VARI people

The V&A Research Institute (VARI) is nestled within the V&A Research Department – the first of its kind in the UK and home to the world's leading postgraduate programme in the history of design and material culture. VARI was launched in 2016 with generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Joanna Norman
Head of VARI

Joanna currently oversees all the V&A’s research activities, including postgraduate programmes and exhibition research and development. Her own background is in curatorial research, particularly focused on early modern Italy and France, which she has pursued through collaborative exhibitions and publications on Baroque style and in Europe 1600 – 1815, the V&A’s recently redisplayed permanent galleries of 17th- and 18th-century European art and design. Joanna studied Modern Languages at the University of Cambridge and Cultural and Intellectual History at the Warburg Institute. Her research interests include the history of performance (from festivities to musical instruments) and the relationship between early modern Italian furniture and sculpture. She has a particular interest in period rooms and the reconstruction of historic interiors inside and outside the museum environment.
Joanna was Lead Curator for the Scottish Design Galleries at the V&A Museum of Design Dundee, which opened in September 2018.

Dr Marta Ajmar

Deputy Head VARI

Having contributed to the creation of VARI, Marta currently supports the successful delivery and strategic development of all VARI programmes, from existing research projects to emerging partnerships. She also co-leads the five-year collaborative research project Encounters on the Shop Floor, modelling new ways of recognising and championing embodied knowledge. Before joining VARI she was Head of the V&A/RCA History of Design Postgraduate Programme. Her curatorial experience includes directing the research project for the V&A exhibition At Home in Renaissance Italy, funded by the Getty Foundation and the AHRC.

Marta is currently working on the monograph Material Mimesis: Local and Global Connections in the Arts of the Italian Renaissance (supported by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for 2016-17), exploring cross-cultural artefacts and the circulation of artisanal skill and technological knowledge between Europe and Asia. Her book-length publications include At Home in Renaissance Italy (London, 2006); Approaching the Italian Renaissance Interior: Sources, Methodologies, Debates (Oxford, 2007) and Approaches to Renaissance Consumption (Oxford, 2002). Marta holds an MA and PhD from the Warburg Institute (University of London) and degrees from the Beijing Language and Culture University (北京语言文化大学) and the ISMEO (University of Milan). She has received awards from the Wellcome Trust, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the British Academy. In 2016 – 17 she was Visiting Scholar in the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge and is currently Visiting Professor in the Art History Department at the University of Bern.

Dr Elaine Tierney
Teaching and Training Coordinator, V&A Research Institute (VARI)

Elaine is responsible for maintaining and developing academic partnerships such as joint teaching programmes and exchanges, and is the key contact for the V&A’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme. Elaine helps to shape innovative collaborative teaching associated with specific VARI projects, and supports the work of VARI's visiting professors and fellows. Elaine has been part of the V&A's Research Department since 2006, where she has worked on a range of public-facing projects, including the exhibition Baroque: Style in the Age of Magnificence, and the television series, Handmade in Britain – a collaboration between the V&A and BBC4.

Elaine graduated with a BA in English at Clare College, University of Cambridge, followed by the V&A/RCA MA in History of Design. Her PhD was funded by an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award and was jointly affiliated with the University of Sussex and the V&A. In 2014/15, she held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, before taking up a lectureship in early modern history at the University of Manchester. Her research looks at how urban built environments shaped the social, political and commercial lives of early modern people. She is particularly interested in temporary structures, with forthcoming publications exploring festival design, scaffolding and sheds.

Previous Heads of VARI:

Professor Bill Sherman
2016 – 2017

Bill was Director of Research and Collections at the V&A. He moved to the V&A from the University of York, where he was Professor of English and founding director of the Centre for Renaissance & Early Modern Studies (CREMS). Bill's research is driven by a love of archives and other collections, and an interest in how objects from the past come down to us, what they pick up along the way and how they speak across time and space.

Dr Martha Fleming
2016 – 2017 Deputy Head, V&A Research Institute (VARI)

Martha brought her interdisciplinary experience to the planning and development of VARI as an Institute, and the effective structuring and harmonisation of the activities being undertaken in all of VARI's projects. She has worked extensively in museums and universities in curatorial, research, and research administration roles. She is particularly interested in interdisciplinary practices, collaborative processes and inter-institutional cross-pollination. Martha holds an MA in the History of the Book from the School of Advanced Study of the University of London and a doctorate from the School of Art, Architecture and Design of Leeds Metropolitan University.

VARI steering committee members since 2016

  • Professor Naren Barfield – Pro-Rector Academic, Royal College of Art
  • Dr Julien Clément – Deputy Director, Research and Higher Education Department, Musée du quai Branly, Paris
  • Professor Frances Corner – Head of College, London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London
  • Professor Geoffrey Crossick – Distinguished Professor of the Humanities, School of Advanced Study, University of London
  • Edmund de Waal – ceramicist and writer
  • Professor Paula Lettieri – Academic Director, UCL East Campus, University College London
  • Dr Amy Meyers – Director, Yale Center for British Art, Yale University, New Haven, US
  • Dr Tonya Nelson – Head of Museums and Collections, University College London
  • Professor Evelyn Welch – Professor of Renaissance Studies and Vice-Principal (Arts & Sciences), King’s College London

VARI advisory board members since 2016

  • Anais Aguerre – Head of International Initiatives, V&A
  • Victor Buchli – Professor of Material Culture, University College London
  • Sarah Campbell – Director of Learning Programmes and Deputy Head of Learning, V&A
  • Professor Daniel Charny – Design School, Kingston University
  • Anna Harding – CEO, Space Studios, London
  • Professor Jane Harris – Associate Dean of Research, London College of Fashion
  • Dr J D Hill – Head of Research, British Museum
  • Catherine Ince – Chief Curator, V&A East
  • Professor Roger Kneebone – Director of the Imperial College Centre for Engagement and Simulation Science (ICCESS)
  • Dr Zoe Laughlin – Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Institute of Making, University College London
  • Rebecca Lim – Head of FuturePlan Programme and Head of Exhibitions (South Kensington), V&A
  • Joanna Norman – Head of the V&A Research Institute
  • Kati Price – Head of Digital Media and Publishing, V&A
  • Sue Ridley – Director of Conservation and Collections Management, V&A
  • Johanna Agermann Ross – Curator of 20th and 21st Century Furniture and Product Design, V&A
  • Sandra Smith – Head of Conservation and Technical Services, V&A
  • Professor John Styles – Department of History, University of Hertfordshire
  • Professor Teal Triggs – Associate Dean, School of Communication, Royal College of Art
  • Professor Richard Wistreich – Director of Research, Royal College of Music