VARI — the Victoria and Albert Museum Research Institute is a new programme of research and teaching partnerships to enhance access to the V&A’s collections and develop new approaches to research, training, display and interpretation. I have been appointed Deputy Director of VARI in its initial development phase over the next year: VARI was was launched in 2016 with generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation following a successful VARI Pilot Project in 2014-2015.
Nestled inside the V&A Research Department, the Institute aims to co-design new research methodologies that can dovetail a range of different approaches, setting out to foster new forms of collaboration between experts in curation, conservation and collections management; academics from across the humanities, social sciences and sciences; artists, designers and performers; and pioneers in the field of research administration.
Of course, research takes place on a daily basis throughout the Museum, in its Conservation and Collections Departments as well as in its Learning Department and in collections management, where information architecture is a crucial spine holding together objects and our knowledge of them. VARI also aims to accommodate research interests of visitors as well — both to the South Kensington HQ and to the planned Education Quarter in East London, where the V&A are close neighbours with UCL, London College of Fashion, Sadlers Wells, and other significant institutions to be based on what was the Olympic Park.
A portfolio of residencies, Visiting Professorships, Fellowships and Postdoctoral positions will traverse several structured research projects embedded in V&A Collections. The Leman Album: An Enhanced Facsimile brings together conservation knowledge with textile curators and historians, as well as binding and paper specialists. Encounters on the Shop Floor: Embodiment and the Knowledge of the Maker seeks to surface and articulate the cognitive aspects of making and knowing, and to position them at the core of the craftsmanship that is everywhere in evidence in V&A collections. Collections Access and Display Fellowships will experiment with the V&A’s modes and methods for exhibition curation and find new ways of bringing research to bear on the access the Museum gives to its objects.
[Image References: Facade of the Victoria and Albert Museum; ‘fruit machine’ VARI logo; Album of designs for silk textiles created by James Leman in the first years of the 18th Century — V&A Collection]