Term may be over…

Term may be over and the summer break here, but there’s still a lot to tell you about. My colleagues, our research students and our alumni have all been busy and have fascinating things to report and watch.

First from Mark Crinson, Professor of History of Architecture, about an interesting meeting of an interesting organisation in an interesting place:

‘I got back last week from a beautifully organised and intellectually stimulating three-day conference in Tallinn, Estonia. It’s a fascinating city, with its medieval walls and towers, its many neoclassical edifices, its Soviet housing blocks, and its more recent public museums. Estonia is a tiny country (only 1.3 million people) located on a hinge between the European landmass and Russia, with Finland and the Baltic Sea to the north, and this meant that for much of the twentieth century it was dominated either by the Soviet Union or by Germany. To visit any part of Tallinn is to see the residue of these influences – for me the most memorable visit was to the port, with its seaplane hangars, its dry docks, its eighteenth-century fort (still a prison until the early 2000s), and its tiny wooden Crimean War-era submarine (never apparently used).

In many ways Tallinn was the ideal location for the biennial conference of the European Architectural History Network. EAHN is a relatively new organisation and is more of a project than a professional body. It promotes the study of architectural history across Europe (though of course what its members study is not limited to Europe), and as part of this it tries to vary the location of its large biennial conferences, its smaller thematic conferences, and even its business meetings. Since 2010 the EAHN has held its biennial conferences in Guimãraes, Brussels, Turin, Dublin, and now Tallinn. It runs an academic journal – Architectural Histories – and several special interest groups. Check out its website – https://eahn.org – and become a member (it’s free!). Full disclosure – for the last two years I have been Vice-President and in Tallinn I became President (it’s only a two-year term).’

Meanwhile, Patrizia Di Bello, Senior Lecturer in the department, is featured in a really watchable and informative ‘HENI talk‘ about the photographer and cultural sniper Jo Spence, who was the subject of the exhibition recently in the Peltz Gallery. HENI talks were new to me and you should check them out, they’re great: short, beautifully-made films on a whole range of art topics with key experts – Patrizia’s being one of the best of course.

Professor Lynda Nead tells us about a grant she and Anthony Bale have received for a magical new project:

‘Professor Lynn Nead and Professor Anthony Bale (Dean of the School of Arts , English and Humanities) have been awarded a grant by the Birkbeck / Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) to organise an international two-day workshop to bring together cultural historians, art historians and historians of chemistry and science to initiate a new discussion of the spaces, objects and aesthetics of alchemy.

Alchemy, an art as much as a science, was a heady mixture of philosophy, art, medicine, folklore, and chemistry, the precursor of modern chemistry and the stuff of the creative imagination. An ancient, global technology, alchemy offers a supple set of imagery that is found in Chinese medicine, Persian folklore, Chaucer’s poetry, Jungian psychology, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, and contemporary manga. This project focuses on the spaces and objects of alchemy and on visual and cultural representations of the alchemist’s laboratory and the paraphernalia with which it is filled. This space, it will be suggested, becomes a precursor of and metaphor for other spaces of creativity and imagination, such as the artist’s studio, the junk shop, the scientific lab, and the clinic or surgery; places of hidden treasures in which things and substances are not what they seem and where everyday stuff can be turned into priceless objects and medicines.’

Anthony Bale (who is Professor of Medieval Studies in the Department of English and Humanities as well as being Dean of the School of Arts) has curated an exquisite new exhibition in the Peltz Gallery (which is air-conditioned, by the way) entitled Capsule: Inside the Medieval Book. He’s worked with the animation artist Shay Hamias and has drawn on the insights of a range of Birkbeck medievalists, including our own Laura Jacobus.

MA History of Art graduate Michael Clegg tells us about the impressive published afterlives of two projects he worked on as part of the MA:

‘I’ve been immensely pleased to have two peer-reviewed articles published in the last month, both based on work I did during my Birkbeck MA. I completed my Masters in Art History in 2016, with the intention of starting a PhD, but as I knew that wouldn’t be for at least another 12 months it seemed a good opportunity to pitch my Birkbeck research for publication. I thought hard about where to try and place articles: my dissertation had been about exhibiting British art at Tate in the 1950s, so Tate Papers was a natural choice, while my Research Project linked to a number of archive television films making it a good fit with British Art Studies (published by the Paul Mellon Centre) which is keen to exploit the possibilities of digital publishing. I reworked both pieces, including some additional research, to get the right length and to reframe my arguments for a new audience. Submission was followed by a long wait, then more research and re-writing after peer review. With publication dates scheduled, the beginning of this year brought lots of copyediting and work with picture editors; it took some effort to re-read work I’d originally put to bed two or three years ago.

The result was worth it, however, and I feel I can now claim some contribution to scholarship. The articles can be found at http://www.britishartstudies.ac.uk/issues/issue-index/issue-8/the-art-game and http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/29/1957-rehang-tate-modern-british-gallery. I’m now completing my first year of a PhD at Birmingham University, looking at post-war printmaking in Britain; you can follow me @michaeljclegg1.’

Two of our research students have had exceptional success in being awarded competitive grants for research trips and placements in the US over the next academic year. Warm congratulations and bon voyage to Anna Jamieson and Hannah Lyons!

Do check out the blogpost on the Haha: The Weirdness of Walls symposium last month, if you missed it, or even if you didn’t.

I won’t say goodbye for the summer yet, because there’ll be one more blogpost with photos of our marvellous anniversary party on 29 June.