Leah Armstrong

Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page


In Uncategorized on May 23, 2011 at 10:43

Great blog on workspaces:


This image of Ricardo Bofill’s cement factory studio is one of my favorites:


A trendy topic

In Uncategorized on May 13, 2011 at 10:38

It’s a sign that you are  becoming truly absorbed in your PhD is when you start to see references to your project everywhere, in everyday life. Reassuringly, I dont think this is due to any obsession I have developed, but rather a genuine reflection of the ‘trendiness'(academically speaking of course) of mapping as a methodology in arts and humanities research.

I have already mentioned a number of ‘mapping’ projects that are going on in humanities research (eg. Art Map at TATE and Mapping Sculpture at V&A), and here is another i came across yesterday:

‘Joining the Dots: Mapping a Doll’s House’, led by Julia Holledge, at University of Sydney, in collaboration with Isben between cultures research group, based at the University of Oslo. It involves the application of ‘time mapping’ to theatre historiography through the creation and interpretation of A Dolls House, using data from Ausstage and Isben.net repertoire and Time Map software developed by the Archaeology department at Sydney University.

A big impact of this research will be the fact that it provides an alternative methodology to usual methods of interpreting theatrical text and performance, but I think this project is also much more than just ‘novelty’. Holledge states, ‘No map can tell us why the artist chose to produce this play, or how an audience received it, nor can a map reveal the complexities and extraordinary richness of the adaptations, translations and mutations of this text as it has travelled the globe. BUT maps may help us to reflect on the importance of distributional flows through time and across geographical space in the analysis of cultural transmission’.

I’ll be extremely interested in seeing the results of this research and hope to see how mapping might be a methodology through which historians from literature, theatre, art, sculpture and now design history can pursue new dialogues.

Styling the professional

In Uncategorized on May 11, 2011 at 12:48

I’ve become increasingly interested in the idea of the design profession as a style or attitude, so was really fascinated to have a look at this archive of photographs the Guardian published on its website today. Entitled ‘Writers at their Type-Writers’, the series of photographs shows ‘iconic images of creators at their key boards’.

I find many things about this selection of images interesting and each tells a different story about how they work, or how they want us to think they work. Perhaps most striking though, are the features they share.  For instance, the image of Patricia Highsmith, 1976 and Tennessee Williams, 1957, Highsmith smoking and Williams holding a pen suggestively in his mouth, portray a kind of intensity and eccentricity in the way they work, relying on cigarettes to trigger some creative pace. Hunter S Thompson and John Cheever both ‘hug’ the type-writer and exude a strong assertive sense of masculinity. J G Ballard and Martin Amis stare confrontationally into the camera, (one might say arrogantly).

A second feature which is really clear in these photos is the importance of environment as a ‘creative’ setting for the writer. Angela Carter’s all-too-perfectly aligned chaos looks like designed mess to me. She seems to want the viewer to think of her process of working as disordered and mysterious: a common feature of many artists who want to convince us of their ‘creative mystique’.

Perhaps the reason this selection of images resonated so strongly with me is because I have come across so many photographs of ‘designers at work’. The overlapping features between many of these images that i have been collecting together is extremely telling of how visual the process of professionalisation, in any occupation, is. It’s an attitude, a style and an intention as much as it is a discipline. Here are a couple of examples from my research:

F H K Henrion ‘at work’:

 Robin Day ‘at work’:

Mapping art

In Uncategorized on May 9, 2011 at 09:57

On Friday I went to a research conference at the Courthauld Institute of Art, called ‘Performing Art History’. The key aim of this day was for art historians to discuss new methods of presenting their work, whether through fairytales, digital technologies or film. The day raised some really fascinating questions about the advantages and disadvantages of moving on from text-based histories. For example, how does this affect the supposed ‘neutrality’ of the historian? Or perhaps more contentiously: Does visual rendering of history communicate any better what we an already do via written text?

The day drew attention to some very exciting research projects currently going on in Britain. One  that was particularly relevant to my work was that of Thomas Ardill and Nicola Moorby who are currently working on a project entitled ‘J M Turner: Watercolours, Drawings, Sketchbooks’. A basic introduction to the project is posted here. Thomas’ presentation of this work on Friday focused on his attempts to build an ‘art map’ of Turner’s work as part of the online catalogue. This entailed the process of mapping out Turner’s sketches on different parts of the British Isles using google maps. Through google street view, he showed how he was able to ‘take the journey’ through scotland to re-trace Turner’s steps as he stopped to sketch castles and landscapes. The idea is then that visitors to the Turner collection online would be able to post their own photographs of these sketches onto the site and contribute any information they have about their geographical location.

One can see how this attempt to ‘re-trace’ the artist’s steps would be an exciting prospect for many visitors to the Tate and it is interesting to consider how this mapping can further our understanding of the timeframe around the artists work. However, I couldn’t help but wonder what else this map actually contributes to existing knowledge? After all, we all know that the places Turner drew existed and that he would have to have travelled to get there. Does it tell us anything new?

In the case of my own work, I hope to use digital technology to collect and present information which is not currently available and which could not be achieved by any other method. I’m aware of the temptation to overstate the contribution of new digital technologies in historical research. As someone said at the conference on Friday, we must be careful not to simply re-articulate old information in a new way and call it research.


In Uncategorized on May 3, 2011 at 14:27

One of the things I always find most interesting about my role as a researcher is how my approach is, generally unintentionally, guided and informed by current affairs. A good example of this is my approach to the term ‘networks’. The topic of ‘networking’ has been particularly prevalent in a public debate about the fairness of a work culture in Britain that means that your career progression depends upon ‘who your father’s friends are’, as this article in the guardian discusses.

I was fascinated therefore to come across an example of this ‘networking’ in action in 1955, in the records of Ms Cycill Tomrley, secretary at the Council of Industrial Design, who was in charge of the ‘Record of Designers’. This was a service the CoID provided to British industry, whereby a ‘list of experienced designers’ was compiled. Interested companies could therefore write to Ms Tomrley regarding a vacancy they might have, and she would send them a short list of designers who would match their requirements. Here is a picture of one entry of the record from 1955:

It is interesting to consider, as we might today, the fairness of such a method. Given the importance of Ms Tomrley and her power within the CoID, it would not be an over-estimation of her influence to think of her as a father figure, dictating the career progression of British designers, according to the strength of her contacts book. On the other hand, the important thing to remember is that these recommendations were based on skill and experience and the list of designers by 1956 had reached 2000, a large enough number to challenge the idea that Ms Tomrley just made recommendations for those she knew well.