Welcome back – and news of Arts Week!

Welcome back to the summer term! I do hope you all had good Easter holidays – and managed to get a break over the vacation. I know a number of you were in Florence until a little over a week ago, on the departmental field trip with Joanne Anderson and Zuleika Murat. Reports of a wonderful time had by all are already coming my way, and I’m very much looking forward to hearing more about it, and to seeing the photographs. Which I shall use lavishly to illustrate this blogsite in due course!

I also know the Easter vacation saw you hard at work on dissertations, coursework and exam preparation. I heard from the undergraduates on my level 6 option module, at our revision session this week, that final year BA students are somewhat reeling right now, having just submitted their dissertations, and anticipating the final exams of their programme. Hang in there – the end is in sight!

The main thing I want to write about in this blog is Birkbeck Arts Week, which takes place in a few weeks’ time, but, before that, I owe you a big thank you. You’ll remember that I became something of a nag in the last few blogs of the Spring term, as I repeatedly asked everyone to respond to the student surveys in circulation. I particularly emphasised the importance of the National Student Survey for final year undergraduates, as we need a response rate of over 50% in order for the results to be fully reported. Well, I had a communication last Monday, which revealed that the History of Art department has a current response rate of around 62%, comfortably over the benchmark, and the second best in the entire College! I am delighted, the department has been patted on the back, and I am very grateful to all those 3rd and 4th year BA students who have come up trumps. I’m now, of course, getting greedy. If I can persuade any of you out there, who haven’t yet responded, to do so in the last week of the NSS (it ends on 30th April), that would be great. You never know, we could even be no. 1 …

So the programme for Arts Week 2015 is live!


You may well have already seen the signature image on the new screen in the School of Arts foyer at Gordon Square: Herbert Mason’s iconic photograph of St Paul’s, taken during the blitz in WWII. Arts Week this year is taking place in the week of 18th May, the schedule is extensive and exciting, and I urge you to go onto the website as soon as you can, and register for as many events as you’re able to manage! They’re free, but you do need to reserve places. For those of you who are new to Birkbeck this year, Arts Week is an annual event in the School of Arts, when we showcase our research and teaching interests, and our relationships with the Creative Arts. You’ll find lots of events scheduled for each day of the week, including talks, screenings, workshops and exhibitions.

A number of members of staff in the department have helped to organise and are participating in events, and there are plenty to whet the appetite of art historians. This blog would run on and on were I to list them all, but here are a few highlights….

Monday 18th May: Curiosity

2pm – 5pm, Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square

The term curiosity refers to both a quality of attention and a type of object. It concerns novelty and knowledge, secrecy and display, desire and the intellect. In this interdisciplinary symposium, Brian Dillon, Laura Mulvey, Marina Warner and Fiona Candlin will discuss curiosity with regard to museums, art, myth, literature and film.

Wednesday 20th May: Photographs of London

6pm – 8pm, Room G04, 43 Gordon Square

A panel discussion between photographers and historians of the medium. Speakers include: Tom Allbeson (University of Nottingham) on Herbert Mason’s ‘St Paul’s’, 29 December 1940; Lynda Nead (Birkbeck) on Bert Hardy’s ‘Life in the Elephant’, Picture Post, January 1949; Ian Walker (University of Wales, Newport) on Thomas Struth’s, ‘Clinton Road’ 1977; with Mike Seaborne, a freelance historian and formerly of the Museum of London, responding.

Wednesday 20th May: Renaissance Ways of Seeing

6pm – 7:25pm, Room 112, 43 Gordon Square

How did people ‘see’ in the Renaissance? In this panel discussion Joanne Anderson (Birkbeck) will ask who coloured Mary Magdalen and why it matters, looking particularly at early Renaissance artworks produced in Alpine Italy. Paul Taylor (Warburg Institute) will explore the multivalent idea of ‘imitation’ in relation to life and art in the Renaissance. Stephen Clucas (Birkbeck) will explore the visionary ‘seeing’ (or ‘skrying’) of John Dee’s angelic conversations. Gill Woods (Birkbeck) will investigate how characters went invisible on the Renaissance stage, and what that tells us about theatrical seeing.

Thursday 21st May: Vasari Centre Past and Future: 25 Years of Digital Arts Research at Birkbeck

2pm – 5pm, followed by a wine reception from 6pm – 7:25pm, Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square

Founded as part of a major EU project in late 1989, the Vasari Research Centre has pioneered the area of digital art history. The symposium and exhibition of digital artworks will include current practitioners and academics. Areas under discussion will include digital art and design and digital humanities research. Speakers will include the centre’s founder Will Vaughan, researchers from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and digital artists.

and, also Thursday 21st May, 6pm – 8pm in Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square, I’ll be chairing ‘Talking Mr Turner’

I’m delighted that a decision was made to feature events about the eighteenth century this year – no vested interest there at all! I hope you remember the Mr Turner theme which ran through this blog for a while? I told you about Jackie Riding, who did the MA History of Art with us, and worked as historical consultant on Mike Leigh’s film. Sarah McBryde, currently on the MA programme, then got in touch to tell us about her experiences as Production Manager. Well, both of them, together with Tim Wright – who had the job of teaching Timothy Spall how to paint like the great man himself – will be coming together for what promises to be a fascinating panel discussion. There’s a lovely image of Spall striding through the landscape on the Arts Week website, but I also managed to get hold of the photos below from the film, to share with you…

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I look forward to seeing you all, as we race between the many events taking place around Gordon Square and other, nearby venues!

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