Since 2011 I have been lucky enough to be a member of an AHRC-funded Iconoclasms network, led by Dr Richard Clay and Professor Leslie Brubaker in collaboration with Tate. The network is made up of academics, museum professionals and postgraduate researchers. Members are based in Europe and the United States and have a wide range of subject specialisms, but we have a shared research interest in iconoclasm. Between us we cover a history of iconoclasm from the pre-historic period to the present day.
The project involves three workshops; the first was held in London at Tate Britain and Tate Modern (October 2011), the second was at Notre Dame University, South Bend, USA (September 2012) and the final session will be in the UK in September 2013. The network was initially set up as an advisory board for an upcoming exhibition about British Iconoclasm at Tate Britain which is opening in September 2013. The members of the network have each contributed an essay to a forthcoming Ashgate publication, due to be released around the time of the exhibition. I was invited to the network by Richard Clay, who is my MPhil supervisor. He also supervised my undergraduate dissertation which was about the painting Allegorical Tomb of Lord Somers (c.1726, V&A, London) and was when I first started to think about iconoclasm in relation to my research. When choosing a painting to study for my final year dissertation back in 2009 I never would have imagined that I would still be writing about it four years later, let alone having an essay published!
Before the first workshop in London I was really nervous about working alongside senior academics and discussing a subject that was relatively new to me. However, the group was very welcoming and interested to hear everyone’s contribution. The workshop involved presenting images and talking about them in relation to iconoclasm, so I showed some eighteenth-century ruin paintings by Hubert Robert, whose work is the focus of my current research. The workshop format worked really well as there was lots of discussion around iconoclasm as a whole, which also provided new ideas for our individual research, so the sessions were very productive. It helped that our discussions were based on ideas for the Iconoclasm exhibition as it gave us a clear focus. At that stage we were talking about the rationale behind the exhibition and looking at potential objects and themes. We left London feeling excited about the exhibition and were geared up to write our chapters for the book.
Nearly a year later we re-convened at Notre Dame, this time we had a draft of our chapters prepared for the Iconoclasm book and we each had to study and comment on someone else’s essay, ideal for the long flight to Chicago! I think we were all amazed to see that there were so many recurrent themes throughout our essays. Of course they were all linked by iconoclasm, but each essay expanded the subject and at the same time had clear links with at least one other essay in the volume. At this workshop the plans for the exhibition had significantly developed. Tabitha Barber and Dr Stacy Boldrick (the lead curators) presented the chronological and thematic parameters of the exhibition and went through the loan list. It was fascinating to hear their stories about tracking down objects and in some cases debating whether or not an object could be considered as an example of iconoclasm! The exhibition will present a history of British iconoclasm through a diverse range of images and objects from the Middle Ages to the present day, each with a fascinating story. The discussions around the exhibition showed that iconoclasm is an integral part of British history, I just wonder whether Tate’s gift shop would accept Professor James Simpson’s idea to print the slogan ‘Iconoclasts R Us’ on some merchandise!