From Graduates to Gainsborough

We celebrated our graduates earlier this month at the November graduation – mostly BAs but also MA and PhD. It’s such a pleasure to talk to those of you graduating after the ceremony – those infectious grins – and to meet your partners and families, and congratulate them for not having to put up with Birkbeck in their lives anymore (unless you enrol with us again for further study – or they do!)

This photo shows students with Professor Mark Crinson on a field trip for the BA option module ‘Concrete and Flesh: Modern Architecture and the Body’. Within a mile or so of Birkbeck, they were studying three buildings designed by the great Georgian-born architect Berthold Lubetkin for (what was then) the Borough of Finsbury. They visited the Spa Green Estate, the Finsbury Health Centre, and Bevin Court, and the photos show them on the top floor of the stairhall at the last of these, from where they could look down onto Lubetkin’s great Baroque-Constructivist space and out to St Paul’s Cathedral. The architecturally-minded among you will have spotted that the next evening this same stairhall featured in a scene in the BBC’s adaption of John Le Carré’s novel The Little Drummer Girl.

And to learn more about modern British architecture beyond London, come along to the Architecture Space and Society Centre‘s next event, 7 December 6pm in Keynes Library. Neil Shashore, of Liverpool University, will be giving the paper ‘Civic Centre: Architecture, Civic Design, and the Municipal Project in Interwar Norwich’. He’ll be talking about the emergence of the idea of a ‘Civic centre’ connoting deliberately planned and grouped buildings and spaces for public administration and assembly, while expressing civic identity and ceremony in a self-consciously democratic age.

Sean Willcock, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the department, is producing fascinating research on the intersection between colonialism and photography. His article, ‘Aesthetics of the Negative: Orientalist Portraiture in the Digitised Collodion Plates of John Thomson’ was featured in the October issue of the journal Photoresearcher. It’s a response to the recent exhibition at the Brunei Gallery, Through the Lens of John Thomson, considering whether the show’s invitation to pay sustained attention to the photographic negatives – as opposed to the positives that circulated during Thomson’s lifetime – might enable new political readings of nineteenth-century colonial photography to emerge.

John Thomson, Manchu bride, Peking, Penchilie province, China, 1871, Wellcome Library, London.

Sean has also just given a paper on another photography topic: ‘Archiving Atrocity: Photography and the Amritsar Massacre of 1919,’ at the International Conference of Photography and Theory. With the centenary of the infamous Amritsar Massacre approaching, the British government is under increasing pressure to issue an apology for the colonial slaughter of hundreds of Indian civilians which took place on 13 April 1919.  The paper looked at the contested archives of this atrocity, considering how photographs linger to prick conscience or demand explanation in ways that continue to shape notions of national culpability.

Speaking of photography, Patrizia Di Bello, Senior Lecturer in the department, chaired one of the days of the Collecting Photography/Photography as Collecting conference held last weekend to mark the opening at the V&A of their new Centre for Photography, following dramatic expansion of their holdings after the Royal Photographic Society collection was moved there. They now show not just photographic prints, but also equipment and materials (the collection was previously at the National media Museum in Bradford). (For Queen fans: one of the papers was about Brian May’s world-class collection of stereo photographs.)

Sarah Thomas, Lecturer in the department, will be participating in a discussion at the Paul Mellon Centre on ‘Publishing Your Thesis’. Organised by the PMC’s Doctoral Researchers’ Network, the session offers an overview of the changing landscape of academic publishing, including some of the current opportunities and challenges. It includes practical advice from editors at Yale University Press and the Paul Mellon Centre on choosing and approaching publishers, writing book proposals, and turning chapters from your thesis into writing samples. The discussion will also consider how publishing your research during your PhD might impact the process of turning your thesis into a book. Fri 7 December 2018, 16:30 – 17:30, booking essential.

And finally, the Centre for Museum Cultures has organised a gallery talk by Dr Lucy Peltz, Head of Collection Displays (Tudor to Regency) and Senior Curator 18th Century Collections (and Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck). She will give an informal talk and answer questions in Gainsborough’s Family Album about her role in co-curating this fascinating exhibition. Monday 10 December, 6.00-7.00pm.

Book early to avoid disappointment.

NPG 4446 Thomas Gainsborough, by Thomas Gainsborough, oil on canvas, circa 1759 © National Portrait Gallery, London

. . Category: Uncategorized

Ah Venice (Part 1)

There’s a Venetian thread going through this post, which will be picked up again in future installments…

You still have time (just) to catch the first Architecture Space and Society Centre event of the year, tonight (9 November), on the unexpected combination of the historic city of Venice and the modernist architecture of Le Corbusier: Dr Sophia Psarra from the Bartlett speaking about Le Corbusier’s Venice Hospital at 6pm in Keynes Library.

And next week current students have a chance to meet, chat and find out more about the  History of Art Society’s planned events at the Welcome Party, Tuesday 13 November 7.30pm in the Keynes.

The History and Theory of Photography Centre is hosting a fascinating-sounding paper by Anna Dahlgren from Stockholm University on ‘i-D and Artforum: the printed magazine and the merging of art and fashion’: Weds 21 November 2018, 6-7.30pm, room TBC.

Nick Knight for i-D magazine

And back to Venice… You may be aware that Birkbeck and the British Council collaborate every year to offer two Steward-Research Fellowships, based at the Venice Biennale. We are now seeking interest from current students interested in applying for the fellowships for the 2019 Biennale, which runs from 11 May to 24 November. Successful candidates work four days a week over a one month period as an invigilator in the British Pavilion (the 2019 artist is Cathy Wilkes) and one day a week pursuing their own research project. As past fellows have reported, it’s an incredibly stimulating, social and even transformative experience. Do read the great blog posts by the two 2018 fellows, Uli Gamper and Danilo Reis. There is a briefing session about the fellowships with Genevieve Marchiniak from the British Council, Sarah Thomas, who coordinates from Birkbeck’s end, and one of the past fellows, on Thurs 22 November 6pm in Gordon Sq room 327.  The deadline for applications is Friday 30 November, 2pm. For any further info please contact Sarah:

Finally, looking back to the future, I want to highlight what is now a full set of excellent blogposts on the ‘Forward Looking’ workshops and the Anniversary lecture, earlier in the term, all written by PhD students in the department. Many thanks to them for these records of a memorable and meaty day. Maria Alambritis blogs about the ‘Futures for Publishing in Art History‘ workshop; Sarah McBryde about the ‘Future of Studying Old Art’, and Mark Liebenrood, on the Centre for Museum Cultures site, about the lecture by Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A, on ‘Design for a Nation: The V&A in the 21st Century‘.

Hope you’ve had a good reading week, and we look forward to seeing you back in the classroom next week.


. . Category: Uncategorized