The evolution of everyday fashions, the stories objects tell about contemporary life, the unintended acquisition of the largest collection of woodcut type in the western hemisphere and the “panoply of things” accumulated by the Eames’ were presented by this month’s speakers at November’s collections-themed Nicer Tuesdays.
First to speak was photographer and artist Nina Manandhar who presented her What We Wore project – a collection of photographs and anecdotes that relays people’s style history in Britain from 1950 to present day. The project started in 2009 as a Flickr account and Nina asked others to upload their own images to the collection. “There was a real energy to the photographs that an outsider [professional photographer] couldn’t capture,” says Nina. “It became apparent that style was tribal in the UK. Style and music went hand in hand.” In 2011 the project moved to the website ISYSarchive and there was a groundswell of interest and submissions from the public.
In 2014 the collection was published in a book by Prestel and Nina turned from collector to editor. “The book was about observing social patterns,” said Nina. “I didn’t want it to be a top down history, so I organised the book thematically around social spaces.” What emerges is an honest and unforgiving document of the evolution of British style, identity and culture. The images deliver a social history through the unfiltered, naive and somewhat unforgiving lens of an enthusiastic public – the antithesis of the glossy fashion editorial. Nina is planning for the archive to be sold on to a public institution to form part of a permanent collection.
“Will our objects tell the story of our lives?” was the question posed by Paula Zucotti, founder of The Overworld, a London-based creative consultancy. Her recently published book Everything we Touch), is a 24-hour inventory of our lives. It’s an ambitious attempt to look at contemporary life across the world through the objects that people make physical contact with throughout the day. The history of civilisation is ascertained through the analysis of artefacts and remnants, Paula’s project sought to find out what the objects around us today might tell us about contemporary life. “Our current interaction with objects was something I felt the urge to document,” she said.
Her photographs arrange the objects that people have touched over the course of the day in chronological order to create a physical diary. Her images reveal how gender, age and cultural differences were distinctly identifiable through our physical ‘heat map’ of interaction, but the repeated presence of certain brands transcended nearly all the subjects. “The three most prevalent brands were Apple, Colgate and then Ikea,” she revealed.
“I want to say I am not a collector,” said typographer and designer Alan Kitching at the start of his presentation. “But I do own the largest collection of woodcut type in the Western Hemisphere.” Alan explained how, in 1997, he decided to put the money he saved for his pension into buying a type collection that was sat gathering dust and woodworm in a barn near Bristol. The collection was cleaned, sorted, fumigated and now lives in his south London studio. Alan’s discussed the troubles that using the woodblocks cause when designing, but the outcomes he presented received coos of appreciation from the Nicer Tuesday audience.
Using his vast collection he showed works that display quotes from Keats and Dr Johnson in bold colours and an experiment in overlaying typefaces spelling out the names of musicians who have reached the pantheon of the mono-nominal (Hendrix, Dylan etc.). This archaic method of production creates work that retains a sense of tactility that is often sought, but rarely convincingly achieved, in digital production. “You can’t just adjust things on the screen,” noted Alan. “If want to change the size, you have to change the whole letter.”
Last to speak was Catherine Ince, curator of The World of Charles and Ray Eames exhibition at the Barbican. Catherine, who recently joined the V&A as a senior curator, spoke about the “head spinning task of diving into an archive collection of over one million artefacts” to create a show that showed how the material the Eames’ collected were used for research, to communicated ideas, as characters in films or for pleasure. “The Eames’ were collectors, not completists,” said Catherine. “They were not interested in provenance but groups of materials. What was interesting to them was the richness of the everyday and the ordinary.” From collections of spinning tops to Polynesian masks, the images from the archives showed how, much like Nina and Paula’s presentations, the affection that the Eames had for the everyday object became an obsession that was at the heart of their work.
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