• 17 November 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: Hammad Nasar (Senior Research Fellow, Paul Mellon Centre)

Speakers and papers:

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, 1821–1825’

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’

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

Holly Shaffer is Assistant Professor of the History of Art & Architecture at Brown University with a focus on South Asian and British art and empire specifically in western India. Her articles have been published in the Art Bulletin, Journal 18, Third Text, and forthcoming in Art History; and she has been supported by fellowships from the Getty/ACLS, the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Yale Center for British Art.

Bergit Arends curates and researches interdisciplinary processes, with current focus on environment and visual art. She publishes widely, recently on plants in The Botanical City (2020), Botanical Drift (2018), Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (2018), and on decolonising natural history museums (Art in Science Museums 2020). Her thesis ‘Contemporary Art, Archives and Environmental Change in the Age of the Anthropocene’ (2017) resulted in the award-winning publication Chrystel Lebas: Field Studies (2018). She curated contemporary art projects for the natural history museums in London and Berlin (Art/Nature, Braus 2019). Bergit is British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of History of Art, University of Bristol.

Eleanore Neumann is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art at the University of Virginia where she is writing the dissertation 'The Global Landscapes of Maria Graham (1785–1842)'. She studies the intersection of landscape, gender, and empire in British art and visual culture of the long eighteenth century. Her interests extend to the legacy of empire and global contemporary art, with a particular focus on Indigenous art from Australia. She is currently collaborating with curators on a digital ArcGIS "StoryMap" for the international exhibition Madayin: Eight Decades of Aboriginal Australian Bark Paintin from Yirrkala.    

Giulia Smith is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, where she is researching ‘Landscape, Identity and Belonging in Post-imperial Britain’. Previously, Giulia was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art and the Getty Research Institute. In 2016, she received her PhD from University College London, with a thesis on the intersection of ecology and aesthetics in British Art. Recently, Giulia has contributed an essay on ‘Ecology and the Art of the Anglophone Caribbean’ to Oceans Apart, an exhibition catalogue forthcoming with Tate Publishing in 2021. Previously, Giulia published in British Art Studies, Sculpture Journal and Oxford Art Journal.

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Before the webinar

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Image credit: Daniel Boyd, Up in Smoke Tour, Natural History Museum, London. Digital image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney