Project #1 Designer as Collector

(Design Practice Integrated Projects 1)

From the brief:

typology n. typologies, pl.
The study or systematic classification of types that have characteristics
or traits in common.

This project requires you to explore typological classification of a
collection to constructing meaning. It is designed to highlight the role of
collecting, archiving and taxonomy as fundamental features of research
and analysis.


To kick off the summer project, we are asked to collect together a minimum of 12 objects from nature. (These objects would need to be connected by either their form or functions.)

I began to take notice of collections I could see in the visual world around me, with a theme of nature. For example, when walking around the city centre.

Secondary Research

One example, is the prints I saw in the Blackwell’s shop window.

And inside the shop…

Book cover from a book in Blackwell’s book shop in Oxford. The bees are placed in an evenly spaced, straight lined grid. This gives a sense of symmetry and order. Each bee is slightly different. This variation makes the design more interesting to the viewer.

(Below) from the book display in the Bodleian Library book shop.

(Below) From the Designer Bookbinders International Competition 2022 exhibition at the Weston Library, Oxford.

Even numbers of objects don’t usually work well in groups, but these mushrooms work as a composition, because 2 are the same colour.
Design based on pollen grains. The dark background works well to show off the details of the objects in the foreground. I am reminded of constellations.

(Below) I really liked this book from the Sensational Books exhibition at the Weston Library, Oxford. The book presents different spices, each illustrated in different colours. The colour and texture of the paper chosen, reflects the warmth of the spices.

Contextual References

I looked at Artists who have explored collecting within their work.

Example 1: Susan Hiller

Susan Hiller’s Fragments

I deal with fragments of everyday life, and I’m suggesting that a fragmentary view is all we’ve got.

[b434d1] Hiller cited in Ann Gallagher (ed.), Susan Hiller, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2011, p.87.

The artist Susan Hiller created her art installation Fragments in the 1970’s. The piece is made of many broken pieces of pottery. The pottery was originally made by native Americans and traditionally painted by women, as is the case in many cultures across the globe and historically.

Immediately, we can recognise a contrast between the asymmetrical and uneven pottery pieces with the tidy way they are organised. Also the contrast of the artificial white surroundings, that highlight the earthly and organic quality of these pieces that were made by human hands.

Fragments is as much about how the pieces are arranged than about the pieces themselves. It seems like a collaboration between the original crafters of the pottery and the artist who has been drawn to these pieces. Heller has approached the artwork almost in the way an archaeologist would handle fragments from an excavation site. This shows us the consideration she has for the history of the objects.

Example 2: Penelope Umbrico

Penelope Umbrico’s Bed/Pillows/Paint

The artwork (above) has also been created by the artist going through the process of building and presenting a collection. One difference is that each object of this collection (a photograph image of pillows), appears to follow no pattern or categorisation. Each magazine page is roughly the same size, since she sourced the images from the same magazine. The difference is where the pillows appear to float on the white space. I like that this is unexpected and different on every square. It leads us to imagine what would have been on the rest of the page, now covered with white paint. Her process was more about selecting and erasing to highlight one object to the audience. The colours and sizes of the objects vary but she shows this no importance, since they are placed at random.

A section of Umbrico’s Backwards facing cats (eBay)

With this piece, Umbrico is again being selective with her objects. She hasn’t chosen every ceramic cat for sale on ebay, but instead is only showing us the cats that are facing away from the camera and therefore the viewer. Like with the pillows artiswork, she is also using found images, as these photos have been taken by the sellers who are selling the ornaments. She is focusing on this choice of the seller to present their object this way. SHe is making a comment on how we add life to inanimate objects with out own sentimentality/imaghination/emotions.

Universal Remotes is another installtion using found images from ebay. However, in this colection, the remote controls are grouped into smaller collections within the larger collection of the artwork itself. This adds another layer/dimension which for me makes it more interesting to view.

We can almost see the different personalities of the ebay sellers, because of the way they have chosen to display the same object in many ways and also the background they have chosen to use varies from square to square.

Example 3: Damien Hirst

I love how different forms of display affect what the eye sees. It’s bound up in my interest in the Victorian obsession with nature, or really the dominance of man over the natural world. Those Victorian natural history displays are so stupidly self-confident, it’s nature seen through the eyes of man, beautifully ordered according to aesthetics. They’re meant to be about the natural world but they’re more like zoos — fake places or facades of reality.

Damien Hirst,
Damien Hirst, Last Kingdom, 2012

Last Kingdom is a collection of insects, like most of the work Hirst is known for, preserved in an installation. I would describe this piece as decorative, it almost reminds me of a wallpaper pattern design. Unlike the previous works we’ve looked at, these insects are divided by species and placed in an orderly way with equal spaces between the objects. He has considered colour and size in this collection.

Example 4: Peter Blake

Peter Blake, Museum of Black & White

This artwork tells the story of the 20th century by using a variety of objects found from this era. This piece was inspired by the artist Mark Dion.

Dion, an American conceptual artist, is known for his literal archeological digs and museum-like presentations of his finds. 

Matthew Rose, 2016

Placing the rows in size order makes the art work pleasant to view. The neatness is museum-like, but the randomness of the objects’ function makes it different to a museum where more logic is applied to the placement.

The name of the piece refers to the selection of black and white objects only in this collection. Other than colour, these objects have no other obvious theme in common collectively. The viewer would need to have previous knowledge of history to know that these objects could be from the same century, for example.

I really like this artwork, I feel that the muted colour palette helps me to focus on the shapes themselves. (Bright colours could be distracting). I also like the familiarity of the objects. They might not be an exact artifact I have owned, but they are pieces of the culture I am familiar with.

Trip to the Natural History Museum, Oxford

This week I returned to my favourite Oxford museum, to observe the nature of collecting and displaying artefacts. I wanted to gain some inspiration for how I could categorise objects and arrange them as a collection.

Insects grouped by insect family. Smaller boxes slot into the larger frame neatly.
Shells arranged from smaller (top) to larger (bottom)
Artistic arrangement of insects. The smaller bugs are used to fill in gaps. The result is beautiful and slightly chaotic.

Part of the primate display. Skulls grouped together. Head (bottom) to body (top). Diagonal arrangement leads the eye across the display.

Skeletons arranged in order of size from smaller (front) to larger (back). Symmetrical placement, creating a kind-of mirror image.
The objects are placed as they would likely be found, to reflect the natural world.
Spices grouped and separated into boxes.

From the museum trip, I reflected on the arrangement of the objects and recorded these observations in my sketchbook:


To decide on the objects I wanted to collect, I drew up a mind-map to consider what would make an interesting collection:

From this list, I narrowed down my options and went to Christchurch Meadow to collect from nature. I chose this area because of the variety of trees and wildlife I knew I could find here.

It was then time to arrange and rearrange these objects…

Definitions I learnt today:




  1. the quality or state of being diverse in character or content.”the genetic heterogeneity of human populations”




  1. essentially different in kind; not able to be compared.”they inhabit disparate worlds of thought”


The ‘double diamond’ design cycle:

When working on a design, it is sometimes tempting to run ahead with an idea. The problem with this, is the idea never gets fully thought out and developed. By following the double diamond format, I can remember to stay within a certain stage of the process. For example, at the early stages of discover and define, this is about collecting together ideas and following those paths of research that I find interesting.

In this week’s lecture, we were in smaller groups and had the chance to discuss our in initial ideas. My initial idea was about reading, as I thought our map needed to be based on data. As we brainstormed this, I found that there was not a lot to explore here, other than creating a graph. I then considered my second idea, which was about places I have lived. I discovered this was a broader topic because it could be approached creatively. The focus could be on the experience of the journeys I have taken from place to place. I realised that not all journeys are the same in essence. We remember journeys through the landmarks or monuments we pass on the way.

The brainstorm from this session.


From The Tate website:

Psychogeography describes the effect of a geographical location on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.

How do different places make us feel and behave? The term psychogeography was invented by the Marxist theorist Guy Debord in 1955 in order to explore this. Inspired by the French nineteenth century poet and writer Charles Baudelaire’s concept of the flâneur – an urban wanderer – Debord suggested playful and inventive ways of navigating the urban environment in order to examine its architecture and spaces.

Guy Debord – The Naked City

The Naked City was initially meant to be exhibited alongside four other psychogeographical maps of Paris in the Taptoe Gallery in Brussels in 1957. In evoking the first ‘metagraphs’ (métagraphies) produced by Debord a few years earlier, this map is the result of appropriation, a seminal “propaganda method” used by the Lettrists and then the Situationnists” based on fragments cut out maps in a Guide Taride of Paris, the map borrows its title from the eponymous film made by Jules Dassin in 1948, itself titled in reference to the book by the photographer Weegee devoted to the streets of New York in 1945. Published in 1957 with the Psychogeographical Guide of Paris. 

Guy Debord, Michèle Bernstein, and Asger Jorn, Paris, 1958. image from Situationists and the dérive – The Urban Wanderer (

I watched the video The Theory of A Derive — Guy Debord – YouTube by Cascadia Network.

In the video, they made the following points:

  • Older cities are more suited to derive in e.g. Paris where Debord was, compared to newer cities in America.
  • In America, people often live outside the cities and need to commute in for work. This is an hour or 2 out of your day that you are not paid for. It’s a journey you are forced to take because of the city’s infrastructure and the fact that houses are build away from the cities (urban sprawl) These journeys give you tunnel vision about a place because you are taking the same route everyday (the fastest, the most direct.)
  • For the first time, we are more separated from our surroundings than we are connected to them. Separated by purposeful transportation: rise in cars and decline in public transit systems . people are now travelling with purpose, they are travelling to a place and back from a place and disregard the journey. This disconnection socialises us to believe the natural world isn’t as important. If people are to care more about environmental issues, then they need to be in touch with their surroundings.
  • humans respond more favourably to natural curving spaces and negatively to straight lines and sharp contours. We are drawn to shapes and colours found in the natural world, which provide a sense of privacy and security.
  • A derive = you have to go out with the intent of doing a derive. (We recognize our psychogeography to our environment and we want to do the opposite of it.) A social experience. Walking aimlessly is a component of a derive.
  • Replenishing yourself from the capitalist structures, similar to when artists spend time away from society in the woods.
  • If you walk about aimlessly and you don’t think about how your environment is affecting you, you are still being guided, you are still subconsciously being driven to a place by the design of the environment that surrounds you because it inherently wants to take you on a cycle of work, home and then maybe a bit of leisure.
  • If you tracked the average person’s weekly movements, you would see a triangle shape on a map: home, school or work and something else e.g. piano lessons.

Psychogeography: Walking through strategy, nature and narrative James D Sidaway

Iain Sinclair

‘Interviewed in 2012, Sinclair described his work: to try, linguistically, to create maps: my purpose, my point, has always been to create a map of somewhere by which I would know not only myself but a landscape and a place. When I call it a ‘map’, it is a very generalized form of a scrapbook or a cabinet of curiosities that includes written texts and a lot of photographs… It’s not a sense of a map that wants to sell something or to present a particular agenda of any kind; it’s a series of structures that don’t really take on any other form of description. (Cooper and Roberts, 2012: 85)

Elsewhere, Sinclair (2015:14) has noted that his own: preferred nature studies were abandoned mine works, landfill quarries, feeder pipes, slag heaps, rust-red streams, overgrown railway embankments and not the approved catalogue of rabbits, hawks, herons, butterflies, beetles, spiders, mallow, rock spurrey and gentian.

Mabey and Sinclair, however, are particularly mindful of language – struggling to find the words and arrange them in ways that summon place. On reading Sinclair, Alex Murray (2007: 59) declares: ‘the narrative starts everywhere because sensory experience starts everywhere … every piece of information has a place, every fragment can, and indeed must have some significance’. For Mabey (2010: 117, 119): [‘urban wastelands’ and ‘fringes’] had been a revelation, a testament to the tenacity of living things. I’d hike along derelict canals, watch sandpipers bobbing on floating car tyres, find scraps of medieval hedge caught the between the mobilehome parks [ … ] the language we use about these places does us no favours. ‘Brownfield’ suggests deadness and sterility, the precise opposite of the riotous growth that characterises them.

Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts

Their Edgelands: Journeys in England’s True Wilderness wants ‘to break out of the duality of rural and urban landscape writing, to explore these unobserved parts of our shared landscape as places of possibility, mystery, beauty’. Adopting the term edgelands, developed by Marion Shoard (2000) to refer to landscapes between town and country (see too Kabo, 2015), 28 short chapters follow, with one-word titles: ‘Cars’, ‘Paths’, ‘Dens’, ‘Containers’, ‘Landfill’, ‘Water’, ‘Sewage’, ‘Wire’, ‘Gardens’, ‘Lofts’, ‘Canals’, ‘Bridges’, ‘Masts’, ‘Wasteland’, ‘Ruins’, ‘Woodlands’, ‘Venues’, ‘Mines’, ‘Power’, ‘Pallets’, ‘Hotels’, ‘Retail’, ‘Business’, ‘Ranges’, ‘Lights’, ‘Airports’, ‘Weather’, ‘Piers’.

Farley and Roberts (2011: 11) are dismissive of nature writers who set out in search only of solitude and wilderness, noting that, like cities, urban fringes and ‘remote’ places all ‘have our political, economic and social history written all over them’. Farley and Roberts (2011: 9) are also wary of psychogeography: At other times – as in the work of some so-called psychogeographers – they are merely a backdrop for bleak observations on the mess we humans have made of our lives, landscapes, politics and each other. In our view, both these ‘schools’ run the same risk – using the edgelands as a short cut to misanthropy.’

Ennui-sur-Blasé metro map by Dispatch’s design team

I found this image in the journal Creative Review (October/November5 2021 Issue). I was drawn to this map as it reminded me of the map we made in last week’s group project. In this map, we can choose to follow a different journey with our eyes and the colours help us differentiate the separate journeys.

Susan Hiller

From the book Susan Hiller edited by Ann Galagher:

In The J.Street Project, Hiller’s assiduous charting of every street sign in  Germany bearing the prefix Juden (Jew) expands the referent of each of these markers from a local geography to the more encompassing territory of history. The 303 signs, dispersed throughout Germany on city streets, pathways, lanes and country roads, bespoke, to uncanny effect, the very absence of what they announce. The work sharply focuses the dissonance between these everyday un remarked signs and the emotion and memories embedded within the genocidal history they at once reiterate and occlude.

The J.Street Project comprises an index of 303 photographs of the signs, presented in a monumental grid; a large scale outline map of Germany pinpointing each of these sites, shown with a listing of the resonant location names (the Juden-alleys, walkways, avenues, roads, groves, ways);  a 67-minute film situating each sign amid the movement of daily life in settings from urban and suburban to countryside and village; and a 644-page full-colour book presenting and identifying each of the 303 street signs. (Renee Baert, 2006)