• 20 October 2020
  • 12:00 – 2:00 pm
  • An event as part of the multi-part conference programme 'British Art and Natural Forces'
  • Zoom Webinar

Format: 20 mins papers x 4, plus Q&A

Chair: Martin Postle (Deputy Director for Grants and Publications, Paul Mellon Centre)

Speakers and papers:

Freya Wigzell (PhD Student, Architectural History and Theory, at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL), ‘Piling Up The Debris’

Euan McCartney Robson (History of Art at UCL), ‘Sticks and Stones: A Poetic Cathedral’

Alicia Weisberg-Roberts (Independent Scholar), ‘Terraforming Hong Kong (1840–1860)’

Jonathan Hill (Professor of Architecture and Visual Theory, the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL), ‘The Landscape of Climate: John Evelyn and Brenda Colvin’

British Art and Natural Forces:
A State of the Field Research Programme

In the year 2020, the Paul Mellon Centre marks its 50th anniversary as an institution dedicated to the study of British art and architecture. It is a year in which artistic practice and the practice of art history have met with the unprecedented force of a global pandemic.

This multi-part programme of research events focuses on the encounter between artistic and art-historical practice and the forces of the natural world. It places such encounters in both contemporary and historical perspectives.

In doing so, it aims not only to respond to the exigencies of the current moment, but to foreground some of the most vital activities and conversations taking place within the field of British art studies. In recent years, scholars have concentrated with new intensity on the overlaps between artistic, geophysical, biological and ecological bodies of knowledge.

The series speaks to many of the new interdisciplinary collaborations that are currently shaping art-historical practice, where scholars of the visual arts are working across different subject-fields to explore natural histories, indigenous forms of knowledge, animal studies, concepts of the post-human and revitalised theorisations of the sublime.

It foregrounds the astonishingly rich and diverse representations of natural forces found throughout the history of British art. The programme will explore such representations in the light of current debates and theoretical frameworks, and with the acknowledgement that human agency and reflexive awareness are natural forces in their own right.

Schedule and format

A series of panels and keynote lectures will address the ways in which artistic and art-historical thinking and practice – in the contexts of British art and visual culture – have shaped or been shaped by the encounter with natural forces, whether benign or cataclysmic, short- or long-term, visible or invisible.

The events in this programme will be hosted throughout the 2020 autumn term. Sequential in character, they are designed to forge and facilitate a set of expansive conversations that unfold over time.

Speaker Biographies

Freya Wigzell is completing her doctorate at the Bartlett, UCL on the widespread interest in shells in twentieth-century architecture.

Euan McCartney Robson defended his PhD dissertation at UCL in 2019 and was named the winner of the 2020 David R. Tashjian Award for the 55th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. His work is currently being supported by a Research Continuity Fellowship from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

Alicia Weisberg-Roberts’ research focuses on intersections of art, science, and sociability in visual and material culture. She has worked at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Yale Center for British Art and the Walters Art Museum. From 2011 to 2019, she taught at the University of Hong Kong. She was coeditor and cocurator of Mrs. Delany and Her Circle (2009), and also contributed essays to Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill (2009), Knowing Nature: Art and Science in Philadelphia, 1740 to 1840 (2011), and Ways of Making and Knowing: The Material Culture of Empirical Knowledge (2014).

Jonathan Hill is Professor of Architecture and Visual Theory at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, where he directs the MPhil/PhD Architectural Design programme. Jonathan is the author of The Illegal Architect (1998), Actions of Architecture (2003), Immaterial Architecture (2006), Weather Architecture (2012), A Landscape of Architecture, History and Fiction (2016) and The Architecture of Ruins: Designs on the Past, Present and Future (2019); editor of Occupying Architecture (1998), Architecture – the Subject is Matter (2001) and Designs on History: The Architect as Physical Historian (2021); and co-editor of Critical Architecture (2007).

Guidelines for users attending Zoom webinars

Before the webinar

  • Please download Zoom software in advance.
  • Please register to attend the Research Lunch webinar through Eventbrite.
  • We will share the link to the Zoom webinar with you in advance by email through Eventbrite.
  • If you require closed captioning during this event, please get in touch at least two weeks before the event date.

During the event

  • Paul Mellon Centre staff hosting the event will employ the appropriate security features to help ensure that events and meetings operate safely.
  • There will be a waiting room feature that allows the host to control when all participants join the meeting.
  • You will be automatically muted when you join the webinar and can only communicate verbally if the host unmutes you.
  • Use the Q&A box to ask/write your questions after the talk.
  • You can also use the virtual raise hand button if you have a question/comment to make by audio.
  • Use the chat box to make comments.
  • If you are experiencing any technical problems, please notify Ella Fleming (events manager) or Danielle Convey (events assistant) directly using the chat box function. Alternatively you can email them via [email protected].
  • The Paul Mellon Centre will not take photographs of this event and participants are requested likewise not to do so.
  • This session will be recorded for educational and research purposes. The recording may be made available on the Centre’s website and via YouTube. It will be stored indefinitely in the Centre’s Institutional Archive.
  • Any offensive behaviour will not be tolerated and attendees can be removed from the webinar by the host.


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Image credit: The Economist Building, London, Alison and Peter Smithson, 1964, photographed 2017. Detail of Roach bed Stone cladding. Digital image courtesy of Freya Wigzell