Classically Inclined

April 19, 2017

A tiny victory: Mythical Reimaginings

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:46 pm
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Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have noticed that over recent months there’s been a fair bit of content essentially saying *plotplotplot* and not much else. That’s because the project I’ve been working on has many moving parts (and keeps on developing more), is very complicated, and hasn’t had anything really concrete to share beyond ‘this is totally cool’. Until today, or, as I am thinking of it, phase one of taking over the world in a small scale sort of way.

One thing that’s been on my mind with writing the Monster Book has been impact. You might remember that I had some thoughts about what impact actually looks like as a result of the work I did on the AHRC-funding family archive project, and those have been bubbling around in my brain ever since. One of the things I did during my sabbatical this autumn was complete the free five week training course offered by Fast Track Impact in order to think through how I might build impact into the foundations of my research rather than having it something that was a bolt-on. (I thoroughly recommend the course, by the way, although it did take me more than five weeks to work through!)  As part of the reflection process, I started to realise that where I thought my research could make the most difference, outside academics who think about this sort of thing, was with creative types of people – people who create classical receptions, like video game designers and film makers and artists. I was particularly inspired by Stephen Hodkinson’s role as historical consultant in the production of the comic book series Three, which is something that seems really fruitful but I’m not aware of anyone else doing.

I thought about this. I talked about this, tentatively and nervously. And then Tony Keen said ‘have you met Howard Hardiman?’ Because Howard, as it turned out, had just had an exhibition at Brading Roman Villa on the Isle of Wight about reimagining classical myth, and wanted to carry on working in that direction. So we touched base and had a chat, and discovered that we actually come at some of the approaches to this in very similar ways, particularly some of the political possibilities.

There’s a lot of this that’s still in the works and that may either be revealed in due course or have a veil of modesty drawn over them when they fall over, of course – but today, I am delighted to be able to share we have got some funding from the Royal Holloway Research Strategy Fund to create two new video pieces of performance poetry in British Sign Language along with text based on the stories from classical myth. There are many, many reasons that this is fantastically exciting, the biggest for me being the opportunity to feed into the artistic creation process and try out helping to shape a very new sort of medium. But there’s also the joy of being able to fund artistic creativity ethically (as in, with actual money that represents the amount of work put in), and the possibilities that this piece creates for future work, and the fact this will support Deaf artists using their first language.

Basically, I’m very, very excited. And hopefully this is only phase one – although I’ve quite a lot of work to do before the next stages…

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September 8, 2014

On emperors and exhibitions

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 9:23 am
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Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have been hard-pressed to miss the recent flurry of #Aug2K tweets as I live-tweeted my way through the Commemorating Augustus conference at Leeds, ably organised by Penny Goodman. The occasion for all the Augustus excitement is the bimillenium of his death – two thousand years ago in August, the first ever emperor carked it. (Penny has a blog post on how we know the precise date.) The conference was one of those wonderful assortments of people working on things that you’d not think fitted together but that actually each reflect on each other in really interesting ways. I particularly loved the panel my talk belonged to, which had three very different ways of reading Senecan and pseudo-Senecan texts plus a bit of a riff on Flavian coinage. But this is not the only Augustan honorific I’ve seen – I also managed to get over the Channel in time to see the Moi, Auguste exhibition at the Paris Expo before it closed. This show had travelled from Rome with some alterations – Mary Beard saw both versions and wrote about the comparison back in April. Having not seen the Rome version, I’m not in a position to comment, but I do have some thoughts about what I saw.

Obviously, the experience was hugely enhanced by being a classicist, and by going with a classicist – one sneaky reason for the quick trip across was to coincide with a good friend of mine who spends most of the year in the US but was in Europe for the summer. Statues and catching-up coffee – what’s not to like? This meant that when we saw the simply spectacular marble frieze of a naval battle (presumably Actium) featuring a centaur in Hercules’ lion-skin to represent Antony… oh, how we laughed. Honestly, it’s hysterical if you’re familiar with the political polemic of the period, in which Antony tries to associate himself with Heracles for his political benefit, and his enemies describe him as a centaur who can’t control his base physical desires. If ever a student asks whether we aren’t asking too much in expecting an audience to automatically associate a politician with his propaganda, the photo of this frieze is coming out. Subtle it ain’t – and it was expected to be understood long after it had been put up.

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November 1, 2013

Rihanna, Medusa, GQ and Photoshop

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 11:47 am
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Some of you will already have seen on Rogue Classicism that the current edition of GQ features a portfolio of shots taken by Damien Hurst of Rihanna… as Medusa. I saw these photos and thought ‘well, that’s interesting’, but what with my whole Medusa and monsters and space thing, those thoughts just sort of kept going, and here I am, writing a blog post on Rihanna in GQ. Which, somewhat embarrassingly, I keep on mis-typing as CQ, and I can only hope that the editors of that august journal would be amused rather than offended. I’m putting a copy of the front cover picture below the cut to make this vaguely SFW, but if you’ve found this post with the predictable search terms – prepare yourself for a bit of cultural analysis to go along with your mildly salacious picture.

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December 28, 2012

Bronze at the British Academy

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 11:19 am
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I was very glad that I managed to get to see Bronze at the British Academy before it closed at the start of December. There had been a lot of buzz about the exhibition, and I wanted to see how the attempt to combine ancient and modern material worked in tandem with my own obvious interest in the Greek and Roman artefacts on display.

The Dancing Satyr - The Royal Academy of Arts

The Dancing Satyr – The Royal Academy of Arts

To my great personal satisfaction, the exhibition opened with a statue of a dancing satyr from the fourth century B.C. – one of the few surviving examples that we have, because it spent until 1998 in the sea and thus didn’t get melted down in the time between then and now. This is the fate of most classical bronzes – they get shipwrecked, buried or melted for reuse, so the ones that do survive are particularly interesting, especially given the artistic habit of imitating bronzes in marble sculpture. These imitations obviously aren’t as vulnerable to utilitarian impulses, but marble as a medium also has more limitations – many a marble statue from this period leans against a suspiciously convenient tree trunk to stop the piece losing its structural integrity. So to see this dancing satyr stretching out its limbs in all directions, fully in the spirit of the dance, was absolutely breathtaking. (There’s a video that discusses the statue here.)

I rather suspect that the choice of the objects in the show would have struck me as a lot cheekier if I had a wider range of subject knowledge in this field. I draw this conclusion from the brilliant statue of Lucius Mammius Maximus, fully bedecked in toga and in oratorical pose. He looks like every Roman orator stereotype going, and standing next to a number of other sorts of standing figures (including a brilliant Nigerian piece of work and a Giacometti), that is what a visitor to the gallery would suppose he was, given the information on his exhibition label. But wait! For those of us who shelled out for the audio guide, it is revealed that our man is in fact a freedman, an ex-slave, whose statue had been put up by public subscription in the theatre in Herculaneum. Not for one moment would you guess this from anything about the statue – I presume it’s all in the inscription discovered with it. But the exhibition isn’t about to point out to the majority of its guests that this statue actually subverts many of the assumptions that it automatically invites us to make. (Anybody walking too fast past Pablo Picasso’s Baboon and Young without examining its elements too closely might be drawn into making a similar mistake. And the inclusion of Jasper John’s Beer Cans just made me laugh.)

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September 7, 2011

Guest post for Three Pipe Problem!

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:12 am
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I’ve been a bit quiet this week, partly because I spent the weekend in Lymington and then yesterday I was completing the final stage of my move to Birmingham in preparation for the new university term.

However, I’m delighted to be able to point you in the direction of the fruit of some of my summer labours, which is a guest post over at the art history blog Three Pipe Problem on Cicero, Greek sculpture and art theft.

Cicero isn’t my usual stomping ground, but it was great fun to go and do some research on the Verrines and think a bit about the mechanics of the ancient art market – not least because one of my writing group works on temple robbery, and one of the issues that comes up a lot is when removing a statue from a temple is ‘good’ theft and when it’s ‘bad’ theft. Cicero explicitly sets up that dichotomy between Verres and Marcellus in his speech, and it’s a very interesting cultural tightrope that he’s walking.

But don’t take my word for it – click the link, read the post, and share your thoughts with Hasan, the brains behind 3PP who was kind enough to invite me to write in the first place!

May 27, 2011

Pompeii in Times Square

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 1:11 pm
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Yesterday I took myself off to see Pompeii The Exhibit: Life and Death in the Shadow of Vesuvius at the Discovery Channel building in Times Square – it’s only a couple of stops on the subway, and being a professional classicist I thought it would be remiss of me not to go and have a look. I even treated myself to the audio guide. I will admit that I was expecting to raise my trained classical eyebrow and feel ever so slightly superior, but I am delighted to report that I actually got a great deal out of visiting the exhibition.

This is mainly because of the simply superb set of artefacts that the curators have gathered, many of which I had never seen, and some of which have become totemic for teaching and learning about Pompeii. (Sadly no photos were allowed, so you will have to make do with scavenged links.) The exhibition starts with a two minute survey film, including the pleasing factoid that Latin contains no word for volcano, that gives a brief summary of the eruption and its context before releasing you into part one of the exhibition, focusing on daily life. There is then a chamber which attempts, in a somewhat hokey way, to do a reconstruction of the day of the eruption, showing a video of the increasing piles of ash and pumice on buildings and so forth, ending with the pyroclastic surge – from which, with a dramatic cloud of smoke, you are ushered into the room where the body casts are laid out. The final portion of the exhibition contains more daily life material, but it also focuses on the historical timeline of Vesuvius’ activity, and mentions the current concerns about what will happen if the volcano erupts again.

As I say, I have few bones to pick on the general presentation front – Discovery have been very careful not to repeat too many Pompeii Myths, and there’s no mention (for instance) of the old “rich lady found in the gladiator barracks” chestnut (exploded inter alia by Mary Beard here). The objects are laid out clearly, well lit and well spaced, and while some objects are replicas of originals, there are also plenty of actual finds to enjoy. Speaking personally, I found myself wanting to know more and more about The House of the Golden Bracelet, which provided most of the frescos displayed in the exhibition – including this gorgeous garden piece, depicting birds flying and nesting in a garden surrounded by trellis work. What intrigued me about this work, the first thing you see when you come through from the film, is the prominence of Egyptian motifs – there are two sphinxes at the bottom of the right hand panel, and a wee Egyptian style godlet at the bottom of the left hand panel. Plus you have those fascinating circular things hung at the top of the frames of the left and right panels, repeated in other garden frescos from the house, in contrast with the Greek dramatic mask in the central panel. I really wanted to know more about the Egyptian element here, especially given the more ‘traditional’ elements, but frustratingly the guide and explanatory notes didn’t touch on it – although they did note the presence of ducks and lilies in the fountain from the same house as showing Egyptian influence, which I thought was far less compelling.

Anyway, the House of the Golden Bracelet clearly had a cracking interior designer, and I’m going to follow up what I can. Especially the portrait of the Greek poet and librarian Euphorian – how they identified him I do not know, but I want to find out more. (more…)

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