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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Visual Evidence

Absences, Erasures and Invisibilities in Cityscape, Landscape and Marinescape

This workshop is organized by the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture (CVAC) and forms part of the Visual Evidence sub-theme. It is designed to bring together researchers who often work independently of one another, focusing on either cityscapes, or landscapes, or marinescapes, the latter often overlooked, as Allan Sekula has pointed out. Each of these areas, of course, is the province of a number of different disciplines, which seek to understand (and so constitute) the nature of the research object through related but often distinct practices of looking and of image-making, including mapping, photography, film-making and other forms of image capture and inscription. These practices, in effect, translate material artefacts into ‘evidence’ through processes of selection and interpretation. But how is visual evidence of the absent, the erased, the invisible and the hidden produced? How, conversely, might processes of evidence construction themselves lead to absences, erasures, invisibilities and hidden traces? What is seen and what remains unseen when different kinds of looking and image-making practices are employed? What is erased through different practices of looking? And what does it mean to render visible the invisible?

This workshop sets out to investigate these questions in relation to the North East’s industrial heritage and its energy future, foregrounding absences and presences, thematising the erasure of particular pasts, and seeking to think through connections between cityscapes, landscapes and marine-scapes. It will include presentations by academics, artists and professionals from the cultural sector.

The workshop is scheduled to take place on 08 March 2016, 2.00 – 6.00pm and 09 March 2016, 9.30am – in Kenworthy Hall, St Mary’s College, Durham University.

The workshop is open to all. To register, please email

The Centre for Visual Arts and Culture (CVAC) will also organise a photography competition in conjunction with its workshop on ‘Absences and Erasures’. The competition seeks images of absences, erasures, hidden and overlooked traces, and invisible interventions in the cityscapes, landscapes and marinescapes of the North East of England. The images will be presented in the form of an online exhibition and it is intended to publish the winning entries in book form.

More details will be available on the CVAC website from October 2015

Authority, Attribution and the Politics of Connoisseurship (c.1700-1900)

In recent years, there has been an explosion of scholarly interest in the practices by which the fine-arts have been historically collected, classified and institutionally legitimized. In the process the historiography of art history has been dramatically revised. A host of studies have identified the elusive but pivotal role of commercial networks, dealers and critics in the maintenance and extension of ‘art worlds’. Dealers and critics acted as proxies for plutocrats and for governments at a time when the quest for prestigious artworks was a source of acute geopolitical competition. This workshop will explore the political, economic and juridical questions related to the authentication and ownership of works of art in the heyday of nation-formation, imperialism, globalization and world war.

The period 1870-1920 was decisive in producing new forms of knowledge and a new politics surrounding works of art. Firstly, scientific and subjective procedures were proposed for identifying art and artists, with intense ideological significance being attached to matters of style and method. Secondly, the practice of art history was transformed by the expertise embodied in museums, university departments and the specialist art press on both sides of the Atlantic. Thirdly, new technologies of reproduction fashioned new ways of documenting art, changing the protocols for proof as well as the opportunities for deception. Fourthly, legislation governing cultural heritage evolved on both a national and international level, with fierce debate over plunder, preservation and restitution. Lastly, trade and contact with non-European civilizations created lively and exotic new collecting fields, whose contents and procedures had to be urgently defined. These structural trends together created an anxious and volatile environment, with inexperienced buyers, unscrupulous dealers, fragmented approaches, rivalries between national institutions, and a market flooded with frauds.

This two-day workshop will be led by Thomas Stammers (History) but is open to scholars from all departments in the university. It will draw on the participation of resident IAS fellow for Epiphany term, John Brewer, and will feature a number of distinguished external speakers, including Flamminia Genari-Santori (Florence, Syracuse), Mark Westgarth (University of Leeds), Barbara Pezzini (Burlington Magazine), Francesco Ventrella (University of Sussex), Charlotte Drew (University of York) and Silvia Davoli (Strawberry Hill, London), and experts in the collecting of Islamic and Asian art, including Nick Pearce (University of Glasgow). As well as providing a forum for established and emerging scholars, the workshop will include contributions from local Durham collections, such as the Oriental Museum and the Bowes Museum.

The workshop will be held in the Senate Room of University College (Castle) and the IAS seminar room on the 17th-18th March 2016. Attendance for members of the university will be free, but there will be a small charge for outside visitors.

For further information please contact Dr Thomas Stammers

Understanding Visual Evidence

Facilitated by the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS) and the Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures (CVAC), Understanding Visual Evidence consists of two workshops, which are designed as the point of departure and the endpoint of the Visual Evidence subtheme, respectively.

The workshops will take up a set of related questions about the nature and conceptualization of ‘visual evidence’:

  • How are visual objects and practices employed in making claims about truth, fact and objectivity?
  • Which objects and practices have authority in different disciplinary contexts?
  • How does the constitution of ‘visual evidence’ change across time and space?
  • What role do visual technologies play in constructing and interpreting ‘visual evidence’?
  • What kind of ‘evidence’ do images offer?
  • What are the institutional contexts in which visual evidence is produced and interpreted?
  • What is the significance of the etymological connection between ‘evidence’ and ‘vision’?

The workshops will take up these questions from a range of disciplinary perspectives. Papers offering case studies on the construction and/or interpretation of visual evidence in selected disciplines (inter alia Earth Sciences, Geography, History, Philosophy, Visual Studies) will be paired with respondents asking questions about the way in which visual evidence is understood and seeking to probe the foundations on which knowledge is constructed.

The final plenary session will return to these questions as a means of summarizing and synthesizing the discussions that will have taken place in conjunction with the ‘Visual Evidence Sub-Theme’.

The first workshop will take place on Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 October, 2015, Kenworthy Hall, St Mary’s College.
The second workshop will follow on Tuesday 24 and Wednesday 25 May 2016, Kenworthy Hall, St Mary’s College.Both workshops will begin at 2pm on Tuesday and finish at 2pm on Wednesday.

The workshops are open to all. To register, please email

Ghosts – The Evidence of Spirits

We live in a world populated by ghosts. The landscapes scenes we pass through each day are inhabited – if not possessed – by spirits. Our everyday haunts are haunted by ghosts. The rationality which governs our lives, our thoughts, our beliefs urges us to conceal their spectral presence, to demote their evidence; we cannot see them, therefore we deny their existence. Ghosts dwell not in our world but, we like to think, in fictional or possible worlds – in literature, in film, in art. Or, perhaps, in some multiple time dimensions that science might discover. Modernity, it seems, has freed us from ghosts; culture has invented for them the interstitial space of superstition. Yet by embodying an awareness of the presences of those who are not physically there, ghosts help us construct both our sense of place and of belonging to a given community.

The organisers regard this project as interrogating how that awareness or feeling compels us to search for evidence of the ghostly – the evidence of spirits in our everyday life. They appear as strangers in our internal conversations, as expansions of our personal identity, as auras in our encounters with images, as eerily evident in our reactions to the visual arts, as traces of our posthumous condition, as spectres haunting our history, and even as ghostly presences in our syntax. We resist belief in ghosts and yet we feel their spectral presence everywhere.

The project consists of three separate, but complementary strands: a lecture series, an exhibition on ‘Ghost Stories’ held in October 2015 at the Durham World Heritage Site Visitor Centre; and a one-day workshop to take place at the IAS on 23 February 2016. Lectures will be held fortnightly on commencing 13 October at 6:15pm in Elvet Riverside 140. Lectures and the exhibition are open to all, though attendees at the opening event of the exhibition will need to register in advance.

Lectures will meditate on the evidence and representation of the ghostly in the visual, literary, and cultural imagination of Britain, Europe, and the Orient, spanning from early pagan times to the contemporary. The lecture series is interdisciplinary, drawing on world-leading expertise within the University as well as acknowledged outside experts from other UK institutions. External speakers include: Dr Rosina Buckland (National Museum of Scotland), Professor Ronald Hutton (University of Bristol), Professor Michael Pincombe (Newcastle University), Professor Nicholas Roe (University of St. Andrews), and Dr Luke Thurston (University of Aberystwyth). Internal speakers include among other Professor Simon James and Professor Chris Lloyd.

The lecture series and other events are organised by Dr Stefano Cracolici (Department of Italian) and Dr Mark Sandy (Department of English Studies).

Evidence, Museums and Knowledge

In contemporary culture it is simply assumed that people learn from visiting museums and looking. Educational activities in museums provide a fruitful way in, for example. This programme will reflect on this assumption from a number of perspectives, including those of museum professionals. Those with a diverse range of interests will come together to think about an area that plays an important role in the present day.

This workshop is one element of the CVAC initiative on Visual Evidence as part of the IAS’s Evidence year and is strongly supported across the University and is an innovative way of asking difficult questions about how people learn from the visual evidence presented by museums.

The workshop will consist of a number of discussion sessions and will include speakers who currently manage and deliver learning in a museum context using visual evidence: Dr Alex Burch (Natural History, Museum); Mungo Campbell (Hunterian Museum, Glasgow); and Stephanie Chapman (Foundling Museum, London). The workshop will press on the fundamental question, “how it is possible to acquire knowledge from looking?” The organiser, Professor Ludmilla Jordanova (History, Durham University) will draw upon her background in history and philosophy to science in order to create a stimulating and hard-working group of participants.

The workshop will take place on 17 November 2015, 2.00 – 4.00pm and 18 November 09.00 – 2.00pm, in the Kenworthy Hall at St Mary’s College. The workshop is not open to members of the public.

An event open to the public will be offered on 17 November 2015, 5.00 – 7.00pm in the Dowrick Suite, Trevelyan College.

Additional information is available from Professor Ludmilla Jordanova or