Lots of events – and a word about the Association of Art Historians…

It’s the beginning of week four of the Spring term, and I’ve become aware that I’ve finally stopped wishing people a happy new year! A sign that we’re well and truly into 2016.

In the news this week…. Don’t forget the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre seminar tomorrow evening (26th January, 6pm, Keynes Library). Dr. Marta Weiss will be giving what promises to be a fascinating talk, entitled ‘Julia Margaret Cameron: New Discoveries’. The Centre’s activities are organised by my colleagues, Patrizia di Bello and Lynn Nead. Members of staff are also involved in many events outside the department, and I want to take this opportunity to tell you about a couple of things coming up in the diary of one of my impressively energetic colleagues. Gabriel Koureas will be giving a keynote lecture at a forthcoming conference, ‘Masculinity and the Metropolis’, being held at the University of Kent on 22-23 April 2016.

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This interdisciplinary conference is going to take as its starting point the range of complex and contradictory engagements between masculinity and the developing metropolis since the beginning of the twentieth century in order to ask: what do responses to the modern city in visual art, film, and literature tell us about masculinity as it both asserts itself and registers its own anxieties, and subsequent representations of the city? In what ways do these contrasting positive and negative conditions, which encouraged complex responses, fit within the framework of masculinity? Gabriel is also busy co-organising a conference with a couple of colleagues, including Dr. Sophie Hope from the Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies: ‘Troubled Contemporary Art Practices in the Middle East: Post-colonial conflicts, Pedagogies of art history, and Precarious artistic mobilization’. This will take place at the University of Nicosia, Cyprus on 2-4 June 2016, and will focus on the consequences of imported art histories in the Middle East.

It’s not only members of academic staff who are engrossed in event organising though! The newly revitalised departmental History of Art society has been busy, as you’ll see from their facebook page. Regular readers of this History of Art department blog will be familiar with the name of the speaker they’re hosting next week, as he’s kindly provided me with a number of postings – most recently about his work with Crisis. Next week, Gary Haines will be speaking about ‘A Purchase Made a Debt Repaid: The Representation in the Imagination of the Blinded British Soldier of the First World War’.

Do also remind yourself of the current programme of the London Art History Society, whose membership includes many of the department’s students and alumni.

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The Society is affiliated to our departmental History of Art Society, and we’re enjoying a recent strengthening of our ties. Last summer, the Society generously established a fund for our MA and MPhil/PhD students, to help support their research expenses – a fund which has proved so popular it has just been used up for this academic year! It has been used to support – amongst many other enterprises – a research trip to the National Media Museum in Bradford, and another to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. I’m pleased to say that the next two lectures being organised by the Society are both being delivered by academics from the department. On Tuesday 9th February, Kasia Murawska-Muthesius will be giving a talk entitled ‘Artemisia and the bodies of Lucretia’, whilst Suzannah Biernoff will be speaking about ’85 portraits of war’ on Wednesday 9th March.

Finally, a word about the Association of Art Historians. Most of you will already know about this important organisation, which brings together a wide range of art historians – from those studying the subject to those working in schools, universities, museums and galleries. Many of you will already be members – but, if you’re not, then it is well worth considering joining, to get access to a wide range of news and information, events and publications. I particularly recommend the AAH’s Careers in Art History book, which you can either buy in hard copy, or pay to download from their website. It’s packed with useful advice! It’s also worth looking into the funding opportunities which are open to members of the Association – including their important AAH Internship Award. This offers funding to UK-based undergraduate and postgraduate students on part-time or full-time placements or internships within the UK. The Association makes two awards of up to £2,000, towards placement-related expenses such as accommodation, travel and food.

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Happy New Year!

A very happy new year to everyone! I hope you all had great Christmas breaks. The wonderful woolly decorations which have been adorning the front of the School of Arts in Gordon Square for the last few weeks are coming down today, marking the end of the festive season, as we all settle into the new term, and our familiar routines.

There’s already lots of news and events circulating, both about staff and students. I’m delighted here to pass on the success of one of our current MA History of Art with Photography students, Steven Kenny. Steven has won a Royal Photographic Society award for his photograph of a medical simulation model for taking blood. I shall post it below, and hope that everyone’s post-Christmas stomach is up to some visceral imagery! Taking Blood was photographed whilst exploring a hospital’s medical simulation centre, and this is what Steven told us about the image: “On confrontation the object is both strange and compelling. Used as an anatomical tool for teaching doctors, the object, alone and detached, stands as a stark reminder of the body’s reliance on clinical intervention.”

Taking Blood by Steven Kenny

Staff have already been busy organising events for this term. The next Murray Seminar on Medieval and Renaissance Art will be taking place on Wednesday 20th January (5pm, Keynes Library), and the speaker is someone who will be familiar to a good number of you – Dr. Zuleika Marat, who co-led our departmental field trip to Florence last Easter, along with Dr. Joanne Anderson! Do re-read the wonderful blog posting which Joanne wrote for us, to refresh your memory of her tales of Florence. Zuleika will be talking to the title: ‘“I have not seen more precious tombs and burials with greater pomp”: Guariento and the Tomb of Doge Giovanni Dolfin in Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice’. This splendid tomb once consisted of a hanging canopy and tomb by Andrea da San Felice and decorations by the famous painter Guariento. Dr. Murat will be proposing a new hypothesis and a visual reconstruction of this important monument in one of Venice’s most significant locations.

The following week, on Tuesday 26th January, the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre will be holding its next seminar (6pm, Keynes Library). Dr. Marta Weiss will be talking about the new material she discovered while researching the current exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, marking the bicentenary of the birth of Julia Margaret Cameron, 150 years after she first exhibited her work there. Colin Ford (Founding Head, National Museum of Photography, Film and Television [now National Media Museum] Bradford), who has worked extensively on this important photographer, will be responding.

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I’m going to finish with some self-serving publicity! As some of you will know, one of my areas of particular research interest is the eighteenth-century British country house, and I co-organised a conference with Dr. Susanna Avery-Quash from the National Gallery on the subject last March: ‘Animating the Eighteenth-Century Country House’. It was a great success, and a pleasure to see familiar faces from Birkbeck in the audience! While we were putting together the programme for this event, Susanna and I began pondering comparative lack of knowledge about and interest in the counterparts to these country estates: the London town houses of the period. Wilton, for example, is much visited and discussed, but we know so much less about the property which the Pembroke family owned in London: Pembroke House. Chatsworth has officially been recognised as one of the country’s favourite national treasures, but most of those who visit it know little of Devonshire House, which the Devonshires once owned in the capital. This is in part because these town houses were often leased, rather than being passed down through generations, as country estates were. But, most critically, many London town houses, including both Pembroke House and Devonshire House, no longer exist, having been demolished in the early twentieth century.

We have therefore organised a follow-up conference: a collaboration between Birkbeck, the National Gallery, and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art: ‘Animating the Georgian London Town House’ (17th March, Sainsbury Wing Lecture Theatre, National Gallery). Speakers will be discussing both famous and little-remembered town houses, exploring how these residences were designed, furnished, and ornamented. We will also be considering the significance and function of these properties for owners and their families, and the varied experiences of guests and visitors. Do follow the link to find out more about the great line-up of speakers we’ve secured for the day. I hope we can tempt some of you to book places, and to come along to hear more about this fascinating topic!

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