Integrated Objects: An Interdisciplinary Conference 2022
On 23rd June 2022, a conference for postgraduate researchers was hosted by the Art History and Cultural Practices department at the University of Manchester. The aim was to share methodologies for interpreting and working practically with objects as researchers in the humanities. This special issue of Cultural Practice magazine offers an insight into the papers delivered, whilst reflecting on the conference’s format and the ideas explored throughout the day. It begins with a brief introduction to the themes and topics covered by the programme, written by Florrie Badley.
Image courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery. Joseph Knight, Still Life, 1931, oil on canvas, 62.3 x 72.4, Accession No. 1932.19.
Research in the humanities is often built around objects of interest, which may include artworks, documents, historical artefacts, and other fragments of material culture. Yet, how we understand these objects, and how we approach them as researchers, can vary greatly depending on our subject area, discipline, and personal style of investigative study.
Sharing methodologies for interpreting and working with objects was the aim of the ‘Integrated Objects: Critical Thinking with Things’ conference for postgraduate researchers, held on 23rd June 2022 at the University of Manchester. It was (what we hope will be) the inaugural annual or biennial postgraduate conference organised by the Art History and Cultural Practices department. The conference brought together PGRs from a broad range of humanities disciplines, including Archaeology, Architecture, Art History, Cultural Practices, Literature and more. The articles in this special issue of Cultural Practices magazine represent a sample of the papers delivered during the conference, as well as reflections on the idea sharing and community building practices we explored throughout the day.
The first panel of the day was titled ‘Object Representations,’ chaired by Niels Weijenberg. The papers posed broad questions around the subjectivity of objects, considering how objects are represented in cultural contexts and what meanings they can represent to us, whilst also reflecting on the often-blurred boundaries between these material objects, our sensory perceptions of them and our (not always) distinct understanding of ourselves.
This panel included papers by practising curators, Henriette Pleiger and Zuzana Jakalová, from Bonn, Germany and Brno, Czech Republic, who spoke respectively about exhibiting the history of Down’s Syndrome and contemporary artworks involving psychoactive drugs and birth control technologies. The first talk of the day, however, was given by Simona Amăriuței, a researcher from the department of Russian and Eastern European Studies, who joined us remotely from Lași, Romania. Her paper on ‘The Illusion of Objects’ opens this special issue.
Objects of Research
The second panel of the day, titled ‘Objects of Research,’ was chaired by Florrie Badley. This panel shifted the focus towards practical engagements with material culture as humanities researchers, whilst grappling with the theoretical challenges of such object-oriented methodologies. An extract of Hanna Steyne’s paper, which used creative writing to confront the untraceable history of an object found during an archaeological dig on the Thames Embankment, is included here. The panel also included talks by David Johnson, an architect who systematically photographed everything in his London flat, and Gumring Hkangda, who explored the human impact of Jade and its absence in modern day Burma.
A number of short-form Pecha Kucha presentations were also delivered throughout the day including Elizabeth Gow from the John Rylands Research Institute and Library. Two examples of these presentations, by Paul Knowles and Chukyi Kyaping, also form part of this special issue. The conference organisers then concluded the proceedings with an informal activity rather than platforming a keynote speaker, a decision that Katy Jackson reflects on here, in the closing piece.
A special thanks to Emma Martin and the School of Arts Languages and Cultures, who secured the funding for this event. The conference was a welcome opportunity for PGRs from a range of disciplines to meet, share innovative ideas and reflect on the various ways of approaching a far-reaching theme from different subject perspectives. The diversity of the topics covered by the programme is a testament to the lively postgraduate research environment at UoM and the potential of Art History and Cultural Practices, as an already interdisciplinary department, to play a leading role in bringing the PGR community together through future initiatives.
Florrie Badley is a final year Art History PhD student at the University of Manchester. Her thesis titled ‘Painting in the Age of Print’ explores how Titian, as a sixteenth-century painter, interacted with printed objects and the wider print cultures of Europe as part of his artistic practice. She previously graduated with an MLitt (Distinction) in Technical Art History from the University of Glasgow. This year she co-organised the Integrated Objects conference, alongside Niels Weijenberg and Katy Jackson.