#phdlife… Impressions and Ideas: April Conference Season!

April has been a busy month, with three conferences, an impending deadline for my Year Two confirmation review, and a push to get new primary source research completed on a new chapter that I’m working on. The three conferences that I attended were all quite different in their scope, reach and topics covered, but all were extremely interesting and showcased the wealth of research that is taking place at the current time. What follows is a very brief overview and some impressions of each event.

My first trip was to the Annual Conference of the Association of Art Historians (#AAH2013), held at the University of Reading, where I was presenting a paper in the Ceremonial and the City session. This event is probably the largest annual gathering of art historians across Britain and Ireland and I was really excited to take part. As my session was on the last day of the conference, I managed to fit in a trip to Windsor to view the State Apartments and a full day of sessions on the Friday.


This was my first trip to Windsor, and it was a real treat to be shown around the apartments by Desmond Shawe-Taylor, the Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures. We also had time for a quick trip around St. George’s Chapel, and I was delighted to find another royal wedding enthusiast willing to re-live Charles and Camilla‘s big day!


On the Friday, I flitted between three sessions – ‘Curating the Book: Exhibiting Books, Archives and Manuscripts’, the student session which was looking at the theme of collaboration and another session on  ‘Image, Identity and Institutions: the male artist in nineteenth century Britain’. The last of these was particularly informative for my own research, and as such was a great way of moving on to the next stage of my work on Walter Osborne. A particular highlight was Robyne Erica Calvert’s paper titled ‘Manly Modes: Artistic Dress and the Styling of Masculine Identity’, which considered the artistic and healthy dress movements during the later half of the nineteenth century. I would highly recommend Calvert’s blog on artistic dress, and this version of her presentation she has put together on artistic dress and masculine identity.

Later that evening, a keynote by Okwui Enwezor brought us through an exciting range of twentieth century and contemporary African art, as well as offering some thoughts on the future of art history. As he spoke, I couldn’t help but notice similarities between the treatment of Irish and African art, especially the glorification of classical or early art as bring the pinnacle of that country’s artistic output. It’s talks like these that, for me anyway, show the value of placing art in a wide and global context.

Charles Russell, The O'Connell Centenary Celebrations, 1875

It was the final day of AAH  that was the big one for me. I presented in a great session, convened by Caroline Arscott (Courtauld Institute) and Pat Hardy (Museum of London) which was based around the depiction of ceremonies within the city space. The session included a great range of papers which (to use a bit of academic-speak) brought us on a spatial and temporal journey, from seventeenth century London, calling in at Dehli, Dublin, Paris, Le Mans and St Petersbourg. My paper was based on the painting above, Charles Russell’s The O’Connell Centenary Celebrations, which is part of the collection in the National Gallery of Ireland. This painting forms the basis for a chapter in my PhD research, so this was a great opportunity to discuss my current research. I got some great feedback, as well as lots of ideas to explore in the future, so overall I was delighted with the whole AAH experience.

Next up on the April conference agenda was the annual Artefact study day, run by the Irish Association of Art Historians. This study is a great opportunity to catch up with what graduate and postgraduate students are researching, and this year was no exception in presenting a wide range of quality research. Some highlights for me were Mark O’Brien’s paper on the DIY punk zine, and the appropriation of the zine aesthetic by major fashion companies and labels and Martina Hynan’s presentation on the anatomical Venus and it’s presentation in Victorian Dublin. These two (very different!) topics lie some way outside of my own research area (save for the Victorian Dublin bit!) and it was a real joy to listen to these research papers.

From the smorgasbord of Artefact, then, my last April conference jaunt was to Making 1916: The Material and Visual Culture of 1916 . Surely a landmark event in the scholarship of the topic, the programme for this event covered a huge range of topics. The different celebrations of 1916 anniversaries in years gone by, and what this might mean for 2016, was a recurring theme throughout the proceedings, with a keynote by Mary Daly detailing where, when and how the Rising has been commemorated. Papers looking directly at the response of artists to the Rising were naturally of particular interest to me, and a great overview was given by Roisin Kennedy, Catherine Marshall and Eimear O’Connor, covering both the immediate response to 1916, and the lasting effect through to the publication of works by Jack B Yeats in the Capuchinn Annual during the 25th anniversary. Correlations emerged with some of the papers presented at AAH; I was struck at how the emergence of Celtic dress and the way which it was used by those involved with the Rising was similar to the artistic and healthy dress movement; and at how the way in which public commemorations have remained relatively unchanged through the centuries. I have so many pages of notes from this conference that even a week later I’m still going through them and processing the many ideas contained there, so this may merit a more lengthy blog post!

[O'Connell Street, DBC building shelled, Nelson's Pillar, men in foreground]

I can’t sign off though without mentioning Nicholas Allen’s keynote which wrapped up the conference. I had huge expectations, being quite a fan of Allen’s work, and it was a real treat to hear about his current research on Dublin during 1916 and the city’s relationship with the empire. Based on Allen’s current research, he opened by considering how the products of empire were present within the city and in people’s homes; for example, the ivory on piano keys, mahogany doors and teak tables. Allen also considered how present World War One was in the city, citing the munitions factories, and the wounded soldiers who traveled through the city on their way to convalescent homes around the country. For me, this offered a wider perspective on the conference proceedings, and as such was the perfect way to end the event. After two intense days of considering all things 1916; the people who took part, the objects left behind, and the political repercussions in Ireland, it was surely fitting to remember that the Easter Rising took place a moment of immense change in the wider world, and that this context is central to the history of the event and our understanding of it.

This has been a very brief and whistle stop tour through three conferences I attended in April. In between these events, I have been getting on with research on a new chapter which looks at Walter Osborne’s paintings of Dublin in the 1880s and 1890s. It has been really interesting to listen to the research of others, and I feel like my horizons have been significantly expanded by all of the papers that I have heard during the past month. I’m particularly excited now about getting on to my own research on Dublin during and after the 1916 Rising, and seeing how it links in with the many ideas presented at Object Matters. For now through I’m looking at more photography, more social history, and once again starting to look at this city in new and exciting ways.

Photo Credits and Sources: 

Photographs from Windsor, taken by the author.

Charles Russell, The O’Connell Centenary Celebrations, National Gallery of Ireland, http://bit.ly/111byH9

Teal Triggs, Fanzines, http://bit.ly/12vda6i

Making 1916 Poster, http://bit.ly/108mPiz

Photos of O’Connell Street in 1916, National Library of Ireland, http://bit.ly/ZZuvqx and http://bit.ly/ZZuyCC.


Published by katymilligan

Art Historian.

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