Friday, 21 November 2014

Sutton House LGBT History Month exhibition- updates!

Just thought I'd share a few updates about the LGBTQ sonnet project exhibition to be exhibited at Sutton House in February 2015.

The exhibition will open on the 4th February, which is also when the house reopens after the closed season. The private view will be the following evening, on the 5th, and we're toying with holding a second event to follow up on the success and interest of this year's panel discussion. I'll keep you posted!

Here is another teaser of the exhibition, featuring snippets from 5 of the contributions so far:


126 sonnets - teaser video [three] from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

I really can't express how pleased I am with all of the contributions so far! You can listen to the sonnets so far here.

The exhibition will be taking place in the chapel, here are a few pictures of the space for those of you who have not visited yet (obviously it will look very different once the exhibition is in place):



















I'm also delighted to say that the posters and promotional material will be designed by a super talented queer artist, more on this soon, but I'm really excited about it! In other great news, this year's Master-Mistress exhibition and the upcoming follow up will receive a brief mention in the National Trust magazine that goes out to members, a readership of approximately 4.5 million...

I'm also hoping to soon be able to reveal some other LGBTQ related things that will be taking place at Sutton House during February and beyond, it's really great that the success of this year's exhibition is increasing the visibility of LGBTQ identities and narratives more widely throughout the property, I can only hope that other National Trust properties follow the lead soon.

By November 30th I should know for sure exactly how many more contributors I will need as, for various reasons, some of the original contributors are no longer able to commit, so I will be posting a second call out in an attempt to fill the final few spaces by the end of December, so that I have plenty of time to experiment with how the audio and the videos will work in the exhibition space.

A huge warm thank you to those who have already contributed and those who are planning to, this exhibition would literally be nothing without you all!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Meet Tate Britain with Peter Tatchell

Given my own experience of delivering tours, and the (much more impressive) work of the likes of Andrea Fraser, Claire Robins and David Hoyle, I'm really interested in the potential the role of the tour guide in heritage sites can have in disrupting and subverting dominant narratives and canons, so when a friend told me about Peter Tatchell's tour of Tate Britain, I was interested to see how far the celebrated human rights activist could challenge the Tate Britain's largely white (supposedly straight) male chronology.

The event is part of a programme of alternative tours featuring the likes of Antiques expert Geoffrey Munn, gardener Alys Fowler and someone from the Hairy Bikers (no, I don't know what that is either).

The blurb on the Tate Britain website claimed the tour would be about 'unearthing hidden stories of LGBT subjects and artists. Who were they and how were they represented? How might we imagine their lives and experiences? What clues to the existence of LGBT individuals, communities and societies can be found in the works? What work has been done uncovering this knowledge? What do these images tell us about the development of the rights we enjoy today?'

I was a bit sceptical before hand that it would be more like 'Meet Peter Tatchell with the Tate Britain', but I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. Tatchell seemed quite nervous for the first few exhibits he spoke about, speaking to his notes and the artworks rather than to the audience, but I can totally empathise with those nerves, especially when you're not an art historian and have only researched the works for the sake of the tour, but he soon loosened up and became more engaged and engaging. The works he had selected were largely because of the queer way in which they could be read, the ways in which they challenged masculinity, or because the artists were known to be, or could be easily read, as LGBTQ. Naturally, as with anything of this nature, the majority of the stories told were about gay men, but Tatchell apologised for this at the end of the tour, and rightly identified that the collections on display were mainly by men.

The tour included artworks by Simeon Solomon, Gilbert and George, Duncan Grant and various others. While Tatchell was a bit shaky on speaking about the artworks, or the stories behind the earlier classical stuff, his strength was in making links with contemporary issues and politics, particularly when recounting the OutRage! Kiss-in in 1990 in Piccadilly Circus to protest the arrest of gay couples for showing affection in public, the protest took place under the statue of Anteros, the god of requited love, he told us this story while standing by a small sculpture of Anteros in the same pose. The key here of course, is that if a people are willing to pay for a tour by a well known figure, they probably aren't expecting a typical museum tour and instead want to hear the anecdotes and interpretations unique to that person.

A glaringly tedious point for me, which is partially due to the layout of the Tate Britain, was that this tour was chronological. Surely the first, and easiest step to undoing conventions of a typical tour is to disobey the linear way in which museums encourage us to think.

While a bit too polite for my taste, the tour was an interesting experiment by Tate Britain and an enjoyable evening, and helped to tease out some of the 'hidden histories' (which is becoming such a tired phrase) that I hope will be made more apparent in the interpretation in the museum following events like this. Tatchell did a great job in what was clearly outside of his comfort zone, and his passion for justice and in recovering these suppressed stories was palpable.

An exciting aside; Tatchell has agreed in principle to contribute to my Sutton House LGBTQ sonnets project- I hope he finds the time to do it, as his voice will be a really interesting addition. I'm hoping to have some more exciting updates about the exhibition soon, so watch this space!

  

Friday, 7 November 2014

Lines of Dissent - 12th Annual LGBTQ History & Archives Conference

I'm really pleased to share the flyer for the London Metropolitan Archives' 12 Annual LGBTQ History and Archives conference, run in partnership with the Raphael Samuel History Centre this year. I've been part of the conference steering committee for the last two years along with a great team, and this year I've been asked to host a practical workshop about queer homes. The focus this year is on LGBTQ genealogy and family history.

The conference takes place at the London Metropolitan Archives on December 6th, tickets are just £10, or £7.50 for concessions. You can book tickets here.

I hope to see many of you there!





Monday, 3 November 2014

The National Trust at the Balfron Tower

In September last year I was involved as a tour guide in the National Trust London Project's Big Brother takeover. It was such an interesting experience that when I heard about their pop-up opening of Flat 130 in Balfron Tower I was eager to be involved.

I had, unknowingly, known about Balfron Tower from 28 Days Later, being a huge zombie film enthusiast (arguably it's not a zombie film, as the 'infected' aren't dead, but yadda yadda), as Cillian Murphy's character takes refuge there with other survivors. Interesting that I knew a building originally envisioned as a socialist utopia as the refuge from complete nightmarish dystopia. It also turns out that my good friend currently lives in the tower as a property guardian, albeit 21 floors below the flat that the National Trust temporally opened.

The experience was quite different to the Big Brother opening, partially because of the considerable amount of research that was required before the tours (the Big Brother tours were quite small in comparison, and as a fan of the programme I didn't really need to learn much), as well as the anxieties that many, including me, had about the project. I was uncomfortable in the direction that the building was going, as it is being developed and sold as luxury apartments, the original social housing residents having, mostly, been "decanted" (i.e.: booted out) since 2010. I was also uncomfortable at how the tours could be read as voyeurism- touring largely white, middle class people around an area that is mostly social housing, not to mention the potential for disturbances that could be caused to the current residents (a few remaining social housing tenants, property guardians and artists from Bow Arts Trust), however, my initial concerns quickly vanished once the project got underway, as the Trust had taken great steps to ensure limited disturbance to the residents and local communities, they offered free community group tours to ensure that those who lived and went to school locally had the opportunity to see the flat and experience the tour, and part of the income from the tickets will be donated to the Residents Association.

The enthusiastic visitors on the tours, and the other volunteers I worked with shared my discomfort with the direction the building was being taken in, and by being reflective about that in our conversations, it became clear that everyone was there out of an interest in modernist architecture and the socialist values imbued in it by Ernő Goldfinger. The conversations we had on the tours about our own experiences of social housing, high rise living and East London meant that the tours were more self aware and critical than perhaps your average National Trust tour. I tried to make sure that the tone of the tours was not one of fetishising the building as an icon, but instead getting to the core of the social values that Goldfinger intended to be enacted by such a building, and how it has been, and is being, undone.



Flat 130 is the one in which Goldfinger and his wife Ursula briefly lived in in 1968. Part publicity stunt, part "empirical" research, the Goldfinger's used their time there to inform the future Trellick Tower, by finding out what residents thought about living there. They only occupied the flat for two months, so the Trust decided to go down a more fantastical route rather than trying to recreate what would have been a very sparse flat. Instead, Wayne and Tilly Hemingway were invited to create a 1968 flat for the imagined family that moved in after the Goldfingers. The idea was that all furniture was from 1968 or earlier, assuming that families would have inherited furniture from earlier to bring with them. There were, however, a few anachronisms, and perhaps the furniture would not have been reflective of a family in social housing, but my questions about the logic of presenting well researched fiction rather than, say, the empty flat, were soon challenged when I saw how much visitors enjoyed the flat, mostly because of the nostalgia it triggered. One woman said it was strange seeing somewhere that looked so much like an old flat of hers being presented as a museum piece.



I gave tours on three days, and was asked to Duty Manage the volunteers on three more. The tours were such a success that the initial run was extended. The tour guides were all volunteers, and the turnover of recruitment and training was a lot quicker than usual National Trust endeavours- and definitely the better for it. The dynamic and diverse range of guides and styles of tours made the project feel fresh and exciting, and it proved, to me at least, that being a Tour Guide is not necessarily something you get better at with experience...

A huge thank you to Roshan and Katherine, and many others, for making the project such a great pleasure to be a part of it, and I really wish it was a happier story for what happens to the tower next.

I made a little video of the flat:


Flat 130, Balfron Tower from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

LGBTQ sonnets exhibition

When I first suggested collecting all 126 sonnets read by LGBTQ people to the staff at Sutton House I was half hoping for them to suggest it was a bit too ambitious. However, with almost all of the sonnets now assigned to willing volunteers (there are still a handful left!), and the contributions coming in thick and fast, I'm delighted that they had faith in me!

Here are two little teaser videos of two of the contributions, I'll be posting more in the build up to the - as yet unnamed (I have a few ideas) - exhibition, which will take place in February 2015. As well as the recordings of the sonnets, I am also asking contributors to record a ten second video portrait, or a moving "selfie". In the exhibition, I don't think the sonnets will be matched with the videos, but rather will all run into each other, but I will have to wait until I have received them all before I experiment with the best ways to exhibit them all.


126 sonnets - teaser video [one] from Sean Curran on Vimeo.



126 sonnets - teaser video [two] from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

I can't tell you how overwhelming I am finding the generosity and creativity of the contributors so far, and it's a real treat every time I receive a new submission, it really strengthens the love I have for a community I'm so proud to be a part of, and it feels like we're all part of something really big and meaningful!

I'll continue to document the progress of the exhibition, and in the next few days I'll blog about my experience of volunteering at the Balfron Tower with the National Trust.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Queerly Theorising Higher Education & Academia: Interdisciplinary Conversations

Queerly Theorising Higher Education & Academia: Interdisciplinary Conversations 
Half-day International Symposium 

Monday 8th December 2014, 12 noon – 7:30pm, followed by a drinks reception

Room 802, Institute of Education (IOE), 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL 

This half-day international symposium brings together queer theorisations of higher education and academia that are currently developing within discipline-specific contexts. At this symposium, we will explore the ways that academia and higher education are being queerly theorised, and discuss how these theorisations are situated within and yet pushing against disciplinary settings. With an emphasis on conversation and discussion, the event will provide a platform for the collaborative development of ideas over the course of the day. Contributors to the round table and discussion-presentations range from established scholars to doctoral students, and are from a variety of disciplinary locations and institutional settings.

Round table participants: 
Oliver Davis - University of Warwick
Michael O’Rourke - ISSH, Macedonia & Global Center for Advanced Studies
Nick Rumens - Middlesex University
Yvette Taylor - Weeks Centre, London South Bank University
Kathryn Medien - University of Warwick (Chair)

Presenters:
James Burford - University of Auckland, New Zealand/Aotearoa
Jennifer Fraser - Birkbeck
Vicky Gunn - University of Glasgow
Emily F. Henderson - Institute of Education
Genine Hook - Monash University, Australia
Z Nicolazzo - Miami University, Ohio, US
Sean Curran - Institute of Education (Chair)
Emma Jones - Institute of Education (Chair)

Discussants: 
Elliot Evans - King’s College London
TBC

The event will be hosted by CHES (Centre for Higher Education Studies) and is funded by the Bloomsbury ESRC Doctoral Training Centre.

Registration is free, but places are limited so booking is essential.

To book, or for further information, contact Emily Henderson:ehenderson01@ioe.ac.uk

RSVP by 14th November 2014.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Balfron Tower

I'm so excited to be part of the upcoming National Trust tours of the Balfron Tower, which is becoming a 'pop up' property much like the Big Brother house did this time last year. I will be one of many volunteers guiding the tours, which run for two weeks from 1st October.

While I did not expect the project to attract the sort of vitriol in the media as the Big Brother takeover did, I've been surprised at the largely positive response so far, though perhaps more scathing comment pieces are being saved for while the tours are running. This is a controversial project, in many ways much more so than the Big Brother tours, as aside from continuing debates about what heritage is, there are issues around gentrification, and the "decanting" of those who lived there in the manner it was originally conceived by architect Ernő Goldfinger, as social housing. I'm hoping the tours will be a part of this debate, though no matter how much I might roll my eyes at the gentrification of a tower block that will soon be luxury apartments and that is currently occupied by artists, I have to accept that as a National Trust tour guide, I am part of that gentrification.

That aside, I visited the tower on Friday for training and I can promise a really fascinating visit for those with tickets, the tower is filled with great stories and the view from Flat 130, which has been recreated in 1968 style by Wayne and Tilly Hemingway, is phenomenal. I hope this venture generates a healthy discussion about heritage and about what happens when a once reviled building used as social housing becomes a revered icon, at the expense of its residents, it's a very timely discussion too, and I'm really pleased to have the opportunity, and the privilege to see this beautiful building up close, and to share its stories with others.

I'll blog more thoroughly about this once I've done the tours!

You can get tickets here (looks like they're almost gone).


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

'The Period Room: Museum, Material, Experience' conference at Bowes Museum

At the end of last week I attended the Period Room conference at Bowes Museum (home to the brilliant and bonkers Silver Swan) in Barnard Castle. I hadn't visited the Bowes since I was a child on a school trip, so it was great to have a good excuse to visit the imposing French Chateau once again.




This conference, was jointly organised by the University of Leeds and The Bowes Museum, and was supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art,  and aimed to 'consider the Period Room, and the historic interior, from a wide variety of perspectives in order to address some key questions about the history and practice of Period Room displays in Museums'.

I had attended the conference on the recommendation of my supervisor, and thought that it would be interesting but rather tangential to my research, but given my focus on historic houses it served as a very useful alternative way into thinking about how domestic spaces are displayed, both in and out of museum contexts.

Rather than describe the whole conference, I will instead highlight a few of the ideas/themes I found most interesting/thought provoking.
  • Does a Period Room cease to be a "room" because of its context in a museum? Does it become a memorial, a shrine, a mausoleum? Is it just a fictional stage for unrelated objects, or otherwise tenuously linked objects from the same era. Is an IKEA store just a collection of period rooms? Are we being sold Good Taste when we visit a period room in a museum?
  • Is the period room aiming for historical accuracy, or aesthetic pleasure? Does authenticity really matter (I'd argue definitely not, though I overheard two other delegates discussing this "what's the point of a period room if not all of the furniture is authentic?" "I know, it's more like a playroom"...)? To what extent is a curator relying on imagination as much as historical fervour? One speaker pointed out that no room consists of only furniture, decor and objects from the particular snapshot it might be recorded in, there might be a piece of furniture belonging to granny that's already 50 years old, etc. The presentation of a period room can only ever be in line with research/recreation and conservation techniques of the time in which it is assembled.
  • How do you people a period room? Where are the humans? Are period rooms too often sanitised as places of inactivity? A room only lives because of how people use and interact with it. Period rooms, perhaps, become about production, design, furniture, rather than the social. Where does taste fit in to this? and class? these are inherently human phenomenons, and inherently visible in domestic spaces. How can people be introduced into a period room? Often curators will leave a period-appropriate newspaper draped over the arm of a chair, a pair of reading glasses on a side table, a pair of slippers by the bed, is this any better than leaving them unpeopled? Is it too staged?
  • What parallels does the period room have with the theatre? or with stage sets? what skills could be harvested between period room curators, stage and set designers? does one value authenticity and historical accuracy/aesthetic appearance more than the other?
  • One point that had never occurred to me was to do with ambience and the room being situated in a wider context, through lighting and windows. What time of day/night is the period room being presented? does it matter? in windowless museum spaces, should windows be replicated? If the curtains or shutters are always closed it immediately lessens the room-ness of the room, it isolates it from any broader context.
  • For me, the most interesting discussion was about the potential role of artists in period rooms, which chimes with my own exhibition at Sutton House with artist Judith Brocklehurst. Do audiences more readily accept more radical approaches to story telling from artists than from curators? Can artists take more risks? Will visitors accept fiction and inauthenticity from artists, but not from curators? and is the root of this problem that curators, and museums more broadly are seen to be authoritative and definitive? how can we challenge this?

I'll leave you with a few links to some examples that struck me as particularly interesting: