Gayle Chong Kwan

The Circulating Department (2021)

Photographs, wooden stands, simanay, thread.

V&A Museum

Gayle Chong Kwan was Artist in Residence in Photography at the V&A between 2019 - 2021, during which she explored the museum as process, movement, and as a force of deterritorialization in relation to objects, people, and collections, and developed a series of photographic, wearable, and sculptural work, which was installed at the V&A.

Low res ZT6 B4909
Low res ZT6 B4915
Low res ZT6 B4917
Low res ZT6 B4937
Low res ZT6 B4994
Low res ZT6 B4919
I became fascinated by the V&A’s historical Circulation Department, which lasted between 1850 and 1977, after which objects in its collection were dispersed throughout the wider collection. Its archives are kept at Blythe House, where objects not on display at any of the V&A museums are stored. Unlike the rest of the V&A which had a ’50-year rule’, whereby only work that was over 50 years old could be collected, the Circulation Department collected contemporary work. The Circulation Department was the first ‘travelling gallery’ in the UK, and loaned original works and copies to provincial and national museums, libraries, galleries, art colleges, and schools. The department had a higher than usual intake of women, many of its staff were educated at art college rather than Oxbridge, and some were members of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

ZT6 B6503 low res
ZT6 B6422 low res
ZT6 B6416 low res
ZT6 B6411 low res
ZT6 B6435 low res
ZT6 B6444 low res
ZT6 B6476 low res
ZT6 B6470 low res
ZT6 B6441 low res
I began to speak to people who worked at the V&A in transportation, cleaning, conserving, acquisition, disposal, and pest management. I took photographs whilst talking and walking with them and when accompanying them on their work activities. Selected images from these became a series of 10 photographs, which I also used to make six headpieces, each of which developed around themes related to movement in the museum: circulation; bridging; infestation; performing; decompose/de-acquisition; and appearance. They were installed in the Raphael Cartoons in the V&A. A further series of six photographs show them worn by the people at the V&A with whom I had worked, photographed in front of objects, and in rooms and galleries of significance to them.

Anthony ZT6 B5991 2 low res
Glenn ZT6 B5791 low res
Astrid ZT6 B6128 1 low res
Pamela ZT6 B6288 1 low res
Martin ZT6 B6595 low res
Corinna ZT6 B6615 low res
Series of 6 x C-Type Photographic Prints

Gayle Chong Kwan Capturing Motion. V&A Blog. 30 March 2020.

Thanks to: Glenn Benson, Pamela Young, Anthony Ryan, Martin Barnes, and Astrid Hilne