Millican Dalton: A Sublime Midlife Crisis
The relevance of a 20th century cave-dweller to environmental aesthetics.
Wednesday, 23 December 2020
At the mouth of the cave at Borrowdale, May 2020. Photograph: Lewis Eaton.
On a swelteringly hot day in the North Western Fells of The Lake District, the gaping mouth of a cave offered itself as a refuge and swallowed us mercifully into its cool damp interior. Caves are otherworldly places. This particular cave, set into the hillside of Castle Crag, allows you to peer out at the gently swaying trees and glimmering daylight of the outside world from a viewing point void of light and sound. The daytrip itself had been to seek refuge in The Lakes; an attempt at replacing the stagnancy of a locked-down city summer with a more welcome, less claustrophobic, kind of tranquillity. We spent a few minutes scrambling around on the siltstone, marvelling at the height of the cave walls and exchanging the obligatory comments about feeling small in big spaces. On leaving, I noticed a large, flat stone covered in scrawlings. At the centre in neat, deeply-etched letters read ‘Don’t Waste Words, Jump to Conclusions’ with dozens of smaller sections of writing surrounding this. Each gave names and dates, with many faded with age and dissolving back into the stone’s surface. It was from a frantic Googling during the car ride home that I came to find out we had happened across a sort-of pilgrimage place for hikers: the cave in which a man had lived out his summers for over forty consecutive years.
In 1904, at the age of thirty-six, Millican Dalton gave up his life as an insurance clerk in London in order to dedicate himself to The Great Outdoors. Having spent part of his childhood in Nenthead, the North Pennines, he found life and work in the capital stifling in comparison. From then on Dalton split his year, spending the summer months in the cave under Castle Crag and winters in a canvas hut in Buckinghamshire. Far from your conventional hermit, Dalton was an active and sociable member of the community. He organised camping excursions for the outdoors novice which included teaching hiking, rock climbing, rafting and how to forage for food. What I found extraordinary for the time was that these excursions didn’t exclude women, with one of Dalton’s advertisements for a mountaineering course stating his views bluntly: “Ladies are welcome to the camp. There is nothing new in ladies camping, the custom being at least 10,000 years old.” This rare indiscriminate approach led to Dalton forging a long-lasting friendship with geologist Mabel Barker, who over the years consistently recommended Dalton’s courses to women students and friends.
Dalton and Barker atop a needle, 1913. The Mable Barker Collection.
Courtauldian of the Month
"Having a personal affinity towards working with local topographies... I was drawn even more towards participating in this project and witnessing what formal and eidetic exchanges might emerge in the process of piecing together various local narratives."
Our April Courtauldian of the Month is MA student Mihaela Man. Mihaela talks about the instrumental role historical and cultural research plays in her artistic practice and her involvement in the compelling exhibition series Looking to Introduce Something Uncomfortable, curated by Georgia Țidorescu.
What is your background before coming to study at The Courtauld?
I am an MA student enrolled in Robin Schuldenfrei’s Special Option—Experiencing Modernism: Utopia, Politics, and Times of Turmoil—having completed my BA in Fine Art at The Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University in 2020. Over recent years, I have been swinging between making art and writing—having published texts and text-based works in visual culture journals and on online platforms (Industry Magazine in Oxford, Dissolved in Romania, and The Courtauldian) and exhibited in contemporary art spaces and research centres, such as Modern Art Oxford, The Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, and Indecis Artist Run Space.
Please can you tell me about the project you have recently been involved in.
I was involved in a four-exhibition project titled Looking to Introduce Something Uncomfortable developed by Cărăușu&Sângeorzean Gallery in partnership with Indecis Artist-Run Space, Borderline Art Space, Muzeul de Artă Cluj-Napoca, and /SAC Bucharest. This project, spanning the following months, is curated by Georgia Țidorescu. In curating the exhibitions, she sought to foreground emerging voices in Romanian art whose practices entwine research with art-making across four cities: Timișoara, Cluj-Napoca, Iași, and Bucharest. Georgia, together with gallerists Andreea Cărăușu and Diana Sângeorzean, reached me, presumably having seen glimpses of works, works-in-progress, and non-works I occasionally post online. We had a call—I showed them images of my pieces, they explained to me the exhibition concept, we all got along really well, and this is how our collaboration began.
Why particularly are you drawn to the work of curator Georgia Tidorescu?
Well, I believe what drew me to this curatorial initiative—a collaboration between Georgia, C&S Gallery, and the attendant art spaces in Romania—was its intention to materialise as a multiple-exhibition project. I was moved by how Georgia leveraged the opportunity to work as a curator not merely to put together one group exhibition but to set up a platform across multiple cities and showcase a dozen artistic voices. I was also very curious to witness this mesh of young creative voices emerging. To see what points of connection arise, despite the artists involved living and creating across different cities in and outside Romania. An essential theme of Looking to Introduce Something Uncomfortable is the importance of local contexts— how minor behaviours, directions, and forms of collective imagination pertaining to present local contexts may shape more extensive phenomena, such as the development of culture, ideas around collectivity, or the meaning of intergenerational exchange. Having a personal affinity towards working with local topographies and the phenomena mentioned before, I was drawn even more towards participating in this project and witnessing what formal and eidetic exchanges might emerge in the process of piecing together various local narratives.
Please can you elaborate on the exhibition you have worked on, Handle With Care?
Handle With Care is the first show in the four-exhibition series Looking To Introduce Something Uncomfortable. In Georgia’s words, the exhibition ‘is based on a continuous questioning of how people perceive the clarifications of their drawbacks’—how this personal, reflexive act of looking back could inform an optimistic (or less optimistic) understanding of our individual and collective futures. In this regard, Handle With Care featured five artists—Roberta Curcă, Alexandru Daniel Florea, Daria Langa, Mihai Popescu, and myself—whose multimedia works speculated on an understanding of the future using a variety of techniques and practices derived from architecture, anthropology, and design.
I would love to know more about the piece you submitted for this exhibition. Please can you explain its origins?
I showed a large-scale digital print titled Future Perfect Continuous. The work speculates on the fate of an ex-textile store established in the early 20th century in my hometown Mediaș in Romania. Transformed from then until now into homes, vacant spaces, and local shops, but also into urban myths and fake histories, the building, with its exterior decorations, has become a site that keeps being fragmented and reinterpreted to the present day. Based on this reality, the frames illustrated in Future Perfect Continuous visualise six imagined states of the building at specific points in its future—as a piece of imagination, as a physical site, or as something between the two.
In addition, I feel it’s important to mention that Future Perfect Continuous is a work based on a series of small, architectural hand drawings I made throughout the end of my BA at the Ruskin School of Art in 2020. At that time, the studios and workshops were closed and, aside from a cancelled degree show, no one knew what the future would hold. As a result, the works I was doing then were faint pieces of drawings, text, and videos that could not hold themselves as physical units. Plus, those works, created in a small student room in Oxford, would find themselves awkwardly surveying subjects from other places and times. So, in a way, picking up on a fraction of my past body of work after a few years, zooming in on an image, refining it in Illustrator, going back home to print the resulting drawing, and exhibiting a piece that finally manages to stand on its own felt restorative. I feel that the spatio-temporal inconsistency experienced then has seeped into the form of Future Perfect Continuous— a final artefact made out of several heavily-layered, visual iterations of the same architectural image.
Mihaela Man, Future Perfect Continuous. Digital drawing (57 x 650 cm), 2022.
How much has your background and your experiences influenced your creative and academic work?
There are many ways in which I could answer this question. On the one hand, all the creative works I have made so far have been interrogating the formulation and articulation of collective and personal histories in the absence of historical documentation. These quests took the form of an expanded field study of Mediaș and materialised into physical and digital works that emulate the model and function of the archive. In making these works happen, I would find myself researching and writing much of the time—writing to museums and engineering departments, putting down miscellaneous ideas, keeping diaries, translating interviews, writing captions, etc. In this regard, I would argue that I’m now pursuing a graduate course at The Courtauld partly because of how I’ve been used to making art—with writing and research as my primary tools for making.
On the other hand, being exposed to quite a lot of modern artworks while growing up and to a lot of contemporary art as an undergraduate student has organically made me explore the entangling of the two genres in the recent writing I have done in and outside academia. This is how I would explain my fixations with Ana Lupaș’s earthworks, Pierre Huyghe’s speculative environments, Sigma’s tensegrity structures, Joachim Koester’s photographic essays, Johanna Unzueta’s drawings, Thomas Demand’s sculptures, Analia Saban’s textiles, or Anri Sala’s videos. Albeit working across different geographies and media, all of them create conceptual works of art based on an exquisite sense of materials and materiality, which I also sought to further grasp through my own making of objects.
What are your plans and aspirations after leaving The Courtauld?
I want to continue moving between research and art making, whatever shape that takes in the future.
“Through LGBTQIA+ communities you can create such an ongoing process of regeneration… something that is sustainable."
Our March Courtauldian of the Month is Cas Bradbeer (they/them), 3rd year BA, President of the Courtauld LGBTQIA+ Society and co-curator of the exhibition Crafting Ourselves, which opened at the Ugly Duck in February.
Monthly Segments Editor Madeleine Jordan sits down with Cas to talk about activism, collaboration and why queer craft and ecology are so important.
What do you do and what are you studying at the moment?
I'm in the third year of BA and currently doing a course on printmaking globally. I am writing my dissertation about a contemporary Vietnamese artist, Dinh Thi Nhung, who has been working for the past decade with queer and trans communities in Hanoi and Saigon. She used to work with the transnational Unstraight Museum. Some of the volunteers she worked with felt that their practice felt quite neo-colonial, in that the local contributors’ experiences were extracted and shown around the world under the Unstraight Museum name. Her independent work since then has been more organic, consisting of long-term work with local Vietnamese LGBTQIA+ communities on her ever-changing, ever-growing Queer Museum. That’s my topic of focus; analysing how her different projects have navigated dynamics of authenticity. Trying to investigate: what is autonomous community sourcing?
Indeed, it feels like that is still a question being answered between activists and institutions?
There seems to be an ongoing negotiation of this issue, where activists who classify themselves outside of institutions—and try to activate change within institutions—face questionable corporate responses. Often though, operating from within just ends up meaning the activist is more heavily bound by the institution’s systemic discrimination.
Within that model there’s a pressure to speak for your own marginality...
I’m used to seeing that when there’s inclusion, the aspect being included is often sensationalised and commercialised as a blockbuster exhibition. I like the use of archival material and oral history to establish a diversity of authentic voices, rather than inclusion being approached through sensational generalisations. This is because exhibitions centred on testimonies tend to depart from the centralised curatorial authoritative voice. But then again, the mistake is often made of generalising and reducing people’s complex stories to stock narratives that are easily digestible by audiences.
Tell me about the Courtauld LGBTQIA+ Society and your role.
There are six of us in the committee, Alice Dodds (she/her), Solomon Burge (he/him), Anahita Devesi (they/them), Alex Lenczycki (she/her), Afrah Allsopp (she/her) and I. We all worked collectively on the Crafting Ourselves show.
The Courtauld LGBTQIA+ Society’s Committee at Ugly Duck, 2022.
Image Courtesy of Courtauld LGBTQIA+ Society.
Where did you come up with the idea for the exhibition Crafting Ourselves?
Alice had been working on the topic of craft and suggested we use it as our focus as we didn’t want to just have LGBTQIA+ as the theme. I was keen to do something that was going to generate a lot of interesting interactive pieces within the theme and show. Craft was conducive to allowing people to get creative and giving visitors something to do. I’d worked with the wonderful trans curator and creative project manager of the Ugly Duck, Deen Atger, at an activist art history event last summer. We started talking about putting on a show together at Ugly Duck, and I decided to open the opportunity up to the Courtauld LGBTQIA+ Society’s committee – there’s such rich talent! Deen was kind enough to offer the space for free for three days and we took it from there!
What was your criteria and how many artists did you include in the show?
We showed 15 artists in total and were pleasantly surprised by the number of submissions. The vast majority of artists who submitted work weren’t from the Courtauld but we were very happy to involve them. One of the nice things that we did was not ask where anyone had gone to university, none of those things about previous experience were part of our selection criteria. I think that really helped to diversify the people involved. We let the artists have a play with how their work was installed. We all had one day together in the space to make sure everyone was happy with the presentation. I think that was crucial because we were displaying such diverse mediums which required creative installations.
What kind of audience response were you striving for?
I loved when Rachel House, one of the artists in the show, came to give a ‘Queer Voices’ workshop where people made little cardboard speech bubbles to make our voices visible. Some parents came along and brought their five- or six-year-old kids who joined in too. It didn’t matter that what they were making wasn’t explicitly about queerness, in fact I think one of them wrote ‘Bring back the Dinosaurs’ which I thought was wonderful.
The Queer Voices workshop, 2022. Photographed by Rachael House.
Image Courtesy of Courtauld LGBTQIA+ Society.
Collaborative wall mural entitled ‘Our LGBTQIA+ Ecosystems’, Crafting Ourselves, 2022. Photographed by Cas Bradbeer.
Image Courtesy of Courtauld LGBTQIA+ Society.
Tell me more about how queer ecology developed through craft.
Alice did an incredible job with the interpretation writing. She took bits from the artists’ descriptions that they sent with their submissions, and then impressively elaborated based on her own expertise in queer craft and queer ecologies. Queer ecology was a big theme that came out through our exhibition, not really in response to our proposition, but more just through the artists’ submissions.
The first thing that comes to mind is the interlinked history of queer craft and ecology, thinking of the Arts and Crafts Movement of the Victorian era in the UK and then also thinking about the 70s and 80s with the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. There were a lot of women, especially queer women, here producing art at ecologically focussed communes. They worked on a lot of craft materials like banners.
This history seems to have inspired reimagining queer ecology for the artists...
What I learned from the show was seeing the trans resonance of ecologies and crafting. In the show there was a print series by River Manning called Transflorations, which was a series of lino-cut prints with a trans person’s body with the head removed and replaced by a blooming plant. I thought it was wonderful, and there were other works which resonated with that. There were shoes for a snake made of zebra pattern. It was interesting for me to think about trans people and transition itself: gender transitions, ones from humans to plants and those from one animal to another. It really got me thinking about the relationships between transness in the wider ecosystem and transitions in our human selves.
Installation view of Crafting Ourselves, featuring Transflorations (2021-22) linocut prints by River Manning (he/him). Photographed by Alex Lenczycki.
Image Courtesy of Courtauld LGBTQIA+ Society.
Installation view of Crafting Ourselves, featuring Shoes for a Snake that wants to be a Zebra and Shoes for an Orchid that wants to Bloom from his Wild Beauty series of glazed earthenware (2021) by Alberto Maggini (he/him). Photographed by Alex Lenczycki.
Image Courtesy of Courtauld LGBTQIA+ Society.
What I find so attractive about craft is that you can take something ordinary and embellish it.
It seems the sense of upcycling is intrinsic to the queer community because our collective identity is based upon layers of inheritance...
Through LGBTQIA+ communities you can create such an ongoing process of regeneration. Something that is really sustainable. Something involved in mutual aid and self-help. These things are conducive to both helping queer and trans communities and helping to tackle the ecological crisis.
"The response was so great, and people were so supportive and messaging me about how my account had helped them. This great response motivated me to go ‘all in’ and fully commit to the account, nurturing it as a place of positivity and a way to counteract the negativity of other aspects within social media."
Our February Courtauldian of the Month is Courtauld alumna and business owner Olivia Nevill. Staff writer Esme Kroese chats with Olivia about the stresses of graduating during a pandemic and making a positive impact on social media.
What got you interested in the idea of studying History of Art?
I was already interested in History of Art, possibly due to a background of growing up around art as my father owned a gallery when I was younger. I actually did history as an undergraduate at Durham University, but for me I tended to be pulled towards social history and looking at it through art, so I became more focused on art history aspects in my degree. When my 3rd year came around I did my dissertation on the Russian revolution but from an art historical perspective, where I looked at artists within the period. I also studied the history of architecture during my BA. Due to the fact that I was really interested in History of Art throughout my history degree and my life so far, I decided to further develop and expand my interests by studying for a MA in History of Art at the Courtauld.
Do you have a favourite artwork that you studied during your MA course?
I actually did a Russian art module in my MA course, so I think any paintings by Kazimir Malevich. As I studied History and I am interested in that too, I love how the Black Square, 1915 has so much meaning and shows so many of the issues of the historical period in Russia in the simple composition of this painting.
Over covid-19 lockdowns, you have developed a significant following of nearly 35,000 followers on your Instagram account liv_livin_life__, which helps promote understanding on mental health and diet culture problems in a way that is relatable and not alienating. How did this idea of creating such a positive social media account and online community come about?
I have always been interested in social media and I was actually the social media manager of The Courtauldian while I was at the Courtauld. I started my Instagram as a way of making recipes for my followers and friends during lockdown. But as I reached 800 followers I wanted to make it an even more positive space and environment, so I decided to be more open and post more about my own journey and myself in an attempt to help others and spread positivity. The response was so great, and people were so supportive and messaging me about how my account had helped them. This great response motivated me to go ‘all in’ and fully commit to the account, nurturing it as a place of positivity and a way to counteract the negativity of other aspects within social media.
Following your success on social media, I see that you have set up fitness training plans and started a course as a PT. How has your social media ‘blow up’ affected your opinions on your future in a History of Art Career?
I wasn’t planning for my account to get to the level that it did, but I love it. It definitely changed my plans. In my head, before all of this, I wanted to get into the Christie’s Grad Scheme, but when I didn’t I think it was a blessing in disguise, as I started to really get into my Instagram account over lockdown and it really took off in the summer. I decided to do a PT course alongside my MA as I felt that this would help me educate myself on health and fitness in a way that I could also use the knowledge gained from it to help my followers as well. My parents didn’t really believe I could make a career out of my account, but when I decided to focus on my drive and desire to help people and provide a service for those that have supported me through my account, it motivated me to set up my own coaching business and I love it. I would never have expected it and it wasn’t until I got people to register interest and over 200 people signed up to my training plans that my parents realised I could actually begin to do this as a proper career. I had wavered between having my own business or going down a career in History of Art for a while. I had applied for some art internships recently and I took part in an internship for an art collector over the summer, but I ended up deciding to commit to my business. But never say never. I would love to do art collecting on the side as well as my business.
How do you think the skills from your Social Media account will help you in the future if you decide to go down a History of Art Career path as well as running your own business?
I believe that my presence and understanding of social media will definitely help me, as it developed an eye for aesthetics that I believe will help me in the future if I do decide to go for an art collecting career alongside my business.
What do you think will be the next step for your career?
I plan to continue to build up and develop my business, as I hope to expand it to a larger team and continue to spread positivity through my social media account.
What would be one message you would give as advice to any future graduates who like you graduated during the covid period?
Everything happens for a reason. Being motivated and determined is amazing but don’t get too upset about rejection from jobs and opportunities. There will be a job out there for you if you just keep going and don’t take job or internship rejections too personally. Also, try not to put too much pressure on yourself and don’t feel pressured to reach certain goals by certain times in a ‘ten-year plan’, because the future is not predictable, and you may just set yourself up to have unrealistic expectations. Try to relax and take opportunities when you can, go with the flow and try to turn the negatives into positives.
"Being SU President has meant I've had an extra year to facilitate, witness and enjoy all the happy drunkeness and friendships forging. Seeing everyone thrive in person again is so lovely and definitely brings out my inner mother hen, embarrassingly."
Our Students' Union president, Ruby Bansal, is the subject of the first Courtauldian of the Month interview this year. Read Ruby's thoughts on the Courtauld's development, handling drunken freshers, and feeling the need for 'a bit of a break' from Art History.
What made you decide to apply for the role of SU president and what are your plans after leaving?
During my third year, I was elected as Vice President for Welfare. Attending the weekly and monthly meetings of SU Exec and SU Parliament really anchored me; third year is already so demanding academically, and with teaching completely online being part of the SU helped to counteract that isolation. With the SU becoming so important to me personally, I just really enjoyed working with Nancy (SU President 2020/21) to try and improve the issues facing our cohorts. Running for SU President meant that I might get the opportunity to continue the enjoyment of being invested in the Courtauld! I was also conscious of the rising 'diversity' agenda at the Courtauld and as a BAME student already voluntarily involved in co-founding BAME Soc and the Decolonising Reading and EDI Working Groups, I was so invested in helping to enact this change in a positive, genuine and constructive manner.
At the moment, I'm applying for Masters programmes in Politics and Communications. I know I need a bit of a break from Art History, but I'm not sure I'm ready to give up education or educational institutions altogether.
Did you anticipate still having to deal with so much Covid-related chaos and all the regulations it entails? Has this interfered with anything you had planned in your presidency so far?
It's so hard to predict Covid, things can change within days or weeks. I'm really hoping to avoid any massive disruption to the iconic social events we all look forward to, and I think that the Covid policy the SU has adopted has meant so far (touch wood!) we've avoided any mass outbreaks.
The first events I ran as SU President were the graduation drink parties for graduating students in July 2021. The events were, in some way, to make up for what we missed with no in-person graduation. Although having the events outside in small groups was logistically more challenging than I had anticipated, we managed to bring people together who hadn't seen each other in-person all year, which was really wonderful.
Venues in general are more cautious, especially with events involving so many young folk who have gotten an unfounded rep in the pandemic. Running external events seems to be a lot more expensive than the last time the SU held in-person events, so balancing the same budget with more expensive venues and a growing student body has been a challenge! Going into this year almost blind was a challenge I really didn't see coming (naive of me really) so learning on the job, especially during freshers, has been such a baptism of fire, but I've genuinely really enjoyed it.
How does your time as SU president compare to when you were a student here? Do you view anything differently now?
Being a staff member has provided another perspective on a lot of issues. I work with the people that are often behind the emails students receive, so when problems arise I think I am now less quick to get angry. Instead, I feel more conflicted: I am enraged that there are still miscommunications, but I know that these don't come from an inherently 'bad' place.
I was worried that I would lose my 'get things done' attitude by becoming a cog in the Courtauld machine. If anything, however, my motivation has only been fuelled further. Witnessing how impactful sending slightly passive emails can be, or organising zooms with key staff and students, I feel that the make or break of the Courtauld rests on individual commitment and communication in getting things sorted. Working with and being part of the 'Behind the Scenes' departments at the Courtauld has also reassured one of my greatest worries, that diversification wasn't a sincere commitment. Seeing the development of 'Phase 2' Courtauld renovation plans, working with the Learning Team at the Gallery, I'm coming round to the idea that the Courtauld as an Institution does sometimes have good intentions in becoming more accessible to broader range of communities.
What have been some of your favourite Courtauld activities you have taken part in so far this year?
Freshers was a real highlight; I was so nervous for how the week would go, if BA1s would enjoy themselves, if the events were 'cool' enough, if everyone was safe. At the end of that week, after 10 events mostly in-person, I was completely knackered but also just so joyful. I can't overstate how lucky I feel to be part of these social occasions – the last year and a half of my degree was pretty miserable, isolating and demoralising as it was for everyone who went through online learning for so long. Being SU President has meant I've had an extra year to facilitate, witness and enjoy all the happy drunkeness and friendships forging. Seeing everyone thrive in person again is so lovely and definitely brings out my inner mother hen, embarrassingly.
It feels like The Courtauld is at a bit of a turning point at the moment. Not just physically, in terms of the recent reopening on the Courtauld gallery and the merger with Kings, but also culturally in terms of the introduction of the Decolonise Art History reading groups and the hiring of new academics who specialise in critical race theory. What are your thoughts regarding this and being an integral part of the Courtauld’s functioning at such an interesting time?
The new partnership with Kings is really interesting. Having worked directly with the KCLSU President Zahra, we both committed to remaining completely autonomous. The Courtauld SU will always represent the views and values of our community but I am so excited by the variety of opportunities the relationship with KCL might mean for us. As someone who didn't always see their interests or identities reflected obviously at the Courtauld, I think KCL will hopefully offer this fulfilment.
As I mentioned, I have no doubt that the Courtauld is committed to changing – they know it’s in their interest because that’s where our subject is moving, with or without the Institution. If the Courtauld wants to remain a lynchpin in Art History, they know they have to get on board, and they have, at least from what I've seen. That doesn't mean they are perfect and sometimes I wish they'd engage more proactively with the murkiness of the Institute's past, and this is something I've been highlighting when I've been involved in committee and panels. If only change happened quicker and more drastically, but I try and combine my frustration with understanding and perseverance.
SARA QUATTROCCHI FEBLES
“I can say that I finally feel ready for the next challenge.”
After a year of dedication, creativity, and hard work, Sara is about to step down from her role as editor in chief of The Courtauldian. We personally would like to thank Sara for all she’s done, for leading us and motivating us, and for producing some of The Courtauldian’s best issues that there have been. Lissie Mackintosh sits down with Sara before she hands over her role in October, to ask about her favourite parts of the job, her advice for next year's editors, and her future plans.
What has been your favourite part of your role as Editor?
Definitely getting to know different people. From members of the team to people that have reached out, and to students that wanted to get involved. I think many people don’t realize that The Courtauldian is a platform made available for Courtauld students to display their work and express their thoughts, which is why, out of all of these interactions, the best ones were the emails in which people expressed their interest in writing or creating art for the newspaper.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in The Courtauldian over the past year?
I guess the most obvious one is the website. It went through a huge update (thanks to our Deputy Editor, Isobelle White) which I think has helped it become more user-friendly. Another change that I especially enjoy is the addition of regular segments such as this one (Humans of The Courtauld) and the Artwork of the Month.
Tell me a bit about your journey to the Courtauld.
Well, what can I say? If I have to be honest, it is thanks to my mom’s extensive research that I’m here. She was the one that went through the lists and lists of universities and would talk to me about these on a daily basis during my senior year of high school. I was so unclear and unsure about what I wanted to do. Funnily enough, I was debating if I should study economics in Milan or art history in London. Obviously, I chose the latter in the end and I can say that I definitely don't regret the choice.
How do you feel about recent updates regarding next year’s plan?
I’m glad seminars and small classes will be live because personally, I think those are what make The Courtauld The Courtauld. I think the updates are what I expected and they haven’t really affected my plans for next year. I know I’m going back to London anyways because I definitely can’t stay here in Taipei with my parents as my visa expires in October. I’m just hoping that my third year can be somewhat normal.
If you could give one message to future editors of the Courtauldian, what would it be?
Ask for help when you need it. Definitely. There were so many times when I felt like I had to do everything myself, especially in the first term. In fact, because of this, I was quite stressed and anxious for most of the term. Editors, you have to remember that you have a team of 20 people to work with and that you can and should ask them for help.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Wow, 10 years. That means I’ll be 30. I can’t really say that I see myself anywhere, more than anything I imagine myself in different places. Some days I tell myself I would like to settle in La Palma, my home in the Canary Islands, and set up one of those small bed & breakfasts near the coast. Other days I tell myself I would like to live right in the center of bustling Madrid, maybe in Malasaña or Lavapiés. And other days I imagine myself as one of those digital nomads, moving around Asia, maybe living in China for a bit and then exploring the southeast. Honestly, it varies, especially now when things are so uncertain and all one can do is dream.
What’s your favourite thing about the Courtauld?
This might sound cheesy but being part of The Courtauldian this past year, hands down. While it has been such a huge source of my stress, it has taught me so much in so many different ways. The positives definitely outweigh the negatives and I can say that I finally feel ready for the next challenge, once I finish my time in October.
“I've loved seeing the student body come together over the past year."
Charlotte Osborne has been our incredible Student Union President this year, dedicated to listening to our requests, worries and putting on some great student events-- the pub quizzes definitely being a highlight. She’s about to step down from her intense term as president, but not before revealing her favourite spot in London, her love of The Courtauld café’s snack selection, and her thoughts on the year ahead.
What has been your role as SU president this year?
My role this year has been quite different to previous years! I've represented the students during some tumultuous times, with two UCU strikes and a global pandemic. I've really enjoyed my term though, especially creating a programme of wellbeing events and piloting the student-alumni mentoring scheme! I need a lie down.
What did you do before you took on the role?
I studied BA History of Art at The Courtauld.
What’s next for you?
COVID-19 has put a bit of a spanner in the works in terms of my plans, so for the next few months I'll probably be eating chocolate in bed under the guise of applying for jobs.
What’s been your favourite part of the president role?
My favourite part has been seeing the student body come together! The students have had a difficult year, so it was great to see such solidarity when they were demanding back their fees and when we were campaigning for the No Detriment Policy.
How do you think the Courtauld are handling things considering current circumstances?
These past few months have been very difficult for students and staff, but I think everyone has worked hard to navigate this situation as best as they can (diplomatic enough?). It was good to see The Courtauld adopt the Students' Union's suggestions about structural racism, fee reimbursement, and COVID-19 mitigation.
Where’s your favourite place in London?
I wish I could give you a cooler answer, but it's definitely 'Gosh! Comics' in Soho.
Gosh! Comics, Soho (Photo: somethingdifferent.london)
What’s your favourite thing about The Courtauld?
I've been away for so long I've almost forgotten (but I can't stop thinking about the snack selection in the cafe...).
“I am truly very excited to build a team for next year and produce an engaging, entertaining and educational publication that can be accessed by all members of the Courtauld community”
The Courtauldian is thrilled to announce that First Year Courtauld student Zeynep Koksal is about to take on the exciting new role as editor of the Courtauldian for the 2020/21 academic year. We get to know Zeynep, as Lissie Mackintosh sits down with her and finds out about her plans for the newspaper, her love for Turkey and its cultural history, and what she’s been up to during lockdown.
How did you feel when you found out you had become the new editor of The Courtauldian?
I was very honoured and pleased that I had been given the opportunity to lead the creation of one of the most inspiring aspects of the Courtauld. I have been interested in journalism for years now and gaining this editorial experience will inspire me to improve myself in this area. I am truly very excited to build a team for next year and produce an engaging, entertaining and educational publication that can be accessed by all members of the Courtauld community. I do have to admit though that I also felt some distress, as I know how big the role is and how much of a responsibility it is. Therefore, I am currently preparing and training myself to build a strong sense of organisation and leadership in order to run things smoothly next year.
What do you plan to do with the role?
To be honest, I am very happy with The Courtauldian’s current place: students are motivated to contribute with very creative ideas, the illustrations and graphics are incredible and the content is well rounded. However, I believe that the publication is lacking the contributions of other members of the community such as staff or graduate students. My aim is to simply raise more awareness for The Courtauldian. I want it to become a shared platform where both staff and students can come together to express their opinions, achievements and writings.
What are you studying at the Courtauld and what inspired you to study this?
I’m doing a BA in History of Art and I’ve just finished my first year. Although I have not had the opportunity to scrutinise in a single artistic area, as a Turkish student myself, I have always been interested in Non-Western Art, so going forward, I would like to explore this more. I grew up in an artistically and historically rich country with monuments from the Roman Empire, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire. I was always concerned with how little I knew about these monuments and their history. Because of this, my greatest ambition has been to learn more about my surroundings in Istanbul. The rich ornamentation and bright colours of all decorative Ottoman objects still remain an unknown field for me, which is what I would like to explore more at the Courtauld.
How have you found the quarantine lockdown?
Quarantine lockdown has been a roller-coaster journey for me: I started off very unaware of the situation, thinking that it would only last two weeks. After two weeks, I went through a period of disappointment and difficulty in finding any motivation to get out of my bed and do something productive. At the end of my first month, I finally came to the realisation that this period of staying at home is the best time to find new hobbies, read, learn more and be productive. So I started an online course, working out and painting. I arrived in Istanbul on March 12, before the strict quarantine rules. After spending a couple weeks in the city, the government announced that they would be closing off the city borders within Turkey to prevent people from travelling within the country. After this news, my family and I immediately went to the south of Turkey where we have a small family house in the middle of a forest. I have been very lucky to be able to spend a month out in nature where I can go for walks, do some gardening and just stay outdoors. As much as I have been enjoying the last month or so, I am looking forward to being able to socialise again.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
As an international student myself, 10 years from now seems very difficult to predict. My dream would be to have completed a graduate degree and to have found a job in London related to art (maybe at a museum, gallery, auction house,...). Difficulties arise when trying to predict 10 years from now as I am also considering completing a PhD with the hope of following an academic career. Regardless, after gaining enough experience, I hope to return back to Istanbul where I can start my own business focusing on introducing the hidden assets of Turkey to its citizens.
What have you done since leaving the Courtauld?
My favourite thing about the Courtauld has to be the incredibly rich resources it has. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to benefit from the Courtauld Gallery and the Somerset House archive.
“It all started when I searched for art history jokes online.’ I could do better than that’, I humbly said to myself, and the rest is history...”
Honorary Courtauld student, Mark Stocker, did his PhD in the 80’s, and went on to do great things, the greatest arguably being his writings of ‘200+ Art History Jokes’. He talks about his plans Post-Covid, his career in the Art World, and his previous involvements in the case of Anthony Blunt!
When did you attend the Courtauld and what did you study?
I was supervised at the Courtauld when it was still in Portman Square between 1981 and 1985 with a break of a year when I had a temporary lectureship in New Zealand. My PhD was on the sculptor Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, favourite of Queen Victoria, a great portraitist in his time and a man I know I would have liked immensely.
My supervisor was the late, great Ben Read, who was then Deputy Witt Librarian. I was a main editor of the huge book posthumously dedicated to him, Sculpting Art History (2018), hope there’s a copy in the Courtauld Library! But if you look for me in the Institute records, you won’t find my name, not a sausage. Let me explain: I got a three-year PhD studentship from the University of Hull, and in those more carefree days, you could be supervised outside your institution. Ben agreed to take me on, which he did gratis, and over that period we met for supervisions, seeing me through to completion just before I took off early in 1986 – permanently, as it turned out – for New Zealand. My visits to the Courtauld proceeded like this: after I’d see Ben, I’d go upstairs to the Conway and Philip Ward-Jackson, who remains a close friend, would ask me ‘What have you been talking about with Ben?’ So I ended up with two Courtauld supervisors. As smart as any of the faculty, I reckon!
Have you been back to the Courtauld since you graduated?
Quite a few times till maybe about ten years ago. My job at Te Papa (the national Museum of New Zealand), which I left last year, meant that I necessarily had more restricted time – but now I’m a free agent and once things improve, as they must, post Coronavirus, I plan to spend summers in Britain and do more research in my country of origin. I’ve never given a lecture or paper there, I have in plenty of other places. Never too late!
You wrote a document called 200 + Art History Jokes. Can you tell us more about it and where the ideas came from?
Essentially my head. It all started when I searched for art history jokes online. There were a couple but they were feeble. I could do better than that, I humbly said to myself, and the rest is history.
When looking for where the humour comes from, I think I owe quite a lot to the acerbic humour of the Guardian ‘Comment is free’ blog. A recent rather brutal one (though it was in the Indy) that I liked was about a worried Tory who asked ‘Suppose Dominic Raab caught the Coronavirus? Who would be running the country?’ ‘Stay cool, he won’t, it doesn’t normally jump species!’
What’s your favourite joke that you wrote?
I’m fed up with some of them but a popular and fairly obvious one is this:
What did the art historian say when he was told he’d won the Lotto?
‘Terrific! Is it an Annunciation?’
What have you done since leaving the Courtauld?
I’ve been an academic – for 29 years all up in the paid workforce. And then, when the writing was sadly on the wall for the subject at my Uni, I got a job as the historical art curator at New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa, where I worked until 2019.
I’ve published fairly prolifically on a wide range of themes, mostly sculpture and numismatics, but some printmaking too, 18th to 20th centuries, though I’ve just done a piece on Hollar’s butterflies and bugs for Print Quarterly. Last publication count was 225, excluding shorter book and exhibition reviews. Ten books, including four edited books between 2014 and 2018. At Te Papa I had a hand in curating four or five exhibitions, mostly comparative tiddlers, they didn’t use me enough. My latest publication is on Burne-Jones’s 1871 Italy sketchbook in the April Burlington Magazine. My current research project is for a book on the 1971 UK decimal coinage, which has been commissioned by the Royal Mint. Just been editing New Zealand’s best-known artist Dick Frizzell’s forthcoming book, Me, According to the History of Art – great title isn’t it?
You started at the Courtauld just after Anthony Blunt’s tenure in office had ended, what was that like?
I was never an insider, as I say. My first time or two I felt a bit nervous about entering its portals – there was a formidable receptionist in those days. But we were chatting perfectly amicably before too long. My main reasons for going there were to use the Conway resources and to meet with Philip and Ben on matters related to my research. I got a unique education that way. The Courtauld lecturer I knew best was the late John House. He was a fanatical Spurs fan (Ben was a passionate Arsenal fan, recipe there for aggro!) and so I told him how I was amused by some graffiti I had seen which read ‘Hoddle is God’. John replied ‘What’s so funny about that?’ He was touched by the faith, you see!
Let me tell you my Anthony Blunt story. When he was outed by Margaret Thatcher and stripped of his knighthood 40 years ago, I wrote a letter that was published in The Guardian. At the time I was doing my MA at UEA. I said the knighthood stripping was petty and mean, that we shouldn’t forget the good work he did as an art historian, and though I didn’t say so at the time, I was appalled at how his homosexuality was used against him. We’re used to it now but the popular media were appalling, so righteous, so cruel. I pleaded ‘let him enjoy a graceful old age’. Then Bernard Levin quoted my letter in his column in The Times and called it ‘exculpatory twaddle’. A lot has happened since then – Blunt emerges rather nastily in Miranda Carter’s biography, chilly, manipulative – look what he did to Anita Brookner. Thinking about it, the man was bloody arrogant to betray Britain in the 1930s and beyond: a flawed - yes – but fragile democracy in a world of horrible dictators, with his beloved USSR as evil as any. But oh no, Anthony knew better than his fellow British what was best for them. Hmm… At the end of the day, I wrote what I did at the time, and don’t regret it. Blunt remains a great art historian even if I am far more of a Kenneth Clark fan!
To read some more of Mark's jokes, follow us on Instagram at @thecourtauldian.
"As for the unwarranted attention from middle-aged men on Twitter-- that’s a little less glam."
Nancy Collinge. Student Union President Candidate, Pub Enthusiast and University Challenge Maestro. Nancy’s ready to graduate, but not first without sharing her thoughts on the glamour of the Holiday Inn Express, the current uni situation and throwing food out of the Duchy House windows- Lissie Mackintosh finds out more.
What are you planning on doing after you graduate?
If things go to plan, I’ll be doing Chosborne’s job and I’ll be reigning SU President/Despot. I’ve loved my time at the Courtauld as a student and believe that I could enact some positive change regarding health, well-being, and inclusivity if I were elected. In the next few years, I’m really keen to do a master's in either creative writing or film studies; I’m just taking some time to figure out what I want to do and where I want to do it.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a fresher?
I’ve got three if that’s okay. Don’t shit where you eat (can I say that?). Text your parents every day. And don’t chuck food out of the Duchy House kitchen windows.
Rate your 3rd year out of 10?
Probably had the most fun of my life and got really well acquainted with the pub with my friends but Miss Rona’s really thrown a sizeable spanner in the works, hasn’t she? It’s a 7/10 for me.
Do you think uni is handling things well?
I think there’s always improvements to be made in regard to the communication students receive on all issues, and I think there could be more to be done in terms of well-being outreach. This is a really stressful time for all students, particularly those doing one-year courses and my friends in third year. I’m not sure we feel 100% supported by our institution. Maybe instead of us having to update our tutors on our whereabouts, they could just ask? Would that be so difficult? I do appreciate this is an unprecedented situation but it kind of does just feel we’ve been pushed out on a ledge and forced to fend for ourselves a bit, right?
Nancy on University Challenge, 2019-20 (Photo: Tumblr)
What was it like being on University Challenge?
Completely hilarious. There’s nothing like turning up to the ITV green room hungover from drinking all the alcohol available in the local Cafe Rouge the night before and then being faced with a group of 20 different Oxbridge students testing each other on the names and locations of the Baltic States. I made some good friends from other universities as well as the Courtauld and spent a few very chic nights in the Holiday Inn Express so I can’t complain. As for the unwarranted attention from middle-aged men on Twitter-- that’s a little less glam.
What’s your favourite thing about the Courtauld?
Its proximity to the pub.
"The people here are definitely my favourite part”
At only 20 years old, Sieun Lee has co-founded a curatorial collective, moved abroad from her family, and has mastered the art of the lazy Sunday- arguably the most impressive. Lissie Mackintosh sits down with Sieun and finds out more.
How have you found your experience as an international student at the Courtauld?
I think as an international student you really get to experience the British culture being around so many people from the UK. While I have my fellow international student friends, there isn’t as much of a separation between us and the UK students here, which is great to really get the most out of being in London.
What is your biggest achievement to date?
My biggest achievement at the moment is probably starting Now Curation and having put together five exhibitions. It is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in terms of time management, stress management, and working together with other people. It is also definitely the biggest self-initiated challenge I’ve ever done.
That sounds so exciting and impressive. Why did you start Now Curation?
Co-founder Thea and I started Now Curation because we wanted to make the most out of being in London. We saw there were many artist-curated group shows and small exhibitions put together by students, so as two students who had the time and were interested in curation, we didn’t really see why we couldn’t just put an exhibition on ourselves. Also, we were both new to living in London so we thought it would be a proactive way to meet artists and other students that share the same interests.
Poster of NowCuration's most recent show (Courtesy of @nowcuration)
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I have a hard time imagining where I will be in 3 months, so all I can hope for in 10 years is that I am happy and not regretting my choices 10 years ago.
What does your ideal Sunday look like?
My ideal Sunday would be waking up late, napping in the day and then sleeping really early! I just want to sleep the whole day!
Something we ask everyone- what is your favourite thing about the Courtauld?
The people here are my favourite part of being at the Courtauld. The students and professors are definitely the best part of the Courtauld!
"I've seen the Courtauld evolve and change in an incredible way."
Everyone’s favourite receptionist and possibly the most comforting face on campus, Lissie Mackintosh sits down with the woman without whom (let’s face it) the Courtauld would be in bits.
When did you join the Courtauld?
Ages ago, too long. I can hardly remember. I came quite shortly after I left art college, which has meant I’ve seen the Courtauld change for the better. I’ve really seen the Courtauld evolve and change in an incredible way, and the Research Forum, in particular, is such an amazing department. In my opinion, it’s helped make the Courtauld ‘cool’.
Being here so long, you must have seen so many people- staff and students, come and go. How has this felt?
It’s a strange one with the students because it’s a relatively small institution, so I get to know them well and many of them are still my friends today. When you build a relationship and then people move on, yeah, it is definitely sad and I miss people. At the same time, it’s so exciting constantly meeting new batches of students and see the student body become more diverse.
Having seen so many new students come in, what’s one piece of advice you would give a Courtauld fresher?
It’s really quite simple, perhaps it sounds too simple: be in the moment and enjoy it. Relish every second and make friends.
Do you prefer Vernon Square or Somerset House?
You can’t compare the architecture of the two, so no problem there. But for me, it feels conducive here and it has been really interesting to be in a building that solely focuses on the faculty and the students. It’s a very sociable building and it really is fantastic. The building is also so connected in terms of the map of London, it’s amazing.
What’s the funniest delivery you’ve ever signed for?
I wish I had an interesting response for this, but luckily, there hasn’t been anything too weird… Touch wood!
What’s your favourite thing about the Courtauld?
The level and depth of expertise we have in this building. It makes me proud to be here. We have some names here, for sure.
Meet Frankie Jenner, a second-year with funk, humor and one of the most down to earth personalities you’ll meet. Energetic and effortlessly cool, Frankie shares her thoughts on the art world and lets us into her 10-year plan (Spoiler: It includes salt beef sandwiches).
Why did you choose to study at the Courtauld?
It was a very last-minute decision of mine to even study history of art. Of course, there was its reputation. But ultimately, the Courtauld seemed mysterious and ‘exclusive’ and this excited me. Looking back, I think this is one of the things I dislike most about it now. It really is its own little bubble, often impenetrable by the outside world.
Do you ever feel pressured to go into a career in the arts?
The Courtauld prepares you for a career in the arts, there is no doubt about it. It often feels as if there is no life outside the art world; the endless emails about Christie's events and reputable gallery internships. Careers and Research Forum talks present it as the only viable option, a one-way road to success and prosperity. I think the pressure comes more from me wanting to break out of this systematic pattern that many seem to follow.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Having found the world’s best salt beef sandwich.
Do you have a secret escape in London?
121 Fenchurch Street (not the Sky Garden). A roof terrace in the midst of this concrete jungle, nestled between the skyscrapers. It offers a cradle of calm- high enough off the ground for the sounds below to fizzle out, but still close enough to the surrounding buildings to form a web of comfort.
The view from the Roof Terrace at 121 Fenchurch Street (Photo by Frankie Jenner)
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Coming to the Courtauld from a less privileged background, compared to a lot of its students, has been challenging in many ways. I was told to never be ashamed of where I come from and to never be ashamed of my life experiences compared to others. My roots are what make me and without them, I wouldn’t be me.
What’s been the happiest moment in your life so far?
I used to play football and went on a sports tour to America. I scored the winning goal against the Bronx in New York. I’ve never felt so cool.
Meet Carole Nataf, the Courtauld’s very own 'Plein-Air' painter who is making waves in the art world, presenting her work in various galleries in London and generally killing it as a budding art historian.
Tell me about your artistic story.
I never really went to art school; one day I just started drawing and I never stopped. My cousin taught me how to use oil paints when I was 12, which was great fun. I hesitated over whether to study art as an academic practice, so I went to a summer course at Parsons, but I didn’t like having a professor tell me how to design things. I started working in tech, but I never stopped painting. It was only when people started asking me how they could access my art that I started exhibiting with different groups and selling my work online. I love painting portraits, landscapes, and still-life. I love to paint from life, so you can often see me wandering around London with an easel strapped to my front!
(Image courtesy of @carole.nataf.art)
Who’s inspired you along the way?
It sounds cliché, but I’ve always felt inspired by the Impressionists. I like the textures and how they focussed on creating paintings based on what they see.
Why did you decide to study at the Courtauld? What has it done for your journey, artistically and personally?
Well, for years working in tech I felt very frustrated that I wasn’t honouring my love for art. Joining the Courtauld helped me develop the skills I would need to work in a museum, and it developed my love for research and the history of art. I love being able to use my artistic background to understand further how paintings were made, in terms of technique especially.
What’s your favourite thing about the Courtauld?
The quality of the knowledge here. Everyone you meet here is passionate about something, anything. We’re all interested in different areas of art, and it means that the discussions with students here are incredible. When we all start talking to each other, we can learn so much because of the breadth of knowledge floating around.
(Image courtesy of @carole.nataf.art)
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?
Make, make, make. Create as much as you can. It’s the best way to learn. Sometimes you’ll only have half an hour to do it a day, but you have to make the time. And don’t be afraid to show people your work; the most important thing is to get your work out of your mind and share your ideas. Exhibiting my work has helped me focus less on how they look and has freed me from being too obsessed about how people would perceive them. It allowed me to give my works a life of their own.