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Visual and material culture research

Explore our work in visual and material culture, one of our areas of research expertise in Art and Design: History, Theory and Practice

Historically, the western world has been dominated by the visual world and today, we're constantly exposed to images, objects and interactions. It's essential to create a space to reflect and analyse their construction, our relationship with them, and the power relationships inherent in visual and material culture.

Seemingly innocuous and individualised concepts, such as taste, can be shown to be the product of cultural and social forces and through our Visual and Material Culture research, we're working to uncover these concepts.

And at a time when new technologies are flourishing and shaping the ways in which people interact with and understand their environment and their own identity, we're exploring how images, visualisations and objects mediate between historical, social and political issues – and how they contribute to wider cultural debates.

Our work also includes experiments in prototyping, iteration and reflective practice, and we're applying theories – such as feminist and queer theory – to the analysis and creation of images and objects. We also look at the social impact from a social, cultural and historical context.

Our research covers the following topics


  • Visualising history
  • Curatorial practice
  • Sensory perception
  • US and UK popular culture
  • Cultures of collecting
  • Interfaces
  • Domestic design
  • Curatorship
  • Spectacle and display
  • Visual culture
  • Material culture

Methods and facilities

Our researchers draw on qualitative and practice research methods, with a focus on the critical, holistic and phenomenological. This includes textual and visual analysis, practice experimentation, archival research, prototyping, ethnography, and storytelling.

We have facilities to explore practical experimentation and prototyping – these include the Eldon Production Centre (EPC) with 3D printers, plastic, wood and metal workshop, digital fabric printers, screen printing workshops with letter press and photography studio. We also have access to a motion capture VR lab, and various scientific visualisation labs.

Collaborations and funders

We've worked with the Wellcome Trust, the V&A museum and others, to curate exhibitions using their large collections. We have also produced innovative work in collaboration with the Institute of Industrial Research to produce data visualisations for the marine industries:

  • Wellcome Collection’s exhibition on ‘Brains: The Mind as Matter’ was directly informed through research and curatorial practice by guest curator Dr. Marius Kwint. He also co-curated the acclaimed Biennale collateral event ‘Frontiers Re-Imagined: Art that Connects Us’
  • Professor Sugg Ryan is a regular consultant and contributor to large scale exhibitions and broadcasts, such as the V&A museum’s ‘Food: Tasting Tomorrow’ and the BBC Two documentary series ‘A House Through Time’.
  • Dr. Simone Gumtau’s data visualisation design consultancy work with the Institute of Industrial Research on ‘IConiC’ showed ways that design methods and approaches can add value to marine industries looking to innovate their services, and how data visualisation in particular can benefit from creative and human centred design.

Recent funders include the Paul Mellon Centre, Innovate UK, Anglia Ruskin University, the Film Hub SouthEast, the Henry Moore Foundation. We've also been involved with EU funded projects.

Discover our areas of expertise

Visual and material culture is one of 6 areas of expertise within our Art and Design: History, Theory and Practice – explore the other 5 below.

Our members

Image of Dr Marius Kwint

Dr Marius Kwint

  • Job Title Reader in Visual Culture
  • Email Address
  • Department School of Art Design and Performance
  • Faculty Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries
  • PhD Supervisor PhD Supervisor
Image of Professor Deborah Sugg Ryan

Media ready expert

Professor Deborah Sugg Ryan

  • Job Title Associate Dean (Research)
  • Email Address
  • Faculty Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries
  • PhD Supervisor PhD Supervisor

Research groups

We're researching the discourses of community formation and deformation through their representations in literary texts.

Interested in a PhD in Art & Design?

Browse our postgraduate research degrees – including PhDs and MPhils – at our Art & Design postgraduate research degrees page.

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