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Gillian Russell

PhD Work

Re/Staging: Critical Design And The Curatorial

The principle objective of this study is to examine the conditions and contexts of critical design practice, specifically as they pertain to methods of identifying, presenting and producing critical design within the space of the museum exhibition. The analysis in this study seeks to reveal a better understanding of the working practices that underpin museums’ creative engagements with critical design practice while recognising the significance of critical design’s behaviours of questioning, possibilising, probabilising and activating that inform such engagements.

Design's circulation in the museum is problematised drawing upon theories of the curatorial to develop a model of the exhibition as a speculative activity that privileges critical thought, discourse, speculation and production. 

Empirically, the study contributes insights into the diverse and contingent curatorial practices involved in communicating and disseminating critical design practice. The findings suggest that the new relationships that are being formed between critical design and the museum are reframing the exhibition as a tool for research – a transdisciplinary studio space whereby ideas are tested and projects take form through the performativity of multiple agents. Thus the museum is being approached as a context for experimentation; a space that exposes rather than displays, presents rather than represents, a performative space that points to a recoding of practice as production. In this way we can begin to consider the museum and its exhibitions as a model of emergence as they enter a discourse of performativity that actively engages with their subject rather than merely offering it for consumption. The result is a collective space for knowing and experiencing via the performativity of both critical design and the curatorial.


  • Gillian Russell
  • PhD


    School of Humanities


    History of Design, 2011–2017

  • Gillian Russell is a designer and curator based in Vancouver, Canada. Her work focuses on the interplay between emerging design practice  and its critical contexts. Her current research investigates how the museum exhibition can be used as a medium for experimentation, specifically as it pertains to methods of identifying, presenting and producing critical design practice. 

    Russell is currently a lecturer in Critical studies and Design at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Previous to this appointment she was senior tutor on the MA Curating Contemporary Design Programme at Kingston University, run in partnership with the Design Museum, London. 

  • Degrees

  • BSc Archaeology, University of Calgary, 2000; MDES Industrial Design, University of Calgary, 2007
  • Experience

  • Lecturer, Critical Studies + Design, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Vancouver CAN, January 2016 - Current .; Tutor, MA Curating Contemporary Design, Kingston University + Design Museum, London UK, October 2006 - September 2014.
  • Awards

  • AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award (RCA + V&A), 2011-2016.; Student Academic Research Development Scheme Grant, Kingston University, UK, 2012.; Graduate Research Scholarship, University of Calgary, 2006.; Faculty of Environmental Design Scholarship, University of Calgary, 2004-2005.
  • Conferences

  • ‘Disruption Through Design: Critical Exploits and Spaces of Possibility’, ISEA 2015. 21st International Symposium on Electronic Art. Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada, 2015.; ‘The Exhibition as Speculative Design: Gillian Russell in conversation with Onkar Kular and Inigo Minns’, Designing for Exhibitions, PhD Colloquium as part of Chaos at the Museum. International summit, Central Saint Martins, London, UK, 2014.; ‘ReStaging: Speculative Design and the Curatorial’, Discursive Space. International Conference, Ryerson University and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada, 2013.; ‘ReStaging: Speculative Design and the Curatorial’, Design Objects and the Museum, Association of Art Historians (AAH), 39th Annual Conference and Bookfair. University of Reading, UK, 2013.; ‘The Future of Design’, Electronic Futures Ampera Technology Week. An evening of discussions which considered the relationship between design and emerging technology. Panel guests: Tuur van Balen, Thomas Maincent and Studio Needs Must. London, UK, 2012.; ‘After the end: Danto, Design and the Museum’, Edge of Our Paper Presentation Thinking: Research in Art and Design’, Royal College of Art, London, UK, 2011.
  • Publications

  • Russell, G. (2016) Curating Critical Design: An Embodied Criticality In: Weddell, J. and Farrelly, L. (eds.) (2015) Design Objects and the Museum. London: Bloomsbury.; Russell, G. (2015) “United Micro Kingdoms (UmK): A Design Fiction”, Design and Culture, 7(1), pp. 129-132.; Russell, G. (2013) “Risk as Rupture”, Risk Centre Exhibition Catalogue, pp. 52-57. Arkitekturmuseet, Sweden. March 2013; Russell, G. (2014) “The Exhibition as Speculative Design: An Epistemic Object”, Special Issue: Speculari, Kunstlicht, 35(1),; Russell, G. (2009) Guest Comment: Digital Dialogue In: Fraser, M. (ed.) (2009) London Design Guide. London: Spotlight Press Ltd.