Tuesday, 12 May 2015

New York

Hello all, sorry for the radio silence, been a bit busy. I thought I'd share some brief thoughts about my visit to New York, which was amazing (but feels like a million years ago now...)

A few bits of news before I do:
  • I did an interview for the Queer East London Project, which you can read here.
  • 'Twilight People: stories of faith and gender beyond the binary' is looking for trans and gender variant people of faith to share their stories, see here for more details of how to get involved, it's a groundbreaking project that I feel really privileged to be a part of.
  • An updated version of my book chapter about LGBTQ oral histories (including PICTURES!) appears in the new MuseumsEtc book 'On Sexuality', it's a really great book that collects together essays about making LGBTQ narratives visible in museums, it's also more reasonably priced than the last one!
  • I'm part of a really great steering committee for the next LGBTQ+ Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections conference. The last took place in 2012 in Amsterdam, and was incredible, I wrote about it at the time here. The committee includes archive professionals, artists, academics and activists from Bishopsgate Institute, London Metropolitan Archives, Kingston University, the Institute of Education (that's me), Tower Hamlets Local History Library, rukus! Federation, the Parliamentary Archives, Tate Britain and University College London. I'll keep you posted once the official blog is up and running, but in the meantime, like the Facebook page here.
  • I've been recruited as an 'expert advisor' for a new project by Leeds Beckett University and Historic England, which is crowdsourcing pins on a map highlighting LGBTQ history. The trial version is available here. Feel free to add your own pins, although for the trail the map includes only London.
That's enough of that. On to New York.

Museum Association of New York: Museums in Action Conference "Museums Mean Business"
April 12th , Corning Museum of Glass

Myself and Lauren Windham presented a workshop together on the first day of this conference. Initially, it was to be a three person panel, but Ellie Lewis-Nunes was unfortunately unable to make it (I'm hiking with her to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, you can donate here!), so while it was bitter sweet, the talk was still a great success. Our workshop was called 'Addressing the balance' and we spoke about challenges arising when addressing specific community groups in historic buildings in London, and how this can extend to the regular visitor. I spoke about my work with Sutton House, and Lauren spoke about her time at Bruce Castle, and a project she ran with children and their non-English speaking parents. We had some really great questions, and people seemed really engaged with the subject.

We had a quick chance to poke around the new wing of the museum, and we were blown away. I must admit my expectations of glass museums are based on the one in my hometown of Sunderland, which may be great now, but when I visited it a very long time ago, it was a little dry. This new wing was spectacular, a huge array of really challenging contemporary glasswork in a beautiful naturally lit space, it really was breathtaking.

























Bjork at MOMA

I am a huge Bjork fan, like worryingly huge. I have her words tattooed on my flesh (as well as the swan from Vespertine) and I've seen her live 6 times now (7 in July!), she truly is my idol and this exhibition felt like a pilgrimage for me. Four of her instruments, which I'd previously seen live on her Biophilia tour, were dotted around the museum atrium and removed from their natural context, it became even more clear what beautiful works of art they are, especially the pendulum harp.





















The first part of the exhibition was an immersive screening of the MOMA commissioned video for Black Lake, which is the centrepiece of her new album Vulnicura. At ten minutes long, Black Lake is sparse and heartbreaking, probably Bjork's most personal and vulnerable song to date. The video is understated, it features her walking around barefoot in the inside of a volcano, and only in the final minute or so does she surface to the moonlike mossy Iceland surface. The video is projected on two walls that are often in sync, but often show different things, and the small space they were played in was made to recreate the inside of a volcano, with crater-like protrusions lining the wall. The room had nearly 50 speakers, and we saw the film twice (I cried both times haha), the first time, everyone was sitting on the floor, which I thought was weird, and the second time, people stood and moved around the space. There's a particular moment in the film during a long 30 second drawn out note from the strings, where Bjork, on her knees, pounds violently at her chest as if she is trying to restart her heart. I glanced around and it was really moving to see so many glistening eyes reflected from the glow of the screen. For me, if you can't see an artist live, surely this is the ideal way to experience music, it was a staggering achievement.






















The next part was the Bjork cinema, a room filled with red velvet cushions to lay on where they play all of Bjork's music videos in chronological order. We spent about 40 minutes in there, I have seen all of those videos countless times, but it was a whole new experience to see them in this setting.




















The final part was the timed-ticket section called 'Songlines', in which a fictional story about a woman moving through the albums of Bjork is whispered in your ears alongside snippets of her songs. It was a really creative and unusual way of telling the story of Bjork's music, and of the strongly defined characters she creates for each of her albums. In each room, which corresponded to an album, were costumes and props from videos and live performances and Bjork's notebooks.

The exhibition completely lived up to my expectations, and the Black Lake screening in particular completely surpassed it. I'm not sure I'll ever love an exhibition as much as I loved this one, it truly felt like a religious experience.























(here's me gazing lovingly at the bell dress from the Who Is It? video)

9/11 Memorial Museum

Lauren left to go back to Washington, it was really great to catch up with her after so long (she and I studied on our MA together), she is one of my heritage idols and a continued source of inspiration to me. I had a day on my own before my housemate arrived to stay for a week, so I went to see the 9/11 Memorial Museum. I was expecting it to be problematic to be honest, I imagined it would be extremely patriotic and Islamophobic, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how tasteful and moving it was, it was purely a commemoration of those lost in the attacks, and the interpretation combined stark monuments, rich and compassionate storytelling, and some really visually powerful moments (especially the missing posters that were projected onto one of the walls and gradually faded in and out). The fountains themselves were really beautiful too.






















Two really interesting points (from a museum studies student perspective...); firstly, there was a recording studio for visitors to record their memories and thoughts about the day, these were then projected onto a long screen and was really beautifully done. Secondly, I've never experienced such a raw and solemn audience before, I'm a terrible eavesdropper in museums, as I think it's a good lazy research tool, but in this museum the conversations were much more personal than usual, everyone remembers where they were that day, and everyone was very visibly moved and at times uncomfortable. The museum even had tissue dispensers at parts of the main exhibition, it was quite unlike anything I'd seen before.























Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art

One of the smaller treats we had was the Leslie Lohman, which is a really nice space devoted to LGBTQ art and artists. The mission statement reads: 'The Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art is the first dedicated LGBTQ art museum in the world with a mission to exhibit and preserve LGBTQ art, and foster the artists who create it The Leslie-Lohman Museum embraces the rich creative history of the LGBTQ art community by educating, informing, inspiring, entertaining, and challenging all who enter its doors. The Museum is operated by the Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation, Inc., a non-profit founded in 1987 by Charles W. Leslie and Fritz Lohman who have supported LGBTQ artists for over 30 years.'






















The exhibition we saw was called 'Irreverent: a celebration of censorship'. The museum hosts up to 8 exhibitions a year, which is pretty remarkable for a non-profit venture, it was also one of the very few free museums we visited, which seems like a rare treat in New York, where entry to most museums is in excess of $15. I really wish there was an equivalent to this in London.









































Brooklyn Museum





















I think my favourite museum overall was the Brooklyn Museum. Lauren had recommended I go and see the Kehinde Wiley exhibition there, and the museum was already on my housemate's to do list. It is one of the best art exhibitions I have seen in ages. Wiley paints huge portraits of people of colour in classic heroic poses, with rich and florid patterned backgrounds. They really are incredible, and the exhibition also featured work on stained glass and sculpture. We also saw the Jean-Michel Basquiat 'Unknown Notebooks exhibition' and looked around the permanent collections. It was great to see a museum genuinely privileging its local artists, and especially exciting to see people of colour represented on such a scale in such a huge museum.
























These are just a few of the things we saw, we also saw a small exhibition of Keith Haring's work, the American Folk Art Museum, the Museum of Morbid Curiosity (which was a HUGE disappointment), the Museum of Sex, the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (which a lovely couple kindly gave us their tickets for so we didn't have to pay!), a super cute little museum at Coney Island, and Lauren and I had a little tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

If you get the chance to go to New York, definitely do! It was incredible and I hope I get the opportunity to go back one day, I feel like we only scratched the surface!

Here's a little bonus picture of me admiring some of the art at the American Folk Art Museum:





















(I've said this before, but blogspot really isn't built for lots of pictures, so please excuse the messy formatting of this, especially if you're viewing on a phone...)

Friday, 24 April 2015

Home and art: creating, performing and researching home

Just a quickie to say I'll be speaking at this event on Friday 1st May. I realised I'm posting this too late to entice anyone to it, as the registration period has closed, (I've just got back from a conference in New York which I'll blog about shortly) but I thought I'd share anyway, as it promises to be a really interesting day.

HOME AND ART: CREATING, PERFORMING AND RESEARCHING HOME
Friday 1st May 2015
The Geffrye Museum of the Home, London

Programme

10.00-10.15
Registration and Introduction
Richard Baxter and Olivia Sheringham
Queen Mary University of London 

10.15-11.00
Keynote 
Gill Perry
The Open University 
Breaking and Entering the Home: Practices, Problems and Definitions in Contemporary Art 

11.00-12.20
Inside Home

Vanessa Marr
Artist and University of Brighton/Sussex Coast College 
Women and domesticity: investigating common experiences and perspectives through creative collaboration. A collection of hand-embroidered dusters

Sarah McAdam
Photographer and London College of Communication 
Home is Where the Art is

Cate Hursthouse
Artist and University of Hertfordshire 
Unmaking the homely: de-familiarising the tablecloth

Laura Cuch
Artist and University College London 
'The Best Place in the World': a biography of home

12.20-13.00
Lunch

13.00-13.40
Keynote
Sutapa Biswas
Artist 
Home and Hearth / Hearth and home. Love in a cold climate

13.40-15.00
Domestic Marginality

Sean Curran
Curator and UCL Institute of Education
Queer activism begins at home: the curator as activist in historic houses

Janetka Platun
Artist 
But where is home?

Alice Correia
University of Salford 
The House that Jack Built: Home, Identity and Legacies of Empire in the work of Donald Rodney

David Pinder
Queen Mary University of London 
‘If my house was still there’: sound, memory and the destruction of home

15.00-15.20
Tea and coffee

15.20-16.40
Performing Home

Jon Orlek, Mark Parsons and Cristina Cerrulli
University of Sheffield and Studio Polpo 
Open Public Experimental Residential Activity (OPERA): Looking Back and Looking Forwards

Paul Merchant
University of Cambridge 
Who can publicise the private? Domesticity, representation and class in ‘El hombre de al lado’

Nadege Meriau
Artist-in-residence Queen Mary University of London 
Home futures: exploring the Aylesbury Estate through video and sculpture

Katie Beswick
Queen Mary University of London
The Resident Artist: Jordan McKenzie’s Council Estate Practice

16.40-17.00
Closing Remarks
Harriet Hawkins
Royal Holloway University of London 
Collaboration and curation

Monday, 6 April 2015

all 126 LGBTQ sonnet videos now online

I have finally put all of the contributions to the 126 LGBTQ sonnet project online. You can view them all in this album here. I'm looking into potential ways of displaying them, perhaps with a dedicated website, but for now they are all there for your viewing pleasure.






















The exhibition at Sutton House has finished and it was a great success. I was sad to see it go, but looking forward to writing about it for my thesis, and I don't think this is the end of the project, I am hoping to edit them in to a second version of the film and to continue to look for opportunities to screen it to make sure it can be seen by as many people as possible.

I want to extend my thanks again to the staff at Sutton House, but especially to the 125 (I was the 126th!) volunteers who gave up their time to contribute so creatively and generously to this project. I am overwhelmed and moved by the contributions, which range from funny to really moving. All of them are brilliant. Visibility is still really political for queer people, so we have all done something towards ensuring that we are seen and heard, and I think that's a beautiful thing. I'm also delighted to have met so many of the contributors since, at Sutton House, the V&A and various other queer events. I never imagined this project would help me feel so much more a part of the queer community, and that I would make so many friends through it.




















I'm really excited that the exhibition had a brief mention in an article in the Independent. Unfortunately it was only two days before the exhibition ended, meaning that it wasn't an effective marketing device, but still great to have been noticed, and I hope the higher ups in the National Trust are paying attention to our success.




















Special thanks to Alex Creep, who has put up with me being quite insufferably stressy during the build up to the exhibition! and who also made the beautiful poster for the exhibition.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Print your own Mary Lobb zine!

You may have seen a few months ago I made a zine about Mary Lobb and the sound piece I made to accompany it, in response to the lack of mention of her and her relationship with May Morris at Kelmscott Manor (you can see the original posts about it here, here and here).





















I'd now like to share a print-your-own PDF of the zine!

Follow this link here

Then download the PDF (from the link along the top menu bar) and once downloaded, select 'print' and select 'print on both sides' and make sure to select the option to flip on the side edge, as otherwise the pages will be upside down. Obviously the PDF will look a bit jumbled, as the pages are in an order to ensure it can be printed as an A5 booklet. Once it is printed, fold in the middle, and hopefully all the pages should be in the correct order!

The sound piece to accompany the zine is here:


Thanks again to Joe and Ellie Lewis-Nunes for patiently lending their voices and recording skills.

Please share this with anyone who might be interested- and enjoy!

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

BFI Flare: LGBT Film Festival 2015

The BFI Flare festival is over, and I just thought I'd plug a few of my favourite films that I saw.






















Something Must Break

I saw this film at the BFI London Film Festival in Late 2014, and I'm pleased I got to see it again, it stars Saga Becker (who won best actress at the Guldbaggegalan 2015 awards ceremony, becoming the first trans woman to do so) as a non-binary trans person. It's empowering and beautiful, and along with other lead Iggy Malmborg, the acting is phenomenal. Becker's portrayal of Sebastian/Ellie is one of the most relatable characters I've ever seen in a film. It's a triumph and is hitting UK cinemas in April, so make sure you check it out.



Also, I'm absolutely delighted that the incredible Saga Becker agreed to be part of my exhibition 126 at Sutton House. You can see her contribution here:




My other favourites included:

We came to sweat



This was a particularly topical documentary given how gentrification in East London and beyond are seeing the closure of many queer venues, including the Joiners Arms. This film looks at the Starlite, the oldest gay bar in Brooklyn that was particularly important as it offered a safe space and community for LGBTQ people of colour. The building that housed the Starlite was bought without them knowing, and the film deals with the campaign to save it, as well as documenting the community that has been built there, and the legacy of the venue. It's a very moving film with an excellent soundtrack and documents a really important part of black LGBTQ culture.

In the turn

This was the huge surprise of the festival for me. I knew nothing about Roller Derby, and frankly wasn't that interested, but the film is about more than sport, it's about the power of a community that values respect, kindness and warmth. The film is framed around the story of a ten year old trans girl called Crystal, whose mother reaches out to Roller Derby collective Vagine Regime, after Crystal is no longer allowed to participate in team sports at her school, because of the staff's discomfort and inability to deal with a trans student. The Vagine Regime, who are a queer international community, raise money to help Crystal attend a Roller Derby camp, where she can play with girls her own age for the first time. I balled happy tears for so much of the film, it's so positive to see what a beautiful thing the queer community is when you see it depicted so carefully on a big screen.



The trailer is perhaps a bit deceptively bleak, but alongside the sad stories of suffering, is an overwhelming sense of hope and positivity. We were lucky enough to meet the director Erica Tremblay, who is a complete babe and super humble, and seems genuinely overwhelmed with how well the film is being received. It's a definite must see.

And here are a couple of my favourite shorts:

Sticks and Stones: Bambi Lake

A documentary about Bambi Lake, I can't find a trailer for this, but it was the first film in the Transcenders shorts, and the series ended with the incredible Justin Vivian Bond covering one of Bambi's songs, there's a bit of footage from the documentary in the music video:




Last time I saw Richard

Creepy queer horror- my favourite genre



The Last Time I Saw Richard - Trailer from Nicholas Verso on Vimeo.


Some honourable mentions: Hidden Away, Drunktown's Finest, and Stories of our lives

My favourite thing about BFI Flare is what a lovely space the BFI becomes for a fortnight. It's like a glimpse of what a lovely, safe and respectful queer utopia looks like.

Roll on next year!

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.