Creative Historiographies

PhD Seminar
Date/Time: Wednesday, 9th March, 5pm-7pm
Venue: Senate House, 1 Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU (Room 264)

Invited Guest
 (30 minutes + discussion)
Dr. Kei Miller
Royal Holloway
If the abstract notion of space is only transformed into the more concrete specificity of place when we attach meaning to it, similarly the abstract notion of the past is only transformed into history by wilful acts of creation. The past, I would argue, is an abstract space that has been plundered and contested by historians as well as creative writers in their production of history. In this paper I want to emphasise this point – not that writers exploit history, but that they are implicitly involved in the production of that history.

In Historical Fiction and Fictional History (1993), Evelyn O’Callaghan points to the ways in which historiography has always used tools traditionally associated with the creative writer – characters, narrative arcs, and a plot that makes less of some events and more of others. The ways in which all written history is, to some extent, fictionalized, is a ‘problem’ well acknowledged within the discipline of history whose practitioners often put a high value on objectivity. In this presentation, with specific reference to my latest creative project, a forthcoming historical novel Augustown (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2016; Knopf 2017), I want to consider some of the more tools I have used (extreme bias and subjectivity; magic realism) that might seem traditional in the world of the novel but radical within the discipline of history; I want to ask if such tools might also contribute to and even clarify our understanding of the past and help in the production of a more accurate history.

Kei Miller is a writer and academic. He writes across a range of genres — poetry, long and short fiction, and non-fiction. In 2014 Kei won the Bocas Prize for Non-fiction for his essay collection Writing Down the Vision and then the Forward Prize for Poetry for his collection, The Cartographer Tries To Map A Way To Zion. His forthcoming novel is Augustown.

Student Presenters
 (15 minutes each + discussion)

Clair Le Couteur 
(Royal College of Art, Sculpture)
Lines of Best Fit: Fictive Museums and Creative Historiography

All museums must negotiate the relationship between words and objects, between the complexities of the world and their representation in spatial narrative. But what of fictive museums, hybrid works which transgress the boundaries between museum, fictions, art installations and hoaxes? This talk will introduce three fictive museums, Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, John Affey’s never-built Transnational Whaling Museum, and David and Diana Wilson’s Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. What is the relationship between word and object in these unstable constructions? And what can we learn about how they negotiate between the familiar narrative arc of historical time, and the multiple dimensions of speculative history? A collection of things, and its lines of best fit.

> Clair Le Couteur (*1982) is a researcher, artist and composer currently undertaking a practice-based PhD in sculpture – “Mislabelling and the Fictive Museum” – at the Royal College of Art in London. Combining writing, making, and performance, Clair’s work focuses on destabilising conceptual binaries, operating in the grey areas between fact and fiction, research and creation. Recent projects include co-editing Why Would I Lie? (2015) a publication accompanying the inaugural RCA Research Biennial, Put You Through (2015) an installation for London Pride with the Switchboard charity, an essay on gender and species in selkie folktales for Gender Forum #55, and the song-cycle Transportation Blues (2016) at the Horse Hospital gallery.

Liz Bahs (Royal Holloway, Poetry)
Glimpsing Truth, Constructing History

My poetry sequence ‘The Calling’ is a polyphonic exploration of a Hebridean myth, inspired by mermaid sightings in Scotland and elsewhere in the world as recently as this past decade. Through its multiple speakers, the poems explore themes of personal history, collective mythology and fiction, with its origins in the questioning of witness statements found in both folklore and scientific record.

The basis of my PhD research stems from a close reading of three polyphonic poetry sequences which also investigate similar themes. Here I argue that the polyphonic poetry sequence is the ideal medium for constructing a narrative of historical events, both real and probable, as the multiplicity of voices invested in the form inspires poet and readers to ask questions about how we want history to be told. Music historian James Anderson Winn suggests in his text Unsuspected Eloquence (1981), that the individual parts in polyphonic music are each considered ‘parallel versions of the same truth’, individual vocals within a bigger vocal texture. The poetry sequence is also capable of engaging polyphony to a similar effect, creating a unified whole out of disparate parts to show conflicting viewpoints and multiple versions of truth.

Liz Bahs is in the final year of a practice-based PhD at Royal Holloway, a project focusing on voice and dramatic conversation in poetry sequence. Her poetry and flash fiction investigates different angles of looking, using vocal texture and refrain. Liz’s themes range from corsets to making jam, from London buses to lost relatives, plane crashes to a cow stampede in her native Florida. Her poetry has been widely published in a variety of magazines and journals including Iota, Magma, Mslexia, The North, The Rialto and SAND (Berlin). It has placed in the Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2011, Wasafiri New Writing Prize 2013, Magma Judge’s Prize 2014, Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition 2015 and The Fool for Poetry Chapbook Competition 2015. She is an Associate Lecturer for The Open University and she writes poetry reviews for Frogmore Press and blogs at:

Viv Graveson (Royal Holloway, Fiction)
It is a feature of traumatic experience that, because of the impossibility of its being processed or assimilated, it cannot be articulated. This is so at the personal level as well as for communities. Abraham and Torok’s theory of Transgenerational Haunting holds that the experience of a ghost or ‘phantom’ comes about as a result of the ‘gaps’ that are passed down from parent to child – i.e. by those events that have not been assimilated and not been spoken of, because they cannot be. By examining developments of this theory, as well as the work of theorists such as Shoshona Felman, Dori Laub, Gabriel Schwabb and others, my paper examines the tension between language and trauma and explores how, by incorporating the presence of a ghost, writers have found a way, not only to articulate the otherwise inarticulable, but to pose a challenge to ‘history’ in the process.

> Viv Graveson is a former teacher of English and Philosophy of Religion. She has MAs in Psychoanalytic Psychology from the Tavistock Institute as well as in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway.  She is currently working on a practice-based PhD in Creative Writing, also at Royal Holloway, in which her central area of interest is the role of the ghost in literature. Her research explores theories of haunting across various disciplines, including psychoanalysis, environmental geography, sociology and philosophy, as well as examining the way haunted literature can expose the buried secrets of history.


Art & the Public Sphere

PhD Seminar
Date/Time: Wednesday, 20th January, 5pm-7pm
Venue: Senate House, 1 Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU (Room 261)

Invited Guest
 (30 minutes + discussion)
Dr. Mel Jordan 
Royal College of Art

To what extent can public sphere theory contribute to the understanding of art, its function and its publics in the practice of the Freee art collective 2004- 2012?
Freee’s art practice (2004 – 2012) has been concerned with the notion of the public sphere. My research proposes that the use of public sphere theory -the philosophy of participatory and deliberative democracy in general – could aid a more complex analysis of art and it’s onlookers.  Public sphere theory theorized by Williams (Williams: 1958), Habermas (Habermas: [1962] 1989), Mouffe (Mouffe: 1999), Fraser (Fraser: 1990) – suggests ways in which dialogic understanding and the resolution of differences may aid engagement by a range of publics, including those normally marginalized or excluded from the public sphere. This presentation will introduce the theory of art and the public sphere and discuss how my art practice was used as a methodology for addressing the problems outlined in the research.

> Dr Melanie Jordan is an artist and academic; she works collaboratively with Dave Beech and Andy Hewiit as the Freee art collective. Jordan’s research is engaged with problematising the historical understanding of public art by utilising public sphere theory to enable a new understanding of art and its publics. Jordan is principal editor for the journal, Art and the Public Sphere.  

Student Presenters
 (15 minutes each + discussion)
Dawn Woolley (Royal College of Art, Photography)
I am and have a female body. Using psychoanalysis, Marxism and feminist discourse I examine my own experience of being an object of sight. In earlier work my body only ever appeared as a photograph, in my current work I replace my body entirely with the objects it consumes and is inscribed by. Through the consumption of commodities people increase their own value; they become commodities. My research tracks how bodies of consumers and artists are incorporated into the signifying system of commodities. I make artwork that plays with the ideological messages of commodities, in an attempt to bring them to the attention of viewers. To achieve this I present my work in the public realm. I buy commercial advertising spaces and billboards, populating them with artworks that critique the contradictory messages of consumerism. To reach a wider audience and intervene in a commercial space more cloaked and insidious than traditional advertising media, I began making work for social networking sites. This presentation will centre on social networking sites as sign-value exchange networks and potential spaces for disruption where commodities can be inhabited and made to act abnormally.

> Dawn Woolley completed her undergraduate degree in printmaking 2001 and has since developed a visual art practice that encompasses digital video, installation and performance and photography. Recent exhibitions have included; “”Basically. Forever” Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and “Recollection” Ruimte Morguen Gallery, Antwerp (2014). Solo exhibitions include; “Visual Pleasure”, Hippolyte Photography Gallery, Helsinki, Finland (2013); “Visual Pleasure”, Vilniaus Fotografijos Galerija, Lithuania (2012) and “Visual Pleasure” at Ffotogallery in Cardiff (2011). She is currently undertaking PhD research in photography at the Royal College of Art. The broad aim of the research is to articulate a form of fetishism, which is not based on sexual difference but historicised as a capitalist pathology. She explores the relationship between people and objects, and the impact of images as disseminators of sign value. 

James O’Leary
 (University of Brighton, Architecture)
In this presentation I shall discuss my research, which aims to establish new modes of architectural representation and proposition conducive to working in politically contested architectural sites. Focusing on the ‘Interface Areas’ that separate Nationalist and Protestant communities in Belfast, I undertake a practical and theoretical investigation into the architect’s role in the transformation of blighted urban areas that have been neglected through the course of political conflict. I propose to innovate tools and tactics appropriate for architectural intervention into these areas in two specific ways. Firstly, by developing new modes of site analysis that employ 3D scanning, video recording and time-based media to draw-out and communicate the complexities and tensions in a given site. Secondly, by mobilising the ‘architectural device’ as a propositional spatial and technological tool capable of probing the limits of architectural possibility on such sites, where more permanent structures would prove divisive.

> James O’Leary is a RIBA qualified architect and installation artist. His work explores the inter-relationship between human beings and the spatial systems we inhabit. As a practitioner and academic operating between the disciplines of art and architecture, his specific interests include narrative, interactive and reflexive systems in architecture; performative and site-specific practice in contemporary fine art; and the codification and documentation systems deployed in these fields. He has held previous positions in architecture practices including Hopkins, MasaStudio, SoftRoom, Theis & Khan and in academia at the Royal College of Art and Chelsea College of Art & Design. He is currently a Lecturer in Innovative Technology and Design Realisation at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, where he leads the M.Arch Architecture Design Realisation Programme. He is co-founder of, and collaborator with, Kreider + O’Leary (

Hattie Coppard
 (Royal Holloway, Geography)
To stop and simply observe the world forces an alteration of established ways of seeing and reveals what is difficult to grasp when going along with the flow – the complex, multi-layered, fullness of ‘now’. Thrift (2004) argues that ‘practices of slowness’ such as those associated with creativity and contemplation, provide a way of experiencing the world directly as it is rather than as it is assumed to be, challenging the rationalist and progress-orientated assumptions of modern capitalism. Skilful observation requires simultaneous detachment and engagement, artists talk of evoking a state of ‘un-knowing’, a space of open-minded investigation in which thought and experience merge and where no answers or conclusions are being sought (Fisher, 2013). This is a mode of enquiry that places affect and subjective experience at the heart of the research process, enabling sense and meaning to emerge through an embodied and imaginative response of the observer. Following a (very) brief discussion of different ‘ways of knowing’, I will invite the group to participate in a simple activity that turns everyday expectations on their head and enables a way of experiencing the world afresh.

> Hattie Coppard is founder and director of snug & outdoor, an artist-led company who design original playful environments in the public realm. For more than 25 years she has explored the relationship of object, environment and behaviour through exhibitions, public art, urban design schemes and experimental play projects. Frustration with conventional evaluation methods and the ways in which lived experience is equated with measureable outcomes led Hattie first to an MA and now a PhD in play and play work. Raising questions about the relationship of an artist’s practice and academic research, she explores ways of seeing and making meaning and the relationship of play and place-making.

Light – Landscape – Place – Weather – Climate

Practice-based PhD Seminar
Date/Time: Wednesday, 18th November, 5pm-7pm
Venue: Senate House, 1 Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU (Room 261)
The Southern Ocean Studies (climate data, real-time digital animation)

Invited Guest
 (30 mins + discussion)
Professor Tom Corby
Data Landscapes

Professor Tom Corby’s research is broadly concerned with exploring relationships between natural environments, digital data and social phenomena; this includes the production and exhibition of artworks and installations, and peer-reviewed publications. He often works collaboratively with scientists and technologists, with recent projects involving Tracemedia, the British Antarctic Survey and the BBC looking at climate change and geographies of conflict respectively. His artwork (in collaboration with Gavin Baily and Jonathan Mackenzie) has been exhibited at numerous festivals, galleries and museums including at the Institute of Contemporary Arts; Victoria and Albert Museum; Tate Online; Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography; Transmediale; ISEA; Ars Electronica; the Madrid Art Fair, and the Intercommunication Centre Tokyo (ICC) amongst many others. Tom is currently Professor of Visual and Interdisciplinary Art at the University of Westminster and Director of the CREAM Doctoral Programme and deputy Director of CREAM.

For this seminar, Professor Corby will speak about a number of linked projects, exploring them as connected research processes.

Student Presenters (15 minutes each + discussion)

Elizabeth Bennett
‘As I walked out one May morning’ [1]
In this performance lecture I will aim to present elements of the embodied processes I experienced whilst walking the Sussex South Downs Way and singing associated folk songs, over the course of the first week of May 2015. The paper will be non-linear, aiming to capture the tenors of the journey, rather than the itinerary. This performance is a creative working-through of aspects from my current theoretical research. A sequence of photographic images will illuminate the facets of knowledge that combine within me as I recite these songs; female forbears who have fertilised my voice from the grave, the living repertoire of family members, childhood memories of calypsos and Scottish tunes around the table, singing rounds on long car trips, the handwriting of singers I grew to love in the archives, the collectors I haunted, my insatiable desire for the biographies of past custodians, the intonations and insights of the traditional singers who accompanied me, and the shifting, sensuous curves of the South Downs that have cradled my vision. The selection of material flowing through the fifteen minutes aims to be illustrative of the wider body of strains I experienced, to be able to capture memories as fluid: ‘The past flits by, like an image on a screen … to see and rediscover the past not as a series of events, but as a series of scenes, inventions, emotions, images, and stories’ (Denzin 2006: p. 334) [2]

[1] This is the first line in two traditional folk songs that have become part of the Sussex repertoire ‘Searching For Lambs’ and ‘Seventeen Come Sunday’.
[2] Denzin, N.K (2006) ‘Pedagogy, Performance, and Autoethnography’, Text and Performance Quarterly, 26:4, 333-338.

>Elizabeth Bennett is an AHRC funded Doctoral student at Royal Holloway University of London in the Drama and Theatre Department. Her thesis ‘Performing Sussex Folksongs: The Role of The Archive and the Repertoire’ examines and explores the constituent parts that contribute to the performance of folk songs in a specific locality. Areas of study include the processes and practices of the landscape practices, the affective qualities of the archive, embodiment and oral repertoires, the use of vernacular songs in site-specific theatre, autoethnographic writing modes and the complexities of perspective, and the preservation and curation of memory in relation to intangible cultural heritage.

Uschi Klein
‘The importance of light – photography and visuality of young people on the autism spectrum’
The increasing ubiquity of digital technologies is changing the landscape of contemporary visual culture. Photographs are created, recreated and shared widely and repeatedly; they navigate through our worlds, record the eventful and the mundane, influence conversations and inspire our imaginations. Drawing on initial findings from my ethnographic study on the photographic practices of young people on the autism spectrum, this paper discusses how two autistic individuals approach photography to capture the ways they see the world. Engagements with both participants suggest they embody and embrace visuality and place with their sensory modalities, which are caused by different sensory perceptual processing in autism (Bogdashina 2013).  Consequently, while offering new insights into how photography mediates their perceptions of their visual world, this paper will further discuss the contributions photography makes to their everyday lives.

>Uschi Klein is a PhD candidate at the College of Arts and Humanities, University of Brighton. She studied Linguistics and Media Studies at undergraduate level, and Photography at postgraduate level. Her research interests encompass the relationship between photography, visual culture, representation, identity and visual research methods. Her current research is a participatory, image-based study that explores the everyday photographic practices of young people on the autism spectrum. 

Michelle Naka Pierce and Chris Pusateri

Creative Critical Writing Lecture
Date/Time: Wednesday, 28th October, 5pm-7pm
Venue: Senate House, 1 Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU (Room 261)


Michelle Naka Pierce
Brain/Body Praxis: An Embodied Poetics


This experiential talk explores the liminal, the transitional space that occupies both sides of a boundary or threshold, while building an embodied vocabulary that inhabits critical/creative investigations. Working with somatic inquiries, we attend to the present moment and invite brain/body praxis. Using threads from Continuous Frieze Bordering Red, (which documents the migratory patterns of an Other while interrogating Rothko’s red: his bricked-in, water-damaged windows [floating borders], reflecting unstable cultural borders to the mixed-race identity), we think through peripatetic ways of writing and knowing. See:

Born in Japan, Michelle Naka Pierce is the author of nine titles, including Continuous Frieze Bordering Red (Fordham UP, 2012), awarded the Poets Out Loud Editor’s Prize, and She, A Blueprint (BlazeVOX, 2011), with art by Sue Hammond West. She is the editor of Something on Paper, the online poetics/multimedia journal. Pierce has collaborated with artists, dancers, and filmmakers. Her work has been translated into Japanese, Spanish, Hebrew, and French. She teaches avant-garde poetry, pedagogy, and cross-genre writing and has served as dean of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and director of the Writing Center. Pierce is professor of Creative Writing and Poetics at Naropa University.

Chris Pusateri
The Poetics of Surveillance: Meditations on Privacy, Critique, and the Ethics of Eavesdropping


This presentation examines the act of writing in an era of state-sponsored surveillance.  It centers on a recent poetic project, The Liberties, which examines how surveillance apparatus restricts the terms of citizenship, the right to privacy, and opportunities for artistic expression.  Due in part to the July 2005 bombings of the London transport system, transit hubs now count among the most heavily surveilled public environments in the UK. As part of my field research for The Liberties, I made site visits to all 270 stations served by the London Underground and documented the reactions of commuters, transport police and LUL employees to this system of hypervigilance. This presentation will also interrogate the political, social, and ethical aspects of writing itself, using the work of writers and thinkers such as Sophie Calle, Mark Poster, and Michel Foucault to challenge traditional distinctions between the creative and critical functions of texts.

Chris Pusateri is the author of ten books and pamphlets of poetry, most recently Common Time (Steerage Press, 2012), which was shortlisted for the Colorado Book Award, and Semblance (Dusie Kollektiv, 2013). His poetry and critical prose appears widely in literary periodicals, and he serves as a senior editor of the multimedia journal Something on Paper. A librarian by profession, he has lectured on poetry and poetics at a number of institutions, including The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Naropa University, University of New Mexico, and the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. He currently lives in London.

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‘Cutting an Object into Slices’ highlights different modes of critical writing, emphasising the creativity inherent in our materialisation of thought. Topics vary as esteemed guests from across the disciplines offer a unique contribution to the series. Future lectures include:

The series is organised by Dr. Kristen Kreider and made possible through funding from the Departments of Drama, English, Media Arts and Music at Royal Holloway as well as the AHRC TECHNE Consortium.

Glass, Dust, Air

N.B. This theme further suggests methodologies around seeing/drawing (glass), history, archive and writing (dust), and voice and audio (air).

Practice-based PhD Seminar
: Wednesday, 7th October, 5pm-7pm
Venue: Senate House, 1 Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU (Room 264)
Invited Guest (30 mins)
Dr. Emma Cheatle

In this presentation I will outline a new method of writing about the history of architecture, art or place. It is a method where the research oscillates between, firstly, the archive and available historiography, and, secondly, through the experience of the building or artwork itself. The latter part of the method relies on getting close to a building, regarding it as a character, or set of resonant objects, imagining it; it demands getting close to its past, in order to establish historical and social events that may have happened there. My approach, called ‘part-architecture’, is inspired by ideas from Freud on the unconscious, Lacan on the part-object and Benjamin on history. It utilises the feminist philosophy and art theory of Irigaray, Krauss and Kivland. The resultant writings are creative critical ‘histories’ that incorporate theory, creative writing, drawing and audio works, to understand the history of architecture as a social and creative inhabitation of space.

Here, I will specifically describe my doctoral research which gave new historical accounts of the Maison de Verre (Pierre Chareau, 1928–32) and the Large Glass (Marcel Duchamp, 1915–23). Using the themes glass, dust and air, which emerged from early research, I will firstly show how these were used to unearth new content – ideas, poetics and relationships – between the two works. I will secondly outline the way the themes further structured methodologies around seeing/drawing (glass), history, archive and writing (dust), and voice and audio (air).

I will conclude with a brief overview of a new research project ‘“The dark and airless room”: architecture and the rise of gynaecology, 1750–1880’ which uses similar approaches to look at John Dobson’s 1826 Lying-in hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to establish links between architectural space and the development of the practices of gynaecology.

Student Presentations (15 mins. each)
  • Alison Gibb (Royal Holloway, Poetic Practice) will present ‘from Part 2. Language As Material As, Concept:  Marcel Duchamp, Artist, Poet and the Green Box, Even. ( a work in progress)’
  • Sally Dean (Royal Holloway, Drama) will present on ‘Somatic Movement & Costume’
All followed by discussion.

Dr. Emma Cheatle is Post-doctoral Fellow at Newcastle University Humanities Research Institute (NUHRI), where she is undertaking a new research project, ‘“The dark and airless room”: architecture and the rise of gynaecology, 1750–1880’. She is also NUHRI’s ambassador for humanities research across the University and further afield. In general, her research explores works of architecture and art as material and spatial sites of cultural and social history. In order to ‘reconstruct’ the past lives of buildings in the present, she practices a theoretical-creative writing which critically employs different forms of text, drawing, and audio. Her PhD thesis, ‘Part-architecture: the Maison de Verre through the Large Glass’ (Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL), received the 2014 RIBA President’s Award for Outstanding PhD Thesis, and is a forthcoming publication entitled Part-architecture: the Maison de Verre, Duchamp, Domesticity and Desire in 1930s Paris (Farnham: Ashgate, 2016).

Alison Gibb is a poet/artist and PhD researcher in poetics at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research project focuses on creative processes, production methods and critical theories shared by visual artists and poets. In addition, her  research practice aims to produce page-based, art-installation and live performance outcomes. Alison has produced, a series of drawings, diagrams, poetry texts, posters, wall-painting, and videos that explores and demonstrates her research as methodologies for creating a poetic practice.

Sally Dean is a London-based American performer, choreographer, playwright and teacher. Over the past decade Sally has performed her work in venues across London, Prague (Czech Republic), France (Paris), Essen (Germany), Java (Indonesia), Sri Lanka, as well as in the United States in New York, San Francisco and Seattle. Her work has been produced in venues ranging from established theatres, such as The Place, Robin Howard Dance Theatre (London), to site-specific settings such as church crypts, traditional Javanese markets, a post-war junk museum, and gallery spaces.Sally holds a MA by project in Art, Design and Visual Culture from London Metropolitan University, based on cross-disciplinary, practice-based research into subjective and objective perspectives on the performance making process.