Monday, 18 March 2013

Tips for conference speaking

Maybe you've heard them all before, but here are some tips for speaking at conferences, put together whilst I was at the CAA 2013 Conference:

Powerpoint Presentations: label all images and include the names of key figures and places. It is so frustrating otherwise! Also, don't put all your captions at the bottom of the slide as people at the back will struggle to see.

Volume: when you ask 'Can you hear me ok?' make sure you get a response from people at the back, not just the front row.

Badges: make sure your badge is visible. Nothing more awkward than starting a conversation with someone you've met before and realising they have no idea who you are.

Handouts: if you are discussing complex theories or data it might be worth distributing handouts, budget permitting.

Engage with your audience: get to know your paper really well so that you do not have to read verbatim. Look at the audience, make eye contact, gesture with your hands. If people are spending  7 hours in a conference room you need to make yourself stand out. Of course, if you are speaking in a second language this is a bit more difficult.

Scan the programme for people you know: it's good to network but if you're in an unfamiliar place it can also be nice to catch up with a colleague or fellow student.

Prepare: scope out the venue before hand so that you know where you need to be. Take a bottle of water with you - buying bottled drinks in a hotel is expensive. Work out if there is wifi access and how to connect.

Connect: our session organisers at CAA organised for us speakers to meet for a drink the night before the panel. This was such a good ice-breaker and helped lessen my nerves on the day.

Don't do everything: pace yourself. Yes you've paid $100 to be there but make sure you take a break for lunch etc otherwise you won't make it to the last day.

Clothes: if you're speaking, wear something memorable (but not tooooo memorable).

Monday, 11 March 2013

Wedding Dresses galore at the Fashion Museum

In February I was fortunate enough to take part in a one week CPD course at the Fashion Museum, Bath. Rosemary Harden, manager of the gallery, had designed four packing fortnights spread over one year. The idea was to allow museum professionals keen to develop their skills to spend one week in the museum, packing objects. The museum would benefit from some extra pairs of hands and we would gain experience and knowledge in the handling and packing of dress and costume. In teams of two, we were allocated a specific area of the collection. I was paired with the lovely Heather Audin, Curator at the Quilt Museum and Gallery, York. We headed into our packing room and were faced with this:

Courtesy Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council
Courtesy Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council
Plus boxes and boxes of veils, headbands, tiaras, trousseau, going-away outfits and yet more wedding dresses. It was gorgeous yet daunting. A substantial number of dresses were already packaged in store. Our task was to use the accession numbers to match up veils, dresses etc from the same bride and package them together - something that had not been done before. Then we had to package the remaining items into new boxes.

As well as offering us a chance to get to know a specific area of the collection, we also learnt about the museum's unique approach to packing. The museum prides itself on the accessibility of their collection. It is there for people to see and research, not to remain locked in store for decades. As a result dresses need to be packaged in way that makes them easily (and quickly) accessible to staff. The photograph below shows how the dresses are laid on a 'stretcher' of tissue that can be easily lifted out of the box.

Courtesy Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council
To those outside of museums and galleries this experience may not seem like much, but for individuals like me it was fantastic. The work was exhausting and physically hard - in total Heather and I packaged 79 boxes, most of which we had built ourselves. But you cannot beat hands on experience. I went into the course as a novice and can now confidently pack a late-18th Century wedding dress into a box! It is also through courses such as these that professionals from museums around the UK are able to share ideas and knowledge about collections management and practice. What particularly impressed me about the Fashion Museum was how a small team of people with a finite amount of space manage to host an ambitious exhibitions schedule, build a world-class collection (over 80,000 objects and counting) and allow consistent access to that collection for research purposes (whether you be studying 19th Century kimonos or would simply like to see your grandmother's wedding dress from the collection).

For more information about what is currently showing, click here. For the fashionistas out there,  Bath in Fashion is a festival of events and exhibitions taking place in the city.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Tapestry and Reproduction: a useful research structure?

I am finally taking time to digest the papers of the 'Tapestry and Reproduction' CAA conference session. First I'll give a round up of the papers, then reflect on the value of 'tapestry and reproduction' as a means of inquiry for 20th and 21st Century tapestry practice.

Lorraine Karafel from Parsons the New School for Design spoke about 'reproduction and change in Raphael's designs for tapestries'. Lorraine explored the changes and alterations made to the borders of subsequent weavings of Raphael's Acts of the Apostles tapestry designs for the Sistine Chapel. These new borders were often designed by an artist contemporary to the new weaving and could be personalised with the iconography of the patron. Jonathan Kline, of Temple University, also discussed the Acts of the Apostles but focusing on three sets of tapestries all of which deviate significantly from Raphael's original cartoons. Jonathan questioned whether these sets would have been valued for their connection to celebrity artist Raphael, or for their own material, style and subject matter.

Susan Wagner of Columbia University moved the session forward in time with her paper on Boucher's 18th Century tapestry designs. Susan reinforced the fact that at least two of Boucher's oil paintings were made specifically for reproduction in tapestry. She asked: 'In what ways can we consider these works as being at once paintings and tapestries?'

Virginia Gardner Troy's paper examined the critical reception of the tapestries commissioned by Marie Cuttoli in the 1930s to 1960s. This subject provided the perfect paper with which to precede my talk as Dovecot would never have made tapestries designed by famous contemporary artists had it not been for Cuttoli's work in France.

As is often the case in conference sessions, the most exciting element was question time. I felt that the questions at the end of this panel were particularly astute and brought up many more issues than had been answered by the papers. Particularly, was the notion of 'tapestry as a means for reproducing painting' a valuable method of research and investigation? My response would be that it is limited. Though it is of great use for the Renaissance period up to the nineteenth century, There are many more centuries for which I do not consider it relevant. It is unlikely that Coptic tapestries were woven from paintings. It implies a hierarchy in which a painting holds the higher ground - but was this the case in the Medieval period? For example, were the painted cartoons of the Lady and the Unicorn held in higher esteem than the paintings? I suspect not. It is also problematic as we enter the twentieth century. Dovecot's collaborative activities with artists as designers has in many ways sustained a connection between painting and tapestry as many of these artists are indeed painters. However the relationship between each painting and tapestry is far more complex and nuanced than a simple reproduction. In the case of independent artist-weavers, I suspect for many the idea of reproducing a painting of tapestry does not play any part in their practice. There are of course some for whom painting and tapestry go hand in hand, but there are also others who do not paint at all. This is not a criticism of the CAA panel. The purpose of the session was to explore this very issue and the papers selected were all really well written and covered a rich and varied selection of topics.

My conclusion therefore is that there is no 'one-size-fits-all' method for studying tapestry. Each researcher has their own subjective views, and each weaver their own way of working. If I were to put forward what I think is most important, it would be to approach the topic with an open mind and begin, always, with the tapestry itself.
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