• 1 December 2020
  • 12:00 – 2:30 pm
  • An event as part of the multi-part conference programme 'British Art and Natural Forces'
  • Zoom Webinar

Format: 20 mins papers x 5, plus Q&A

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

Speakers and papers:

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, Drawing 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)’

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

Siobhan Angus is a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of the History of Art at Yale University. In 2020–2021, she is the William H. Helfand Visual Culture Program Fellow at The Library Company of Philadelphia and a visiting scholar at the Yale Center for British Art. Her dissertation was awarded the Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal. She is a co-editor of The Goose: A Journal of Arts, Literature, Culture, the official publication of the Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada, and a board member of the Workers Arts and Heritage Center.

Laura Franchetti is PhD student at the Courtauld Institute of Art. She specialise in interdisciplinary research that examines the intersections between late-nineteenth-century British art and science. Her thesis focuses on the work of Frederic Leighton. It argues that Leighton’s mid-late works are phrased via the imagery and theoretical concepts of Victorian physics. She is a recent recipient of a Paul Mellon Centre Research Continuity Fellowship for my doctoral project, ‘“Utterances of Physical Phenomena”: Victorian Physics & the Work of Frederic Leighton’. She has an MSt. from the University of Oxford and an MA in ‘Aesthetic Movement Art and Victorian Science’ from the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Thomas Hughes is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. He’s currently transforming his PhD thesis, on John Ruskin, Walter Pater and Aestheticism, into a book. He is also co-editing a series of essays on Ruskin and ecology for Courtauld Books Online, coming soon. He is writing a chapter for that on Ruskin, Gothic architecture and time. He is also interested in modern British and French art and architecture, art writing, theories of art history, queer theory, ecology and phenomenology.

Evelyn Whorrall-Campbell is a PhD student in the Centre for Film and Screen Studies at the University of Cambridge. She is the recipient of an Honorary Vice Chancellor’s Award and an AHRC OOC DTP Studentship. Evelyn’s thesis is concerned with tracing alternative (re)productive genealogies through the work of feminist and/or queer video artists from the 1980s to the present. Her writing has also appeared in various publications, including FDBNFictions, Another Gaze, and OREAD (forthcoming).

Luca Beisel is an art historian, historian of science and computer programmer, working on historic and contemporary instances of immersive media, visual technology and mediated reality. He is a PhD candidate in art history at Freie Universität Berlin as part of the focus programme The Digital Image by the German research foundation. Past affiliations include The Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University and Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science Berlin. In January 2020 he was a participant in the MIT Reality Hackathon at MIT Media Lab.

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Image credit: Anna Atkins, Chordaria flagelliformis, 1844, cyanotype, in Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, Part IV, Version 1. Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library. Digital image courtesy of The New York Public Library