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)