Past Events

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

British Art and Natural Forces

  • 6 to 2 October 2020
  • Online

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.

Where possible, seminars will be recorded and published with closed captions.

Programme of events

6 October, 12.00–14.00

Geomorphic Forces (Zoom Webinar, recording available)

20 mins papers x 4, plus Q&A

Chair: Martin Myrone (Convenor, British Art Network)

  • Caterina Franciosi (PhD Student, History of Art at Yale University)
    ‘“Hell on Earth”: Edward Burne-Jones’s Perseus Series (1876–1885) and Narratives of Geophysical Development’
  • Stephanie O’Rourke (Lecturer in Art History at the University of St Andrews),
    ‘Picturing the Geological Sublime’
  • Joe Kerr (Adjunct Professor of Architectural History at Syracuse University, London),
    ‘Alfred Watkins: Art, Nature and the Supernatural’
  • Tobah Aukland-Peck (PhD Student, Art History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York),
    ‘“Minerals of the Island”: Tracing the Fossil Landscapes of the 1951 Festival of Britain’

8 October, 16.00–17.30

Plants, Animals (Zoom Webinar, recording available)

20 mins papers x 3, plus Q&A

Chair: Sria Chatterjee (IXDM, Basel/Max-Planck Kunsthistorisches Institut)

  • Lauren Cannady (Assistant Clinical Professor, University Honors at theUniversity of Maryland),
    ‘The Order of Nature, the Disorder of Names’
  • Jeremy Melius (Assistant Professor, History of Art at Tufts University),
    ‘Vivisection and the Visual Arts’
  • Laura Ouillon (Doctoral Student, British Visual Culture at the Université de Paris),
    ‘Re-membering Trees after the Great Storm: Ecological Grief in Garry Fabian Miller’s Work’

20 October, 12.00–14.00

Authors of Architecture (Zoom Webinar, recording available)

20 mins papers x 4, plus Q&A

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

  • 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’

22 October, 16.00-17.30

Apocalyptic Conjunctures: The Weather of Art History (Zoom Webinar)

  • Andrew Patrizio (Professor of Scottish Visual Culture, History of Art, at the University of Edinburgh)

3 November, 12.00–14.00

Observations, Meteorology (Zoom Webinar)

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

Chair: Julia Lum (Assistant Professor, Art History, Scripps College)

  • Mark Cheetham (Professor of Art History University of Toronto),
    ‘Storm Clouds, Plague Clouds & Laundry Lines of the Nineteenth Century: Domestic Meteorology Aboard Arctic Voyages from Britain’
  • Benjamin Pollitt (Caird Research Fellow at the National Maritime Museum, London, and Associate Lecturer in the History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art),
    ‘Between Westall’s Chaos and Humboldt’s Cosmos: Picturing the Weather in 1848’
  • Sarah Gould (Lecturer at Panthéon Sorbonne University),
    ‘Matters of Excess in J.M.W. Turner’s Paintings’
  • Nicholas Robbins (Lecturer, History of Art at UCL),
    ‘John Constable, Luke Howard, and the Aesthetics of Climate’

5 November

Observation and Diagnosis: Pathologizing Bodies, Medicalizing Space in the British Empire (Pre-recorded Lecture)

  • Anna Arabindan-Kesson (Assistant Professor of Black Diaspora Art with a joint appointment in the Departments of African American Studies and Art and Archaeology at Princeton University)        

17 November, 12.00–14.00

Decolonial Agencies (Zoom Webinar)

20 mins papers x 4, plus Q&A

Chair: Hammad Nasar (Senior Research Fellow, Paul Mellon Centre)

  • Holly Shaffer (Assistant Professor, History of Art and Architecture at Brown University),
    ‘Birds and Books in Flight across India and Britain’
  • Bergit Arends (Curator and Researcher, British Academy Fellow at the University of Bristol),
    ‘Empire and Ecology: Activations by Contemporary Artists of Collections at the Natural History Museum in London’
  • Eleanore Neumann (Doctoral Candidate in the McIntire Department of Art at the University of Virginia),
    ‘Maria Graham on the Natural History of Brazil and Chile, 1821–1824’
  • Giulia Smith (Leverhulme Early Career Fellow 'Landscape, Identity and Belonging in Post-Imperial Britain', at the Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford),
    ‘Decolonising the Amazon: Aubrey Williams and Wilson Harris Find El Dorado’

18–19 November

Film Screening ‘Infinity Minus Infinity’

  • The Otolith Group, (57 mins)
    (Available for 48hrs only, register to receive the access link)

19 November

Racial Capitalocene: Ecology and Abolition (Pre-recorded Lecture)

  • T. J. Demos (Professor, and Patricia and Rowland Rebele Endowed Chair in Art History, at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and founding Director of its Center for Creative Ecologies)

24 November, 12.00–13.30

Curating the Sea (Zoom Webinar, Panel Discussion and Journal of Curatorial Studies Special Issue Launch)

  • Pandora Syperek (Research Associate at Loughborough University London) and Sarah Wade (Lecturer in Museum Studies at the University of East Anglia), 
    ‘Curating the Sea: Oceanic Exhibition Making at a Time of Ecological Crisis’
  • Stefanie Hessler (Director, Kunsthall Trondheim),
    ‘Tidalectic Curating’
  • Miranda Lowe (Principal Curator at the Natural History Museum), TBC

1 December, 12.00-14.30

Unstable boundaries, ecologies (Zoom Webinar)

20 mins papers x 5, plus Q&A

Chair: Anna Reid (Head of Research, Paul Mellon Centre)

  • Siobhan Angus (Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, History of Art at Yale University),
    ‘“Ferments of a disquieting instability”: Iron, Industrialization, and Anna Atkins’ Cyanotypes’
    Laura Franchetti (PhD Candidate, History of Art, Nineteenth-Century British Art,  at the Courtauld Institute of Art),
    ‘The Undulating Self: Acoustical Physics, Embodied Sensations and Frederic Leighton’s Weaving the Wreath (c.1872)’
    Thomas Hughes (Associate Lecturer in the History of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art),
    ‘Ruskin, Chiaroscuro and the Limits of the Human’
    Evelyn Whorrall-Campbell (PhD Candidate in the Centre for Film and Screen Studies at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge),
    ‘Erotic Ecologies: Horizontality and Be(holding) in Charlotte Prodger’s BRIDGIT (2016)’
  • Luca Beisel (PhD Candidate in Art History at the Freie Universität Berlin),
    ‘“As Nature Herself Might Do, Were Her Such Intent”: The Form-giving Forces of Nature and their Simulation in British Picturesque Landscape Art (ca. 1770–1820)’

3 December

Final Panel discussion (Zoom Webinar)