Thursday, 15 December 2016

In Pursuit of Luxury conference 2017

The In Pursuit of Luxury conference 2017 revolves around luxury, sustainability and waste. We will ask: Is sustainable luxury attainable or is it an oxymoron?

We welcome debate on what Luxury means on individual, social and cultural levels. Can this be enhanced through consumption?, and if so how do we deal with materials in a way that aspires to zero environmental impact. The implications of circular economies, supply chains and a reassessment of the actual value of materials, are considered in the context of Luxury. Why for example, are diamonds more valuable than recycled plastic? Rarity is one answer, but perhaps there are others.

The 2017 conference provides a platform to examine and expand our understanding of luxury within the sustainable context. By inviting contributions from various disciplines, we aim at generating a lively debate on the past, present, and future of luxury. For the first time, we welcome submissions of Fashion Films that explore luxury through visual storytelling and look forward to including this engaging media as part of the conference.

Learn more about the themes and strands of the conference here:

The process for abstract submission is outlined at our website:

This event is a collaboration between The School of Creative Arts at the University of Hertfordshire, and Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.

When and where
The conference is being held on 30 November and 1 December 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Our conference programme will be available to download from our website soon:

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Jon Myers: People, Places and Empty Spaces

John Myers' current exhibition of portraits and suburban landscapes, taken in the West Midlands in the 1970s, represents Myers' personal, and yet depersonalized, relationship with his surroundings, his friends and acquaintances. The exhibition collects black and white images of the people and places that he encountered as part of his everyday activities. Myers' stresses that he "never went out to hunt for subjects", rather, they were all known to him, entwined in his everyday routine, and part of his personal story. Nonetheless, his subjects are defamiliarized by the stiff, formal poses and impersonal tone of the images. They are photographed as if they are strange and unfamiliar, with little if any sentiment.


Although the exhibition collects images of the mundane Stourbridge landscape as well as its inhabitants, never the twain shall meet. Myers' people and places have been kept apart, not only in his photographs but also in the gallery space. His portraits occupy the upper part of the gallery, separated by a ramp from the main gallery, where walls are lined with images of depopulated landscapes. 

A few of the images depict domestic interiors, but these too are depopulated and unhomely. Some are not genuine domestic interiors, but furniture store displays, where furniture is new and unused. In this pristine condition, furniture is devoid of any homely connection to individual users. It has no story, and no memories attached. These images are illustrative of Myers peculiar relationship with suburban domestic spaces, as places that should be depersonalized and distanced from human experience. 

A series of 10 portraits of televisions, photographed in their domestic environment, lines the back wall of the gallery. Myers is fascinated by the television as an alien technology that "has just landed from space and [is] about to take over". He reflects that this is exactly what has happened in the decades since, as the screen has taken over and now rules public and domestic spaces. 

Surrounding each television is evidence of family life: books, nick-nacks, houseplants, stacked paperwork, and in one image, an Action Man. It is evident that these televisions exist within a populated environment, but they are unused, lying dormant until the family returns. All are switched off, and along with the living rooms that they occupy, they have entered a kind of stasis. Myers' presence is not enough to break the silence. He is the listener in the proverbial forest, hearing no sound when the tree falls. Until the family re-enters, these homes are non-places, and the televisions are full of unfulfilled potential, useless without someone to watch them. 

Even in Myers' human portraits, where his subjects are located within their own homes, they rarely interact with their surroundings. Their hands are often clamped to the sides of their bodies, isolating them from the objects around them. 

The stiffness of his portraits may arise in part from Myers' approach, the length of the exposure (up to half a second in some cases), and what he describes as an awkward inability to relate. He views portraits as a collaboration between photographer and subject, whose shared goal is to solve the "problem" of how to pose within the scene, combined with, when there are two subjects, the "problem of how to relate to each other". He describes how subjects are startled by the noise of the camera, and capturing the stiffness or movement that occurs as a result. 


Myers typically only takes 1 or 2 photographs of his subjects. On the occasions when he takes more, he finds that he always uses the first or second frame. In these first images, the subjects have not yet had time to acclimatize to their role as model, or to settle into a pose. This unfamiliarity with being photographed, and the visible unease that results, seems to be what Myers is trying to preserve in his images. Myers stresses that his aim is not to capture something "sinister", rather he seems to want to celebrate the innocence of their unease, in contrast to the comfort that is feigned by more experienced models.

Monday, 5 December 2016

John Myers: This is Boring

The Art & Design Gallery on College Lane is currently host to the photography of John Myers. Myers’ exhibition, The World is Not Beautiful, collects photographs of his West Midlands home town, Stourbridge , along with portraits of its inhabitants, mostly covering a period from 1972-1979. Visitors to the exhibition find the images both “comforting” and “unsettling”, torn between nostalgia and the sense of strangeness that is evoked by the sterility of some of Myers’ suburban landscapes.

Many of the images have not been displayed since the decade in which they were produced, and indeed, some have never been exhibited at all, and so the inevitable nostalgia that arises from their being shown in 2016 may not have been present on previous viewings. Indeed, Myers opened the Private View by stressing that these were never intended as documents of a particular time or place.

The title of the exhibition, The World is not Beautiful, suggests that Myers has sought to offer an antidote to the beautification of urban landscapes that has been attempted by so many other photographers before him. He attempts to capture suburbia as it is, unfiltered and unromanticized, neither beautiful nor ugly, just “there”. Moreover, he invites us to view the wider world beyond Stourbridge through the same unfiltered lens.

Among the photographs on display are a series of images of Myer’s local environment, including suburban streets, roads, garages, substations, factories and houses. Myer’s own website collects these images under the title “Boring”. They capture the clean lines and repetitiveness of post-war suburban architecture, sometimes punctuated with the curves of a rural landscape that stood there before.

In Dual Carriageway (1974) a road slices through the countryside, telling of the flattening of the natural landscape that has taken place to make way for the suburban infrastructure. Myers captures the linear and featureless character of the road, a space that has been said to “signify contemporary alienation through a kind of serial non-space” (Endsor, 2003). Roads, particularly motorways and dual carriageways such as this one, have been seen as “unstimulating and desocialized non-places”, and are even more so when emptied of cars and people. While roads and streets have the potential to be transformed into spaces of social interaction, Myers scenes are almost wholly unpopulated. In this image, there is one lone car, and in others, there are no people at all.

Without people, the urban landscape is unsettlingly desocialized. Comparisons could be made to the uncanniness of ghost towns, abandoned disaster zones, or even post-apocalyptic imagery, but these landscapes are so clean that many look as though they have never been occupied; more akin to “unborn cities” such as Ordos in China.

It is in their emptiness, and their sterility, that these landscapes are defamiliarized. While they are mundane, they are not everyday. Their everydayness has been stripped, along with the inhabitants. The streets, gardens and houses feel as though they have been subject to a systematic decontamination. The ordinary has been rendered extraordinary by emptiness.

This is what Myers himself describes as “a landscape without incident”. He observes that many photographers seek to capture a moment that is part of a greater narrative, but in contrast, Myers aims to “take the story out of the world”. There are few shadows (shadow, he suggests, is “too dramatic”), and no movement. He has sought to eliminate any sign of impending events.

Myers has photographed only local, familiar settings, with the goal of “coming to terms with the world around [him], and deciding where [he is] in relation to it”. In this respect, Myers’ photographs can be compared to the poetry of the mundane, and the ways in which poetic examinations of familiar surroundings can enrich everyday experience. Rich Fruman (2007) writes that “the poet who becomes aware of the sublime nature of the ordinary becomes transformed in the same way that the student of Zen finds enlightenment: the simple becomes the profound”. The poet’s “dedication to seemingly forgettable objects renders them unforgettable”, and in that way demonstrates that an object can be “simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary”.

Endsor, Tim (2003), “Defamiliarizing the Mundane Roadscape”, Space & Culture 6(2): 151-168.
Furman, Rich (2007), “The mundane, the existential, and the poetic”, Journal of Poetry Therapy 20(3): 163-180.

The next blog post will examine Myers’ portraits of friends and acquaintances, and the domestic spaces that they inhabit.
Myers’ exhibition continues until 21st January.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Adventures in the Classroom - Responding to the UH Strategic Plan 2015-20: Global Perspectives in the Curriculum

Dr Ivan Phillips and Kim Walden - School of Creative Arts, University of Hertfordshire

There has been much debate this year about what kind of relationship Great Britain wants to have with Europe, and indeed with the rest of the world: from the lofty aspirations of the Higher Education Academy’s framework aim to ‘internationalise higher education’ to the stark realities of the Brexit referendum result in June.

At a more local level when the University of Hertfordshire published its own strategic plan with a focus on global perspectives in the curriculum, teaching staff in the School of Creative Arts Critical and Cultural Studies (C&CS) Network set out to explore what it means in the classroom.

Each Network member was invited to choose one picture which articulated how they addressed the objective in their day-to-day teaching practice. The results were thought-provoking and so was the discussion that ensued.

Read more about it in a thought piece written for LINK journal here:,-issue-2/global-perspectives-in-the-curriculum

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Why nakedness is an apt way to protest the Trump presidency

Barbara Brownie, University of Hertfordshire

Donald Trump’s road to the White House has been punctuated by as series of naked protests, ranging from topless women at Trump’s polling station to Spencer Tunick’s nude installation of 130 naked protesters outside the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. These protesters continue a long history of naked demonstration – and nakedness has long been employed as a gesture of defiance, highlighting the plight of the oppressed.

In a time when media is saturated with nudity, the naked body might seem to have lost its power. But amid fears that Trump’s administration will set back women’s rights by decades, naked protest may have regained relevance.

When 100 semi-naked protesters marched to Trump Tower on November 19, some presented their bodies as metaphors for the human planet, sensitive to climate change. Others used their bodies to express a fear that women, under Trump, would become a marginalised group. These protesters’ nudity is a defiant response to revelations during Trump’s campaign about his attitudes towards imperfect bodies, confronting Trump’s “man of the people” act by showing him what real America looks like. If Trump is to represent “ordinary Americans”, he must learn to accept them in all shapes and sizes.

But these were more than just naked bodies. Protesters had decorated their bodies with fake wounds and scars, representing the damage that Trump’s administration may cause. This is a warning that if the administration wields too much power, the powerless will suffer.

Trump’s election has left many Americans feeling overwhelmingly powerless. It would make sense, then, for them to resort to a method of protest that has long been associated with oppressed and minority groups. Undressing is a tool that is at almost any protester’s disposal: a last line of defence that is almost universally accessible. It is an act of defiance that is still available even to those who are disempowered by low status, by lack of funds, or simply by ordinariness. So Mexican farmers protesting government appropriation of their land in 1992 turned to naked protest as a last resort, explaining their action by saying “we are stripping because … we don’t have money to buy an ad in the news … we have no other arms, all we have are our bodies”. This movement, which became known as the 400 Pueblos, continues sporadically to this day.

Members of the social group 400 Pueblos (400 towns) protest in 2005. Iván Stephens/EPA

Human conflict is predicated upon the relational power of opposing parties. Power often stems from control of tangible resources, but is also exercised symbolically, through bodily gestures. Foucault’s writing on subjugation equates power to control of the body. In times of conflict, dominance is asserted through actions that demonstrate control over the “docile” bodies of others. Conversely, to evidence control over one’s own body in the face of an enemy is to maintain control over one’s dignity and identity.

Perhaps the most recognisable example of protest undressing is captured in Ladislav Bielik’s photograph of a man peacefully protesting the Soviet occupation on Czechoslovakian streets in 1968. The image shows him ripping open his shirt to reveal his bare chest, presenting it defiantly to an oncoming tank. His shirt rending is equivalent to the gesture of a raised fist, expressing a pent-up anger so overwhelming that it can no longer be contained internally, and is forced out of the body in the form of a visible gesture. When a bare chest is pressed against a canon, as in Bielik’s photograph, the stark inequality seems unfair. The conflict is revealed as unjust, with the opponents clearly presented as victim and oppressor.

Such gestures appear to transform the sight of a fragile, exposed body into a show of raw force, with the power to overcome the might of opposing forces.


Naked power

By undressing in public, protesters assert what little power they still have. Undressing is not just a means of removing clothes, but a meaningful gesture that expresses a shift in attitude from compliance to defiance. At the same time, it is a direct challenge to those, like Trump, who are prone to objectifying the female body.

Nakedness has been employed for similar purposes by Femen, in protests against objectification, specifically the feeling that women have been “stripped of ownership” of their own bodies. Femen exploit the power of nudity to counteract “ornamental meanings of female nakedness”, though not because they feel that nudity has innate power; they achieve power via, not through, naked flesh. These protesters present the body not as a passive, erotic object, but as an unpredictable, intimidating Other.

The otherness of the female form is dependent on its unfamiliarity. Historically, the female body has been strange and mysterious, and as a result have been the subject of numerous myths and misconceptions, some of which persist in the US today.

Women in Los Angeles demonstrate against the election of Donald Trump. Mike Nelson/EPA

Women of past centuries have been able to exploit the perception of their bodies as peculiar or even monstrous. The Irish legend of Cú Chulainn, for example, describes how, when he turns against his uncle King Conchobor during a bout of youthful revolt, the king sends out a company of women to “expose … their boldness to him”. The young warrior is so intimidated by what he sees that he retreats. Similarly, in Jean de La Fontaine’s The Devil of Pope Fig Island (1674), a woman is able to ward of the devil by flashing her “gash”. Believing the woman’s “gash” to be a wound inflicted by terrible violence, the demon imagines that the woman’s husband must be even more monstrous than he, and retreats in fear.

When their male suppressors are ignorant of the female body and what it can do, women like these can exploit rumour and misinformation to de-eroticise their bodies.

That is not to say that a body must be de-eroticised in order to become powerful. Indeed, there is tremendous power in the erotic presentation of the body, as any burlesque performer will attest. The upcoming World Burlesque Games will demonstrate how empowering it can be to invite objectification in the right setting. Audiences and performers of neo-burlesque locate striptease in a post-feminist world, in which bodies of all shapes, sizes and genders deserve to be the subject of an erotic gaze.

Anti-Trump protesters reveal that this post-feminist ideal is still a distant dream for mainstream America. The mere fact that their nudity attracts press attention is evidence that the US still lags behind more liberated parts of the world in their approach to female nakedness. If the Trump administration does set back feminism, as so many fear it will, naked protest will continue to be an appropriate and effective tool for America women over the course of his presidency. So long as the administration objectifies the female body, protesters will be able to use their own bodies to confront the status quo.
The Conversation

Barbara Brownie, Senior Lecturer in Visual Communication, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

One Day Artist’s Project: Body/Object/Space

On Wednesday, the Art & Design gallery was filled with oddly shaped, brightly-coloured beasts. These are the first year Fine Art students, transformed into clothed objects with guidance from visiting artist Nigel Grimmer. Students collaborated with Grimmer for his project, Body/Object/Space, using piles of clothes to become temporary, abstract sculptures. While these "body sculptures" are temporary, Grimmer stresses that they are only the first part of the making process. Participants pose for photographs, which provide a lasting record of their activities, and that form what Grimmer considers to be the final outcome.

The participants are shown an assortment of clothes, wigs and masks, that they are encouraged to consider in unconventional ways. Grimmer suggests that they consider how each garment might clothe the body without adherence to its usual mode of wearing. Trousers can become belts; skirts can become capes; jackets can become hats; and sleeves can become additional appendages that protrude from the body, complicating its silhouette. Participants are also encouraged to create new items of clothing by buttoning several garments together. These suggestions are evocative of the work of Japanese fashion design Rei Kawakubo, whose Wrapped collection (1983) contained ‘flaps and appendages that could be tied…in a variety of ways" so that wearers could “design clothes that have never existed”.

 Grimmer encourages participants to distort their silhouettes by knotting garments, or by cutting shapes from cardboard that could be slid inside fabric. "The further you remove [your shape] from looking like a person, the better", he tells us. The results that he hopes to encourage range from simplified shapes that smooth the body into featureless silhouettes, to complex arrangements that mask the body's true shape with additional contours.

The participants are initially conventional in their approach to the pile of garments, trying them on as they would if shopping. After a while, their confidence builds and they start to consider alternative ways to construct the relationship between the body and the garment. At Grimmer's suggestion, they start to cover their faces and their confidence grows. Like a disguise, their masks provide a hiding space, and with anonymity comes a newfound willingness to experiment. The masked participants start to take greater risks, and they dare to present their bodies in more sculptural poses.

Grimmer encourages students to work together; to bind multiple bodies into one. In doing so, he invites reference to a history of costume that transforms human bodies into other creatures by clothing them in a shared costume. I have written elsewhere about shared garments and the ways in which they force entangled wearers to move as one, single body, with shared choreography. Pantomime horses, Chinese dragons, and more recently, performance art such as Lucy Orta's Nexus Architecture (1998-2010), all require individual wearers to become part of a single ‘roving beast’ that navigates through public spaces. Individual identity is lost, and as the observer struggles to makes sense of a mass of body parts that exists beneath the clothes, the hybrid shape can only be perceived as something other-than-human.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Professor Rebecca Houze, TVAD Visiting Researcher 2016-17

Professor Rebecca Houze is a specialist in the history of design and the decorative arts, with an emphasis on textiles and dress. She received her B.A. from the University of Washington (1993) and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1994, 2000). Her research centres on relationships between art, industry, collection, and display in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Professor Houze is author of Textiles, Fashion, and Design Reform in Austria-Hungary Before the First World War: Principles of Dress (Ashgate, 2015), and New Mythologies in Design and Culture: Reading Signs and Symbols in the Visual Landscape (Bloomsbury, 2016). She has published her work over the years in Journal of Design History, Design Issues, Fashion Theory, Textile, and Centropa, and is co-editor of The Design History Reader (Berg, 2010).

She joins TVAD as Visiting Researcher for the academic year 2016/17 and she will make two trips to UH during the year, in October and February. The programme of events through which students and staff can engage with Prof Houze is published here and is open to all.
·       TUESDAY 11th OCTOBER  2016

10.30 am - Gallery Café. Welcome to the School of Creative Arts, and School tour and campus tour, Dr Grace Lees-Maffei.

1.30 pm – 2.45 pm, CDC Studio. “Women’s Needlework Education in the Late 19th Century”, Session with Contemporary Design Crafts and/or MA students. Hosted by Antje Ilner.
·       WEDNESDAY 12th OCTOBER  2016

12.45 for 1 pm, 1A159 Lindop. Lunch provided. TVAD Talks series. Prof Rebecca Houze discusses her monograph Textiles, Fashion and Design Reform in Austria-Hungary before the First World War

This study offers a new reading of fin-de-siècle culture in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy by looking at the unusual and widespread preoccupation with embroidery, fabrics, clothing, and fashion - both literally and metaphorically. Houze resurrects lesser known critics, practitioners, and curators from obscurity, while also discussing the textile interests of notable figures, Gottfried Semper and Alois Riegl. Spanning the 50-year life of the Dual Monarchy, this study uncovers new territory in the history of art history, insists on the crucial place of women within modernism, and broadens the cultural history of Habsburg Central Europe by revealing the complex relationships among art history, women, and Austria-Hungary. Houze surveys a wide range of materials, from craft and folk art to industrial design, and includes overlooked sources-from fashion magazines to World's Fair maps, from exhibition catalogues to museum lectures, from feminist journals to ethnographic collections. Restoring women to their place at the intersection of intellectual and artistic debates of the time, this book weaves together discourses of the academic, scientific, and commercial design communities with middle-class life as expressed through popular culture. 


·       THURSDAY 13th OCTOBER 2016 to SUNDAY 16th OCTOBER

Independent research in Vienna. Prof Houze will speak about her recent research at a conference.

·       MONDAY 17th OCTOBER 2016

10 am to 4 pm, AB146. DHeritage Core Workshop, Year 2: ‘Proposal Development and Presentation’. Workshop Convenor: Dr Grace Lees-Maffei. This workshop examines the development and dissemination of doctoral research in heritage.
·       TUESDAY 18th OCTOBER 2016

11 am to 12.45 pm, AB132 Todd Building. ‘Discovering New Mythologies in Design and Culture’, MA Art and Design, Module: Research and Enquiry workshop led by Prof Houze in which students write their own volume of "new mythologies".

3 pm to 5 pm, Gallery Cafe. TVAD Reading Group. Session with TVAD and School research staff and PG students focused on supportive peer review of work in progress. If you wish to participate, please send your text to Dr Grace Lees-Maffei

·       WEDNESDAY 19th OCTOBER 2016


·       THURSDAY 20th OCTOBER 2016

5.00 – 6.30 p.m., A154 Lindop. Design Talks series, convened by Julian Lindley. Prof Rebecca Houze discusses her work writing New Mythologies: Reading Signs and Symbols in the Visual Landscape (Bloomsbury 2016).

Taking as its point of departure Roland Barthes' classic series of essays, Mythologies, Rebecca Houze considers a range of contemporary phenomena, from the history of sustainability to the meaning of sports and children's building toys. Among the ubiquitous global trademarks she examines are BP, McDonald's, and Nike. What do these icons say to us today? What political and ideological messages are hidden beneath their surfaces? Just as Barthes' meditations on culture concentrated on his native France, New Mythologies is rooted in the author's experience of living and teaching in the United States. Houze's reflections encompass both contemporary American popular culture and the history of American industry, with reference to such foundational figures as Thomas Jefferson and Walt Disney. 

For questions about TVAD, TVAD Talks and the TVAD VIsiting Researcher programme, please contact the TVAD Research Group Leader, Dr Grace Lees-Maffei,