Extractive Seeing: On the visual culture of oil with Professor Janet Stewart

technical museum vienna.jpgTuesday 7 March 2017, 6:00pm in 405 Business School, Durham University

This paper is part of a larger research project, Curating Europe’s Oil, which sets out to investigate the role that archives (of different kinds) and museums have in constructing and potentially deconstructing existing narratives about fossil fuels that make possible particular behaviours and responses, while closing down or erasing others. It considers the role that oil plays in twenty-first century cultural memory in Europe, investigating how Europe’s oil history is being archived, narrated and displayed in key cultural institutions, showing how an understanding of the processes through which the experience of ‘living with oil’ in Europe has been catalogued, controlled and challenged are invaluable in imagining new narratives of possible energy futures. This paper explores one aspect of the larger project, arguing that a particular way of seeing, linked to the 20th century’s dependence on fossil fuels, in general, and oil, in particular, comes to dominate in the construction of the visual record of Europe’s oil dependencies, and in the way in which that visual record is interpreted. The paper introduces the concept of ‘extractive seeing’, and employs it to frame an investigation of the visual culture of oil in Austria, a country not often immediately associated with Europe’s oil history.

Professor Janet Stewart is the Head of School in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University.

Contact cvac@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.


Special Japanese exhibition successfully held at the Oriental Museum with CVAC funding.

the-shogun-warrierA CVAC-sponsored exhibition, The Shogun’s Cultured Warriors, was held at the Oriental Museum, from 7th June 2016 to 27th November 2016.  The samurai were the military class of Japan who developed from provincial warriors into the ruling elite. They were a powerful force in Japan for more than six centuries and so had a profound effect on military and political life. High ranking warriors were also expected to develop their literary skills and they played an active role as patrons of the arts. The exhibition explored the role of the samurai class as patrons and producers of the arts. It also examined the legacy of samurai culture which remains a potent source of inspiration in Japan – and the west – today.

The exhibition was seen by 12,769 visitors to the museum galleries.

The exhibition was created to support the conference: ‘400th Anniversary of the Death of the first Tokugawa Shogun: The Life and Legacy of Tokugawa Ieyasu’ (7th-8th June, 2016), which was being hosted by the School of Modern Languages and Cultures.  The creation of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1868) was one of the key turning points in Japanese history, and 2016 marked 400 years since the death of its founder, the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. To mark this important anniversary, the conference brought together experts on Japanese history, religion, and material culture to commemorate, explain, and explore Ieyasu’s career and legacy.

Rebekah Clements, January 2017


Behind the Scenes at the Museum: Masterclass with Jo Quinton-Tulloch

1st February 2017, 09:30 to 11:00, Pennington Room, Grey College

CVAC are delighted to welcome Jo Quinton-Tulloch to Durham to give our Annual Behind the Scenes at the Museum Masterclass. She is the Director of the National Media Museum in Bradford.

The National Media Museum is a relatively young museum – just over 30 years old. Its origin stems from the Science Museum, London, but it has grown over time by incorporating a number of other collections, originally developed by other bodies and individuals, at different times and for different purposes. This has resulted in a collection of some of the best, most significant and historically important visual material to be found anywhere in the world, spanning a range of cultural, scientific and aesthetic disciplines.

The masterclass will begin to consider musuems and the value of collaborations.

To book a place, please email cvac@durham.ac.uk

Behind the Scenes at the Museum with Jo Quinton-Tulloch. 31st January 2017 at 18:00, Kenworthy Hall, St. Mary’s College. Durham


The National Media Museum is a relatively young museum – just over 30 years old. Its origin stems from the Science Museum, London, but it has grown over time by incorporating a number of other collections, originally developed by other bodies and individuals, at different times and for different purposes. This has resulted in a collection of some of the best, most significant and historically important visual material to be found anywhere in the world, spanning a range of cultural, scientific and aesthetic disciplines.

The talk will (briefly!) explore the museum’s core collections of Photography, Film and Television, then touch on some of the challenges faced by the Museum sector, using the recent experiences of the National Media Museum as a case study.

Jo Quinton-Tulloch is the Director of the National Media Museum in Bradford.

No need to book – all welcome.


CVAC Cohort 2 trip to National Museum of Scotland

On Friday 9th of December the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture organized a field trip for the second cohort of Durham Leverhulme doctoral scholars to visit the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.  Situated between Edinburgh Castle to the west and Arthur’s Seat to the east the museum operates a commanding position. Displaying extensive and varied collections including natural history, arts and fashion, design and technology, history and archaeology. It was therefore an exciting opportunity to see how materials, concepts and ideas from varied disciplines incorporating both the arts and sciences are visually presented in one venue.

The museum in its current form resulted from the joining of the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS) with the pre-existing building, the Royal Scottish Museum (RSM), which was built in 1866. This rather adventurous nationalistic project began during the 1980s when debates over renaming collections snowballed into a decision to combine the two museums focusing on national identity. This decision was underpinned by the current resurgence in Scottish identity and nationalism. Consequently, in 1985 the two museums were incorporated as ‘National Museum of Scotland’ (NMS). To accommodate NMAS, a new building adjoined to the RSM needed to be created and after an architectural competition, it was clear that Scottish history and identity was at the forefront of the architectural ambitions for the new building. This was realised in Benson and Forsyth’s wining design which utilized local Clashach and Corsehill sandstone to create a façade that was reminiscent of castle architecture, with the circular tower at the north-west of the building mirroring Edinburgh Castle’s half-moon battery. This ambitious project is still ongoing but the new building has been open to the public since 1998.

Upon arrival at the museum the cohort was met by Stephen Allen (Head of Learning and Programmes) who provided an overview of the complex history of the museum and its continuing active role in local arts and culture. After, this fascinating insight into how NMS became Britain’s most visited tourist attraction outside of London, the cohort was able to explore the diverse galleries, starting with the Victorian atrium of the older building. This wonderful open space is utilized to introduce the visitor to different aspects of the museum’s collections with a variety of different artefacts on display from a sperm whale skull to a Buddhist statue.

From this point the cohort split up to investigate the different exhibits and styles of display used. From the art gallery style of display focused on ‘Design for Living’ to the extensive use of taxidermy of extant species alongside the fossil skeletons of extinct species in the ‘Animal World’ gallery.

One of the most captivating and busy areas was the science and ‘Explore’ gallery where the extensive use of interactives ensured that all age groups were actively engaged with the exhibits.

Whilst, the galleries focusing on Scottish history were situated chronologically, starting with early prehistory and history in the basement all the way up to modern day. The location of prehistory in the basement was underpinned by architectural aims to simulate a space similar to an archaeological excavation. This design decision conflates archaeology with prehistory and creates a space where it is difficult to install interactives. Consequently to aid interpretation of the artefacts, the space is laid out thematically and utilizes contemporary sculpture to emphasize these themes.

The most prominent sculptures are the twelve bronze statues created by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi which contain prehistoric jewellery and greet the visitor as they enter the gallery of ‘Early People’. These statues provide the artefacts they contain with human agency without providing a false impression of personhood that is usually created when reconstructions are used.

After the cohort had gained an impression of the museum they met up to critically discuss their opinions about the displays and how they are presented. During these discussions it was clear that in certain galleries there were some issues of representation where the narrative focuses on one particular group to the exclusion of other prominent perspectives. The varying themes encountered in the different galleries were also discussed and it was apparent that everyone had enjoyed their museum experience for a variety of different reasons. The National Museum of Scotland, although highly ambitious, has succeeded in creating a space that can be enjoyed by a diverse range of audiences.

Felicity McDowall December 2016

Conference on Catholicism, Literature, and the Arts

The Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University, supported by Ushaw College and the Centre for Poetry and Poetics and the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture at Durham University, are organising a Conference on Catholicism, Literature, and the Arts to be held in Durham 5-7 July 2017.  Proposals for short papers of 20 minutes are invited for this international conference.  Full details can be found below.  The closing date for proposals has been extended to 16th December 2016.


Catholicism, Literature, and the Arts

1850 to the Present


5 July -7 July 2017


Call for Papers


Proposals for short papers of 20 minutes are invited for an international conference on Catholicism, literature, and the arts, organised by the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University and Ushaw College. The conference is supported by the Centre for Poetry and Poetics and the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture at Durham University. It will bring together leading scholars such as Terry Eagleton, Ann Wroe, Paul Lakeland, and Eamon Duffy to address key questions in the study of Catholic art and writing, including the question of whether there is a distinctive tradition of ‘Catholic literature’. Among the main topics and themes of the conference are Catholic memoir and autobiography; Catholic fiction and poetry; Catholic readership; journalism; publishers and archives; and the visual arts. A key feature of the conference will be the use of interviews, discussion groups, and workshops, as well as lectures and seminars. The conference will include film, music, and the visual arts, as well as literature. It will also draw on works of art and literature closely associated with Ushaw College.


Please send expressions of interest, along with a brief proposal (up to 250 words), to Stephen Regan (stephen.regan@durham.ac.uk), Ludmilla Jordanova (ludmilla.jordanova@durham.ac.uk), and Stefano Cracolici (stefano.cracolici@durham.ac.uk).


The closing date for proposals is 16th December 2016, and applicants will be notified of the outcome by 31st December 2016.




Collaborative Doctoral Awards at The Bowes Museum


A consortium of the National Gallery and The Bowes Museum has been awarded nine doctoral studentships over five years from 2016 – 21 (three per year) as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme. Each institution is able to offer studentships in partnership with higher education institutions, to enable students to study for a PhD at a UK university.

In October 2016, two students started their CDP studentships at The Bowes Museum, based on the Museum’s Archive housed in the magnificent reading room at the top of the Museum. Their research interests emanate from the collecting activities of the Museum’s Founders, John and Joséphine Bowes.

The National Gallery and The Bowes Museum have substantial synergies in their research interests, which arise not only from the fact that they both hold significant collections of Old Master paintings, but also from shared interests in the research themes:

  • Buying, Collecting, Display: This strand concentrates on the histories of the art market, as well as of picture collections and the tastes, economics, and politics that lay behind them. It also concerns audiences for art (including museum visitors today) and the histories of the institutions themselves. It provides a context for collections that supports new approaches for presentation to the public.
  • The Meaning of Making: This strand seeks to use object-based research, combining the disciplines of art history, science and conservation, to contextualise technical study of collections by situating it within a larger art historical discourse, investigating notions of authorship, collaboration, copying, design, inspiration and their re-use/reinterpretation over time. It is a distinctive aspect of Museum/Gallery research.
  • Art and Religion: This strand focuses on the iconography, functions and context of Christian art. A high percentage of works in collections of Western European art are of religious subjects, nearly all of them Christian, reflecting the fact that, after classical antiquity, Christianity became the predominant power shaping European culture between the 13th and 19th centuries. The research addresses how and why these sacred works of art were made, to explore what they might have meant to their original viewers and to discover what they mean to beholders today.

The consortium builds on these common interests that are shared between the National Gallery and The Bowes Museum, as well as more generally in many museums, galleries and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).
The specific themes above are not intended to be prescriptive but they serve as an effective expression of the consortium’s areas of interest, giving a framework for collaborations with HEIs and other research organisations, and for potential shared studentships. For more general information, find out about the scope of research at the National Gallery and The Bowes Museum.

Each studentship will be jointly supervised by a member of the consortium partner’s staff and an academic from an HEI in the UK, as with the existing Collaborative Doctoral Awards (CDA) scheme. The HEI administers the studentship, receiving funds from the AHRC for fees and to cover the student’s maintenance. The consortium partner provides additional financial support to cover travel and related costs in carrying out research.

More information about Collaborative Doctoral Awards is available at the AHRC.

Further details

Information for universities
Proposals for new studentships are developed by National Gallery or The Bowes Museum staff (as co-supervisors) together with a named university partner (as principal supervisor) and are chosen on their academic strengths and clear support for the National Gallery’s or The Bowes Museum’s research objectives. We welcome expressions of interest and project ideas from any UK university.

The deadline for the next round of CDP applications is 25th November 2016.

For more information about partnering with the National Gallery, advice on potential internal collaborators and guidance for applications contact Marika Spring> 

For more information about partnering with The Bowes Museum, advice on potential internal collaborators and guidance for applications contact Adrian Jenkins or Jane Whittaker

Embodying life and death: The body in Anglo-Saxon England

22nd October 2016, Durham University

The Anglo-Saxon period is characterised by significant cultural shifts and transformations. Emerging kingdoms, religious conversion, economic intensification, growing cultural contact and mobility result in increasing social complexity. Situated directly at the centre of these multiple transformations are the understudied Anglo-Saxon bodies, enacting, resisting and adapting to the ever-changing world around them. Although only the bare bones of these bodies remain, further evidence for the physicality, corporeality and personal expression manifest themselves in texts, art, material culture and more.

This one-day conference invited speakers from across multiple disciplines to converge on the topic of Anglo-Saxon bodies. Over the course of the day, presentations on nakedness, rebellious nuns, monstrous creatures, corpse positioning and saintly healing were followed by vibrant discussion. Central to this day was past and present visual cultures pertaining to Anglo-Saxon England. Figural iconography present on/in dress accessories, military paraphernalia, household objects, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture and more were brought together to better understand how the body was represented in this period alongside it’s symbolic and ideological significance. Beyond historical materials, speakers also critically reflected on visual materials produced by contemporary scholarship and the role these materials play in generating knowledge and shaping current thought. These included photographs and illustrations of objects and figural imagery, maps and plans of cemetery layouts, body positions and grave cuts. The result was a rich and diverse day, in which boundaries were deconstructed as connections and parallels were drawn across Archaeology, History, Art history and Literary studies, demonstrating the strength and necessity of interdisciplinarity.

Tristan Lake, November 2016

Perceptions of Architecture in Early Modern Europe

‘Perceptions of Architecture in Early Modern Europe,’ a conference held on 5 November at St. Mary’s College and funded by the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture, brought together an interdisciplinary, international group of scholars to explore the criteria, terms, and techniques with which experiences of the European built environment, 1500-1850, were constructed and described. Architectural history, art history, Classics, French Studies, and Italian Studies were the disciplines represented, and three members of CVAC – Jan Clarke, Stefano Cracolici, and Edmund Thomas – spoke alongside scholars from across the UK as well as Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.  The conference opened with a keynote lecture by Professor Maurice Howard OBE (University of Sussex), who surveyed a wide range of useful sources and themes; sources stretched from legislation to topographical writings, and themes encompassed competition, imitation, health, performance and artifice.  Through three sessions of three papers apiece, speakers then examined case studies from England, France, Italy, and the Netherlands.  Together, these papers and the subsequent discussion delved further into revealing sources and concepts with which to evaluate early modern architectural experiences.  Among the sources were poetry, prints, playscripts, and newspapers, while concepts included tensions between imitation and transgression, evocations of unease, responses to risk and destruction, the symbolism of style, and the roles of sight, memory and the imagination.  Conference participants – both speakers and non-speaking delegates – thus merged strands of scholarly inquiry often scattered across visual, cultural, and literary history into a day of ongoing interdisciplinary conversation.

Kimberley Skelton November 2016