Object Analysis sessions

20 October 2021
As term begins and the Arts University Bournemouth continues to welcome back students, we are beginning to return to some kind of normality. Over the past couple of weeks, we have been having zoom conversations with courses, introducing and reintroducing them to the museum and how they can use the collection, and welcoming small groups of students into our space to explore objects in greater depth. It is so nice to have this activity back on campus.

One session we have been doing over the past few days is that of ‘Object Analysis’ with two costume courses: BA Costume, and BA Performance Design and Film Costume.

In these sessions, students develop skills that enable them to gain information about the objects in front of us. We started the session with an introduction to MoDiP. We then looked at the objects on the table, without picking them up, to see what we could glean from them. Next, we had a quick session on how to handle museum objects, followed by time to explore the objects in more depth to see if that provides additional information. We used an object analysis form which can be found on our website with a series of questions. Those question include:

  • What was the object’s likely purpose?
  • How was it used?
  • Consider size, weight, portability, ergonomics etc
  • When might the object have been made or used?
  • Why do you say this?
  • What is it made of?
  • How was it made?
  • Who was it made for?
  • Who would have used it?
  • Are they the same?
  • What was the appeal of the object?
  • Consider its desirability / aesthetic appeal / use.
  • Has the object won any awards?
  • Can it be attributed to a particular designer or manufacturer?
  • Does this object demonstrate any significant developments in design or technology?
  • Does it represent changes in social or political attitudes?

The selection of objects.  Image credit: L Dennis 
Each group were asked to select three objects out of the eight that were on the table. I specifically selected objects that might be new to the students but would have tell-tale clues that could lead to further information.

The Cameras

https://www.modip.ac.uk/artefact/aibdc-066571. Image credit: L Dennis
I chose the cameras because I thought that film cameras would not be something that all of the students had encountered. We spoke about what they looked like and what they reminded us of. Suggestions included disposable cameras and waterproof GoPros. They are quite unassuming, simple objects but with a bit more research we found that they were designed by Sebastian Conran for SupaSnaps.

The Shoes

https://www.modip.ac.uk/artefact/aibdc-008116. Image credit: L Dennis

The shoes proved to be an easy identification for most of the groups. They could obviously see that they were shoes without picking them up, they also figured out that they were for use in water and they might have something to do with sports. Despite reading out the label on the box - ‘Algae Green’ - no one clocked that the shoes were particularly interesting because they were made using algae as a feedstock for the plastic material.

The Pink Thing

https://www.modip.ac.uk/artefact/aibdc-007949. Image credit: L Dennis

The pink thing was selected by nearly all of the groups. Without picking it up, for the most part they couldn’t identify its function – the first question on the object analysis form. Without knowing its function, the groups struggled with any of the questions that followed. Once they were able to handle the object they discovered so much more about the ‘pink thing’ because it has a label on the side that contains so much information. It is a bin designed to collect waste chewing gum (rubber) which is then recycled, with the contents, to create more bins and other products.

The cream coloured block

https://www.modip.ac.uk/artefact/phsl-x12-0. Image credit: L Dennis

This block was chosen a couple of times by the students but because it didn’t look very interesting compared to the other things on the table it was overlooked by most. The groups that did choose it discovered there was more to it that meets the eye. They thought it might be old but hadn’t anticipated that it would date from the 1870s and made by Daniel Spill.

The Green Thing

https://www.modip.ac.uk/artefact/phsl-x41. Image credit: L Dennis

This object caused a little confusion with students seeing that it might be used for mixing something but they didn’t know what it could be. It reminded some of a dog treat toy, others were expecting that it might be squeezed to dispense the contents. It was not until they picked it up that they found it to be made of a very rigid material. They also discovered a patent number and additional information on the base which could have been used to find out more about the design developments that were on display here.

The Bag

https://www.modip.ac.uk/artefact/aibdc-008171. Image credit: L Dennis

The bag was laid down on the table and it wasn’t clear how you would carry it. Once the students started to handle it they found it to be a rucksack or backpack and they could see the continued use of seatbelt material on the back panel. By exploring the catalogue record the students also discovered that the bag itself is made from airbags. We thought about who the bag might appeal to with one group describing some very specific characteristics of the kind of individual who would use it.

The Hat

https://www.modip.ac.uk/artefact/aibdc-008192. Image credit: L Dennis

The helmet looks like a classic steel helmet from the 2nd World War. It is, however, made of phenol formaldehyde and has a lovely moulded inscription showing the manufacturer’s name not seen until it was lifted. The weight of the hat was also a surprise being much lighter than the students had anticipated.

The Cassette

https://www.modip.ac.uk/artefact/aibdc-007911. Image credit: L Dennis

Poor Elkie Brooks. No one chose to look at the cassette. I am not sure if this is because they knew what it was or because they didn’t. I included it because it is full of information that can help to start a thread of research that will tell us more about the object itself, as well as the time period it has come from.

These sessions help participants to foster research skills into objects. If you would like to bring a group to explore objects in MoDiP, whether you are part of the AUB or not, please do get in touch.

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP


Sounds like a very interesting session.

Anonymous (not verified) | 20 October 2021 - 07:43 | Permalink