Thingness: The Collection (2013) Camberwell Space, London

Co-curated by Maiko Tsutsumi and Karen Richmond Featuring objects from Camberwell’s ILEA Collection

Minkin coffee pot.jpg

Thingness: The Collection is a sequel to the Thingness exhibition in 2011. I again collaborated with my Camberwell colleague Karen Richmond (Course Director, BA 3D Design), and also this time, with David Garnett, one of the technical staff from Camberwell’s Conservation department. David has been the keeper of the ILEA (Inner London Education Authority) Collection, which the college inherited when ILEA disolved in 1990. The Collection, also called Camberwell Collection, came from the collection of design and craft objects from all over the world, that were aquired by the ILEA for educational purposes. The objects were circulated to schools and colleges in London as a handling collection, for that reason, many objects are bought as multiple sets. The collection is very eclectic, including, studio pottery, architectual toys, ‘suveniour art’, folk craft, scandinavian glassware, cutlaries, baskets, etc etc.

This very facinating collection of objects does not have much information on its contents and is in need of proper archiving. I had been in disucssion with David for a long time about how to bring this collection to life as well as making it accessible as our teaching material. Karen and I took the lack of information as an opportunity to let our (and the audience’s) imagination wild and focused on the narrative potential of objects based on its material and symbolic features.

I wrote the introduction of the exhibition booklet and an essay entitled ‘Thing Agency and the Porous Space’.

This project touches upon a range of subjects icluding Museology, engaging with Archives, Objects based learning, Objects narrative, archaeology, anthropology, craft and design history.

Thingness: The Collection (from the exhibition booklet)


What role does the ‘materiality of things’ play in our relationship to the objects we create and consume?

The above question was the starting point of the Thingness exhibition and symposium, held at Camberwell College of Arts in 2011. Second in series, Thingness: The Collection presents a group of objects selected from the Camberwell Collection. Along with an accompanying series of workshops and talks, the exhibition explores the ‘affective’ potential of objects, as well as a range of approaches by artists and designers working in response to archives and collections.

The Camberwell Collection originates from a circulating collection of the London County Council and later the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) that were brought together for educational purposes, and circulated in schools between 1951 and 1976. The collection was acquired by Camberwell College of Arts in 1990, following the disbandment of ILEA.1

Thingness: The Collection will begin with a selected group of objects. Invited artists and designers will respond to the characteristics of the objects; what they infer as their ‘presence’ in a materialist sense, or their ‘physiognomic appeal’.2 By shifting our attention from the intended function of the object to the ‘thing itself’, we hope to bring to light the space between the intended meaning of objects and where the projected meanings and narratives may begin to emerge.

Using the eclectic mix of design and craft objects, the exhibition explores the relationship between the agentic potential of the thing and it’s physical features, such as the materials and the trace of its construction process, as well as its symbolic and associated meanings.


1. For more information on the history of the ILEA Collection please see: Jane Pavitt, ed., The Camberwell Collection: Object Lesson (London: Camberwell College of Arts, 1996).; Jane Pavitt, “The Camberwell Collection of Applied Arts, Camberwell College of Arts, The London Institute,” Journal of Design History, 10(2) (1997): 225-229.

2. Alfred Gell. Art and Agency: an Anthropological Theory (London: Oxford University Press, 1998).