William Morris Gallery Exhibition: Cabinet of Necessities WIP blog

Betty Zhang
Dec 15, 2016 · 8 min read

This is a summary of the research blog contents originally posted on my Wordpress blog documenting the progress of the project.

Expanded Artefacts — Designing Experiences: Produce an interactive experience for the William Morris Gallery to engage the general public and the local community with the work and the ideas of the designer and activist William Morris.

This summary follows a backwards timeline of the project. The final outcome is available on my website

December 2016

In the iteration process, we’ve gone from a paper prototype to a slight change in the design of the cabinet and then back to the original layout of the boxes cabinet.

When we went from the first prototype to the second, we considered constructing the cabinet with wood as if a real cabinet would be. However, this not only caused issues of transportation, set-up, take-down, and waste of the cabinet as we would not be able to keep it for use afterwards, it also seemed like the cabinet should not be the main part of this project, but rather the objects. So in the third and final prototype, we returned to the original boxed presentation without any special shapes and focused more on objects. We also realized that since the objects are mostly small, it would not make sense to build a full 2m tall cabinet as there will be a lot of empty space and the object would get lost. When we tested on a 2m tall cabinet, the objects no longer had stronger meaning and we didn’t want to lose that meaning so in the final, we’ve kept it at a relatively smaller size and it may become more approachable for visitors, especially children, inviting them to take books out of the books section.

A few problems and challenges raised when we tested with projection:

  • Size of the cabinet will depend on space given in gallery
  • The projection must be matched EXACTLY through mapping and may need to be adjusted on exhibition day
  • Video seems to be the most interesting projection compared to images
  • All objects and positions MUST be secured down in order to ensure projection is on the right objects
cardboard boxes collected to build a reclaimed cabinet

After this, we’ve decided to collect cardboard boxes to build up a cabinet and use larger objects with larger surface area.

November, 2016

The gallery space we proposed to use to show our project

Some feedback from gallery curators:

  1. We discussed the objects we choose to use in our exhibition and how we would curate objects. (This connects back to Chloe Meineck’s talk about curating objects) Should we collect the object from specific people from the survey, Salvation Army, or make then through 3D printing etc.? Also we talked about whether the idea of having real AND projected objects along with objects of necessity AND memory would be too much. This may actually create a hierarchy that we do not intend to create. Also there’s an element of interaction when objects can actually be handled and touched.
  2. How do we connect our project to the gallery? Maybe the connection is not directly through William Morris’ art but to the gallery in terms of the position or context of the room we choose to exhibit in. Originally, we had chosen the room with the tapestry made from Morris’ kit. This room is the only room that shows a piece made by his community people and not him, which suits our theme of community involvement.

I do think we should still collect objects from the Salvation Army to avoid using any new materials and creating new objects which will not be used after the one day exhibition. If these objects are going to be necessities, they should not create excess waste.

Case Study:

Music Memory Box — Chloe Meineck

The theory behind Studio Meineck is co-design; designing with people and not just for people. She works with the public and asks the public to make their own box.

One thing that had been mentioned is that when she was creating this project, people bring a bunch of objects but don’t know how they will tie into the person. This is when curating the box comes in and she works with the public and family of dementia patients to pick out the key objects that will trigger memory. These objects then each trigger different songs that would remind the person of a certain time in their life and certain people.

In my research, I’ve been studying how objects tie people to a specific time and place as well as at which point do these objects speak for themselves in terms of exhibition. We also asked people in our survey for how objects relate to memories of “home”.

Survey, projection prototyping, sketching, research

Prototyping with Mad Mapper for projection mapping. We can intermix physical and hologram objects to play with the real and imagined worlds in our installation
Sketches for cabinet

This month we conducted a survey that asks residents of Walthamstow about their most sentimental and necessary objects. We also asked the public about their attachment, whether physical or psychological, to Walthamstow. We got very mixed and personal responses and started to feel that our project could really do something to tell the story about people in Walthamstow. The aim of the surveys is to understand what objects enable the community and could engage the visitors on the day of the exhibit in a meaningful conversation and break barriers of the various groups existing in the borough today.

The most exciting is that residents started chatting with me about their stories, creating conversations. Some wanted to get involved, some were artists living in Walthamstow. I reached out to the Little Free Library project and the creator of Walthamstow Diary. We talked about ways to involve the libraries within our exhibition as well as contacted Freddie, a set and cabinet maker from the Blackhorse Workshop.

We found the Little Free Library interesting to incorporate in relation to my previous research about the demonstrations held to stop the closing of 2 libraries.

By linking the parcours of a space to memorable images, one could make people remember and relate to a subject more easily. — Narrative Spaces: On the Art of Exhibiting by Herman Kossmann, Suzanne Mulder, and Frank den Oudsten

This made me question at what point do objects speak for themselves and the influence of the British culture on other cultures creating an object mimicry effect. Artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby talks about object mimicry in her own experience in an interview with Manisha Aggarwal-Schifellite. She also mentions “the cultural theorist, Homi Bhabha who talks about mimicry not being a perfect copy, and it’s in the imperfection of mimicry that new culture actually occurs”.

Crosby’s work evolves around how collections of objects become specific markers of things that tie us to a place and a time and experiences which is essentially the direction that I want to go into with this project.

In the first ideation stage, we found 2 standpoints that were interesting. One being the patterns found throughout the borough and the culture. The other was the sounds and conversations we heard through listening in on people. We chose to continue with a more visual approach which had more to work with.

In the second iteration, we were thinking more about incorporating William Morris’ patterns and patterns from the neighbourhood. We tried to also think about the woodblock process that William Morris used. However, we were focused majorly on using the medium and not enough of message and content. The idea of the community garden and interaction also included too many standpoints.

Iteration 3

In the third iteration, we have narrowed down to the idea that the use of objects and working with the people in the community could be a strong standpoint to work from and still wanted to incorporate a highly interactive exhibition as opposed to a display of objects. References: Cabinet of curiosities, Chloe Meineck’s The Music Box project, Museum of Innocence exhibition derived from a novel by Orhan Pamuk.

Planning of different exhibition methods for displaying a collection of found objects

We found that the biggest challenge with the initial suggestion of collecting objects from people as well as immersing ourselves into all the many cultures in the borough is that the research would take quite a bit of time as there are so many groups and cultures in Walthamstow.

How do we give the audience a voice instead of making them act in your way? I think this is a major consideration when creating an interactive exhibition. Hopefully the new angle we’ve chosen will make citizens more active participants in their community.

October 2016

Primary research: visiting the William Morris Gallery and surrounding businesses, communities, and people

Ideation 1:

Have people move patterns around and overlay a map of Walthamstow to show where they put it. Maybe they’ve put it on the library, or a mosque. This way, they are building their own city and matching William Morris’ patterns to the building. The blocks would be patterns from around the area as well.

Ideation 2 — the Community Garden:

Instead of taking this idea literally, we use other forms of the meaning of a community garden, something built through co-creation.

Sightings in the neighbourhood: Salvation Army with Morris’ quote mural, Little Free Library

We’ve been doing a couple more trips to Walthamstow and looking at what’s around the borough. We found a few interesting things that showed that there’s a real sense of a sharing community instilled in the area as well as some beliefs from William Morris.

We then started to record sounds in the gallery as well as feel and imprint patterns of the walls of the structures in the borough onto paper.
In order to understand the context around the William Morris Gallery, I mapped current news events from in Walthamstow. The house in the middle is the gallery, you can see how many things are happening around it.
William Morris said in the 1880’s would still apply to today. “Society today is like a wrecked ship where people eat one another.”

Case Study:

Recognition”, a photojournalism project that looks at paintings from Tate Britain’s collection in comparison to photographs from completely different contexts; using artificial intelligence to calculate similarities based on 4 matching points: objects, faces, composition, and context.

In order to understand who we are, where we are going, and where we came from, we try to find connections to make sense of things. It’s interesting when you look at the tags used to contextualize each image and how words like “slum” was used to tag 2 very different images.

Artificial intelligence is used to collect quantitative data and calculate the percentage of matching features. The computer is programmed to detect and analyze composition, objects, and faces in am image, however, this highly calculative approach disregards emotional, narrative, and cultural contexts.

In order to capture the aura of William Morris, I wanted to dig into his habits and activities in his home. He often sat on the windowsill on the landing between the ground and first floor. This is a sketch of the view outside this window today, what is now Lloyd Park. A lot may have changed to the landscape, however the greenery and nature still resides. I believe he got a lot of his inspiration for his patterns from the nature outside.
Betty Zhang

Written by

Interaction designer and interdisciplinary artist working in wearable technology, sound installation, performance, experience design and many other obsessions.

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