Monday, 23 March 2015

Museum Association of New York: Museums in Action Conference "Museums Mean Business"

I'm really excited to be part of a panel at the Museum Association of New York's annual Museums in Action Conference at the Corning Museum of Glass on the 12th of April.











Our panel takes place on Sunday 12th at 14.30, here are the details:

Title: 
Addressing the balance: negotiating potential conflicts between the regular visitor and specific community groups in historic buildings- UK and US perspectives

Facilitators: 
Lauren Windham (museum educator and historic guide at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C), Ellie Lewis-Nunes (heritage educator at Ealing Council in West London, covering parks and open spaces and two historic houses; Gunnersbury Park Museum, Pitzhanger Manor), Sean Curran (PhD student at UCL IOE and curator/volunteer with the National Trust)

Panel description: 
This session aims to address potential challenges in negotiating the balance between creating innovative and thoughtful programming tailored to specific diverse audience groups, and programming with regular local visitors. The session will aim to provoke discussion about best practice and experience sharing through three innovative and adaptable case studies from historic buildings in London, England. Ellie Lewis-Nunes will discuss engaging 14-21 year olds in exhibitions and programming at Gunnersbury Park Museum, Sean Curran will discuss the challenges of unearthing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender narratives at Sutton House, and Lauren Windham will discuss meeting the needs of international visitors and their differing roles as both tourists and immigrant populations in a community and their impact on programming. Lauren will transition from UK to US museums in her current work back in The States, which will then lead into a facilitator led discussion where participants will be invited to share experiences of working with diverse audience groups.

This is a great opportunity to share my research with an international audience, and to sample some of the museums New York has to offer, and I'm really looking forward to being reunited with, and working with Lauren and Ellie, who I met on the Museums and Galleries in Education MA at the IOE. I think it's going to be a really great workshop and I'm looking forward to meeting those who attend.

You can see the full programme here.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Feminism, Gender and Sexuality Seminar Series, UCL IOE

As part of the UCL Institute of Education Feminism, Gender and Sexuality seminar series, I'll be presenting some of my doctoral work in progress.

























Thursday 19th March 5.30 – 7pm: Room 539, 20 Bedford Way

The Great Wings of Silence: Queer Activism in Heritage Sites 

Sean Curran, IOE

Here's the blurb:

Sean will present from their research about addressing the silence of LGBTQ narratives in heritage sites, using their own curatorial practice at the National Trust’s Sutton House in Hackney as a case study. Sean will raise questions about the roles of curators, artists and activists in challenging dominant narratives in public history and will present initial findings from a survey conducted with participants of a crowd-sourced LGBTQ intervention and will reflect on the challenges arising from practice-based research.

Evening session followed by informal drinks in the Student Union Bar (level 3)

About the Feminism, Gender and Sexuality Seminar Series

Organisers: Jenny Parkes, Emily Henderson, Charley Nussey, Claudia Lapping, Annette Braun

This group is designed for research students and staff to explore their work around feminism, gender and sexuality. We meet informally about three times a term, twice during lunchtimes and once during the evening; at each session a speaker is invited to reflect upon their ideas as they develop, and to use the discussion space for the exploration of their own questions. Session topics located within diverse disciplines are encouraged. At least one seminar each term addresses LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer) research. The session to be held in the evening will be followed by drinks in the bar.

To join the seminar series list contact j.parkes@ioe.ac.uk

(the image is from an old Penguin edition of Woolf's Orlando, which is where the 'great wings' quote comes from)

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Twilight People: Stories of faith and gender beyond the binary - volunteer opportunity!

Last week, the steering committee for Twilight People: Stories of faith and gender beyond the binary met for the first time. I was delighted to be invited to be part of this amazing project as exhibition co-curator and steering committee member by Surat-Shaan, who is the project leader following the really successful Rainbow Jews project.

This is a groundbreaking new oral history project, recording and showcasing for the first time in the UK the stories and experiences of transgender and gender variant people of faith. Throughout the project there will be loads of volunteering opportunities including archive researchers, transcribers, sound/video editors, video/photographers, admin support, exhibition curators, youth forum members, media/social media volunteers and many other roles.

The first roles we need to fill are the Oral History Interviewers.

Oral history is about recording people’s memories using the medium of sound and video. This can be used as a tool for understanding the recent past, and enables people who have been hidden from history to be heard and the communities they represent.

Interviewer Role Description

To carry out oral history interviews with trans* people of faith, using a topic guide (i.e.. a list of prepared questions) which will be created as part of the course. Each interview will last approximately 1.5 hours. This may also involve travelling to various parts of the UK to interview participants, but all expenses will be covered, and travelling outside of London is completely negotiable.

Person Specification

In order to carry out the oral history interviewer role, you’ll need: an interest in LGBT history; literacy skills; organisational skills; to demonstrate an interest in equality/diversity and religion/spirituality; to be able (with training) to use recording equipment; to be able to travel in order to interview.

Time Commitment

In order to be able to take part in the project, you must be available for training, which will be on 19 April 2015, daytime, (tbc) Central London. Volunteering period: a minimum of 6 months. The amount of hours you wish to volunteer are negotiable, from a minimum of 5 days commitment.

Limited places available

For further information or to apply email project manager Surat-Shaan Knan via s.knan@liberaljudaism.org or call Liberal Judaism main line: 020 7580 1663 (office hours)

The Twilight People website will be launched imminently, and in the meantime, please 'like' the project on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @TwilightPeople2

Please share this call for volunteers widely, you can email me at scurran@ioe.ac.uk if you want the PDF of the flyer and the full role details.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

'Curating LGBTQ Histories' and exciting V&A news



Just a quick post to say I have written a piece about the 126 exhibition at Sutton House on the  Notches blog, you can read that here.

And also some very exciting news about this Friday's V&A Late Queer and Now. The film from the '126' exhibition will be playing throughout the night at the bottom of the staircase beneath the National Art Library (where I will be speaking at 19.30). The stairway is one of the main access routes through the museum, which means plenty of people will get to see all of the hard work by the 126 volunteers!

Hope to see many of you there!

I've been at Sutton House the last few days filming the exhibition, might seem a bit weird filming a film, but I really like how it looks projected against the white brick wall, so hopefully it will come out well on the film.

























The feedback continues to be great, some of my favourite comments are as follows:

This is the second year I’ve come to a National Trust event. It’s become a yearly pilgrimage, there’s no place for ‘us’ to come for ‘our’ history. LGBT history month at Sutton House/ the National Trust should continue. Next year, who knows. 

and this one:

As a member of the LGBTQ community and a National Trust member I am delighted that this artwork is here at Sutton House. It feels like we are entering into a space where presence is welcomed and voices heard. I think the potential around this art installation is huge. I can see lots of possibilities for schools and young people to connect with Shakespeare, creative media and LGBTQ lives. Thank you. This is exciting, beautiful and welcome.

Monday, 16 February 2015

'126' press

The private view for '126' took place on Thursday 5th and was a huge success. It was great to meet so many of the participants of the project, and we had over 100 people turn up!

There is a little feature about the exhibition on the Exuent blog.

Plus it features in 'Hackney Today'







































I'm also really pleased that the exhibition featured in the National Trust members magazine (which apparently has an absurdly high readership of 4.5 million...) a friend of mine pointed out that in his many years as a member of the National Trust, this was the first mention of anything LGBTQ he'd ever seen in the magazine, which isn't hugely surprising, but a great honour to be the first if that is the case. Unfortunately the text for the magazine needed to be done quite early, so it features the artwork from last year's exhibition instead of for '126':


























I've written a piece that will be published soon on the Notches blog, which is a great blog about the history of sexuality. I'm also planning to storify the tweets about the exhibition at some point, and will also be sharing some of the feedback gathered in the comment books at the exhibition, my favourite comment so far said 'Beautiful. Made me laugh and cry. Everyone should see this especially younger visitors to Sutton House'. This is particularly interesting as one of the complaints (yes, there have been a few...) was concerned about children seeing the exhibition. A particularly surprising claim, since the complaint arrived before the exhibition had opened...

Thursday, 12 February 2015

V&A Friday Late: Queer and Now

I'm delighted to have been invited to speak at the V&A's Friday Late 'Queer and Now' which takes place on Friday 27th February from 18.30 - 22.00

The event is free and consists of talks, music (from Amy Grimehouse), performance, food and drink and first come first served free haircuts from Open Barbers!

My talk is called 'There's no place like homo: the deconstruction of the queer country house' and takes place in the beautiful National Art Library at 19.30.

Last year, the V&A celebrated the 40th anniversary of the influential and groundbreaking exhibition ‘The Destruction of the Country House, 1875-1975’. While the exhibition was concerned with the preservation of houses, this presentation will look at the idea of the preservation of homes, specifically the homes of those who could be considered queer figures. Domestic spaces have historically been some of the very few places where queer lives could be safely enacted and lived. Using a number of case studies, including National Trust properties, and other historic houses open to the public, I will make a case for activism in heritage sites to ensure that queer voices are heard in the spaces they called home. I will also showcase some of my own interventions, specifically my audiovisual exhibition at Sutton House in Hackney, and a multimedia protest based on Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire.

You can see the full programme of events here. Hope to see many of you there!

Monday, 9 February 2015

‘The village folk had a lot to say about it’ – from one heritage site to another? Guest post by Emily F. Henderson

To accompany the 'Making Things' exhibition at the Institute of Education, we held a seminar to discuss the relationship between practice and the doctoral form. I invited Emily F. Henderson to respond to my work:

How to offer a response to a protest-research installation without reducing the impact of the installation to protest or research? This was the challenge that I faced when Sean invited me to respond to their contribution to the group show put together by doctoral students in the Art, Design and Museology department at the UCL Institute of Education (see blog post 26 January 2015). To try to take Sean’s installation in the spirit in which it was created, I offered three types of response, one for each of the objects that made up the installation: the zine, the sound piece, the tea-towel. Each of these objects offered a different possibility for thinking about how protest and research can be intertwined in different forms.

In Sean’s blog post about the installation, they situated the work in two different spaces. The first space was Red House at Bexleyheath. Sean had offered to make a sound piece representing the voices of villagers discussing the nature of the relationship between May Morris and Mary Lobb – the sound piece was to be made without expectation of payment, and it was to be based on archive sources that Sean had put together. This intervention in the way in which ‘non-normative’ relationships are erased and/or caricatured in heritage sites was rejected and not included in the heritage site. This ultimately resulted in there being a floating sound piece, which existed in the world as a protest object with no site for protest. The sound piece found a site in the group show at the Institute of Education, flanked by a zine illustrating the story of Mary Lobb’s erasure – and Sean’s own erasure – from the heritage sites that present William Morris’ life and work. Accompanying the zine was a William Morris design tea-towel – the traditional heritage site gift-shop purchase – upon which Sean had written in large letters ‘JUSTICE FOR MARY LOBB’, as a twist on the protest banner form.

Sean had said that they were interested in how the installation would work in an ‘exhibition environment’, a ‘gallery space’. In the photo that Sean has taken of the installation, it looks very much as if the work is displayed in a gallery – and it was a gallery, but it was a gallery within an academic department within a university. My response to the installation was very situated in the space of the university – what was the effect on Sean’s work of it being displayed in a university, and what was the effect on the university?

My first response took inspiration from the zine that Sean had created – how could the form of the zine provoke an interpretation of the installation? The zine genre is defined by a deliberate DIY format, in which pictures and text – handwritten and typed – are combined in a collage and photocopied in black and white. Looking at Sean’s zine, I found myself wondering how Sean had decided which elements to ‘mess with’, and which images or text they would preserve, framed intact within the zine. The question of obedience came into my mind – obedience to research convention versus disobedience (which could be taken as obedience to protest convention). Sean’s installation was obediently situated in its designated corner within the temporary gallery space of the department – did situating it in this way contribute to the ‘fetishising’ of protest objects that Sean was concerned about?

Thinking about the sound piece helped me to respond to this question. The coming to rest of the sound piece in this institutional gallery space transported the installation out of its context. Listening to the gossiping voices took me out of the space and into an imagined heritage site, a heritage site which could only exist in the imagination. The misplaced, displaced sound piece points to the intangible site of Sean’s protest-research: the ‘site’ of the lives that have been invisibilised and caricatured in heritage properties. The sound piece represents the way in which heritage houses produce and normalise an image of heterosexual, cis-gendered existence as the norm of history – an image which leaves any other account dismissed as gossip. Not fetishised then – rather all-too-aware of its uprootedness, its enforced rootlessness.

And this brings me to the tea-towel: the layering of a twee gift tea-towel with a painted protest slogan. This is perhaps one way of seeing the layering of Sean’s installation, and the exhibition as a whole, onto the institutional context that held it. I noticed in entering the exhibition space that I was entering a different part of the university to the classrooms and social spaces I normally inhabit. This space did not have a single institutional logo or branding item visible. There were floor-to-ceiling prints of vintage-looking artists overlooking us, flicking projected images on a punky orange screen, a quilt of photographs draped over the centre of the room, a detailed journey in pictures taking us along one of the walls, and Sean’s hyper-visible tea-towel and protruding ledge bearing the zine and headphones. It was difficult to know where to stand or sit – each of the exhibits had us turning and moving, leaning on them and knocking into them. The room exposed us and our bodies, brought us into the room. It struck me that this was a room that could shift thinking, could disrupt obedient research practice: the exhibition fleetingly layered the tea-towel of the institution with a protest for the value of the Arts and Humanities in higher education.

Sean’s protest work uses research to bring to light the erasure of lives from heritage sites. It is also important to recognise that their research work also makes a protest, in challenging what should be researched and how this research can take shape. Thanks go to Sean and the other exhibitors and respondents for a genuinely thought-provoking evening.

Emily F. Henderson 
UCL Institute of Education
Ehenderson01@ioe.ac.uk 
ioe-ac.academia.edu/EmilyHenderson
Author, Gender pedagogy: Teaching, learning and tracing gender in higher education (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)


Monday, 26 January 2015

'The village folk had a lot to say about it' - a sound piece for Mary Lobb

Back in July I contacted the staff at Kelmscott Manor about the neglectful way they had dealt with Mary Lobb in their interpretation. I subsequently offered to put together a sound piece for visitors to listen to, to the staff at Red House in Bexleyheath, that was made from verbatim snippets from sources I had found during a visit to the William Morris Gallery archives in Walthamstow.

The aim was to show that even when they were both alive, contemporaries of Mary Lobb and May Morris considered their relationship to be more than just 'companions' and the hope was that this sound piece, presented as gossip, would serve as a small way of remembering the close relationship between the two women, that has for so long been overlooked.

Unfortunately, the staff at Red House refused this interpretation, saying first that the exhibition programming for 2015 was to be all about architect Philip Webb, as 2015 is the centenary of his death. When staff from the London Project asked about it again, they were told it was due to staffing and budget issues, which seems odd, as I was offering to make the sound piece for free.

Fast forward to the end of 2014, and the opportunity arose to be part of a group show at the Institute of Education to showcase the work of five PhD students in the Art, Design and Museology department whose research includes elements of practice. Rather than just showing some of the work I've been doing with Sutton House, I instead decided to use this as an opportunity to revisit the idea for addressing Mary Lobb, and alongside the sound piece, I created a protest banner out of a William Morris tea towel, and a fan zine for Mary Lobb, explaining who she is, and how she has been overlooked at various heritage sites.

While the sound piece (recorded thanks to Joe Lewis-Nunes and Ellie Lewis-Nunes) obeys the convention of heritage interpretation, it is offset by the objects more closely aligned with activism: a banner, zines.

It’s important for me to consider how my work changes in an exhibition environment, to consider what it becomes. I want to avoid fetishising paraphernalia (such as banners, zines) used to enact change. The inclusion of such objects here raises questions about what is allowed and expected in a gallery space, but refused (as it was) as legitimate interpretation in a heritage site. Interestingly, and perhaps proving that the inclusion of these objects was not successful in fetishising them, at the private view, the plinth upon which a stack of zines (masquerading as museum objects) rested, was treated by visitors as a table, rather than a plinth, people leaned against it and rested drinks on it, rather than revering the plinth as is often the case. Observing people interacting with the plinth in this way was a nice piece of accidental data.

On Thursday 29th 4.00- 7.30, there will be a seminar in which we will discuss the nature of practice-based research.

In the mean time, here is the sound piece.

I will make the zine available online at some point, when I work out the best way to do it.