Wednesday, 17 October 2018

School of Creative Arts Research Seminars 2018/19

Now that the academic year is up and running, we are delighted to announce the Research Seminars which are happening across the academic year 2018/19 in the School of Creative Arts. Each of our four research groups, TVAD (Theorising Visual Art and Design), CAP (Contemporary Arts Practice), MRG, the Media Research Group, and DRG, the Design Research Group has contributed to a full and  rich line-up of talks and other events. The seminars are open to all, but please RSVP to Nick Thomas at the email address on the flyer, below, if you intend to join us.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Questions arising from 'Art as Research'

On 25th June, Alana Jelinek led a workshop on the theme of art practice as research, supported with an award from Skill Up! The University of Hertfordshire’s Researcher-Led Researcher Development scheme, hosted by the University’s Researcher Development Working Group. Here are a few questions that arose from the day…

What is the difference between impact and dissemination? Catherine Tackley noted that applications for AHRC funding often make the mistake of conflating impact with dissemination or public engagement. Researchers sometimes force artificial opportunities for dissemination or engagement under the false assumption that this will improve their impact. She recommends focusing on who will benefit from the proposed research, and how they will benefit directly from the research, rather than how the research findings might be disseminated.

Tackley suggested that it was useful to think about the negative impact of a failure to fund the project. What would be lost if the research could not take place? Who would lose out if the funding was not awarded?

How dangerous is “scope creep”? Alessio Malizia warned of the dangers of mission creep, and discussed some of ways in which research scope can be narrowed. He observed that researchers, particularly at doctoral level, often start with a research question that is too large for one person to answer (or that becomes too large after the research has started). What should we do, he asks, when a research problem exceeds our individual capacities?

While “scope creep” can be problematic, for all the many reasons that Malizia identified (too broad a field of practice, too much source material to handle, etc.), is it always problematic? Scope creep can sometimes be useful, even essential, as the direction of research does need to be informed by constant reflection and re-evaluation of the research questions. In particular, Malizia touched on problems that were too big for an individual researcher, but perhaps this may sometimes be resolved not by narrowing the scope, but rather, expanding the research team. There are different ways of finding a balance between rigor and ambition, and ambitions may not need to be compromised if we find ways of extending our capacity.

Must the value of art be authenticated by academic institutions? At the end of the day Stelarc joined us to present an overview of his part works and discuss some of the themes that have underpinned his practice. He suggested that “research is the way that institutions try to authenticate practice”, but that this is problematic. Art practice and research are “two different ways of elevating the world”, and perhaps they do not always need to be combined.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Between ‘Revere’ and ‘Remove’

Students on the DHeritage programme at University of Hertfordshire met for one of the regular programme of workshops on 14th May 2018. Convened by Professor Sarah Lloyd, the programme for the day focussed on the concepts of ‘Remembering and Forgetting’.  It brought together students and staff at UH involved in the DHeritage with several external speakers addressing issues of ‘memory’ within their research. The day covered issues of migration (Dr Eureka Henrich), slavery (Dr Jessica Moody) and the heritage of tomorrow (Dr Esther Breithoff) in addition to contributions from students dealing with these questions in professional practice.

By chance, the workshop coincided with one of a series of evening debates organised by Intelligence² and Historic England and held in Westminster Revere or Remove? The Battle Over Statues Heritage and History’. This discussion, led by historians and journalists, addressed the subject of memory, and how such a contested concept is dealt with publicly, particularly in the multicultural and multi voiced 21st century context.

Managed by Jonathan Freedland, Guardian columnist and author, the Panel comprised Peter Frankopan, Research Fellow at Worcester College, Oxford; writer and broadcaster Afua Hirsch; author Tiffany Jenkins, Honorary Fellow at the University of Edinburgh; and David Olusoga, Historian and Broadcaster.  Each presented a position statement generated initially in response to the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign (, which has recently campaigned to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College in Oxford, and the decision to remove a statue of confederate general Robert E Lee from a park in Charlottesville, USA.  In many ways the responses and positions described were personal and reflected the experiences of the speakers.  Olusoga spoke with passion about the statue of merchant and slaver Edward Colston in Bristol, contrasting his own confidence in dealing with such memorials with that of others without his depth of historical knowledge.  He deconstructed the purpose of such statues and demonstrated both their erroneous portrayal of history and the changing nature of their meaning in contemporary society.  He urged the removing of Colston to a different site where his legacy could be debated in a context based on learning, not on the reverence that is hard to avoid when a viewer is physically required to ‘look up’ to a statue.  Jenkins took the position that relocation of statues simply relocated the issues. She noted the poor aesthetic quality of many such memorials and invoked the concepts of current relevance and the passing of time as determinants of the appropriate actions and responses to memorials.  As the contested statues are primarily in public places, her position was to leave responsibility with the public.  Where memorials are wanted they will be cared for, where no longer relevant they will be neglected and decline.  This approach reflects an emerging debate within the museum and heritage world regarding the potential for ‘managed decline’ of objects and places which are difficult to maintain for a range of reasons.  The need to forget as well as to remember was referenced although in a situation where the issues which some statues symbolise clearly continue to remain unaddressed, it seemed premature to move directly from ‘revere’ to ‘remove’ without further consideration.

All of the panellists at some point found themselves at risk of entanglement with the intricacies of this debate.  Hirsch urged the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes but also described the importance of monuments as part of the relationship of the present with the past.  Frankopan offered the view that the ‘winds of history’ mean that all statues will eventually fall, and that indeed, it is their ultimate function.  All felt that there should be some critique of each circumstance and a greater understanding of the history that each monument represents.  While an obvious response to the situation under discussion, this led inevitably to a discussion of the limitations of history teaching and public knowledge and to the fact that many statues are symbolic reductions of complex situations.  Their original meanings may have been lost and may be of limited relevance for the majority of those who view them today.  While some statues have little meaning at any one time, some have disproportionality significant meaning, becoming symbols of contemporary concerns. Olusoga pointed out that the Bristol statue of Colston was erected two hundred years after his death.  In this situation is the statue more realistically considered as something of the 19th rather than the 17th or 18th century?  Jenkins in particular cautioned about the dangers of being ‘enslaved to the past’.  If Bristol was provided with a statue of Colston in the 1890’s as part of a battle for power within the city’s merchant class, then it seemed entirely possible by the end of the debate that by removing it, Bristol could be signifying a sense of itself for the future, not seeking to remove an unpleasant figure and an unpalatable sense of its past.

Edward Colston, Bristol ©Barbara Wood

Reflecting on the workshop and the evening debate it seems as if the issues of both were less concerned with the meaning of statues and memorials at the time of erection and more about their function in establishing new identities for places and for society for the future.  A contributor from the audience, part of a campaign group aiming to remove the Colston statue spoke about the fundraising to establish a memorial to the 32000 people who died because of Colston’s’ activities and a museum of slavery in Bristol.  Meaning changes and develops even within living memory. Centuries after they were established, many of the remains under discussion seem inconsequential in themselves. It was their currency in the present that was important. It is surely our opportunity and responsibility to erect statues and memorials to what is important today, if - as Frankopan pointed out - anybody is interested enough to do that. 

Barbara Wood
Doctoral Candidate (DHeritage Programme)

DeSilvey, C. (2017) Curated Decay Heritage Beyond Saving. University of Minnesota Press.

Jenkins, T. (2016) Keeping their marbles How the treasures of the past ended up in museums and why they should stay there. Oxford University Press. 

Monday, 16 April 2018

Research in the School of Creative Arts

The TVAD Research Group is just one of several research groups in the School of Creative Arts at the University of Hertfordshire. Staff move freely between groups examining Contemporary Arts Practice, Design Research, Media Research and the Digital Hack Lab as well as TVAD. Read more about the groups on our website here:

Some of our researchers were interviewed last year about their work and its significance for a film made by Freddie Gerrard-Abbott with Jak Kimsey and Antoine Proust. This film introduces the research of Dr Dan Goodbrey, Dr Pat Simpson, Dr Silvio Carta, Kim Akass, Prof Marty St James, Dr Steven Adams, Prof Simeon Nelson and Prof Grace Lees-Maffei. Hear them talking about their research in this film:

Research in the School of Creative Arts: An Overview from School of Creative Arts on Vimeo.

Find out more about TVAD's researchers, including Dan Goodbrey, Pat Simpson, Silvio Carta, Steven Adams and Grace Lees-Maffei on the TVAD researcher profile pages here: Link

Monday, 26 February 2018

DHeritage Professional Doctorate in Heritage Recruitment Now Open for September 2018!

DHeritage, the University of Hertfordshire's unique Professional Doctorate in Heritage, is now in its fourth year. Our programme enables heritage professionals working in the public and private sectors to reflect on the industry, broadly defined, and make an original contribution to knowledge and understanding in the field based on their professional practice.
Our students work across the heritage area, and are engaged in impactful heritage studies research on topics such as authenticity and authority, dark tourism, conservation and restitution, digital heritage and how museums serve and represent local communities, to name a few. Read about their research here: 

DHeritage is hosted by the Department of Humanities with contributions from world-leading staff working in History, Philosophy, Education, Creative Arts, Hertfordshire Business School and the University’s flagship Heritage Hub, among others, and including Prof Sarah Lloyd, Prof John StylesDr Susan Parham, Prof Jonathan Morris, Dr Nika Balomenou and Prof Grace Lees-Maffei. DHeritage is offered part-time and is delivered through campus-based workshops and online equivalents. This doctorate is available for home (UK and EU) and international students. The University of Hertfordshire is twenty minutes from London by train, and is served by national rail and Luton, Stansted and the other London airports.

**New for the 2018 entry is our distance-learning registration, which provides a complete suite of online workshops in addition to some campus participation.**   

We are now recruiting students for the 2018/19 academic year. Applications are invited by Monday 28th May for a September 2018 start:

  • Read more about DHeritage here: and on the Heritage Hub site here
  • Contact mail Programme Director Professor Grace Lees-Maffei for more information about DHeritage, a guide to preparing a research proposal and an application form: 
  • Apply direct:

  • We look forward to welcoming you to DHeritage at the University of Hertfordshire!

    Monday, 12 February 2018

    The Braun Identity: The Emergence and Development of Braun Design in the 1950s

    The transformation of West Germany from post-war-austerity to international design powerhouse remains one of the more remarkable events in the history of twentieth century design. In just a few short years, the relatively isolated realms of industrial design, consumer product manufacturing and the gute form (good design) movement coalesced into a potent force for change. At the centre of this change and in the larger historical narrative that situates and describes twentieth-century German design, the consumer product manufacturer Braun enjoys an almost mythical status. Following the company’s formulation of a new design program in the mid-1950s, Braun products have been showcased and celebrated at more exhibitions than any other comparable company. This achievement led the global media company Forbes to recognise the company as being responsible for one of the greatest demonstrations of design culture. For some scholars and critics alike, Braun’s products from this era reflect basic human values including authenticity, integrity and honesty. For others, they are the very incarnation of German perfectionism. Braun, according to Bernd Polster, “is not merely a trademark; it stands for an all-encompassing concept”.

    Revised logo - Wolfgang Schmittel 1952.

    The story of Braun’s meteoric rise in the early 1950s and 1960s has been reiterated so often by historians that it has seemingly become accepted in the popular consciousness. Undeniably, Braun’s pursuit of a particular set of ideals was so remarkable that in a single decade it transformed the German company from a small, though well-established, consumer product manufacturer, into the ultimate standard-bearer of West German modern design. During this period, Braun were unrelenting in their adoption and implementation of a global philosophy. Their ability to exhibit more than physical products — to link their design output to a lifestyle, world-view and even pseudo-philosophical system — made them synonymous with a type of design excellence that would become West Germany’s calling card for international and cultural acceptance during the 1950s and 1960s.

    Braun’s process of transformation began with the formulation of a new company philosophy in the mid-1950s. Under the direction of brothers Erwin and Artur Braun and Dr. Fritz Eichler, Braun’s cultural and structural realignment quickly expanded well beyond the design and manufacture of consumer products. Spurred forward by their creative relationship with the educational institution Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm (Ulm School of Design), Braun began to not only implement a holistic design pattern in their products, but they began to pay detailed attention to other elements of the industrial and consumer purchase process. Such elements include an almost unprecedented (for the era) fascination with graphic art, typeface, packaging, point of sale merchandising, exhibitions and visual communication in print advertising. Throughout the mid-1950s and 1960s, these processes were examined, refined and standardised, before finally becoming what graphic designer Wolfgang Schmittel describes as “the consolidation and realisation of a profusion of ideas and impulses to form a clear conception of the company”. This supposedly “clear conception” implemented through a modern lifestyle and communicated to the world through its visual communication (advertising), is the focus of my present dissertation.

    Braun Phonosuper SK4 (Snow White's Coffin) - 1956
    Designers: Dieter Rams and Hans Gugolet
    Images: HfG-Archi Ulm, Ulm.

    These ideas about morality and honesty in representation are close to the heart of the research question my dissertation seeks to answer. One of the very few academics to have critically evaluated Braun’s attempt to visually communicate a lifestyle in their advertising, is Erica Carter. In her article: The Aesthetics of Rationality - Braun in 1950s West Germany, Carter revaluates the widely-held view that Braun only played one role in post-war West Germany: that of the leader in consumer product design and technical innovation. She argues instead that the impact of the company on post-war modern design in general, should be revisited within the context of political, economic and social debates of the time. This requires acknowledging the power Braun wielded as a force for culture generation and transmission. In this way, Carter reaffirms that the company’s new direction presented the consumer with a lifestyle, one which she specifically terms a “Braun lifestyle”, marketed through a specific strategy in their advertising campaigns. Indeed, Carter even proposes that Braun’s approach to “lifestyle marketing” was so potent that it “paved the way for future generations of lifestyle promoters”. The argument illuminates the disparity between HfG’s guiding vision for design (honesty and morality), and Braun’s own corporate and design philosophy, which was distorted by the consumerist and capitalist framework in which they operated. The company’s efforts to promote a gute form lifestyle, however laudable, served to shape an entirely new set of social norms, pressures and burdens.

    Braun D 55 Stand and various products - 1955
    (mockup installation at the HfG)
    Image: HfG-Archiv Ulm, Ulm. 

    It remains to be argued if indeed Braun sought to perpetuate a specific consumer ideology, or if they reinforced any dominant political agenda in post-war West Germany through their advertising. Currently, the assessment is that Braun had made a deliberate move into the same philosophical space occupied by the HfG; a space in which honesty, integrity and functionality were essential, and incorporated into their advertisements at a foundational level. However, though this move was undoubtedly commendable, the new advertising direction exposes two conflicting dimensions. The first, and perhaps the most obvious break from the Max Braun era, is that from 1955 onwards, all Braun advertising material adhered to one reference concept –developed by Otl Aicher of the HfG in Ulm. Second, and an aspect which is central to the analysis of the main material of this thesis, is that the products are shown in their corresponding idealised environment, acting as document evidence of a modern lifestyle – a Braun Lifestyle. Thus, to pursue these issues, and uncover the layers of significance embedded in Braun’s advertising, they must first be conceptually transformed from physical objects into vessels of meaning. The introduction to my theoretical framework will be my task for the next blog…

    'High Fidelity: Information for Architects' - advertisement - 1962
    Image: Braun Archive, Kronberg.

    Carter, E. (1995). How German is She? Postwar West German Reconstruction and the Consuming Woman. University of Michigan Press.
    Polster, B. (2010). Braun: Fifty Years of Design and Innovation. Axel Menges.
    Schmittel, W. (1978). Visual Process: Development of a Corporate Identity. Konrad Baumann.

    Ian Owen is lecturer in Architecture at the School of Creative Arts, University of Hertfordshire.