Category Archives: public art

The ‘new heritage’ of post-war public art

‘South of the River’ (Bernard Schottlander, London, 1975-76)

Over this last week there’s been a lot of positive press and media coverage around Historic England’s (HE’s) announcement of its move to give listed Grade II or II* status to 41 examples of British post-1945 public art. This new listing represents an important development by HE to recognise the ‘new heritage’ value of public artworks and is an action that can be read as an indicator of the current vulnerability and ‘at risk’ status of much civic public art in towns and cities across the UK. As Rachel Cooke wrote in her article in yesterday’s Observer (an unusually affectionate take on public art) [link], in our current age of austerity ‘public art is going through a difficult and sad time’ – not much new work is being commissioned and much of what already exists is neglected or forgotten. Indeed Cooke notes and as HE itself attests, some of the UK’s post-war public art has already been destroyed, stolen or disappeared.

In recognition of this vulnerability, over the next three years post-1945 public art will be one of HE’s new priority areas for additions and revisions to the National Heritage List for England (NHLE). This is part of HE’s project ‘Public Art (Sculpture) 1945-85: Designation, Exhibition and Guidance’, a programme of activity and research that includes a forthcoming exhibition telling the story of post-war public art commissioning at Somerset House in London and the production of new guidelines for the listing and designation of public art produced between 1945-85. As well as its announcement of the 41 list, as a first step HE have just launched a new summary document written by art historian Lynn Pearson on the key trends in UK post-war public, focusing primarily on sculpture and architectural murals.

The 41 public artworks selected for Historic England’s new Grade II listing are pretty eclectic. As might be expected there are works by ‘big name’ British sculptors – Moore, Hepworth and Frink feature quite strongly (Gormley’s work is there as well) – but also many works by much lesser-known artists. In terms of artform and material these artworks range from abstract steel and concrete sculptures to bronzes, figurative statues, memorials and architectural reliefs. Some artworks are in parks, while others are sited on buildings and within the streetscape. Commissioners include public sector bodies and private corporations as well as a number of universities.

Historic England doesn’t go into much detail on how these particular works have been selected for ‘listed status’. For me, it would be interesting to know whether these are simply the artworks deemed to be at the most immediate ‘risk’ or whether there is also some process of comparative significance assessment going on here as well? Who petitioned for the listing of these particular artworks? Were these put forward by HE itself or by another heritage or cultural body, or by the artist (or their estate or gallery) perhaps? Or by the artwork’s commissioner or current corporate or institutional owner? To what extent have members of the public art audience been involved as instigators of this listing process? It’s not clear either how many other public artworks might be listed in future. It’s certainly noticeable from the current list of 41 and the map HE has put together that no artworks are listed from the North East for example or from the South West. More than half of the public artworks enjoying HE’s new listed status are located in London. Maybe public artworks in other more far flung parts of England are less at risk, or possibly not sufficiently valued to initiate such a listing (or perhaps HE’s project hasn’t got to these corners of the country as yet?).

Thinking in terms of my own PhD research and recent study visits the artists and public artworks in the list that particularly caught my eye were those by Bernard Schottlander, an artist who I’ve been introduced to and very much enjoyed on my own public art explorations in Milton Keynes and Manchester. (Schottlander has three artworks in the current listing – in Milton Keynes, London and Warwick). The second was Geoffrey Clarke who’s now listed ‘The Spirit of Electricity’ (1961) was completed the year before his sculpture ‘Spiral Nebula’ was installed at Newcastle University.

Out There: Our Post-War Public Art runs at Somerset House, London, from 3 February to 10 April 2016. I’ll be reporting back on the exhibition and on a linked panel discussion organised by the Royal Academy (‘What’s the Future of Public Art’ The Geological Society, London, 15 February) on this blog next month.

 

 

 

 

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Cardiff Public Art Collection

For my third UK public art collection visit I made my way to Cardiff. Cardiff Council speaks of having a collection of 200+ permanent public artworks. In contrast to Folkestone’s seven years of collecting the artworks in Cardiff range back over 150 years.

My first Cardiff public art encounter, seen as I crossed the road from my hotel en route into the city centre, were two giant grey fists rising out of the pavement. Consulting the information I have brought with me I find that this is an artwork called ‘All Hands’ (by Brian Fell). Later I find out from the artist’s website that the sculpture is sited above a enclosed canal that was once was a coal supply route down to the docks. The artwork being intended as a commemoration to Cardiff’s dockworkers. But what I notice on the street is the way a small crowd of people has gathered on the seating set around the sculpture, not looking at it but facing away from it. As I walk round to the other side I realise that the sculpture is really close to a popular bus stop. I wonder if any of these waiting passengers are thinking about dock workers or are aware of the canal beneath them?

Sculpture and bus stop. 'All Hands' (Brian Fell, 2001)

Sculpture and bus stop. ‘All Hands’ (Brian Fell, 2001)

The next artwork I come upon is sited in the pedestrianized area around the St David’s Shopping Centre and immediately outside the central city library. It is one of the newer artworks in the city, installed in 2009 as part of the St David’s Public Art Programme. It is certainly a big work (25m high) but it also has an ambitious aim. According to a plaque inlaid into the pavement nearby, ‘Alliance’ represents ‘the meeting of past and present and a new symbol for the city’s future’. I learn later from my Cardiff conversations that this two-element sculpture is referred to locally as the ‘Hoop and Stick’. It’s a good description. The Wikipedia entry for ‘Alliance’ states that the hoop is filled with a liquid that is programmed to rise and fall to mark the changing tide on the Bristol Channel (an intriguing detail, if this is still working). I go into the library to get a different view of the artwork and the public space around it. Looking down I watch the movement of people passing under the ‘hoop’: from what I observe it seems an irresistible climbing challenge for some young children.

'Alliance' or the 'Hoop and Stick', outside Cardiff Library (Jean-Bernard Metals, 2009).

‘Alliance’ or the ‘Hoop and Stick’, outside Cardiff Library (Jean-Bernard Metals, 2009).

These two works are my first introductions to the Cardiff public art collection. Over the next day or so of my visit I explore the city and its artworks further, focusing especially on the three areas mapped out in the walking tour maps sent to me by my contact in Cardiff Council: the city centre, the historic ‘Civic Centre’ and the redeveloped waterfront at Cardiff Bay. Just looking at the maps you get an idea of how different these three areas are spatially. The city centre map appears to shows its collection of artworks as inserted into a tightly packed streetscape, spread out in a string along the high street or marking significant street corners. The Civic Centre map meanwhile indicates a much more planned arrangement. Here the artworks are part of the mid 19th-early 20th century architectural design of the grand civic quarter, embellishments of the buildings themselves or set out as formal statues and memorials in the surrounding green space. The Bay map plots its own artwork collection against the blue and open backdrop of the waterfront and around Cardiff’s contemporary architectural symbols, the Millennium Centre and the Senedd (Welsh Assembly).

The following offers a sample of some of the artworks, spatial-visual confrontations and public art audiencing activities that I encountered and observed during my visits to these three very different areas of the city. (Artwork credits courtesy Cardiff Council’s Cardiff Public Art Register)

City Centre

Civic Centre

Cardiff Bay

Cardiff’s regeneration focused approach to public art commissioning, especially as centred on the Cardiff Bay development in the 1990s, has been the subject of much academic and social debate. For background history and critiques of Cardiff’s public art approach see for example:

Gonçalves, A. & Thomas, H., 2012. CASE STUDY: Waterfront tourism and public art in Cardiff Bay and Lisbon’s Park of Nations. Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events, (August 2015), pp.1–26.

Hall, T. & Robertson, I., 2001. Public Art and Urban Regeneration : Advocacy , claims and critical debates. Landscape Research, 26(1), pp.5–26.

 

 

 

 

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Milton Keynes public art collection

Over July and August I’m carrying out a series of research visits to three UK public art ‘collections’ as part of my PhD fieldwork. The first of these visits took me down to Milton Keynes. This is a place I’d certainly read quite a lot about in terms of its cultural geography [1, 2, 3] but never actually visited before. Milton Keynes is famous as the UK’s largest and, for some, most successful ‘new town’. It was built in the late 1960s to a radical modernist design that has been described as something of a meeting between the futurism of American architect Buckminster Fuller and the romanticism of the English ‘Garden City’. For some its original design (led by architect and town planner Derek Walker) is still seen as visionary, one of the great unsung projects of British post-war design. For others the town is a characterless, ‘brutalist wasteland’ [4], and a ‘Mecca for roundabouts’[5].

Unusually in the UK, Milton Keynes is also a town that actively promotes itself as having a ‘public art collection’: the reason for my research visit. This is a collection that encompasses some 220 permanent artworks located across the city centre and its wider area. I was only able to visit a small proportion of these during my visit, concentrating on the works located in the centre of Milton Keynes that feature in the city’s official ‘City Centre Artwalk’ booklet.

 

Milton Keynes Artwalk Map

Starting from the ‘Theatre District’ this route led me in a looping circuit around the central grid of Milton Keynes. This encompasses the town’s main commercial, retail and civic hub situated between the parallel tree-lined ‘Boulevards’ – the romantically (paganly?) named ‘Avebury’, ‘Midsummer’ and ‘Silbury’ – and their intersecting ‘Gates’. For a visitor, and public art researcher, like me one of the most striking features of this route is the way in which the public art walk threads between outdoor street space and the interior ‘malls’ of its main shopping centre ‘The Centre: MK’ and the adjoining (now listed) ‘Midsummer Place’. Two of Milton Keynes most locally popular artworks are sited within these malls: ‘Vox Pop (The Family)’ and a small herd of Liz Leyh’s original ‘Concrete Cows’ (sometimes cynically described as a symbol of MK’s all-pervasive ‘concreteness’).

'Vox Pop (The Family), John Clinch, 1988. According to the Artwork Guide Clinch's sculpture 'celebrates ordinary members of the public rather than the rich and famous'. It was 'originally intended to show the diversity of people needed to make Milton Keynes a great city'.

‘Vox Pop (The Family), John Clinch, 1988. According to the Artwork Guide Clinch’s sculpture ‘celebrates ordinary members of the public rather than the rich and famous’. It was ‘originally intended to show the diversity of people needed to make Milton Keynes a great city’.

Concrete Cows

‘Concrete Cows’. These are the ‘original’ concrete cows created by resident MK artist Liz Leyh and local schoolchildren in 1978. These are now corralled around the remains of the town’s celebrated oak tree in the middle of the Midsummer Place shopping mall.

Other mall-based public artworks include a humorous bronze ‘book’ bench by Bill Woodrow (outside Waterstones), ‘Circle of Light’ by US born kinetic artist Liliane Lijn (a work which I was looking for but somehow managed to miss in my walk round), and a series of fantastical bronzes by British sculptor Philomena Davis. These are located in ‘Silbury Arcade’, alongside branches of Carphone Warehouse, Claire’s, and Patisserie Valerie. Together these mall-sited works are striking examples of the way the viewing (visuality) of public artworks is often enmeshed within the urban retail experience: an ingredient of urban visuality and ‘aestheticisation’ that has been specifically highlighted in reference to Milton Keynes [6].

'High Flyer' one of three bronzes by Philomena Davis. According to the artist these works 'depict man's fantasy with flight and escapism'.

‘High Flyer’ one of three bronzes by Philomena Davis sited in Silbury Arcade. According to the artist these works ‘depict man’s fantasy with flight and escapism, in particular….that come to us in childhood and adolescence’. According to the on-site label the sculpture is modelled on one of the artist’s own children.

Exploring beyond the polished spaces of the shopping mall the outdoor streetscape of Milton Keynes felt like a very different material and visual environment for public art. Away from the brightness of the newer retail and leisure developments this is a less manicured and much more worn space. One that is open to the elements and that feels both concrete and green. The aesthetic here would seem to echo that of the sculpture ‘court’ or the ‘sculpture park’, albeit often on a pocket scale and in a rougher urban form. My public art route took me through a number of such spaces. A rather neglected public seating area/walkway between a branch of Wallis and one of the main Boulevards held an energetic (‘Vorticist’ inspired?) bronze by Michael Sandle: the radically titled, ‘A Mighty Blow for Freedom:****the Media’, while a trio of abstract and colourful sculptures by artist/designer Bernard Schottlander dominated the dried out summer lawn and patio of the park leading up to the City Church.

'A Mighty Blow for Freedom: ****the Media', Michael Sandle, 1988. The Artwalk Guide tells me that the work is a twist in a well known film company logo, here replacing the famous gong, with a man swinging an axe into a television.

‘A Mighty Blow for Freedom: ****the Media’, Michael Sandle, 1988. The Artwalk Guide tells me that the work is a twist on a well known film company logo, here replacing the famous image of the gong sounder with a man swinging an axe into a television.

Two sculptures from the '3B' and '2M' series. Simple forms which, according to the guide, are a play on the artist's initials: BMS.

Two sculptures from the ‘3B’ and ‘2M’ series. Simple forms which, according to the MK public art guide, are a play on the artist’s initials: BMS.

'The Object' Dhruva Mistry, 1995-7, tucked away in its own pocket 'sculpture park' near Milton Keynes Gallery.

‘The Object’ Dhruva Mistry, 1995-7, tucked away in its own pocket ‘sculpture park’ near Milton Keynes Gallery.

Beyond this artwork and once through the strange under-croft of the motorway Milton Keynes centre opens up into green space proper – Campbell Park and its outlook to the wider rural landscape beyond. This too contains a number of sculptures, many of these dating from the 1990s but also some newer works commissioned as part of the Campbell Park Public Art Plan . The latest of these is the ‘MK Rose’ the final artwork I visited as part of my Milton Keynes public art fieldtrip.

The ‘MK Rose’ by Gordon Young is designed as a new communal and commemorative space for Milton Keynes. It is a physical ‘calendar of days’ represented by 105 pillars each dedicated to a different day of celebration or commemoration, some national and some local to Milton Keynes.

The ‘MK Rose’ by Gordon Young is designed as a new communal and commemorative space for Milton Keynes. It is a physical ‘calendar of days’ represented by 105 pillars each dedicated to a different day of celebration or commemoration, some national and some local to Milton Keynes. The work was commissioned by the Milton Keynes Cenotaph Trust and the Milton Keynes Parks Trust.

References:

[1] Massey, D. & Rose, G., 2003. Personal Views: Public Art Research Project.

[2] AMH, 2006. Public Art in Milton Keynes Street Survey.

[3] Basdas, B., Degen, M. & Rose, G., 2009. Learning about how people experience built environments,

Learning about how people experience built environments – Dr Begum Basdas, Dr Monica Degen and Prof Gillian Rose

[4] Voices, P. et al., 2015. Concrete bungle : Exhibition of history of Milton Keynes fails to capture flawed urban experiment Milton Keynes deserves more than a PR version of its futuristic roots. , (July).

[5] Independent, S.T., 2015. Derek Walker : Architect and planner who designed Milton Keynes dies aged 85. , (July).

[6] Degen, M., DeSilvey, C. & Rose, G., 2008. Experiencing visualities in designed urban environments: Learning from Milton Keynes. Environment and Planning A, 40(8), pp.1901–1920.

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Folkestone Triennial 2014 and ‘The Sculpture Question

Will Kwan, 'Apparatus #9', Folkestone Triennial 2014

Will Kwan, ‘Apparatus #9’, Folkestone Triennial 2014

A week ago I was down in Folkestone to catch the last weekend of the Folkestone Triennial 2014.

This was the third edition of the Folkestone Triennial. While it’s primarily promoted as a temporary public realm programme within a sculpture festival type framework this triennial is an interesting case study for my own research as it sites new temporary commissions alongside legacy works from previous Triennial years. Presenting this work under the banner of Folkestone Artworks it’s a rare UK example of public art engagement with the concept of ‘collection’. So far the Folkestone collection numbers sixteen permanent artworks maintained for the town from the two previous Triennial events (2008, 2011). Up to eight works are likely to be added to the collection from this year’s edition. I wonder which works will be chosen to stay in the town and on what basis this selection will be made? Practicalities, like material robustness and site ownership and probably contractual and planning issues too are likely to play a major part in this. How might this be balanced with the popularity of certain works with Triennial visitors and local audiences? (Gabriel Lester’s The Electrified Line and Jyll Bradley’s Green/Light in particular seemed to be attracting lots of attention while I was there.) It was too early really to explore these issues on this visit but these are questions that I’d like to return to again early next year, hopefully in conversation with the curators at Folkestone Artworks/The Creative Foundation.

Gabriel Lester, 'The Electrified Line', Folkestone Triennial 2014

Gabriel Lester, ‘The Electrified Line’, Folkestone Triennial 2014

Jyll Bradley, 'Green/Light (for M.R.), Folkestone Triennial 2014

Jyll Bradley, ‘Green/Light (for M.R.), Folkestone Triennial 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My second reason for going to Folkestone was to attend ‘The Sculpture Question’, a conference organised by the Creative Foundation and the University for the Creative Arts, Canterbury. Although part of the Triennial programme ‘The Sculpture Question’ conference had a rather wider remit, seeking to explore the future of sculpture in its expanding ‘expanded field’. The conference set itself two key questions: The first was concerned with the teaching of sculpture within a ‘trans-disciplinary’ framework, where it is increasingly positioned in relation to installation, architecture and performance; The second with the broader issue of the agency of sculpture within the institutionalised and formal public realm. The conference set out to address these questions in three sessions, labelled broadly as: Terms; Frameworks; and Encounters. For me it was this third grouping which was the major attraction and interest. The conference programme promised a stimulating debate that linked with my own current investigations into public art audiencing and interpretation:

In the final part of the conference, we look at the experience of sculpture. How does the public confront works in the public realm? And what is the value of signposting ‘art’, or allowing for unexpected encounters? How much contextual information should one offer to the viewer and how might sculpture be seen as a starting point, or a reference, for a multi- layered response by a viewer – one that takes into account the frameworks discussed above, as well as personal experience?

The speakers for this session, of whom the keynote was the French curator and art theorist Nicolas Bourriaud, addressed these issues in sometimes oblique and sometimes direct ways in their presentations. Here are some of my edited notes that highlight, for me some of the more interesting and pertinent points made during the session and in the follow-on panel discussion:

  •  Sculpture is defined in terms of temporal and spatial ‘contingency’ and ‘social gathering’ as oppose to the distance and ‘flatness’ of the image.
  •  It’s important to recognize that sculptures sited in the public realm can be both an ‘attraction and a repellant’.
  •  Sculptures/artworks need to be active ‘generators’ i.e. producers of ‘something else’. It’s important to keep the story of the artwork ‘spinning’.
  •  Public space and public activity is now more ‘atomised’ and ‘polarised’ – this means we can no longer talk of ‘a public’. Instead we need to think in terms of a ‘fragmented multitude’.

 (Nicolas Bourriaud)

  •  What do we do when sculptures/artworks fail? i.e. when they fail to ‘gather’ in this sense, when they remain ‘flat’.
  •  Shifting from the visual to the linguistic and back again: ‘The Art World is in denial about how much text it uses.’

 (Gilda Williams)

  •  Public realm sculpture = something you ‘bump into’ either as a ‘surprise’ or as an object ‘that gets in the way’. May be a ‘distracting’ or ‘disturbing’ thing’, friendly or unfriendly, but also a ‘non-thing’ for some people.
  •  What do people do with things that they don’t want to see?
  •  Objects look back at us: they are ‘doing something to you’ or ‘demanding something of you’.

 (Anouchka Grose)

The Sculpture Question

The Sculpture Question: Anouchka Grose

NOTE: Although developed over a much shorter timescale Folkestone Artworks approach is similar to the model pioneered by Sculpture Projects Münster in Germany. The fifth edition of Sculpture Projects Münster is due to take place in 2017.

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Art Everywhere: better than another car advert?

Art Everywhere logo

Today marks the first day of Art Everywhere 2014, a ‘national outdoor art exhibition that aims to flood the streets with great British art’ (Source: Art Everywhere website). A not-for-profit collaboration between the UK ‘out of home’ advertising industry, the Art Fund, Tate, Facebook and others, Art Everywhere describes itself as ‘A Very Very Big Art Show’.

The project is ‘Big’ on many fronts. Over the next six weeks it will present giant (and smaller scale) reproductions of 25 paintings by British artists on 30,000 public billboard and poster advertising sites across the UK. In doing so the project claims to be able to reach an audience amounting to 90% of the UK population. The project is crowd curated: the final selection of the 25 images was decided through a Facebook poll that received 38,000 votes. It is also partially crowd funded, with supporters gaining various levels of reward for their cash donations. And it’s social too – making full use of Twitter and Instagram to promote to and engage with audiences.

In its ‘bringing art out of the gallery, onto the streets, and to the people’ ethos Art Everywhere would seem to offer a glossy and sophisticated media version of public art. But like much public art it’s not without some controversy. While some contemporary artists have been keen supporters (Antony Gormley and Grayson Perry jointly launched the 2014 project last week and the artist Bob and Roberta Smith offered similar endorsement to the 2013 edition) others have been more critical. In an A-N debate on the project last year some artists questioned whether Art Everywhere could in any way constitute ‘good public art’. While some A-N contributors argued that any new opportunity for the public to engage with visual artworks must be regarded as positive (and certainly better than gazing at just another car advert) others criticised the project for being ‘safe’, ‘gimmicky’, and ‘patronising’. In focusing on the reproduction of existing and often well-known artworks it was regarded by many of these artists as a missed opportunity to commission new and context specific work. And of course, as A-N’s Susan Jones reminded readers, using billboards and public media as a site for artists’ works is hardly a new phenomenon. Similarly as another contributor to the A-N discussion suggested, conventional permanently sited public art collections, such as the ‘220 Public Artworks’ to be encountered in Milton Keynes might also be happily tagged as #arteverywhere

I wonder whether there be much debate on the Art Everywhere project this year, and if so where will this go?

NOTE: this year Art Everywhere is even bigger – it now has a US version too.

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Photographing public artworks: signs of ‘affiliation and affection’?

Photographing 'Couple on Street', Lynn Chadwick, (1984), Canary Wharf Public Art Collection, London.

Photographing ‘Couple on Street’, Lynn Chadwick, (1984), Canary Wharf Public Art Collection, London.

This week I’ve come across two blog posts about the pros and cons of taking photographs of objects in museums. This has nudged me to put down a few notes here about my own reflections around people’s attraction to photographing public artworks beyond the confines of the museum.

From my own street observations over the years and recent scannings of the internet and social media for images of public artworks from the Newcastle-Gateshead ‘collection’ (the subject of my current PhD study) it would seem that taking a photograph of, or posing for a photograph with, public artworks is almost instinctive. With a camera, or smartphone, in your hand when you encounter a new or striking piece of public art it seems the obvious thing to do (if, that is, you are photographically inclined).

Could this stopping to take a photograph be seen as a primary signal of audience engagement with a public artwork, an object which may more typically be seen only peripherally while passing-by on the way to somewhere/something else? Could the short moment taken to do this be the longest time anyone deliberately spends ‘with’ the work? In public space it seems that photography could be a more acceptable public behaviour than other more physical forms of interaction with these objects. Although sited without barriers (and watchful gallery staff) we may not feel free to touch, or even to walk round, step back, go close to these objects, as we might be tempted or indeed expected to do when encountering artworks in a museum or gallery. In the urban public realm I’ve rarely witnessed these kinds of ‘looking at art’ behaviours outside of a formal public art tour.

‘Powerless Structures Fig. 101’, Elmgren and Dragset, The 4th Plinth, London, 2012-13

Photographing ‘Powerless Structures Fig. 101’, Elmgren and Dragset, (2012-13), The 4th Plinth, London.

So why do people take photographs of public artworks? What does it indicate about a person’s relationship to these objects? What do people do with or get from these images they have taken?

In the latest of his blog series ‘Tilting at Windmills’, Ed Rodley suggests that rather than taking photographs to document the objects they have seen, museum visitor’ photography, and the subsequent sharing of that imagery e.g. via social media, is a representation of their ‘affiliation’ with the chosen object and with the institution of the museum. For Rodley these photographic acts are ‘underutilized and under-appreciated’ by museum professionals, who are often more concerned to control visitor photography than to encourage it.

Visitor photography and its relationship to the museum experience is also the subject of Jamie Glavic’s recent post ‘Reflection vs. Collection’ on the Museum Minute blog. This is written in part response to a recent research study (by Linda Henkel) that suggests that taking photographs in the museum actually prevents rather than assists visitors in remembering the objects they have seen. As Glavic writes, Henkel has labelled this phenomenon the ‘photo-taking-impairment effect’. Interestingly though, Henkel’s study did find that when people began to explore objects with the camera further, to photograph specific details, they did retain a clearer memory of the object. Glavic notes that Henkel’s study only investigated the effects of the act of taking a photograph, not what people subsequently did with or thought about the images they had made.

Do Rodley and Glavic’s posts and Henkel’s findings reflect what happens beyond the gallery? Outside the museum, in the ’public realm’ we are generally freer to photograph the artworks we encounter than we are in the museum/art gallery, although there are sometimes similar concerns, and occasional controversies, around copyright infringement and security issues. (In my own work I have been stopped several times from taking photographs of public artworks on the Tyne and Wear Metro by its security staff, for example.) Can we take these ‘posings for photographs with public artworks’, ‘selfies’, Flickr portfolios and crowdsourced online public/‘street art’ directories as signals of ‘affiliation and affection’ with the artworks represented? Or are these images perhaps more like trophies of time and place (a more simple visual statement of ‘I was here’)?

NOTES AND REFERENCES

Ed Rodley is Associate Director of Integrated Media at Peabody Essex Museum, Boston (USA). He blogs at Thinking about museums. Jamie Glavic is Strategic Projects Coordinator at Ohio Historical Society (USA).

Rodley, E. (2013) ‘Tilting at Windmills, Part Three’, Thinking about museums, 8 December. Available at: http://exhibitdev.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/tilting-at-windmills-part-three/ (Accessed: 08.01.14).

Glavic, J. (2013) ‘Reflection vs. Collection’, Museum Minute, 11 December. Available at: http://museumminute.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/reflection-vs-collection-a-new-report-looks-at-the-effect-of-picture-taking-on-remembering-the-museum-experience/ (Accessed: 08.01.14).

Henkel, L. (2013) ‘Point-and-Shoot Memories: The Influence of Taking Photos on Memory for a Museum Tour’, Psychological Science, XX (X), pp. 1-7, Sage [Online]. Available at: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/12/04/0956797613504438 (Accessed: 08.01.14).

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Hidden Collections (2) and PhD update

As I’m sure any subscribers will have noticed, an update to this PhD blog is well overdue. So if I haven’t been blogging, what have I been up to since my last post – ‘Spring Cleaning with DEVONthink’ – back in April?

Well, two things have kept me busy. Firstly the ‘Hidden Collections’ project, which entered an intensive proposal development phase in April-May. Our project proposal, the ‘Basic Design Summer School 2013’ has now been formally submitted to Tate and is awaiting further feedback from the Tate Research team. An update on the project, an outline of our Image Group proposal and my reflections on learning achieved so far provided the topic for my presentation to the recent ICCHS Postgraduate Research Conference (29 May):

Abstract: How can digital media be used to stimulate public engagement with archival material held by galleries, museums and other cultural institutions? This is the question posed by Hidden Collections, an AHRC funded collaborative research project running from October last year to July 2013. As a member of the Image Group, one of five interdisciplinary research teams involved in Hidden Collections, I worked with our project partner Tate to develop a social media strategy for a new temporary exhibition called ‘Basic Design’, which is on display at Tate Britain until 25 September.  Developed by Tate Research the exhibition explores an influential period in British art school education during the late 1950s – early 60s. It draws on collections and archive material held by Tate and the National Art Education Archive. This presentation introduces our brief for the Basic Design project and outlines our project plan and activity to date. I conclude the presentation by reflecting on my own learning from the project, drawing out areas of investigation relevant to my PhD research into the Newcastle-Gateshead ‘public art collection’.

More recently, and to some extent influenced by my involvement in the ‘Basic Design’ Hidden Collections project, I’ve been working on a pilot project developed in association with Gateshead Council’s ‘Angel15’ programme. This is a series of events set up by the council’s public art team to celebrate the 15th ‘birthday’ of The Angel of the North (Antony Gormley, 1998) delivered as part of the region-wide Festival of the North East (June 2013).

While including a special on-site ‘birthday’ event at The Angel (which took place on 16 July), the programme also highlights lesser-known public works within Gateshead. Compared to the bigger and better funded 10th birthday celebrations this is a fairly low-key series of activities, including walks, curator and artist talks, live music and hands-on art workshops designed for a family and general interest audience. As such ‘Angel15’ goes beyond what Gateshead Council normally provides in terms of public art engagement and interpretation activity.

In terms of my PhD research the programme provides a useful opportunity for me to observe public art interpretation and audience engagement in action in Gateshead and offers a platform for me to experiment with social media – in this case Twitter – as a potential interpretative tool for a public art ‘collection’. To this end I have set up a new Twitter account @PublicArtNG (new Followers welcome!) which I am using to post daily tweets about public artworks in Newcastle Gateshead, linking these in with the interpretive themes and activities promoted by the council’s public art team. This project, linked through the hashtag ‘#Angel15’, is on-going through June-July. I’ll be posting a further update on this here early next month.

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Filed under conferences and events, Hidden Collections, Newcastle-Gateshead, public art