Who’s Who: Carla Benzan

Who are you and what do you do at the OU? What modules are you involved in?

My name is Carla Benzan and I’m a Lecturer in Art History. I have been a member of the module teams for the MA in Art History (A843/844), Art and its Global Histories (A344), and Exploring Art and Visual Culture (A226). My favourite part of being on the module teams is definitely getting to meet students and share my research during the guest seminars!

What got you interested in Art History?

When I was growing up I wanted to study to become an art therapist after finishing university because it seemed like the perfect way to bring together my passion for art with my desire to make a difference in people’s lives. But when I took my first art history class I never turned back. All of a sudden I could see how the study of art and history together could shift our thinking about the contemporary challenges around us. Since then, teaching art history has allowed me to stay true to my early plans, fostering students’ personal growth and social awareness (as well as my own).

What are your main research areas?

My research is focused on early modern art and visual culture in northern Italy around 1600. I am interested in the so-called ‘realism’ or ‘naturalism’ that is often attributed to the painting and sculpture of this area, and perhaps most famously linked to Caravaggio. I move beyond well-known ‘masters’, however, to examine rare and unique examples where incredibly lifelike images are produced in sacred and scientific contexts from pilgrimage sites and church chapels to gardens and natural history collections.

What is your most significant publication or latest publication?

My most recent publication is an article published in an edited volume Ad Vivum? Visual Materials and the Vocabularies of Life-Likeness in Europe before 1800 (2019). It re-examines the language of animation and lifelikeness in pilgrimage guidebooks to  the Sacro Monte (Holy Mountain) di Varallo during the Catholic Reformation.

I’m particularly fond, though, of my publications on modern art and visual culture. I published an article on a rare series of figurative drawings by the Milanese artist Piero Manzoni from 1959, and their connection to commodity culture and the space race in post-war Italy (2018). A transformative early piece I wrote examined the ethics of interspecies relations in Carolee Schneemann’s work with her cats (2010). These issues are coming back into my work now as I turn to my new project on the early modern representation of bird life in print and featherwork.

For more information about my publications and research interests, please see my OU people profile.

Who’s Who: Samuel Shaw

Who are you and what do you do at the OU? What modules are you involved in?

My name is Samuel Shaw and I’m a Lecturer in History of Art. I’m part of the module team for the MA in Art History (A843 and A844) and the third level module Art and its Global Histories (A344).

What got you interested in Art History?

I was lucky to grow up with art history books in the house and enjoyed frequent trips to museums, so it’s always been part of my life. My initial hopes were to be an artist, but I thought I’d do a degree in art history first, as it combined my interest in art with my interest in history and literature. Although my understanding of what art history is, and can be, has changed a lot over the years, I haven’t really looked back since then. The BA led to an MA and onto a PhD. The idea of not spending large parts of my day looking and thinking about images and objects seems ridiculous.

What are your main research areas?

I began to specialise towards the end of my undergraduate degree, when I first developed an interest in early twentieth-century British art. For a while it was all about the generation which emerged shortly before the First World War: David Bomberg, Mark Gertler, Paul Nash, Wyndham Lewis, etc. Then I started drifting backwards, into the earlier 1900s and the 1890s. I wrote my PhD thesis on the artist, writer and teacher William Rothenstein, who remains central to my research. Rothenstein’s long career and wide range of interests sent me in many directions, and helped me understand the ways in which late Victorian and modernist art worlds, despite surface differences, were in fact closely connected. This period (c.1880-1920) is still central to my research, although I’ve begun to move in other directions also. Between 2013-16, I worked on a project based in the US, on art and the British Empire, during which I began to explore intersections between art and natural history in the long nineteenth century. This led to a book on the cultural representation of zebras, and a wider interest in the ways in which art and visual culture help us to understand our relationship with the so-called ‘natural world’.

What is your most significant publication or latest publication?

The book I’m currently working on (William Rothenstein and the Cosmopolitanism of the British Art World, due 2022) is probably the most significant thing I’ve written. But I must say that I’m very fond of Zebra (Reaktion Books, 2018) which I co-authored with the historian Christopher Plumb. It’s a short book, but it ranges across history and across disciplines. It was a lot of fun to write – and I even convinced the publishers to let me include some of my linocuts in it.

For more information about my publications and research interests, please see my OU people profile.

Who’s Who: Amy Jane Barnes

Who are you and what do you do at the OU? What modules are you involved in/have been involved in?

My name is Amy Jane Barnes and I’m a Staff Tutor in Art History at The Open University. A big part of my role entails supporting and managing the associate lecturers who teach OU students on the Level 1 undergraduate module, ‘Discovering the Arts and Humanities’: an interdisciplinary course that introduces students to the different disciplines taught at The Open University in the Arts and Humanities – art history, history, classics, philosophy, religious studies, music and creative writing.

What got you interested in Art History?

It was quite by accident really. I was accepted onto an undergraduate art history course when I had planned to do either history or English literature. The decision to take that place opened up a world of possibilities, ultimately for the better. I was able to specialise in Asian art and after my undergraduate studies, went on to study a master’s degree and then a PhD in museum studies.  

What are your main research areas?

My research looks at the representation of cultures and communities in museums and galleries through collections and exhibitions. I also have a particular interest in propaganda art and design from China.  

What is your most significant publication or latest publication?

 My recent publications include Museum Representations of Maoist China (2014, Ashgate/Routledge) and the co-edited volume, A Museum Studies Approach to Heritage (2018, Routledge). 

For more information about my publications and research interests, please see my OU people profile.

Who’s Who: Lindsay Polly Crisp

Who are you and what do you do at the OU? What modules are you involved in/have been involved in?

I’m Lindsay,  a Staff Tutor and Lecturer in art history, which means that alongside my own research and other academic work I help to design and support tuition and assessment, often by working directly with tutors and students. I also worked for about 15 years as a tutor specialising in teaching beginning-level modules in the Arts and Humanities, including AA100: The arts past and present, and A105: Voices, texts and material culture. I have been a module team member of AA100, A105, and A111: Discovering the arts and humanities, and am excited to be contributing to A236, a new Level 2 module in art history.

What are your main research areas?

I’m interested in materiality and mediality in contemporary art – that is, how the materiality of objects enable them to tell a story or to be ‘read’ like a text, and relatedly, how thinking about the material form of various kinds of written texts helps us to reach new understandings of how they work, or what they do in the world.

What Open Arts Objects films have you done? Are they related to your research or a module?

I only recently joined the Art History Department so haven’t yet made an Open Arts Objects film, but if I did, I might focus on fragmentation. Acts or processes of breaking objects – including art objects – have been important in different ways at different moments, and can help us to reflect upon how we usually expect works of art to be treated.

What did you love most about doing an Open Arts Objects film?

Since I haven’t made one, this question gives me an opportunity to praise my colleagues! So what I love most about watching Open Arts Objects films is seeing these objects or ideas brought to life through their eyes, and vicariously benefiting from their expertise.

What is your most significant publication or latest publication?

I am currently editing my first book, which is about the artwork Break Down (2001) in which Michael Landy oversaw the dismantling and granulation of everything he owned in an abandoned department store at 499 Oxford Street, London. Described by the artist as ‘the ultimate consumer choice,’ the work can also be seen as a kind of portrait – a rather unsparing public dissection of Landy’s life as revealed by his stuff, as a son, an artist, and a shopper.  When Landy dismantles his stuff he makes visible the processes by which they were produced, which relates to ideas about globalisation. Modern labour relations, manufacture and supply chains mean that the most familiar and ‘ordinary’ consumer objects – my toaster, hair-dryer and certainly my mobile phone – could easily have been made in another continent. Could this knowledge change the way that we engage with our own stuff?

Fun fact?

I once went to interview Michael Landy at his studio, and in the course of our conversation his dog completely and systematically destroyed her ball! I like to think she was trying to make some kind of point.

For more information about my publications and research interests, please see my OU people profile.

 

Who’s Who: Kim Charnley

Who are you and what do you do at the OU? What modules are you involved in?

I’m Kim Charnley, and I am a Staff Tutor in Art History. This means that I support Associate Lecturers overseeing the day-to-day delivery of modules, alongside my duties which are located within the Art History Department. At present I manage the MA in Art History (A843 and A844) and a level one module (A111). I joined the Open University in October 2019, and I am enjoying it immensely so far!  

What got you interested in Art History?

I first became interested in Art History when I studied painting at art school. I wanted to understand why painting was considered, by some artists and critics, no longer relevant to contemporary experience. As I learned more about this debate, I became increasingly interested in conceptual and post-conceptual art, especially in art works that do not seem to have any basis in traditional artistic skills. Although I continue to enjoy all kinds of art, I study avant-gardes that challenge basic assumptions about what an art work is.

What are your main research areas?

My research focuses on conceptual art, institutional critique and art activism. These socio-political art strategies emerged in the 1960s, but they are still very widespread in contemporary art, especially so since the turn of the millennium. They present interesting questions about the relationship between art and life, and the purpose that art serves in our society, especially its relationship to politics.

What is your most significant publication or latest publication?

In 2017, I edited and provided an introduction for a book of essays by the artist and theorist Gregory Sholette, called Delirium and Resistance: Activist Art and the Crisis of Capitalism. Sholette’s essays provide an interesting perspective on art collectives and other activist strategies and their interaction with social and political change over the last forty years.   

Delirium and Resistance Activist Art and the Crisis of Capitalism

For more information about my publications and research interests, please see my OU people profile.

Who’s Who: Amy Charlesworth

Who are you and what do you do at the OU? What modules are you involved in/have been involved in?

I’m Amy Charlesworth, a lecturer in Art History, modern and contemporary art with a particular interest in photography and moving-image art, feminist politics and feminist art with particular reference to the 1970s-1990s. 

I am chair of A844 (the second part of our MA in Art History) and deputy chair for A843 (the first part of our MA). I wrote ‘Contemporary art: movement, migration and other histories’ for the fourth book, Art after Empire: from Colonialism to Globalisation for A344 Art and Its Global Histories. I have chaired AA318 Art of the Twentieth Century (which no longer runs) and most recently I have written online material on Benin art and culture for our A111: Discovering the Arts and Humanities. 

What got you interested in Art History?

As an art student I found I was better at writing about art and its histories then I was making it! For me, art and culture allows us to look at the world, our current environment, examine how things are, how different histories and cultures have contributed to this, and crucially, explore how things might change. 

What are your main research areas?

My research (publications, public events and teaching) largely comprise of three main elements: feminist politics and art; moving image and politics of visualising migration and mobility; and digital art and its relation to lens-based art.  

What Open Arts Objects films have you done? Are they related to your research or a module?

The OAO film I did on US artist Martha Rosler’s Service: a trilogy on colonialization from the 1970s also speaks to US and Mexico relations and politics through the subject of cooking. In Rosler’s postcard novel (later – and used in my film – complied as a book) the artist takes three different perspectives on cooking: two from Mexicans either working in private households or in fast food industry north of the border, and one on a US housewife trying to improve and expand her Mexican culinary skills. 

What did you love most about doing an Open Arts Objects film?

The challenge of extracting key information about a single work of art for a short talk to camera. It is always important to think about how one communicates and teaches and so this was a central element to the filming process and the information that needed to be conveyed. I also enjoyed working with the camera person and getting an insight in to how the process of filming and presenting works (the wonders of editing!).

What is your most significant publication or latest publication? How does it relate to the films?

My most high profile piece of published research thus far is on the filmmaker Chantal Akerman and some of her work she made for a gallery in the US on migration at the US-Mexico border in the early 1990s, for the journal The Oxford Art Journal. I also wrote about this work for my teaching material on A344 Art and its Global Histories

I also acted as consultant and co-producer on They Call Us Maids: A Domestic Workers’ Story. This animation short, which was scripted and animated by Leeds Animation Workshop in close collaboration with national campaign group The Voice of Domestic Workers, was made over a two-year period. It seeks to agitate and educate a wider public about the violent realities of women of colour working in private households throughout the UK as cleaners and nannies and the UK government policy decision in 2012 to change their visa status demoting their status as workers and rendering many ‘illegal’.

With the founder of The Voice of Domestic Workers, activist and domestic worker, Marissa Begonia, I co-wrote a chapter of the experience of making this film for Feminist Art Activisms and Artivisms, ed. Katy Deepwell (2020).

In 2016, They Call Us Maids was shortlisted for the AHRC Research in the Arts – Innovation Award. It has won many awards over the years, including Best Short Screenplay at the Philippine International Film Festival, Los Angeles (2016) and The Best Film on Modern Slavery in the UK (2018).

For more information about my publications and research interests, please see my OU people profile.

Who’s Who: Susie West

Who are you and what do you do at the OU? What modules are you involved in/have been involved in?

I am Susie West and I am Senior Lecturer in Art History and Heritage. I have contributed to our current modules A111, A226, A843 and A844; in the past, I have worked on Understanding Global Heritage (AD281), Voices, Texts and Material Culture (A105), and its predecessor A151, and Heritage, Whose Heritage? (A181). 

What got you interested in Art History?

It wasn’t what I expected to do, as I was passionate about archaeology and that was my undergraduate degree. However, I was also influenced by my dad’s interest in historic architecture (he really liked the eighteenth-century architecture of Robert Adam) and I realised that I could study surviving buildings as part of my course, not just ruins underground. Historic buildings specialists use lots of methods shared with archaeologists as well as art historians, it turns out. 

What are your main research areas?

I research British architectural history, particularly 1600-1800 and the English country house; my heritage studies interests mean that I also think about how we look after historic buildings and their landscapes today. 

What Open Arts Objects films have you done? Are they related to your research or a module?

So far I have made two Open Arts Objects films, the first is about St Michael’s Church, at Walton Hall. It is a church that has changed its function, to become part of the OU campus, and it relates to my current research as part of an AHRC project on how communities use historic religious buildings (Empowering Through Design, lead by my Design Group colleagues); I have also written about medieval churches for A226, ‘Exploring art and visual culture’. The second film looks at the historic gardens of Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, which I have researched as part of my work on the De Grey family and their houses at Wrest Park (they rebuilt their medieval house); I have also written about the gardens for A226. My Critical Terms film, Commemoration (see below), with Leah Clark, discusses how ideas about commemoration can be found within art history and heritage studies. 

What did you love most about doing an Open Arts Objects film?

I really like getting outside to be surrounded by the historic building or landscape that I am thinking about, I find it so refreshing to see the play of light on a surface and hear the sounds of particular places. 

What is your most significant publication or latest publication? How does it relate to the films?

I’m going to choose something not very obvious, which is an article about a lost country house, one I can’t visit although if I had a time machine I would love to be able to assess my suggestions for how it looked. I could also meet its owner, and probable designer, the author Lady Mary Wroth, and I would ask her to show me her library. I used archives and methods more usually used by archaeologists and economic historians to reconstruct Lady Mary’s material environment. 

West, Susie (2016). Finding Wroth’s Loughton Hall. Sidney Journal, 34(1) pp. 15–32.  

For more information about my publications and research interests, please see my OU people profile.