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.

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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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books, jobs, parties

I’m beginning this post with an image of the beautiful cover of Sculptural Photographs, the new book by Patrizia Di Bello, Senior Lecturer in the department, just published by Bloomsbury. While there is a growing body of work examining how photography has contributed to the development of a Western ‘sculptural imagination’ by disseminating works, facilitating the investigation of the medium, or changing sculptural aesthetics, this study focuses on how sculpture has provided not only beautiful and convenient subject matter for photographs, or commercial and cultural opportunities for photographers in the market for art reproductions, but also an exemplar for thinking about photography as a medium based on mechanical means of production. Warm congratulations to Patrizia!

For those of you in the market for jobs in the visual arts, a message from a team you should know about, Birkbeck Talent:

Are you looking for a new job in History of Art? Birkbeck Talent is Birkbeck’s exclusive recruitment agency for Birkbeck Students & Graduates. We have a number of roles available, from Internships to Permanent positions, both part time and full time. We work with a number of organisations such as the V&A museum and the East India Company. You can access the jobs board through your MyBirkbeck Profile on the home-page – please take a look and let us know if any of the roles interest you. Please also follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for all the latest information.

They have a particular job advertised now with a deadline of this Monday 28 May (there goes your bank holiday…). It’s a Catalogue Research Assistant post for an international art services business – more here: Catalogue Research Assistant role.

And the jobs board refered to above has another relevant role, this one with a bit more time before the deadline of 11 June:

Blythe House Decant: Head of Collections Moves Programme
£55,000 per annum
Fixed term contract until March 2023
More on the jobs board – accessible via your My Birkbeck profile…
I’ll continue to feature art history-related jobs in this blog as they come my way.
And on the topic of life-changing opportunities, do think about coming along to upcoming information evenings on MAs and PhDs in the department. These evenings are really worth attending if you’re considering further study – they’re an opportunity to hear the latest on what’s on offer, to speak to staff teaching on the programmes, find out about the application process, and, even more interesting, get a look at who else might be applying!
MPhil/PhD Information evening, Tuesday 11 June 6pm, 30 Russell Sq room 101 (this one will feature current PhD students to give you the student’s-eye-view of the transition from MA to PhD study.)
A couple of fascinating-sounding Renaissance talks coming up:

Murray seminars in Medieval and Renaissance Art: 5 June, 5pm, Keynes Library, Michelle O’Malley, the Warburg Institute, ‘Botticelli: A conundrum of production’

Rome Lecture Series, 8 June 6pm, Russell Sq 101: Architecture and the Construction of Authority
And finally, the end of term is coming up, which means parties! Two of them this year for your diary…
29 June 6-8pm, a Garden Party in Gordon Square, celebrating the Department of History of Art’s 50th anniversary (all current and former students should have received an invitation and a link and password for booking – please get in touch on l.topp@bbk.ac.uk if you haven’t)
6 July 6-8pm, the Staff & Student End of Term Party (please bring a bottle/food to this one), Gordon Sq G04
See you there!
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Arts Week! And more…

Hope you can find time amidst exams, dissertation research, etc, to come along to the rich offerings of this year’s Arts Week, beginning Monday. Arts Week was inaugurated in 2012 and has become a real institution, bringing Gordon Square alive with talks, walks, screenings and much more. As usual there are very rich offerings in art history, with architecture, museums and contemporary art as particular strengths this year. Take a look at these events in particular on the webpages:

Monday: Destruction of Memory; Cook’s Camden

Tuesday: Curating Sound for Difficult Histories; Paper Peepshow; Modernism in Bloomsbury; Visual Protest

Wednesday: The Archive Project; Renaissance Life of Things; Robin Hood Gardens

Thursday: Lubetkin’s Finsbury; Author and Illustrator; Raymond Williams; Art & Empathy

Friday: On Reflection; Floating Islands; Chris Dorley-Brown

A special mention for ‘Floating Islands in Contemporary Art‘ (Friday 6pm in the cinema) which promises to be an intriguing and exciting talk by Professor Gill Perry on her current research. We’re delighted to welcome Gill to the department as Visiting Professor for the next three years. Gill, who is Emeritus Professor of History of Art at Open University is a leading scholar of both 18th-century and contemporary British Art. You can read more about her here.

Some further dates for your diary:

The Murray seminars in Medieval and Renaissance Art have been announced for this term. They take place at 5pm in the Keynes Library – all welcome:

5 June, Michelle O’Malley, the Warburg Institute, ‘Botticelli: A conundrum of production’

Two versions of Botticelli’s Virgin and Child with an Adoring Angel suggest raise fundamental questions about the specifics of authorship in the workshop and how we, as art historians, understand Renaissance artistic practice and construct attribution. This paper looks again at the technical evidence and the value of connoisseurship in tracking the development of the use of reproductive technique in late fifteenth-century Florence.

27 June, Alison Wright, UCL ‘Gold against the Body:  gold surfaces and their limits, medieval to early modern’

The myth, famously invoked in Goldfinger, of the human body suffocated by being coated in gold exemplifies the fascination and danger attached to the idea of an ‘excess’ of gold, especially in respect to human skin. This paper explores the slippery boundaries of when, where and for whom gold surfaces might be deemed excessive in relation to European art, especially Italian, of the fourteenth to early sixteenth centuries.

And a lecture organised by colleagues in Applied Linguistics that will be of interest to fans of American (Post)Modernism: Professor Adam Jaworski (The University of Hong Kong) will be giving this year’s Michel Blanc Lecture in Applied Linguistics at Birkbeck. The talk will be followed by a drinks reception. The event is free and open to all, but for catering purposes, please book your ticket on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-michel-blanc-lecture-in-applied-linguistics-2018-registration-44377867396 

Title: EAT/DIE and other stories: Remediation and creativity in Robert Indiana’s word art

Date and Time: Thursday, 7 June 2018, 18:00 – 19:30

Location: B01, Clore Management Centre

 ‘Several decades ago, Robert Indiana (b. 1928) described himself as ‘an American painter of signs’. In this presentation, I make a case for considering Indiana as a painter of stories. Drawing on the ‘small stories’ model for narrative analysis (Georgakopoulou), I argue that his word pieces in the EAT, EAT/DIE and LOVE cycles constitute episodic narratives adding up to his own life story (or artist mythology). Indiana’s creative remediation (Bolter and Grusin) of his multimodal writing in different materials and formats, its emplacement as public art and widespread imitation allow members of the public to appropriate his artworks in episodic encounters and make them part of their own biographies.’



I mentioned in my last post the very successful (and sunny) Berlin field trip that happened over Easter. BA History of Art student Kathryn Hallam-Howard has written a ‘Birkbeck Blog’ post to tell you all about it – and with some great pics. Do have a read.


I’ll round off this week with a plug for an excellent small exhibition at the amazing Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, curated by and featuring the work of photographer, curator and MA History of Art graduate Sunil Shah. ‘Uganda Stories’ delves into poignant and troubling questions of exile, displacement and resettlement through Sunil’s family’s story of being expelled from Uganda in the early 1970s under Idi Amin. It’s on until 27 August, so do visit if you’re in Oxford over the summer.


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Summer (term) is here

Hope you all had good breaks – not too dominated by essays, dissertations, revision, etc. It’s good to be back and there’s a lot to report on and look forward to (in addition to the air warming up – we live in hope).

First, there’s an imminent deadline of this Monday 30 April for 2 things:

  1. the National Student Survey for final year undergraduate students – please complete it if you haven’t already – we want to hear your views!
  2. applications for MA bursaries and studentships for students with places on MA programmes starting in September 2018. These include two Wallace studentships for programmes in our department, as well as School of Arts funding you can apply for – check out the link.

Another thing to do soon is to go to the Cultural Sniping exhibition in the Peltz Gallery before it closes. The official closing date is Saturday but a little birdy tells me there might be another chance to see it during the day on Monday. It’s been a great success, arousing lots of interest in the fascinating life and work of the photographer-activist Jo Spence and our archive here at Birkbeck – including from major London art institutions.

I’m delighted to let you know that Professor Lynda Nead has been short-listed for the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize for her book The Tiger in the Smoke: Art and Culture in Post-War Britain (Paul Mellon Centre and Yale University Press). The prize is awarded annually by English PEN for a non-fiction book of specifically historical content. More here, including a great statement from the PEN judges – here’s a taste: ‘The Tiger in the Smoke rejects the self-congratulatory narrative of Britain after the Second World War, focussing instead on shades of grey smog, bomb-sites, virulent racism, art and film, and the dreams of ordinary people.’

Congratulations and good luck as well to our students Danilo Marques dos Reis (BA History of Art with Curating) and Uli Gamper (MA Museum Cultures) who are the successful of prestigious Venice Fellowships from the British Council and Birkbeck. They’ll be off to the Venice Architecture Biennale soon and we’ll look forward to hearing from them about their experience (and the glorious weather.)

Welcome back from Berlin, those of you who went on the department field trip led by Kasia Murawska-Muthesius and Stefan Muthesius. Word is it went extremely well – a packed and fascinating itinerary and more glorious weather (ho hum). There’ll be more on that in this blog soon.

The Architecture Space and Society Centre has a really rich and varied programme of events coming up this term:

Ferdinand Opll: The Battle of Maps: Ottoman-Habsburg antagonism as mirrored in their cartography (15th – 16th century) 27 April, 5pm, Keynes Library (for more information and to book your place please visit here)

Mark Wilson Jones as part of our “Thinker in Architecture” Series, speaking on “The Origins of the Architectural Orders Revisited” 4th May, 6pm at Keynes Library

Finola O’Kane Crimmin (University College Dublin): Designed in Parallel or in Translation? Plantation Landscapes from Ireland, Jamaica and Georgia 1730-1830 25 May, 6pm, Keynes Library, School of Arts, Birkbeck (for more information and to book your place please visit here)

Mabel Wilson (Columbia University): Provisional Demos: The Spatial Agency and Tent Cities 21 June, 7pm, ICA Cinema (NB: not at Birkbeck!)

Also check out the programme for Arts Week, the School of Arts annual festival of public talks, walks, workshops, screenings, etc etc – it’s always a lot of fun, not to mention stimulating and enlightening (and an excellent excuse to take a break from revising for exams). This year it’s 14-18 May, and you’ll see several History of Art events in the programme, including a talk on ‘Floating Islands in Contemporary Art’ by our new visiting professor, Gill Perry, professor emerita at the Open University. More on her in a future blog…



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Oh Canada

Term break is here! And what an eventful term it’s been.

I hope lots of you have had a chance to see the super-stimulating and beautifully installed ‘Cultural Sniping’ exhibition on the collaborative work of the photographer Jo Spence in the Peltz Gallery, which was curated by Patrizia Di Bello with Frances Hatherley and a group of MA students in the department. The opening party was a good one, with people who worked with and knew Jo Spence in attendance.

You can learn more about the show and the work of Jo Spence and her colleagues and ask your own questions at two upcoming roundtable events in the gallery (all welcome – no booking needed):

Thursday 19 April, 6-7:30

Cinderella: Women, Class and Fairy Tales in Jo Spence’s work, with Marina Warner and Frances Hatherley, chaired by Lynda Nead.

Thursday 26 April, 6-7:30

Collaborative Projects: Pleasures and Pains, with Rosy Martin, Carla Mitchell, Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski, and Jacob Bard-Rosenberg, chaired by Patrizia Di Bello

These are both organised by the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre, as is this soon to be held talk, in which my homeland gets some (rare it must be said) attention:

4 April 2018, 6:00-7:30

Keynes Library (room 114) Martha Langford (Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art, Concordia University in Montreal), Who Can Tell? Histories and Counter-Histories of Photography in Canada.

And now for kudos received by colleagues and students.

Our colleague Peter Fane-Saunders has been awarded the Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Prize by the Renaissance Society of America. This prize – one of the most coveted in the entire field of Renaissance art, literature, history, etc, etc –  is awarded annually for the best book in Renaissance studies. Peter’s book is entitled Pliny the Elder and the Emergence of Renaissance Architecture (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Katherine Turley (MA Medieval Literature and Culture), submitted her essay  ‘The face of the one who is making for Jerusalem’:  the Angel Choir of Lincoln Cathedral and Joy, written for her Gothic in England MA Option (tutor Zoe Opacic) for the Reginald Taylor and Lord Fletcher Essay Prize and was chosen as the winner. The Reginald Taylor Essay Prize, awarded by the British Archaeological Association since 1934, is given for the best unpublished essay submitted on any subject of art-historical, archaeological or antiquarian interest within the period from the Roman era to 1830. As the winner Katherine has received £500 and a medal and will deliver her paper to the British Archaeological Association at the hallowed premises of the Society of Antiquaries at a future date. The paper will also be published this year in the Journal of the British Archaeological Association. This was not only a great achievement for Katherine but also a double win for Birkbeck:  the runner up was Netta Clavner, PhD student at our department only  in the first year of her study. Her essay Arma AngliaeThe Heraldic Glass in the Great East Window of Gloucester Cathedral received high praise by the RTLF committee and was also deemed worthy of publication.

Congratulations to all three of them!

I myself am writing to you from Canada, where I’m spending a week as a visiting scholar in the Faculty of Arts at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. I have a long-standing interest in the architecture of carceral institutions, so Kingston is a fascinating place for me as the home of an early nineteenth-century model penitentiary and a ‘lunatic asylum’ (as they were called) from the late 1850s. I’ll be visiting these sites and their archives with colleagues from Queen’s, touring with some medical students around the main university hospital (while thinking about power and space), and giving a public lecture entitled ‘When Room Becomes Cell: Solitude and Isolation in Nineteenth-Century Asylum Spaces’.

Hope everyone has a good break, and we’ll see you next term!

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Cultural Sniping

What a term – strikes and snowstorms! Time for all of us to reflect perhaps on forces bigger even than the Department of History of Art. (As you’ll know, today – Friday 9 March – is not a strike day, but the strike continues next week Monday- Friday 12-16 March. More on the strike here, and please watch your email inboxes for updates.)

Meanwhile, in the interstices, our 50th anniversary events continue – fittingly celebrating a vision of the university as a place open to the world and engaged in its struggles. THIS EVENING, our Anniversary Exhibition opens in the Peltz Gallery with a reception at 6pm. ‘Cultural Sniping: Photographic Collaborations in the Jo Spence Memorial Library Archive‘ showcases important materials from the archive (housed in the School of Arts) of the late Jo Spence, British photographer, writer, and self-described ‘cultural sniper’. It traces links and collaborations in activist art, radical publications, community photography and phototherapy from the 1970s and 1980s. Consistent with Spence’s ethos of radical pedagogy, the exhibition focuses on her collaborative working methods. It opens up the archive, displaying books, magazines, journals, collages, photographs, posters, pamphlets, notes, letters and props, to provide insights into Spence’s practices and the culture, politics and activism informing them. This has all come about as a unique collaboration between staff and students, involving Birkbeck History of Art lecturer, Patrizia Di Bello, Associate Research Fellow Frances Hatherly, and a group of History of Art and History of Art with Photography students. It’s on until 28 April so please take a look. (In case you’ve yet to discover it, the Peltz Gallery is in Gordon Square next to the reception area.)

I just snuck in to see how the installation was going, and it looks amazing… Here are the curators in action, eyeballing posters to see if they’re straight.

On Saturday 24 February two of the ‘Forward Looking’ anniversary workshops took place in the cinema, each focused on a distinct aspect of museums and museology. In the morning we heard various positions on ‘Making a Difference: Do Museums Matter in a Changing World?’, organised by Annie Coombes and Gabriel Koureas, while the afternoon, organised by Fiona Candlin, was devoted to ‘Museums Futures in a Time of Austerity’. Both workshops were a compelling mix of academic research and voices from professional practice, and concluded in lively discussions involving the speakers and audience. The day also marked an exciting new development for us: the launch of the department’s newest research centre, the Centre for Museum Cultures  – more on that soon…


The beginning of the UCU strike on 22-23 February meant that the anniversary lecture by V&A director Tristram Hunt and the ‘Future of Studying Old Art’ and the ‘Futures for Publishing in Art History’ workshops were postponed – readers of this blog will be the first to know the rescheduled dates.

Next month own Lynda Nead is giving a major public lecture, ‘Greyscale and Colour: The Hues of Nation and Empire in Post-War Britain’ at the V&A on Monday 9 April 2018 at 7pm – special rates for students.

And here’s a message from the Birkbeck History of Art Society about a great opportunity coming up next week:

Birkbeck History of Art Society has an opportunity to take you to a FREE tour to the Painted Hall ceiling in Old Royal Naval College (Greenwich) next Tuesday (13th of March) at 1 pm.The usual cost of the tickets is 11 pounds, so don’t miss out!

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see James Thornhill’s  masterpiece up close, thanks to the conservation project currently in place.

Please note that that the ceiling is 18 high and you will be using steps, so comfortable shoes are a must. Additionally, let us know if you require wheelchair access.

Due to the specifics of the structure we only take a group of 20 people to see the ceiling. Book your place by writing to us at hoartsociety@gmail.com. Places are on first come, first serve basis. See you there!

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/historyofartbbk/

You can find more about the Painted Hall project here: https://www.ornc.org/painted-hall-project

Kind regards,

Mary, Carina, Ernestina and Tammy

Bye for now!


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Surveys, surveys – oh just go away!

Could you possibly spend a few short minutes giving us some useful feedback? If you’re like me, that question has only one answer: sorry, life is too short. So it’s a bit rich and no doubt very annoying for me to be pestering you students to fill out surveys about your Birkbeck experience. But, but, but, it’s actually really important that you do this. This is your education, your degree, something you’ve given huge amounts of time, effort and emotion, and, we hope, something that’s changed your life. You have to admit it’s not car insurance. And we really want to know what you think and what your reflections are on your time with us.  We regularly act on this feedback to tweak and improve what we offer.

The National Student Survey is the big one. It’s a UK-wide survey of all final year BA students, an opportunity to think back over your whole degree and experience here.You’ll all have been contacted individually about it – or if you can’t find the email(s) you can just go in via the link: http://www.thestudentsurvey.com/ A big thank you and pat on the back for those who’ve already done it. If you haven’t, please do it soon, and the pestering will stop I promise!

There’s also:


  • the Birkbeck Student Survey (opens 8 February 2018) – for all undergrad students, no matter what year you’re in
  • the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES – opens 8 February 2018)
  • the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES – opens 8 February 2018).

Again, you’ll get emails about these, but you’ll be able to get to them via this link:



So everyone has a chance to experience the satisfaction of saying their bit. OK, pestering over.

Other than that, term is well underway, marks and essay feedback are coming in (hope that was a pleasant and/or instructive experience!) and we have reading week next week. More next time I post on all our upcoming events!

Enjoy your reading week.


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Can you believe the break only ended 2 weeks ago? I’m always amazed at how all-absorbing term-time is – I hope it’s all-absorbing for you in a good way!

I’ll begin with a request: we are eager to hear from those of you who are in your final year of your BA studies about how things have gone, and how we can support you as you complete your degree. You’ll have had an invitation to a feedback gathering (if you’re a BA final year student and haven’t had an invitation, please email me: l.topp@bbk.ac.uk). You will soon be asked, by Ipsos-Mori no less, to complete the National Student Survey, which opens this Thursday 25 January and closes on 30 April. You may find me mentioning it quite a bit between now and then…

In a month’s time we’ll be absorbed again in the department’s 50th anniversary events – a 3-day bonanza this time on 22-24 February, kicking off with Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A (and erstwhile member of the Labour shadow cabinet) giving the Anniversary Lecture on ‘Design for a Nation: The Victoria and Albert Museum in the 21st Century’ on the 22nd at 6pm. On the 23rd and 24th we’ll have four fascinating workshops with our own academics joined by experts from the worlds of museums, media and publishing to put our collective finger on the pulse of the discipline and of the museum world we all engage with. Bookings (made via the link above) are very strong – if you can’t get a place for your chosen event, do add your name to the waiting list, since a place may well come up.

And a couple of good things sooner than that:

Birkbeck History of Art PhD Nicola McCartney is now Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Central Saint Martins, and is coming back to Birkbeck to give a talk on ‘Trans and Art’ on Thursday 1 Feb 6.30pm – more details here.

And then on 6 February, 6-7.30 in Keynes we have the next event organised by the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre: Elizabeth Johnson (Associate Research Fellow, Vasari Research Centre for Art and Technology) speaking on
The Touch of Light: Bruce Nauman’s Holograms

Meanwhile our colleague Kasia Murawska-Muthesius will be exploring Europe: She will deliver one of the key-note lectures in the Alterity and the Research Imagination conference https://alterityresearchimagination.wordpress.com/, organised by graduate students of the School of Human Sciences, at Universidade Católica Portuguesa in Lisbon, 25 -26 January 2018. Her talk, entitled ‘Welcome to Slaka, or, the battle of dust-jackets’, (click through to image below) draws from her research on imaging Eastern Europe, and will focus on the use of postcolonial discourse analysis to East European studies. The following week, she will be travelling to Vilnius, invited by the Vilnius National Gallery and the curators of the Oskar Hansen exhibition, to deliver a lecture ‘In the circle of the Open Form: Vilnius, Hoglands & Hansen’s counter-memorial in Auschwitz’, which takes her back to her past research on the encounters between Henry Moore and a visionary Polish architect and urban planner Oskar Hansen.

Slide from Kasia’s lecture

Our best museums are clearly absorbed in getting you students into their exhibitions – the lastest offer comes from the National Gallery:

The National Gallery would like to extend an invitation to your students for complimentary entry to our latest exhibition, Monochrome: Painting in Black and White, which explores why have artists chosen to paint in black and white over the last 700 years, from van Eyck, Rembrandt, Dürer, and Ingres to Picasso, Malevich, Richter, and Riley.
In order to take up this offer, students will need to show a valid student card to obtain a complimentary ticket from the exhibition ticketing desk in the Sainsbury Wing. The show closes on 18 February.

Another of the big beasts of the London museum scene, Tate, has had the benefit of one of our students, Julija Svetlova, who has recently completed the MA History of Art. Here she is with a guest post on her experience there as a volunteer guide, with a photo of her in action with an absorbed audience (photographer Vickie Flores) and of one of the objects she mentions below.

‘In February of 2016, I applied for a role as Guide at Tate Modern. My application was successful, and I went for an interview for which I had to prepare a five-minute presentation on Man Ray’s surrealist sculpture, Cadeau. I then went through twelve weeks of training, alongside the other prospective guides, and then successfully passed all the tour reviews.

My first experience of addressing the general public was during the Tate Modern extension’s opening week. I did a series of ten-minute talks about the photographs of Bernd and Hilla Becher. In the months that followed I considerably expanded my repertoire and now I run eight 30 and 45 minutes tours. At the Tate, there are no pre-assigned scripts, and the guides are free to choose any artworks they want to for their own research and deliver their own texts. My tours cover a wide variety of art from the 20th and 21st centuries, including photography, painting, sculpture and performance art.

Working as a Guide at Tate has provided me with a unique opportunity to apply the knowledge I accumulated while studying History of Art with Photography at Masters level, from visual analysis and critical thinking, to understanding the collection of one of the most visited art galleries in the world. I see myself as a mediator of meanings between the works of art, curatorial vision and gallery’s visitors. My role is to help Tate’s visitors to understand modern and contemporary art in all its shapes and forms, and I enjoy doing it immensely. The feedback I get from both Tate visitors, and the gallery’s management is very positive and encouraging.

After two years of guiding tours at Tate Modern, as well as occasional tours for private clients, I decided to launch my own guided tour company, which will focus on different art collections around London. I am currently developing a tour, which will focus on art of the Low Countries in the seventeenth-century. A couple of years ago I took Chris Mook’s module Seventeenth-Century Painting in the Netherlands and since then developed a deep passion for the subject.’

Julija Svetlova tour at The Tate Gallery on 10th May 2017

Cadeau 1921, editioned replica 1972 Man Ray 1890-1976 Presented by the Tate Collectors Forum 2002 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07883





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extra extra – deadlines approaching for Venice Fellowships and PhD applications

A short extra post from me to highlight two upcoming deadlines:

TOMORROW – 12 January, 5pm – British Council Venice Fellowships

The School of Arts at Birkbeck is delighted to announce an exciting opportunity to all current students. We are inviting applications for two Steward-Research Fellowships at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018, running between 26 May and 25 November 2018. A background in architecture or architectural history is not a pre-requisite. These are part funded by the British Council, and by the School of Arts. The successful candidates will be responsible for making their own travel, accommodation and insurance arrangements, but will be given a grant of £1600 for the month towards these and other expenses.

The successful candidates will work four days per week as an invigilator in the British Pavilion. Their remaining time will be used for study and research around the biennale theme, Freespace, which describes a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture’s agenda, focusing on the quality of space itself. Students may wish to use this opportunity to contribute to an existing project or a dissertation – but there is no obligation to do so. 

Application form and further details below. Applications should be sent to Clare Thomas (c.thomas@bbk.ac.uk) by 5pm 12 January.

Application Form_Venice Fellowships 2018 Application Guidelines_Venice Fellowships 2018 Venice_Fellowships_Introduction

MONDAY – 15 January – PhD places and funding

If you’re planning to do a PhD and would like to apply for one of 12 fully funded Birkbeck Postgraduate Research Scholarships, the time is now. You need to have applied for a place on the MPhil/PhD programme by 15 January, and then there’s a subsequent deadline of 14 February for the scholarships themselves. More information on eligibility and how to apply here:


You can read more about the wide range of areas in which we supervise PhDs in History of Art here:


If you’d like to make an informal enquiry about these scholarships or about anything to do with studying for a PhD in the department, please contact Professor Lynn Nead: l.nead@bbk.ac.uk.



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Welcome to 2018

Welcome to a new year and a new term – I hope you all had restful breaks with some fun in there somewhere too. Those who came along to the Birkbeck History of Art Society Christmas party on the last day of term began the holidays with a bang – huge thanks to the organisers and to Laura Jacobus for this photo:

This is also a time to welcome colleagues back from research leave – so a warm welcome back to Gabriel Koureas, and a fond (temporary) farewell to Laura Jacobus as she goes on leave for the Spring term. Very happy to be saying hello again to Peter Fane-Saunders, who taught in the department in 2016-17 and is rejoining us for the Spring term 2018.

A couple of events coming up to draw your attention to:

Carol Richardson will be giving the first of the term’s Murray Seminars in Medieval and Renaissance Art on the topic of Britons and Anglo-Saxons in Sixteenth-Century Rome: the 1580s fresco cycle at the English College. 17 January 5pm, Keynes Library – no need to book! Click here for the poster with the term’s seminars: Murray seminar Spring 2018

And our History and Theory of Photography Research Centre presents:

6 February 2018, 6:00-7:30pm, Keynes Library: The Touch of Light: Bruce Nauman’s Holograms – Elizabeth Johnson (Associate Research Fellow, Vasari Research Centre for Art and Technology)

Finally, a guest post from Sarah McBryde, a graduate of our Graduate Certificate and our MA History of Art currently doing a PhD under Dorigen Caldwell’s supervision. She recounts the thrilling/nerve-wracking experience of giving her first conference paper – and make sure to click through to her fascinating poster…

In December I was lucky enough to be selected to present my first academic paper titled ‘“A Gifted Dwarf” in the Court of Cosimo I de’Medici’, as part of a Graduate Student Session at the international conference, ‘Representing Infirmity: Diseased Bodies in Renaissance and Early Modern Italy’ at the Monash University Prato Centre in Italy. The conference organised by Jonathan K. Nelson, Fredrika Jacobs, Peter Howard and my PhD co-supervisor, John Henderson, was held in the grand ballroom of the 18th century Palazzo Vai, in the heart of Prato. Formerly a family home, then a gambling and social club for local businessmen, the palazzo became Monash’s Italian base in 2001 and still retains its ornate décor, sparkling with ‘coconut ice’ coloured glass and gilt chandeliers. As well as taking part in the conference I had also been invited to present my paper at the annual Monash Postgraduate Symposium the previous day. This gave me a chance to overcome a few nerves in the rather overwhelming setting, check my Powerpoint slides were actually going to work(!) and discuss a range of interesting research projects with a group of international MA and PhD students who were also participating.

The conference’s aim was to provide a platform for research into all aspects of Renaissance medicine and contemporary attitudes towards infirmities, diseases and disabilities. It brought together leading academics from the USA, Australia, Italy, Germany, Finland and the UK, and was opened by John Henderson whose keynote Bill Kent Memorial Lecture discussed religious and secular strategies to combat the 1630-33 plague outbreak in Florence. Other papers covered a broad array of subjects, from the depiction of goitres in Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St Andrew (Danielle Carrabino), to external treatments such as cupping and scarification (Evelyn Welch), modes of portraying diseases without visible external symptoms (Sheila Barker) and the Franciscans’ treatment of leprosy in the 15th century (Diana Bullen Presciutti).

Preparing the paper itself was a useful learning curve, including how to write an abstract to fit a conference theme and design an academic poster. I also took part in a BISR Presentation Skills Training Day and was able to test my paper in the supportive environment of a ‘Writing the Object’ seminar with Lynda Nead, in front of my fellow History of Art research students (thank you all for your brilliant comments!). My experience in Prato was both memorable and rewarding. Although initially daunted by the thought of presenting my first paper, particularly at such an early stage in my project, the feedback and encouragement I received from other speakers, students and members of the audience was invaluable and has given me many ideas to follow up as I establish the parameters of my research.






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Happy Holidays

As promised, one last post before the end of 2017.

Among the many events of the last two weeks of term were the Staff-Student exchange meetings my colleagues and I have with the student representatives of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. These are always really interesting and constructive sessions – opportunities for all of you, via your reps, to feedback any issues to us, and for us to respond, and sometimes take away issues for further discussion with the whole department. An example of the rapid working of this mechanism was the discussion about the longer-than-usual Christmas closure of the library and the deadline for MA essays. The reps at the post-grad meeting made an eloquent case for the extension of the deadline, which normally falls on the first day of the Spring term, for an additional week, to 15 January, and we agreed. Democracy in action!

There was also a useful meeting about the British Council Venice Fellowships, in which potential applicants heard from the British Council rep and the two fellows who went to Venice last month. (The deadline for applications is 5pm on 12 January – further information from Clare c.thomas@bbk.ac.uk or Sarah sarah.thomas@bbk.ac.uk) One of this year’s Venice fellows, Ruth Houlsby, MA History of Art with Photography, has written a thoughtful piece for the British Council’s UK at the Venice Biennale blog. Here’s one of her images, showing Yelena Vorobyeva & Viktor Vorobyev’s The Artist is Asleep (1996) – I thought it might resonate with a few of you at the end of term:

Meanwhile here in London, the MA Museum Cultures students were wide awake and out in the field, visiting two highly contrasting archives. Student Richard Godfrey reports:

On the 14th November, we visited both the Bishopsgate institute archive and the British museums archive. Being a totally new experience I didn’t know what to expect. The archive at the Bishopsgate institute was a surprising and humorous visit all thanks to the archive manager Stefan Dickers, who was full off anecdotes regarding his collection. He explained that the archive collects items that are viewed as history from below. The archive does this by collecting from areas like the working class, LGBT community, radical and social history. The reason they collect these items is because often it is this history that is forgotten and the archive acts to preserve them. If you get the chance to visit the archive, then go, even just to listen to Stefan talk about the archives collection or to see their collection of leatherman posters or old take away pizza menus. The British museum’s archive on the other hand was something else altogether, over 200 years of the museum’s history is stored within but in no apparent order. As the Museum is a publicly funded institute its archives are considered to be public records and are available for public access. However the British museum archive is typical of a large institute that is very old – the archive materials have been poorly classified, because in the past the museums interest was mainly focused on its collection. It was interesting to me to see how two archives could be so very different from each other.

An opportunity for the budding young art critics among you (and I say ‘young’ advisedly): the Burlington Magazine has announced this year’s Contemporay Art Writing Prize, with a deadline of 26 February. It’s specifically for aspiring, rather than established, writers, which is good, but it has a maximum age limit of 35, which is bad, and very un-Birkbeck! More here.

Missed Gabriele Finaldi’s Murray lecture on the National Gallery and the Prado, or want to catch it again? Now you can listen here.

I’ll leave you with a seasonal art historical scene, Peter Bruegel the Elder’s Hunters in the Snow (Winter) from 1565 (thanks to Vienna’s Kunsthistorische Museum and the Google Art Project). You never know, we may get more of the white stuff!

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