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Ceramic Points of View

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Overview

Who: A website was created featuring video interviews with key people from the British crafts.

What: Talking about significant objects from the V&A’s 20th century ceramics collection.

Why: To offer an alternative view of the objects compared to traditional museum interpretation.

Where: University of the West of England, Bristol

When: 2005

Project description

Matthew Partington is the Director of Recording the Crafts (formerly NEVAC - The National Electronic Archive of the Crafts). As part of the archive’s remit to record interviews relating to British crafts, a series of interviews were conducted by Matthew with six figures from the contemporary crafts world – makers Claire Curneen, Neil Brownsword and Alison Britton; writers Emmanuel Cooper and Tanya Harrod and V&A curator Oliver Watson. Each person was filmed handling and discussing ten objects spanning the V&A museum’s 20th century studio ceramics collection from early functional objects to later more conceptual and fine art objects. 

The interviews were filmed by staff from the University of the West of England’s (UWE) Media Centre in Bristol and the interview was conducted by UWE Senior Research Fellow Matthew Partington. The output of the project (listed below) was a website featuring video clips, transcripts and photographs relating to the project.

Purpose

To work with staff from the V&A’s ceramics department to offer alternative ways of interpreting the twentieth century collection. The aim was to move away from the usual approach of museum labels and interpretation which objectively listed artist, material and date. In allowing subjectivity to enter the debate the aim was to make the objects more approachable and less distant from ordinary people who would access the site but who may not have the opportunity to visit the museum.

Results and outcomes

What worked well

The Ceramic Points of View website is hosted by the V&A’s own site. The content was created by Partington but the site was the result of close collaboration between UWE and the V&A’s web team.   

Partington wrote an article about the project: ‘Ceramic Points of View: Video Interviews, the Internet and the Interpretation of Museum Objects’, Journal of Design History, 2006, 19, pp.333-344. ISSN 0952-4649.

Partington gave a conference paper about the project: ‘Ceramic Points of View – using video interviews and the web in the interpretation of museum objects’, Show/Tell: Relationships Between Text, Narrative and Image (conference at the University of Hertfordshire, 12 September 2005).

A podcast was produced based on the project and hosted on the V&A’s own website (it was the first podcast on the V&A’s site).

What didn't work well

A comment by one of the interviewees was objected to by someone who accessed the site and felt they had been libelled. Legal action was threatened and this led to part of the transcript being removed from the website in order not to exacerbate the alleged libel. 

Resources required

Staff time at both the university and the museum. Commitment from museum staff to liaise with university staff to both conduct the interviews and then create the content for the website. 

Video recording/interviewing equipment and a hire car to drive to London for the interviews.

Top Tips

  1. Museum staff have multiple responsibilities and pressures on their time so it is vital to:
  2. Approach museum staff with well formulated proposals for working together with as much of the detail as possible already fleshed out. 
  3. Understand the way the museum works - every museum is different and has different procedures and rules and regulations.
  4. Allow a realistic amount of time to complete the project as it is rare that timetables and opportunities will match perfectly between universities and museums. Plan well ahead if hoping to work with a museum, particularly if it is an exhibition proposal of some sort. Museums often work years in advance in exhibition planning.

Contact

Name: Dr Matthew Partington

Name of organisation: Department of Art & Design, University of the West of England

Email: matthew.partington@uwe.ac.uk

Telephone: 0117 3284746