Assemblage

Abstract for Women and the Arts in the Long Eighteenth Century (8 March 2019)

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I’m super excited to have had my abstract accepted for the Women and the Arts in the Long Eighteenth Century conference. I’ll be speaking on the topic of ‘Collage before Modernism? Periodization, Gender and Eighteenth-Century Women’s Collage’, abstract below.

Collage before Modernism? Periodization, Gender and Eighteenth-Century Women’s Collage

In the essay ‘Collage: A Brief History’, Dawn Ades writes that ‘when Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque started gluing bits to their pictures in 1912, this had nothing to do with long-standing popular past-times like pasting cut out images onto fire screens, and everything to do with art’. Ades’ statement is typical of existing histories of collage, which tend to figure the genre as the result of modernist innovation, as opposed to a medium with a long and distinctive history. Crucially, the quotation also reinforces a number of entrenched hierarchies within art history: differences between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art forms; divisions of modern and pre-modern; and, most crucially, the gendered separation between artist and amateur. Yet these categorical distinctions pose fundamental questions about the nature of art itself, prompting considerations of how art is defined, of the identities and motivations of those who make it, and of why certain objects have been consistently overlooked by art history.

This paper has two aims, firstly to provide a detailed examination of collage made by women in the long eighteenth-century, arguing for its centrality as a mode of female artistic expression during this period. Secondarily, it will identify periodization as a central evaluative and organisational methodology within art history, arguing that the strict distinction drawn between collage made before and after 1912 is central to the explicitly gendered ways in which collage has been conceptualized, and often dismissed. The paper will address and trouble this sharp division by framing it in terms of the gendered disentanglement of art from craft, whilst highlighting the productive possibilities of a transhistorical approach to collage, which fully takes women’s production of the genre in the long eighteenth century into account.

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Abstract for the Small Things in the Eighteenth Century Conference (6-7 June, 2019)

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I’m thrilled to have had the abstract for my paper, ‘‘Joineriana’: the fragmentary form across eighteenth-century culture‘ accepted for the Small Things in the Eighteenth Century conference, hosted by CECS York in June 2019. Details of my paper are included below.

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‘Joineriana’: the fragmentary form across eighteenth-century culture

This paper takes its title from a letter written by Anna Letitia Barbauld to her brother John in 1775, in which she suggested that they might someday ‘sew all our fragments, and make a Joineriana of them,’ going on to list a range of incomplete literary productions, including ‘half a ballad,’ ‘the first scene of a play,’ and some ‘loose similes’, that might form part of a collected volume of such pieces.[1] Using the metaphor of the patchwork quilt, sewn from many fabric fragments to create a complete whole, the letter highlights the intermediality of the fragmentary form in eighteenth-century culture. Existing between literary, visual, and material forms, it encompassed scraps, excerpts, clippings, patches, and pieces of all of kinds. From patchwork quilts, commonplace books, and wunderkammer, to specimen tables, albums, and mosaics, eighteenth-century culture was itself a ‘joineriana’, teeming with a veritable proliferation of fragmentary objects.

Previous literature on the eighteenth-century fragment has focused on two interrelated areas of enquiry. Firstly, scholarship has examined the ‘fragmentary mode’ in contemporary literary production, particularly within texts such as James Macpherson’s 1760 Fragments of ancient poetry, collected in the Highlands of Scotland, and translated from the Gaelic or Erse language, in which the piecemeal nature of the ‘collected’ poetic prose reinforced ideas of authenticity.[2] Correspondingly, research on the fragment has also focused on antiquarian and Romantic interest in the ruin, compellingly relating this to ideas of history, chronology, and the picturesque.[3] This paper builds on this existing research to scrutinize the fragment across a much broader spectrum of eighteenth-century culture, demonstrating its pervasiveness across a range of visual, material, and literary forms at this time.

Examining cultural production in eighteenth-century Britain at the level of its smallest constitutive elements, this paper looks at a range of collections, assemblages, and composite manuscripts. Arguing that the fragment was a central cultural device during this period, it suggests that paying attention to such forms allows us to think about key issues within eighteenth-century art and literature. Firstly, by asking how and where fragments were encountered, collected, and sourced within eighteenth-century life, the paper will reveal how fragments allow us to better understand contemporary processes of consumption and production, such as acquisition and collection, translation and adaptation, as well as broader cultural paradigms of the period, such as the print and consumer ‘revolutions’.  Secondly, the paper will examine how such fragmentary forms related to self-fashioning, exploring the relationship between materiality and identity, sexuality, and emotion. Finally, the paper will also consider the terminologies and nomenclature associated with such objects to think about the deeper meanings of the fragment during this period. By interrogating terms such as ‘scrap’, ‘morsel’ and ‘mosaic’, the paper will consider how these forms were rooted in regimes of scale, permanency, and value that have survived into histories of art and culture today. In so doing, the paper will demonstrate that although fragments were often by their very nature incomplete, ephemeral, and evanescent, they are nevertheless central to our understanding of both eighteenth-century culture, and the histories we write about it.

[1] The Works of Anna Laetitia Barbauld. With a Memoir by Lucy Aikin, 2 vols. (London, 1825), 2:9.

[2] For example, see S. Jung, The Fragmentary Poetic: Eighteenth-Century Uses of an Experimental Mode (Lehigh University Press, 2009).

[3] See S. Thomas, Romanticism and Visuality: Fragments, History, Spectacle (London: Routledge, 2007).

Programme and Registration for Collage, Montage, Assemblage: Collected and Composite Forms, 1700-Present

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The programme and registration details for our conference Collage, Montage, Assemblage: Collected and Composite Forms, 1700-Present are now online. The event will be preceded by a free half-day PG/ECR workshop, Collage in History, Theory, and Practice. Registration for this event is available here. But be quick – tickets are very limited for both events!

IASH Work in Progress Seminar – 10 January 2018

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Screen Shot 2018-01-08 at 20.50.37.jpgOn Wednesday 10 January 2018, I’ll be delivering a ‘Work in Progress’ seminar on my research project ‘Collage before Modernism’ at IASH. The seminar will outline the project, introducing some of the key issues and ideas at stake in the project, and the relevant historiography and methodologies used, before discussing some of the project’s central case studies. In so doing, it will highlight how a focus on collage made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries allows us to explore ideas of genre, periodicity, and reflexivity.

Further details available here.

IASH Twitter Takeover – Favourite Collages #4 – Plas Newydd’s Windows

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My final ‘favourite collage’ that I’m going to share for my IASH twitter takeover are these windows, located in the Library at Plas Newydd, North Wales. Home to the so-called ‘Ladies of Llangollen’, Eleanor Bulter and Sarah Ponsonby, from around 1788 until 1831, Plas Newydd was (and still is) adorned with a rich collection of objects, many of them given to the women by their close friends, and subsequently integrated into the very fabric of their home.

This process of acquisition and integration is exemplified by the construction of the stained-glass windows of the house’s library. Employing glass variously found at Valle Crucis, a nearby ruined abbey; purchased from the Birmingham glass maker and painter, Francis Eginton; and donated by the women’s friends; the windows form an intoxicating bricolage of brightly coloured and fragmented glass, encompassing representations of biblical scenes, heraldry, foliate designs, abstract patterns, and block colour.

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This included a casement of glass from their friend Mr Owen, who had recently removed the stained glass of his home, Brogyntyn Hall. While this gift has an obvious antiquarian significance, its relocation into the space of Plas Newydd built on this genealogical function to reinforce the relationship between donor and recipient. Made from numerous gifted fragments, the house’s stained glass windows function as a tribute to the thriving gift culture in which Butler and Ponsonby and their friends were implicated. At the same time, by combining these with a diverse array of collected, found and acquired, pieces of glass, they also demonstrate the connectedness between the women, their acquaintances, and their locale.

I talk more about gift culture of Plas Newydd in my book, Home Ties: Materiality, Sociability, and Emotion in British Domestic Space, 1750-1840, which is currently under review at Bloomsbury (and hopefully I’ll be able to post an update about this very soon!!). I’ve so enjoyed being able to share some of the key collages for my postdoctoral research project with you on the IASH twitter page this week, so I think I’ll make this a regular series on the blog as the project develops.

IASH Twitter Takeover – Favourite Collages #3 – The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt

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The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, often abbreviated to AIDS Memorial Quilt, is the largest piece of folk art in the world, and is dedicated to the lives of people who have died from AIDS-related causes. The above image shows just a tiny portion of this amazing object, which weighs around 54 tonnes, and is continuously being updated and added to. You can read more about the quilt here: http://www.aidsquilt.org/

Each of the quilt’s panels is roughly the size of an average grave – a specific choice meant to evoke the fact that those who died from AIDS often didn’t receive funerals due to the social stigma surrounding the condition. Using the traditional association between quilts and familial or social relationships, the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt employs the quilted form as a highly evocative emotional gesture. At once massive in scale – as the below image of the Quilt powerfully demonstrates – and characterised by tiny, intricate detail, the Quilt presents this relationship on two levels. Firstly, its massiveness highlights the sheer and unbelievable scale of the condition, an immediate, arresting, and heartbreaking sight. Secondly, the highly personal nature of the individual panels – often made by grieving friends and family – highlights the devastating impact of AIDS on an individual level.

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Collage – particularly these kinds of ‘folk’ our ‘outsider’ manifestations – lies outside of ‘high art’ as it is traditionally understood. However, objects like the Quilt demonstrate its potential to disrupt not only aesthetic narratives, but social ones, bringing crucial issues and minority identities to the forefront of art historical conversation.

IASH Twitter Takeover – Favourite Collages #2 – the commonplace books of Ellen Warter

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In the second of my IASH Twitter Takeover ‘favourite collages’ posts, I want to talk about something that you might not think about as being a collage at all – two commonplace books made c.1885 by Ellen Warter, the granddaughter of the Romantic poet Robert Southey, now held at the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh.

img_2435 2Page from the commonplace book of Ellen Warter, granddaughter of Robert Southey, Coll-1559, Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh.

A popular practice since classical antiquity, the production of commonplace books involved the compilation of excerpted texts from a broad array of writers on a variety of topics. Like traditional paper collage, then, they are collections of materials from a range of different sources, reformulated into a new object. Despite this compiled and composite nature, commonplace books are rarely conceived of in relation to collage. Instead, they tend to be discussed more as records of reading practices, knowledge exchange, and education.

Yet Ellen Warter’s commonplace books tell a more complex story than this.Warter devoted over 300 pages of her volumes to the lives and literature of the Brontë family, who were the objects of her sustained estimation, affection, and documentation. This specific emphasis upon the Brontës relates Warter’s albums to a specific type of album-making: namely, the production of volumes dedicated to literary celebrities, a practice enacted throughout the nineteenth century. Beyond this fascination with the Brontës however, the practice of commonplacing was firmly intertwined with Warter’s own family history. As the granddaughter of Robert Southey, she was part of a family whose own commonplacing and album-making spanned several generations. Warter’s grandfather, aunts, mother, and father all made, or contributed to the production of, composite volumes, a literary inheritance that places Warter’s own productions within a longer history and set of material practices. Crucially, such practices were also enacted within the broader Romantic circle, with Southey contributing to the volumes of his friends’ daughters, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Caroline Bowles, Charles Lamb, and Edward Quillinan reciprocally adding poems to the albums of Edith Southey, Warter’s mother. For Warter then, commonplacing was not only an educative practice, but an inherently social one, with her compilation of ‘Brontëana’ consistent with the collective practices of her own extended literary family.

More than the sum of their collaged parts then, Warter’s commonplace books are not only a collection of individual details and textual clippings, but evoke the broader contexts of authorship, celebrity, and collaboration.