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Ben Cranfield

Lecturer in Cultural Studies

Contact details

Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies
Birkbeck, University of London
Malet Street, Bloomsbury
London WC1E 7HX


I am currently director of the Doctoral Programme in Humanities and Cultural Studies and of the new Mres in Cultural Enquiry, in the School of Arts, Birkbeck and was previously director of the School’s programmes in Arts Policy and Management. I teach in areas of post-war and contemporary visual culture, curatorial studies and art institutions, as well as leading seminars on interdisciplinary research. Prior to this I was a consultant, curator and gallerist in the contemporary arts sector. I completed an AHRC funded doctoral thesis in 2009 and I was a co-director of Birkbeck’s Centre for Media, Culture and Creative Practice 2010-11. In 2010/11 I was supervisor of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the organisation A New Direction, exploring the methods and practices behind the political rhetoric of creativity at the intersection of educational and cultural organisations.

Research and supervision areas

    My current areas of research and supervision include the relationship between ideals and pragmatics in curatorial practice, the histories and politics of art institutions, the theory of archives and institutional memory, and shifting ideas of art and culture in post-war Britain. My doctoral research and recent articles have focused on the history of the ICA, in particular, the emergence of contemporary curatorial practice, with reference to ideas from as diverse sources as Herbert Read, the Independent Group, Archigram, the rebelling students and staff of the 1968 Hornsey Art College sit-in, and the artists Mark Boyle and Joan Hills. I am particularly interested in the dialectical relationship of technocracy and anarchy within post-war art and arts institutions and how this dialectic manifests itself in discourses of the organic, cybernetics, play, chance and networks. I am now broadening this research into a book project, Chasing the Contemporary.

    Following from this research, I have become interested in the problems and possibilities of the relationship between the archival and the curatorial within contemporary exhibition practice and history-making. As part of this enquiry, I have contributed to following events: ‘Curating the Archive’ (Whitechapel Gallery, 2012); ‘Writing the History of the ICA’ (ICA, 2013); ‘Report from the Archive’ (Birkbeck, July 2013); ‘Curating the Archive’ (ICA Friday Salon, 2014); and ‘Curating from Archives’ (Whitechapel Gallery, 2014).

    In addition to historical research, I continue to work closely with cultural organizations and in 2010/11 I was supervisor of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership award with the organisation A New Direction, which specialises in forming partnerships between young people, education and cultural sectors. The aim of the project was to explore the methods and practices behind the political rhetoric of creativity at the intersection of educational and cultural organisations, resulting in a week long series of events and website resource,


    • ‘‘Not Another Museum’: The Search for Contemporary Connection.’ Journal of Visual Culture 12, no. 2 (2013): 313-331.
    • ‘Between Consensus and Anxiety: Curating Transparency at the ICA of the 1950s’ The Journal of Curatorial Studies, no.1 vol.1, spring 2012.
    • ‘Students, Institutes and Artists: the revolution within?’ in Resurgence of the Sixties: The Continuing Relevance of the Cultural and Political Watershed (London and New York: Anthem Press, 2011)
    • ‘Che Guevara in Art,’ in This is Not a Book About Gavin Turk, edited by Rachel Newsome, (London: Trolley Books, forthcoming)
    • ‘Looking Back Without Anger, Robert Priseman’s Places Of Gentle Trauma’, in Hospital: Paintings by Robert Priseman, edited by Robert Priseman with texts by Margaret Iverson and Ben Cranfield (Colchester: Seabrook Press, 2009)
    • ‘Introduction’ and contributing editor, How Soon Is Now: 60 years of the ICA, edited by Ekow Eshun (London: ICA and Cornerhouse, 2008)
    • ‘Dan Baldwin: delaying the rush’, catalogue essay in Dan Baldwin, (London: Forster Gallery, 2008)
    • ‘A Feverish Thing’, catalogue essay in Julie Cockburn, (London: Forster Gallery, 2008)
    • ‘Kitsch for Arts Sake’, catalogue essay in Andrew McAttee, (London: Forster Gallery, 2007)
    • ‘Wendy’s Warning’, catalogue essay in Etienne Clement, (London: Forster Gallery, 2007)

60 Years of Curating, ICA, 2007-2008, pod-cast series, organiser and introductory speaker for:

Conference papers and talks

    • ‘Curating the Archive,’ ICA Salon, March, 2014 (forthcoming)
    • ‘All Play and No Work: museums, exhibitions and transitional objects,’ The Ludic Museum, Tate Liverpool and John Moores University, January 2014
    • Plenary speaker for Report from the Archive: a conference on the occasion of the exhibition Intellectual Tactility, Birkbeck, July 2013
    • ‘Writing the History of the ICA,’ in conversation with Professor Anne Massey, ICA, July 2013
    • “The Parallel Structures of the Curatorial,” Parallel of Life and Art: a conference on the Independent Group, ICA and Middlesex University, May 2013
    • “Chasing the Contemporary,” Weather Reports: a symposium celebrating the work of Prof. Steven Connor, July 2012.
    • “Institutions and their (dis)contents,” Curating the Archive, Whitechapel Gallery, June 2012
    • “Approaching the Archives of the Contemporary: the uncertainty of the institutional historian,” BUNK: 60 Years of the Independent Group, ICA, April 2012
    • “Knowledge Transfer and Artistic Practice: Engaging with Change through Creative Process and Product,” KTP Conference, University of Brighton, May 2011
    • “Drawing Parallels between Life and Art: Challenges to the Art School in Fifties and Sixties Britain,” Art Schools: Invention, Invective and Radical Possibilities conference, University College London, June, 2010
    • Plenary speaker for Collaborative Research conference, Institute of Historical Research and Tate Britain, funded by the AHRC (February, 2009)
    • ‘“Didn’t they realize that he might be a terrorist upstart treading these virgin white terraces?” students, institutes and artists; the revolution within’, 1968: Impact and Implication', BSA Theory Study Group conference, British Sociological Association, Warwick University and Birkbeck College, University of London, July, 2008
    • 'We have begun to cherish disorder': 'Living Arts' and the mythology of a generation.’ Writing, Art and Radicality conference, MIRIAD, Manchester Metropolitan University, September 2007
    • ‘Owning the ‘Long Front of Culture’; Lawrence Alloway, Herbert Read and cultural amnesia at the ICA in the 1950s and 1960s,’ Generations conference, Institute of Historical Research, University of London, June 2007
    • ‘Transparent Form’, CDA Workshop, Victoria &Albert Museum, March 2007