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Seminar Programme

Claire Barclay – Dysfunctional Objects Seminar
20 March 2009

This seminar investigated the nature of making sculptural objects and their references to functional objects.

Speakers included: Jeanne Cannizzo (anthropologist, University of Edinburgh), Stephen Feeke (curator, Henry Moore Institute), Dean Hughes (artist, Edinburgh College of Art),Chantal Knowles (principal curator, Oceania, Americas and Africa, National Museums of Scotland), Alistair Rider (art historian, University of St. Andrews).
 Dominic Paterson (art historian, University of Glasgow).

For more information on the speakers and their papers please see below.

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Dominic Paterson (Chair) is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the History of Art Department, University of Glasgow. His PhD thesis addressed the role of aesthetics in the work of Michel Foucault, and the relevance of Foucault to the practice of critical art history. His current research interests are focused on strategies of citation, rearticulation and reanimation in contemporary art practice, including of Simon Starling, Cornelia Parker, Josiah McElheny and others. 

Chantal Knowles: The Canoe That Cannot Sail
Knowles looks at an ongoing collaboration between George Nuku, Maori artist, and National Museums Scotland. Nuku, who works in perspex rather than traditional wood, is repairing an existing nineteenth-century wooden Maori waka (war canoe). Through the process of research and repair the canoe has become more of a conundrum; a composite of old canoes and new carving, it brings together work by several Maori carvers. With no fixed time or space and no clear function, the canoe will serve as a case study to expand upon some of the themes of Barclay’s work.

Chantal Knowles is an ethnographer who looks after the Oceania, Africa and Americas collections atthe National Museums Scotland. She regularly works with indigenous artists both to commission work for the collections and in collaborative projects. Her most recent exhibition Extremes: Life in Subarctic Canada was the result of a collaboration with the Tlicho community of the Northwest Territories in Canada. She is currently working with a number of Pacific artists on new works for the proposed new galleries in the Royal Museum to open in 2011. 

Stephen Feeke: Unidentified Museum Objects
Feeke focuses on a display entitled ‘Unidentified Museum Objects: Curiosities from the British Museum’, an exhibition which brought together objects from diverse cultures and periods – linked only by the fact they couldn’t be categorised with any certainty. A ‘UMO’ could therefore be an item which was only partly understood or perhaps subject to continuous reassessment, or even one which had evaded all attempts to classify it. Looking again at the chosen items, Feeke re-examines the questions they raised about the relationship between objects and museums, between knowledge and looking. Does classification proscribe the imagination, for instance, so that a lack of knowledge is in fact liberating, inspirational and wonderful? Does the lack of a known function influence the way we look, and to what extent does uncertainty whet our visual appetite?

Stephen Feeke is a curator at the Henry Moore Institute where he is involved in all aspects of exhibition making and project management. He has done much to expand the geographical and temporal reach of the Institute’s programme and has developed a particular interest in the conceptual intersections between contemporary and historical art. Future projects include an exhibition of Ice Age sculpture and drawings by the Brazilian architect, Lina Bo Bardi.

Jeanne Cannizzo: Material Matters
Circulating some ‘dysfunctional’ archaeological objects from ancient Mexico, Cannizzo suggests ways of thinking about the tensions between the functional and the dysfunctional in material culture.

Jeanne Cannizzo is an anthropologist who teaches about material culture at the University of Edinburgh. She has also curated exhibitions for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery; her latest show was Our Highland Home: Victoria and Albert in Scotland.

Dean Hughes: Aimlessness
Dean Hughes take’s a practical look at aimlessness.

Dean Hughes is an artist and Head of Intermedia at Edinburgh College of Art. Recent exhibitions include Schwarz weiss ausstellung, Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt and Presque Rein, Laure Genillard Gallery London. Recent solo exhibitions have been held at CUBE, Manchester;Dicksmith Gallery, London; Cairn, Pittenweem. He is currently working on a visual column for ArtReview magazine. He is represented by Dicksmith Gallery, London.

Alistair Rider: Claire Barclay’s Second Nature 
In his short essay ‘The Destructive Character’, penned during the 1930s, Walter Benjamin accused the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie of cushioning themselves in soft, velvet-lined domestic interiors as protection from the destructive logic of their own socio-economic ventures. This talk is premised on the hypothesis that Benjamin’s ‘Destructive Character’ is a type who is with us still, and that llives amongt us – within the ‘environmentally-conscious’ classes. After all, how else might we explain our predilection for filling our homes with genteel and ecologically-sound objects and natural materials? Do not these lifestyle purchases merely assist in easing our anguish at the knowledge of the environmental havoc wreaked by the fossil-fuelled economy which sustains us? Following from this, Rider will suggest that Claire Barclay’s dysfunctional objects subtly unsettle the well-ordered domesticity of the ecologically pious.

Alistair Rider is a Teaching Fellow in the School of Art History at the University of St Andrews, and lectures on post-war American art. He is writing a book on the poems and sculptures of Carl Andre which will be published next year by Phaidon. Currently he is researching the impact of ecological consciousness on artists and critics in the late 1960s, and is planning a wide-ranging exploration of artists’ use of materials during the 1960s and 1970s.


What Remains: The life and death of skulls in contemporary art
14 March 2008

Organised by Jon Wood (Henry Moore Institute) and Stacy Boldrick (The Fruitmarket Gallery), this research seminar examined the phenomenon of the image of the skull in contemporary art and culture. The seminar considered the significance of human skulls and their two and three-dimensional representation in the visual culture of the past, and what the image of the skull means for contemporary culture today. Speakers included Dawn Ades (University of Essex), Tiffany Jenkins (Institute of Ideas), Kristina Johansen (New Media Scotland) and Jon Wood, and the artists Brian Catling (Ruskin School of Art) and Koot (Leeds).

The speakers brought together images, objects and texts from diverse cultural spheres, including a decorated Bavarian skull, medieval transi tombs, 20th and 21st century sculpture, the Stealth bomber, heavy metal and punk album covers, tattoos, Goth culture, outsider art and the surrealist essay ‘Heads and Skulls’.


Experiments and Experience: Getting inside the work of Roman Signer and Monika Sosnowska
6 November 2007
Seminar Venue: Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh
Evening Reception: The Fruitmarket Gallery

Organised in collaboration with Talbot Rice Gallery, whose exhibition of the work of Monika Sosnowska took place from 27 October to 8 December, this seminar brought together a range of critical perspectives on the two galleries’ current exhibitions. Speakers included Isla Leaver-Yap (curator at Baltic in Newcastle), and University of Edinburgh staff Richard Coyne (Architecture), Angela Dimitrakaki (History of Art) and Tamara Trodd (History of Art). The seminar was chaired by Moira Jeffrey (arts writer and journalist).

Click here to access the seminar papers.