neil cummings

Key Ideas

Truth is ConcreteI participated in Key Ideas one of a series of events organised by the Design Cluster at Camberwell College of Arts.

The series aims to examine issues and theories important to young designers.

Key Ideas: Object tackled the role of the object in contemporary society through multiple readings introduced by different experts via three themes:

Object as Sign

Object as Capital; the Value of Things

The Narrative of Objects





I spoke in relation to The Value of Things and tried to shift attention from objects to their context; these are the notes for my presentation

As an artist I am not that interested in art

Or, I should say, I am not that interested in the ‘struggle’ to produce ‘new’ objects as art.

For the last, almost 14 years, I have moved away from producing ‘things’ or ‘artifacts’ as artwork – to producing ’new’ discursive networks,

Networks in which existing objects participate.

New meanings, and new values produced through new assemblies.

A producer of interpretation. It's a more 'curatorial' method

 (I’ll try to say why and give you some examples)

If you visit a museum storeroom, you realize (on average) that about 90% of the collection is permanently in storage -Tate is something like 70%

So there are clearly enough artworks in the world.

why make things for storage?

In fact - this is even more pressing because the finite nature of resources and energy - there are clearly enough objects in the world.

So, I  have moved from manufacturing to evolving a practice, almost a research-like practice

Perhaps  echoing wider cultural shifts - in Europe at least -
I refocused my attention, from sites of production  - studio/factory –
to sites of consumption – museum/shop

I have been interested in thinking about, and working alongside many of the organisations that choreograph the exchange of values between art and its publics,

For example, I've worked with various galleries (private and public), museums, Art Schools, Auction Houses, Publishers and Broadcsters

And when you work with theses institutions, and their technologies, you realize that an artwork is made from an interrelated web of

curatorship, exhibitions, galleries, museums, places of education - and situations llike this - various forms of funding, dealers, friendships, collectors, parties, catalogues, books, theorists, critics, reviewers, advertising, wall labels and texts, gallery audio guides.... and so on.....

No object exists without a discursive prosthesis.

And we could even begin to image that it is this dense discursive environment, that call objects into the world.

These discursive environments could be the same as the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu calls ‘fields’ of resources, fields of competing 'capitals - some of which that Tim quoted in the description of the days themes.

Simply put, these discursive networks and their powerful exhibitionary technologies are the means of producing, presenting and disseminating the work of the work of art.

So, I began to think of myself as a link in a whole chain of influence that manufacture the possibilities of an artwork, and no longer its source.

I'm part of the field, a node in a network.

And I began to think of working with these network technologies - the components that help produce the field - rather than be subject to them.

They became my media.

It’s also clear to me, that
these network technologies that produce the moment of 'exhibition', can be be turned upon any object, image, artist, maker, designer, emotion, feeling, city, country and nation and ‘objectify’ them.

And that these technologies of display are also diffusing into other, vast exhibitionary economies

economies animated by the movement of images, information, design, knowledge, money, people, goodwill, loyalty and trust.

These forces, which have traditionally been imagined as outside of culture and its reproduction,

are now central to our ‘new’ creative economies convened around the slippery exchanges of creativity, knowledge, intellectual property regimes and capital.

So I have also been interested in the spaces where art and design, through display and exhibition dissolves into public policy and social management, into promotion, sponsorship and investment, into products, advertising, gentrification and lifestyle choices;

So, I also initiated projects with Department Stores, with archives, banks and markets.

I'll quickly talk through some relevant projects:


Collected begins from the premise that the museum as the ideal image of the collection, but also explores Department Sores, photography, flea markets, shops and domestic spaces as sites of collection and display [...]

Free Trade was a project that traced the complex web of financial and cultural exchanges in Manchester during the 19th C. George Beatson Blair was one of three brothers - James, Alexander, and George - who were partners in a cotton import/export and shipping company. And like other newly wealthy middle class merchants, James and George turned their financial profits into cultural goods. They started collecting [...]

The Value of Things explores the narratives of two institutions which perfectly represent the awesome technologies for sourcing, transportation, warehousing, accounting, stocking, display and redistribution of material things. The greatest inventions of modernity, these institutions are the most privileged sites within the social organisation of all objects, images, signs and services: the department store and the public museum  [...]


Related events include Browse, A Joy Forever and From Things to Flows

51.47399, -0.07962

Camberwell College of Arts
45-65 Peckham Road
United Kingdom

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