Faces and enigmas, nuclear landscapes and country houses

What really struck me in putting together the blog this week was how rich and diverse our research culture is – and this richness and diversity is very much on display over the next couple of weeks.

At the next Murray Seminar on Medieval and Renaissance Art, on Weds 4 December at 5pm in the Keynes Library, our own Laura Jacobus will be speaking on ‘Faces and Enigmas: maker-portraits by Giotto and Giovanni Pisano’. During the later middle ages, the questions ‘who makes an art-work?’ and ‘what is a portrait?’ had no simple answers.  The person who commissioned a work of art could be seen as the person responsible for its creation, and the person we call the artist could be regarded as just one of the means employed to make it. The word ‘portrait’ was not in use (at least not in its modern sense), and images of people were not expected to look like anyone recognisable. Giotto and Giovanni Pisano were two of the most famous artists working in Italy in the years around 1300 and they wanted recognition in every sense of the word. But how? Come and find out – all welcome and no need to book.

The Architecture Space and Society Centre has a veritable cluster of events over the rest of the term:

This Thursday 28 November, 6pm, room 106:  Vandana Baweja (University of Florida) is speaking on the German émigré architect and expert on tropical architecture Otto Koenigsberger and what it means to talk about global histories of Modernism.

Friday 6 December, 6pm, room 106: A conversation between artist Susan Schuppli (Goldsmiths, Centre for Research Architecture) and architect David Burns (RCA, School of Architecture) on ‘Apocalyptic Archives: Nuclear Landscapes and Material Histories‘.

Thursday 12 December, 3-5pm, Keynes Library: A mini-symposium on the English country house from the 18th century to the present, with our own Kate Retford, Abby Van Slyck (Connecticut College) and Jon Stobart (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Then on Friday 13 December, 10-5pm in the School of Arts Cinema, there’s a day workshop aimed at post-graduate students, co-hosted by the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre, the ASSC and the Birkbeck Institute of Humanities on ‘Photography, Space and Violence‘. It features talks by Birkbeck’s Steve Edwards and Sean Willcock, BIH visting fellow Claire Zimmerman (University of Michigan) and Alberto Toscano (Goldsmiths), alongside student presentations.

You’ll remember all those photos of our happy graduates in a recent blog. Well now you can read about two of them in detail, including the fact that they’re married to each other. Check out this post about two of our students on the Birkbeck events blog.

In staff news, Professor Annie Coombes gave a talk last month at the Art Institute of the University of Plymouth as part of their ‘Beyond Contact: Postcolonial Approaches to Art’ Series. In ‘Decolonizing the Monument/Rethinking the Memorial‘, she grappled with crucial and timely issues of colonialism and memory.  As a counterpoint to the rise of the nationalist right (again) in Europe, the United States and elsewhere in the world, there has been an increased demand on many university campuses, for institutions to address colonial amnesia and to actively decolonize the curriculum. Public statues were also key components of this process, particularly the removal of monuments dedicated to the “heroes” of the colonial period. Using examples from Kenya, Spain and South Africa, Prof. Coombes considered the ways how the violent past targeting civilian populations can be remembered today. She also investigated alternative forms of collective memory which enable a shared and more organic engagement with our history. You can read more about her talk here.

Sarah Thomas‘s book Witnessing Slavery: Art and Travel in the Age of Abolition (Yale University Press), mentioned in past blogs, was, very excitingly, shortlisted for the Apollo Magazine Book of the Year.

You also might be interested to know that there are academics working in other departments in the School of Arts who are leading art historians, working on areas with strong links to the work in our department. Carmen Fracchia, for instance, is Reader in Hispanic Art History in the Department of Cultures and Languages. Her new book ‘Black But Human’ Slavery and Visual Arts in Habsburg Spain, 1480-1700 has just been published by Oxford University Press.

A reminder to give your feedback to your student reps in time for the staff-student exchange meetings that they’ll be attending next week (Cert HE, BA and Grad Cert on Weds 4th; PG Cert, PG Dip and MA on Thurs 5th). Please see the emails sent out by our admin team (art-history@bbk.ac.uk) with email addresses for your student reps. You can also find their names and emails in the UG and PG student handbooks under ‘The Student Voice’.

We’re offering two really interesting modules, taught by two of our most popular lecturers, starting in January – these are open access Cert HE modules, so anyone can simply enrol. There are still places, but they’re going fast!

Art and Society in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Prasannajit De Silva) – Tuesday evenings 6pm

Central European Modernism: Berlin to Belgrade (Kasia Murawska-Muthesius) – Tuesdays 2pm

Finally, I’ve been alerted to an interesting-sounding talk TOMORROW 27 November at 7pm by the preeminent art historian Griselda Pollock at the Jewish Museum, on the artist Charlotte Solomon, who is the subject of a current exhibition at the museum. There are still tickets available, with concessions for students.

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Spring term MA options: Special post for graduates of our MA/PG Certificate and PG Diploma Programmes

As announced previously in this blog… For the first time in 2019-20, we are opening up places on our MA options to our MA (and Postgraduate Certificate and Postgraduate Diploma) graduates, in response for demand for further personal enrichment and professional development. We are now announcing the Spring 2020 list of options available. If you completed the MA in 2019 but have not graduated yet, you are still eligible. We hope you’ll find the following offer attractive and stimulating, and we would love to have your feedback.

What to expect

  • You will be taking these modules alongside seminar-size groups of current MA students. The overall number will not normally exceed 18. You’ll be given access to all preparatory readings and other resources, and will be part of the seminar along with the rest of the group. As you’ll remember from your own studies, doing the reading in advance is crucial to your own and everyone else’s experience of the seminar, so we ask all participants to commit to coming to class prepared.
  • You will be included on any class visits to sites and collections.
  • You will have access to the Birkbeck library and its online resources, as well as to the module’s Moodle page, for the duration of the module.
  • You will probably be asked to do a non-assessed presentation, but you won’t be asked to do the assessment (final essay) for the module.

How to sign up

  • The list of options available in the Spring term 2020 is available to download at the bottom of this post, with dates and times. You can opt to take one or more than one, as long as the times don’t clash.
  • Places on each module are limited, so please rank your choices in order of preference.
  • Places will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, so send your ranked choices (including an indication of how many you would like to take) to art-history@bbk.ac.uk as soon as possible and no later than 13 December.

Cost: £650 per option module.

MA History of Art and Museums options for MA graduates Spring 2020

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Second blogpost of the day – pleas and opportunities

And now for part 2:

Some pleas first.

If you’re a current student you’ll have been receiving emails asking for volunteers to be student representatives. Huge thanks to all those who’ve come forward. We are still in need of volunteers from our post-graduate programmes in Museum Cultures, History of Art, History of Architecture, and History of Photography. The student rep role is a vital and rewarding one. You are the person who other students go to with feedback on their programmes, which you then bring to two staff-student exchange meetings per year. A staff-student exchange meeting, which is attended by programme directors and administrators and by yours truly as head of department, is a really meaty and useful affair, during which students set the agenda and lots of issues of real relevance to your studies – from assessment and communication to placements and classrooms are discussed. Don’t worry if you’ve never done anything like this before – there’s training and online resources available from the student union. Being a student rep is your opportunity to get to know other students on your courses, and to have an impact on your studies and how they’re run and organised. If you’re interested, please contact our admin team on art-history@bbk.ac.uk.

Another excellent way to get involved and meet other students is by helping out with the department’s student society, the History of Art Society. A small group of students is starting to put together a programme of events for this year – watch this blog for more. But they’d like more people to come forward to be part of the society steering committee. Students on all of our programmes, undergraduate and postgraduate, are welcome. If you’re interested, please contact Tammi on hoasociety@bbk.ac.uk

And now for the opportunities!

Installation by Cathy Wilkes, British Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019

The School of Arts is delighted to announce an exciting opportunity to all current students – this year’s round of applications for two Steward-Research Fellowships at the Venice Biennale 2020, running between 18 May and 29 November 2020. The Biennale alternates between an art and architecture focus; in 2020 it’s architecture’s turn. The successful candidates will be responsible for making their own travel and accommodation arrangements, but will be given a travel grant of £1600 for a period of one month towards these and other expenses. The successful candidates will work four days per week over a one-month period as an invigilator in the British Pavilion, and on the remaining three days they will focus on their own research project. The British Pavilion will be presenting The Garden of Privatised Delights – the exhibition will engage in the current debate around ownership and access to what we perceive as public space. The curators will transform the British Pavilion into a series of immersive spaces, offering a fantastic opportunity for students, researchers and early stage career artists to engage in the process. Students from all programmes across the School of Arts are encouraged to apply. There is a briefing session about the Fellowships led by Laura Broderick and Ros Fraser, the Fellowship’s Programme Managers from the British Council, on Thursday 21 November at 6pm-7.30pm in CLO B01 [Clore Management Centre, Torrington Square, Bloomsbury, London, WC1E 7JL]. We shall also be joined by one of last year’s Fellows. Our guests will be available to answer any questions you might have about the Fellowships. Applications are due by 2pm on Friday 29 November. Please, send them to BBKatVeniceArtBiennale@gmail.com For any queries please contact Dorota Ostrowska at d.ostrowska@bbk.ac.uk The Info Pack is also available on this link.

For the past three years we’ve been sending students to Venice on these fellowships. You can read great blog posts by the two 2018 fellows, Uli Gamper and Danilo Reis.

My brilliant and innovative colleague in the School of Arts, Mari-Paz Balibrea, organises the Arts Employability Programme. You are warmly invited to come along if you want to explore your options for employment after you have completed your degree and are wondering what kind of work you can do with a degree in Arts. I’m hoping some of you were able to go along to the Careers workshop and the Industry and Alumni Panel last week. Upcoming events include: Going Global Workshop, 15 January (very topical – working abroad, working in Europe after/despite/around Brexit, changes to regs around working in the UK for international students); Industry and Alumni panel, 18 February; and Global Talent panel, 20 February. See the posters around the School of Arts building for more. Booking links will be available closer to the date.

You may not know that Birkbeck has a partnership with the renowned Institute of Contemporary Arts. The ICA offers a limited number of Blue Memberships to Birkbeck students. Perks of this membership include free entry to their important programme of exhibitions of contemporary art, discounted tickets to films, talks, concerts and performances, with no booking fees; free monthly Members’ film screenings in their beautiful cinemas; and a 10% discount at the Bookstore and Rochelle Canteen (very yummy). Please sign up here.  More information on the ICA Blue Membership and the list of member benefits can be found here.

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Happy graduates and events, events, events

Last week I got to do one of my favourite things, which was to go to graduation. For the head of department and other (un)lucky academics it does mean dressing up in extremely warm academic gowns and silly hats and sitting still for 90 minutes on the stage clapping a lot and worrying about whether you turned your mobile off. But seeing our students walk across the stage looking extremely pleased and very justifiably proud makes it worth it, and the best bit is the milling around in the reception afterwards talking to students and their families and friends. The November graduation is mostly BAs and Graduate Certificates (MAs get their chance in April), and at each one there are always also PhDs, which are really very special. Nothing like the look of relief and happiness on the face of a graduating PhD student!

Some photos of the happy graduates in question:

Reading week is now well behind us and we’re back with a vengeance. Events and opportunities galore (plus a couple of pleas). In fact… there is so much to tell you about that I’ve decided to do a two parter. Events and some news below, followed by opportunities (and pleas) in a separate post.

This evening at 6pm in Keynes Library, the Centre for Museum Cultures hosts our own Dr Kasia Murawska-Muthesius. She’ll be speaking on a topic of great art historical, museological, and political relevance as well as significant personal resonance for her in a paper entitled ‘The Critical Museum Debate Continues‘. The project of the Critical Museum – the art institution which uses its own resources, including its collection, its range of activities and its “auratic” space, for encouraging and hosting the debates on the issues that are crucial for contemporary societies  –  was one of the boldest and socially most significant battles undertaken by Piotr Piotrowski, when invited to run the National Museum in Warsaw in 2009 (with Kasia herself at his side as deputy director).  The Critical Museum project, formed part and parcel of Piotrowski’s long-standing campaign against the prevalent discourses of contemporary art history and, in particular, against the hierarchical artistic geography, eulogising masterpieces, and marginalising the arts of East Central Europe. However, it was not just the art historical canon which was the target. Piotrowski’s museum was devised, first and foremost, as a forum, as an active agent in the public sphere, the venue for exhibiting art and discussing society, deliberately contributing to the process of defending democracy and its values, digging up difficult memories, juxtaposing conflicting narratives, empowering the disempowered, with a special attention given to the rights of minorities. The paper will discuss the origins and the premises, as well as the aftermath of the Critical Museum project. More information and booking link here (or if you don’t have time to book, just go along.)

While we’re on the topic of Museums, on Monday 18 November Sarah Thomas, lecturer in the department and director of the Centre for Museum Cultures, will be giving a lunchtime talk in the Sainsbury Wing Theatre of the National Gallery on ‘The legacies of slave ownership on art museums in Britain’. All welcome – further information and booking here.  This talk follows on from a recent workshop that Sarah co-convened in September with Dr Lucy Peltz from the National Portrait Gallery (and honorary research fellow at Birkbeck). It brought together thirty museum professionals and scholars to discuss current research on the cultural legacies of slave-ownership. This was an opportunity for curators, educators and researchers from art museums across the UK to consider strategies and practical methodologies to deal with the legacies of slavery and slave-ownership, and to discuss what it might mean to ‘decolonise’ the art museum. It’s been an eventful time for Sarah, whose bookWitnessing Slavery: Art and Travel in the Age of Abolition has also recently been published by the Paul Mellon Centre and Yale University Press.

Then tomorrow (Tuesday 12 November, 5-6pm in Keynes Library) you can hear the latest research on another kind of institutional identity crisis, this one from the middle ages. For the next Murray Seminar we welcome Michael Carter, Senior Historian at English Heritage, speaking on ‘Relics and monastic identity in late medieval England’. The speaker analyses the importance of relics in the construction of monastic identities in late medieval England. He will focus on two Benedictine (Battle and Whitby) and two Cistercian (Hailes and Rievaulx) abbeys. He will demonstrate that these monasteries used relics to promote and sustain their wider religious role until the time of the Suppression, and that relics were also used to affirm relations between religious houses. Relics and the development of local liturgical observance will also be discussed. Calling upon relic lists, chronicles, heraldry, wills and extant material remains, Michael will also give an idea of the broad range of sources available for the study of the cult of relics at English monasteries, and show that significant material remains unexplored or capable of reinterpretation. The talk is a work in progress, and presents preliminary findings from a projected large-scale study into relics and monasteries in the two centuries before the Suppression. Booking link here, or just go along.

And as previously noted in this blog two more of our research centres have rich programmes of events scheduled across the rest of the term. The History and Theory of Photography Research Centre is hosting several scholars from across the pond this term, including Andrés Mario Zervigón (Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey) giving the paper ‘Fully Visible and Transparent: Zeiss Anastigmat’ on Wednesday, 20 November 2019, 6-7:30pm in Gordon Sq room 106. Then on Monday 9 December 2019, 6-7:30pm, also in room 106, Charlene Heath (Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto, Canada) will be giving a paper of equal interest to photography and museums people, ‘To Circulate and Disperse: Jo Spence, Terry Dennett and a Still Moving Archive’.

The History and Theory of Photography Research Centre is also involved in hosting the launch of a special issue of the journal Memory Studies devoted to Ottoman Transcultural Memories, co-edited by a team including our own Gabriel Koureas and Colette Wilson. The launch will be on Monday 25 November, 2-4pm in Keynes Library, and will include a short presentation on the special issue and a Q&A, and very excitingly, a musical performance by Suna Alan, one of the contributors. More information and a booking link below.

Ottoman Transcultural Memories Launch Flyer

There are also all the Architecture Space and Society Centre events coming up (Otto Koenigsberger and Global Histories of Modernism on 28 November; Apocalyptic Archives on 6 December and the English Country House on the afternoon of 12 December) – more details here and in future blogs.

Opportunities and pleas to come, as promised.

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