Category Archives: Visual and Material Culture

Queering the obscene: how the archives shaped my PhD

From books banned in Boston to films cut in Maryland: in the summer of 2019 PhD candidate Katie Arthur visited five archives in four US states to grapple with questions of queerness and obscenity in the censorship cases of author William S. Burroughs and filmmaker John Waters.

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Ronald Moody: Between Concrete and Wood

To celebrate the English Department’s acquisition of Val Wilmer’s portrait of Ronald Moody, Luke Roberts reflects on the life and work of the Jamaican sculptor and KCL alumnus.

For us history was the carrier of no absolutes and conformed to no overarching scriptural commandments. Nothing was ever codified as having its correct place and time. In a suitably paradoxical formulation, displacement moved to the centre.
– Stuart Hall[1]

Val Wilmer, Portrait of Ronald Moody (1963) © Val Wilmer.

In Val Wilmer’s portrait of Ronald Moody the artist sits framed by two sculptures: the carved wooden head Tacet (1938) and the concrete and fibreglass figure The Man (1958). He holds a pipe in his left hand, gently resting on his right. His eyes are fixed on something out of shot. Although nothing in this picture returns our gaze, everything holds it. It’s a study of texture and material, balance and weight: the heavy fabric of his sweater, the flesh of the hands and the human face, the greying beard, the exposed brickwork of the studio wall, the concrete phallus, the dome of the skull, triangles of newspaper and just-visible handkerchief, light moving in and out of darkness. Moody himself is the centre of gravity, but it’s a restless centre.

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The Modernist Revue: A ‘whole made of shivering fragments’

by Emily Moore

Emily Moore is a Master’s student at King’s College London, taking the ‘Modern Literature and Culture’ course. Interested in rhythm in modernist literature, she is currently working on a dissertation that compares the works of Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein.

On Friday 21st June, Kings’ Gilbert Scott Chapel rang with fragments of modernist culture. Forming part of the British Association for Modernist Studies’ 2019 Conference ‘Troublesome Modernisms’, ‘The Modernist Revue’, organised by Anna Snaith, Clara Jones, and Natasha Periyan, saw an evening of music, dance, and poetry performances inspired by, or seeking to evoke, the character of the era. This it did, calling to mind a watchword of modernist studies that is constantly being reanimated and reinterpreted: fragmentation.

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Harold Feinstein at Store X: An interview with curator Carrie Scott

From Thursday 16th May to Sunday 19th May The Store X Gallery at 180 The Strand will be hosting FOUND: A Harold Feinstein Exhibition , the UK’s first ever exhibition of the legendary, 20th century American photographer Harold Feinstein. The exhibition is accompanied by screenings at the Curzon DocHouse of Andy Dunn’s film Last Stop Coney Island: The Life and Photography of Harold Feinstein.

Dr. Michael Collins, Senior Lecturer in Twentieth-Century American Literature and Culture in The School of English, chatted with the curator Carrie Scott about Feinstein’s work and legacy, American photography at mid-century, and the place of optimism in art.

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Docks, Ships and Shows: Maritime Cityscapes and Spectacle

by Aga Serdyńska. Aga is a Modern Literature and Culture MA student with an avid interest in all things Victorian. 

The Shows of London Nineteenth-Century Group brings together academics and postgraduates at King’s and the Courtauld Institute to discuss the literary, visual and audio cultures of nineteenth-century London. In the final research seminar of this term, ‘Docks, Ships and Shows: Maritime Cityscapes and Spectacle’, Joanna Hofer-Robinson (UCC) and Oskar Cox Jensen (QMUL) sparked a thought-provoking discussion about the textual and visual depictions of London docks, which also raised broader questions about methodology in the study of arts and humanities. Continue reading Docks, Ships and Shows: Maritime Cityscapes and Spectacle

‘They were heady days’: Cruising, theory, and Queer@Kings

by Fiona Anderson and Mark Turner in conversation

Headshots of Fiona Anderson and Mark Turner

Fiona Anderson is a Lecturer in Art History in the Fine Art department at Newcastle. Her work explores queer social and sexual cultures and art from the 1970s to the present with a particular focus on cruising cultures, the HIV and AIDS crisis, queer world making practices, and the politics of urban space. Here, Fiona speaks to Mark Turner about her new book, Cruising the Dead River: David Wojnarowicz and New York’s Ruined Waterfront (University of Chicago Press, 2019).

Mark Turner is a Professor of Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century Literature in the English Department at King’s. He is the author of Trollope and the Magazines (2000), Backward Glances: Cruising the Queer Streets of New York and London (2003), and recently co-edited, with John Stokes, a major new edition of Oscar Wilde’s journalism for Oxford University Press. He has written about queer urban cultures and curated ‘Derek Jarman: Pandemonium’ at Somerset House in 2014. Mark is currently working on a project about the American gallerist Betty Parsons and her queer artists, particularly Forrest Bess. He co-founded the Queer@King’s research centre with colleagues in Arts and Humanities in 2003-4.

Katie Arthur is a PhD student in English at King’s researching the relationship between queerness and obscenity in the works of William Burroughs and John Waters.

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Presenting the Early Modern Inns Of Court and the Circulation of Text

PhD researchers in the English department organise many conferences throughout the year. We asked current PhD researcher Julian Neuhauser, co-organiser of “The Early Modern Inns of Court and the Circulation of Text” with newly-minted Dr Romola Nuttall, to reflect on what inspired the conference and the various other events that are set to take place this summer.

By Julian Neuhauser, PhD candidate in the English Department

Since their establishment in the 14th century, the Inns of Court have been at the centre of legal scholarship and practice. Thought of as the ‘third university’, the Inns attracted graduates of Oxford and Cambridge who wanted to professionalise as lawyers and politicians. These student members of the Inns brought with them the habits and forms of sociability that they learned at university, including their socio-literary activities.

Grays Inn
Grays Inn courtyard

In order to investigate the literary history of the Inns of Court, I have been co-organising, along with Romola Nuttall (who defended her thesis at King’s in 2018), a conference called “The Early Modern Inns of Court and the Circulation of Text”. The conference will pull together cutting edge, materially-grounded, and culturally critical literary scholarship about the Inns, and we are also arranging a whole host of events around the papers and keynotes.

Romola was keen that we think about how to incorporate the Inns’ tradition of holding revels into our program. Revels were opulent and mirthful events, held annually around Christmas. They included lavish dinners, student run plays, and flyting – that is, combative (though usually well-spirited) extemporaneous oral jousting.

On the occasion of a particularly riotous Middle Temple revel in 1598, the poet and Middle Temple man Sir John Davies smashed a cudgel (like a Quidditch beater) over the head of fellow poet and lawyer Richard Martin. The event resulted in Davies’ ban from Middle Temple, but it also prompted him to return to New College, Oxford and, perhaps as an act of self-reflective contrition,[1] compose his poem Nosce Teipsum (‘Know Thyself’, check out an excerpt here.) Continue reading Presenting the Early Modern Inns Of Court and the Circulation of Text

Put sand in the machines: Disobedient objects, protest, satire, resistance and jokes at the British Museum

by Clare PettittProfessor of Nineteenth Century Literature and Culture, Department of English

Dissent clearly varies in terms of seriousness”, says Ian Hislop, the guest curator of the British Museum’s new exhibition. It certainly does. I Object: Ian Hislop’s search for dissent throws together a peculiarly Hislopian blend of public school scatological gags and objects and images that record acts of resistance under totalitarian regimes that may have resulted in the torture and/or death of their makers. The stakes are vertiginously uneven, and as a result, the exhibition frequently runs into problems of tone.

As curator, we encounter a thoughtful and knowledgeable Hislop, respectful of other cultures and alert to injustice and cruelty in the world. But as presenter, we encounter more of a fnarr fnarr chortler: “Gillray knew what would sell a print – sex, the royal family and fashionable shoes”, he chuckles, or “Have workmen on building sites always been keen on sexual commentary?” It is an interesting problem. Amnesty International meets Finbarr Saunders meets the British Museum, and the result is often confusing, but never boring.

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close: letter #1

By Ellie Jones (AHRC PhD researcher, Tate and English Department) and Bryony White (AHRC/ LAHP PhD researcher, English Department), co-editors of close. close is a monthly tinyletter (article sent to your inbox) exploring intimacy, intimate lives, and objects, supported by the London Arts and Humanities Partnership.

For some time, we have wanted to try and find a way to talk across our research in bodies, queer lives and intimacy. Both situated in the English Department at King’s and with desks next to one another in a small communal postgraduate research room, we have been speaking about how intimacy, its pleasures and its discontents, has long preoccupied the work of writers and artists.

In Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, for example, intimacy is a locus of change, growth and transformation: ‘there had risen up a lovely tree in the brisk sea-salted air of their intimacy (for in some ways no one understood him, felt with him, as Clarissa did)—their exquisite intimacy’. Through intimacy, Woolf radically connects feeling to knowledge and self-understanding. However, intimacy here is also elusive. For the two former lovers, it is part of the air, atmospheric and ineffable. Continue reading close: letter #1

Performance/ Museums/ Practice

by Acatia Finbow,  Collaborative Doctoral Award Student, University of Exeter and Tate.

‘Performance/Museums/Practice’ is a monthly research seminar which considers the overlapping and intersecting practices around performance and museums, in all their complexity and richness. It is an interdisciplinary group, open to academics, practitioners, and those with a general interest in the topics, and seeks to stimulate discussion and debate around these areas of research.

The first session, held at King’s on December 4th 2017, considered ‘Collaborations and the Expansion of Performance’. The seminar usually involves two key texts and one case study which form the basis for the conversation during the seminar. In this first session, we looked at Simon Martin’s ‘Painting the Stage and Screen: Burra and Performance’, Robert S. Mattison’s essay on ‘Sleep for Yvonne Rainer’, and looked at the work by Robert Rauschenberg, ‘Sleep for Yvonne Rainer’, currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Robert Rauschenberg, Sleep for Yvonne Rainer, 1965, detail.
Robert Rauschenberg, Sleep for Yvonne Rainer, 1965, detail.

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