Going out with a bang

I don’t think I’ve ever known the last two weeks of the Summer term to be quite so packed with talks, screenings, discussions and parties. So hold onto your seats:

THIS AFTERNOON (Fri 22 June), Keynes Library: Contested, Uncomfortable, Embarrassing: Encountering Difficult (Art) Histories – the Postgraduate Summer Conference, Keynes Library, 1-6.30pm, with a keynote lecture by Dr Sean Willcock, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Birkbeck, on ‘Colonial Violence and the Ethics of Photography’ (4.45pm)

Wednesday 27 June 5pm, Keynes Library: Murray Seminar (a special departmental ‘golden’ anniversary event): Alison Wright, UCL, ‘Gold against the Body:  gold surfaces and their limits, medieval to early modern’

Wednesday 27 June, 6pm, Cinema: Anna Konik, In the Same City, under the Same Sky…: A Screening and Artist’s Talk for Refugee Week. Internationally recognised video installation artist screens and speaks about her work with forced migrants across Europe.

Thursday 28 June, 2-6pm, Birkbeck (room TBC): Radical Visions: the cultural politics of Camerawork, 1972-1985. A Collaborative Symposium (co-hosted by the History and Theory of Photography Centre and Four Corners) will consider the radical journal Camerawork‘s engagement, role and influence with community-practice, feminism and representation, and ask how its broader legacy can be understood within the context of today’s cultural politics.

Friday 29 June, 6-8pm, HISTORY OF ART DEPARTMENT 50TH ANNIVERSARY GARDEN PARTY, Gordon Square (yes, actually in Gordon Square – marquee provided in case of rain). A chance to meet students and staff, past and present, and friends of the department. A party like this happens only once every half-century – don’t miss it! (If you haven’t had your e-invitation, please email me on l.topp@bbk.ac.uk).

Thursday 5 July, 6pm 43 Gordon Square B04, Architecture Space and Society Centre presents: New Book Talk: Istanbul Open City: Exhibiting Anxieties of Urban Modernity Ipek Tureli (McGill University, Montreal) will present her new book, followed by a discussion with Gabriel Koureas and Günes Tavmen.

Friday 6 July, 6pm, 43 Gordon Square, G04, Staff and Student End of Year Party. Food, drink, and end of year release – a chance to say goodbye until September…

Now you’ll know from speaking to your classmates that there is no such thing as the typical Birkbeck student, and that so many of you have had interesting and unpredictable paths into study in our department. Carla Valentine, who’s got a new book out, tells us about her fascinating journey from the mortuary to the MA Museum Cultures and now to a top museum post:

I’d wanted a career in a mortuary from when I was a young child and, as odd as this seemed at a time before CSI and Silent Witness, I do write about the different issues which came together to send me along that unusual path. Over the years I gained experience of embalming, forensics, post-mortems of adults and the young, decomposed and freshly deceased, radioactive decedents and those with highly infectious diseases, as well as victims of the July 7th Bombings in 2005. After nearly a decade of working alongside pathologists at the same time as the Human Tissue Authority was being created I became more aware of the variety of ways in which we may encounter the deceased today: in the post-mortem sector, at medical schools for teaching students, and public display (all areas which the HTA now regulate). For more information see my essay on the topic.

Fascinated by the concept of our interaction with the dead in the public arena, I sidestepped from dealing with the recently deceased in mortuaries to becoming the curator of Barts Pathology Museum, part of Queen Mary University London. Although my work now involves human remains around a century old, the basic method is very similar: it’s my job to ‘read’ these human remains in order to find out about how they lived and how they died, then decide why and how this is relevant for a public audience. I was therefore thrilled when I discovered the MA in Museum Cultures at Birkbeck, which gave me the option to study Exhibiting the Body as a module with Dr Suzannah Biernoff and then carry out an Independent Research Project and a dissertation of my own choosing. Now I work with human remains and research their display at Masters Level, with my day-to-day work supplementing my studies and vice-versa – it’s ideal! However, my previous career as an autopsy technician was a rollercoaster-ride and I’m thrilled I was able to tell the story in my new book Past Mortems.

Carla Valentine (www.carlavalentine.co.uk)

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The Weirdness of Walls…

… is the name of a really interesting symposium happening *tomorrow* (Friday 8 June) in the Keynes Library, 9.30-17.30, sponsored by the Architecture Space and Society Centre and the Lorraine Lim fund and organised by two Arts PhD students, Milos Kosec and Christina Parte. If you come along (free and open to all, but please use the booking link) you’ll hear speakers on all sorts of walls, including Berlin’s and Trump’s, as well as our own Mark Crinson and Leslie Topp (yours truly) holding forth.

June is packed with History of Art events, so recover from exams, take a break from research projects, work placements and dissertations, and check these out:

Contested, Uncomfortable, Embarrassing: Encountering Difficult (Art) Histories is the compelling theme chosen by our MPhil/PhD students for their annual summer conference, Friday 22 June, 2-5pm, Keynes Library. This gives me the opportunity to introduce Dr Sean Willcock, who has just joined the department for three years as Leverhulme Early Career Fellow. He’ll be giving the keynote address at the conference, so come and hear about his fascinating research on the visual culture of violence in Victorian Britain. More about Sean here. He will be teaching a BA option in 2018-19.

Murray Seminars in Medieval and Renaissance Art: 27 June 5pm, Keynes Library, Alison Wright (UCL) ‘Gold against the Body: gold surfaces and their limits, medieval to early modern’

Directly after that you can zip down to the cinema for:

Anna Konik, In the Same City, under the Same Sky…: A Screening and Artist’s Talk for Refugee Week Wednesday 27 June 2018, 6-7.30pm, Cinema, followed by a reception – no booking necesary. Internationally-recognised video artist Anna Konik is visiting Birkbeck from her bases in Berlin and Warsaw to speak to us about her work involving migrant and refugee stories and to develop a new project with students on Birkbeck’s award-winning Compass Project. Konik has exhibited in numerous European galleries and museums over the past two decades. In the Winter Semester of 2017-18 she was Rudolf Arnheim Associate Professor at the Department of Art and Visual History, Humboldt University, Berlin; she is currently a fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center. She will introduce and screen extracts from her project In the Same City, under the Same Sky…, which has been exhibited in Germany, Poland, Sweden and Romania. For more information: l.topp@bbk.ac.uk

Open House London, the city-wide architecture festival on the weekend of 22-23 September, will again this year include the School of Arts building (Gordon Square), a historic Georgian terrace, former home of Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell and other members of the Bloomsbury Group, and site of the award-winning ground floor and basement intervention (the cinema and surroundings) by Surface Architects from 2008. You can learn more about our building by watching this film. There’s a meeting on Tuesday 19 June, 6pm, in 43 Gordon Square room B03 for those interested in volunteering at Open House in a variety of roles. If you are interested in volunteering, please come along to the information meeting on 19 June and/or e-mail Eva Höög at eva.hoog@btconnect.com with your name and programme of study.

Finally, announcements of two publications by our eighteenth-century-ists:

Prasannajit de Silva has a new book out with Cambridge Scholars Press: Colonial Self-Fashioning in British India, 1785-1845: Visualising Identity and Difference In this book, Prasannajit considers the ways in which British colonists in India depicted their own lives.  Drawing on examples from various genres – portraiture, depictions of customs and manners, comic narrative, and landscape – this analysis exposes some of the complexities underlying colonial identity during a critical period in the history of British involvement in the subcontinent, and calls into question some of the standard stereotypes of colonial life. Many congratulations to him!

Kate Retford is meanwhile featured in an innovative open access online publication just launched by the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art: The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769-2018. It is now live, and it’ll be a great resource for students – short pieces about the RA summer exhibition every year from 1769 to 2018, lots of stats on exhibitors and visitors, and digitised versions of all the catalogues. You can find Kate as author of 1775 and 1798!


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