Tag Archive for: Editorial Work

Split + Splice

Split + Splice: Fragments from the Age of Biomedicine, Exhibition Creative Director, Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen (2008 to 2009)

 

Creation and production of this Dibner Award winning show about contemporary biomedicine; leading a team of four post-doctoral medical historians and social scientists, an exhibition designer and a graphic designer; interpreting the Museum’s collections; co-editing the exhibition catalogue.

Following on directly from my position as Visiting Associate Professor, Medical Museion commissioned me as Creative Director of the main exhibition outcome of their Novo Nordisk Foundation funded research project, ‘Biomedicine on Display.’  That was the short name for the five-year long project led by Museion Director, Professor Thomas Soderqvist: “Danish Biomedicine 1955-2005: Integrating Medical Museology and the Historiography of Contemporary Biomedicine.”

I worked closely with a small team of highly accomplished post-docs who had never created an exhibition before, teaching them how to think through objects and how to use objects to clearly convey abstract concepts — far more complex and rewarding than the ‘story-telling’ often advocated for science museums.

My wonderful co-curators were Dr Susanne Bauer, Dr Søren Bak-Jensen, Dr Sniff Andersen Nexø and Dr Jan Eric Olsén.  Their research interests ranged from epidemiological practices with data to organ transplant networks and techniques; from IVF developments and law to medical visualisation techniques & their impacts.  So I learned as much from them as they learned from me.  Their research, while aiming at close histories of biomedical research, also already drew on scholarship of material and visual culture.

From the outset we decided that we would build the exhibition up from their research interests, and not from any encyclopedic or public expectation of what an exhibition about contemporary biomedicine ought to contain. In our early Exhibition Brief we expressed our aims:

The core aim of the exhibition is to facilitate visitors’ informed reflections upon the ways in which recent biomedicine challenges significant cultural categories including the body and identity, therefore influencing our very understanding of ourselves as human beings: our sense of “personhood.”

As I further outlined later at the September 2009 conference of the Artefacts Group, convened at the Science Museum, London:

We wanted to take the visitor beyond the ‘user end’ of biomedicine and into its engine room, and experiment with innovative ways of bringing some of the big ‘invisibles’ of biomedical practice to a larger public. Questions of samples and storage, data generation and management, the integration of analytical instruments with research and clinical bureaucracies, the legal frameworks of biomedicine were all on our agenda. We wanted to address the social, political and cultural enormities of contemporary biomedicine without losing sight of the historical. As historians and epistemologists, we did not want to teach people the science, but rather to teach people how to think about science; to think about how bodies are contingent, flexible, fluid, resilient; how materials, tools and instruments have a history; how conditions for the production of medical knowledge change over time.*

Of course, taking seriously these sorts of epistemological questions has a huge effect on the final appearance of an exhibition — just as taking aesthetic questions seriously means confronting the philosophical issues that material culture presents.  Medical Museion’s position as a university museum integrated with a Faculty of Health was crucial to the exhibition’s success: the involvement of biomedical researchers and clinicians in the project was integral to the research projects the post-docs ran.

 

 

Split + Splice (in Danish, Del + Hel), was about the inter-relations between the culture of biomedicine and the enormous complexities of 21st century living. The exhibition explored these complexities through the material culture, objects and instruments used by biomedical practitioners in research and in clinical activities.

We showed the visitor biomedicine’s Cold Rooms, its Wet Labs, its number crunching, its visualisation practices. Its incubators and ion exchange columns. Its legislative constraints and its media leaks. We took them into some of the historical origins of biomedicine’s process of fragmenting the body into smaller and smaller pieces. We came to the conclusion that all of biomedical practice is a never-ending attempt to contain the torrent of life and manage the flows of this cascade of complexity from biosample to dataset, from clinic to lab, from individual to populace. These practices of containment and flow tell us much about the cultures of biomedicine and the kinds of societies that its practices produce.

Much as biomedicine itself, Split + Splice was an innovative hybridisation of complex practices. It was not exactly science communication; it did not teach the visitor comprehensively about the field of biomedicine. Neither did it show a triumphalist progression of miraculous discovery.  Split + Splice was not about the magic bullet, but rather the minutiae of biomedicine’s daily practice — and its implications.

If the sheer knife of a microtome can give us the startling and strange histological slice of tissue that revealed the neuron to Ramon y Cajal for the first time, then we must also be able to wield with equal precision what we know about aesthetics to reveal vital information about the cultures that made the objects under scrutiny; here we investigated the prosaic but fundamental way that both plastics and computing have revolutionised medicine. Under a humanities microscope, epistemological investigations of the ritual and often hypnotically repetitive practices of biomedicine can reveal, among other things, the social assumptions that often underpin disease prediction.

In Split + Splice we used different techniques from the arts, the sciences and the humanities as prisms to analyse the same material in several ways. The exhibition’s ‘catalogue’ User Manual is also the object index for the entire show: a gift to the visitor to take away and keep, but also something that set the objects free from text, allowing them to be discovered in their form and materiality by the visitor.

 


The User Manual was edited by me and Søren Bak-Jensen, but the concept was collective and many of the contributions were made by our co-curators and by the indefatigable Head of Collections, Ion Meyer. It was beautifully designed by Lars Møller Nielsen to sit in the hand, fit in the pocket and be an exhibition guide that felt like a set of instructions for a new bit of kit. After all, an exhibition is a ‘technology’ too.

We were lucky to have been able to work with Lars, and with the excellent exhibition designer Mikael Thorsted, whose experience, intellectual capacity and formal ingenuity were essential features of the exhibition’s success.

And it was very successful: in 2010 Split + Splice won the coveted Dibner Award for Excellence in Museum Exhibits of the Society for the History of Technology — the only international award in the world for science museum exhibitions.  It was the first time the prize was won by a medical history museum, and the first time it was won by a Scandinavian museum.  The following is a quotation from the Prize Citation:

This exhibition offered the visitor a ‘fantastic voyage’ of inquiry through the cultures, objects and practices of medicine now and then, in a revolutionary exhibition format.

Catching the visitors’ attention with original, well-designed, interactive and playful displays, it provided fragmentary impressions of biomedical research. Furthermore, it encouraged the visitor to think beyond the practices of research by alluding to or highlighting broader impacts of biomedical practices on society and parallel developments in culture.  Room labels such as “Avalanches of Data,” “Reality Show,” and “Mass Observation” hinted at crucial developments within biomedicine while raising questions in the User Manual.

Split + Splice represents a new paradigm of the exhibition that should inspire others to rethink how they explain or experience the actions of the boxes and containers that affect — if not define — us all.

 

It is this ‘new paradigm of the exhibition’ as a field of research practice that I find most exciting, and which is, to me, the greatest honour of the Dibner Award to Split + Splice.  Increasingly there is a sense of the importance and uniqueness of exhibition-making as a scholarly activity — from the Artefacts Group, from conferences such as The Exhibition as a Product and Generator of Knowledge, and in the most recent Presidential communication from the History of Science Society.

Working with objects and with display techniques is a serious pursuit that opens whole new fields of understanding and inquiry.  Split + Splice was an international collaboration across countries and languages, involving interdisciplinary practice from labs and libraries to design and fine art. Bringing current science practice together with cutting edge history and philosophy of medicine as well as innovation in musem practice produced an amazing result.  I look forward to further such productive opportunities.

 

USER MANUAL  Split + Splice: Fragments from the Age of Biomedicine, Martha Fleming and Søren Bak-Jensen, editors. Copenhagen: Medical Museion, 2009 (catalogue in English and Danish).

* My article based on this presentation will be published in Artefacts, Volume 9: Analyzing Art and Aesthetics, Smithsonian Institute Press (2013).  The Artefacts Group is an association of historians of science working mainly in museums who share the belief that the use of objects is essential to serious historical study in the field.

 

 

Further Links:  Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen; Split + Splice on the Corporeality Blog; The Artefacts Group; Lars Møller Nielsen; Mikael Thorsted; The Dibner Award; Lynn Nyhart’s address in HSS Newsletter; Full Flickr Slideshow of Split + Splice

[Image References: all images are of the exhibition Split + Splice: Fragments from the Age of Biomedicine and its User Manual catalogue, with the exception of the image in the middle of this page, which is of a 96 well clear plastic microplate designed and produced by Thermo Fisher Scientific]

 

Allan Fleming Project

Allan Fleming Project: Publications, Research, Archive Management (2007-2011)

 

History of Graphic Design is a budding field that touches everything from advertising to artists’ books, from word and image studies to printing technologies. I first learned about these subjects quite literally at my father’s knee — yes, that knee in the photo above. Thirty years after my father’s early death in 1977, I realised that with the range of research methodologies and approaches that I had garnered in my MA, History of the Book, it would be possible for me to effect a scholarly appraisal of his position in the history of Canadian graphic design. In 2006 I initiated just such a project, which produced among other things two issues of the design and printing journal, Devil’s Artisan, which I edited:  it includes an overview of Allan’s work and several articles by exciting researchers and design historians.

 

My father, Allan Fleming, has been called ‘Canada’s first design guru’. He was certainly the country’s foremost graphic designer in the spectacular mid-century moment when the fusion of advertising and typography spawned a riot of raw talent across the continent, when technologies of design became intimate with the design of technologies, and when Canada, spurred by the lure of its centennial year of 1967, formed itself as a culturally literate nation – replete with a Design Council that he helped to instate.

Allan trained at his own (and my mother’s) expense in the mid-1950s in London and Europe; he honed those skills at the furnace-face of hot metal as creative director (a position then almost unheard of outside Europe) at Toronto’s Cooper & Beatty Type Craftsmen from 1956 to 1962; he burned it all up at MacLaren Advertising (now MacLaren McCann), where he was Creative Director for six years. Finally, in a post created for him, he helped revolutionise the look of scholarly publishing in North America as chief of design at the University of Toronto Press. He died in 1977, aged only 48.

His best-known legacy is the symbol that he created for Canadian National Railways as part of their mid-century modernisation programme. The CN symbol was itself like a train driving Modernist design straight through the 1960s in Canada and beyond, and it still adorns countless bridges and trains over 50 years later.

In 2006, I was invited by Tim Inkster of the Porcupine’s Quill, publishers of Devil’s Artisan: A Journal of the Printing Arts in Canada, to guest-edit an issue of the journal about Allan’s work. It turned into a double-volume publication and a much bigger project than that alone.

 

‘DA’, as it is known, is available through abebooks.com and also, as a digital publication, on Zinio. The first of the two issues, DA 62, is packed with information about mid-century graphic design in North America, the conditions in which it took place, and the specifics of the Canadian scene. The second issue, DA 63, contains articles by leading Canadian photo historian Carole Payne and design historian Brian Donnelly. The issues also contain evaluations of Allan’s work and its impact from practising designers working in related fields — Donna Braggins, who, like Allan years before, led a redesign of Maclean’s Magazine, and Robert Tombs, who, like Allan, had been chief of design in a major University Press.

Book historian and Enlightened Librarian Devin Crawley effected a close analysis of archival papers of Allan’s and of the University of Toronto Press, with surprising results. Devin also co-authored with me for DA 62 a finding guide for archival deposits relating to Allan’s work — in Library and Archives Canada, corporate archives and University archives.

And it was indeed in the archives that this project got much bigger — as if writing and editing what ended up being 208 pages including six other authors and a hundred-odd images is not enough!  In discussion with my brother and sister (and our mother,  then still alive) we made a decision to move Allan’s papers and what remained of his substantial book collection to the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections at York University. It was a complex job, both logistically and bureaucratically. But the support and welcome of the York’s fantastic archivist, Michael Moir, made it both smooth and exciting.

A digitisation project has started up, and there are already materials available online through York University’s DSpace. I am hoping that there will be link-ups between York’s growing design archives and its research culture, as is happening at the Rochester Institute of Technology and at the University of Brighton. And I am also hoping that history of design will burgeon in Canada, where so many highly accomplished designers — including my brother, the furniture designer Peter Fleming — are working.

Last year, EYE magazine commissioned an article by me about Allan, and I have a funny feeling that there will be more ‘dad’ projects in the future as well. I wouldn’t mind working with the Canada Science and Technology Museum, which has a number of CN locomotives in its collection, to research the relationship between technological innovation and graphic design. How much bigger could a project get?  Sounds like a ‘history of modernity’ to me.

 

 

Further Links: Devil’s Artisan; DA on Zinio; York University DSpace; RIT Vignelli Center Collections; University of Brighton Design Archives; Peter Fleming; Allan Fleming Feature in EYE 79; Canada Science and Technology Museum Railway Images

[Image References: Portrait of Allan Fleming from 1959, York University Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections. Design Work by Allan Fleming:  CN Engine Drawing; Type-o-file type specimen box, University of Toronto Fisher Rare Book Library Cooper & Beatty Fonds; Cooper & Beatty A Ad, UofT; Canada Year of the Land, CTA; Stamp Style Guide Drawing, CTA; Olympic Stamps, MF; Economic Atlas of Ontario Spread; Ontario Science Centre, OSC]

The Publishing Industry and The Book Trade

 

From very early on I have been as interested in the making and distribution of books as I have been in books themselves and what might be contained within them.  I attribute this in part to the primacy of the book as an object in the family home — my father was among other things a book designer, my mother ran the Book and Periodical Development Council — and in part, rather later, to my intellectual training which instilled the understanding that all knowledge is driven by making and mechanisms.

Following my secondary education, I held a number of positions across the book trade in Toronto, in both salaried and freelance capacities.  I worked for publishers such as James Lorimer and Company Publishers and Groundwood Books, and for lobby groups such as The Association of Canadian Publishers and The Literary Press Group.  I was also involved in the National Book Festival and the Freedom to Read Festival, and wrote for the trade magazine, Quill and Quire.  I worked for rare and antiquarian booksellers such as Monk Bretton Books and About Books, as well as trade bookshops such as Britnell’s Bookshops — all now closed.

I both trained and worked in editorial, rights negotiation, proof-reading, production scheduling, cataloguing and bibliographic referencing, press relations, touring logistics, distribution, sales and administration as well as cultural and economic policy for books and the trade.  I also trained and worked in hand typesetting and letterpress at The Dreadnaught Press and The Coach House Press, and learned to bind books with master craftsman Emrys Evans of The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto.

I was to follow this up with my MA in the History of the Book at the University of London, on a Commonwealth Scholarship.  What this means in essence is that I know how to ‘make books’ in a very practical way, and I also know how to evaluate and trace a book’s impact on the cultures in which it circulates.

I also continued to develop the more hands-on knowledge when I moved to the UK.  Genning up for the 21st century, my further professional development in this area includes study at The Publishing Training Centre at Book House Trust, London — in Print Buying and the Production Spec; in Selling Rights: Contracts, Co-Editions, and Subsidiary Rights; and, with the redoubtable Women in Publishing, Becoming a Successful Small Publisher. Knowing how crucial publishing is to communicating knowledge, I wanted to have a firm understanding of how to specify and buy print, how to negotiate new kinds of intellectual property rights and contracts, and how to plan and project manage both books and publishing companies.

Books are an important part of the careers of most academics, but not many have also worked in the trade itself.  I have written about my personal experience of the rapport between books as ideas, books as objects, and books as chattels in History Workshop Journal: How Books Go Together and How They Come Apart was published in issue 55 in 2003.

 

 

 

Further Links: Association of Canadian Publishers; The Literary Press Group; Freedom to Read; Coach House Press; Publishing Training Centre at Book House Trust; Women in Publishing

[Image References: Four-colour press; V&A Bookshop; Book House Trust; Publishing Training Centre Logo]

Artforum, Vanguard, Fuse, Afterimage, Live, Body Politic

Until late 1984, I continued to publish in a wide range of art magazines and journals of cultural critique, having served on editorial boards of FUSE, The Body Politic, and Fireweed — magazines with international reach produced in Toronto.

The two issues of Artforum pictured above — April and May, 1981 — contained my reviews of the Gerry Schum retrospective organised by the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1979/80) and of an exhibition by John Scott at Carmen Lamanna Gallery (1981). Gerry Schum’s pioneering ‘tv gallery’ in Dusseldorf ran from 1968 to 1973 — and even the retrospective I wrote about then is now so long ago that there has been another one since: at Kunsthalle Dusseldorf in 2003. In John Scott’s 1981 show of amazing drawings of the military-industrial complex as a science-fiction, there was a prescient drawing of a man overwhelmed by numbers, a drawing entitled ‘The Googleplex’.

I wrote a number of other reviews for Artforum in that period, about Colin Campbell, Robert Bowers, David Clarkson, Genevieve Cadieux, and others. But for any writer, the most important part of publishing is working with exciting editors: at Artforum I was edited by Ingrid Sischy and David Frankel. Good editors are your best friend.

And indeed some of them became close friends, like Martha Gever and Catherine Lord who taught me so much, and who were working at Afterimage in the 1980s. I published articles about Arnaud Maggs (January 1982), and Karl Beveridge and Carole Condé (November 1982) in Afterimage.

The article about Karl and Carole, entitled “The Production of Meaning,” also appeared in Open Letter and in issue 8 of BLOCK, which pioneered critical inquiry into the rapport between politics and aesthetics, and was edited by Lisa Tickner and others.

Canada had its own publications of distinction in this field, and some of them are still going strong. When I was on the editorial board of FUSE Magazine on the cusp of the 1980s, Karl and Carole were closely involved — as was Lisa Steele, Clive Robertson, and John Greyson. In fact, before it was FUSE, it was Centerfold, and that’s when I first published in it. I wrote about Videocabaret, anorexia, copyright infringement of artists’ videotapes, editing the television news, Toronto’s experimental film collective called The Funnel, the girl-band The Slits, and more.

 

 

Fully immersed in the political/aesthetic climate, I wrote about artists’ video and about performance for the feminist journal, Fireweed (‘Lisa Steele: Hearing Voices’ Summer 1980) and for the gay liberation newspaper The Body Politic. In fact, when I attended the landmark conference Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture at the University of Champaign Urbana in 1983, I was not surprised to see as many gay rights colleagues as artists and art critics assembled. Thirty years later, there is now an MA in Aesthetics and Politics at CalArts.

I became involved in commissioning and editing cultural news for the Body Politic, and was mentored by some very brilliant people there — Rick Bebout, Tim McCaskill and others. Doug Durand and I published an extensive article about gender and performance for the BP, and with that article, the collective put video artist Colin Campbell on the cover (June 1980, see below).

 

 

In part because of my work with video distribution at Art Metropole, I was very interested in artists working in time-based media, and so I also came to be published in short-lived but influential journals like John Howell’s LIVE, Video Guide, and On TV.

The range of art publications, and the different registers within which each approached contemporary art, was much more varied in the 1980s — though the ease and economies of web-publishing over print-bind-and-deliver would have quickly won over most editors from that period.

In Canada, the two main publications were produced literally 3,500 miles from each other, in two different languages and pitched at very different kinds of reader.  They were: Vanguard, edited by Russell Keziere in Vancouver, and Parachute, edited by Chantal Pontbriand and France Morin in Montreal.  I wrote for both. Here is a cover for Parachute issue 14, featuring a 1976 performance by FUSE editor, Clive Robertson, entitled The Sculptured Politics of Joseph Beuys, in which Robertson grapples with the implications — for his own career — of Beuys’ fame.

 

 

In Vanguard, which ran from 1972 to 1989, I published mainly reviews — Robert Wiens, Brian Boigon, Les Levine, Spalding Gray, Joseph Beuys, Elizabeth MacKenzie, Patrick Jenkins, Rebecca Garrett, Tod Siler, Ian Carr-Harris, Lyn Blumenthal. In Parachute, I also reviewed — Joyce Wieland, John Massey, Glass’s Satyagraha — but I most enjoyed writing a full-length article about the relationship between experimental film and architecture: Filming Buildings Building Films (Parachute 25, Winter 1981) It concerned the films of Ross MacLaren and of John Porter, both of The Funnel. I feel it would have come as no surprise to them that I would shortly move from Toronto to Montreal, and that I would spend the following decade fully engrossed in the intersection between art and architecture.

 

 

Further Links: Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture; MA in Aesthetics and Politics Calarts; Afterimage; FUSEThe Funnel

[Image References: LIVE Magazine 6/7; Artforum April and May 1981; Karl Beveridge and Carol Condé, It’s Still Privileged Art (1976); Fuse Magazine Logo; covers from The Body Politic (1970s/1980s); Parachute 14; John Porter, Down On Me, filmframe from a much larger conceptual filmwork (1980)]