Monthly Archives: January 2013

The View from Abroad: Holly Wain raves about medieval Poitiers, and the joys of being a year abroad student

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As I said goodbye to my friends going into their final year studying art history I had so much excitement for the year ahead… as I wasn’t staying in Brum, I was going to at last be living in La France! I had chosen the small medieval town of Poitiers in the western Poitou- Charente region of France. I was attracted by all the history and a small town would make a change from the sprawl of Birmingham. They call Poitiers the smallest large town in France, and it really does have a classic French village feel- from the little shops that are still workshops creating local products, to the weekly market, and the beautiful churches. The church closest to me, Notre-Dame La Grande is illuminated each evening to recreate the original coloured façade.

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My moving day was set for the 22nd August so I could make the most of French life before lectures began. All through July the anticipation built and although I had made a little trip to Poitiers to secure my house share I was nervous about testing out my French for real. My journey to Poitiers was eventful to say the least. My stubborn nature meant that I said no to any help and thought that this is my little adventure and I can travel across Paris with a huge heavy suitcase and two backpacks with no problem. In hindsight I would have preferred to give up a bit of independence and not have nearly fallen down an escalator backwards! At least I started my year abroad on a note of hilarity and a grand entrance. From the moment I arrived I realised what a friendly and welcoming place Poitiers is. My landlord came to pick me up at the station and some people I had spoken to through Facebook met me to show me around town. Since then many adventures have confirmed that my year abroad has definitely been the best year of my degree.

In the first few weeks I tackled the administration nightmare of signing up to modules at the university, but I also went on some lovely trips around the region famous for goats cheese and the aperitif Pineau made from Cognac and grape juice. On one particularly warm summer day I travelled to the medieval town of Chauvigny where we were entertained by an eagle show and a medieval festival complete with dancing and a hog roast!

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As my lectures began I have been exposed to the French culture in all its glory, from three hour lectures to great live music and huge meals! There have been some shocking differences to life in Birmingham, for example lectures going on until 8pm and students and lecturers going for their much needed cigarette break in between lectures. Also, I am not suggesting Birmingham is anything but pretty but I am enjoying living and studying in such a beautiful environment. The university buildings in the centre are old hôtels particuliers going back to the fifteenth century.

I have also had some hilarious moments of feeling like the out of place ‘foreign’ student. During a literature lecture we were being asked to choose which week we would like to do a presentation in front of the class. The lecturer thought it would be best for me to do the week focusing on an English writer. Then she asked the question to the class, ‘who would like to join Holly in this presentation?’ It was the first week and I was the only Erasmus student in the class. There was an excruciating silence until this poor boy gave in and unenthusiastically said ok yes. However, over all the students have been very friendly, and also intrigued as to where I am from. The royal family always seemed to be linked into everything!

Outside of university I have loved the French way of doing things. Everything has such a relaxed feel to it and nobody will be rushed. This is obviously frustrating when you want something done but then you realise that slowing down makes the quality of life so much better for everyone. I can understand that setting up my bank account took over three hours because I enjoyed the benefits my side of such good customer service. I also enjoy lunches that can go on until 5pm and that people take the time to say hello to their colleagues and people they cross in the street. I have also found people very welcoming of students in particular. I recently went to an event hosted by the town hall and the university that put international students in contact with French ‘welcome’ families. I met a lovely family that have invited me to stay in their house in the country and take me on trips around the region. It really feels that people are interested in students and sharing French culture with them which is refreshingly friendly.


Art History Research Seminar… this Thursday 31 January

This Thursday, 31 January, the Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies will be welcoming Dr Dorothy Rowe from the University of Bristol.  Dr Rowe will be presenting her paper, August Sander and the Artists.

Please come along and enjoy a glass of wine while listening to our highly-anticipated speaker. All welcome – 5.15pm, Barber Photograph Room, Barber Institute of Fine Arts.

LAST CHANCE TO SEE! ‘The First Cut’ A Review of Manchester Art Gallery’s Exhibition by alumnus Natalya Paul

Paper: A legitimate albeit humble medium for a work of art. Manchester Art Galleries hosts ‘The First Cut’, assimilating 31 international contemporary artists, proving the enormous potential the ubiquitous material beholds. The exhibiting artists navigate through a wide range of concepts such as: the body, the environment, consumerism, politics and of course, the transience of life embodied by the fragility of the medium. The works on display loosely seem to fall under two components: Those which cause delight and amusement and those which encompass real substance.

Upon entering the exhibition space, the viewer is met with a barrage of paper spilling onto the walls, ceiling and floors. It’s an initial sense of awe one feels on entering. ‘Wonder Forests’ by Manabu Hangai, is an immersive and experimental environment made from seaweed collected from fisherman where he lives in Japan. The spiralling branches (with giant leaves in tow) allow visitors to roam freely in between; the sheer size of the installation has a dwarfing effect, highlighting the fairy-tale aspect. Following the natural environment theme is the piece strategically placed nearby, Andrew Singleton’s, ‘Stellar Spire in the Eagle Nebula’. The artist was inspired by the photographs of gigantic nebulae that hang in space. The piece, comprising of flexible black paper is held by transparent wire which hangs elegantly from the ceiling, cascading down in elegant swirls. These pieces, amongst others, tempted the tactile side of the human temperament, as paper it is something handled on daily basis, yet remodelled into something quite striking and precious.

The array of large scale works alongside intimate imaginary worlds was most notable. A striking piece, which could just as easily be described as kitsch is ‘Notice Forest’ (Burger King) 2009, in which the artist has carefully cut a minute and intricate tree which is contained within a branded Burger King Paper bag. There is some social comment which can be drawn upon the placement of consumerist props within an artistic sphere. Dominating a large section of wall space is the crowd-pleasing artist Rob Ryan’s piece, who’s designs have been translated into mugs, bags, purses, pillows and just about anything that you might find in a home ware store. His paper cut, ‘The Map of My Entire Life,’ is described as a ‘melancholy elegy of life and death’. The piece is larger than many of his other designs allowing him to build a narrative between the entwinement of text and image.

Hanging above heads was Long Bin Chen’s ‘Angel’, overseeing the entire space, like a giant Lord of the paper arts. ‘Angel’ has been created by hanging old telephone books and directories alongside each other and then gauging into the rows of books as if they were a large slab of clay. These discarded books of information have been made redundant by the internet. They are described as the ‘cultural debris’ of our society, a bold transformation from the dismissed to the monumental. Perhaps this is their revenge.

If this isn’t enough fantasy and phantom, there is a magical animation video on loop by Danish siblings, Martin and Line Andersen, creators of Andersen M Studio. The short animation feature, Going West (2010), inspired from an excerpt from Maurice Gee‘s classic New Zealand novel. The video is mesmerising as the viewer can experience pages of the book literally come to life as the pages unfold and pop up as every scene is painstaking cut with a scalpel, photographed and lit using various filters.

The further side of the gallery space takes on a darker tone, and here is the substance which really vouched for the success of the show elevating to more than just an aesthetic exploit. As opposed to the emphasis on physical form and craft, artists Tom Gallant and Julie Smith deal with the connotations of paper through history. Julie Smith works with currency, such as bank notes and is interested in their socio-political power. Although the sculptures appear to be solid, they are in fact hollow, highlighting the illusory notion of power and instability.

Tom Gallant’s ‘The Collector VIII, 101 views’ (2010) explores the consumption of pornography by society. The piece is made from editions of 1970s stag mags. By surreptitiously cutting out the text in certain ways, gives presence to the colour photo beneath, which was a ploy elicited to bypass censorship laws. In his ‘Old Game Bird’ series (2011), Gallant borrows the iconography of William Morris wallpaper designs and game birds seen in Flemish vanitas paintings in an incongruous pairing. Beneath the floral wallpaper patterns are pornographic images which are hard to detect at a glance. The pieces are framed, and then superimposed is a large game bird, as if slapped across the surface as an afterthought. The mix of the serene patterns, alongside the graphic imagery which lies beneath surmises the numbing effect of pornography due to its omnipresence. The game birds represent consumption and the notion of the hunted, which raises questions on sexuality, empowerment and lack thereof.

In the smaller second room of the exhibition was a room dedicated to internationally recognised Kara Walker. Kara Walkers silhouettes of violence, sex, racial stereotypes and dreams explored the dichotomy between dominance and submission. The work, ‘Grub for Sharks’ (2004) is based on JMW Turners  1840s painting, ‘Slave Ships’ depicting the throwing of weak and dying slaves overboard from a slave ship that left Liverpool in the 1780s bound for Jamaica. The worthless and damaged bodies were thrown into shark infested waters so companies could claim compensation form insurance companies. ‘Grub for Sharks’ is spread across all four walls making a bold political comments prompted by the pre-civil war African and American relations.  The silhouettes are rife with satire and stereotypes.

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The only failures of ‘First Cut’ were the pieces that fitted into neither the awe-inspiring capabilities of paper, nor the artists who were intent of using the material to make bold comments.  There were some attractive paper sculptures which looked no greater than an extravagant school project and there were those pieces that didn’t seem to elicit much meaning or intention. But the variety the curators managed to cram within the space is truly commendable. There was even a bed of flowers hand cut from gardening catalogues spread across the centre of the floor by Andrea Dezso. Manchester Art Gallery provided accessibility to all ages. Toddlers were running through the ‘Forest of Wonder’, while adults were free to interpret Gallant’s hidden pornographic images. A sense of relief can be shared that the only thing this exhibition ignited was, excitement.

Runs from Friday 5 October 2012 – Sunday 27 January 2013 at Manchester Art Gallery admission FREE

Emily Woolley, winner of UoB’s Global Challenge Award, on how working at Museum Victoria in Melbourne unearthed some links between Birmingham and Down Under

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to fly out from the UK and spend 6 weeks in Australia working for Melbourne Museum – the largest museum in the Southern Hemisphere and a fantastic place to work. This was only possible through The University of Birmingham’s brand new scheme ‘Global Challenge’ which gives students once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to work in top companies around the world. So in a way I was their third year History of Art student guinea pig – but I wasn’t complaining!


I worked in the History and Technology department (or the recently re-named Humanities department), and chose to work on the fascinating and relevant project of planning for the public engagement in the Centenary of World War I exhibition, to be held at the museum in 2014. I conducted research, collection development and documentation relating to the on-going impact and legacy of World War I on Australia. I also attended and contributed to exhibition development meetings, wrote short essays and delivered a presentation on my findings to the department. My main focus was on a collection of magazines named ‘Aussie’ published for soldiers during and after World War I. These proved to be amusing, exciting, thought-provoking and sometimes a little shocking as I found out what life was like 100 years ago in the trenches of France and Gallipoli.

At the end of my placement I came away eager to contribute more, however small, and link up Melbourne Museum’s centenary with centenaries that will happen in the UK, in particular Birmingham.  Acting upon this I set out to find any links I could with Australia and The University of Birmingham relating to World War I and I was surprised as to how many I found! Hopefully the links I have found will broaden the scope of Melbourne Museum’s centenary exhibition even more.

During World War I there were 100+ military hospitals in England, the number which treated Australians particularly is hard to establish, however some were treated in Birmingham. Australian and New Zealand soldier’s came to Birmingham in 1914 to be treated at our Great Hall, then called the 1st Southern General Hospital (and it is where I will be graduating next summer). In 1909 the hospital was equipped as a 520-bed hospital in the event of future war. It was complete by the arrival of the first 120 casualties on the 1st of September, 1914. By the spring of 1915 more buildings were converted around the university, adding 1000 more beds, and in 1916 another 570 beds were added. Various annexes and converted schools were added, in total providing beds for 2357 other ranks, and 130 officers. The soldiers were under the care of Kathleen Lloyd, the Matron of the hospital. For her work she was awarded the high honour of the Royal Red Cross (First Class) in 1916, as was Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War. Looking through the University’s Research and Cultural Collections, I came across a stunning embroidered cream coloured quilt, produced by convalescing soldiers– including Australian and New Zealand Servicemen. Lloyd suggested that the soldiers do needlework as a form of therapeutic care and in return the soldiers decided to make this quilt for her to show her their gratitude. Made up of nine panels, the central panel is dedicated to the Hospital and features the badge of the Royal Army Medical Corps. The other panels represent the different regiments and groups of servicemen in Lloyds care. The Australian panel depicts a crown with the writing ‘Australian Commonwealth Military Forces’ on a scroll underneath and New Zealand panel features an intricate fern with ‘NZ’ over the top.

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Australian Servicemen embroidery detail, Matron Kathleen Lloyd Cloth, UoB Research and Cultural Collections BIRRC-H0013

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New Zealand Regiment embroidery detail, Matron Kathleen Lloyd Cloth, UoB Research and Cultural Collections BIRRC-H0013

After these findings, I decided to dig deeper and do a little more research. I took a trip to the Birmingham Archives and Heritage collections and requested photos from the 1st Southern General Hospital. They had quite a few and I even found one with wounded soldiers from Australia and Scotland posing with VAD nurses in the grounds of the hospital.

Australian soliders on grounds

UA10/i/4, Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections

It is also worth noting Museum Victoria holds many photographs taken and postcards purchased by soldiers during their time in England during World War I. Some were convalescing; others were on leave, receiving training, awaiting movement or were based there in support of the military effort. I also managed to have a look through the university’s collections, in which I found not only photos but also magazines from the hospital and the students union – called The “Southern” Cross and The Mermaid. Among amusing articles such as the Australians seeing snow for the first time in their life at Birmingham,  I found one very interesting article in The Mermaid which caught my eye as it was entitled ‘A Trip to Gallipoli’ by Percival M. Chadwick. He was a Civil Engineering Lecturer at The University of Birmingham who left in 1915 to go and fight in Gallipoli for twelve months, only to return to Birmingham again to be treated at the university in the 1st Southern General Hospital. He was attached to the New Zealand Engineers working with Australian and New Zealand Infantry and Cavalry regiments including Maori contingent. His fascinating account describes the traveling, the food, the landscape, the conditions (including frostbite in November) and the people. He talks about the Australian and New Zealanders and states;

While I was with the “Anzacs” I learnt much of the true worth and character of the colonial… The officers with whom I worked gave me a homely welcome, and I speedily felt quite at ease among them.[1]

As Melbourne is getting ready for their Centenary events, Birmingham is also preparing theirs. I have already seen advertising of a play called ‘Wounded’ by Jenny Stephens; as soldiers from Afghanistan are returning to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham in current times, it tells the stories of two soldiers, fighting a century apart but both coping with the aftermath of war. Informed by The University of Birmingham’s research into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and medical practice in modern conflicts, it looks to be a really interesting play.

I could reiterate what Percival M. Chadwick said about Australians about my colleges in Melbourne Museum. It was a pleasure working there and one of the most enjoyable work experiences I have had. I very much look forward to seeing what Melbourne Museum puts on in there centenary exhibition in 2014 and I hope it is a success for everyone.

Read more about Emily’s experience in Melbourne on her own blog.

[1] Percival M. Chadwick, R.E, ‘A Trip to Gallipoli’, The Mermaid, issue 13, p121, 1916-17, University of Birmingham Research and Cultural collections.

The first ‘Friday Review’ of the New Year… Rachel Johnston (3rd Year, History of Art) stands converted in front of Thomas Fearnley’s nature at the Barber Institute

Not normally one to be wowed by landscapes or to enthuse about Romanticism, I entered the Barber Institute’s temporary exhibition, ‘In Front of Nature’, without lofty expectations. What a surprise I had. The Blue Gallery, which normally houses the Institute’s more modern paintings, has been transformed into an early-nineteenth-century feast of mountains, fjords and seascapes by a somewhat neglected artist, Thomas Fearnley. Despite his distinctively English name – and his ancestral links with Yorkshire notwithstanding – Fearnley was born in Norway in 1802 and spent most of his short life travelling around Europe. It is clear that he adored the drama and purity of the Norwegian scenery, and found its echo in the Bavarian and Swiss Alps. But he did not neglect the sunny warmth of the Italian coast or the tranquility of the Lake District in his search for the ideal subjects.

My ideas about the monotony of landscapes dissipated with this exhibition. These works are not dull; they are inspired, even moving. As a country girl I am always moved by a great view, and appreciate the miracles of nature, but somehow, for me, the canvasses of Constable and Turner have never quite captured its essence. I feel that the beauty of Fearnley’s work is achieved by three particular elements: drama, precision, and light. Especially the glorious effects of light, which make you stop and gaze from the other side of the room. And he has achieved this very cleverly, considering the small scale of most works; they were generally all painted on paper small enough to fit the wooden frame in that was carried around in his paintbox.

Thomas Fearnley, The Natural Archway, Capri

Thomas Fearnley, The Natural Archway, Capri

Certain works have stuck firmly in my mind, and I feel they are worth pausing at. There is really stunning light in Sorrento (1840); buildings are softly illuminated and dwarfed by dramatic hills behind. The sunset colours in The Port of Agrigento (1839) are more intense still. Near Meiringen (1835) captures the beauty and stillness of the Swiss Alps, and I would love to have Sunrise from the Wengernalp (1838) on my wall; the apricot sky forms the focal point, and radiates outwards to bathe the surrounding hills and fields in a magical glow. Fearnley often focuses on the effects of weather on a landscape, painting gnarled old trees and windswept branches. Although he basically painted landscapes uninterrupted by human presence, there are some exceptions. King William II’s Arrival in Amsterdam (1840), the only Dutch subject the artist produced, is a rare city scene with incredible detail; the reflections in the water are almost photographic, and try to count the individual figures that make up the vast crowds! While most of Fearnley’s scenes are foreign, he makes a gesture towards his background with his paintings of the Lake District, the destination for his English sketching tour in August and September 1837. Coniston Water with a Boat (1837) is unmistakeably English and perhaps less of a spectacle without a mountainous setting, but it has all the serenity of a Norwegian fjord. I was also fascinated to see some of the artist’s sketchbooks, beautifully preserved and displayed in cabinets to complement the works on the walls.

Thomas Fearnley, Grindelwald Glacier

Thomas Fearnley, Grindelwald Glacier

The arrangement of the exhibition – over 60 framed works, which have come from Norway and the USA, and from private collections – is well considered, taking the visitor on a journey through the different countries in much the same way as Fearnley would have travelled, in the guise of the ‘rootless Wanderer’. The journey culminates in the enormous and extraordinary Grindelwald Glacier at the far end of the gallery. The sheer scale of the glacier is well demonstrated by the lone figure and grazing sheep, and the canvas size is unmatched by any other painting here. What contemporaneously must have been deemed one of Fearnley’s most impressive works – and shown at the Royal Academy, making him the first Norwegian artist to exhibit there – it makes a fitting conclusion to the exhibition. I was captivated by it all; I stand converted. Any other landscape-doubters out there, I urge you to be converted too.

Curated by Professor Ann Sumner and Dr Greg Smith, ‘In Front of Nature: The European Landscapes of Thomas Fearnley’ is open at the Barber Institute until 27th January, 2013.

Doing dissertations: Sapna Patel reviewed the Tate’s recent Munch exhibition as part of her research into the artist for her UG dissertation

In the 3rd year of the BA in Art History, single honours UGs are required to research and write a long dissertation of 12,000 words. The department requires its students to choose a particular work of art to focus on, since this tends to focus the dissertation project and its parameters from the off, and encourages as much study of artworks in the real as possible. Here, final year student, Sapna, reviews the Tate’s recent show ‘Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye as part of her researches into Munch for her dissertation about The Sick Child (1907).

Munch, Sick Child, 1907, Tate

Munch, Sick Child, 1907, Tate

Renowned for The Scream (1893, National Gallery, Oslo), Edvard Munch is usually called a “19th-century Symbolist painter” who appealed—and still appeals—to art lovers with his gloomy paintings, which are frequently read in relation to the circumstances of Munch’s own life, and especially his traumatic childhood. Tate Modern’s ‘The Modern Eye’ (which closed in October this year) assembled 60 paintings from the Munch Museum in Oslo, as well as rare film and photography, to demonstrate that there is more to Munch than just The Scream. The exhibition chose to divert attention away from Munch’s typical works, which often represent the ‘psychology of isolation’, and focused instead on Munch’s interest in new technologies and innovative media at a time when film and photography were becoming increasingly popular. I went along to ‘The Modern Eye’ exhibition because I am currently researching Munch as the topic of my dissertation, which focuses in particular on his The Sick Child (1907). In my dissertation, I hope to demonstrate that in this painting, Munch did more than to mourn the death of his sister, Johanne Sophie, who died of tuberculosis in 1877. Usually art historians have proclaimed this as being the primary motivation behind Munch’s picture. Visiting the Tate’s show was, however, exceptionally refreshing, since it shows Munch in a different light, signalling a departure from the typical biographical approaches usually applied to the artist and his works.

Beginning the day with a 6am start and the London Midland train services breaking down at Hemel Hempstead, I finally arrived at Tate Modern at noon following a delightful walk along the Thames in the sunshine. Twelve rooms each demonstrated differing themes for the exhibition. The first showed Munch’s passion for using a variety of media in his works. Displayed in a small room, exhibition-goers were shown Munch’s development from earlier self portraits (done in the traditional medium of oil paint) to lithographic examples, lithography having been recently perfected in Munch’s Germany. An array of personal photographs from the artist’s life and childhood were also on view, including touching images of Munch playing at the beach and Munch’s pet dog, which I believe highlighted Munch’s gentle and fragile life and his warm attachment to his family. This room in particular achieved the goal of the show’s curator, Nicholas Cullinan, to demonstrate how Munch engaged with modernity and how everyday life affected his paintings. Cullinan’s aim was developed in the eleven other rooms, where Munch’s expertise, especially his familiarity with modern techniques, was further showcased.

Having walked around the exhibition, I felt particularly attached to the second room that focused on ‘Reworkings’, not only because it showed two versions of The Sick Child, but also because it really demonstrated Munch’s artistic achievements at the start of the twentieth-century, which has since earned him such an important status in the canon of art history. Cleverly arranging reworked paintings directly opposite their earlier versions, viewers were able to note differences in Munch’s conception between original and modified compositions. Munch combined both his haunting childhood memories and his love for painterly experimentation in his reworking  of The Sick Child (1925) where the overall effect is looser and conveys a more relaxed style compared to the 1907 version where he brutally scratched and scraped paint off the surface, possibly reflecting the sheer angst he felt from the traumatic event of his sister’s death.

Overall Tate Modern’s show truly demonstrated Munch’s various artistic achievements in hitherto unexplored ways, flagging-up his interest in technological developments and the use of electric lighting to create striking visual effects in his works. Seeing Munch’s collection of works in this sense further reinforces the argument which I advance in my dissertation: that Munch was more of an artist who sought to be known for his artistic merit rather than his personal history. The show confirmed for me that Munch’s choice to paint The Sick Child seven times was not in fact a result of his knowledge of Freudian writings on the death drive. Munch’s depiction of his sister and the motif of an innocent child can, instead, be placed in the context of a broader trend: numerous other artists such as Käthe Kollwitz were also representing images of sick children in their bedrooms during this fin-de-siècle period and this motif would appear to be a result of Munch’s artistic success.

Happy New Year from all of us at The Golovine!

Happy New Year to all our followers and readers! We hope to bring you more exciting posts, reviews, events and news in 2013… Let’s begin with a reminder of the first Art History Research Seminar of the Spring Term which takes place this Thursday 17 January.

We will welcome Professor Christina Lodder from the University of Edinburgh who will present her paper on Kazimir Malevich and the Journey into Space.

The seminar will take place in the Barber Photograph Room, Barber Insitute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham on Thursday at 5.15pm.  Refreshments served – all welcome.

Lights. Camera. Action! An Update

Back in November, Marie Giraud, one of our MPhil students, was involved in making a short film about Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. Her original post is here.

And here is the finished product. Great job, Marie!

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