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Ephemera Display Cabinet

Renewal – Curation students unpack the Allure of the Archive

Written by Centre for Fashion Curation
Published date 02 March 2018

    Lasting only one and half days, but by no means less meaningful and impacting, Renewal was a student-led collaborative exhibition that unpacks the obsessive allure of the institutional archive deep from within UAL collections.  MA Fashion Curation student Luke Moss was there.

    Hosted in conjunction with the recent Im/Material: Encounters within the Creative Arts Archive conference (May 2016), a stimulating exchange between academics, archivists, conservators and students questioning the responsibilities of diverse archives, this exhibition was a fantastic opportunity for current Masters Curation students from both London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins to weigh in on the matter. Our tutor Jeff Horsley suggested we take Susan Sontag’s 1992 novel, The Volcano Lover as conceptual inspiration, and from there the exhibition explores the act of sumptuous feasting and the various ritualistic behaviours stemming from this that are echoed in archival practice – a grand aesthetic embodied in the elaborate banquet table full of archival treasures that greeted guests. Consisting of an eclectic mix of objects ranging from a distorted, double-ended cutlery set designed by Dr. Harry White, to a Mary Quant Camouflage makeup kit, the three zones of ‘Festival’, ‘Ephemera’ and ‘Repetition’ that infiltrated the conference were the perfect settings for capturing the vast diversity, and sometimes curious nature, of the university’s material wealth.

    As written in the accompanying floor sheet for this exhibition, ‘They are not quite the same as before’, a statement made in response to the transformative connotations of such an ephemeral event as an academic conference, the same can be said of my fellow student curatorial team. Heralded by the team across our entire involvement with the conference was the privileged access and practical insights into UAL archives we were so lucky to have been given – often finding ourselves knee-deep in an assortment of archival goodies with huge smiles on our faces. Regardless of the group’s principal objective of putting on an archival display, this project was most rewarding in terms of the collaborative process and working with training curators – a strong sense of camaraderie conveyed in the multi-voiced didactics for the exhibition where each individual pairing of student curators were allowed to shine in equal measure. This is something you can see for yourself with our upcoming online video tour of the whole exhibition and also a dedicated website documenting our process, so keep your eyes peeled!

    With what seemed an unlimited supply of soft refreshments, the informal atmosphere of this conference was a nice reference back to Sontag’s feasting aesthetic with conversation, drink and knowledge all in abundance. In light of renowned Russian scholar Mikhail Bakhtin who is heavily indebted to the idea of carnival, everyone truly was an active participant in this momentary ‘carnivalesque’ conference which ultimately, we wished lasted that little bit longer.

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