Abstracts - Scale, Size and the Ephemeral

Paul Cornish - Extreme Collecting at the Imperial War Museum

Paul Cornish is a senior curator in the Department of Exhibits & Firearms at the Imperial War Museum. Since the turn of the century he has been involved in the cross-disciplinary study of the Material Culture of conflict; having co-hosted four conferences at the museum, he is currently co-editing a series of books on the subject.

The collections of the IWM feature many large objects and also many items of an ephemeral or potentially ephemeral nature. The problems of acquiring and displaying such objects had to be faced from the moment of the museum’s inception in 1917. The new institution’s ‘mission statement’ ensured that those responsible for collecting could not disregard ephemeral items which were redolent of the experience of servicemen or war workers. Likewise they could not ignore the military technology of the war. It was the industrialization of European society which had permitted the war to be waged on such a vast and unprecedented scale, and it was advances in military technology which gave it its shockingly lethal character.

The paper will present the impact of the Extreme Collection on work of the IWM to date and its planned collections development to 2020.

Tom Gretton - 'Costs of denying ephemerality: how should we interpret runs of illustrated magazines?

The paper discusses a problem of display and interpretation at the boundary between the library and the museum, in the case of illustrated magazines, objects whose impact derives from the serial and iterative practices via which they are consumed and thrown away, or consumed and collected.

Magazines are paradoxical. They both are and are not ephemera: they are both 'of the day' and 'of the library'; they both mark and transcend the passage of time. Collecting freezes their ephemerality and embodies their transcendence. Thus a run of illustrated magazines presents extreme museological challenges, not only of conservation and storage, but of display and interpretation, and mobilises a fundamental issue of scale as well as one of temporality.

The paper will engage with these two extreme interpretative problems. First it will discuss the relation of this opened volume in its case to the pages in the issue you cannot see, and to the run of the periodical; the challenge of the engagement with the way a magazine both embodies and excludes different sorts of time. Second, it will discuss the relation of this surviving piece of paper to the thousands of its clones that did not survive; the challenge of acknowledging the surviving object as one which both embodies and excludes constitutive behaviours in the face of mass production and consumption.

Susan Lambert - Plastics, why not … (?)

Are museums and plastics a contradiction in terms, the one to do with the old, the rare, the precious and the permanent, and the other the new, the ubiquitous, the cheap and the ephemeral? This paper will draw on my experiences at the V&A as well as on my current work at the Museum of Design in Plastics (MoDiP). It will explore reasons why some museums, like the V&A, may have been slow to acquire plastics, and why, nowadays, museums, whatever their subject area, should, and cannot help but collect them. It will set MoDiP’s aspirations within a wider-framework of collecting, discuss documentation in relation to the mass-produced and ephemeral, and within this context question the object’s primacy and the value traditionally attached to ‘good condition’.

Calum Storrie - Undermining the Museum

The collection and display of ‘installation art’ is now seen as a normal component of the policies of the contemporary art museum. The museum has long since tamed the avant-garde’s desire for rule breaking be it 1920s Dada or 1960s land-art. And yet there remains an impetus among certain artists to disrupt the normal flow of the narrative of display. This paper will look at the way in which some artworks seem to have been created in order to subvert the intent of their host bodies by self-destruction or by attacking the fabric of the museum itself.