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Liquid Crystal Concrete:
Postwar Contemporary

Research Seminar – Ben Cranfield, Victoria Walsh, Ben Highmore

  • 6 July 2022
  • 6:00 – 7:30 pm
  • Paul Mellon Centre and Online

The fifth in a series of summer research seminars on The Arts of Postwar Britain 1945–1965 with Ben Cranfield and Victoria Walsh, chaired by Ben Highmore

Ben Cranfield and Victoria Walsh – With Time: Becoming Contemporary in Postwar Britain

In 1957 Lawrence Alloway declared: “Roger Fry and Herbert Read […] were not my culture heroes” because they gave him “no guidance on how to read, how to see, the mass media”. Whilst Alloway’s position, through the lens of the Independent Group, has frequently been framed as a breaking away from modernist formalism towards the information age, paving the way for a freefall into postmodern, Alloway’s generational antagonism can be read as a part of the constitutive anxiety that pervaded the ICA, where he was Assistant Director: how to be a part of one’s time? It is revealing that Stuart Hall chose to end his own reflection on the postwar moment, Familiar Stranger, with his move to the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies; an emergence from his untimely feeling that he was the “last colonial” to an understanding that his “life was his own to make”.

This paper proposes (out-of-) timelines as a way to connect apparently disparate concerns of the postwar moment: technological simultaneity, the experience of emigrees and post-colonial subjects, non-heteronormative positions and shifting patterns of labour, through an examination of the artistic and critical positions that formed in and around the spaces of British postwar contemporaneity, the ICA, Council for Industrial Design and Birmingham’s CCCS.

About the speakers

  • Ben Cranfield Headshot

    Ben Cranfield is Senior Tutor in Curatorial Theory and History on the Curating Contemporary Art programme, Royal College of Art. His research is focused on the relationship of the curatorial to notions of the contemporary and the archive, asking what it is to be ‘with’ one’s time, stemming from his ongoing work into the histories of art institutions, the theory of archives, and shifting ideas of art and culture in postwar Britain. Recent articles include, “On (Not Being with) Time (Queerly) in Post-War Britain”, Performance Research, October 2018; “Mind the Gap: Unfolding the proximities of the curatorial”, Performance Research, September 2017; “All play and no work? A ‘Ludistory’ of the curatorial as transitional object at the early ICA,” Tate Papers, Autumn 2014. 

  • Victoria Walsh, wearing black, against a white background

    Victoria Walsh is Professor of Art History and Curating at the Royal College of Art and Head of the Curating Contemporary Art Programme. She is a curator and researcher whose projects span from the postwar period to the contemporary with a particular focus on interdisciplinary collaborations between artists, architects and designers; the reconstruction of exhibitions; practices and histories of gallery education; and issues of curating in relation to the changing conditions of technology. In 2015 she led the reconstruction of Richard Hamilton’s 1951 exhibition Growth and Form for the Tate Modern / Museo Reina Sofia major retrospective of the artist’s work in 2014, which built on her previous experience reconstructing the 1953 ICA exhibition, Parallel of Life and Art. With Claire Zimmerman, she co-curated the Tate Britain research display New Brutalist Image 1949–1955 and together they published the photo-article “New Brutalist Image 1949–55”, British Art Studies, December 2016.

  • With a background in fine art and art history Ben Highmore teaches cultural studies at the University of Sussex. In 2017 he published two books: The Art of Brutalism: Rescuing Hope from Catastrophe in 1950s Britain (Yale University Press) and Cultural Feelings: Mood, Mediation, and Cultural Politics (Routledge). The first looked at a tight-knit group of artists, critics and architects to explore how they responded to the immediate postwar years. The second book expanded that approach to look across the postwar period in terms of feelings and moods. For the last couple of years, he has been working on a book about postwar English taste and the emergence of the new middle classes. This is being published in February next year as Lifestyle Revolution: How Taste Changed Class in Late-Twentieth-Century Britain (Manchester University Press). Currently he is writing a book on playgrounds – particularly those that emerged out of the bombsites of London and elsewhere. Previous books include The Great Indoors: At Home in the Modern British House (Profile Books) and Ordinary Lives: Studies in the Everyday (Routledge).