By Professor Sarah Street, Professor of Film and Foundation Chair of Drama, School of Arts
From October to December 2023, the British Film Institute (BFI) curated a special UK-wide season of screenings and events to celebrate the work of visionary British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. In a partnership spanning thirty-three years and twenty-four films, Powell and Pressburger transformed cinema with their bold storytelling and vivid cinematography, most notably in The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus. As an academic specialist on British cinema history, Professor Sarah Street participated in several of the events and here tells us about her contributions.
To mark the opening of the Cinema Unbound season, the BFI published The Cinema of Powell and Pressburger, a superbly illustrated book co-edited by Nathalie Morris and Claire Smith. This includes a chapter by Sarah Street on the filmmakers’ extraordinary use of Technicolor which draws on research arising from several major projects on colour films led by Sarah Street and funded by the AHRC and Leverhulme Trust. It was also informed by her in-depth study of Black Narcissuswhich featureswith a link to a chapter in the BFI/Bloomsbury’s Screen Studies online publication on Powell and Pressburger.The Cinema of Powell and Pressburgerincludes many sumptuous imagesshowcasingan extraordinary range of original set and costume designs, photographs and objects, many of which are in the BFI’s own archives. The book was launched at the BFI Southbank in conjunction with the opening of a major exhibition on The Red Shoes. A special cake was made to mark the occasion.
As part of the Powell and Pressburger season the BFI held several discussions on fascinating dimensions of their work. Sarah Street contributed to ‘Centre Stage: The leading women of Powell and Pressburger’, appearing alongside Professor Lucy Bolton (Queen Mary, University of London), critic, writer and historian Pamela Hutchinson and writer Lillian Crawford. The second panel discussion was ‘Queering Powell and Pressburger’, with Dr Andrew Moor (Manchester Metropolitan University), Emma Smart, Director of Collections, Learning and Engagement at the BFI, and Zorian Clayton, Curator of Prints at the V&A and BFI Flare programmer. Each panelist chose extracts from a selection of Powell and Pressburger’s films which illustrated many key themes. These included queer perspectives on the films, offering fresh understandings of iconic performances by well-known actors such as Anton Walbrook and Ruth Byron, and British character actors such as Charles Hawtrey and Judith Furse.
Professor Sarah Street (third from left) participates in a panel discussion on the theme of ‘British Blonde’
Sarah Street is currently collaborating with Claire Smith, Senior Curator of Special Collections at the BFI and Professor Melanie Bell, University of Leeds on a three-year research project, ‘Film Costumes in Action’, funded by the AHRC. She also recently contributed to a panel discussion held at the V&A in connection with a series of lectures by art historian Professor Lynda Nead, Birkbeck, University of London, funded by the Paul Mellon Centre. These were on the theme of ‘British Blonde’, focusing on four celebrated, notorious blonde women: Diana Dors, Ruth Ellis, Barbara Windsor and Pauline Boty. Filmmakers Catherine Grant and John Wyver made four video essays in response to the lectures which were discussed in the last session of the series by Sarah Street and Professor Melanie Williams, University of East Anglia.
By George Thomas, Faculty of Arts Research Events and Communications Coordinator
As 2023 draws to a close, we caught up with some of our Faculty Research Centres and Groups to learn about their highlights from the academic and calendar year, as well as activities they are particularly looking forward to in 2024. To find out more about our Faculty Research Centres and Groups and how to get involved, please see contact details and website links provided at the end of each entry.
The Sensing Spaces of Healthcare showcase takes place on 14 February 2024
Highlights for Spring 2024 include a showcasing of Dr Victoria Bates’s UKRI-funded Future Leaders Fellowship project on Sensing Spaces of Healthcare, taking place on 14 February, followed by an early-career event on ‘Narrating Public Health Taboos’, a practice-based workshop with the artist Hannah Mumby, scheduled for 20 February. A talk on epistemic injustice by Professor Havi Carel and Dr Dan Degerman will be taking place in March. The annual Art Exhibition organized by Dr John Lee, featuring art works by students from the Intercalated BA in Medical Humanities, will be held at People’s Republic of Stokes Croft in May. On 11-12 June, the CHHS will also host a grant-writing workshop and retreat at Hawkwood College in Stroud. Last but not least, the new year will see the publication of Key Concepts in Medical Humanities (Bloomsbury Academic), a collection of essays on topics such as ‘health, ‘illness’, ‘neurodiversity’, ‘disability’, and ‘death and dying’, as well as approaches including ‘narrative medicine’, ‘graphic medicine’, ‘medicine and the visual arts’ and ‘’the Black health humanities’. The book is authored by members and affiliates of the Centre for Health, Humanities and Science.
The Centre for Creative Technologies has had a successful year, forming a community that brings together creative practitioners, academics, and researchers. Our Alternative Technologies Workshop Series offered a great chance to reflect critically on developing technologies within the Metaverse, Blockchain, AI and Mega-engineering, and connect University of Bristol academics with Pervasive Media Studio residents.
Dr Paul Clarke presents on the Centre’s panel ‘Affective Relations’ at the Zip-Scene conference in Prague
From these connections, we saw some successful applications that blossomed into projects from our Creative Technologies Seedcorn Fund; VR games and storytelling, platform cultures, mixed reality experiences of futures in Colombia, and creative skills in animation and co-production in Amazonia. The Future Speculations Reading Group has grown, and we will be expanding the sessions with the Centre for Sociodigital Futures with a focus on community and creative technologies. The summer term ended with our keynote speaker, Dr Eduard Arriaga-Arango, sharing his research on Afrolatinx digital culture and data decolonisation. Our July event, Queer Methodologies in Creative Technologies, has developed into a two-day event in November consisting of artist workshops and an open forum; Queer Practices and Creative Technologies. The Centre curated a panel, ‘Affective Relations: Empathy, imagination and care in immersive experiences’, at the Zip-Scene conference in Prague, one of the leading international extended reality (VR/AR/MR) and interactive storytelling conferences, which was also an opportunity to network with related Centres, academics and artists in this field.
Dr Francesco Bentivegna presents on the Centre’s panel ‘Affective Relations’ at Prague’s Zip-Scene conference
The Concept Game Jam, run with Bristol Digital Game Lab and sponsored by MyWorld, opened up conversations around Algorithmic Bias related to co-director Professor Edward King’s UKRI Project ‘Contesting Algorithmic Racism Through Digital Cultures In Brazil’. We plan to organise events to share this project’s progress, and are currently building the project page on our website with regular blogs for members to follow. Our Friday Lunchtime talk series at the Watershed will continue, as well as further collaborations with the Pervasive Media Studio. Our membership and scope have grown, and this year we hope to solidify connections between academics and PM Studio residents and develop our connection with Knowle West Media Centre by focusing on community technologies. We plan to organise a workshop series run by PhD and ECR centre members at the Pervasive Media Studio in the run up to our final summer event on community and creative technologies, with a keynote speaker.
2023 has been a busy year for the Centre for Environmental Humanities. Our first major event was a workshop in February on ‘the Future of the Environmental Humanities’, which brought together around 30 people from across the Faculty and beyond, together with Melina Buns from our partners at the University of Stavanger’s Greenhouse Center, and Michelle Bastian from the University of Edinburgh. This was a valuable opportunity to reflect on our existing strengths and think about strategies for the centre to develop and grow.
Thanks to the vagaries of the academic calendar, 2023 also saw two annual lectures! In June we hosted Professor Gisela Heffes from Rice University, who spoke on the aesthetics of toxicity in contemporary Latin America, and in November we welcomed Professor Imre Szeman from the University of Toronto, who discussed the future of clean energy and gave us a literary analysis of the environmental writings of Bill Gates…
Alongside these major events, we’ve been continuing with our usual programme of seminars, and have also introduced a weekly tea/coffee catch up, which has proved a valuable and relaxed space for the sharing of ideas, reading recommendations and plans. We’ve been delighted to welcome our first cohort of students on the MA in Environmental Humanities, who are already proving a lively addition to the CEH community.
We’ve begun a collaboration with a curator, Georgia Hall, on working with artists in the environmental humanities, thanks to a grant from the Faculty’s AHRC Impact Acceleration Account. We look forward to continuing this collaboration in 2024. We are also hard at work, alongside other research centres in the Faculty, on a bid for one of the AHRC’s new ‘doctoral focal awards’ on the theme of ‘arts and humanities for a healthy planet, people and place’.
The American Studies Research Group experienced an amazing 2023! Membership increased to include over forty staff and graduate students from across the Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences and Law. Beyond our steering group, we have established three sub-committees to advance strategic goals, including partnerships, funding, and events. Our graduate training initiative, led by Dr Thomas M. Larkin and Dr Darius Wainwright, was well attended and provided important support for our PGR students. Our regular speaker series garnered positive feedback through presentations by such scholars as Ian Tyrrell, Dr Lorenzo Costaguta, Dr Erin Forbes, Dr Kate Guthrie, and Beth Wilson. We also helped to organize and host the British Association of Nineteenth-Century Americanists (BrANCA) 6th Biennial Symposium, which drew scholars from across the world to share their latest research. Our partnership with the American Museum (Bath) inspired additional consultations and collaboration, while the strengthening of our research environment contributed to new publications, including articles by Jim Hilton, Paula K. Read, Victoria Coules and Professor Michael J. Benton, and Dr Thomas M. Larkin.
We are excited by our plans for 2024. We will be hosting Professor Vanessa N. Gamble (The George Washington University) as the Bristol Benjamin Meaker Distinguished Visiting Professor. She will work closely with our group on funding and partnership development, as well as deliver four research presentations. We are pleased to continue hosting a range of external seminar speakers, including Nathan Cardon, Sharon Monteith, and Thomas Arnold-Foster. We are grateful for the financial support of the Faculty and the British Association for American Studies (BAAS).
The Early Modern Studies research group has had a very productive 2023. In May 2023, EMS organised the ‘Place and Space in the Early Modern World’ workshop (already reported on the Arts Matter Blog). In the summer we held our annual Summer Symposium featuring 4 panels of two speakers each, with papers ranging from early music to Anglo-Dutch identities; from stage corpses to Venus and Adonis; and from Philip Sidney’s translation of a devotional work to Shakespeare’s history plays and his will. The start of the new academic year (TB1) saw the occasion for a research celebration: many good news stories, research updates, and a celebration of two first monographs published by Dr Dana Lungu and Dr Gonzalo Velasco Berenguer. EMS will soon hold their annual ‘conversations’ event (Dec 2023); and for 2024 has further early modern events lined up.
Dr Sebastiaan Verweij opens the ‘Place and Space in the Early Modern World’ workshop
Since its inception, the Drinking Studies Faculty Research Group has been running a research seminar series with local, national, and international speakers to bring together local members and spark productive conversations. We have had flash talks from PhD students and local academics to get to know each other better as a group, and talks from experts in the wider field of Drinking Studies. Dr Deborah Toner (University of Leicester) joined us in June to talk about her experience of collaborative work and bringing history and policy together with international partners in South America. Dr Susan Flavin (TCD) joined us in September to talk about her interdisciplinary project on early modern brewing techniques including an exciting authentic brew which was tasted by the members of the project and examined by chemists and nutritionists to investigate much discussed questions around the ABV and nutritional qualities of these early brews. In the coming year, we are hosting the Drinking Studies Network conference at Bristol (March 2024) which will bring together local, national, and international researchers to discuss writing about alcohol.
The Screen Research group had a very successful 2023. We ran a series of workshops on video-essay making, which allowed participants to develop key technical and analytical skills related to video-essay production, and to gain insight into best practices when it comes to integrating video-essays as unit assessments. The sessions were delivered by leading experts in the field, including Prof. Catherine Grant. 2023 also saw the publication of Dr Miguel Gaggiotti’sNonprofessional Screen Performance (Palgrave Macmillan) and Professor Catherine O’Rawe’sThe Nonprofessional Actor: Italian Neorealist Cinema and Beyond (Bloomsbury), two monographs greatly shaped and informed by Screen Research events, sessions and partnerships. The short films Nothing Echoes Here (Hay, 2023) and Pouring Water on Troubled Oil(Massoumi, 2023), directed by group members, also had their festival premieres in 2023. We hope to continue this success into 2024.
Dr Miguel Gaggiotti’s new monographProfessor Catherine O’Rawe’s new monograph
We will be running further events and training sessions on video-essay production, an area group members have shown a particular interest in, which has led to an ongoing series of monthly video-essay work-in-progress sessions where members share their work and receive peer feedback. The video-essay is now being adopted as a form of undergraduate assessment in the Faculty, so we are also working on best practice for assessing it, and have invited Dr. Estrella Sendra of KCL to talk to members about using the video-essay as a pedagogical tool. We will also be running a one-day practice-as-research symposium in collaboration with UWE (in June 2024) as well as a joint book launch for Catherine O’Rawe’s and Miguel Gaggiotti’s monographs in early 2024, among other activities!
The Bristol Digital Game Lab showcased a vibrant array of events throughout 2023, providing a platform for scholars, students, and enthusiasts to delve into the multifaceted world of digital gaming.
The Lab initiated the academic year with a thought-provoking online roundtable on October 24, where experts and major UK game lab leads gathered to discuss the implications of the Video Games Research Framework (launched by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in May) on individual research, and how game labs, centres, and networks could support its aims. The event featured two esteemed keynote speakers: Prof. Peter Etchells, who was involved in drafting the Framework, and Dr Tom Brock, the Chair of British DiGRA.
‘Music and Sound in Games’, a collaborative event between the Game Lab and Digital Scholarship @Oxford
Following this, on October 31, the Lab collaborated with Digital Scholarship @Oxford and organised a hybrid panel and roundtable titled “Music and Sound in Games”. Expert speakers from both industry and academia dissected the impact of music on gaming narratives, characters, and emotional engagement. The digital roundtable facilitated by Dr Richard Cole further delved into critical conversations surrounding this fascinating aspect of game design.
Towards the end of November, the Lab hosted an exciting inaugural event, the ‘Concept’ Game Jam, co-organised with the Centre for Creative Technologies and sponsored by MyWorld. The Game Jam challenged the 40 participants to explore how gaming mechanisms could shed light on the biases embedded in algorithms, especially in the realm of machine learning and AI. It stimulated creative thinking about the intersection of gaming and algorithmic bias and some teams came up with innovative working prototypes.
Bristol Digital Game Lab has expanded to over 150 members, gaining increasing international recognition
December will start with the Antiquity Games Night, a novel monthly online meetup organised by Dr Richard Cole and Alexander Vandewalle (University of Antwerp/Ghent University). Scholars, students, and designers will gather to play antiquity games, fostering an engaging space that blends academic discussions with gaming experiences.
Closing the year on a festive note, the Lab will bring back the “Festive Gaming” event on December 14. This event will invite participants to join in for an evening of social gaming, featuring the latest releases and playtests of upcoming games. The lineup included contributions from Catastrophic Overload, Meaning Machine, and Auroch Digital, providing a platform for networking, exploration, and celebration within the gaming community.
In summary, the Bristol Digital Game Lab’s 2023 events were a testament to the diversity and richness of the digital gaming landscape. From scholarly discussions on research frameworks and ancient history to hands-on game jams and festive gaming, the Lab succeeded in creating a dynamic space that catered to a broad spectrum of interests within the gaming community. The Lab has expanded to a network with more than 150 members, gaining increasing recognition internationally.
Looking ahead to 2024, we will be hosting an ECR/Postgraduate work-in-progress event in January, followed by a series of industry talks with a headline from Ndemic Creations, a roundtable on accessibility, as well as a conference on New Directions in Classics, Gaming, and Extended Reality. We look forward to seeing you there!
Although Bristol Common Press has been in existence since 2021, much of the printing materials were, as of June 2022, still to be sorted. Enter the interns! As my research focuses on woodcuts, I considered myself very lucky to get the opportunity for some practical experience, and so I was tasked with sorting and cataloguing woodblocks. Naively, I believed that the cataloguing part could be done in the first three or four weeks, with the final two or three weeks devoted to creating some aesthetically pleasing project, or background research. More on that later…
The first week was given over to learning the process of printing using the metal letterpress type, from compiling the text (an ability to read both backwards and upside down is a helpful skill here), to printing, and then distributing the type back in the right compartment of the right case, in a process known as ‘dissing’. By the end of the week I had a new-found admiration for printmakers; not only is printmaking a fiddly, time-consuming process, but they do not get to sit down.
The second week I was let loose on the woodblocks. At first I felt like a kid at Christmas, with plenty of boxes to open. But, as box after box was placed in front of me, the enormity of the task finally dawned. Still, plenty of gorgeous blocks to coo over, so I got going. I first did a rough manual print of all the blocks, a messy process during which I learnt that hand sanitiser gets ink off most things, including tables, but not hands. I used these prints to categorise the blocks, a very fluid and subjective process (read: make it up as I go along).
Once the categories and sub-categories were finalised, it was time to begin printing the catalogue. This is where I learnt how much of an effect tiny differences in block height could have, that some blocks were really hard to print cleanly due to the shallowness of the relief, and that a clean print from practice paper does not guarantee a clean print from the good and much more expensive paper. In short, printing is a long and frustrating process involving lots of trial and error (and paper), but so rewarding when it goes well! My plan was to print all the blocks within their sub-categories, then manually typeset headings at the top of each page and dividers between each category. But, with literally hundreds of blocks, it was an impossible task to get done, or even half done, in six weeks. What it’s shown, as someone who researches illustrated documents, is how skilled a job it is to incorporate both, even within cheap print.
By the end of the internship, I had produced many sheets of images of which I am very proud, and which show the richness of the resource that’s available. There’s everything from images of circus performers to farm animals, from people at work and leisure to decorative patterns, and lots in between. So, although I haven’t finished my project, I will be back to continue it, just as soon as they let me.
Update: As of December 2023, I have returned to the BCP in order to complete my training as a Printer’s Devil, and have also run the first of hopefully many PGR Printing Workshops, alongside Shauna Roach. No further with the catalogue printing though!
Fiona Feane is a PhD History of Art candidate with research interests in the representation of women in seventeenth century popular print, in particular broadside ballad woodcuts. Her thesis also covers seventeenth century fashion and theatrical costume, and the relationship between image and text. To find out more about Fiona’s research, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Bristol Common Press, please visit https://bristolcommonpress.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/.