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Arts Week 2015

A welcome from Professor Hilary Fraser, Dean of Arts

Welcome to Arts Week, our annual springtime opportunity to showcase the exciting research and teaching profile of the School of Arts at Birkbeck.

This year’s Arts Week celebrates the imaginative realisation of the past in the contemporary arts. It opens and closes with the eighteenth century, leading with award-winning writer and illustrator Chris Riddell’s discussion of the influence of Jonathan Swift’s satirical writing on his own career, and with a rehearsed reading of Steve Waters’ new radio play Scribblers which charts the stormy relationship between young playwright Henry Fielding and the First Minister Robert Walpole, and dimming the lights at the end for a spectacular finale with Mervyn Heard and his magic lantern show. Along the way, audiences have an opportunity to experience and discuss a number of theatrical and filmic adaptations of eighteenth and nineteenth-century art and writing: an innovative performance of Blake’s Dream: Vala or the Four Zoas created by Blake specialist Luisa Calè and directed and performed by students on the MFA Theatre Directing; a discussion of Mike Leigh's recent film, Mr Turner, with art historians and specialists involved in its production; and a workshop with the composer and directors of recently released film Sea Without Shore, a lyrical exploration of love and loss that draws on the writings of nineteenth-century poet Algernon Charles Swinburne.

At the heart of this year’s programme we are holding a very special event – Found in Translation – to celebrate the biennial Man Booker International Prize, whose judging panel is chaired by writer and Birkbeck academic Marina Warner. On the evening before the announcement of the winner of the 2015 award, join some of the finalists as they discuss the impact of translation and read from their novels in English and the original language. It is fitting for Arts Week, not only because it extends our well established relationship with the Booker Foundation, with whom we collaborate to bring a recently shortlisted author to Birkbeck each year for a major public event, but also because it reflects so much of what the School of Arts is known for: its internationalism; its mission to bring the best of contemporary culture to a wide audience; and its sense of the cultural histories and geographies of the present.

The themes of translation and adaptation weave through the programme, from a roundtable on adapting Diderot’s Le Neveu de Rameau to a performance of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner as a study of guilt. We have the chance to discuss poems on film, Shakespeare in performance, and historical fictions – all forms of translation and reimagining – and to hear the Director of UBC’s Museum of Anthropology talk about the challenges of curating a major exhibition of Portuguese popular art that deals with historical imaginations. There are opportunities to reflect on cultural globalisation in various contexts throughout the week, and also to be introduced to the amazing medieval globetrotter Margery Kempe by her most recent translator Anthony Bale, who will talk about his newly published edition of her Book, often described as the first autobiography in English.

On the first afternoon, Marina Warner, Laura Mulvey, Brian Dillon and Fiona Candlin take part in an interdisciplinary symposium embracing museums, art, myth, literature and film on a topic that informs every event in the programme to follow: curiosity. I hope your own curiosity is aroused, and I can guarantee it will be satisfied, by Arts Week, and I very much look forward to seeing you at 43 Gordon Square and other associated venues in mid-May for a week of sociability, culture and intellectual exchange.

Hilary Fraser
Dean of Arts

Professor Hilary Fraser