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Dean's Welcome

Welcome from Professor Anthony Bale, Dean of the School of Arts

Welcome to Birkbeck’s Arts Week 2019! Arts Week is an opportunity for us to showcase, and for you to experience, the creativity of research and teaching in the arts and humanities at Birkbeck. Each year we offer a thrilling range of events, from the local to the global. As ever, the arts engage with contemporary social and political debates, and this year explore, in broad terms, the idea of memory.

Memory is particularly important to us this year because the School of Arts is beginning to plan for Birkbeck’s 200th anniversary in 2023. We’re looking for good stories from Arts alumni that we’ll be able to feature in the celebrations. If you studied at Birkbeck, and have a tale to tell about your time here, or about where your studies have led you to since, please do get in touch by emailing

We often think of memory as something transient, or lost, or liable to disappear. However, memory makes lost or absent things present or felt again. During Arts Week 2019 we explore our memories of various histories, some recent, some more distant. In this centenary year of the secession of the Irish parliament from Westminster, Birkbeck’s Colin Teevan along with writers and historians, host a screening of Rebellion 2, exploring Ireland’s departure from its union with Great Britain. We are joined by costume designer Claudia Vogt, who will show replicas of Victorian dolls’ dresses and works from the Bedale’s Costume Collection. We showcase Impermanence Dance Theatre’s striking new film, The Ballet of the Nations, which takes its title and inspiration from a 1915 pacifist allegory by Vernon Lee. We think about what prime ministerial memoires tell us about the individuals and the political contexts behind this genre, in which the personal meets the political. And we have a walking tour of ‘Euston twilight’, visiting the ghosts of Euston’s grand hotels and modest boarding houses, looking at the memories that surround us in contemporary London. And we look at the ways in which nineteenth-century women have been marginalised in today’s digital world, as memories are selective as they are instructive. These are just a few examples of how Arts Week 2019 helps us think about the connections between past and present, and role we have in reshaping our memories of national, intimate, and local pasts. Memory often finds form in written documents, and Arts Week events this year will consider the role of written documents in topics as diverse as the libraries of Jerusalem; John Milton’s will; seventeenth-century Calvinist women’s testimonies; and the Irish Times columns of Myles na gCopaleen.

The School, with its beautiful modern cinema, is a leading hub for work in film history and film studies, and many of our events reflect this. During Arts Week the School’s gallery space, the Peltz Gallery, is hosting a wonderfully rich exhibition, Art at the Frontier of Film Theory, presenting moving image works, audio recordings, drawings, diagrams, photographs and archival materials by Laura Mulvey and Peter Woollen. Film-related events included a screening of, and panel discussion about, Askold Kurov’s documentary, The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov, about the arrest and imprisonment of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov; a screening of Opera of the World  about Koulsy Lamko’s Bintou Wéré: A Sahel Opera which brings together traditions of opera and documentary film; and a screening and discussion of Andrei Tarkovsky's classic Solaris (1972), one of the most celebrated science-fiction films ever made.

Another growing strength in the School of Arts is the field of Medical Humanities, and this year Birkbeck launches two exciting new MA degrees in this field. Arts Week’s events consider memories of illness, including sickness and cure in Emile Zola’s novels, and the mythologies and narratives of syphilis. In Silencing the Virus, an immersive ‘virus’ will be spread through the performance space, as audience members become ‘patients’ in an innovate performance conceived by a computer scientist, a molecular scientist, and a composer. We also host a panel considering the questions of archiving our DNA in an age of mass genealogy, and what this will do to the future idea of the family. And five minutes from the School of Arts, Camden Peoples’ Theatre presents a new performance Human Jam, a theatrical investigation focusing on the exhumation of bodies to make way for HS2.  

Birkbeck Arts Week showcases our work in the School of Arts as teachers, researchers, collaborators, creators, and performers.  Many events are presented by Birkbeck academics, and we have visiting scholars from as far afield as Jerusalem, Japan and the USA. And we celebrate Birkbeck’s links with the National Gallery, the Four Corners Art Collective, the Jewish Museum London, and many others. All events at Birkbeck are free and open to all.

I’ve picked out a few highlights here, but there’s an astonishing array of activities taking place over Arts Week. We’re also keen for you to take part through blogging about an event – if you’d like to write a blog about an Arts Week event please contact , and you can of course follow Arts Week on twitter using the hashtag #bbkartsweek. And if you’re interested in signing up for a course at Birkbeck, from a short course to a BA, an MA, or a PhD, check out our course listings.

As in previous years the festival concludes with a gig, featuring some of the School’s musical talent. Please join us for as many of these events as you can (access the full programme online), make some memories with us, and learn more about the vibrant scholarly culture we have here in the heart of Bloomsbury. It is a great pleasure to welcome you to Arts Week and to the School of Arts at Birkbeck.