LiminalIrish design at the threshold


The Souvenir Project


Part of
Oct 17-25


Part of
Nov 20 -
Dec 30

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The Souvenir Project

A Project about Souvenirs.
Commissioned by Irish Design 2015 (ID2015) and the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland (DCCoI). Curated by Jonathan Legge, Makers & Brothers. Creative direction by Jonathan Legge and Makers & Brothers

Alex Milton, Programme Director, Irish Design 2015
Ireland is home to a vibrant design and craft sector which has its roots in Ireland’s heritage and tradition but is continually innovating, exploring new ideas, approaches and techniques.

Inspired by the country’s stunning landscapes and an abundance of local materials, designers and craftspeople throughout the island of Ireland create contemporary objects with a strong sense of place. The ambition of The Souvenir Project is to showcase the extraordinary creative talent and quality of materials and making within Ireland. Souvenirs are a symbolic reminder of experience, location and culture, and this collection of authentic Irish products, designed and made in Ireland, provides visitors a means of taking home the very best of Irish design. These products reinvent, reclaim and redeem the humble and often stereotypical souvenir, making it beautiful, meaningful and eminently collectible.

Irish Design 2015 marks a pivotal chapter in Irish design, helping to inspire, promote and develop Ireland’s design capacity and culture. This commissioned project, through a series of collaborations between designers, makers and manufacturers, demonstrates the power design has to create a future where designers make opportunities, and businesses have the opportunity to make it. Taking elements of the island’s past, the designers and makers featured in The Souvenir Project have created a collection of products that reflect Ireland’s design-led future and celebrate Irish materials, culture and heritage. Each tells a unique story of Ireland.

Jonathan Legge, Project Curator and Creative Director, Makers & Brothers

The term souvenir may have an unfortunate veil of commercialisation drawn over it due to mass tourism but at its root, it is literally about memory and recollection. A souvenir is so much more than useful or beautiful; it is a loved object laced with emotional associations. This collection of new Irish souvenirs carefully explores this thinking, filtering it through the local context, embracing the subtleties of the land, weather, histories and people. It is a gathering of objects with meaning and depth that softly speak of a time and place.


Souvenir 02 Honey Pot

Souvenir 04 Brandub

Souvenir 05 Irish Stone Walls Linen Towels

Souvenir 03 Cut Crystal

Souvenir 07 Sound

Souvenir 09 Tweed Key Ring


Souvenirs: Memory Rebooted
Sentiment, authenticity and identity in contemporary object culture by Laura Houseley

The meaning of what a souvenir is and what it does has slowly evolved over time, just as the way we travel and experience places and even how we access our memories has changed. Today’s souvenir is ripe for reinterpretation. Forget about products reflecting clumsy stereotypes, mass-produced somewhere far, far away from the place they depict and imagine instead objects with a genuine connection to the land from which they came: things that gently echo the people, history, geography or nature of a place. Today’s souvenir can be, if we allow it, an extra-ordinary object, rare in its bridging of experiential and object cultures and fascinating in its shape-shifting nature and sentimentality.

Consider how concerned we all are with ‘locally made’ produce, with provenance and with integrity. Think of our infatuation with and taste for craft and craft production. Then there is our love of ‘experience’; all of these modern day pursuits hint at the possibility for a renaissance of the souvenir, reborn as an authentic object making use of local materials and speaking directly, and strongly, of place.

Souvenirs have been around for as long as humans have travelled. The 17th century grand tour phenomenon established the popular tradition of souvenir collecting (miniature coliseums and pantheons were essential purchases, along with the odd renaissance painting), fashions such as Japonism fetishized objects from far away (and the cultures they represented) and the Victorians cemented our need to discover (conquer?), collect and display, a passion that permeated from museum to mantelpiece. For many people the idea of a souvenir will be stuck in the seventies with the jovial, kitschy mass-market type of objects that were popular by-products of package tourism. In the recent past the souvenir has been a collective thing: homogenous and unindividual.
The way we experience places and share those experiences is still changing. We no longer look to a stuffed donkey to remember a holiday; increasingly we revisit our travels in digital spaces and share those experiences, widely, with others.

That doesn’t mean that the souvenir’s purpose is extinct, just that its value has shifted slightly. The souvenir has become a more personal artefact; it is less about sharing common or familiar experiences as it once was – we have Facebook for that – and more about preserving rare and intimate memories. Whereas we would once rejoice in the shared experience of a place and, in turn, the object that represented it (consider the classics here; Spanish doll, Eiffel tower, snow globe) we now search for something authentic and less expected, because that is also the way we travel and that is also how we place value on objects.

As a rule, souvenirs need not even be something purchased. A found object has just as much right (and perhaps more charm) to be called a souvenir as something bought at a local market or gift shop. But in the past there has been a heavy leaning towards cultural mementos; architectural monuments in miniature are a (personal) favourite, reproduced art works and even political figures (Mao, Lenin etc.) are common haul. This is commodification of course and it is interesting to consider the process of manufacture of these memories-made-physical: who has made them and why? And, importantly, whose memories are they in fact? Souvenirs use archetypes and iconography, they are by their nature reductive – a souvenir need only offer us a glimpse of a place, a tiny fragment of it, from which a whole experience can be accessed.This is where their power lies.

We live in an increasingly efficient and detached world and it is very usual, now, to hear designers and manufacturers talk about the importance of ingraining objects and products with ‘narrative’ and ‘emotional connection’. A souvenir is predisposed to contain these things. And it is this ultimately, the inherent sentimentality of souvenirs, which ensures their survival.