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Archive for the 'UCL Exhibitions' Category

Young’s Inequality: The erasure of women’s names in history

By Cerys R Jones, on 13 December 2018

Young’s Inequality is a powerful result in mathematics, named after William Henry Young, a British mathematician who was president of the London Mathematical Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society. However, I recently learned that much of the work published under William’s name was actually in collaboration with his wife, Grace Chisholm Young.

Grace Chisholm Young studied mathematics at Girton College, Cambridge after being awarded the Sir Francis Goldsmid scholarship. She achieved the equivalent of a first-class degree in her exams, and even decided to take the final year exams for Oxford; she received higher marks than all of the Oxford students and became the first person to achieve a first in any subject from both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. Grace moved to Germany to study for her PhD under the supervision of Felix Klein (famous for the Klein bottle). She subsequently became one of the first women to officially be awarded a doctorate in Germany (read more on Dorothea Schlözer, who received her degree from Gottingen in 1787, and Sofia Kovalevaskaya, who received hers in absentia in 1874).

Klein bottle, first defined by mathematician Felix Klein

After completing her PhD, Grace moved back to the UK and married William, who had been her tutor whilst at the University of Cambridge. William was appointed a professor at several universities whilst Grace cared for their children, studied for a medical degree and simultaneously wrote papers for herself and for William. Grace converted William’s research notes into academic papers, correcting his mistakes and completing his proofs. Their daughter stated that “much of their collaboration was behind the scenes of the very large number of papers published by W. H. Young”. William was aware of the inequality of women at the time and occasionally mentioned Grace’s contributions in footnotes such as one which stated “Various circumstances have prevented me from composing the present paper myself. The substance of it only was given to my wife, who has kindly put it into form. The careful elaboration of the argument is due to her.” Private letters from William to Grace also discussed the nature of their joint work. In 1902, he wrote “The fact is our papers ought to be published under our joint names, but if this were done neither of us get the benefit of it” adding “everything under my name now, and later when the loaves and the fishes are no more procurable in that way, everything or much under your name.”

In time, Grace began to be acknowledged for her work. In 1906, they published a textbook on set theory together and William wrote “any reference to the constant assistance which I have received during my work from my wife is superfluous, since, with the permission of the Syndics of the Press, her name has been associated with mine in the title page.” Grace also began publishing papers in her own name from 1914 and was awarded the Gamble Prize at Gerton College. William, however, received greater recognition for their collaborations and was awarded the de Morgan medal from the London Mathematics Society and the Sylvester prize from the Royal Society. Women were not eligible to become fellows of the Royal Society until 1945, just a year after Grace’s death.

Grace has since received recognition for her many important papers on differentiation and derivatives, as well as for the Denjoy-Saks-Young theorem, which is named after her. Furthermore, in a letter addressed to her sister, Grace wrote “I liked being incog. to the outside world, and felt I had the perfect right to do so, husband and wife being one… I don’t want to be mistaken for the modern ambitious female, ambitious for herself and her own glorification.” Grace never yearned for recognition for herself and may have even disagreed with the message of this blogpost.

Although  there are numerous other stories of women’s successes being hidden under the guise of a man in history, steps are continuously being made towards equality. In 2018, there are 124 women fellows in the Royal Society, although this is only 8.5% of the total number of fellows. According to the Higher Education Staff Statistics for the UK in 2016/17, there are 5050 female professors in the UK (24.6% of the total number of professors in the UK). Whilst these numbers appear to be steadily increasing, there is still a long way to go to see women represented equally in academic positions.


The information in this blogpost came from the following papers:

[1] Claire Jones (2000) “Grace Chisholm Young: Gender and mathematics around 1900”, Women’s History Review, 9:4, 675-693

[2] Patricia Rothman (1996) “Grace Chisholm Young and the Division of Laurels”, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 50:1, 89-100


A Tale of Two Exhibitions: Auguste Rodin, Gwen John, and the Torsos of Antiquity

By Sarah M Gibbs, on 4 June 2018

By Sarah Gibbs

What do you get when you combine a French sculptor, an English painter, and a bunch of statues that lost their heads (literally) on the journey from antiquity to the twentieth century? Amazing exhibitions at the British Museum, which just opened the show Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece, and the UCL Art Museum, where visitors can enjoy Prize & Prejudice: The Slade Class of 1918!

Left: Auguste Rodin (British Museum / Musée Rodin; Jean de Calan); right: Gwen John. Self-Portrait, 1900 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

The British Museum’s exhibition examines the profound influence on the artist’s work of classical sculpture, in particular, the Parthenon figures in the British Museum. Of Pheidias, the ancient sculptor responsible for the Parthenon’s adornment, as well as the giant statue of the goddess Athena that resided within, Rodin declared in 1911: “No artist will ever surpass [him]… The greatest of the sculptors, who appeared at the time when the entire human dream could be contained in the pediment of a temple, will never be equalled.”

Rodin’s purpose-built antiquities museum at Meudon (British Museum / Musée Rodin; Jean de Calan)

In homage to the works of antiquity, Rodin removed the heads and extremities from many of his own sculptures. In so doing, he created a new sub-genre of art: the headless, limbless torso (because beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder—of abdominals). Among the photographs included in the British Museum’s displays is an image of Gwen John, an English painter and Rodin’s lover, and a featured artist in another local exhibition.

While the UCL Art Museum’s Prize & Prejudice doesn’t include any paintings of Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy emerging from the lake at Pemberley, it is an in-depth examination of the work of the female artists who swept the Slade School’s annual prizes in 1918. Among the portraits, drapery studies, and drawings from life is a composition by Gwen John, a student at the Slade between 1895 and 1898. John’s piece includes a figure sketch after Raphael and the exhibit’s accompanying text notes that: “Like her peers she would have been encouraged to visit the Print Room at the British Museum in order to closely examine the [Old Masters’] originals in person.”

Drawing from casts of headless, limbless classical torsos was also part of the Slade students’ training. Perhaps John and Rodin passed one another in the British Museum’s hallowed halls before they met in France in 1904.

The British Museum and the UCL Art Museum’s exhibitions are a beautiful double feature for any art lover with a free afternoon in Bloomsbury. Rodin diverged from classical models in his desire to show the sculpting process—tool marks and rough edges remain on his works—and in his interest in pieces which appeared unfinished. Likewise, Prize & Prejudice’s drawings and paintings are artefacts of art in progress: the efforts of practitioners honing their craft and learning from the masters who preceded them.

Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece; until 29 July 2018 (British Museum)

Prize & Prejudice: The Slade Class of 1918; until 8 June 2018 (UCL Art Museum)



British Museum. Rodin & the Art of Ancient Greece. 2018. London. http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/rodin-1.aspx

Langdale, Cecily. “John, Gwendolen Mary [Gwen], (1876–1939).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/37610

UCL Art Museum. Prize & Prejudice: The Slade Class of 1918. 2018. London.

Label Detective: Are Bacteria ‘Ordinary Animals?’

By tcrnkl0, on 17 October 2017

A few weeks ago, the Grant Museum opened a new exhibit, The Museum of Ordinary Animals: boring beasts that changed the world. As a detective of the mundane myself, I am a huge fan. But I’m particularly curious about the ordinary animals we can’t see.

Rather than focusing on a specific artefact label, I answer the title question by visiting two places in the Museum of Ordinary Animals exhibition that help raise questions about how things are organised and labeled in zoology more broadly.

Case notes: Bacteria are everywhere. As I mentioned in my previous post, we have 160 major species of bacteria in our bodies alone, living and working together with our organ systems to do things like digest nutrients. This is also happens with other animals — consider the ordinary cow, eating grass. Scientist Scott F. Gilbert tells us that in reality, cows cannot eat grass. The cow’s genome doesn’t have the right proteins to digest grass. Instead, the cow chews grass and the bacteria living in its cut digest it. In that way, the bacteria ‘make the cow possible’.


The Ordinary Cow, brought to you to by bacteria. Credit: Photo by author

Scientifically speaking, bacteria aren’t actually ‘animals’; they form their own domain of unicellular life. But, as with the cow, bacteria and animals are highly connected. Increasingly, scientists say that the study of bacteria is ‘fundamentally altering our understanding of animal biology’ and theories about the origin and evolution of animals.

But, before we get into that, let’s go back to Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Darwin studied how different species of animals, like the pigeon, are related to each other, and how mapping their sexual reproduction shows how these species diversify and increase in complexity over time. This gets depicted as a tree, with the ancestors at the trunk and species diversifying over time into branches.


Darwin’s Ordinary Tree of Pigeons. Photos by author

When scientists began to use electron microscopes in the mid-20th century, our ideas about what made up the ‘tree of life’ expanded. We could not only observe plants, animals, and fungi, but also protists (complex small things) and monera (not-so-complex small things). This was called the five kingdom model. Although many people still vaguely recollect this model from school, improved techniques in genetic research starting in the 1970s has transformed our picture of the ‘tree of life’.

It turns out we had given way too much importance to all the ordinary things we could see, when in fact most of the tree of life is microbes. The newer tree looks like this:

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Now there are just three overarching domains of life: Bacteria, Eucarya (plants, animals, and fungi are just tiny twigs on this branch), and Archaea (another domain of unicellular life, but we’ll leave those for another day).

There’s a third transformation of the ‘tree of life’, and this one is my favourite. Since the 1990s, DNA technology and genomics have given us an even greater ability to ‘see’ the diversity of microbial life and how it relates to each other. The newest models of the tree look more like this:

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

This is a lot messier. Why? Unlike the very tiny branches of life (plants and animals) that we focused a lot of attention on early on in the study of evolution, most of life on earth doesn’t reproduce sexually. Instead, most microbes transfer genes ‘horizontally’ (non-sexually) across organisms, rather than ‘down’ a (sexual) genetic line. This creates links between the ‘branches’ of the tree, starting to make it look like….not a tree at all. As scientist Margaret McFall-Ngai puts it: ‘we now know that genetic material from bacteria sometimes ends up in the bodies of beetles, that of fungi in aphids, and that of humans in malaria protozoa. For bacteria, at least, such transfers are not the stuff of science fiction but of everyday evolution’.

Status: Are bacteria Ordinary Animals? We can conclusively say that bacteria are not animals. But, they are extremely ordinary, even if we can’t see them with the naked eye. In truth, they’re way more ordinary than we are.




As with the previous Label Detective entry, this post was deeply inspired by the book Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, an anthology of essays by zoologists, anthropologists, and other scholars who explore how environmental crisis has highlights the complex and surprising ways that life on earth is tied together. Scott F. Gilbert and Margaret McFall-Ngai, both cited above, contribute chapters.

Stress: Remembering Men

By Kevin Guyan, on 16 November 2015

By Kevin Guyan


In the latest blog post to accompany Stress: Approaches to the First World War, Kevin Guyan explains what James Andrew Wykeham Simons’ 1948 painting The Seven Ages of Man tells us about remembering masculinities in twentieth century Britain. 


The Seven Ages of Man

The Seven Ages of Man © the artist’s estate, photo credit: UCL Art Museum

A reproduction of James Andrew Wykeham Simons’ 1948 painting, The Seven Ages of Man is currently on display as part of the Stress: Approaches to the First World War exhibition.  I selected the work for inclusion as it tells us a lot about masculine identities of the past and raises particular questions about how we commemorate men lost in war, themes addressed in my PhD research.

Simons’ painting takes its name from a monologue in the William Shakespeare play As You Like It.  The painting’s title invites viewers to look for Shakespeare’s seven ages of man and rethink your view towards masculinity – not as something fixed but as something continually in flux.

The youngest man found in the painting is the infant, held in the arms of his nurse.  The men are looking out to a body of water where the next age of man is located, the emotional lover, whom Shakespeare describes as ‘sighing like a furnace, with a wofeful ballad made to his mistress’ eyebrow’.  The turbulent years of being young and in love catches the attention of the other men in the painting.

The next stage to follow in a man’s life is the devoted soldier.  Shakespeare describes this man as ‘full of strange oaths, and bearded like a pard’, which was the Old English word for leopard and highlights young men’s tendency to grow patchy beards.

On his return from war, man enters the next stage of life in which they no longer feel the need to prove themselves and can instead sit back and enjoy commenting on the world around them.  We would today describe this phase as middle aged, and two characters in Simons’ painting fit this description.  At this point in Shakespeare’s journey through the seven ages of man the chronology becomes less clear, as it’s of course possible to be an older soldier or a younger man who is also self-assured.

Reaching the end of one’s life, and one becomes an old man who cares little about his dress sense, wearing ‘lean and slippered pantaloon’ to cover his ‘shrunk shank’ – his thin legs.  Finally, man’s life ends with ‘mere oblivion’ and is left ‘sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything’.  Death.

I am unable to tell why Simons made one slight change in his painting from the Shakespeare monologue – he does not depict the age of the schoolboy and instead adds two, rather than one, middle aged men – the youngest in blue and the oldest in grey.  My hesitant guess is that this change reflected the huge increase in life expectancy in the mid-twentieth century, with the middle decades of one’s life expanding and therefore justifying an additional character.

“Rethink your view towards masculinity – not as something fixed but as something continually in flux.”

My own research explores the relationship between masculinities, planning knowledge and domestic space in Britain between the 1941 Blitz and the early 1960s.  One of the biggest changes during this period was men’s movement from old homes into new homes after the Second World War and the new opportunities men found in terms of privacy, more space, use of a garden and private bedrooms.  The move into new homes made it easier for men to perform family-orientated masculinities and change what they did in the home as fathers and husbands.

In my study of postwar housing, men’s gender identity is not fixed but something that can change according to time and place.  Similarly, in Simons’ painting, men’s masculine identities do not change according to space but change according to time.

The Seven Ages of Man, when viewed within the context of the First World War, raises questions about how and who we commemorate.  When commemorating men who served in the First World War we need to think about their masculine identities as something unfixed that could be achieved, lost and rediscovered – there was and is no option for lifetime membership. And for millions of men in the early twentieth century, the opportunity to progress through the painting’s seven ages was viciously cut short.

It is always sad to hear when the linear path of a man’s life does not proceed through the generations as predicted – painted against the backdrop of the mid-1940s, I therefore read Simons’ painting as an anti-war statement that reminds us of the many male lives that were unnaturally disrupted by conflict.  Approaching the subject of commemoration through a gender history lens raises new ways to think about men’s lives in the past and reminds us of the need to stop history from repeating itself.


Stress: Building an Exhibition

By Kevin Guyan, on 20 July 2015

Kevin GuyanBy Kevin Guyan


With the announcement of the Student Engagers’ autumn exhibition, here is the first in a series of blog posts that share personal insights into the curatorial process.


Stress offers the student engagement team an opportunity to curate an exhibition that counters the traditional view of museums and galleries as fixed spaces that display objects that convey a message. Instead – I see this as a chance for us to experiment with bold and exciting ways to share knowledge and create a space on campus for three-way conversations between curators, objects and the public.

The inception of our exhibition first found life in the summer of 2014 during a conversation between the student engagement team and the UCL Art Museum. Over one year later and, as design ideas and draft event listings are shared via email, the exhibition at last feels like it is coming together.

As our more experienced colleagues in UCL Museums and Public and Cultural Engagement warned, ‘exhibition time’ runs significantly slower than ‘normal time’ and we now appreciate starting this project with 16 months to spare. I remember looking at action plans with distant dates and the feeling that our plans were a lifetime away. Those dates have now come and gone as we hurtle through 2015 and towards our opening night on Friday 9 October.

The meat and bones of the student engagement project is the presence of researchers in UCL’s three public museums. Therefore, one of the key hopes for Stress was to import this practice and create an exhibition where a researcher was always present, waiting and ready for conversation.

The researcher’s presence will also create a way to feed-back information from visitors into the planning of events, pre-empting many questions and queries fielded and offering a more tailored visitor experience. It further gives us opportunities to adapt the exhibition during its run. For example, conversations between engagers and visitors will inform the writing of blog articles that will then shape how future visitors perceive the objects on display.

Like our previous events and exhibitions, Movement, LandSCAPE and Foreign Bodies, the theme of Stress brings together the research interests of a diverse group of PhD students under one overarching theme. This means that the visitor experience will differ according to the researcher in the exhibition space and their interpretation of the objects on display.

North Lodge

UCL’s North Lodge will house a team of postgraduate researchers throughout the exhibition.

I am excited to see how this works in reality – the continual presence of a researcher in the North Lodge exhibition space may prove overbearing and turn-off visitors looking for a space of solitude in busy Bloomsbury. More optimistically, the space will become a talking shop at the entrance to UCL’s campus and create a different, yet equally enriching, experience for visitors.

For me, public engagement is about more than sharing research ideas with other people. The benefits should reach far further than dissemination alone and empower researchers to enter into dialogues with people from different backgrounds. The process of sharing ideas with people unfamiliar with our own field will foster new and unexpected connections and force us to change the way we share our work, ultimately resulting in a deeper understanding for everyone involved.

We are attempting to build an exhibition with public engagement as a foundational building block and create a space that gives researchers and visitors opportunities to follow pathways unaware where they might lead. This is very much the ethos of the student engagement project – let’s see how our ideas work in reality.

Question of the Week: When did the tradition for Grave Goods stop?

By Lisa, on 15 October 2014

ProfileBy Felicity Winkley

Last week I had an interesting discussion with a visitor to the Petrie museum about grave goods.

The shelves of the museum’s cases are lined with an impressive quantity of grave goods, representing a date range that covers most phases of Egyptian history. And this is hardly surprising. Of the 52 excavation locations detailed in a breakdown of Petrie’s field seasons between 1880 and 1938, over half (26) are cemeteries [1].

The finds brought back to UCL by Flinders Petrie after these excavations comprise a diverse assemblage of items. Like those observed in contemporary cultures elsewhere, the grave goods in the early stages of Ancient Egypt consisted of a mixture of every day objects, food items and those more unique or personal accessories, including combs, jewellery and trinkets.

By the Middle Kingdom, however, small figures starting appearing in tombs – early versions of what came to be known as Shabti – meaning ‘answerer’ – figures. By the end of the Middle Kingdom, shabtis were an established funerary tradition and thereafter became prevalent amongst groups of grave goods in one form or another for the remainder of Ancient Egypt’s history. Petrie’s collection contains (at least, according to the electronic catalogue) 1,841 shabtis.

Most commonly shown mummified, the shabti figures act as servants for the deceased in the afterlife – bringing them food or undertaking labour on their behalf, often as instructed in the inscription from the Book of the Dead with which they are decorated [2]. Because of this, they are regularly depicted holding hoes and with baskets on their back for collecting the farmed food for the deceased: see UC39708, a black steatite shabti from the 18th dynasty (c. 1500-1298 BC) and UC39765, a pottery shabti from the 19th (c. 1298 – 1187 BC).UC39708

The popularity of shabtis continued on throughout the New Kingdom, when they were increasingly being manufactured in faience: something explored by artist and archaeologist Zahed Taj-Eddin in the current exhibition ‘Nu’ Shabtis Liberation, in which 80 modern shabtis have escaped their enslavement to pursue their own hobbies amongst the Petrie’s cases [2].

So the visitor and I had plenty to talk about.

Then she asked me ‘When did grave goods stop?’

Her husband promptly answered ‘When Christianity was introduced’, but in fact this answer is not quite so straightforward. Firstly, there is no neat way of prescribing a date to the introduction of Christianity, and secondly, contemporary studies would shy away from using burial practice, especially solely grave goods, as a direct reflection of culture.

UC39765In Egypt, Christianity first appeared during the Roman rule – which was established after Mark Antony and Queen Cleopatra VII were defeated by the future emperor Augustus in 30 BC (leaving Egypt annexed to Rome as the wealthiest province in its empire) – but it was not adopted seamlessly.

The conquering Romans had left Egyptian religion well alone, indeed had many even incorporated its traditions into their own belief systems, with several Roman emperors completing Egyptian temples during their tenure. Consequently when St Mark the Evangelist purportedly chose to establish the Church of Alexandria – one of the original three main episcopal sees of Christianity – around 33-43 AD, it was not to a people who welcomed it with open arms. Christians were persecuted for their faith until 313 when Constantine I issued the Edict of Milan to prevent their mistreatment within the Roman empire – but hereafter, worship of Egyptian deities still continued: archaeological evidence in the form of graffiti at the Temple of Isis at Philae shows that worship continued there into the 6th century.

In England, recent work from Prof. Christopher Scull points towards a cessation of grave goods in the Anglo-Saxon culture shortly before the end of the 7th century, but again – this is not necessarily a hard-and-fast indication that thereafter these burials were all Christian, instead this might have been a response to broader cultural or economic influences [4]. Current approaches warn strongly that there is in fact no evidence to support prescriptive definitions of either Christian or pagan burials during the Early Medieval period. Indeed by the 11th century, grave goods were commonly included in Christian internments as a way of marking out members of the religious community [5].

And so the ‘Question of the Week’ goes almost unanswered – but does give some good food for thought on our approaches to burial practice and material culture.

Lastly, the subject of grave goods is an interesting one in the context of my own research. Until the change in legislation in 1997, grave goods were not classified as Treasure as they did not display animus revertendi, the phrase used to describe an ‘intent to return’ on the part of whoever had buried the treasure in the first place. Unlike a hoard which is buried with the intention of retrieving, grave goods are donated to the dead and intended to be left intact in the grave – so consequently were not protected as Treasure Trove before the law was updated.

As such the incredible grave goods from Sutton Hoo, that nationally recognisable Anglo Saxon ship burial, were only saved for the public benefit through the benevolence of the landowner Mrs Pretty, who would have been quite within her legal rights to see the artefacts piece by piece should she have wished to. (For more on the Treasure definition, see my previous blog here [6])

 ‘Nu’ Shabtis Liberation is on at the Petrie Museum until 18 October.

[1] http://www.digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/petriedigsindex.html

[2] http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/articles/e/egyptian_shabti_figures.aspx

[3] http://events.ucl.ac.uk/event/event:k36-i0gmqt30-fs2rn/nushabtis-liberation

[4] A. Bayliss, J. Hines, K Høilund Nielsen, G. McCormac and C. Scull (2013) Anglo-Saxon graves and grave goods of the sixth and seventh centuries AD: a chronological framework. Leeds, Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph 33

[5] Gilchrist, R. (2005) Requiem for a Lost Age British Archaeology 84 http://www.archaeologyuk.org/ba/ba84/feat2.shtml

[6] https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/researchers-in-museums/2013/01/14/the-staffordshire-hoard-defining-treasure/



Exploring Perception: Time-based Media at the UCL Art Museum

By Lisa, on 10 February 2014

 ProfileBy Felicity Winkley

Time-Based Media brings together ten multimedia works which depend on technology and can therefore change meaningfully in response to time, including, but not limited to, video, experimental film and audio. All the works in the exhibition are linked in their aim to create a dialogue between viewer and object; to meaningfully provoke an engaging experience. At work under the surface of this engagement is perception, an environmental involvement in which we, the experiencers, receive stimuli to which not only our senses respond, but also our cognitive process. The pieces collected here are not solely visual or static. In this respect they challenge both what we expect to encounter in the rather traditional and certainly serene surroundings of the UCL Art Museum, and moreover what we might expect to experience when we ‘look at art’.

In my research into the perception of landscape, I subscribe to the definition put forward by Allport in his work on the subject some years ago. For him, perception:

‘has something to do with our awareness of the objects or conditions about us. It is dependent to a large extent upon the impressions these objects make upon our senses. It is the way things look to us, or the way they sound, feel, taste, or smell. But perception also involves, to some degree, an understanding awareness, a “meaning” or a “recognition” of these objects’ (1955, 14).

This definition advocates – as do I – the cognitive (as opposed to behaviourist, or gestalt) approach to perception, whereby we understand that the perceptive process is not limited solely to a stimuli-response pattern of observable behaviours, but ‘is influenced by many cultural, experience-based and individual factors that underlie interpretation’ (Campos et al. 2012, 760). It is these factors, mediated by the perceiver’s cognitive and emotional responses, that are so valuable for my personal research into attitudes to landscape preferences, but also to a consideration of how viewers might respond to some of the works curated in Time-based Media.

Take The Printer’s Symphony (2013), a collaborative work by Dana Ariel, Julia McKinlay, Eleanor Morgan and Georgina Tate. A beautiful concertina-fold of card stretches along the length of the case, bringing together prints from the four artists, demonstrating a number of processes, mounted and detailed with added embossings. So far, so good – we as gallery visitors are used to seeing pristine works, safely displayed in cases. However, unusually the object is also accompanied by four minutes of audio, emanating from a hidden speaker, composed of a pastiche of recorded sounds from the print-maker’s studio. At first, our senses are fooled – the everyday noises sound like someone working outside, or upstairs, because memory and therefore knowledge has conditioned us to interpret this as the most likely cause amongst the perceived milieu. On paying closer attention, though, the sound quickly changes and it is soon easy to be drawn in to the soundscape of filing, spraying, rinsing and rolling – an evocative soundtrack of making, which is strangely difficult to connect to the perfect artwork in the case. This is exactly what the artists were hoping to capture – a method of bringing the process of making into the gallery, of bridging the gap between the Slade School of Fine Art and the UCL Art Museum. Thanks to perception, upon listening whilst also observing the work, we can now imagine what the studio environment is like – using the sounds as a trigger to remembered encounters, we can ‘see’ in our mind’s eye how it might appear, or smell the scent of the materials, the feel of a tool-handle in the hand.

In this engagement with The Printer’s Symphony, we can see clearly how memory serves as an essential factor of perception; through memory, we can achieve knowledge, and consequently inform our interpretation of later perceived environments – I remember what workshops are like, and therefore the sounds I encounter in the artwork recall this memory to my mind as I experience it. This type of memory is known as embodied: in which the immersive quality of the experience fully engage the senses to evoke memories beyond those that can be summoned solely by looking at a photograph, for example (Rishbeth and Powell 2013). Viveka Marksio’s work Embodied/Disembodied (v.1) taps into this embodiment, by using computer-generated imagery to take the viewer on a journey through the interior spaces of the Slade School as they are being slowly flooded. The piece aims to ‘recreate the sensations of the body in a threatening and claustrophobic physical space’, and the video is helped to achieve this by the carefully constructed soundtrack which comprises a resonant series of bass notes, with sporadic industrial echoes. Unlike The Printer’s Symphony, whose accompanying audio is ambient in the gallery, Embodied/Disembodied (v.1) (like other works in Time-Based Media) requires the viewer to wear headphones; whilst this is not unusual perhaps, in this instance it is worth noting the effect of the headphones in contributing to the sense of enclosure and threat evoked by the piece. The noise-canceling qualities, along with the sensation of pressure on the head, all add to the perceptive blend of the engagement.

 i am unique and so is everyone else , 2012 video duration: 15 seconds (loop)

Nicolas Feldmeyer
I am unique and so is everyone else , 2012
video duration: 15 seconds (loop)

In I am unique and so is everybody else (2012), Nicholas Feldmeyer achieves a similar effect using solely video. This 15-second looped video collage layers footage of the natural movement of tree branches in the wind with a digital pattern of black dots to create a random movement which is at once hypnotic and contemplative. In contrast to The Printer’s Symphony or Embodied/Disembodied (v.1) the work has no soundtrack, but its immersive simplicity makes it easy for the viewer to call up the sensations that would accompany an encounter with wind in the branches – the sound of it whipping through the trees, the feel of the air on the skin. Again, our perception is informed by memory – we know what this would feel like. And yet visually the beholder is confused by the work; the natural pattern of the branches has been overlaid by a subtle digital intervention, the scene is not quite as it first appeared.

Similarly, Feldmeyer challenges our expectations with My people, humble people (2012), in which small digital ellipses have been overlaid on raindrops as they fall into a puddle. In both pieces, the subtlety of the overlays confuses our perception and encourages close scrutiny – are we looking at the natural phenomena or the digitally imposed details? Where does one stop and the other begin? In terms of our exploration of perception, the effect is pertinent. Although in our daily life perceptual modalities like hearing, touch, smell and taste are extremely important in negotiating our relationship with the outside world, nevertheless, most of the perceptive encounters we have with the environment are conducted visually (Ballesteros 1994). And yet is this the most important? Should we be more cautious in prioritising it over our other senses? Time-Based Media offers the opportunity to question the perceptive process, and encourages us to scrutinise our responses to what we see and how we orientate ourselves to it.

Nicolas Feldmeyer  My people, humble people,  2012 video duration: 1:05 minutes (loop)

Nicolas Feldmeyer
My people, humble people, 2012
video duration: 1:05 minutes (loop)

Time-Based Media is on at the UCL Art Museum until 28 March 2014



Allport, F. H. (1955) Theories of Perception and the Concept of Structure New York: Wiley


Ballesteros, S. (1994) Cognitive Approaches to Human Perception: Introduction, in: Ballesteros, S. (Ed.) Cognitive Approaches to Human Perception New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers


Campos, M., Velazques, A., Verdinelli, G. B., Priego-Santander, A. G., McCall, M. K. and Boada, M. (2012) Rural People’s Knowledge and Perception of Landscape: A Case Study from the Mexican Pacific Coast Society and Natural Resources: An International Journal 25 (8) pp. 759-774


Rishbeth, C. and Powell, M. (2013) Place Attachment and Memory: Landscapes of Belonging as Experiences Post-Migration Landscape Research 38 (2) pp. 160-178




Engaging with Black Bloomsbury

By Kevin Guyan, on 18 October 2013

Kevin Guyan

By Kevin Guyan



'Life Painting', Slade School of Fine Art.

‘Life Painting’, Slade School of Fine Art. George Konig, Keystone Press Agency.

The idea of Bloomsbury is as much a product of the mind as it is a geographical location.  Like Soho, its borders have been established through a mixture of real and fictional ideas, dependent more upon common opinion than municipal rulings.  The borders of Bloomsbury have been a common theme discussed by visitors to UCL Art Museum’s ongoing exhibition, Black Bloomsbury.

In my role as a Student Engager, it has been my task to draw links between the exhibition material and my own research interests.  My work explores how domestic spaces impacted upon the production and reproduction of masculinities in the postwar period (c. 1945-1966), a topic not unrelated to some of the themes emerging from the exhibition.  Afternoons spent engaging in the museum have helped shape my own research; offering a refreshing and reflexive dimension to my work.  Discussing people’s opinions on historical ideas has challenged visitors and I to reconsider our views.  The process usually begins with a casual, “is this your first time at the exhibition?”  After this pleasant introduction and explanation of my role within the museum; around half of the visitors will continue to explore the exhibition on their own, the other half will return with their thoughts, their opinions or questions on the work.
Although my own research focuses upon a different time period (1945-1966 rather than 1918-1948) and a different subject matter (White men rather than Black and Asian men and women), I have located some common themes running across both examples:

Space and identity

The relationship between space and experience, particularly within the context of identity, is one key example.  Black Bloomsbury is co-curated by Dr Caroline Bressey and Dr Gemma Romain, from the Equiano Centre based in UCL’s Geography Department, and because of this geographical context, an effective sense of people and place emerges throughout the exhibition.  For example, upon arrival, visitors are met with a large map detailing around 40 locations and a list of characters linked to the exhibition – showing where the characters lived, worked, met and socialised.

The role of place and space links to a secondary project I have been exploring in the past two years, focusing on how bodies were understood within dance hall spaces in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.  In my work, the dance hall is framed as more than simply a backdrop for events and instead participates in my historical research as a productive force shaping the actions described.  For example, my research has explored the architecture and spatial arrangement of dance halls, admission policies, rules and rituals – all components that impacted a particular sense of identity when ‘going dancing’.  It appears to be the case that Bloomsbury had a similar affect upon the characters featured in the exhibition.


Equally interesting has been a consideration of the exhibition’s methodological approach.  Alongside paintings, photographs are also displayed as a means to show how historians have been able to ‘see into the past’.  Unlike text sources that may make no mention of race, photographs present a visual window through which it is often possible to ‘see race’.  A key example of this approach in the exhibition is a class photograph of art students based at the Slade in 1938.  Although the name and background of every student is not known, the photograph allows modern-day observers to see the racial diversity of those attending the school at that time.

This is something I intend to echo in my own historical writing, in which actions and behaviours of men in domestic spaces are often hidden or beyond the vision of typical research methods.  Of course, it is very unlikely for source material to indicate that a household task was conducted in a ‘manly fashion’ or read personal accounts by men of domestic space, in which their sense of gender is discussed.  This therefore leads to questions over how best to trace these actions and behaviours?  This can be remedied by examining family photograph albums, documentary footage or any other visual source offering uncontrived access to spaces of the past, allowing historians to ‘see’ what men were doing in the home and how they were interacting with their environment.

Importantly, like Black Bloomsbury, my work also intends to not simply describe the actions and behaviours located or analyse them only within the confines of what is being discussed.  Instead, there is a need to conduct historical leaps – in which ‘everyday examples’ are used to consider what these performances say about wider ideas of race, gender and nation.

Politics and historical baggage

One key focus of the exhibition is on artists and their sitters, based on work developed with the Drawing Over the Colour Line project.  The relationship between artists and sitters has evoked several questions among visitors over the identities of these sitters and how they fit into wider social contexts of early 20th Century London.  What is often most interesting in the photographs of artists and their sitters is not located in the foreground but what is actually taking place in the background of the images.  A particular talking point has been a photograph of a Black male model, sitting perched in a loin cloth in the middle of the room, surrounded by several White, female students.  It is difficult not to see this image of a near-nude Black male and young, White women without setting-off historical alarm bells.  Yet, due to the spatial context of where these people are situated (in an artist’s studio rather than on the street) certain social customs appear to be excused, creating a situation far removed from the moral panic that may be found elsewhere in 1940s London over the association of Black men, quite often American servicemen, and White women.

Engaging upon ideas that are not resident in the distant past, has the potential for divided opinions and clashes over differing histories.  In my own public engagement events on experiences of ‘going dancing’ in London in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, there was often a tension between ‘official histories’ and personal reminiscences.  How can a workable history be extracted from memories – whose memories should matter most?  Should historians try to be as objective as possible or acknowledge that the past can be mined to satisfy contemporary political needs and desires?  These themes also emerge throughout Black Bloomsbury.  Some visitors have questioned the purpose of the exhibition and the political motivation for attempting to expand people’s image of Bloomsbury.  As I see it, it is not an attempt to evict Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey and John Maynard Keynes from their associations with Bloomsbury and replace them with a new assortment of characters but instead to complicate this image and suggest that, as was the case with areas like Soho, there was an equally cosmopolitan presence in early 20th Century Bloomsbury.  Through the production of historical geographies or geographical histories, the exhibition and people’s responses to the material continues to show the importance of space in shaping the actions of historical actors and how historical figures are perceived by those living in the present.



Kevin Guyan will be leading a walking tour of Black Bloomsbury between 12 and 1.30pm on Saturday 26 October, exploring topics including geographical settlement, student organisations such as the Indian Students Union, Black visitors to the British Museum’s Reading Room and the fight against the ‘colour bar’ in the area.

He will also give a talk titled Going Dancing: Black Bloomsbury and Dance in the 1940s about the Black presence in 1940s Bloomsbury, focusing on histories of cultural interaction in social spaces such as dancehalls. The event takes place at UCL Art Museum on 15 November between 2 and 3.30pm.

For further information on either event please contact Martine Roulea, UCL Art Museum, m.rouleau@ucl.ac.uk or 020 7679 2540.

Tattoos That Repel Venomous Creatures! The Tragic Tale of Prince Giolo

By Gemma Angel, on 27 May 2013

Gemma Angel by Gemma Angel






The tattooed body has been an object of spectacle and a source of fascination in Europe for at least 4 hundred years. Tattooed natives captured by European explorers were transported to Europe and put on display as curiosities or ‘sights’ from as early as the middle of the 16th century. In 1566, a tattooed Inuit woman and her child were kidnapped by French sailors and put on display in a tavern in Antwerp, The Netherlands. 10 years later, the sometime pirate and seaman Martin Frobisher returned to England from his voyage to Baffin Island in northeastern Canada with a native man whom he had abducted; this unfortunate individual caused such a stir in London, that Frobisher returned from his second voyage to the region with 3 more Inuit captives, who drew equally fascinated crowds when he landed in Bristol. Sadly, all 3 of his human cargo died shortly after their arrival on British shores, succumbing to common European illnesses against which they had no natural immunity.

A similar fate befell the Miangas islander named Jeoly, who became popularly known as ‘Prince Giolo’ when he arrived in England in 1691. Perhaps the most famous of all the tattooed ‘curiosities’ exhibited in Britain, Jeoly was purchased as a slave by the buccaneer-adventurer William Dampier in Mindanao, the Philippines, in 1690. Having failed in his ambitions to discover unexploited spice and gold wealth in the Spice Islands, Dampier returned to England broke, with only his diaries and his ‘Painted Prince’ to show for travels. On his arrival home, Dampier sold Jeoly on to business interests, and later published his journals under the title A New Voyage Around the World, in 1697. In these diaries, Dampier describes Jeoly’s elaborate tattoos in some detail:

He was painted all down the Breast, between his Shoulders behind; on his Thighs (mostly) before; and the Form of several broad Rings, or Bracelets around his Arms and Legs. I cannot liken the Drawings to any Figure of Animals, or the like; but they were very curious, full of great variety of Lines, Flourishes, Chequered-Work, &c. keeping a very graceful Proportion, and appearing very artificial, even to Wonder, especially that upon and between his Shoulder-blades […] I understood that the Painting was done in the same manner, as the Jerusalem Cross is made in Mens Arms, by pricking the Skin, and rubbing in a Pigment. [1]

Prince Giolo, 1692

Playbill advertising ‘Prince Giolo’ in London, 1692.
Etching by John Savage.
Image courtesy of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Australia.

Jeoly was put on display ‘as a sight’ at the Blue Boar’s Head Inn in Fleet Street in June 1692. A number of copies of the playbill advertising his public appearances survive (pictured above). The original advertisement includes a detailed etching of Jeoly by John Savage, showing the tattoos over the front of his body, arms and legs, which resemble traditional Micronesian tattoos of the Caroline and Palau Islands. [2] As well as this striking image, a somewhat embellished story of his life was printed beneath the illustration. Interestingly, this accompanying text ascribes potent protective and healing powers to Jeoly’s tattoos, claiming that his people believed them to be a defense against ‘venomous creatures’:

The Paint it self is so durable, that nothing can wash it off, or deface the beauty of it: It is prepared from the Juice of a certain Herb or Plant, peculiar to that Country, which they esteem infallible to preserve humane Bodies from the deadly poison or hurt of any venomous Creatures whatsoever.

Whilst tattooing was considered to possess magical, protective and medicinal properties in many cultures, it is more than likely that the stories claiming that Jeoly’s tattoos repelled venomous creatures were dreamed up by his exhibitors, rather than having any genuine basis in his own native belief system. Dampier himself remarked upon the ‘Romantick stories’ which circulated in England about Jeoly’s origins, openly ridiculing the marketing campaign:

In the little printed Relation that was made of him when he was shown for a Sight in England, there was a romantick Story of a beautiful Sister of his a Slave with them at Mindanao; and of the Sultan’s falling in Love with her; but they were Stories indeed. They reported also that this Paint was of such Virtue, that Serpents, and venomous Creatures would flee from him, for which reason, I suppose, they represented so many Serpents scampering about in the printed Picture that was made of him. But I never knew of any Paint of such Virtue: and as for Jeoly, I have seen him as much afraid of Snakes, Scorpions, or Centapees, as my self. [3]

In the lower foreground of the illustration, a variety of reptiles and scorpions can be seen fleeing from Jeoly’s feet, his tattoos apparently acting as some kind of aposematic deterrent. Tragically however, Jeoly’s tattoos could not protect him from the foreign infections that he was exposed to in England; he died of smallpox in Oxford sometime in 1693. Although his grave is not marked, and his name does not appear in the Parish register, Jeoly is thought to be buried in St Ebbe’s Churchyard. After his death, a fragment of his tattooed skin was removed and preserved for the Anatomy School collections at Oxford University by the surgeon Theophilius Poynter. This skin fragment was recorded in a list of ‘Anatomical Rarities’ in the Appendix of John Pointer’s 4 volume catalogue for his Musaeum Pointerianum, the cabinet of curiosities he left to St. John’s College Oxford in 1740. [4] Although the skin did not survive, having been lost by the early 20th century, this appears to be the first documented instance of the collection and preservation of tattooed human skin as an anatomical curiosity in England.

Jeoly’s tragic story of enslavement, forced re-location to Europe, public exhibition for profit, fatal illness, and the preservation of his tattooed skin for display as an anatomical rarity, speaks of the foreign body on multiple levels. From the 16th century onwards, the tattooed body of the native became a powerful symbol of foreignness, that could reliably draw curious European crowds and turn a profit for unscrupulous entrepreneurs; but the consequences for displaced foreigners like Frobisher’s Inuits and Dampier’s ‘Painted Prince’ were grave indeed. Exposed to invisible and deadly foreign bodies such as measles and smallpox, they died far from home, unable to fight off common European illnesses against which they had no natural defences.


[1] William Dampier, A New Voyage Around the World, ed. N. M. Penzer (London: Adam & Charles Black), 1937, p. 344.

[2] See Tricia Allen, “European Explorers and Marquesan Tattooing: The Wildest Island Style” in D.E. Hardy (ed) Tattootime Volume V: Art from the Heart, (1991) pp. 86-101; also Kotondo Hasebe, “The Tattooing of the Western Micronesians” in The Journal of the Anthropological Society of Tokyo Vol. XLIII No.s 483-494 (1928), pp. 129-152 (in Japanese).

[3] Dampier, A New Voyage Around the World, p.346.

[4] Geraldine Barnes “Curiosity, Wonder and William Dampier’s Painted Prince“, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1 (2006), p. 32 & 43.


Slade Artists Do It Better: Q&A with Artist Siân Landau

By Gemma Angel, on 20 May 2013

Lisa Plotkin  by Lisa Plotkin





Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with young artist Siân Landau to discuss her work, and in particular, her contribution to UCL Art Museum’s Duet exhibition. For such a young person Siân’s CV is impressive. A recent graduate of the Slade School of Fine Art, she is also the recipient of the prestigious Thomas Scholarship from the Slade and has also served as a Heal’s artist in residence.

Duet is the fifth annual collaboration between the Slade School of Fine Art and the UCL Art Museum. The exhibition challenged Slade students to take inspiration from a piece of work already in the Art Museum’s vast collection, and produce something in response. The results were as varied as they were thought provoking, with participating artists taking inspiration from Hogarth to Gwen John, and many others. But it was the four watercolours on the wall, two of which are shown below, depicting colourful female nudes that really caught my eye.

Slade Lady1


Entitled Slade Ladies Do It Better this piece by Landau sheds a unique light on the Slade as a historical institution for female artists and allows us to re-imagine the ways in which the female nude has become an artistic and cultural symbol. Landau’s accompanying text explaining the piece in more detail reads as follows:

The four watercolours I have made are of nude women who are currently studying at the Slade, in each image a woman recreates the poses of female life models from drawings made by some of the first women to study there. The studies I work from were made between 1893 and 1915. I acknowledge the original works by naming each piece with the first name of the artist who made the drawing; Alice, Dorothy, Ethel and Eveleen. My contemporary response to these traditional life drawings celebrates the diversity of female beauty, with colour and decoration to bring life and delicacy. I hope to encourage reflection in a society where women continue to feel the pressures of the male gaze and its unrealistic ideals.



As an historian of women and gender, I immediately wanted to sit down with Sian and try to get at what compelled her to make this piece, find out more about her process, ask what kind of reaction her work is garnering, and find out what is in store for her next.

Q: How did you become a student at the Slade and what has inspired you to continue making art? 

A: I have always loved art and when I was at school doing my A levels I thought to myself wow, I can actually go forward with this and really enjoy studying it! So then I did a foundation course at Chelsea [College of Art and Design] in 2009-2010 and I absolutely loved it. It was a real chance to just explore so many different ways of making art- we did fashion, we did graphic, fine art, visual communications and media, and it was then that I knew fine art was definitely for me. I applied to the Slade from there and the last three years here have been amazing. They give you the freedom to do what you want to do and it has only been in the last year that my interests have taken on their true identity, I guess. The first couple of years you are kind of dabbling around, thinking what is it- what is the crux of my work? It takes some time to figure that out.

Q: What was it like working within the constraints of Duet as a concept?  What did your process entail? 

A: Artists are always inspired by a number of things, but it was different to actually come in and work with a specific piece. But, it was within my own art practice that I started looking at women artists and the place of erotica in feminist discourse. That tension isn’t resolved yet, but I knew I was interested in exploring it further, so when this project came up I thought I would just go in and see what they had, like what I might respond to. And when we came in for the initial briefing they had loads of easels out around the room with loads of different works that they had selected and one of them was a nude woman- you know, a life model- and I saw it and I thought that’s what I’ve got to respond to!

I mean in a contemporary sense a nude woman is not a shocking thing anymore, it’s everywhere so I just thought I could make a piece that commented on that ubiquity. And then it was through coming back and doing research and looking at more women artists that drew women at the Slade that I really made the connection with how I could take that and do something with it. And for me it just seemed really important and obvious that I should take that and literally use the women working now at the Slade because life drawings aren’t really done here anymore- I mean it’s not a big part of the programme – so with this piece I was able to bring that back again as well.

Q: What do you hope to convey with this piece?

A: I hope to highlight the history of the Slade as an educational facility for women, which was something that I found out more about in the process of making this piece. The Slade opened in the 1870s and women were admitted, which was 25 years before any other professional art school let women enroll, which was an amazing fact to find out. What a great thing for women’s rights to be able to study at that level and I wanted to increase awareness of that.

Q: How does this piece fit in with the rest of your work? Do you explore these types of themes often?

A: Well it’s in there. The degree show I just exhibited was more about desire- the physicality of desire. I was making paintings that were quite abstract at first, but then when you look closer you see that there is actually a really fluid image of two people in a sexual act. And they were all quite colourful- I love to experiment with colour and pattern and line as well. My drawings are usually a lot looser than is shown with this piece. And my ceramic sculpture pieces deal with the hands on side of sexual encounters and just handling something, whether it’s the body, or for me it was handling clay, in order to express desire. So, yes my previous work does link in with some of the themes I explored in this piece, so it was nice to run something parallel with my contemporary practice, yet still different. In the future I do want to look more into the history of the nude, which does have an immense history.

Q: And how has this piece been received?

A: Overall it has been really positive.

Q: So, now that you have finished at the Slade, what’s next for you?

A: Good question! I am not going on to an MA & further study is not a priority for me at the moment, but I will be making work, doing some research, just getting a studio space and carrying on making work.