In 2014 we introduced the idea of a MoDiP Student Creative with an aim to offer all students at the AUB an opportunity to create a work inspired by the MoDiP collection. The successful candidate could work in any discipline with any creative outcome from physical art work to film or acting production.
The opportunity was taken up by Carrie Mason, a fine art student with an interest in print making. Throughout the project she wrote the following progress reports:
November 2014 - the beginning
I am in the second year of my BA Fine Art degree at the Arts University Bournemouth and am delighted to have been appointed as the first Student Creative at the Museum of Design in Plastics. Over the next 20 weeks I will have the opportunity to research and create artwork in response to the collection, culminating in an exhibition of my work alongside the objects that have inspired me.
This is a fantastic opportunity for me to learn more about the museum collection and explore ways in which I could incorporate plastic as a material into my practice in the future. I really enjoy investigating materials and everyday objects and also experimenting with printmaking techniques. My initial idea for the project is to make a print based on a selection of objects from the collection. I am also planning to make an artist's book that will be inspired by the versatility of plastic as a material and seems to be fitting given that the Museum is located in the AUB library.
I am now starting my research, but my first task will be to set some boundaries for myself, as with over 12000 items there is so much choice! I am aiming to select some objects that reflect the history of design in plastics through the decades and the different ways that plastic is manufactured as well as the variety of objects in the collection. I will be recording details about their manufacture, form, material, size, colour and texture, and also making studies and photographing each object ready to start working on my designs.
Here are some examples of my previous work:
East Avenue, 2014. Relief print made from latex cast.
Butterfly, 2013. Etching (plate made using old credit cards).
Chair, 2013. Linocut.
Tree Bark, 2014. Relief print from latex cast.
January 2015 - Researching the Collection
As with any new project, the starting point is research and since my last post I have been spending time behind the scenes at the museum and getting to know more about the variety of objects and the variety of plastics that are included in the Museum's vast collection.
Whilst there are unusual and unique items, the main thing that strikes me about the MoDiP collection is that it represents the mass produced, seemingly worthless, "stuff" of our everyday lives. It is not things that you would initially expect to be worthy of a museum, but as a whole, the collection shows the value of, and our dependence on, plastics in every aspect of life today.
The Museum's online resources contain a wealth of information about the historical development of plastics as a material. The timeline shows how just how far reaching the use of plastic has become over a relatively short period in history.
I have also spent some time learning about how a museum collection is administered. With over 12000 items in the collection it is vital to have a system in place which enables the museum to keep track of the location of all the objects at all times, for example, when they go on display in an exhibition, or are returned to storage.
As each new object is added to the collection it is given a unique reference number and its details are recorded in the latest volume of the accession register. There is also a digital database that holds more information, but these handwritten books are still used to maintain the basic details and references and provide a complete history of the way the collection itself has developed.
Looking through these books you can see when a large donation of objects has been received, for example from the Worshipful Company of Horners who have loaned their whole collection of items made from horn which is a natural plastic, or just a single item purchased because of its special design qualities.
I often use found objects as a starting point in making my artwork so my first task is to "find" some objects amongst the 12,000 plus items in the collection that I can use as my starting point for making the book and prints that I outlined in my proposal.
Instead of just choosing my favourite items in terms of design or classification, I devised a method of randomly selecting objects from each of the seven volumes of Accession Book, the Loans Out book and the two lists which record the whole collections belonging to the Worshipful Company of Horners and Plastics Historical Society which are now on long-term loan to the Museum.
My aim was to select ten objects that show a good representation of the how the collection was put together over the lifetime of the Museum, as well as reflecting the diverse uses of plastic and some variety in design style.
I selected a plastic carrier bag, manicure machine, nylon stockings, a toothbrush, toy typewriter, stool supported by "Attila" the Gnome, a moulded horn snuff box, butter dish, dictating machine and an Olympic beaker.
These items will all appear in my artist book. I am pleased that the key classifications of house and garden, health, care & grooming, fashion &costume, toys & games and packaging are all represented.
Alongside the research, I have been learning how to use plastic as a material and have been using the thermo vacuum forming machines in the 3D workshop to heat and form plastic to test the process that I will use to make embossed plastic pages for my book. The materials I need for the book pages have been calculated and ordered and I am looking forward to using plastic as a medium and combining printing techniques with plastic manufacturing techniques to make the book.
I have also been working on designs for the series of prints that will accompany the book. I am planning to use one or two of the objects that I have selected to develop into the prints - at the moment I am favouring the toothbrush and the typewriter, but this may change!
March 2015 - The Student Creative exhibition
I have been so busy with making the work and preparing for the exhibition that time has flown by since my last post. My work is now installed in the Museum display cases and the exhibition opens on 20 March 2015.
I submitted a proposal to make a small book and a print. I intended to make a traditional print but the idea has developed and the result is a print installation which is both two and three dimensional and fills one of the Museum's large display cabinets.
When I was photographing the objects that I chose from the Collection the butter dish reminded me of the domed roof of the Alexandra Palace or a cathedral.
I started to think of the Museum as a place to worship and celebrate all things plastic.
I decided to develop the moulded pattern on the base of the butter dish into a grid using black to reference leaded lights and stained glass windows.
The vibrant colours reflect the bold flat colour of many plastic objects and the repetition references the mass production of plastic objects. However, each individual coloured square in the print has been inked by hand. Even mass produced everyday objects are special enough to be included in a museum collection.
In contrast, the book is all white. It combines traditional printmaking techniques (etching and embossing) with modern materials (plastic). The ten objects that I chose each have a page in the book. They were selected at random to highlight the diversity of objects in MoDiP's collection and the part that plastics play in all aspects of our lives. These objects are all on display as part of this exhibition.
I am able to use the residency for my Independent Studies Unit so the time I have spent working on the project will count towards my degree, but irrespective of this, it has been an invaluable, practical experience for working as an artist when I have finished my studies.
As well as writing a proposal for a "real brief", preparing my digital portfolio and interview experience, I have developed practical skills such as project planning, writing blog posts, and curating the exhibition.
The residency has also encouraged me to think about and use plastics as a material and I have learned new practical skills.
However, I think the most significant benefit of doing the residency is that it has really encouraged me to think about the scale and presentation of my work. The print installation is the most ambitious work I have made so far, and it has really encouraged me to be more ambitious in terms of scale, and to think about the viewer and context in my future practice.