Tag Archives: Micro Internship

Iris Campbell-Lange: A Conway Visual Song

I have composed a visual song made of the images from the Conway archive. I like the idea that associations between images are what cause us to put them together – that there are certain ways that shapes interact which make us grasp them. Images have rhythms and tones, like a song. I have tried to incorporate the patterns of a song to reflect this, freely associating images from the archive – some from the same boxes – to create a whole piece which appears to randomly fit together. I have repeated some images and have tried to give the verses similar rhythms, and to give the chorus a rhythm of its own. I have tried to make these rhythms out of images.

When you are looking through the Conway archive, you are drawn to one box, then to another. They do not seem forcefully connected, but your mind draws mirrors between the images you have selected. Some of the images form a narrative, some do not. Images lead onto other images, and some appear more important than others and some do not feel worth noticing. The images feel as if they mean something together and against each other. I like the idea that making a visual song out of images is similar to the process of collecting and of taking images: it appears random but has a reason only you can fully recognise. And from this, images can become like phrases. And each phrase has a logic, just as each box in the archive has a logic which I cannot understand.

In my song, I have tried to order coloured and black and white images so that they relate to each other and create a kind of order. The intro has no colour images, until colours are slowly introduced in the verses and then repeated in the chorus. I repeated the motif of a grid in the chorus to reinforce the chorus structure. The last verse has an image which is situated at the bottom right corner of the archive page, as if finishing the progression of the verses and leading to the final choruses. The song finishes on a colour image, blue and yellow, of a small house – an image also used in the chorus. This is to mark the ending of the song and to refer to the slow progression to colour images at the beginning, which create the ending of the song.

The associations are free and tempting and indulgent – just like looking through an archive. You do not always notice the meanings or the history of images, but they show other opportunities.

 

Please click the link below to access a PDF file of the Visual Song.

A Conway Visual Song

The photographs used are listed below:

 

Intro

LINCOLN Cathedral. Corbel in Song School, Upper Floor. CON_B00181_F003_004, Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

La Maison de l’Homme – ‘Centre Le Corbusier’, Architect: Le Corbusier, Zurich, 1963, CON_B04418_F003_012, Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Corbel in room West of South East Transept (song school), CON_B00181_F003_003, Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

La Maison de l’Homme, le Corbusier, Centre le Corbusier, 1963, CON_B04418_F003_008, Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Verse 1

Resurrection group 49: J. North west Tower: north face. CON_B00237_F001_027, Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

International Conference Centre, 1987-90, arch: Arata Isozaki, 20th Century Architecture, CON_B04430_F004_012, Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Basin in the Washroom Illustration: Starck – Benedikt Taschen, Verlag, Cologne 1991 20th Century Architecture, CON_B04430_F004_036, Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Upper room west of south east transept. (song school), Lincoln, Lincolnshire Cathedral, CON_B00181_F003_001, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Beaux Arts No. 231, Aug. 2003, Miami, Hotel Clinton, CON_B04433_F001_022, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Verse 2

F52, f53, Sketchbook of Master W.G., Frankfurt Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, CON_B04492_F001_026, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Interior – wall drawings in cafe space, London, Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, Architect: Oscar Niemeyer, 2003, CON_B04434_F001_066, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Exterior from west (Courtauld Institute Negative A3/406) 20th century Architecture, England and Wales, London Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, CON_B04434_F001_056, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Oxydized cladding at rear. Illus: Starck -Benedikt Taschen Verlag, Cologne 1991, CON_B04430_F004_039, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Beaux Arts No. 186, November 1999, Yamanashi Communication Centre, CON_B04430_F004_041, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Pre-Chorus

West panel – face of Sophia. Chapel in the Amphitheatre, Durres, Albania, CON_B00003_F001_023, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

P. Jodidio/Contemporary American Architects, published Taschen, Cologne, 1993: 20th century Japanese Architecture. CON_B04430_F004_015, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Art Tower, arch: Arata Isozaki, Japan: 20th Century Architecture, CON_B04430_F004_016, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Chorus

North west tower: north face. Resurrection group 58: N., Wells Cathedral, Somerset, CON_B00237_F001_043, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Tim Benton negative 20th Century Architecture, Vevey, Villa le Lac, CON_B04418_F002_031, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Birr Castle [colour interior: sitting room], CON_B01143_F005_038, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Literature: Emanuelle Lequeux, ‘Maisons: Une Nouvelle Adresse’, Beaux Arts, No.245, October 2004, pages 72-79. 21st century Architecture. CON_B04433_F001_009, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Le Corbusier, Paris, Studio Nungesser et Coli, CON_B04340_F001_016, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Verse 3

Overhead view of plaza and buildings Illustration: Robert A.M. Stern, Classicismo Attuale, Milan, 1990. 20th Century Architecture – Japan, CON_B04430_F004_042, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Tsukuba, Civic Centre, arch: Arata Isozaki, 1979-83, Illustration: Robert A.M. Stern, Classicismo Attuale, Milan, 1990, CON_B04430_F004_043, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Illus. Programme trimestriel – April – June 1999 – Louvre, Hyogo, Museum of Wood, CON_B04430_F004_010, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Alexandria, CON_B01218_F002_002, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Roman Basilica, Luxor, CON_B01218_F009_002, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Outro

Rome, Villa Madama: Exterior: Gardens, CON_B03184_F003_008, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Hotel Clinton, Miami, Beaux Arts No. 231, Aug. 2003., CON_B04433_F001_022, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Window, taken in 1972, Qasr Ibn Vardan, Syria, Church, CON_B03803_F007_017, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Literature: Emanuelle Lequeux, ‘Maisons: Une Nouvelle Adresse’, Beaux Arts, No.245, October 2004, pages 72-79. 21st century Architecture., Gratkorn, Austria, CON_B04433_F001_009, Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC

 

Iris Campbell-Lange
Courtauld Connects Digitisation

Oxford University
Micro-Internship Participant

Amelie de Lara: All Roads Lead to Box CON_B03085

INTRODUCTION

I turned up on my first day at the Courtauld internship with a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do: I was going to research and write an essay on the life and times of Etienne Parrocel, a French Painter from the 18th Century who had produced a series of architectural drawings based on his travels in Rome. Parrocel was an accomplished painter, and an interesting man, and I would certainly recommend a google search or scroll though the Courtauld’s digital archives of his works, neatly laid out in aesthetically pleasing vertical rows. I like academic research, have written (many) essays, and was looking forward to week which I expected would probably be not that unlike my last 2 years studying at University.

However, as I noisily (and rather embarrassingly) dragged my suitcase down the various steps into the Conway Library, I found myself transported into another world. Much of the Courtauld’s collection is arranged by location, making you feel as though you are in a miniaturised map of the world (or at least Europe). The first place greeting you, appropriately for my interests, is Italy. We all gathered around a small table with shelves of red spines encasing us on all four sides, which felt not unlike the Roman Forum I had been planning to include as part of my research. Front and centre of this display stood Box CON_B03085, its spine emblazoned with ‘Roman Forum: Printings and plans; Sculptural Drawings. Whilst perhaps smaller than the monuments which had once stood in Rome or the Forum, the perfectly accidental placement of this box as this first thing you see in the library, and the aged peeling spine filled me with an almost Romantic sense of awe (although don’t worry, no terrible poetry was penned!).

From this experience, as well as researching the various artists, travellers, and scholars who had made contributions to Box CON_B03085, I wanted to try to recreate for those who have never visited the Courtauld’s libraries – or any archives – what it feels like to make your way through a museum, wind your way round labyrinthine archives, and gradually dig through box. Although it might not normally be seen as a physically demanding activity, it’s not unlike travelling, or archaeological fieldwork itself. I also wanted to think about the ways this has changed from the period when gentlemanly ‘Grand Tours’ dominated how we research – particularly in my field of Classics and archaeology – to today, when people are making efforts through access initiatives and digitisation initiatives (like the Courtauld’s) to increase public engagement with art and museum collections, and diversify access to knowledge.

To help organise these thoughts, I decided to present my research and responses to the images of this box not just in a digital, blog format but by creating my own ‘box’. Usually whilst I am studying for my degree any reconstructions – historical or visual- have to be based strictly on close textual reading or archaeological data. Whilst of course this is necessary when we are trying to reconstruct an accurate view of the past, I found myself inspired by the early modern antiquarians, artists, and archaeologists I was researching during this week to take a more creative, imaginative and personal response to the past. Like the artistic and architectural neo-classical borrowings which inspired those I was researching, I took inspiration from Box CON_ but did not follow its models doggedly. I was also inspired by the Courtauld’s current exhibition on ‘fakes and forgeries’ which I went to visit on the first day, and seeing how in previous epochs the lines between copying and inspiration were more blurred, and not seen as negatively as today.

 

FOLDER ONE: PRINTS AND DRAWINGS

PRINTS AND DRAWINGS [Click link to open PDF]

The first folder I open in the box is an eclectic mix. It’s labelled ‘prints and drawings’ which hardly does justice to the wealth of material inside. From newspaper clippings, to cut-outs from text books, to various artistic reconstructions and prints of the Roman Forum, the contributors to this box come from a diverse amount of geographical and chronological periods. The order of the box doesn’t make much logical sense either, with different media and time periods all intermixed with each other. The same artists work often isn’t even kept together, with Maarten van Heemskerck’s name greeting me multiple times (probably not a bad thing, as it took me a few times to figure out how to spell). As you sift through this first folder, various sizes of paper drop through your hands, maps are unfolded, text book pages are opened. It’s a very different experience from simply pressing the ‘next’ key on your computer screen. By the end of it I feel as if I know the Roman Forum intimately despite never having been there, experiencing the various physical changes and interpretations it had undergone over 1000s of years through many different eyes.

I wanted to keep my own first folder equally a confusing but hopefully interesting mix of research, photographs, and other types of media. After researching the back ground of the Grand Tour, (a journey round Europe undertaken by many of the artists and photographers included in this box, not the Amazon Prime TV series!), I then researched some of these artists in more detail, their biographies and careers, and made small profiles on them and responses to the specific art works included in this folder. This included Maarten van Heemskerck (1498-1574); George Wightwick (1802-1872); Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (1765-1875); Charles Roach Smith (1807-1890); Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863); Israel Silvestre (1621-1691); Mary Beard (1955-); J Hoffbauer (1875-1957); and the Warburg Institute. Their interest in Roman art and architecture sparked art movements like the Renaissance which prized the aesthetic of Greco-Roman antiquities: this fascination continues to today, and is visible throughout London, the capital of another dismantled empire. The Courtauld’s galleries home in Somerset House is replete with neo-classical references, as is the rest of London, showing how to this day we remain inspired by ancient Rome.

 

FOLDER TWO: SCULPTURAL FRAGMENTS

SCULPTURAL FRAGMENTS [Click link to open PDF]

As an archaeology student, one of the first things you learn is that context is everything. For most of the population, looking at other people’s holiday snaps is universally agreed to be one of the most boring ways to spend time, but for students of archaeology it is one of the most valuable resources, a staple of most of my tutors and lecturers teaching material. That might explain why when I turned up at the Courtauld after 2 months stuck in Oxford looking at all the amazing places I had seen my lecturers go to I was feeling pretty restless. It’s probably unsurprising, then, that despite all the charms of the volunteer room at the Conway Library – unlimited biscuits and coffee, a student’s dream – I pretty quickly got fidgety, and wanted to explore both the wider archive and the beautiful surroundings of Somerset House to contextualise the work we were all doing. After some research, I learned Conway shared a similar passion – as well as being an art critic and collector, he was a passionate explorer and mountaineer, and wrote several books on his travels. Taking this as a sign of approval, I bravely set out beyond the libraries bounds.

 The pictures I took on this first afternoon and a few more I took over the next few days are the ones which make up the second half of my project, responding to the folder labelled ‘sculptural fragments’. Unlike the first box where I was researching and trying to understand other people’s responses to public architecture, these pictures reflect what caught my eye, and felt personally resonant or intellectually interesting. I’m no photographer or artist by any stretch of the imagination, and the pictures were taken on my iPhone rather than specialist technical equipment. I definitely took the opportunity to get lost in the archives and the museum and wander where I liked.

The ability to freely explore archives, museums, stately homes, and big cities one I don’t take lightly. In the last few images in this folder are images which show the accessibility – or inaccessibility – of many of the spaces in libraries and museums. Of course, we all experienced this as a collective for almost 2 years during the Covid-19 pandemic, but barriers to knowledge and art continue to exist for many due to financial, physical, or logistical difficulties, which I also tried to photograph.  I arranged my photos under themes which emerged from my research on the Grand Tour, and what I probably would have used as chapter headings had I written a normal essay. These themes were Geographical Mobility; New technologies; Accessibility and Inaccessibility; Inspiration and Reconstructions; Maps and Directions; Collection and Storage; and Roman influences back at home.

Inspired by Antonella Pelizzari’s article on the relationship of textuality with photographs, I annotated my print outs with why I took these pictures, and how this linked to my research on the Grand Tour. After doing this, I also decided to hand write my research for Folder One around the pictures I was discussing. Unlike normal essays, this means the mistakes and rewordings I made are recorded for posterity, just like some of the crossings out on the archive boxes. I felt this process made my writing more free and creative than a normal essay I would write, encouraging me to include my own thoughts and creative responses rather than facing the temptation of ‘control F-ing’ my notes, or leaving paragraphs unfinished and going back to them. It also took a lot longer than my normal speed typing, especially as I had to go over all my notes with pen when I got home as it didn’t show up on the scans!

However inconvenient it was, this painstaking process showed that research – whether more informal thoughts from trips abroad, or more ‘serious’ academic library work – is an active, ongoing, and above all human process, which cant be replaced by AI or digital programmes (or, hopefully for my current career plans, at least not yet!). Whilst digitisation is clearly an important move in both heritage and academia industries,  and has been beneficial in so many ways I think this experience has shown me that there are limits and things lost for researchers and the general public if we shift entire collections online at the expense of being able to experience the real thing.

 

CONCLUSION

On the very first page of his work ‘Mountain memories; a pilgrimage of romance’ Conway wrote ‘the landscapes of the past appear at this moment more real than the immediately visible world’. As someone who spends much time exploring places in their head which are far removed by time and place, this sentiment resonated with me. Even after a week of being intimately involved with this box, I’m still not sure why Conway or whoever put this box together chose these images, or put them in this particular order. I’m not even sure if they’d visited the Forum themselves, or – like me- had only experienced its ancient ruins and contemporary settings through a pastiche of other people’s perspectives.

As the final stage in this project, I wanted to bring my box out of the dusty shelves of the archive, into the gallery itself. Many digitisation projects pride themselves on their commitment to accessibility. One of my gripes with this is that outside academic worlds there is a lack of widespread public knowledge that projects and databases like this exist, and most of the public aren’t aware that vast swathes of our archives and objects are not on display, but publicly visible. The volunteer scheme at the Conway library has tried to combat this by bringing those not always familiar with the gallery into the Strand campus, and using platforms like social media also aim to increase public knowledge of these.

It felt silly, and the old box which looked at home in the chaos of the archives looked quite at odds with the sparse minimalistic design of the gallery which prided sleek cleanliness and scholarly contemplation of this gallery – I definitely got some dirty looks from the security guard. At the entrance to the Weston Library – the room at Somerset House containing some of the most famous paintings – is inscribed in untranslated Greek ‘let no stranger to the Muses enter’. A more apt summation of the inaccessibility of classics and many museums in general would be difficult for me to invent. A modern sign opposite translates these words, a signifier hopefully of changing attitudes.

The two main motivations of future heritage projects like the Courtauld’s digitisation project – preservation of memory and widening accessibility – are therefore aptly articulated in the story of the Grand Tour, the Roman Forum, the Courtauld and the Conway and Witt libraries and – hopefully- this box.

 

IMAGES OF THE BOX

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Antonella Pelizzari 2003, M., ‘Retracing the Outlines of Rome: Intertextuality and Imaginative Geographies in Nineteenth-Century Photographs’ in Picturing Place: photography and the geographical Imagination (eds. Schwartz J. and Ryan J.R.), Routledge, London.

Beard M., 2003, Picturing the Roman Triumph, Apollo vol 158.497.

Black J., 2003, The British Abroad; The Grand Tour in the 18th Century, Sutton, Gloucestershire.

Buzard J. 2002, The Grand Tour and After in The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing, Cmabridge University press Cambridge, (eds Hulme, Peter, Youngs, Tim)

Chaney E., 2006, The Evolution of the Grand Tour: Anglo-Italian Cultural Relations since the Renaissance, Routledge, New York.

Conway W.M. 1920, Mountain memories; a pilgrimage of romance’, Funk and Wagnalls, New York.

Dyson S.L., Archaeology, ideology, and Urbanism in Rome from the Grand Tour to Berlusconi

Dyson S.L.,2020, The Grand Tour and After: Secular pilgrimage to Rome from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, Routledge. London.

Helsted D.,  1978 – Rome in Early photographs, History of Photography Vol 2.

Kelly J.M., Reading the Grand Tour at a Distance: Archives and Datasets in Digital History

Levine B. and Jensen K., Around the World: The Grand Tour in Photo Albums, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

Nilsen M., Architecture in Nineteenth Century Photographs: Essays on Reading a Collection

Salmon F. 1995, ‘Storming the Campo Vaccino’: British Architects and the Antique Buildings of Rome after Waterloo, Architectural History vol 38

Szedgy-Maszak A., 1996, Forum Romanum/Campo Vaccino, History of Photography vol 20.

 

Amelie de Lara
Courtauld Connects Digitisation
Oxford University
Micro-Internship Participant

Alina Khokhlova: The Mystery of Missing Faces – Defaced Frescoes in Cyprus

The Eastern Orthodox church is famous for its profound veneration of icons – devotional images of Christ, his Mother, and saints. And so, if you find yourself walking, for instance, the heated streets of some Cypriot town, and wandering into one of the local churches just a few minutes before the start of the daily liturgy, all you would hear is a rhythmic succession of kisses. These are the faithful diligently kissing all the icons located along the perimeter of the church, for, to kiss an icon, really, means to kiss the person it depicts.

Unfortunately, not all the churches are frequented by the locals. If you are to get into a car and drive through the island for an hour or two, observing the sun-stricken hills covered with dried yellow grass and occasional tanned shepherds with their flocks, and if you manage to follow the map correctly and not get lost along the way, you may reach some of those stone Byzantine churches, lavishly painted inside and looking like clumsy dovecotes on the outside, which are scattered across the countryside, especially in the mountain region of Troodos. Many of them were built and frescoed between the 12th and 16th centuries, although much older buildings also exist.

Fig. 1: South side exterior of the church of the Panagia Phorbiotissa (Panagia tis Asinou) at Asinou, Cyprus. [CON_B01165_F004_001. The Conway Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC]

 

These churches, often once comprising a part of a monastic complex, now appear to stand in the middle of nowhere, with their old wooden doors locked most of the time, and they are usually not used for liturgy anymore. Yet, if you are lucky enough to find a key-keeper, who may also be a priest from the nearest village, wearing long black robes and a serious expression on his face, you would be able to get inside, in order to hear the ‘soundless echo of prayers long silent’ and contemplate the painted walls, ‘alive with worship’, as remarked by an English novelist W. H. Mallock.

Many of these scattered churches are in a bad condition, with their frescoes damaged by time and the elements, but one of the most striking features is the damage done to many of the faces depicted on frescoes: violent scratch marks, eyes gouged out, and sometimes even whole faces erased.

Below are some examples from the church in Asinou (fig. 1), but a similar situation can be encountered all across the island.

Fig. 2: Narthex: donor and female saints, Church of Panagia Phorbiotissa, Asinou, Cyprus. Taken in 1980/81. [CON_B01165_F001_055. The Conway Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC]

Fig. 3: A detail of: Narthex: saints, 14th century, Church of Panagia Phorbiotissa, Asinou, Cyprus. Taken in 1980/81. [CON_B01165_F001_030. The Conway Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC]

Fig. 4: A detail of: Narthex: St Michael, Church of Panagia Phorbiotissa, Asinou, Cyprus. Taken in 1980/81. [CON_B01165_F001_015. The Conway Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC]

Fig. 5: A detail of: Narthex: the horse of St George, Church of Panagia Phorbiotissa, Asinou, Cyprus. Taken in 1980/81. [CON_B01165_F001_045. The Conway Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC]

A question naturally arises as to who did this and why, and if you were to ask the priest who let you into the church, or some other elderly Greek-speaking Cypriot taking care of the place, you will receive one and the same reply: ‘this was done by the Muslim Turks’. Now, the island was conquered by the Ottomans in 1571 and remained under their rule until 1878, when it was passed over to the British. During that time two major communities were formed in Cyprus: that of Greek-speaking Christians, and that of Turkish-speaking Muslims, which coexisted with different degrees of peacefulness. However, in 1974, less than fifteen years after Cyprus announced its independence from the British rule, the country fell into war and split into Northern (Turkish), and Southern (Greek) parts, remaining divided to this day. Therefore, the attribution of the blame to the ‘Turks’ is natural, considering the interreligious animosity and alleged Muslim reservation towards religious imagery, but such a claim may be motivated more by political bias than by truth.

The issue has not yet been properly researched, but some other theories are floating in the air. Some say that the eyes on frescoes were destroyed by robbers or looters, who did not want to be ‘seen’ while committing their criminal deed. Others point to the tradition of taking some paint off a saint’s eye as depicted on a fresco in order to make a healing mixture, which is especially good for eye diseases. This is primarily attested in the Troodos region, as well as on the island of Crete. Further to this, there are examples of damnatio memoriae (‘condemnation of memory’) – erasure of the depiction of devils and sinners. An example of this can be found in the monastery of Agios Neophytos, where on a wall painting depicting Jesus betrayed by Judas and surrounded by Roman soldiers, the eyes of the soldiers and the betrayer are systematically gouged out (fig. 6).

Fig. 6: A detail of: Wall Painting, Betrayal of Christ, Agios Neophytos, Paphos, Cyprus. Taken by Neil Stratford. [CON_B01174_F001_021. The Conway Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC]

In other cases, as mentioned, the whole area of the face is affected.

Fig. 7: A detail of: Apse – Fathers, Church of the Holy Apostles, Perachorio, Cyprus. [CON_B01177_F003_011. The Conway Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC]

Fig. 8: A detail of: Apse – Fathers, Church of the Holy Apostles, Perachorio, Cyprus.Taken by David Winfield. [CON_B01177_F003_004. The Conway Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC]

 

Fig. 9 and 10: Two details of: Frescoes, Arch-heretics series, Agios Sozomenos, Galata, Cyprus. Taken by CJP Cave. [CON_B01170_F007_008. The Conway Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art, CC-BY-NC]

So, what is so special about the eyes, and the face more broadly, which attracts the efforts of iconoclasts? The face is the locus of one’s identity, the eyes – the medium of seeing and the sign of being seen. It is through the face and especially through the eye contact that one connects with another person and receives recognition.

Now, in the realm of Eastern Orthodox iconography this acquires further significance, for contemplation and veneration of an icon is at its heart a face-to-face encounter – between the believer on the one, human side of the painted surface, and the holy person, on the other, spiritual side. The obliteration of the eyes/face thus makes the encounter profoundly obstructed, if not impossible, for it erases the very thing which serves as a mark of presence – a face directed at you, with eyes wide open.

It would be interesting to note here one characteristic iconographical convention, namely, that only sinners can be portrayed in profile (see fig. 6 with the scene of the betrayal of Jesus), whilst saintly people must always be depicted with both of their eyes being visible, preferably en face. This brings us back to the eye contact being the means of encounter, which the iconoclasts wanted to prevent, for one reason or another.

And so, these churches stand, full of mystery and history, their walls bearing marks of lips that kissed them, of smoke coming from numberless candles once burnt inside, of hands that touched them, whether caressingly or violently, of the painter’s brush traced on the wet surface centuries ago, and of the iconoclasts’ instruments applied to, quite literally, deface the images, combining to create a multi-layered record of the complex history of the island and its communities.

 

Alina Khokhlova
Courtauld Connects Digitisation
Oxford University
Micro-Internship Participant

Lottie Alayo: London’s unknown – the mystery in Bevin Court

Most residents of Bevin Court, Cruikshank Street, live in a state of oblivion in terms of the history of Vladimir Lenin’s time in Finsbury. This has led to a lack of understanding for many people to which they experience shock as well as newfound curiosity about Lenin’s significance, not only in London but also the USSR. Therefore, the following story draws evidence and inspiration from sources from the Conway Library and will have snippets of information throughout the piece in italics to help depict the mystery of the Lenin memorial and how exploring the unknown can lead to insightful understandings of history.

Resident 28 stood in a state of shock, tea in hand, steam rising from the mug as a detective named Bertie, accompanied by a policeman, stated the findings of a head buried under the stairwell of Bevin Court. Immediately, Resident 28 was unnerved by the discovery and, as soon as the detective and policeman took their leave, rushed to the neighbour at number 30 with the news. His eyes glinted with curiosity as much as the same shock as him. Resident number 30 was intrigued by the discovery of a head found under the stairwell. More so, he was eager to know more about anyone who had any information regarding the person that was found under the stairwell, was it another resident? Was there a psychopath living amongst them? Or was it simply a random episode that would leave a red mark over the collective housing estate? Thus, Resident number 30 started an online messageboard, with an attached photo and one message: “who’s under the stairs?”, to document his findings, for he wished to shed light on the ambiguous figure and the sudden attention the discovery had attracted.

 

A black and white image of the façade of Bevin Court, there are rows of windows and balconies which are partially obscured by rows of trees. There is a light coloured car parked at the side of the building and another, darker car is parked in the foreground. The ground is wet and there is a large puddle behind the second car. [CON_B04266_F001_019 – LONDON: Bevin Court, Holford Street, northeast façade [site of Lenin memorial]. Architects: Skinner, Bailey, and Lubetkin, 1951-4. Courtauld Institute negative L100/47(15).]

A black and white photo of the interior of Bevin Court, taken at the bottom of a short set of stairs. The ground is wet and made of a dark concrete. To the left of the image there is a curved window on the ground floor and the first floo balcony above that. The balcony stretches across the entire space. The second floor is visible at the top of the image. At the top centre of the photograph there is a stair platform overlooking the stairwell. [CON_B04266_F001_021 – LONDON, Bevin Court, Holford Place, Finsbury. Architects: Skinner, Bailey, Lubetkin, 1953-4.]

 

My idea for this story came from learning about the history of Lenin who had lived in 30 Holford Square with his wife in 1902-1903 to avoid persecution by the Tsarist regime. The actual building, however, suffered severe damage during World War II and could not be restored. As a result, with the permission from Finsbury Borough Council and with a push by Architect Berthold Lubetkin and the Foreign Office, a Lenin memorial was erected opposite the site. I thought that it would be great to include small pockets of information in the story thus, Resident 30 refers to the house number in which Lenin lived. While the detective is called Bertie as a reference to Berthold Lubetkin (the architect that designed Bevin Court). The reason I decided to make the characters anonymous is to add to the mystery itself and to create an atmosphere where the reader feels left in the dark searching for answers.


As Resident number 30 was unsure about the actual events of the discovery he sought to investigate all possible options. First, he decided to venture downstairs to the exact location where the head was found in the centre of the daunting square; his face as red as a communist’s fervour. Suddenly, he felt the need to know the history of Bevin Court to answer the questions of ‘What prompted the murder? Why the head? What is its significance?’ But, more so, he wanted to visibly see the head first-hand, he wanted to materialise the image in his head. ‘Was the person important? How did they die? Was it bloody? Was it disfigured? Did he want it to be?’ The thrill of discovery ignited a revolutionary flare within him. He posted another picture on messageboard with the caption: “Look what I uncovered! Find out who? – head found in Cruikshank Street”.

 

A black and white photograph depicting the Bevin Court entrance sign, with the façade of the building visible in the background. The sign reads “BEVIN COURT”, with the letters “B” and “C” significantly enlarged. The letter “E” is missing, with its outline faintly visible underneath. [CON_B04166_F001_007 – LONDON, Bevin Court, Holford Place, Finsbury. Architect: Skinner, Bailey, Lubetkin, 1953-4. Entrance sign.]

 

Still, Resident number 30 was underwhelmed. More had to be done. He could not fathom the unnerving power of each image he had found. The photos had awakened a feeling of need to know more beyond the border frames. Beyond the black and white.

The online messageboard sounded a notification. A reply. “Bevin”.

With that one-word, Resident number 30’s excitement grew. His heart beating like a drum, the same beat that has echoed out from the drum staircase for years. Banging to get out, to be discovered. Light cascaded down onto his notes from the window as he staggered to pile them into a folder. He fumbled with his camera. He had to go back downstairs. ‘Bevin.’ What does this mean? Bevin Court? How can a murder be so terrific and the chase to capture an image, a piece of evidence that holds many clues, so great? Never mind Detective Bertie, for Resident 30 wanted to continue his own hunt for the truth, in the meantime he took a snapshot of his view outside as he made his way towards the bottom of the stairwell.

An edited image of the exterior of Bevin Court, taken from one of the building’s balconies. The photograph is framed by the walls of the balcony and the floor of another balcony above. To the left, another exterior wall stretches away from the foreground. There is a split path in the centre of the photograph with a street lamp and several large trees. One tree in the centre has been coloured a vibrant green. [CON_B04266_F001_001 – LONDON, Bevin Court, Holford Place, Finsbury. Architect: Skinner, Bailey, Lubetkin, 1953-4. Colourised using LightxEditor. Original image is linked.]

 

At first glance he noticed nothing unusual about the photo he had taken, but on closer inspection he saw a splash of colour bleed onto the page. His image was coming alive just like his imagination and more so as he was coming closer to the clues. Bevin Court. He had to do some research. What was the history of Bevin Court? He scarcely knew much. A simple Google search would suffice as to who Bevin was, but he craved more. Heading to the Courtauld Library to look at the collections, he knew answers were yet to be revealed; the crisp images waiting to burn under his scrutinising gaze. He travelled down into the library and picked up a red box full of dust and knowledge. He began to furiously browse the web to attain his desired end. Bevin Court:

The area around Bevin Court was owned by the New River Company who leased the land as pasture and in 1841-48 a formal square was laid out and named Holford Square. It was named after the governor of the New River Company, Charles Holford. After destruction from World War II bombing, Holford Square was redesigned by Berthold Lubetkin after Finsbury Borough Council bought the site with the idea to retain the shape of the square. Lubetkin placed a block of flats in the centre of the old square. Three branches of flats radiated from a drum staircase (which I used as a metaphor in the story to describe the cylindrical shape of the stairs and the beating of the protagonist’s heart). This layout leaves no flat with a north only aspect. Bevin Court was not always named what it currently is. In fact, it was supposed to be Lenin Court, but after vandalism of the memorial and uproar by the residents it was named after Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour (1881-1951). Throughout the story I refer to the shape and architectural features of Bevin Court throughout the story to immerse the reader and give them a sense of physically being present at the murder location themselves.

The information was a cacophony of words, a divine hell that only led him into a madness of wanting more but one word continuously appeared among the research: ‘Lenin’. Lenin, along with a picture of a stone face, somber and grey with a red hue. Colour was becoming the definition of discovery. The images were the revolutionary beginnings of his own human imagination and comprehension. ‘Lenin was a Russian revolutionary politician who served as the founding head of the government of the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1924 and of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924’. Still, Resident 30 was befuddled. Murder. Head. Lenin. Red. Furthermore, he was bewildered as to the explanation of the bright colours for it seemed to heavily contrast the dismal mystery. Perhaps it was the way the light hit the photo that affected its outcome. Perhaps the colour reflected his mind oozing with newfound knowledge onto the page.

 

A colour photograph of the Lenin memorial with a bust of Lenin enclosed within a glass and stone container. Accompanying the bust is a plaque, the writing obscured, and a vase containing a bunch of dried roses. The container stands on a stone platform with chains underneath, with a wrought iron fence running along both sides of it. The sky has been recoloured in a sporadic, soft blue, and the interior of the memorial a brilliant red. [CON_B04266_F001_005 – LONDON. Lenin Memorial, Holford Square, Finsbury (destroyed). Architect: Berthold Lubetkin, 1942. Colourised using LightxEditor. Original image is linked.]

 

Unexpectedly, everything poured into his brain at once and aligned themselves like the socialist’s heart and mind. Imitation murder perhaps? He rushed to Detective Bertie with the news, lungs full of anticipation and exasperation at being so close yet so far. Bertie peered upon him with disbelief, he found the information insightful but Resident 30’s passion? Intense and deranged. Surely a single murder could not have wrangled the resident’s brain in such a way. His excitement seemed to exceed the red fear and repulsion conjured by the revelation of the head found under the stairwell. For the detective’s own eyes could not see the colour on the images and understand what Resident 30 had unearthed.

Here, I took inspiration from a project by Phil Dimes called “Chasing Kersting” where he would take interest in a particular photo and travel to the location to take a present-day image himself. He would then recolour the image in a unique way. I sought to do a similar thing by gradually recolouring the images from the Conway collection as the story progresses and as the protagonist solves the murder mystery. At the end, he is surprised to find the image almost most completely coloured, bright and modern (by using a present-day photograph at the very end) which represents his own complete knowledge and the inspiration it has drawn from him.

Detective Bertie turned to Resident 30 and advised him wisely: “’Architecture can be a potent weapon… a committed driving force on the side of enlightenment’, as Lubetkin famously said himself, ‘do not fall into disillusion from uncovering nothing but a head and your own wild imagination. Leave this to empirical evidence”.

Resident 30 returned home. He was furious, he hated being undermined. He turned to the online messageboard and posted one last image of the stairwell looking upwards, clinging onto hope. The stair platforms were like thin bridges between reality and illusion. He imagined his own head, heavy and decapitated with a look of depravity and despair, lips shrivelled and sagging at the sides, eyes black, gorged and bloody. He wrote in one sentence: “Stone head – head under the stairs”. He had an inkling of truth but was still in the dark. He waited to see if the anonymous person replied on the messageboard. Meanwhile, other residents were still convinced the head found under the stairs was a crazed moment of madness, a berserk person who slaughtered another innocent one. Nonetheless, Resident 30 felt that there was still a missing link between the chains that were loose around his mind, like that of the photo he found in the Courtauld with the ‘so-called’ Lenin bust and the huge chains slithering below him.

An edited image of the interior staircase of Bevin Court. The camera is angled up the hollow space in the centre, the top floor is not visible. The floors, walls, and railing curve around the staircase. The ceilings and floors of the upper levels have been recoloured a vivid red, contrasting with the white walls interspersed between them. [CON_B04266_F001_022 – LONDON, Bevin Court, Holford Place, Finsbury. Architect: Skinner, Bailey, Lubetkin, 1953-4. Colourised using LightxEditor. Original image is linked.]

 

Waiting for a reply sickened Resident 30 as he felt like he had a brick in the pit of his stomach. Worry grated on his mind like cement against cement. The walls were starting to close in as a reply finally came with the message “Lenin was under the stairs” and three coloured images attached. He never knew who the commenter replying was. That was a mystery. Sometimes it felt as if the reply was his own mind speaking to him through the images, communicating through the lens and reassuring him with a flash of hope. Lenin was under the stairs. Lenin was under the stairs. Lenin was under the stairs. He hastily hopped out of his chair. Out the front door. Down the stairs. The hallway became darker and darker as he stumbled closer to the bottom. He began to choke on black smog which filled the hall like clouds on an old negative image. The putrid smell of blood was permanently inked into his mind as he ran past the bottom of the stairwell. He needed to see Detective Bertie again. He was terrified and could not understand what was unfolding. His mind kept replaying images of under the stairwell of Bevin Court; he marvelled at the possibility that a small catacomb could exist beneath the ground. A catacomb with yellow brown tones tinting the damp cold walls and the smell of decay permeating the air. Yet he felt doubt gnaw at his skin, had his imagination run out of bounds.

 

The following photographs were taken at the present-day site by the author.

A colour photograph taken looking up to the ceiling in the central staircase inside Bevin Court. The walls curve around a red column, and the walls are painted alternately in a bright crimson and off white. The ceiling is visible towards the top of the photograph with the curved walls spiralling upwards. [LONDON: Bevin Court. Photographer: Lottie Alayo, 2023]

 

A colour photograph of the bust of architect Ernest Bevin. The bust is bronze and is visible in a white recess in a wall behind a pane of glass. Behind the bust, there is a window overlooking leaves and trees. [LONDON: Bevin Court. Photographer: Lottie Alayo, 2023]

 

A colour photograph of the exterior entrance to Bevin Court. The entranceway and sign are visible in the foreground, the walls made of white stone with brown brick details. The façade in the background is decorated similarly. Two separate walls, each covered in rows of windows, meet in the middle with a third wall housing a connecting walkway. At the centre of the top of the photograph, the clear sky is visible. [LONDON: Bevin Court. Photographer: Lottie Alayo, 2023]

 

Detective Bertie held his lips in a thin line, the ceiling fan buzzing annoyingly like a fruit fly. He turned to Resident 30 and looked upon him with bemusement while the latter stared in shock at the photos on the table. The head was, in fact, Lenin’s very own. The detective somehow had all the images he had spent hours gathering. Lenin’s head memorial, the stairwell, the outer façade of the flats, including the ones that he had received on the messageboard which were vibrant in colour, refined, modern, real and complete, like of a piece of artwork. A new head made of bronze was now mocking him. Ernest Bevin. How had he not noticed that before? Countless times he had glided past that same spot when leaving Bevin Court and never noticed the head’s eyes peek out at him from the glass pane. Was he always this oblivious about the place around him? Another picture showed the police resurrecting Lenin’s head from its resting place underground. What about the murder? There was none. But everyone saw it, the police were there? They were only unveiling the head, like a time capsule, as the bust itself was to be placed in Islington Museum for safekeeping. Rumours travel far and murder was the subject. His thirst for knowledge, information and truth was shrouded with a red blanket of imagination politics as he finally discovered Lenin’s political past, and it was littered with red folders of untold stories in the form of photographs. The murder was never real, but the history, effort and excitement were. Lenin was discovered and the mind was opened.

To finish, Lenin’s bust is now resting in Islington Museum, though it spent quite some time under Bevin Court and then some time locked away in the mayor’s office in Islington. Therefore, this story is sort of set in a parallel world where it is present day but some aspects of the story are of the past (as if Lenin’s head was just uncovered!). I decided to include a lot of colour imagery and metaphors of red in my work. This is because red is the symbolic colour of Communism, it was a revolutionary colour. Therefore, by using red to highlight graphic details of the murder as well as gently nudge at the idea of USSR Communism, I was able to easily draw many parallels. The reason I thought this story was fascinating was because it involved a significant, historical figure who had become a controversial topic because of his politics. Lenin is known by many world-wide and yet few know of his shenanigans in London, so I wanted to explore further. I also incorporated as much information not only in the form of small paragraphs but also within the story itself and many of the descriptive elements are drawn from the facts, pictures and the Courtauld. For example, where I mention ‘red folders’ or ‘fruit fly’ (for some humour) is referring to my time at the Courtauld. This is to add a more personal experience to the writing and to immerse the reader in the short story. My overall idea was to create a story that emphasises the importance of the Courtauld for discovery, individuality and creativity, and how images can change the perceptions and understandings of the world around us.

The end.

 

Lottie Alayo
Courtauld Connects Digitisation
Queen Mary University of London
Internship Participant