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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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Calling all HoA Graduates…Barber internships are now available!

Barber logo

MUSEUM INTERNSHIPS 2014/15

The Barber Institute is offering six museum internships over the coming year. The internships are designed to provide work experience for graduates with a degree in History of Art or a related subject, who are seeking a career in museums and galleries. Internships last twenty weeks and start in either September 2014 or February 2015. Interns work 21.5 hours per week and will be paid at a rate of £7.53 per hour.

To get an idea of what an internship can involve, read Sophie Rycroft’s post about her time working as a Collections in term.

 

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts

 

1)        Collections Internships

 We are offering two internships working with our Collections team. Interns will gain experience in all aspects of curatorial work, including research, documentation and the planning, organisation and installation of exhibitions. They will also be given the opportunity to curate a small display of prints and drawings and to give gallery talks.

2)        Learning and Access Internships

 We are offering two internships working with our Learning and Access team. Interns will gain experience in all aspects of the planning, organisation and delivery of learning activities, which encourage the study of art and enable our visitors to enjoy, understand and reflect upon the Barber’s unique collection of paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures and decorative arts.

 3)        Communications and Marketing Internships

 We are offering two internships working with our Communications and Marketing team. Interns will gain experience in all aspects of the planning, organisation and delivery of targeted marketing, social media, media relations, public relations and other communications campaigns aimed at encouraging different sectors of the community to visit the Barber and participate in its events and activities.

How to Apply

Applicants should be able to demonstrate a strong interest in, or knowledge of, History of Art, preferably supported by a formal academic qualification. In addition, they should have excellent communication and computing skills and a commitment to working in museums and galleries.

For further particulars and an application form, please visit the University of Birmingham’s website http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/jobs. The closing date for applications is Monday 9 June 2014. Interviews will be held in the week starting 23 June 2014.

The Barber Institute’s Internship Programme 2014/15 is sponsored by NADFAS (through the Patricia Fay Memorial Fund), the Chris Gait Endowment Fund and the Patrons of the Barber Institute.

 

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Can I do it all over again, please? Stephanie O’Neill-Winbow reflects on her time as the Barber’s Learning and Access intern…

Four years ago, having moved from Muscat, Oman, to Birmingham to study History of Art, I was just a little bit lost. Like most students starting university, I was moving away from home to a place where I didn’t know anyone or where anything was; you suddenly have to become completely independent, make new friends, take care of yourself and try to cover up your ridiculously low alcohol tolerance, all the while working towards a degree so that, in three years’ time, you hopefully know a little bit more than you knew before! It’s fun, very fun! However, when your mind turns to work experience (so important for finding a job these days) it can often become clear that not everyone is in the same boat: some people have had gap years in which they gained experience or their parents know someone who knows someone who knows someone who can get them a job over the summer. I had nothing like this. In Oman you couldn’t work anywhere unless you had a work permit (generally not given to 17 year olds), my parents hadn’t lived in Europe for about thirty years, and I went to university straight out of High School. So I decided to gain my work experience right on my door step – at the Barber Institute.

Stephanie and colleagues beneath Lady Barber's portrait

Stephanie and colleagues beneath Lady Barber’s portrait

In the second term of my first year, after I had settled in a bit, I started to volunteer. I spent many mornings and afternoons at the welcome desk, greeting and providing information to the patrons; I also spent a couple of afternoons in the galleries, talking to people about the paintings, and asking the children to stop running around and not to throw themselves at the paintings. Then when the current volunteering scheme at the Barber was introduced, I began volunteering in the Learning and Access department. Immediately it became evident that this was what I preferred: I was working with children during workshops, helping out on tours, assisting at seasonal ‘fairs’ and generally setting up and cleaning up from activities. I volunteered so much that the members of the department knew me – I was even asked to pose (fully clothed and paid!) for a portrait sculpture class and to represent the Barber at Careers fairs. Although as a History of Art student I was spending a lot of time in the Barber, there is so much that I wouldn’t have known about it if I had only spent my time in its library or seminar rooms. There is so much going on in the Barber Institute besides it being the home of the University of Birmingham’s History of Art and Music departments. It was especially enlightening to learn about the different departments that make a working gallery successful: it’s not as simple as hanging some paintings on the wall and waiting for the visitors and money to roll in.

After two and half years of regular volunteering, I was coming to the end of my degree and becoming slightly concerned about what to do next. The opportunity to apply for a paid Learning and Access internship at the Barber came up and I knew that I wanted it! In fact, I had known about the internship during my degree and the thought of applying had been an added incentive to volunteer; thankfully it paid off! After I graduated in June 2012, I was offered the 5 month internship to start in February 2013. I was nervous starting here since it felt strange: for the previous three years I had gone to the Barber for lectures and seminars or to spend hours poring over books in the library. Suddenly it was completely different. I had a desk, a computer, and an office, and I was actually responsible for aspects of how of the gallery as a business was run, rather than a place to study! Initially the internship involved lot of admin, answering phone calls, making bookings and passing things onto members of the department who actually knew what was going on. However after about 2 months I felt completely at home. Alex with whom I mainly work has been unbelievably patient with me, answering every little question I come up with and giving me every opportunity to challenge myself and learn more. In fact all the staff behind the scenes at the Barber have been a delight to work with. From the security guards who help me move big furniture to set up for workshops, to the lovely ladies in HR who deal with the payroll, and the marketing and collections team (who also have interns) who are so easy and helpful to work alongside, it has been a real pleasure. Instead of ‘just’ an intern, I feel like a part of the team. It has also been incredible to be specifically trained to become part of a professional team. As I write this I have just under 4 weeks left of my internship, and the interviews for the next ‘lot’ of interns are taking place very shortly. I find that I’m passing the phone over less and less to somebody else, and if anything it’s actually very satisfying and enjoyable being a point of contact.

The About Face Family Guide that Stephanie helped put together

The About Face Family Guide that Stephanie helped put together

One of my tasks at the beginning of my internship was to put together the initial draft of the Family Guide for our new exhibition About Face: the guide is now finished and the exhibition is open and all has turned out very well! I’m responsible for the Learning Room, and the activities that are placed there for children when they visit the galleries. As I’ve grown into the role, I now help out a lot more with gallery visits and workshops, and my confidence had soared; I genuinely feel beneficial to the department and part of the team. Last week the Barber Institute’s staff were invited to the National Gallery’s private view for the opening of the exhibition Birth of a Collection: Masterpieces from the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Unbelievably, I was invited as well! And I must say, I didn’t think that at the start of my career I would be attending a private view at the National Gallery in the company of so many important and influential people in the art world. This internship has given me opportunities and experience that I genuinely was not expecting and for which I will be forever grateful.

Stephanie (third from left) and other Barber staff at the private view of Birth of a Collection at the National Gallery in London

Stephanie (third from left) and other Barber staff at the private view of Birth of a Collection at the National Gallery in London

It is rare to find an internship in a respected, impressive and successful gallery that is not only long enough to allow you to learn something new and to challenge yourself, but also where you’re part of a team in which you have real responsibility – and one which is paid!  My internship here has given me incredible experience that I know will hugely benefit me in the future. Working in the Learning and Access department has made me sure that I want to continue in this direction. I truly feel that I owe the Barber Institute so much: I not only studied for my degree here, but I gained so much relevant experience here through volunteering, all of which led to the most amazing opportunity of actually working here. I’m now looking into doing a MA in a relevant field once I finish here in June, but really, I’d quite like to be the intern all over again…!

Stephanie at the tea for departing interns

Stephanie at the tea for departing interns

Read about Sophie Rycroft’s experience as an intern in the curating department here. The next round of Barber interns will be recruited in May 2014.

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Robert Atkinson, Architect of Cinemas @ UoB Arts and Science Festival

A review of the talk given by Dr Kate Ince on the architect of the Barber Institute as part of the Arts and Science Festival from UoB’s Blogfest…

Barber Institute of Fine Arts

Barber Institute of Fine Arts

Robert Atkinson, Architect of Cinemas @ UoB Arts and Science Festival.

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Alumnus Lucy Wheeler tells us about her post-university experience!

In this brief summary of my two years since graduation, I hope I can provide an overview of my experiences of working in museums and galleries to date.

After graduating from Art History and spending six months firstly teaching in Cambodia and then travelling in Asia, I returned to Birmingham to take up placements at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts and at Research and Cultural Collections (RCC). This was a great way to gain experience working with 2 very different collections; the Barber, a range of sculptures, paintings and works on paper from Old Masters to Impressionists – and RCC – an idiosyncratic University collection ranging from physics objects, foetal models to impressive modern art by British artists Peter Lanyon, Barbara Hepworth and Eduardo Paolozzi. At the Barber I was fortunate enough to curate my own exhibition about leisure in Victorian Britain, presenting works on paper from the satirical paper Punch that had never been shown in the gallery before, examples that demonstrated a humorous side to collecting at the Barber. As well as gaining in depth knowledge of the print culture and social implications of sport in 19th century England, I learnt basic paper conservation techniques to spot when a piece of work needed a bit of t.l.c.

At RCC, my main role was to manage a heritage project about University House – the first all-girls hall of residence (the building is now part of the Business School). I got to curate and interpret a period room in the Business School, create a heritage leaflet and organise a reunion for the Alumni of University House. I also got to spend time exploring objects from the University Archive linked to University House such as a war log book and photographs from tennis parties in the 30’s. As well as teaching me the logistics of how to organise a large scale event, this project enthused my understanding of Heritage and the importance of preserving artefacts from the past. I was touched by the letters I received from University House Alumni full of memories of their time at the University and was fascinated by the stories the heritage objects in our collection motivated by participants at the event.

After completing my placements in Birmingham, I embarked for London to start an internship at the Wallace Collection in the education department. Working to coordinate and deliver a number of workshops for school, community and access groups, I saw how greater access to diverse and innovative education projects could benefit confidence and development and realised my commitment to working within programming in a gallery environment. I also learnt how a successful education department needed the anchor of strong administration and organisation and took time to get to grips with data entry, spread sheets and databases.

I then was lucky enough to get funding to study for an MA in Art History at University College London. I look back on my MA as an amazing experience – the rigorous programme introduced for me new ways of understanding and approaching Early Modern visual culture using contemporary theory and I gained a good knowledge of South African contemporary practice. I made some great friends on the course and also volunteered at UCL Art Museum where I gained experience of updating museum databases and digitalising the collection online. Whilst writing my MA dissertation in the summer I took a month out to work with the BBC interning in the arts documentary department, writing pitches and treatments for BBC Four art documentaries and running on location shoots for shows including Imagine and The Review Show.

After graduating from UCL I started working at Jerwood Visual Arts, a contemporary gallery in South London which is a key initiative of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation. Highlights from this role include installing the annual Jerwood Drawing Prize and working with Marcus Coates and Grizedale Arts for the exhibition ‘Now I Gotta Reason’. I learnt so much at JVA, from scheduling and delivering artist workshops, managing a team of volunteers and marketing exhibitions through social media platforms.

©Hydar Dewachi

©Hydar Dewachi

I am currently working on a Freelance basis, creating education workshops and lectures for schools and museums. If I could offer any words of advice from my experience so far for those wanting to pursue a career in a gallery it would be: gain experience as soon as possible – from a department and museum that appeals to you; be prepared to undertake small, repetitive tasks-mail outs and room set ups are just as important as bigger tasks; PERSEVERE– the arts are overcrowded with lots of people wanting to work in galleries-but be patient and an opening will come!

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“Heard it on the Golovine…”

…so the joke went. In Summer this year, the idea was floated to launch an official blog for the Department of the History of Art at UoB. The department reckoned it would be a good idea if the blog was created, managed and edited by postgraduate students, who can share their experiences of what it’s like to study in the department and our day-to-day trials and triumphs as fledgling academic art historians/general art-buffs. In short: what do PG researchers really spend all their time doing and what are some of the more interesting things we get up to when we’re not in the library, some archive, or–”shhhh”–this or that gallery, show or exhibition. We also wanted Undergrads to have a voice, and tell readers about their experiences as budding art historians, besides some of the exciting adventures that many of them embark on after their degrees. Along with myself, the project attracted several volunteers.

So far, so good!

Or so we thought. Because, what should we call such a blog?? And here problems ensued. The obvious choice was “The History of Art, UoB Blog”, or something like that. This, though, we thought  was a little dry. “Hello Art History”, perhaps? Which translates into what we thought was a rather nifty acronym: “HAH!” We had numerous other suggestions, and variants on suggestions, some more eccentric than others, some already taken and some simply boring. Deciding proved onerous. The issue was then somewhat complicated when it was announced that the department was heading in new, and exciting directions. With the merger of the department of Art History with Film and Visual Studies, and its renaming as The Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies, the scope of our blog became much wider and its name needed to be more inclusive but still catchy… alas, Summer came and went, and still no blog.

With research pressures mounting and teaching to do, the blog ended up on the back burner. Until myself, Liz (academic editor) and a couple of other PGs and UGs were sat in the marquee on the UG open day near the start of the Autumn term 2012. Towards the end of the day when the visiting 6th formers were flagging, we brainstormed ideas for the blog’s name. Maybe, we thought, we should take inspiration from the Barber Institute; the internationally-renowned small art gallery on campus where the department is based. And one of the most famous, and intriguing, pictures in the Barber’s collection is Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s Portrait of Countess Golovine.

Courtesy of the Barber Institute

So “Heard it on the Golovine” was proposed. A little play on words and tongue-in-cheek, we all agreed that this was quite amusing. But gradually, this was shortened to simply “The Golovine”. Marked by candour, charm and intrigue, and a definite hint of cheekiness, Countess Golovine’s portrait seemed to fit the tone we envisaged for the blog. Spontaneous? Maybe. But the old Countess has been around for over two centuries, so we figured She’s a keeper!

So here we are, finally publishing our inaugural post. Future posts are set to include: exhibition reviews by our students and staff, some of which they may have been involved with the curating of; news about our Alumni; posts about interesting trips made by students in the department; information about conferences we attend or speak at; news about research fellowships, publications and so on…. Besides generally-interesting bits of general arty news. So be sure to check back regularly!  [JE]

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