Saturday 24 May 2014

The Decoration on August's Wire Drawing Bench

The wire drawing bench in Écouen is the only remaining object of its type. Although many plain wooden goldsmith's benches can be found in museum collections, this one from 1565 is unique. Just as modern scientific instruments are functional and lack a certain mystery, these plain workaday benches are nothing like the Elector of Saxony's wire drawing bench. They have been employed as indispensable goldsmith tools since the middle ages. An engraving by Etienne Delaune demonstrates how the bench was used; the long wooden beam was equipped with a crank, pliers and pulling iron, and used for drawing and profiling metal wires.

Art markets and social bankruptcy: We didn't start the fire...

It's often about timing; sometimes dates, events, circumstances, planetary alignments* combine to make an extraordinary moment in time. From the local elections, the evacuation of people from Birkbeck School of Arts, or a period of artistic bankruptcy; all these came together for the final talk at Birkbeck Arts Week 2014. Professor Dr Harald Falckenberg came to speak to a number of us about international contemporary art trends, specifically viewed from Germany.**

Whether the lecture we got was what he precisely intended is another matter. Ten minutes in and the persistent fire alarm roused even the most stubborn academic, and we decided that the place should be evacuated. It was a beautiful evening for an outdoor lecture. Thus a previously formal academic group stood around the gardens of Gordon Square and heard one of the most scurrilous confidential insights into the murky amoral world of the art market.

Thursday 22 May 2014

Enter the Dragon and the Birds

© The Trustees of the British Museum
Perhaps I’m getting sensitive to the geography of art, or I’ve always fancied exotic places at lunch, but today I went to China. Room 91 at the British Museum affords visitors the opportunity to go on a voyage along the Yangzi River. There is nothing standard sized about the real or depicted landscapes. The scrolled horizontal ones are like a slow journey along the canal; the vertical banners offer a glimpse of a lush garden through an open window.

I want to focus on one image. It shows figures on a mountainous pathway, their voluminous clothing buffeted by the unexpected animation of a dragon to the top right. The artist is witness to the miracle from behind a rocky, wild outcrop which he puts in the foreground. The heavily shaded and emphasised tumbling rocks and foliage emphasise the reality of the locale, where the lightly sketched figures seem ephemeral in comparison. The dragon just is; scaly, snaky and hanging in the sky, surrounded by shading to make it stand out.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

From Stigmata to Golf: Praying through the ages

This was an interesting start to Birkbeck Arts Week. Given the MA Catholic reformation module, I thought it would be a on topic diversion. As the blurb said, 'in our secular world, prayer has become unfamiliar, and past cultures where prayer was more central are harder to understand. Dr Isabel Davis (Birkbeck), Revd Dr Jessica Martin and Dr Nicola Bown (Birkbeck) discuss representations of prayer in literature and art in the Middle Ages, the seventeenth century and the Victorian period. Technique of prayer; what it is and what it is like'.

Dr Isabel Davis and her band of pilgrims set out from the late Middle Ages. For the church going population kneeling was a natural, obvious, submissive posture. And yet, where did this invented and culturally specific idea come from?

Saturday 17 May 2014

Kunstgeographie: A brief guide for the perplexed

What is Kunstgeographie?

Literally translated, kunstgegraphie means the geography of art. Whereas the history of art looks at art in its historical and time-related context, the geography of art looks specifically at place. DaCosta Kaufmann sets it out clearly, 'if art has a history, it also at least implicitly had, and has, a geography; for if the history of art conceives of art as being made in a particular time, it also put it in a place'. (Towards a Geography of Art, p1)

Therefore when looking at art, you should think about geographic issues, in addition to everything else. Ask yourself what are the antecedents to a change in style? What are the particular environmental factors, societal, economic, personal, psychological, climate, materials that have encouraged this change? And why should the place of art not be as important as the history of that same art; after all, both have informed it equally, in my view.

Sie sind hier, oder ... : A Dissertation Update

'Germania florescens' 1586
It's about time I did a dissertation update, even if to just place myself on the map; probably right in the middle of 'there be dragons'.  As part of the dissertation process we have to tell our fellow students where we are and what we've been up to so this partly arises out of that presentation.

As an aside I've been blown away by the sheer spread of topics that our little group have chosen, and given that this process is being replicated all over the country by History of Art students, the prospect of intellectual endeavour is dizzying. For instance, we have the relationship of Joshua Reynolds and Admiral Keppel, Holography, 'objects as ruins in the work of the British moderns', Imogen Cunningham and modernism in flowers, the Berwick Church murals and, finally, an exploration of temporality in a Niagra Falls inspired installation. And that is just a handful of the ideas flying around.

Thursday 8 May 2014

The BMA Library: Mission Anything is Possible

Last July I went on a visit to the RCS Library and so when an opportunity came up to visit another high profile medical library, I was quite excited. CLSIG organised a trip to meet Jacky Berry at the British Medical Association for an overview of the services they offer to their 152,000 members.

The library is unmissible. As you go through the swish main reception area and security gates, arrows and a sign LIBRARY points you upward. As you head up the flight of stairs, you are met with a model of bright modernity, with low wooden shelving, open work spaces and plenty of natural light. A successful team of 13 offer a suite of services to their members, and they see themselves as 'a working doctors library' providing access to a diverse book collection - from clinical to business management. They provide journal alerts, full text doc delivery, electronic services, training to all, and they have a high profile within the BMA.  Last year they had 19328 visitors!

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Book Review: Social Media in the Legal Sector

Although I write about a variety of subjects, some of my recent posts are responding to pockets of social media illiteracy and are mostly aimed at those in the legal world.

Long before getting to grips with content, a new or prospective user needs to acquaint themselves with the technology and the appropriate platform. They need to be confident in their social media abilities, and comfortable that they are not going to destroy a hard won professional legal reputation by a misplaced tweet or a badly written blog post. Social media for business is a commitment of time and money so you need to know whether it is for you.

But if you’re not internet savvy, how do you take that first step? If I need to find out about a new product or unfamiliar social media network, I would search for a quality blog about it, read relevant trade press reviews, or ask my twitter or librarian network. This requires you to be able to identify trustworthy online sources. If you are unsure, then an expensive book published by a reputable legal publisher might be the answer for many lawyers.

Thursday 1 May 2014

Twenty Years as a Law Librarian - Admin

Remember these?
This is the fourth in this series of Twenty Years in Law Librarianship. Given it has been generated by general high level themes of my Chartership Report, such as technology, communications, and professional bodies, I decided it was time for something more prosaic

The reality is that librarianship entails a lot of admin, and although it's boring and unglamorous it is vital to the smooth running of the library service. Whether you are just starting out or reaching the vigorous middle age of your career, admin is everywhere, so it seems appropriate to salute its ubiquity.