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HRC Seminar Series 2008/9: ‘Text and Visual Image’.

 The topic for this year’s interdisciplinary seminar series has touched on current critical debates relating to historiography, curating and documentation. It has encouraged cross-disciplinary enquiry in order to enhance scholarly and critical understanding of responses to literature, art and performance (including music, film, dance and design) by reader, viewer and audience. The pertinence of the topic is illustrated by the fact that the current exhibition in the Guggenheim Gallery in Venice has an identical title: ‘Text and Visual Image’.

The theme of the six seminars attracted a wide range of speakers (both internal and external), seminar leaders and respondents as well as an overall total of well over one hundred colleagues and students. Eight departments, centres and schools within the Faculty contributed to the seminars’ organisation: the CAPITAL Centre, English and Comparative Literary Studies, Film and Television Studies, French, History of Art, Italian, Renaissance Studies, and Theatre, Performance and Cultural Policy Studies.

The list of speakers and their paper titles demonstrates the scope of the work presented, with topics spanning the creative and performing arts from the eighteenth century to the present. The speakers, including senior as well as early-career scholars, drew on research and critical methodologies from their most recent research and forthcoming publications. Following each seminar, informal discussion over a glass of wine allowed students as well as colleagues an opportunity to talk to the speakers.

The series began with a seminar with a focus on representations of Shakespeare and his plays in the eighteenth century. In ‘Reading Illustrated Shakespeare: Issues and Methods’, Stuart Sillars (Professor of English, University of Bergen, Norway), concentrated on the visual images in editions of Shakespeare’s plays (since Rowe’s edition of 1709) and their impact on the reader’s experience and critical understanding. This paper coincided with the publication of Professor Sillars’s latest monograph, The Illustrated Shakespeare, 1709-1875 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008) as well as drawing on his current research for Shakespeare, Time and the Victorian Visual Sense (also for Cambridge University Press). His Paper was paired with one from Dr. Rosie Dias (History of Art, University of Warwick), ‘Boydell’s Shakespeare: Illustration and Imagination’, which examined the complex issues entailed in ‘illustrating’ Shakespeare in Boydell’s ‘Shakespeare Gallery’ and its associated publications as well as offering an overview of the various cultural agendas embraced by the Gallery. The seminar was chaired by Dr. Paul Prescott (Capital Centre Lecturer in English).

Visual images and historiography provided the anchor for the second seminar in the series. Dr. Kamilla Elliott (Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing, University of Lancaster), who is currently researching intersections between Gothic and Victorian fiction and the rise of the picture ID, spoke on ‘Gothic Portrait Identification’. This was paired with a paper from Dr. Catherine Constable (Film and Television Studies, University of Warwick), ‘Focusing on the Figural: Inter-relating Philosophy and Film’. Drawing on her research for her recent monograph, Adapting Philosophy: Jean Baudrillard and ‘The Matrix Trilogy’ (Manchester: Manchester University Press, forthcoming June 2009) this paper allowed Dr Constable to share her research preoccupation about inter-related philosophical and filmic texts.

The Christmas seminar, chaired by Dr. Ingrid de Smet (Department of French Studies and Chair of the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance, University of Warwick), concentrated on festive occasions drawn from the court culture of the Renaissance and the exploration of text through visual images created for and in performance. Ronnie Mulryne (Professor Emeritus, University of Warwick) spoke on ‘Art, Image and Power: Entertainments for the Medici Wedding, Florence 1589’. This paper related to research on Renaissance Festivals developed at Warwick and reflected in a range of publications including the two-volume collection Europa Triumphans:Court and Civic Festivals in Early Modern Europe, co-edited by Professor Mulryne with Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly and Margaret Shewring (Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004) and in the project (co-directed with Margaret Shewring) that resulted in the digitising of more than 250 Renaissance festival books in fully searchable format on the British Library website. The second paper for this seminar was given by Dr. Anne Daye (Lecturer in the History of Dance at Laban and at the London Conservatoire for Contemporary Dance and Chairman of the Dolmetch Historical Dance Society), who spoke about her recent doctoral research, ‘Animating the masque: the antimasque and masque of Oberon (Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones, 1611)’.

An emphasis on the historiography of performance and, in particular, its relationship to art history, was the focus of the fourth seminar with its concentration on text and visual image in cartoon and caricature. James Davis (Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Warwick), spoke about ‘Tubs of Butter as Platonic Ideas: Verbal and Visual Representations of English Comic Performance 1780-1830’ and M. A. Katritzky (Barbara Wilkes Research Fellow in Theatre Studies at the Open University) spoke on representations of folly which implicate the viewer as one of the group of fools in a paper with the intriguing title ‘Why the “family of the we be three” are “far more than three”’.

The summer term began with a seminar with two guest speakers, Remo Ceserani (Professor, Università di Bologna) and Florian Mussgnug (University College, London). This seminar, organised by Mariarita Martino (Department of Italian, University of Warwick), was devoted to ‘Visual and Verbal Synergies: the Italian Case’. Dr. Loredana Polezzi (University of Warwick), who acted as respondent, writes: ‘Professor Ceserani spoke about his ongoing work on photography and its interaction with, as well as representation in, literature. One of the specificities of his work is the adoption of a comparative semantics approach and the central section of his paper did in fact explore the metaphorical fields associated with photography in a number of European languages. The second paper concentrated on a specific moment in the history of contemporary Italian culture, examining the connection between minimalist painting and the visual experiments conducted by poets and writers from the 1960s onwards. Focusing on the figure of one writer, Giorgio Manganelli, who was among the protagonists of innovative movements such the Gruppo 63, Mussgnug discussed the way in which his thoughts about the visual impact of verbal texts dovetailed with the work of a number of artistic trends, from Japanese calligraphic art to Delvaux’s surrealism. The two papers and the discussion that followed them centred on ‘the Italian case’, but frequently moved on to a much wider frame of reference. Ceserani, for instance, chose two Italian authors, Vittorio Imbriani and Paolo Maurensig, as his main examples, but he also examined the work of theorists such as Pierce, Barthes, Sontag, Dubois and Schaeffer, or writers like Michel Tournier.’

The final seminar of the year considered sound and soundcape as text and visual image. Richard Crow (Visual/Sound Artist), gave an illustrated seminar on ‘Sound Pooling’ while Dr. Tim White (School of Theatre, Performance and Cultural Policy Studies, University of Warwick), focused on ‘The Noise of Partch’ developing his research into the music of Harry Partch in performance. A seventh seminar, planned for early February, with speakers Adrian Heathfield (Professor of Performance Studies at Roehampton University) and Dr.Edward Scheer (School of Theatre, Performance and Cultural Policy Studies, University of Warwick), on the aesthetics of duration, had to be cancelled due to heavy snow.

Overall, the series offered a diversity of approach as well as access to the most recent interdisciplinary scholarly research. The currency of the seminar series is further illustrated by its relationship to two other occasions arranged and funded by the HRC, the 17th Donald Charlton Lecture by Professor Bruce Altshuler, and the lecture by this year’s HRC Visiting Fellow, Mr. Iain Mackintosh. Both were concerned with ‘text and visual image’ in the context of exhibitions, and with the role of the curator in shaping the viewers’ understanding of the past in a contemporary cultural context.


Margaret Shewring, School of Theatre, Performance and Cultural Policy Studies

HRC Seminar Series Organizer, ‘Text and Visual Image’, 2008-9.