Friday, 21 March 2014

Lecture Notes: Lisa Wade on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein through the eyes of Hollywood

In this regular series, art historians from the University of Essex provide thoughts on highlights from their lecture portfolios. First up, Deputy Head of School Dr Lisa Wade pulls out some contemporary takes on a literary classic as part of our interdisciplinary 'Enlightenment' module.

Lecturer: Lisa Wade

I’ve just given the final lecture in the first year Enlightenment series for this term, on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein! We looked at a number of themes including creation and birthing and with this in mind also recommended this YouTube link for students new to the text (click on the link above). This is a grand scale moment in Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 film version of Mary Shelley’s novel. Obviously there are some liberties seized, rather than taken. I’m sure it’s not entirely reflective of nineteenth century midwifery (more swashbuckling than blood-soaked) but I do think that it really helps to consider some of the broader themes that we’ve been grappling with. Sir Ken is both mythological creator and birth ‘Mother.’ So we see him stripped to the waist, sweating over the task in hand, variously lifting and pulling, injecting and apparently electrocuting (how totally Hollywood!) as he commands the elements! The final triumphant ‘YES!’ is no doubt intended as a parallel to the elation felt by mothers after the process of labour. No swearing here, though! Certainly the ‘blood and gore-free’ delivery environment (it was all gelatine, I understand) prompted me to think of blood and gore free Christian nativity scenes...
But that’s a whole other (second-year!) lecture.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Exhibition Spotlight: Georgians Revealed

By Dr Natasha Ruiz-Gómez

A short summary of my favourite exhibition so far in 2014.

Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain
British Library
Until March 11 2014

"Tasteful and polite, or riotous and pleasure-obsessed? Discover the Georgians as they really were, through the objects that tell the stories of their lives."
1. What is your favourite exhibition that you have been to so far this year?
Georgians Revealed at the British Library.

2.Who did you go with?
I went to the exhibition alone.

3. What was your favourite of art, or artist, from the exhibition?
The heeled clogs that protected the delicate shoes worn by posh ladies, so that they wouldn't get soiled on the dirty streets of England!

4. Using one word or phrase, how would you describe the exhibition?

Friday, 14 March 2014

Is studying Art History only for the 'posh'?

By Dr. Matthew Bowman

"Studying Art History is like learning how to analyse your own culture" - A level student, Sam Message.

A recent article in the Guardian has argued that the study of art history is 'not just a subject for posh girls', despite misconceptions and existing prejudices.

Matt Bowman has his say:

"Being neither posh nor a girl myself, it’s heartening to read a public reminder that art history is not an intellectual leisure activity for upper-middle classes and higher girls and women. Coming from a working class background and doing fifteen-to-eighteen hour shifts nearly every Saturday during my teenage years as a milkman’s assistant, a fascination for art and comics opened my eyes towards distant horizons far removed from my upbringing. My original aim was to be become a comic book artist, but I ended up studying art and then found my way into researching art history. Studies have long shown that social classes tend to reproduce themselves from generation to generation, and so the false notion that art history is for the rich rather than the poor plays an unfortunate role in that reproduction. This notion also threatens to engender snobbishness and philistinism while obstructing potential and more productive thoughts. Culture is one of the ways we define ourselves, and identifying the production and reception of culture with the rich threatens to deny others a part in that ongoing definition. Art opened a horizon for me, and I can only congratulate Caroline Osborne’s efforts in doing the same for others. Art can invite moments of convergence between different social classes, even though their lift experiences might be wildly different."

Monday, 10 March 2014

Paper: After Word, Thought, Life: A Stroll in Parisian Parks

By Dr. Michaela Giebelhausen


This afterword takes the reader on a lyrical psychogeographic drift (dérive) through Paris’ green spaces, from the Buttes-Chaumont of Aragon’s Paris Peasant back through the jardin anglais of the Parc Monceau and the grounds of colonial expositions to the bright red follies of the late twentieth-century Parc de la Villette.  The pavilions met with here are like relics, living out their afterlives, triggering memories and imagination, reminding the reader of the changeability of function and meaning that makes it so difficult to pin down such structures.

This paper can be downloaded, for free, here.

17.4 Fragment of the Hôtel de Ville, destroyed in the civil
war of 1871. Photograph: Michaela Giebelhausen.

The Open Arts Journal

The Open Arts Journal addresses the demand for a rigorously compiled, peer-reviewed platform for arts scholarship open to diverse participants. Our dissemination is global, spanning multiple communities including practitioners of art, architecture and design, curators and arts policy-makers, and researchers in the arts and heritage sectors.

Developing from a broad base of interests the Open Arts Journal emphasises innovation, in both content and medium and by virtue of a bespoke digital design. Our contributors encompass a wide range of scholars, from professionals to provocateurs, with original visual essays and polemics; reflections on art from curators and artists; and the fruits of rigorous theoretical, historical or longitudinal research.

The Open Arts Journal is also a tactical initiative. It confronts the mixed blessings brought to the arts and humanities by current developments in ‘open access’ scholarship. Many of the dominant platforms for academic publishing that are free for their readers operate by drawing fees from their contributors. We feel that such arrangements frustrate if not subvert the opportunities presented by digital distribution of academic scholarship for use ‘on demand’.

With an administrative home in the Department of Art History at The Open University, the Open Arts Journal makes an alternative, distinctive offer. Ours is a robust and imaginative response issuing from within the arts community, with an ethos of ‘openness’ toward those who may benefit from genuine ‘open access’ scholarly activity online.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Upcoming Conference: Artistic Practice and the Medical Museum

By Dr Natasha Ruiz-Gómez

The call for papers deadline has been and gone, and now we're sorting through all the abstracts. There is some great research out there...

For hundreds of years, medical collections have been sites of medical and artistic exchange. Not only were many of their contents created by artists and physicians, but the collections were also often compiled by doctors, who were themselves artistes-manqués. Although medical museums have recently received attention in museological and historical studies, they remain relatively ignored within art historical scholarship.

Lisa Temple-Cox, Experience 8, 2007. Mixed media.

This one-day conference will look at the anatomical, pathological or medical museum from the perspectives of art history and visual culture. Artists have utilised these spaces for the study of anatomy and pathology–as well as for ideas and inspiration–but what do we know about the artists, photographers and craftsmen and women who have worked within the museum? How can we theorise the collecting practices of the doctors who founded and/or ran these museums? What role did these spaces and their contents have on artistic practice, visual representation and the writing of art and medical histories? How does the medical museum continue to play a role in contemporary art-making and medical learning? From the wax modelers to the commissioning physicians to the painters and sculptors who were inspired by its contents, this conference will spark a dialogue about the artistry of the medical museum.

This conference will take place on 6 June 2014 in the MacRae Gallery of the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, London.

We anticipate publishing a selection of papers from the conference in an edited anthology.

For further information, visit our web page

This conference is associated with the ‘The Sculpture of the Échorché’ conference at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds on 7 June 2014.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Operation Spanner: Sadomasochism, Law and Culture

By Dr. Matt Lodder

In 1987, a group of homosexual men were arrested and charged with 'unlawful and malicious wounding' and 'assault occasioning actual bodily harm' for having participated in an entirely consensual group orgy involving sadomasochistic sex acts. The judge in the initial case, now known as R vs Brown, ruled that consent was no defence to the charges levelled, and all the men charged were convicted.

The case was appealed by three of the men, Colin Laskey, Roland Jaggard and Anthony Brown to both the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights, but at every stage, the convictions were upheld, despite persistent criticism by legal scholars and human rights activists. The case, whose ruling still technically remains in force despite the obvious lack of interest contemporary police show in enforcing it, had profound impacts on several spheres of cultural life in Britain both within and beyond the initial impacted communities.

This talk, almost thirty years on from the initial arrests and twenty years on from the ECHR ruling, presents and discusses some of these impacts, particularly in the cultural sphere.

"Dominic Johnson's work on Ron Athey and Franko B, 'Intimacy and Live Art', from which Dr Lodder quotes at length, can be found in Histories and Practices of Live Art, ed. by Deirdre Heddon and Jennie Klein (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). 

For more on the case, see The Spanner Trust website at Apologies to both Roland Jaggard and Tony Brown for the inadvertent transposition of their names at the beginning of the lecture.