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New: Material History Research Cluster
September 2014

Material History: a new research cluster at the School of Art and Design

Material History comprises researchers who consider the object and the archive as central to their research. We are also concerned with recording and interpreting the ephemeral, whether this is a creative act, an everyday encounter or an artistic performance. Our approach is non-hierarchical, and situates the human and the non-human object as equal subjects of study. This sense of groundedness in space and place is used to frame our work. We are non-judgemental, and consider the art work, the performance, the suburban home, the seaside pier, the everyday object and everyday experience to be worthy of study. Building on the lessons learnt from the ‘theoretical turn’, the research cluster is situated in a place which acknowledges past and contemporary critical theory, but is also concerned with the material world and accounting for it for future generations. We want to share these narratives with a broader audience through creative and curatorial projects, archive work, and publishing.

The cluster includes artists, designers and performers and we work collaboratively on recording, interpreting and accounting for creative practice. We face the challenges of the digital age in mapping and preserving creative practice for posterity. We also look at architects, artists and designers who lie beyond the historical canon, as well as the consumers and users of art and design. MODA is a key partner in our research, particularly given its collection of designs destined for the lower-middle class home plus mass circulation magazines, pamphlets and books. Material history is used as a framing device for work with our partners, including the ICA and its history, published in Anne Massey’s book, ICA 1946-69 (2014). Building on the work of Jane Bennet, Bruno Latour, Jacques Ranciere as well as the Independent Group, the Material History Research Cluster represents the latest in design thinking and philosophical approach to the history of stuff.

The established partners for the new cluster are: British Sporting Art Trust, Chelsea College of Art, Delfina Foundation, ICA, MODA, National Gas Museum, National Maritime Museum, Sir John Soane’s Museum and Tate. We have a conference planned jointly with Chelsea College of Art and the V&A in May 2015, looking at Victorian Futures. This will take place at Chelsea. The Material History cluster also links with Middlesex University’s new Urban and Cultural Heritage Group.

Cluster Members - Staff: Dana Arnold, Rebecca Fortnum, David Heathcote, Zoe Hendon,  Anne Massey, Vida Midgelow, Cheryl Roberts, Suzanne Buchan Research Students: Clare Barry, Lucy Bayley, Philip Clarke, Daniel Davies, Alexandra Politis, Richard Sorger and Harry Willis Fleming, Zabrina McIntyre