'Designology' at the London Transport Museum

Sunday, 22 May 2016

If you take a look at my Instagram, you'll see that I've been taking part in the 100 Day Project. I really struggled to decide what to focus on, and it's been a long time since I committed to a creative project which involved posting every day (I managed the 365 project a few years ago, but I had a bit more time on my hands!) In the end, I landed on something which wasn't all that snappy or cool, but I felt had a lot of potential: public transport. Living in cities, most of us spend a good portion of our weeks sitting on a train, bus, tube or tram - and it's an experience which would be completely different without design. I also feel it's somewhat of an overlooked source of everyday beauty. So, for the last month or so (and for the next sixty plus days) I can be found awkwardly snapping away on train platforms and photographing bus seats.

Enter: the London Transport Museum. Despite being a massive fan of some of the infamous bits of design associated with London's transport system (like the original Routemaster buses and Heatherwick's updated hybrids), I'd never managed to make it to the Covent Garden museum. I'd been to the Acton Depot Open Weekend and loved it, so when Tasha asked if I'd like to come along to the preview of the LTM's latest exhibition, Designology, I jumped at the chance. The two of us also popped along to the exhibition launch on Friday to have another wander around - and a cocktail!

Designology charts the many different aspects of design encapsulated within London Transport - and there's so much more to it than you might think. A lot of the designs we use everyday are almost meant to be invisible: if you're noticing the ticket barrier, it's usually because you're struggling to get through it! However, our lives and commutes would be infinitely more boring and difficult without the designers which work across the system. Highlights from the exhibition for me were lots of the paper based media - tickets, maps, timetables - and the art we see everyday on the underground, such as the amazing woodcut designs for Charing Cross tube station. I also really loved seeing the design process behind the seat patterns (did you know there are London landmarks hidden in the design on the Central line?) and the designs which never quite made it to life. Top for me, though, is the Johnston typeface used across the transport system, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year!

FIND 'DESIGNOLOGY' AT: The London Transport Museum, Covent Garden Piazza, London, WC2E 7BB

London & the British Museum

Friday, 22 April 2016

The year so far has been a complete whirlwind. I handed in my first essays on my Master's degree, got back some really positive results, started a new job, moved house, renovated the house, and made more steps towards my future. It's been busy, but in a good way. Recently I started feeling like I wasn't making the most of studying right in the middle of the city. Whilst I still live on the tube line, I'm sadly no longer a walk from Brick Lane and ten minutes into the centre - so when I travel in I want to make the most of the ever-increasing tube fare. After handing in my third essay a couple of weeks ago I took myself a wander around the British Museum and the streets around it. Now the sun's suddenly decided to make an appearance for more than five seconds, I've remembered why I love London so much.

The People's History Museum, Manchester

Monday, 14 March 2016

My second museum stop in Manchester was the People's History Museum. The museum is devoted to charting the struggle for democracy and equality in Britain, and centres around the premise that 'there have always been ideas worth fighting for'. Anyone who knows me (or who follows my Twitter) knows that equality and human rights issues are something I'm extremely passionate about, so a visit here whilst I was in Manchester was a no-brainer.

The museum collection was begun in the 1960s, with a group of activists deciding to preserve items relating to Britain's labour history and the working classes. Originally housed in London, the collection was rescued by Manchester City Council and others after funding threatened the London site's future. The museum fills a gap which is often clearly visible in the museum and heritage sector: collections tend to focus around objects used by or designed for a wealthier elite. It sometimes feels as if the direct relation of objects to the rest of the people who used them is stifled for visitors. Whilst I love looking at beautiful objects made of fine materials, appreciating their craftsmanship and their importance in the history of design or art, I want to see more of the history of people - and not the aristocrats. Most objects find their value and their purpose in use; their function is the basis of their production. Things do not have to be worth money to be valuable or to have their stories told. Humans tend to be a race of great collectors, no matter their circumstance, and the objects we amass help build our history.

The People's History Museum collection is filled with objects which shine a light on the experiences of normal people, and the ways that those people have fought for equality. I was impressed by such an open approach to history, and an honest acknowledgement that whilst society is more equal than it was, inequality remains and there is much yet to fight for. The unrivalled collection of trade union and political banners are a huge highlight of the displays; the museum holds over 400 in total, including that of the Liverpool Tinplate Workers of 1821, thought to be the oldest trade union banner existing. Campaign posters spanning decades illustrate the varying political and social climates of the eras - my favourite is the hilarious(ly awful) Conservative Party election campaign poster from 1987, 'Labour Camp'. I was also a fan of the 'Suffragette's Home' poster - portraying the truly terrifying consequences of rights for women...

It was interesting to learn that the museum also has a permanent space set aside for events submitted by the public - anyone can put forward their idea for the space as long as their proposal has a strong link to the collections or themes of the museum. It's a really great way of involving people with their histories, and is a good opportunity for the museum to support new and engaging perspectives. A lot of museums could learn from this model!

FIND THE PEOPLE'S HISTORY MUSEUM AT: Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3ER

Alec Soth at the Science Museum

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

With a few hours to kill before a meeting at the Victoria and Albert Museum for our next event, I decided to brave the chaos at South Kensington and fight through the gaggles of over-excited half term children to pay a visit to the Science Museum. Currently on show is Gathered Leaves, photographer Alec Soth's first major UK exhibition. I was familiar with Soth's work from his series Sleeping by the Mississippi, photographed on roadtrips along the mid West's famous river, featuring the people inhabiting the landscape as well as place itself. Though Soth is sometimes described as a documentary photographer, I'm less inclined to categorise him as such; his work is more like poetry than it is prose (something he describes as making it 'pretty much useless'). Individually, his photographs are stunningly beautiful, tiny vignettes brimming with story. But it's as a whole collection that the images come together in a uniquely coherent whole, which simultaneously provide a narrative yet leave so many questions unanswered - in the best kind of way. 

It's particularly great to see the photographs at full size, with all the detail provided by large format photography, and interesting to see which details are left in (for example, a tiny piece of rubbish on an otherwise clean carpet in the nude portrait of Michele and James in the Niagara series). Alongside Sleeping by the Mississippi and Niagara are also displayed images and pages from Soth's 2010 project with writer Lester B. Morrison, Broken Manual, exploring people who live life 'off grid' and the spaces they inhabit. The final form of the project came in the form of a written manual, contained in a shell of another book, its insides cut out. The Songbook series finishes the exhibition, featuring human interactions, moments of community and connection (or lack of) across America, underpinned the almost sweet melancholy which is so typical of Soth's work.

Finally, I was extremely pleased to see Soth described as an 'Instagrammer' - it's refreshing to see an openness towards digital media and an appreciation for new photography tools which can often be looked down on. The exhibition is mesmerising and fully worth the £8 entry price (and only £4 if you have a National Art Pass, which is also worth getting if you're an exhibition regular!)

FIND 'GATHERED LEAVES' AT: The Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD - until 28th March.

The Manchester Museum

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Last summer I managed to visit Manchester for the first time, and of course I made my way straight to the museums. First up, the Manchester Museum - full of great specimens, the site of much important research and even the location of classes for schoolchildren whose schools were busy being used as military hospitals in World War One. The museum building and the displays are a great example of the old and the new working seamlessly together: the nineteenth century building nestles up alongside modern architecture; exhibits combine traditional display methods with contemporary interpretations of the collections, such as the Living Worlds gallery which cleverly reinvents the taxidermy collections. It's a large museum, but the kind of place you can wander through for a couple of hours, or (if you're more like me) easily spend a whole day in, poring over the massive variety in their collections.

FIND THE MANCHESTER MUSEUM AT: The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, M13 9PL