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Materiality and Relationality: Continuity and Change in Taking, Leaving and Interacting in English Cathedrals

Marion Bowman (Co-I) and Tiina Sepp (Post-doctoral Researcher)

Wednesday 22 June 2016, 1-2pm Library Seminar Room 1

Pilgrimage centres traditionally have been, and continue to be, places rich in material and visual culture. Christian pilgrims have traditionally visited shrines to be in a special place and be in proximity to special people or artefacts which were often considered ‘performative’ – able to do things. Additionally, such special or sacred places were and still are sites of commercialism, with artefacts on sale and a long tradition of pilgrims imbuing objects and substances found there with significance on account of their connection with a sacred site.

Drawing on field research from the Pilgrimage and England’s Cathedrals, Past and Present project, this presentation will briefly explore contemporary attitudes to and interactions with material and visual culture in our four partner Cathedrals (Westminster, Canterbury and Durham Cathedrals and York Minster), from art and candles to rubber ducks and selfies.

Great cathedrals are not only treasure houses of art and architecture; they also offer ideal, but hitherto largely overlooked, 'laboratories' in which to analyse and compare patterns of engagement with sacred spaces and material and visual culture through the centuries. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach, the 3 year project Pilgrimage and England’s Cathedrals, Past and Present [ ] is researching pilgrimage and engagement with sacred sites in England from the 11th to the 21st centuries, and assessing the growing significance of England’s cathedrals as sacred/heritage/tourist sites today. It examines the intersection between the material and representational (buildings, works of art, devotional objects etc) and belief, practice and experience. It also explores the interface between sacred and secular practices, in what are both sacred places and sites of local and national heritage.

All welcome.


Hot presses, cold war: Making furniture in Occupation Japan, 1945-52

Sarah Teasley, Royal College of Art

Wednesday 8 June 2016, 1-2pm Room N2033 (Complexity Lab), 2nd floor, Venables

From western intervention into Iraq and Libya and Russia’s invasion of Crimea to the expansion of IS, we live in yet another age of occupation. This talk looks backwards to the Allied Occupation of Japan (1945-52) to consider the impact of occupation on makers and manufacturing, from a design history perspective.

Between 1945 and 1952, the American-led Allied Occupation of Japan sought to reshape the latter nation into a democratic, pro-American nation-state through active intervention into Japan’s economic, political, social and cultural systems and practices, from primary education and corporate organisation to the national constitution. At the same time, Occupation personnel and Japanese men, women and children interacted in everyday life and work. For furniture designer and manufacturers, the Allied Occupation brought new technological possibilities, access to foreign markets and trend information and unexpected commissions. It also meant supply chain disruption and competition for materials.

Based on a larger project into how designers mediated the relationship between materials, manufacturing communities and industrial policy in modern Japan, the project attempts to assess and analyse specific points of intersection between Occupation ideas, people, policies and technologies and Japanese makers. It takes an intentionally interdisciplinary approach to its subject, using visual, spatial and artefact analysis, archival sources and oral history to identify moments of intersection from the macroscale of systemic disruption to the micro scale of everyday personal interaction. It places these intersections within a longer history of design, policy and manufacturing, and argues that the stories we tell about modernist design and craft history need reassessment and re-embedding within a fuller historical picture.

All welcome.

To find out about our past seminars follow the links on the right.