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About the V&A Research Institute Pilot Project

Ottoman Sampler

Ottoman Sampler, 1800-1899, Turkey, linen, embroidered with silk in double running variations and combinations, satin stitch and eyelets. Museum no. T.328-1921, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The V&A Research Institute (VARI) was launched in 2016 with generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. VARI is a new programme of research and teaching partnerships that will enhance access to the V&A’s collections and develop new approaches to research, training, display and interpretation. As the V&A refreshes its galleries in South Kensington and plans new museum and storage facilities in East London, VARI takes the museum’s thriving research culture into a new phase, making its collections and expertise more accessible and connecting them more fully with both academic partners and art/design practitioners.

VARI hosts:

  • collaborative research projects and research-driven teaching
  • conferences and workshops
  • public engagement events
  • a group of fellowships - internal and external, short- and long-term, junior and senior
  • a series of Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professors 
  • an augmented programme of residencies
  • a platform for print and digital communication.
The grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supports eight projects:

OPEN PROJECTS (open to competition) - designed to foster experimentation and innovation in core areas of the Museum’s activity

  • Open Project 1: Collections Access and Display Fellowships
    experiments with the V&A’s modes and methods for exhibition curation and finds new ways of bringing research to bear on the access we give to our objects
  • Open Project 2: Digital Collections Fellowships
    explores new ways to handle and give access to software and software-driven projects 
  • Open Project 3: Public Engagement Postdocs
    develops innovative public engagement practices and activates collections currently not on display
  • Open Project 4: Artists’ Residencies
    expands the V&A’s engagement with art and design practice and builds bridges between South Kensington and East London

Named Projects

  • The Leman Album: An Enhanced Facsimile
    involving the conservation and digital reproduction of the Leman Album, an 18th-century volume containing the earliest surviving set of silk designs in the world
  • Opening the Cabinet of Curiosities
    a study of the 19th-century afterlife of the Cabinet of Curiosities and its potential for 21st-century collecting and display
  • Digital Dickens
    a crowd-sourced transcription of the V&A’s unparalleled collection of manuscripts by Charles Dickens
  • Encounters on the Shop Floor: Embodiment and The Knowledge of the Maker
    bringing together practitioners in the arts, performance, humanities, sciences and social sciences to explore making and embodied knowledge
VARI grows out of a Mellon-funded pilot project in 2014-2015, exploring models and identifying needs for museum-based, object-led inquiry. This website documents the V&A Research Institute Pilot Project, which used the Textile and Fashion Collections - and the recently opened Clothworkers' Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion at Blythe House - as a testing ground for new models of collaborative research at the interface of history, theory and practice.

The programme set 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.


Bell-shaped needle gauge, made by G. Chambers & Co., 1847-1899, England. Museum no. T.276-1979, © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Bell-shaped needle gauge, made by G. Chambers & Co., 1847-1899, England. Museum no. T.276-1979, © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

We ran a series of projects including academic conferences and workshops, object-handling sessions and a range of experimental formats. They produced a set of resources for object-oriented research, an interdisciplinary network of collaborators, a body of intelligence about institutional models, a nuanced understanding of the V&A’s physical and human resources and (above all) a strategic plan for a fully-fledged bid to launch and develop VARI over the next five years.

Our activities are charted on this website under the VARI ‘fruit-machine’ banner spelling out V-A-R-I with objects from the V&A’s diverse collections and evoking collaborative exploration and serious play.

The VARI team 

Sample of vest fabric of a Jacquard-woven silk with a design of waterlilies, made by J & W Robinson & Co., about 1851, England. Museum no. AP.356:2, © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Sample of vest fabric of a Jacquard-woven silk with a design of waterlilies, made by J & W Robinson & Co., about 1851, England. Museum no. AP.356:2, © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The VARI pilot project is led by Martin Roth (Director of the V&A), directed by Bill Sherman (V&A Head of Research) and Marta Ajmar (V&A/RCA Head of Postgraduate Programme), and coordinated by Lina Hakim (Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellow).

It was guided by an international Steering Committee, representing key individuals, disciplines and institutions engaged in object-related research, including:

Mieke Bal (University of Amsterdam)
Victor Buchli (University College London)
Margot Finn (University College London)
Jane Harris (London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London)
J D Hill (British Museum)
Zoe Laughlin / Mark Miodownik (Institute of Making, UCL)
Lesley Miller (V&A, Textiles and Fashion)
Luca Molà (European University Institute)
Ann Richards (University of the Creative Arts, Farnham)
Giorgio Riello (University of Warwick)
Dagmar Schäfer (University of Manchester; Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)
Pamela H. Smith (Columbia University)
Sandra Smith (V&A, Conservation & Technical Services)
John Styles (University of Hertfordshire)
Evelyn Welch (Kings College London)
Nigel Wood (University of Oxford)

An Internal Advisory Board of Museum staff provided a forum for consultation across departments and stakeholders inside the museum, and included: Jo Banham (Learning); Martin Barnes (Photography); Clare Browne (Textiles & Fashion); Lucia Burgio (Conservation Science); Moya Carey (Middle East); Marion Crick (Collections Management); Rosemary Crill (Asia); Stephanie Cripps (Exhibitions & Loans); Andrea Cunningham (Museum of Childhood Learning); Ana Debenedetti (Paintings); Kate Dorney (Theatre & Performance); Nicola Froggatt (Research Grants);  Alun Graves (Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics & Glass); Jo Hackett (Textiles and Fashion Conservation); Rhian Harris (Museum of Childhood); Olivia Horsfall Turner (Designs); Anna Jackson (Asia); Kirstin Kennedy (Metalwork); Kieran Long (Design, Architecture & Digital); Christopher Marsden (Archives); Beth McKillop (Directorate, Collections); Liz Miller (Word & Image); Joanna Norman (Research); Susan North (Fashion); Kati Price (Digital Media); Mariam Rosser-Owen (Asia); Rowan Watson (Word & Image); Christopher Wilk (Furniture, Textiles & Fashion); Heike Zech (Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics & Glass).

The VARI album & related publications

The VARI Pilot Project 2014 – 2015: An Album
This album is a memento of the VARI Pilot Project, reflecting on the journey, celebrating the projects we’ve started, documenting the events in which we’ve taken part and recording the relationships we’ve built along the way. Inspired by the early modern ‘album amicorum’ – essentially a cross between guest book, yearbook and Facebook– this multi-author ‘friendship album’, is a compilation of entries by friends and colleagues who have taken part in the Pilot Project. It should provide a window into the wonderful intellectual and personal exchanges that we’ve had on this journey.

Download the Pdf of the album here (10 MB).

Related Publications:

Ajmar, Marta; Lina Hakim and Bill Sherman eds. The VARIorum, Special Issue of the V&A Online Journal (Forthcoming, Summer 2016)

Flood, Catherine and Gavin Grindon, What are Disobedient Objects?, V&A Blog (21 March 2014)

Hakim, Lina, and Elaine Tierney, A History of an Object in 100 Worlds, V&A Blog (2014 - 2015)

Hakim, Lina, ‘Towards a V&A Research Institute’, V&A Annual Review 2014-2015, pp.66-69

Hakim, Lina, Gestures, Ritual & Play: Interview with Liam O’Connor, V&A Online Journal, Issue No.7 (Summer 2015)

Hakim, Lina, Object Lessons: Making, Knowing and Growing Things [Review Essay], Huntington Library Quarterly, Volume 78, No.1 (2015), pp.127-136

Sherman, Bill, The Museum of Big Ideas: The view from the V&A, V&A Annual Review 2013-2014, pp.22-23

A gift in your will

You may not have thought of including a gift to a museum in your will, but the V&A is a charity and legacies form an important source of funding for our work. It is not just the great collectors and the wealthy who leave legacies to the V&A. Legacies of all sizes, large and small, make a real difference to what we can do and your support can help ensure that future generations enjoy the V&A as much as you have.