Category Archives: Visual and Material Culture

Leaves of Silk

by Clare BrantProfessor of Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture and Co-Director, Centre for Life-Writing Research

The Dear Diary exhibition is now open, until 7th July! Promotion got underway well before opening, with various radio features including Radio 2’s Jonathan Ross Show on 4th May, and  BBC London, Monocle Radio, Radio Oxford and other outlets; on 3rd June, I take Dear Diary to Radio 4’s Saturday Live show (listen from 9:00 BST).

One publicity commission was for the Sunday Times series ‘6 of the Best’. I thought long and hard and put together a list only to discover that ‘Best’ is determined by what the picture editor thinks can be illustrated best. Several suggestions hit the cutting room floor. One was  British artist Ian Breakwell’s visual diary – an idea I owe to Lucy Bayley, a PhD student at the ICA (thank you, Lucy). You can see a selection of Breakwell’s work at the Tate, including The Walking Man Diary (1975-1978).

A diary’s lure of intimacy…

Breakwell has made various experiments with the diary form. One of the most compelling is the photographic diary he made of an unknown man who regularly walked past Breakwell’s flat in Smithfield in the City of London, where from his third floor window the artist was often looking out. The images all have the same vantage point and the same mysterious subject; the passing of time is captured through the diary unevenly, so that some photographs are taken seconds apart while others are separated by months. The resulting pattern of similarity and difference, heightened by collage, plays with a diary’s lure of intimacy: by denying us even incremental knowledge, Breakwell makes his diary intriguingly baffling.

W.P. Barbellion
W.P. Barbellion, or Bruce Cummings, unknown photographer, via Wikimedia Commons

Another suggestion was W.P. Barbellion, The Journal of a Disappointed Man (1919). This diary has an extraordinary story. The author’s real name was Bruce Cummings; he made his pseudonym from Wilhelm, Nero and Pilate as examples of the most wretched people to have lived. Continue reading Leaves of Silk

Painting in circles and loving in triangles: the Bloomsbury Group’s queer ways of seeing

Featured image: Duncan Grant © Tate

by Ellie Jones, PhD researcher funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Tate. Her thesis centres on expressions and perceptions of queerness and race in early twentieth century British art.

“Dearest, at this moment I would give my soul to the Devil if I could kiss you and be kissed.”

In the summer of 1908, the Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant wrote anguished letters to his sometime lover and lifelong friend, the economist John Maynard Keynes. In the infancy of their romance, the pair had been forced to spend time apart while Grant holidayed with family friends, a period of separation which served only to deepen their emotional closeness. Absence, after all, makes the heart grow fonder.

Grant’s letters expose a longing for the comfort of commonality, the security we find in shared experiences. He needed the company of someone who understood what it meant to be a gay man living in Britain before decriminalisation in 1967. “How much I want to scream sometimes here for want of being able to say something I mean,” one letter reads: “It’s not only that one’s a sodomite that one has to hide but one’s whole philosophy of life; one’s feelings for inanimate things I feel would shock some people.”

Duncan Grant, Bathing, 1911 © Tate

These letters are revealing of the ways Grant linked his sense of alienation, at the hands of his sexuality, to a broader sense of difference relating to the way he perceived the world around him. He understood his queerness as a central organising structure of his vision and his personhood; his “whole philosophy of life”. By making an explicit connection between his sexual alterity and his way of seeing, he leads us to consider: in what ways do our sexual pleasures and fantasies inform the way we see the world? Continue reading Painting in circles and loving in triangles: the Bloomsbury Group’s queer ways of seeing

‘It’s in my diary…’

by Clare Brant, Professor of Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture and Co-Director, Centre for Life-Writing Research

‘It’s in my diary’

is a phrase you still hear. The expression gives no clue as to whether the speaker uses a paper diary or an app, and not needing to make the distinction shows how old and new forms of diary co-exist happily. The paper appointment diary is still an everyday object – I have a Filofax I was given in the 1990s when they were fashionable and it’s still easy to buy an annual refill. Meanwhile an increasing number of apps make the diary mobile-friendly, multi-media, synchable – and, if you want to keep it private, encryptable.

Do you have a paper diary? Do you use a diary app? Do you contribute to an online diary platform? Do you do none of the above but are curious about diaries? Then put in your diary 26 May – 7 July, the dates for Dear Diary, a forthcoming exhibition at the Inigo Rooms, East Wing, Somerset House on diaries old and new. It’s a collaboration between the Centre for Life-Writing Research, which I co-direct, and the Great Diary Project, directed by Dr Polly North.

Diaries are among our most precious items of heritage… No other kind of document offers such a wealth of information about daily life and the ups and downs of human existence…

Continue reading ‘It’s in my diary…’

Awash with colour in Western Norway

By Frances Carey, Visiting Senior Research Fellow, English Department, and co-curator of Painting Norway. Nikolai Astrup 1880-1928, Dulwich Picture Gallery 5 February to 15 May 2016.

An elephant’s gestation is ‘but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night’ compared with that required for most museum exhibitions. The one just opened at Dulwich Picture Gallery was not even a twinkle in anyone’s eye at the seminar I was invited to join four years ago in Bergen, to consider how to raise the international profile of Nikolai Astrup.

Continue reading Awash with colour in Western Norway

Wax Virginia

By Catriona Livingstone, PhD student in English Literature.

One of KCL’s most famous alumni has returned to the college, taking up ‘a room of her own’ in the lobby of the building named in her honour.

‘Wax Virginia’, a work by sculptor Eleanor Crook, was unveiled – or ‘unleashed’ – on Wednesday evening, at an exciting event organised by Professor Clare Brant, co-director of the Centre for Life-Writing Research at King’s, and well-attended by staff, students, and other Woolfish enthusiasts. The sculpture is the result of over 120 hours of work and careful research – Crook studied photographs of Woolf in order to trace the changes in her face over time and to select the particular moment – and emotion – which she wanted her sculpture of Woolf to occupy. Continue reading Wax Virginia