on this column!

 


[1] http://unmakingthings.rca.ac.uk/2014/venetian-glass-trade-beads-object-agency-and-the-global-renaissance/

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Have you seen any objects that intrigued you lately? Perhaps you have encountered something that piqued your curiosity in a museum or gallery (or in a shop or in the street?), or as part of your art or design practice, as part of your research, or as part of your daily life. Please don’t be shy! We welcome submissions on objects of all sorts, between 500 and 1,500 words, and we do ask that you own the rights to your images or use those belonging to the V&A.  If you aren’t sure if your idea is right for our column, it certainly never hurts to ask, so please get in touch with us: objectoftheweek@gmail.com

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© Luisa Coscarelli & Emily Aleev-Snow 2014. All Rights Reserved

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