Conference Review: Modernist Archives In Context: Periodicals and Performance

Liam Harrison, University of Birmingham

From November 22nd– 23rd 2018 the University of Reading held a conference exploring Modernist Archives, supported by the Samuel Beckett Research Centre. The conference was split into two days – the first exploring periodicals, the second exploring performances – both engaging with how the ‘archival turn’ has enabled new understandings of Modernism as a cultural and historical phenomenon. Here Liam Harrison (University of Birmingham) gives an overview of the conference.

A major theme across the Modernist Archives in Context conference was the relationship between interiority and exteriority. With the spotlight on periodicals and performances – this relationship did not always take the path expected. The expansive range of research covered the complexity of various forms and thespaces in which they function, from the interiority of new theatrete chnologies, to the transnational reach of 20th century periodicals.

The first day focused on periodicals, delving into the minutiae of publishing histories, questioning how the original contexts of publication can disrupt our monolithic portrayals of writers and their works as a singular body.

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Conference Review: Realism(s) of the Avant Garde and Modernism

September 5-7, 2018, University of Münster

Joseph Owen, University of Southampton

Conferences tend more to emotion than intellect. This held true at the 6th International EAM Conference,situated at the University of Münster, where most days I awoke feeling a lot and thinking very little. To manage these three-day events is a skill apparently beyond my disposition, one of naive blundering, untraceable genetics and forlorn alcohol intake. One piece of advice offered: take a session off per day, so to recuperate, to sharpen your faculties. As a thoroughly blunted instrument, I could testify come the end.

According to the EAM mission statement, the conference mainly sought to ‘discuss the different concepts of realism formulated by and against the avant-gardes and the different relations to reality generated in arts and media’. Essentially, how do we square realism—practically and theoretically—with diverse aesthetic modes and philosophies, these which renounce and transform classical and conventional procedures of art? Can classicism incite chaos? Can new avant-garde realisms reorder intellectual and cultural life? Can theories of sovereignty produce decisiveness within indeterminacy, effervescence within conformity? It fel tantagonistic, paradoxical, exciting.

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Symposium Review: Making, Place, and Protest with Decorating Dissidence

Frith Taylor & Jenni Råback, Queen Mary, University of London

Decorating Dissidence is an interdisciplinary platform looking at craft and decorative art practices in their political, conceptual and aesthetic contexts in the modernist longue durée. This symposium featured a range of academics, artists, and creative practitioners examining the political powers of craft. Brilliantly coordinated, the panels were cohesive without being narrow in scope, allowing room for some fascinating conversation. Continue reading “Symposium Review: Making, Place, and Protest with Decorating Dissidence”

The Modernist Review Issue #3

The prominence of conference reviews in this month’s TMR is reflective of both the flurry of recent activity in the discipline but also of the growing importance of student perspectives. While much attention, rightly, was on the Modernist Studies Association’s major gathering in Columbus (reviewed for us here), UK-based symposiums and events remained widely attended and evidenced in their scope the direction suggested by the diversity at MSA: a broadly defined modernism that is transnational and multipolar. We are pleased to publish reviews this month of the Modern Couples exhibition at the Barbican, the Place, and Protest with Decorating Dissidence conference At Queen Mary, University of London, the Modernist Archives in Context conference at Reading, and a candid account of one delegate’s vivid journeys though the International EAM Conference at the University of Münster, which took place in September.

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Review for Modern Couples at the Barbican Art Gallery

Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou, UCL

In 1887, art critic Paul Leroi warned the sculptor Camille Claudel about her mentor, Auguste Rodin. ‘One must beware of being absorbed by his fascinating influence,’ he cautioned in his article for the Parisian magazine, L’Art.i ‘The young artist must be Mademoiselle Claudel exclusively, not just a reflection.’ Leroi’s words, uttered in what was an enthusiastic review of her work, touched on issues that went beyond Rodin’s role as teacher and employer. For in the great sculptor’s atelier the professional had become the personal, the pupil the lover, the model the muse. Rodin’s ‘powerful personality’ had already made an impression on ‘Mademoiselle’ Claudel’s heart and was fast shaping her stylistic sensibilities. Even after a gruelling 12-hour day in the studio, his ‘mastery’ still held sway in private letters and through clandestine liaisons. In light of their relationship – an unequal one except when it came to artistic skill and vision – how was she to be ‘Mademoiselle Claudel exclusively’? How could Claudel avoid becoming Rodin’s ‘reflection’, the lesser moon to his ‘superior’ sun, the dwindling Echo to his self-regarding Narcissus?

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Resistant Writings: Reading the Politics of the Modernist Fragment after 2016

Katharina Donn, University of Augsburg

How can textual cultures escape complicity? This question seems more pressing than ever, as the entanglement of language and politics takes on its 21st century shape. The search for the word that, as Dada poet Hugo Ball put it, is “outside your domain, your stuffiness, this laughable impotence, your stupendous smugness”[1] is, of course, always one that is context-specific. Yet modernist poetics are uncannily relevant again, and not only in work such as Vanessa Place’s “Trumpist Manifesto,”[2] a retake of the avant-garde that leaves the reader suspended in a subversive complicity with Trump’s agenda. “This will be the Biggest Bang,“ she starts echoing Trump’s style superlative style, yet at the very latest when arriving upon the line “no lives matter but mine” does the reader realize that the text tips from a parody taken ad absurdum into the dark heart of this hollow rhetoric. Continue reading “Resistant Writings: Reading the Politics of the Modernist Fragment after 2016”

The Modernist Review Issue #2

A recent blog post for the New Modernisms books series (Bloomsbury) drew attention to a comment made by Gayle Rodgers, who said that in contemporary modernist studies, ‘no one could claim to know even half of the field at this point, much less a plausible totality’. For a review like this one, the idea that no one person can comprehensively trace the full contours of our protean discipline is both sobering and affirming. For while it suggests that there are real limits to the scope of its inclusivity and coverage, it also confirms the importance of publications that allow frequent bursts of visible scholarship to emerge from the desks of researchers, winking into life onto the screen of a phone or computer. This has a dual effect: in giving regular space to the sporadic green shoots of new approaches and methods employed by developing researchers, the obscure, often marginalised and forgotten subjects of their enquiry are also exposed. In this way a review might become a prosthesis for academics to more brightly illuminate the recently unearthed forgotten people, places and things that have hidden in our collective past.

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Depression in the Darkroom: Ben Shahn and photographing 1930s America

William Carroll, University of Birmingham

Inhospitable dustbowls, forlorn families staring blankly from rundown porches, possessions strapped ad-hoc to every available cart, carriage, and horse. These are the common images of the Great Depression, a time of incomparable poverty in America’s history and a watershed moment in shaping the national consciousness. Records of this national tragedy in popular culture are inordinate, from John Steinbeck’s oeuvre to classic Hollywood cinema, but no historic institution better captured the Depression than the Farm Securities Administration and one of its most important and unconventional photographers: Ben Shahn.

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