Monday, 31 August 2015

Mary Duffy (b. 1961): Art and Disability

As a volunteer for the Queer Project at Leeds Art Gallery, I worked on different artists and had to write short biographies to give to the group's participants. The main focus of the group was about queer visual culture, more info here, among the different subjects we talked about I was fascinated by disability studies and the differences between the medical and social model of disability. On one side, the medical model is defined  on what someone can or cannot do. On the other side, the social model is a form of liberation and sees disability as a social construction and was first developed by disabled people. 
For this session I worked on the Irish artist, Mary Duffy, who has no arms and is actively engaged in disability art.

"I paint with my eyes and my heart" Mary Duffy 

Self Portrait by Mary Duffy (2008) (credits: Mary Duffy

Mary Duffy was born in 1961 in Tullamore in County Offaly, Ireland. She went to art school then to university before qualifying as a teacher. She also studied for a Master's degree in Equalities Studies and received an honorary doctorate of Laws by the National University of Ireland in recognition of her work for disability art. 

Mary Duffy Artist by Paul Sherwood

As well as teaching jobs in schools and art colleges, she has worked as an artists-in-residence in prisons but also an actress, a radio producer, researcher and documentary director for RTE. She is also a poet. She is really engaged with different civil rights movements and has created an equality training project for the E.U.

Untitled by Mary Duffy from Stories of a Body series (1990) (credits: Mary Duffy)

Her works as a performance artist revolves around her child memories, as en object used and commented on by doctors. She translated in her work the struggle for disabled people to become independent and a valued member of society. She using different media, paintings and performances. Her first solo exhibition took place at the Bold Gallery, Galway (Ireland).  

A more detailed account of her awards and work here.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Gothic Revival Wallpapers (1800 - 1862)

Here is a quick abstract of an article (which I did not submit in the end!) about my Master's thesis subject, "Gothic Revival Wallpapers (1800 - 1862): History, Creation and Reception". Hope you enjoy this sneak peak!   

     Gothic Revival wallpapers occupy a fascinating place in the history of wallpapers. The Gothic Revival as an architectural movement has spread in England during the 19th century, building churches and houses across the country. These buildings had to be decorated and wallpaper was chosen to decorate the home. Augustus W.N. Pugin attached a lot of values to this medium, his own literature is packed of references to the notion of true in wallpapers and its good or bad use in educating the masses. So how did wallpaper become a national concern in 19th century England regarding moral and education? 
     To answer this question this article would like to emphasize two aspects of wallpapers from the Gothic Revival, the notion of ethics and how to educate the population through wallpapers, but we also would like to keep a critical eye and analyse the success or failure of these aspects. 

Wallpaper by Augustus W.N. Pugin (designer) & John G Crace (supplier) for Lord Gough, Lough Cutra Castle, mid-19th century, V&A, London.   

Wallpapers and Ethics: History, Aesthetic and Philosophy of Life 

     First, it is the ethics of History and its lesson, the Gothic Revival has to be true to the Gothic roots by emphasizing research on medieval building and ornaments. The idea is to reject the Georgian Gothic by creating a national historic style: the Gothic Revival. Wallpapers have to transmit the national history, for example at the Parliament, and family's histories, for instance at Abney Hall. 
     The notion of ethics also is defined by strict aesthetic rules against the wrong “modern” iconography. Some theorists tried to promote a certain vision of Gothic design. These new rules were defined by Augustus W.N. Pugin in True Principles (1853) but also promoted by others such as Owen Jones and the Design Reform Movement. 
     Another aspect of this ethics is the philosophical ideal shared by Pugin (a philosophical and religious ideal for Pugin) and William Morris, in changing the society through art. A new society, closer to their medieval ideal, has to rise and wallpapers can help to built this new society by promoting the values of the Gothic Revival in its design. 

Wallpaper by Augustus W.N. Pugin (designer) & John G Crace (supplier) for the Duke of Devonshire, Lismore Castle, mid-19th century, V&A, London.  

Education and Wallpapers: the spread of the Gothic Revival from the homes to the museums? 

     A revolution in taste, thanks to the study of Kenneth Clark, seemed to enter into the homes in England. Gothic Revival theorists understood the power of wallpaper to enter into the homes and change people ideas from within. Educating the public's eye has proven to be the main interest of Gothic Revival theorists, either through their design books, or though their creation. 
     A powerful tool has to be accessible to the masses, under that idea lies the connection between the Gothic Revival and the wallpaper industry. A study of the National Archives in Kew Gardens lead to understand the impact of the Gothic Revival on the industrial production of wallpapers. This styles prove to be popular along with the other Gothic styles. The industry participates in the education but the principles had to adapted to a modern production and consumption. 
     Educating was also the role of the new Decorative Art Museum, the South Kensington Museum, newly opened in 1852 by Henry Cole. Museums along with with art theorists and designers created rules of good and bad design to educate artists and the public, the Chambers of Horrors (1852-1853) was born and emphasized the difference between “modern” and “true” Gothic Revival wallpapers.  
Wallpaper by Owen Jones (designer) and Townsend, Parker & Co (supplier), circa 1852-1874, V&A, London. 

     Gothic Revival wallpapers have tried to change the society by enacted rules and engaged with the public through different angles. This approach has mitigated results, it seems that the ideal behind Gothic Revival has been misunderstood by the public but also by artists and designers, explaining the few interests in the area until recently. 


ARCHER Michael, "Gothic Wall-papers, An Aspect of the Gothic Revival", Apollo, Vol. 78, 1963, p. 109-116. 

CLARK Kenneth, The Gothic Revival: An Essay in the History of Taste, London, J. Murray, 1962. 

PUGIN Augustus W.N., Contrasts, Leicester, Leicester University Press, 1969 (1836). 

PUGIN Augustus W.N., The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture, London, Henry G. Bohn, 1841. 

SAUNDERS Gill, Wallpaper in Interior Decoration, New York, Watson-Guptill Publications, 2002. 

WAINWRIGHT Clive, "A.W.N. Pugin and the Progress of Design applied to Manufacture", in A.W.N. Pugin Master of Gothic Revival, exh. cat., New Haven, Yale University Press / The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in Decorative Arts, 1996, p. 160-175. 

YASUKO Suga, "Designing the Morality of Consumption: "Chamber of Horrors" at the Museum of Ornament, 1852-53", Design Issue, Vol. 20, n°4, 2004, p. 43-56. 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Veiled Venus by Kuehne Beveridge : A Queering Interpretation

For PomoGaze, a festival on Queer culture organised by Leeds Art Gallery, the Community Curator asked me and  another volunteer (a brilliant blogger) to queer some artworks. These Queer Tours aimed to promote queering and to let people express their feelings/visions of an artwork. I chose The Veiled Venus by Kuehne Beveridge and Ella von Wrede (1901).

I have always been interested by this sculpture because it depicts a naked woman trying to unveil herself in an erotic position. In this statement I spot three queer aspects: the importance of the body, the erotism and the self-determination. 

Her body isn't in a comfortable position, Nina Kane from Cast-Off Drama tried to reproduce the position of Venus during one of her performances and told me how difficult it was to hold the position. So, her body is unnatural and torn, for me this position expresses women's place in society, pretty to look at but not natural, like being forced to fit (really commun feeling for queer people). But her body is rebellious, she doesn't stay in the frame, her feet and hair are coming out of the plinth. By unveiling herself, she expands her capacity and her body. What is interesting is how she is expanding, not just by standing for herself but by pulling some sort of veil out of her face.

This action has a really strong sexual connotation. She seems in extase, she seems to have pleasure, either in the submission like in BDSM or by taking advantage of the gaze. This idea is really present in a lot of queer interpretations, with an ode to transgressive sexual pleasure. She enjoys being watched unveiling herself, she is a character of (self) pleasure not a simple representation of a divinity. 

Obviously, someone could argue that it is not a woman depicted but a divinity: Venus. But it seems for me to be a way of misleading the viewer and to stay in the limit of bienséance accepted at the beginning of the 20th century especially for women artists. Playing with the limits of an artistic genre is a really queer thing for me.  

The next point is about the sculptors themselves. First, it is a collaborative work between two woman, but more than that it is about a mother and daughter. Kuehne is Ella's daughter, Ella herself was an artist and lived a bohemian life in Germany after the death of her first husband. Furthermore, the model of the sculpture is supposed to be Kuehne's sister who posed. This collaborative work between women is quite unusual and tends to favour a feminist approach to the artwork. In my mind, The Veiled Venus is a manifesto for women in arts, women have to unveil themselves and reveal who they are, creature of emotions and pleasure. You could argue for a feminist reading of the sculpture. 

Kuehne's other famous sculpture is a group of men called The Vampires in which she denounced how men use women for their pleasure without understanding them. Her artworks received good critics and The Veiled Venus received a medal at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1901, exhibited in the American department.   

There would be more to say about this artwork, and if you want to share your own interpretation please feel free to comment!        

Saturday, 8 August 2015

First Impression: Volunteering at the Anthony Shaw Space CoCA York

An hour ago, I was at York Art Gallery volunteering on the Anthony Shaw space, as part of the new Centre of Ceramic Arts (CoCA), for the first time. Here are my very first impressions. More to follow on some of the artworks presented in this space. 

The project immediately interested me, the aim is to help visitors interacting with the space created by Anthony Shaw at the heart of CoCA. Anthony Shaw is an art collector, mainly ceramics, who lives in London and used to open his home to visitors, so they could enjoy artworks in a domestic setting. The decor is close to Shaw's own house with pink walls, a fireplace and some of his own furniture and books. As explain by York Museums Trust: 

"Shaw places his objects on furniture, between books on shelves, in front of paintings and he invites visitors in to share the experience of living with a         collection".  

What I really like is the "no-label" policy. Visitors, if they want to know the name of the artwork or the artist, have to look into books and none of the artworks have labels and people can enjoy the beauty of the piece without having to "rationalise" it by knowing the artist or the title. In several community groups I attended, people often mention how "scared" they are of labels, and how liberating it is to see them go away. This "liberation" is the key to the success of the Anthony Shaw space, people can feel what it is like to live with artworks. Anthony Shaw says in the video streaming in the room that he doesn't want to create collectors but he wants visitors to get interested in one of the pieces, by its colours or shape, and to look at it, to stare at it, to feel it. Being intrigued is the key to understand the dynamic of the space, at least that's what I think, without label the visitor is left alone with its knowledge and feelings. He/she can read the artworks with his/her own life experience and be intrigued. The beauty of art is to challenge you and that is what CoCA is doing, challenging us with ceramics.  

For my first session, I was nervous of not knowing enough about the artworks but actually it helped me to start conversations with visitors, we were all on the same boat, no one better than the other. I met a few collectors, a lady mentioned her love for the colour blue and anything floral, whereas the other was a ceramic specialist. 

An interesting article written by another volunteer on the project: