Bloomsbury talks to Anna Moran & Sorcha O’Brien

October sees the publication of Love Objects, the first anthology on the concept of ‘love’ to interrogate across a range of contexts its design and other material manifestations. Editors Anna Moran and Sorcha O’Brien are now revealing what’s behind the book.

How did the book come about?

valentineThe whole process started when we were both working in NCAD and having a Design Research Group meeting with our colleague Ciarán Swan. We were considering running a design history and material conference on the emotions and as it happened, one of the available dates was Valentine’s Day, which started us thinking specifically about love and the many different forms in which it comes, and how objects are used to negotiate love, from the simple gold wedding band, to the complexities of emotion surrounding inheriting heirlooms. The whole idea really seemed to strike a chord among academics and designers, and we had so many fantastic abstracts that we ended up running a two day conference with over 50 international speakers.

How did the topic of love and designed objects change from this point to the published book?

The conference was a huge success, and the breadth and range of papers really showcased the different ways that you could think about objects and emotion, from areas such as advertising to museums to textiles, and using a range of methods from the theoretical to anthropological to design practice based interrogations. When we started thinking about developing a book, we were very interested in capturing that range of areas and approaches, as well as an overview of different types of love, whether familial, sexual, or the love of the planet that inspires sustainable practices. The essays were chosen with this overview in mind, which involved working with some of the papers presented at the conference and some new material commissioned specifically for the book. A very good example of this is Jonathan Chapman’s essay on emotionally durable design which closes the book, calling for a more considerate and thoughtful approach to design which would allow us to build and develop sustainable relationships with our possessions over long periods of time.

Jeans are like a second skin, ageing and adapting with you. Photograph by Jonathan Chapman
Jeans are like a second skin, ageing and adapting with you. Photograph by Jonathan

It builds on many of the attitudes towards objects considered earlier in the book in historical or design practice-based contexts, and has a very forward-thinking view of designing objects to be the material culture of the future.

There is quite a personal dimension to many of the essays. Could you tell us more about this?

The book presents new and fascinating research on the emotional potency of objects. Included within it are essays by anthropologists, design historians, and design practitioners, showcasing a wide range of perspectives and approaches. Importantly though, many of the essays take a very personal, reflexive and autobiographical approach to the subject, such as Jane Hattrick’s essay which considers her own relationship with the archive of couturier Normal Hartnell, and the impact of her own sexual identity on her approach to it. Also very personal is Christina Edwards’ discussion of memory and the function of family photographs and her own related practice, which involved her projecting transparencies from her family photo archive onto sensitized glass plates using the wet collodion process.

Christina Edwards, ‘Material Memories’, 1970s family photograph
Christina Edwards, ‘Material Memories’, 1970s family photograph

Understandably, some of the essays evolved as they journeyed through the different stages of the editorial process. Catherine Harper’s essay, for example, began as an essay reflecting on the meanings imbued within her grandmothers’ handmade quilts and reflecting on the meanings held by hi tech fabrics, an area of technology Catherine draws upon in her own textile practice. However, as the essay developed, so too did the realisation that it was actually the tools and needles used in their production which served as the love objects, rather than the textiles created. It is this personal positioning of the authors, along with the exploration of design and research practice, which combines with critical reflection to allow for a deeper exploration of the implications of love.

What were the best parts of the process?

Love Objects

AM: I have really enjoyed discussing the development of ideas and arguments with the contributors. Also, the knowledge that we were providing a forum for such interesting research is something I took great satisfaction from.

SOB: Commissioning the cover was a really enjoyable experience – I come from a design practice background myself, so really enjoyed working with Rebecca Shawcross in Northampton Museum where the red shoes reside, the photographer John Roan, and the cover designers in Bloomsbury Academic to bring together such a striking cover to visually represents the ideas and discussions in the book.

How did you find working together?

AM: Excellent – we had taught together in the same department some years ago, but found that we worked very well together in closer collaboration. We’ve been able to discuss things freely and always disagree amicably!

SO: As we spent most of the last few years in two different cities, the internet has been invaluable for communicating with each other and with the contributors, whether by email, video conferencing or file transfer.

Do you have a favourite object?

AM: It is very difficult to choose one object but I think it would be a small wooden spoon used by my late father every morning to stir his porridge. Beautifully bowed through years of use, to this day it is still used to stir the porridge and a lovely reminder of Dad.

SO: Mine is an Irish country dresser that I inherited from my uncle more than ten years ago, which my grandparents bought at auction in Dublin in the 1910s. It is also well-worn, and you can see several coats of paint on the scuffed edges where is has been painted and repainted every few years. I’ve also used it in classes talking about material culture, so it has acquired an extra layer of meaning for me about my relationships with my students and the way that they learn, as well as with my family.


Anna Moran is Coordinator of the MA in Design History and Material Culture at the National College of Art and Design, and Sorcha O’Brien teaches Design History and Theory to Product and Furniture Design students in Kingston University. They will be introducing a studio session and launching Love Objects at the Institute of Contemporary Arts tomorrow, Wednesday 01st October. Copies of the book will be available at the ICA bookshop, and also from