Designing Interactivity and the Ardabil Carpet

January 7, 2019

As part of my V&A Research Institute (VARI) Educational Residency I have had the pleasure of working with a whole host of talented young people. In July 2018, we ran a three-day workshop at the V&A that asked students to consider how to protect and display making skills within the Museum. Katie Pike, who has recently started a degree in Structural Engineering at Heriot Watt University, reflects here on developing a solution to integrate interactive making practice into the Museum.

As part of a VARI project a group of sixth form students, including myself, were brought into the V&A and asked to consider how the Museum could demonstrate and protect making skill in the gallery spaces. We were given two days to research how interactivity is used within museums and to look at different types of museum spaces that allowed visitors to handle objects.

One of the first problems we encountered within the V&A was that many of the objects are displayed in glass cases, and that visitors to the Museum are unable to physically interact with them. In particular I was interested in the Ardabil Carpet, in the Asia Gallery, which is encased completely.

I believed that we could make the Ardabil Carpet more interactive for visitors and demonstrate some of the processes of making behind it. There are many limitations to developing the way this exhibit is shown, as the carpet needs to be displayed behind glass to preserve it. Despite this there are several ways we could demonstrate to the public the history of this object’s production and allow for greater interaction.

When I started to consider how to make the Ardabil Carpet exhibition more interactive, I wanted to demonstrate the historical method of production. I believed this would help showcase the quality of materials required, examine the dexterity of makers during production, and make visitors consider how labour intensive weaving would have been.

The idea that I developed would see a loom placed in the gallery, allowing visitors to add their own row of weaving, and help to create a community response to the Ardabil Carpet. This would then create an artefact for the Museum, made by the visitors, that would represent its global community.

There are many ways this idea could be developed, for example having different looms showcasing how rugs are made in different periods of time, different materials available for the weaving and exhibiting different historical examples of looms, if available.

There are some limitations when proposing this idea around its feasibility. There would need to be someone present in the gallery, who would be able to show the public how to use the loom and ensure the rug was being made correctly. Another problem that would be encountered is the cost, as the looms and materials to produce the rugs would need to be bought as well as maintained. However, it would be wonderful to see people interacting with historical making practices

By encouraging the sixth form students to consider the making process behind objects in the V&A I was able to create a multi-sensory learning experience. Katie, through her exploration of the Ardabil Carpet, was able to deepen her understanding of weaving and the development of looms in tandem with object learning. Touch and interactivity was central to the development of Katie’s solution but this was also woven into the learning experience. Through making, Katie explored concepts of community, craft and tacit engagement but also provided a solution that would encourage future audiences to engage with these concepts. 

About the author

January 7, 2019

I am the current Educational Resident for VARI. I spend a lot of time thinking about education, making and museum spaces.

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