Category Archives: University of Birmingham

Welcoming Professor Tamar Garb – The Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies Research Seminar Series 2014 – 15

We are pleased to announce that the Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies will be welcoming Professor Tamar Garb to kick-off this year’s Research Seminar Series on Thursday 9 October. Currently Durning Lawrence Professor in the History of Art at University College London, and recently elected a Fellow of the British Academy, we are thrilled to be hosting Tamar, who will be delivering a lecture about her recent research on African studio portraits:

 

Photo Albums and Fancy Dress: Encounters with the African Archive

 

Weinberg, Nelson Mandela

 Prof. Tamar Garb

Durning Lawrence Professor in the History of Art, University College London

Fellow of the British Academy

Thursday October 9th 2014, 5:15pm, Strathcona Lecture Theatre 1

This lecture will look at the artifice and stageyness of African studio portraits via the project ‘Black Photo Album’ by Santu Mofokeng, the performed veracity of Samuel Fosso’s disguised self representations, and the ubiquity of a specific image of the young Nelson Mandela, widely regardedas ‘traditional’ and authentic. Throughout photographic portraiture is considered as a medium that mobilises the artifice of the studio, fancy dress and costume in the production of photogenic and fitting subjects.

All welcome!

Please also note that the full schedule for the Department’s Research Seminar series will be made available soon.

Please forward enquiries to Jamie Edwards: jle756@bham.ac.uk

Why I like this module… The Political Thriller on Film: Ideology, Genre, Emotion

Grace Higgins, finalist, BA History of Art

Grace Higgins, finalist, BA History of Art

 “One of the most interesting modules I studied at university was The Political Thriller on Film. The module, which looks at the film genre of the Political Thriller, explores how film makers since the 1960s have used the genre as a vehicle to explore the ongoing challenges and controversies of a highly politicised modern world. Having not previously had the chance to study film, the course has given me the opportunity to apply my visual analytical skills in a different way, alongside learning key theoretical concepts, exploring response to film and the debates raised.

Discussion and participation are heavily encouraged, as every other week we have the chance to respond directly to films we have watched, which range from the The Parallax View, the American thriller based on the investigation of the assassination of a senator, to The Battle of Algiers, about the urban guerrilla warfare used by Algeria to gain independence from France.”

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This final year 20-credit module:

  • Untitled4Is taught by Dr Alex Marlow-Mann, a specialist of European and especially Italian cinema
  • Explores the evolution of the political thriller on film from the 1960s – present in a range of national and political contexts
  • analyses if and how the genre of political thriller can be used as a vehicle for political change
  • Examines questions of audience engagement

Why I like this module… Michelangelo

Jamie Edwards, PhD Student, UoB

Jamie Edwards, PhD Student, UoB

“I jumped at the chance to take David’s course on Michelangelo for the third year of my Art History degree. I had studied 15th-century art and architecture with David in the second year and wanted to develop my interest in Renaissance art to much greater depth, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do just that. David’s expertise, not to mention his infectious enthusiasm, fully brought to life Michelangelo’s world and his famous works such as the David. The course considers Michelangelo’s life and output, from his rise to fame in the Medici Untitled5household, through to the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and on to his final works of sculpture and architecture. It also puts Michelangelo’s art in its cultural context: how does Michelangelo’s representation of the body fit in with contemporary debates about beauty and a polemic about style? What is the Sistine ceiling all about, really? Along the way, the artist’s “challenging” character was also revealed to us through the analysis of contemporary sources, notably Giorgio Vasari’s Life of Michelangelo. In all, the Michelangelo course was thoroughly fascinating, enjoyable and intellectually stimulating, and it led in no small part to my decision to research 16th-century art at postgraduate level, which I am still doing now (… some 4 years later … happily still under the influence of David’s unabated enthusiasm!).”

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This final year special subject:Untitled7

  • Is taught by David Hemsoll, a specialist in the art and architecture of Renaissance Italy
  • Focuses on the wide-ranging works of Michelangelo, identifying his artistic objectives, his special achievements, his influence and his reputation.
  • Explores the artistic context within which Michelangelo worked
  • Examines critically both primary and secondary written and visual sources

Why I like this module… Fashioning Flesh and Technology: Modernism and the Body in Germany 1918-1933

Sarah Cowie, finalist, BA English and History of Art

Sarah Cowie, finalist, BA English and History of Art

Fashioning Flesh and Technology is one of the most fascinating modules I’ve taken at Birmingham. The topics explored range from technology and its effect on the war veteran’s body to mass culture and the New Woman, providing a thorough examination of how artists, architects, designers, and filmmakers responded to the dramatic social and political changes incurred in Germany’s interwar years. In particular, I have enjoyed the opportunity to study the representation of the mechanised body in films such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and postwar trauma in Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The experience has challenged the way in which I analyse imagery, as well as informing my English Literature Dissertation on fiction and cinematography. The seminars encourage group debate on the diverse topics introduced in the lectures, with both contemporary textual sources (for example, the writings of Freud, Kracauer, and Benjamin) and more recent scholarship on the body in modern visual culture enriching these discussions. The material covered and the interdisciplinary approach has really suited my interest in European modern art and has certainly inspired me to consider further study in this area.”

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This final year special subject :

  • Untitled4is taught by Dr Camilla Smith, a specialist in the visual cultures of England, Switzerland and the Weimar Republic
  • Considers the concept of German Modernism in relation to discourses on real and imagined bodies from 1918-1933
  • uses a range of visual, textual and film sources to explore Modernism’s relationship to themes such as the metropolis, mass culture, technology and sexuality
  • analyses works by artists and authors such as Freud, Foucault, Loos, Dix, and Schenker

Why I like this module… Making Cultures: New Ways of Reading Things

Chloe Lund, BA History of Art, 2013

Chloe Lund, BA History of Art, 2013

“This module encourages students to critically engage with the material world by considering how objects make and reflect culture. Each week, sessions are delivered by a different University department, including the Research and Cultural Collections, Lapworth Museum, the Centre for West African Studies, the Medical School, the Barber Institute, and Winterbourne Gardens.”

“The content of the classes is exceptionally diverse and we had a go at some of the tasks involved in the professional roles of our session leaders, such as writing museum labels, curating a display of objects from Special Collections, making a wax model for casting, and planning an activity to engage a target group with a work of art. We were also treated to a number of behind-the-scenes tours and demonstrations, including watching a rock being sliced open to reveal a splendid fossil in the Geology Department! Class discussions were especially interesting because the group was comprised of students from many different cultural and academic backgrounds. As well as improving my understanding of the use and interpretation of objects of culture, I would say that taking Making Cultures has really enriched my University experience. It is a fantastic opportunity to learn about the University beyond my own department, and presents the privileged chance to explore its rich collections.”

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This second year MOMD module:

  • draws on the University’s extensive range of museums, collections and archives and the expertise of arts and science academics and heritage professionals.
  • Involves object-based learning in its broadest sense, enabling students to critically engage with the material world.
  • focuses on issues around the collection, interpretation and display of material culture; current debates about ‘ownership’, ethics and public engagement; and the impact of new digital technologies
  • Is assessed by a reflective learning journal and a portfolio of evidence linked to specific artefacts and collections

 

 

 

Why I like this module… Visual Cultures of Revolution in France

Rebecca Ingram, finalist, BA History of Art

Rebecca Ingram, finalist, BA History of Art

“We all know of the infamous events that bloodied the streets of Paris between the years 1789-1848, but this era is also remarkable for the way in which the social upheaval brought about a radical change in the significance of art for the French commoner. I enjoy this module immensely because the story of visual cultures of this era is unique: the module covers not only the production of pro-revolutionary imagery, but the entire re-imagining of the power of images as well as the symbolic destruction of images. This module is about understanding the potency of art through the eyes of an eighteenth-century Parisian.

 Dr Richard Clay’s enthusiasm is so engaging and the way he incorporates his own ideas is particularly exciting. For example, he has shown us that what historians have previously considered to be the mindless vandalism of regency Paris was in fact deliberate iconoclasm, and that this played a key role in asserting the republican sensibilities.”Untitled2

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This final year module:

  • analyses the roles of visual cultures during the revolutions of 1789 and 1830, the rise and fall of Napoleon, the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy and its fall. Untitled5
  • examines the continuities and changes in the production, display and reception of paintings and prints during this time in France.
  • explores the training of artists, the development of museums, and periods of iconoclasm
  • analyses works by artists such as David, Boilly, Isobey, Gérard, Rowlandson, Gillray, Géricault, Delacroix, and Daumier

 Dr Richard Clay convenes this module. To get a taste of what the module is all about check out his BBC 4 documentary, Tearing Up History.

Why I like this module… Inside Out: Interiors and Interiority in French Art, Design and Visual Culture, 1840-1940

Claire Lawley, finalist, BA History of Art

Claire Lawley, finalist, BA
History of Art

“Inside Out is a very engaging and well-structured module. Not only do we cover a large period of history (1840-1940), but we also explore a large range of artists and movements. Until studying this module, I had not considered how the interior of a room could signify so many messages, and how this can be linked to the interiority of the figures that inhabit the space. Studying the Nabis has been one of my highlights, in particular Edouard Vuillard who painted many figures of his mother within the domestic sphere. There have been many topics to cover, all of which have given me in depth knowledge, and new perspectives of looking at interiors of French art. I am very glad I chose this module for my Special Subject!”

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 This final year special subject

  • Untitled5is taught by Dr Francesca Berry, a specialist in French art and design, the representation of interiors, and feminist theories
  • analyses the changing uses and meanings of the interior and notions of interiority in French art, design and visual culture 1840-1940.
  • considers a range of media, including painting, photography, magazines and film,
  • debates the practices of key figures including Degas, Cassatt, Vuillard, Matisse, Atget, Mallet-Stevens and Le Corbusier
  • analyses the interiors produced by Impressionism, Art Nouveau, Cubism, Art Deco and Surrealism.
  • considers visual forms in relation to artistic and architectural theory, popular psychology and literary

Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections Internship by Holly Wain

After finishing my final year I was lucky enough to undertake a month long internship at the Cadbury Research Library which is the home of the University of Birmingham’s Special Collections and holds approximately 200,000 pre-1850 books and 4 million manuscripts. I had seen the advert through the careers network earlier in the year and I had been using the library during the research of my dissertation, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity for me. I had been interested in rare books and manuscripts during the final years of my degree and the advert mentioned heritage which seemed to fit into other work experience that I had carried out in museums. I realise now, however, that at that point I really had no clue about the work involved in libraries and archives! Throughout the four weeks I learnt an enormous amount about the way libraries and archives differ and I have had a real insight into the role of an archivist, something I am now seriously considering as a career path.

The Cadbury Research Library’s Main Reception, The University of Birmingham, Edgbaston Campus, Muirhead Tower Lower Ground Floor.

 

The Heslop Reading Room. Open to students, academics and the public.

The Heslop Reading Room. Open to students, academics and the public.

I was chosen along with Hannah Hickman, a Masters student studying at the Shakespeare Institute, to work towards an exhibition and a cataloguing project. As soon as we arrived we were welcomed in as part of the team. Our supervisor, archivist Jennifer Childs, had organised a very detailed schedule for the entire four week period in which she planned time for the exhibition, cataloguing and sessions with each member of staff. This approach was so refreshing and I really appreciated how she had planned the internship to benefit us instead of leaving us feeling like spare parts. During the internship we worked towards an exhibition for the centenary of The First World War which will open in September and will be placed in the Main Library. Jenny and the team offered helpful guidance and trained us in different skills but we were also given the freedom to determine the nature of the exhibition. Jenny planned the schedule so that we had time to work on every part of the exhibition and we were able to experience all the steps involved, from selecting material and narrowing down a theme to working in the conservation studio with conservator, Marie Sviergula to prepare our chosen materials. We also worked on two digital exhibitions on Flickr and the archive catalogue CALM’s image gallery which involved experience in reprographics and Photoshop.

In the conservation studio we discovered that making mounts for photographs is a lot harder than it looks.

In the conservation studio we discovered that making mounts for photographs is a lot harder than it looks.

We were also able to see the work of Hoa, an intern from Melbourne University. Here she is working on watercolours of skin diseases!

We were also able to see the work of Hoa, an intern from Melbourne University. Here she is working on watercolours of skin diseases!

The second part of the internship was spent working with an archivist on a cataloguing project. I worked with Anne George on the Save the Children collection and had the opportunity to sift through the papers of Dorothy Buxton and her sister Eglantyne Jebb, who founded the organisation. The papers, from the early 1920s, were not catalogued and I worked on putting together a more detailed list of items to then catalogue them on the programme CALM. I was trained to use the programme and by the end of the internship I had catalogued just over 500 items! It was hard work looking through folders of small papers and trying to make sense of handwritten scribbles but I found it incredibly interesting. It was a privilege to be able to read through her notes and see history playing out in such a personal way. I really enjoyed making links between figures and events because with every new newspaper cutting or letter I was getting another glimpse into the time period. I also felt very lucky to be able to work with an archivist and contribute to her project.

I am so grateful to the team at the Cadbury Research Library for making the internship so worthwhile in terms of the skills gained but also the knowledge I now have of career paths into archives. Each team member was so interested in our plans and offered invaluable advice. I have enjoyed working at the Special Collections so much that I plan to continue volunteering there during my MRes course starting in September.

Our exhibition, ‘Rest and Recreation: volunteering during the Great War’ opens September 4 in the display case in the Main Library foyer.

 

Curating Research: Rachael Yardley, co-curator of Lasting Impressions: 20th Century Portrait Prints, talks about her fantastic experience of working on the postgraduate exhibition at the Barber Institute

There is nothing like the feeling of walking into an exhibition that you have worked towards for nine months and seeing a crowd of animated people engaging with the works that they are encountering. These works were chosen, researched and carefully arranged by myself and eight other History of Art postgraduate students from the department, as part of a module called Curating Research. The months that preceded the private view of our exhibition, Lasting Impressions, were challenging at times, but also so much fun! We all learnt a great deal and we have come away with the fantastic experience of working as a team to transform academic research into an exhibition that we hope will captivate the Barber Institute’s audience.

Rachael standing proudly in front of the bustling Lady Barber gallery at the private view of Lasting Impressions

Rachael standing proudly in front of the bustling Lady Barber gallery at the private view of Lasting Impressions

We were given the opportunity to work on the exhibition as part of the ‘Curating Research’ module offered by the University of Birmingham’s MA programme in Art History, Film and Visual Culture. The academic year began with module leader, Dr Richenda Roberts teaching us about the history and evolution of museums and galleries around the world from private collections to public institutions, including various current issues that affect them today. Gaining theoretical and historical knowledge on museums and exhibitions was fascinating and is important for anyone hoping to work in the museum sector. However, we were itching to get down to the practical aspect of the course. One of the wonderful things about the module is that we were taught not only by experienced, knowledgeable University of Birmingham staff, but also by members of the team from the stunning Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Sessions were led by the Marketing, Learning and Access, and Exhibitions and Loans departments.

The Barber worked in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, which provided many of the exhibition loans for Lasting Impressions. As part of the exhibition planning, we went to the National Portrait Gallery to see the prints up close and personal and to make our selection of loans. This was a great opportunity to delve behind the scenes. It is not surprising that almost everyone doing an Art History MA in 2013-14 took the Curating Research Module!

Lead image for Lasting Impressions, Self Portrait, Michael Rothenstein (Coloured woodcut, 1981)

Lead image for Lasting Impressions, Self Portrait, Michael Rothenstein (Coloured woodcut, 1981)  © National Portrait Gallery, London

However, it was not all fancy trips and talks. The course has also been a lot of hard work. The incredible prints on offer to us somehow needed to be narrowed down, the themes had to be worked out, and it all had to live up to the Barber Institute’s excellent reputation. (And, of course, the visitors had to like it!) Met with a whirlwind of new information and exciting prints it was easy to get caught up and forget the most important part – what would become Lasting Impressions, the exhibition itself.

Previous student-led exhibitions had all done something a little different and we wanted to follow suit. Our earliest ideas ranged from abstract themes, like arrangement by colour, to more specific ideas, like displaying only artists’ self-portraits. It was only upon visiting the National Portrait Gallery for the first time and looking around and seeing the works available to us that we decided upon our focus: printmaking as an artistic, expressive form. The twentieth century saw numerous artists produce prints, many of whom were experimenting with different, and sometimes unusual, printmaking techniques, combining different methods or using new materials. The works we chose were all fascinating individually and captivating aesthetically – we thought they would certainly make a ‘lasting impression’ on our visitors! I fell in love at an early stage with the portrait of Robert Plant by David Oxtoby. The print is vibrant and expressive of Plant’s musical passion (I confess to being a big Led Zeppelin fan).

A visitor looking at David Oxtoby’s portrayal of Robert Plant © Simon Hadley

A visitor looking at David Oxtoby’s portrayal of Robert Plant
© Simon Hadley

The works we chose were diverse and, as such, the resulting exhibition juxtaposes prints such as a 1907 etching of William Booth by Francis Dodd, a wonderfully vibrant and technically fascinating self portrait by Michael Rothenstein (1981, coloured woodcut), and a group portrait of politicians at the House of Commons by Chris Orr (1986, aquatint and etching). Within the exhibition, works such as these provide an overview of British portraiture in print during the twentieth century, and highlight the various techniques and styles used to develop the expressive potential of printmaking.

We wanted to make this exhibition as accessible as possible, and knew from our own experience that the technical aspect of printmaking can sometimes be a bit of a mystery. On display in the Lady Barber gallery, alongside the prints, we have included a selection of printmaking tools as well as an information sheet outlining various printmaking techniques. You can even try out drypoint with Birmingham Printmakers at the Barber Institute’s workshops.

Co-curator and Art History student, Annette Eldridge discussing the printmaking tools display with Exhibition and Loans Officer, Katie Robson

Co-curator and Art History student, Annette Eldridge discussing the printmaking tools display with Exhibition and Loans Officer, Katie Robson

Alongside that of the National Portrait Gallery, we were also given the opportunity to explore the fantastic collections here at the University of Birmingham, including the Research and Cultural Collections and the Cadbury Research Library. In fact, the visit to the Research and Cultural Collections led to the loan of my favourite work in Lasting Impressions – a charming plasticine print by Hans Schwarz (1922 – 2003). Schwarz was an experimental artist and this self portrait with his wife expresses perfectly his sense of humour and innovative style.

Hans Schwarz (1922 -2003) Happy Couple I Undated, plasticine print A1060, © Research and Cultural Collections

Hans Schwarz (1922 -2003) Happy Couple I
Undated, plasticine print
A1060, © Research and Cultural Collections

It was exciting to reach the point of having chosen the works and established the theme, but our work wasn’t over. The chosen works would need to make their way onto the walls and into the cases. But before that, we had to summarise all the research we had carried out about the artists and sitters into a one hundred word label – possibly the hardest task in curating an exhibition. And all of these tasks had to be done to a deadline. To me, though, this is just another reason why the module is so fantastic – it doesn’t just teach you ‘exhibitions in theory’, but it teaches you how to overcome the real life challenges you must inevitably deal with if you wish to put on an exhibition. As an aspiring curator, the knowledge and practical experience I gained during this module has been invaluable.

Thankfully, we did manage to get everything on the walls and in the cases, and we even managed to write the labels! With a big thank you to Dr Richenda Roberts and all of the Barber Institute staff that gave us so much help – we are all incredibly proud of what we have achieved, and could not be happier with how the exhibition has turned out. You can see it for free at the Barber Institute until the 28th September.

The History of Art MA students from left to right: Gerda Van Wyk, Alice Peters, Mik Escolme, Annette Eldridge, Erin Shakespeare, Yang Yang Zhou, Rachael Yardley and Anne Russell. © Simon Hadley

The History of Art MA students from left to right: Gerda Van Wyk, Alice Peters, Mik Escolme, Annette Eldridge, Erin Shakespeare, Yang Yang Zhou, Rachael Yardley and Anne Russell.
© Simon Hadley

If you’re interested in studying the MA in History of Art and the Curating Research Module click here to find out more.

Oliver McCall, one of our previous MA graduates, has reviewed Lasting Impressions here.

Mortar boards, pins, heels, wine, prizes and speeches: it’s Graduation 2014!

It’s that time of year again when campus is buzzing with excited (and slightly nervous) students, proud parents, and lecturers dressed as you’ve never seen them before! Graduation is a time to celebrate all our History of Art students have achieved during their time at Birmingham, not just on their degree programme but also as members of our department, the Barber Institute, UoB and the city itself. As a department we are pleased to be able to give out two prizes each year – the Sam Beighton Prize for the best dissertation, and the Emily Rastall Prize for the best overall contribution to the department. Competition is always stiff and there are more worthy candidates than there are prizes: every year, many of our students give generously of their time and energy in volunteering for various events, helping to run open days, applicant visit days, and workshops, and offering peer support. The department really appreciates this because it helps to make the department what it is – friendly, fun, and a great place to study.

Here we’ve put together a selection of photos from the ceremony on July 11th when Single and some Joint Honours History of Art Students graduated. You can read about about our prize winners and also see David, one of the department’s founding members, being given the by-now traditional ‘lift off’!

Dr Richard Clay with Tayler, Alice and Olivia at our pre-gown reception

Dr Richard Clay with Tayler, Alice and Olivia at our pre-gown reception

 

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Senior lecturer David Hemsoll and Dr Fran Berry at speech time

 

Students and parents at speech time

Students and parents at speech time

 

This year, the Emily Rastall prize, awarded in memory of a student who sadly passed away just after her finals in 2012, was shared by French and History of Art student Holly Wain and History of Art student Caroline Hetherington for their overall contribution to the department.

On receiving the prize, Caroline said: ‘Receiving the Emily Rastall prize was a little surprising (and embarrassing!), but I was very pleased to get it. Being recognised for contributing to the department made me think back over the three years of my course and remember the exciting things I was able to accomplish. It definitely reminded me that there was a lot more to my degree than the final mark.’

How did she feel at graduation? ‘Graduation was a lovely opportunity for all of us to be excited and proud after all the nerves of results day, although for me the best part of the day was my parents turning up about two minutes before we went on stage to receive our degrees.’

Is there anything she’ll miss now she’s graduated? ‘I will miss actually studying art history the most, as especially in final year I have loved the amount of research and interesting conversations that have taught me so much more about the subject. Alongside this, writing a dissertation about a previously unstudied sculpture probably gave me the most satisfaction.’ But, Caroline’s not going very far: ‘I am not leaving the University yet – I’m now a graduate trainee in Professional Services, working on different placements over the next year. I don’t know where I’ll go after that, but I’m pretty sure I’m not done studying yet.’

 

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Holly (left) and Caroline standing by the tree planted in Emily’s memory in the Barber grounds

 

Holly said, ‘I feel very honoured to be receiving the Emily Rastall Prize as it means the department can continue to celebrate the commitment and enthusiasm Emily had for Art History at the Barber. It also gave me the chance to reflect on my past four years in the History of Art department and how much I enjoyed contributing to projects like the Golovine Blog.’

How was graduation for her? ‘My graduation day was fantastic because I could share all the relief and happiness with my family and friends. My favourite moment was walking out of the Great Hall after the ceremony and feeling proud and excited for the future!’

What is her favourite memory of her degree? ‘My best memory of studying art history at the Barber is working with my tutor Liz for my dissertation. I loved researching using primary sources in archives because I felt like I could genuinely contribute something new and different. I enjoyed it so much that I am coming back to the Barber in September to do a research masters in History of Art.’

 

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Cheers! Drs Fran Berry and Camilla Smith on the Barber steps with Caroline, Tayler, olivia, Alice and Nelle

 

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It all happened here! Holly, Hang, Emma and Caroline with Dr Liz L’Estrange on the Barber steps

 

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Relieved that no-one fell up or down the stairs! Claire, Louisa, Connie and Grace after the ceremony

 

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Milling around outside the Barber

 

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Hats off!

 

And now for the most traditional event of the day…

 

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Ready…

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…steady…

 

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…wave, David!

 

And now for something more sensible (well, depends what you make of the lecturers’ outfits):

Outside the Barber Institute of Fine Arts

Outside the Barber Institute of Fine Arts

The Sam Beighton Prize for the best dissertation was this year awarded to Joint Honours History of Art and English student, Sarah Cowie. Here she tells us a bit how she felt receiving the prize about the  dissertation that she wrote.

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Prize-winner Sarah on graduation day

 

How did she feel getting the prize? ‘I am very pleased to have been awarded the Sam Beighton Prize this year, as I know there was much competition! It is a nice recognition of my efforts with the dissertation, and I am extremely grateful to my supervisor for guiding me in the right direction.’

How was graduation? ‘My graduation day was lovely, although as a Joint Honours student I graduated on a different day to some of my  History of Art peers, but Josh and I did still manage to have a photo shoot in front of the Barber though!’

What was her best memory of studying at Birmingham? ‘Aside from the second-year study trip to Rome, I think my best memories are of the Barber. It is such an inspiring environment, with amazing research materials in the library and galleries, and always a great venue for lunch with concert music playing in the background!’

Any plans for the future? ‘My plans for the future are yet to be made – I wasn’t very good at thinking ahead in final year! At the moment I’m considering doing a law conversion in Bristol, after travelling this year.’

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Sarah with fellow JH History of Art and English student Josh

 

What was it like researching and writing a dissertation? ‘In the same way as with any research, my dissertation topic adapted, evolved (and unfortunately considering the word count, expanded!) the more I read around the field of study. What began as an interest in Kurt Schwitters’ association with the German Dadaists gradually became a study of exile and anti-nationalism during the Nazi regime; a subject area that complimented my final year special subject, German Modernisms of the Body.

The dissertation explores national identity and the concept of Heimat in Kurt Schwitters’ (1887-1948) assemblage, Picture of Spatial Growths/Picture with Two Small Dogs, which was produced in Hanover in 1920 and then reworked by the exiled artist nineteen years later in Oslo. The dramatically different cultural climates of these two completion dates – which bridge together post-World War One Germany and pre-World War Two Europe – have invited interpretations of the work that place special emphasis on Schwitters’ increasingly diminished sense of German national identity under the Nazi Regime. However, considering the irreparable damage left following Germany’s defeat in 1918 and the anti-nationalist sentiments outlined in the artist’s essay ‘Nationalitätsgefühl’ (National Sentiment) from 1924, the current study questions the extent to which Schwitters had a fixed sense of national identity, or any kind of investment in the Volksgemeinschaft even during these earlier years.

 

Kurt Schwitters, Picture of Spatial Growths/Picture with Two Small Dogs, 1920/1939. Oil, paper, cardboard, wood, fabric, and ceramic on board (97 x 69 x 11 cm) London, Tate Collection.

Kurt Schwitters, Picture of Spatial Growths/Picture with Two Small Dogs, 1920/1939. Oil, paper, cardboard, wood, fabric, and ceramic on board (97 x 69 x 11 cm) London, Tate Collection.

 

In challenging the reading of Spatial Growths as evidence of German or Norwegian national identity, the central tenet of the dissertation explores how Schwitters’ sustained use of found materials (themselves fragments of a disordered reality) is symbolic of a wider process of ordering exile. Indeed, the concept of Merz – a label which encompasses Schwitters’ innovative creative practices and a name which he adopted for himself in the 1920s – sheds light on the artist’s understanding of a transnational Heimat; signalling Schwitters’ desire for a more flexible identity in the midst of political discourses on national purity. Approached thus, the fusion of two nationalities in Spatial Growths cannot be considered a visual enactment of the artist’s loss of German national identity. Rather, through its palimpsest qualities and the incorporation of domestic materials, it alludes to Schwitters’ prolonged search for a stable Heimat in an unstable existence; contributing to a narrative of homelessness that defined the life of this artist.  

Detail of Schwitters' Spatial Growth

Detail of Schwitters’ Spatial Growth

 

Despite moments of panic when I thought I might not be able to actually view the work (it was touring Germany for much of the year), writing the dissertation came to be as rewarding as it was challenging. The opportunity to study one work of art in such depth, whilst drawing on the expertise of my supervisor, Dr Camilla Smith, enabled me to form a research topic that interested me greatly, and that I felt had not been fully explored before.’

 

Well done again to all our graduates this year – you have done us proud! You can see interviews with some of our students on graduation day here.

 

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