From Arts Week to Open House

As I write this, Birkbeck Arts Week 2016 is nearing a highly successful conclusion! The School of Arts building has been a-buzz all week, with staff, students and visitors arriving, setting up events, and trying to dash from one to another, to squeeze in as much as possible. It’s been difficult to choose between all the lectures, panels, screenings, workshops and tours taking place. Last night, my pick was the lecture on ‘Brutalism’ by Professor Mark Crinson, who will be joining us as a new member of staff in the History of Art department in a little over a month’s time. The room was packed, as Professor Crinson took us through an incisive critique of scholarship around and responses to Brutalism. Arts Week is not quite yet done though – do check out the programme for this evening and tomorrow, if you’re able to fit in one or more events – and take at least one more look at the wonderful, woolly installation on the front of the building! This, courtesy of Assistant School Managers Catherine Catrix and Claire Adams, is still proudly announcing Arts Week to all passers by. It’s yarn bombing I’m told!


The panel discussion on ‘Film as Research’ which Professor Lynn Nead organised on Tuesday this week was prompted by an exciting project which emerged out of her exhbition on the Fallen Woman. This took place last Autumn, at the Foundling Museum. I know many of you gladly took advantage of the generous 50% discount on tickets for Birkbeck students – and you’ll also be interested to know of a film which has just been made by Lily Ford, which draws on and develops a cinematic language for the same material as the show. Lily is a Deputy Director at the Derek Jarman Lab, where she recently produced a film on the writer and art critic John Berger, titled ‘The Seasons in Quincy’, with Tilda Swinton. In 2015, Lily completed a PhD on aerial views and the culture of flight in 1920s Britain, with Lynn. She then worked as Researcher in Residence at the Ben Uri Art Gallery and Museum. Lily has directed the film ‘Fallen Women’ as an AHRC Cultural Engagement Fellow at Birkbeck – and it’s more than worth a look! Here’s the link.


Arts Week may be over, but there are still plenty of events coming up to look forward to. Next week, Birkbeck is involved in a major international conference entitled ‘Leonardo in Britain: Collections and Reception’, co-organised with the National Gallery and the Warburg Institute. Do take a look at the full programme, put together by one of our Associate Research Fellows, Juliana Barone. Birkbeck will be hosting the opening lecture, in the Clore Lecture Theatre, on Wednesday 25th May, at 5.15pm. Professor Martin Kemp from Oxford will be giving a talk entitled ‘Spinning a yarn or two: Leonardo’s two matching Madonnas’. His lecture is intended to launch the conference, but it is also possible to book tickets for it as a standalone event – and it’s free – so please do sign up if you’d like to come along.

Then, on Wednesday 1st June, our own Clare Vernon, who’s been teaching for us this year while Zoe Opacic has been on research leave, will be leading the Murray Seminar (Keynes Library, 5pm). Clare will be giving a paper on the fascinating topic of Pseudo-Arabic in Medieval Southern Italy’. Pseudo-Arabic script appears in both Islamic and Christian Mediterranean art in the central Middle Ages. In her talk, Clare will be examining the use of pseudo-Arabic motifs in the region of Puglia in southeast Italy over the course of the eleventh century.  Focussing attention on the mysterious pavement in the basilica of San Nicola in Bari, she will explore how the script-like motif relates to Bari’s role as capital of the Byzantine provinces in Italy.

It’s also time to remind you of the host of events organised by the London Art History Society, which is affiliated to the History of Art Society here at Birkbeck. We have a close relationship with the LAHS, who have generously funded a number of research bursaries for MA and MPhil/PhD students this academic year, and are supporting the upcoming postgraduate conference on ‘Looking at the Overlooked’ on Friday 24th June. The Society have some particularly exciting study events coming up, on subjects as diverse as patronage in Renaissance Italy (led by Caroline Brooke), and the Dutch Golden Age (Clare Ford-Wille). If you aren’t already a member of the Society, I would urge you to consider joining – a true bargain at £20 a year!


A few updates on news items in my last blog postings… A couple of weeks ago, I told you that one of our current PhD students, Vazken Davidian, was organising a panel discussion on 26th April, entitled ‘Towards Inclusive Art Histories: Ottoman Armenian Voices Speak Back’. This was based on a special art history edition of the journal, Études Arméniennes Contemporaines, which Vazken was invited to edit. I’m delighted to say that the event was a great success, and the room was packed.

Dream Team 2

I also heard a few days ago from Annette Waywell, our MA History of Art with Photography student who works as Learning Manager at Somerset House. She wrote a lovely piece for this blog, asking you all to support a proposal for Bedwyr Williams to stage a ‘druidic open mic comedy night’ onsite, for Museums at Night. Well, I am very pleased to be able to share the news that they were successful, and Bedwyr will be performing at Somerset House! Thank you to all those who voted – apparently, at times, it was very close indeed, so every vote very much counted!

Another of our MA students, Steven Dryden, who is currently studying Museum Cultures, also dropped us a line to tell us about an event which he’s been organising. Steven works at the British Library, and his timely symposium on 23rd May will be looking at the potential of the audio and audio-visual academic book of the future. You can find more details on the BL website.


Last, but by no means least, I want to alert all students to a meeting on Wednesday 15th June (6pm, room 112, School of Arts), for anyone interested in volunteering for Open House London on Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th September. This is the weekend each year when buildings of architectural interest are opened to the public free of charge.  For the third time, the School of Arts building is going to be included, opening up on both days, and, as ever, we’re after volunteers! We’re looking for students and former students who would like to be part of the event and represent Birkbeck, whether as guides (all access will be by guided tour) or wardens. We’re hoping to recruit enough volunteers to be able to run shifts – so it’d be a matter of committing to one morning or afternoon over that weekend (plus attending the information meeting, and a training event on one evening in September). Previous volunteers have found it a lot of fun – have a look at their accounts on a blog posting from last year – so I encourage you to take part! It’s a chance to meet new people, and to learn a lot more about the fascinating building in which we work and study. If you are interested in volunteering, and coming along to the meeting on the 15th June, then please e-mail Eva Höög at with your name and programme of study.