Imagining and reimagining Rome with the Midlands4Cities Doctoral Training Partnership

At the start of June, a group of nine students from the Midlands4Cities DTP arrived at the BSR for a week-long residential workshop, bringing together doctoral researchers in archaeology, art history and theory, classics, museum studies, performing arts, and photography. Taking the creative community of the BSR as a model, the aim of the workshop was to use the city of Rome as a stimulus for conversations across a range of academic and practice-based disciplines.

Co-produced by Midlands4Cities academics and BSR staff and award-holders, the programme was designed to build connections between our doctoral researchers and the wider community of artists and scholars at the BSR.

Anna Brass Studio Visit 2

Studio visit with Anna Brass. Photo by Lara Pucci.

Our activities began with visits to the studios of artist award-holders Anna Brass and Jade Ching-yuk Ng, led by Marta Pellerini (Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator). Hearing Anna and Jade talk about the challenges and rewards of making new work amidst Rome’s vast artistic heritage was the perfect introduction to our explorations of the city. Our studio conversations introduced themes that would crop up again and again over the course of the week: the unresolvedness of the urban fabric, things not being (materially) what they seem, the proliferation of fragments and layers, and the tension between history and contemporaneity.

With these themes in mind, Neil Christie (University of Leicester) led a walking tour of city walls and gates, starting with the Porta Pinciana and ending with what remains of the Servian walls at Stazione Termini. Neil got us thinking about how Rome has been defined and redefined by its walls, and how what remains of them tells a story about the physical and ideological development of the city.

Piazza Colonna

Walking tour with Neil Christie. Photo by Lara Pucci.

After our first foray into streets of Rome, we returned for an archival tour of the city with librarian Valerie Scott and archivist Alessandra Giovenco. Valerie and Alessandra showed us highlights from the BSR’s incredible topographical collections – including Piranesi’s improbable etchings, Robert Macpherson’s pioneering photographs, and Sir William Gell’s delightful sketchbook – sharing fascinating insights into collection history and conservation practice along the way.

Library Archive Session

Library and Archive session. Photo by Lara Pucci.


The Pantheon photographed by Robert MacPherson, 1850s. Courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archives.


Close-up of a William Gell notebook. Photo by Ben White.

Harriet O’Neill (Assistant Director for the Humanities and Social Sciences) led a follow-up session engaging the group in collaborative research to produce a museum label for one of a selection of intriguing archival objects. Working in multidisciplinary groups, students got to grips with researching unfamiliar objects and interpreting them for a general audience, bringing to light new information about the BSR’s collections in the process.


Photo by Antonio Palmieri.


Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

Wednesday took us to the Roman Forum in the company of Niccolò Mugnai (BSR Residential Research Fellow). Niccolò expertly guided us through the Forum’s fragments and layers, unpacking the evolution of the ancient city, and exploring alternative theories about what remains. Taking refuge from the heat, we concluded our Forum visit in Santa Maria Anitqua whose immersive multimedia displays allowed us to examine the effectiveness of digital technologies in heritage interpretation.

Niccolo Forum

Forum visit with Niccolò Mugnai. Photo by Lara Pucci.

Back at the BSR, David Robinson (University of Nottingham) invited us, by way of the writing of nineteenth-century British travellers, to return vicariously to the sites we had visited that morning. Examining the ways in which the Roman Empire was used both to endorse and critique British imperialism, David got us thinking about the multiple and expedient ways in which the Roman past has been reimagined.

This set the scene for Thursday’s visit to Piazza Augusto Imperatore where Chris Siwicki (BSR Rome Fellow) and Lara Pucci (University of Nottingham) discussed Augustan monuments and their fascist-era appropriation. As well as comparing the political uses of architecture under both regimes, we shared ideas about shifting attitudes to heritage and conservation, including the vexed debates surrounding the material legacies of the fascist past.


At the Ara Pacis with Chris Siwicki and Lara Pucci. Photo by Ben White.

The collaborative theme continued into the afternoon with an inspiring talk by Stephen Milner (BSR Director) on the biology of the book. Hearing about Stephen’s innovative work with the Books and Beasts project highlighted the rich possibilities of research co-production across the humanities and sciences.

That evening, we were introduced to the cinematic city by way of the BSR’s screening of Roma, città aperta (dir. Roberto Rossellini, 1945) to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Rome. Viewing Rossellini’s on-screen reclamation of Rome from Fascism neatly bridged our on-site explorations of the city’s fascist and cinematic heritage.

Friday morning took us to Cinecittà for a tour of sets and studios. Visiting the set built for HBO’s Rome series was a particular favourite. Having immersed ourselves in the fragmented authenticity of the ancient city, the vision of a fibreglass Rome made whole, however inauthentically, proved captivating.


Cinecittà. Photo by Lara Pucci.

After the spectacular fakery of Cinecittà, we spent the afternoon exploring a wealth of original artworks and documents at the Giulio Turcato Archive. This special visit, organised by Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries), introduced the group to a key figure in Rome’s post-war art scene. As Martina led us through the collection, we discussed the peripheral place of Italy in histories of modern art, as well as issues of archival research and practice.

On Saturday morning, our work-in-progress session invited small groups of students to present initial responses to the week’s activities. Each group brought together researchers from different disciplines and institutions to consider how their varied expertise might, collaboratively, address questions raised by things we had seen in Rome.

The first group (Rachael Banes, Kallina Brailsford, Zoltán Pallag) examined the musealisation of Santa Maria Antiqua, raising urgent questions about the competing priorities of historical narrative and visitor experience. Group two (Laura Dudley, Emily Gray, Ben White) used an independent visit to the Time is Out of Joint exhibit at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna as a point of departure for exploring Rome’s rich dialogues between past and present. Our third group (Ashley Chhibber, Tadas Stalyga, Jessica Venner) introduced the evocative concept of scavenging to draw attention to the highly selective conservation of the city’s material heritage.


Photo by Ben White.

The sharing of these thought-provoking ideas was a real highlight of our week at the BSR.

Students are now exploring ways to develop these Roman discussions into more resolved work back in the Midlands, where we plan to expand our collaborative conversations to include researchers from the wider M4C cohort.

In the meantime, we hope that our workshop participants will return to their research refreshed by the experience of Rome. By inviting students to step outside the intense focus of their PhD projects, the workshop encouraged them to reflect on how alternative approaches might inform their own practice. If research is enriched by conversation, there should be no shortage of wealth to take back to the Midlands!


Lara Pucci (Assistant Professor in History of Art, University of Nottingham)

June Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Jonathan Kim

As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The fifth interview is from Jonathan Kim our Helpmann Academy Resident.


Jonathan & The White series in studio 7

Photo: Jonathan Kim

Hello Jonathan, so what are you working on at the moment?

I’m making these drawings which I call paintings because after drawing I do more processing with ink, water and cotton wool. It’s like expanded painting. I’m making these for the exhibition at the Romanian Academy and I’ll also make sculptures using the materials in the Academy. They have a store room where they have wood stocks which I’m making into a sculpture.

I see your equipment – the set square and the ruler. Have you always used these?

My previous work was not geometrical, it was inspired by the Korean patchwork tradition (Jogakbo) in which there are not a lot of white geometrical shapes. People in Korea were poor in the past and didn’t have enough money to buy textiles so they would make textiles using rags, from which they would create blankets, clothes or hangings. My early works used a Korean patchwork combination of colour.

In my recent drawings I’ve been inspired by Roman design, monuments and architecture. I then add geometrical shapes into my compositions. The white may be inspired by Roman white marble: I really like the colour and the texture. But it may not only be from there, it’s my intuitive response to Rome, although its roots may be from elsewhere.

My work is rooted in a phenomenology of perception. Artists respond to their environment without thinking, through the body: an intuitive response to the buildings. That’s my theory. Look at these drawings for example: where is the positive space and where is the negative space?

Yes…I’m not sure.

Exactly. Because sometimes the colour is a positive space and white is a negative space, in theory. However, some people see the white as the form of an object and colour as negative background. There is no final answer. I want to ask people what they think of my drawing and if they feel something that’s an answer.

My practice is based on post-minimalist concepts, and before undertaking the residency in Rome I was particularly focused on the Korean painting style Dansaekhwa and the Japanese sculptural concept Mono-ha. The Korean painting style has texture, it’s called Dansaekhwa. In Mono-ha you put two or three materials together to create a relationship within the space.

The White series, 2019, crayon, oil pastel and ink on paper, 21x28.4cm (each)

The White series, 2019, crayon, oil pastel and ink on paper, 21×28.4cm (each)

Is that how you reconcile your two very different practices of sculpture and painting?

Yes, but they are two concepts that derive from a philosophy which Korean artist Lee Ufan developed called ‘Encounter theory’. Lee now works in France, he founded the Mono-ha movement in the 1970s in Japan and led the Dansaekhwa movement in the 1980s in Korea.

So, what is Encounter Theory?

For example, in my sculpture, you find stone and steel together: they are very different materials. The artist doesn’t make anything: you put something in the space and together they create a relationship through the interaction between each other. In Mono-ha, the relationship is an art work. I call this spatiality.

I believe this is relevant to an Asian theory, connected to the theory of Yin and Yang where material can stand for anything, so for example steel is cold and wood is warm. This works for colour too with the Five Elements Theory: white stands for metal, black is for water, red is for fire, blue is wood and Yellow is soil. Korean people always think about materials as embodying another kind of other being. I put together different materials to create relationships between them. I want to create spatial relationships amongst materials in a phenomenological way.

I apply these theories in my work. So here you have steel with paper: steel is cold and paper is really warm, creating a balance. In the West, perhaps plus and minus together don’t compensate for each other, whereas in Asia plus and minus together create a balance. And here, stone is cold and steel is a little colder: minus and more minus can create a balance too. They balance each other out and create a harmony with the environment.

Wood and Earthen I, 2019, found branch and broken pot, 30x30x80cm

Wood and Earthen I, 2019, found branch and broken pot, 30x30x80cm

How are you developing your practice in Rome?

My painting and sculpture is based on Dansaekhwa and Mono-ha, and Encounter Theory. I find that Mono-ha and Dansaekhwa have limitations in terms of materials and as concepts because both movements have very traditional roots. I want to expand this type of theory with my work and since I’m in Rome I’ve been looking at Arte Povera because it has a broader concept of materials. My sculptures and paintings have developed within an Arte Povera framework. Some materials contain the memory and history of the previous user. With Mono-ha and Dansaekhwa, the materials used for art do not have any memory or history from the former user: they are just raw materials. Whereas with Arte Povera, the materials are from everyday life and so everything you see in my sculptures here is from the surrounding environment of the BSR.

Tin & Brick II, 2019, found tuna tins in the hole of a brick wall

Tin & Brick II, 2019, found tuna tins in the hole of a brick wall

Jonathan’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries). Photos courtesy of the artist. 

June Mostra 2019/ Meet the artists… Andrew Bonneau

As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The fourth interview is from Andrew Bonneau our Fletcher Foundation Resident.

AB in studio

Photo: Antonio Palmieri

Will you show these drawings (pictured above) at the June Mostra?

Yes, I will show these drawings and maybe some paintings too. Mostly my paintings are en plein air done in the Borghese gardens and at the Forum.

How do you select your subjects?

There are some iconic sculptures that are well known and are part of the academic drawing canon, like this one (pictured below): the Ludovisi Ares/Mars at Rest from Palazzo Altemps. I wanted to see what it is about these sculptures that sets them apart from others. Drawing this one yesterday, I realised that it’s a real masterpiece. The quality of the pose, even the forms of the muscles, have this kind of contained energy. Even the in expression on the face, there’s a consistency to the whole figure which is of a certain mood.

Mars at Rest, Palazzo Altemps

Ludovisi Ares/Mars at Rest from Palazzo Altemps

Is this energy different from other sculptures you have seen?

Yes, definitely. I have made a drawing of Athena, also from Palazzo Altemps. I chose this more for its meaning rather than its aesthetic qualities, although of course aesthetics play a part. Athena is a warrior goddess, a supreme character, very majestic. She’s an important goddess for the Athenians, in the Odyssey she guided Telemachus to find his father. But this sculpture is actually heavily restored. The torso is original second century Roman, but the head and the legs are from the seventeenth century so it’s kind of a hybrid – they did a nice job of trying to make it consistent. However, it doesn’t have the overall sense of unity.

Has it been important for you to look at the original over the copy?

It’s nice if you can look at original Greek or Roman sculpture. For example sculptures that were famous in the Grand Tour in the eighteenth century, such as the Belvedere Apollo. You might think “Why is this sculpture considered to be so important?”, yet, when you draw it you think “Okay this is actually pretty good, I can see why, it’s not arbitrary.” When something is part of the canon, without understanding the reason for its inclusion it can be seen as a cliché, it’s just what people have liked for centuries and they liked it because they were told to like it but when you actually investigate and compare you can see that quality is a real thing. It’s nice to test out the assumptions and to see the difference, not just in terms of quality but character too.

This is a drawing of the Dying Gaul (pictured below), which is in the Capitoline Museum. I think this is a really good sculpture, it’s the pathos not just in the face but in the gesture – even in the shapes of the muscles. It has a different character than this (compared to Mars at Rest). In this pose, he’s dying, holding onto life and there’s an almost exhausted quality to it. There’s a formal quality about the suggestion of life within the body.

The Dying Gaul, Capitoline Museums

Dying Gaul from the Capitoline Museum

How do you place yourself within twentieth-century artistic developments?

There’s a lot of twentieth century art I like (probably up until Pop Art). But there were so many movements in twentieth-century art, that art practice got further and further away from the training artists would have in the past. The kind of training where you draw from the life model, study light and shade and composition and you construct paintings based on that knowledge. Early modernism came at the end of that tradition and seemed to feel that it had to radically remake itself. Since then, the tendency has been towards deconstruction and there doesn’t seem to have been much attempt at reconstruction – putting things back together. When I went to art school, when studying art history, I remember thinking that we have so much to draw upon – in fact all of art history to draw upon – but without the skills you don’t have access to any of this, because you can’t tune into the same things that those artists were doing. I’m interested in reclaiming some of the skill and the aesthetic, it’s partly personal and partly looking at art history, seeing what’s missing and what I’d like to see more of. But I’m at odds with most contemporary art and artists, because most of them don’t think that way. I’m going back to something earlier and I’m quite conscious it’s not a normal thing to be doing, but I think it’s important.

I think in a larger cultural sense it would be a shame to look at the period we’re in now and not see any good figurative painting. We have a pluralistic art world now and a pluralistic world in general and many things can exist at the same time and I think that’s good. So I’m trying to do this particular thing that isn’t being done much. It’s not cynical and it’s not deconstructive, it’s not ironic.

There is so much in Rome to learn from in each period, but since I’ve been here I’ve been drawn towards the sculpture and painting from antiquity. It really helps you understand the things that came later and you can see the continuity. So I guess I’m looking for that language. It’s not the only language but it’s one I’d like to be more familiar with.


Socrates in the Capitoline Museum

Andrew’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries). Photos courtesy of the artist. 

June Mostra 2019/ Meet the artists… Kirtika Kain

As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The third interview is from Kirtika Kain National Art School, Sydney Resident.


Photo: Antonio Palmieri

You started your residency at the beginning of April. Is a city like Rome having an impact on an Indian born artist, like you, who grew up in Australia?

In every sense. To put my time here into context, prior to Rome I completed a three-month residency in Delhi. These two ancient cities continue to express the vastness of human civilisation. Two months ago, I was in the swirl of Old Delhi, the shrines and havelis; my dearest friend with whom I explored the city’s narrow lanes described to me how he had lived hand-to-mouth as a street child. I was reminded constantly that blood flows so close to the skin, that life in its full uncompromising force is so close to the surface. And then yesterday, in Rome, I walk into the palatial Doria Pamphilj Gallery, such evocative decadence. Each day I stroll through the lush and endearing Villa Borghese. There is a timelessness in both cities, they are the inverse of each other. I have witnessed this timelessness not so much in the built environment but certainly in the ancient land of Australia, within her seas and stones. I feel both familiar and foreign in all three cities of Delhi, Rome and Sydney.
As a resident of the British institution to then consider hierarchical caste and colonial structures from this lens has been so enormous that I think I am still in the phase of experiencing it all. I will ultimately come to a point of articulating and comprehending, but at the moment every day is such a feast of experience.


What has been your journey from India, a country that was colonised by Great Britain, to Italy in a British institution?

It has highlighted for me the complexity of colonisation, and opened up an area of enquiry that is inevitable for me to now move towards. I am curious about the colonial imprint upon both Australia and India and particularly how respectively Indigenous and Scheduled Castes and Tribes navigate this legacy. I often consider how, as a female artist born into the Dalit or Untouchable caste within India, it is necessary for me to show my work in a Western context for it to be visible, especially in India’s current political landscape. I know one day this will change.

I have been informed by such contemporary postcolonial theorists as Debjani Ganguly who have proposed that following Independence from Colonial rule, higher caste Indian leaders became the colonisers of minority Dalits; the structure remained internally even when British rule ceased. As a Dalit artist trained in the West, to address caste violence is playing with this colonial paradigm, it is no longer black and white. I think this conversation and these avenues of thinking start opening up from a place like the British School. The complexities become apparent because it is not just about the victim and the perpetrator, there are so many aspects. It is a grey-zone.


And you are investigating this grey-zone?

I am investigating it as a global citizen, across borders and time zones, from the ancient world to the modern one. A similar hierarchy based on purity and pollution existed in Ancient Rome. I am investigating it in the most human way possible, by working and thinking through material.


What is your approach to materials?


Raw materials from Kirtika’s studio in Delhi including tar, cotton, hand made paper, religious pigment and plaster

When I first considered Rome, I was compelled to know dates, periods of time, to research and define. And now I am here, I experience each time period through the surface and skin of all things. Recently, I went to the Etruscan museum here in Villa Giulia. Seeing these early clay pots, the ancient metals of copper, bronze, gold and iron, I lose track of where I am, as I have witnessed these same materials in the historical museums of Delhi. Being in Rome opens one up to the fluidity and common language of material.


Clay pots and ancient metals from the Etruscan Museum in Villa Giulia

Which materials have been new for you in Rome?

I have been etching copper, using waxes and enjoying the materials of restoration. The pigments are so numerous here. Yet the one material that has surprised me is gold. Gold is such a solid metal, it is so present and distinct. Yet in the mosaics of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, it become translucent; it reflects light in the most glorious way I have seen.


Kirtika’s etched copper plates as shown in Spazi Aperti at the Accademia di Romania in Rome

As there is so much work on themes such as feminism and identity politics, how does this generation address this in a new way?

I think it is the responsibility of our generation to think of these concerns with a freshness. Every cell in my body is political, our bodies are so politicised and I can feel it especially as I watch the current Indian parliamentary elections unfold.  Beyond the wave of anger we must find our own voice; much of my political views have been informed by others. I now search for originality. Many of the things we stand for have been learned, especially something like caste which has been recycled for millennia. To believe that you are a shadow, your body is polluted, impure, an assault to those around you. I have inherited this legacy and now I find my own. My own voice.


Kirtika’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator). Photos courtesy of the artist.

Ashby Patrons Weekend 2019

This month we hosted our Ashby Patrons visit to Rome, a highlight of the BSR’s annual calendar. The benefaction of our Ashby Patrons plays a vital role in supporting the BSR. This special weekend, exclusively for Ashby Patrons, is a unique opportunity to become more closely involved with the BSR’s activities, award-holders and staff and to understand first-hand the work and mission of the institution. This years’ programme did not disappoint, with a full schedule of varied activities and excursions.

Studio tours (2)

The opportunity for our Patrons to meet and engage with our current resident award-holders is a key part of the weekend, be that through the medium of presentations, studio tours or one-to-one informal conversations over dinner.

Patrons Rinfresco

The first full day of the Patrons weekend included a behind-the-scenes visit to see the collections, Library and Archive of the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, a historically important institution which the BSR collaborates closely with, recently co-hosting this academic years’ international RA250 conference: The Roman Art World in the Eighteenth Century and the Birth of the Art Academy in Britain.

Academia Nazionale di San Luca

Following the visit, we were most grateful for the hospitality of Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Mrs Sally Axworthy MBE, who hosted us at the current Ambassadorial Residence for lunch. HMA Mrs Axworthy explained the direction and work of the Embassy in the context of current major global challenges.

Lunch at the British Embassy to the Holy See

On return to the BSR the Patrons were treated to a wet-plate collodion workshop given by Heritage Photography expert Tony Richards , which focused on the BSR’s archive collections and the photographs of Thomas Ashby, the BSR’s illustrious first director, after whom the Ashby Patrons are named.

Wet Plate Collodion shotThe second day continued along this watery theme… our Patrons took to the river for a boat trip down the Tiber. Despite rather wet conditions our spirits were not dampened – the cruise was most interesting. In the words of Director Stephen Milner it was an “eerie experience cruising down the Tiber… No boats, no developments, no tourists… an abandoned wildlife corridor to the sea. Yet once the umbilical cord that sustained one of the greatest cities known to human history”. The BSR has long worked on both the city and the port of Ostia and Portus, yet future research hopes to explore the river connections between the three sites.

Our boat docked at Isola Sacra where, after lunch, we were treated to a guided tour of the ancient Necropolis by Archaeology Officer Stephen Kay. This site was included in the area which was surveyed as part of The Portus Project, a very successful and long-standing research collaboration between the British School at Rome, the University of Southampton and the Soprintendenza Speciale per il Colosseo, il MNR e l’Area Archeologica di Roma.


To conclude the weekend, Director Stephen Milner delivered a ‘State of the Nation’ address to the Patrons, outlining the current direction and future of the BSR. In light of the update on the progress of the work currently being undertaken on the Lutyens façade, the Patrons were given the opportunity to view Lutyens’ original architectural drawings, recently returned to the BSR and partly conserved due to the generosity of the Patrons additional gifts.  

It was a pleasure to host the Ashby Patrons in Rome and to thank them for their continued encouragement and support.

If you are interested in becoming an Ashby Patron, or would like to learn more about how to support the BSR, please contact Alice Marsh on


Text by Alice Marsh (Impact and Engagement Officer). Images by Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager).

Hail the new Etruscan

Oona Grimes (Bridget Riley Fellow 2017–18) started 2019 with two solo exhibitions featuring work made during her residency last year. In this blog Oona discusses her Rome experience and the genesis of the work made. Oona also describes her adventures in film-making and what comes next. 

roman sKandals
Spray paint coloured pencil and collage on paper
75 x 110cm

I arrived in Rome on 2nd January 2018 with the sound tracks of Nights of Cabiria and Roma Citta Apertà playing in my head.

I was on my way to revisit the films of the Neorealists, films I’d watched as a child and misremembered ever since.

Day 2:  returning from a Cavallini eye fest I stumbled into Il Museo di Roma in Trastevere and met Toto…..Italy’s most loved and respected and irreverent comedian. 

Toto agreed to become my leading man. 

The giant story board began……..

June Mostra 2018
installation shot

He starred in a number of stencil drawings: drawings on black paper celebrating the flatness of frescoes, blackness of analogue film & badly restored conservation patches:

‘Toto & le tre sorelle Fontana’, ‘Toto meets San Bartolomeo’ & later ‘cinzano & cherry soda’ & ‘the lovely season’.

toto and le tre sorelle Fontana
Spray paint coloured pencil and collage on paper
75 x 110cm

Just Being on the streets of Rome I was surrounded by the cast, all in mid flow enacting their daily dramas.

I had arrived with specific Missions – visits to Cinecittà and plunderings of the archives at Centro Sperimentale; time to spend with the Etruscans and my love of their graphic flattist tomb paintings, all of which were topped and tiramisu-ed by anamorphic murals in Trinità dei Monti, underground scavi-scavenging in San Giovanni in Laterano – adventures from Mithras to Mussolini, Etruscans to E.U.R. toga tying, fascist fountains all the fascinating tangents that emerge from the kind of casual conversations that can only happen at the BSR.

Rewatching the films from Rossellini to late Fellini on their home pitch I wanted to understand the films more intensely, and my way of knowing is though drawing.

a spritz of grrrls #7
Coloured pencil on paper

Daily I would make A4 coloured pencil drawings from my mis-memories of films watched as a child; fast drawings ‘Not a Neorealist Storyboard’ and larger slower stencil drawings continually circumnavigating the left brain: ’the fumetti grrrrls’ and ‘ragazze e ragazzi romani’.  Filling notebooks in order to make sense of the overwhelming input and to ground myself in the sea of visual treats. The pile of books grew daily; the gestures & observations, colours and pattern, the folds & drapes of melty marble all subtly oozing into the drawings – a thesaurus of stolen characters.

The children #2
Coloured pencil on paper

Daily I would walk to Piazza Rotunda & beyond, just to Be in Rome, early before the crowds; to watch the roadsweepers and shopkeepers setting up, to see the light changing over the city.

Gradually those walks and those films wove themselves into my dreams and my drawings.

Surprising shifts began to happen.

Particular scenes began to haunt me, sequences with specific relevance to time and place. I began drawing singular actions and repeating them in order to comprehend them. Repeated actions, drawing them now physically, drawing myself into the film.

Umberto d.’  headlined the series, the scene where he is reduced to begging in front of the Pantheon. A deceptively simple action duplicated and filmed over 3 months as the skies changed and the tourists crept in. rushes that usually end up on the cutting room floor. Rehearsals. I wasn’t acting I was drawing the moment.

They just happened, they happened by being there, by having time, by having no pressures or deadlines.

I saw them as studies, and just cut them together as if watching behind the scenes preparation.

Looping slapstick-like fragments, stretching the commedia dell’arte element by repetition and abstraction, a Sisyphean rehearsal for a never to be released film. Owning the discourse through mis-remembering, imitation and low tech re- enactment. 

mozzarella in carrozza
film still

The scenes from familiar films chose me, and following ‘Umberto d’, ‘mozzarella in carrozza’ from Bicycle Thieves emerged. Focussing on the excruciatingly painful scene in the restaurant Antonio and his son Bruno can’t afford – a scene of misplaced pride, disillusion and the vivid class divide between them and the diners.

Stromboli’s bucket
film still: poster

The studio became a mini props, production design & costume department. The planning behind Stromboli’s Bucket was perhaps more interesting than the final mini short : fabricating a glass bottomed bucket, negotiating hardware shops and perspex manufacturers, locating a suitable ‘Sea’ : the Laghetto di Villa Borghese which of course was chiuso on the day due to storms, so a nearby fountain quickly stepped in as understudy for the shoot.

Then ‘u.e.u.’ from Pasolini’s ‘Uccellacci e Uccellini’ filmed in Garbatella. Bird calls haunted me in the studio, their repetitive song & dawn chorus invaded my dreams. ‘u.e u.’ is a sublime dance of mis-communication, mis-translation, absurd jumpy hand gestures referencing both kinesics from paintings and everyday communication. Using 16mm film cut with iPhone clips I chased language – both the learning and losing of it – the omissions, the torn, the discontinuity, the patches, the bad repairs.

u.e u.
Film still

Walking, watching, hand gestures, sign language, language of hands, mis-translation, mis-communication, bird language, dance language.

Drapes and folds, pleats and drapes, fabric fashion folds all seeping into the work

Returning to London with a new-found confidence and focus I made 2 new films : ‘Oscar’s dance’ and ‘wheres Marcello?’ The latter shot on Holkham beach Norfolk a cross channel reflection of Sabaudia. ‘Angelo del fango’ now fulfilling her role and Cabiria dancing her dreams in Hackney.

angelo del fango
spray paint, coloured pencil and collage on paper

The one-day schedule remained, initially the time my cameraman came to visit in Rome, but appropriated to retain an element of rawness and rehearsal-ness, using costumes and props that were instantly available.

And I won a prize! My first film festival entry at The Swedenborg Film Festival with ‘u.e u.’ and a prize selected and presented by the wonderful and sadly missed Susan Hiller [1940-2019].

I.pad index : Matt’s gallery

All six films were shown at Matt’s Gallery London on mini i.pads. Hand held like reading a paperback book, one to one, sitting on the floor : ‘Hail the new Etruscan #2’ : 19-27 Jan 2019.

 Matt’s gallery installation

 And the giant story board is on show at Danielle Arnaud co art London : ‘Hail the new Etruscan #1’ : 12 January – 9 February.

‘ragazze e ragazzi Romani’, large stencil drawings patched and collaged filling the Georgian house with Italian characters.

Next ………. A solo show at The Bower in Camberwell 5 June – 7 July 2019 and an off-site adventure at The Venice Biennale in May (contact Danielle Arnaud for details).

dirty sisters
Spray paint, coloured pencil and collage on paper

Oona’s exhibition ‘Hail the new Etruscan #1’ is open at
Danielle Arnaud until 9 February 2019 (123 Kennington Road London SE11 6SF, T/F: +44 (0)20 7735 8292), the gallery is open Thursday, Friday & Saturday 2-6 p.m. or by appointment. Oona Grimes is represented by Danielle Arnaud.

Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership enjoys a second successful residential programme at the BSR

Sixteen Northern Bridge DTP doctoral students, drawn from across the Arts and Humanities, spent a week at the BSR on the second such residential partnership programme, which is put together between BSR staff and fellows and Northern Bridge academics. Northern Bridge is a consortium made up of Newcastle, Durham and Queen’s Belfast universities to support and fund the best PhD research in the North East of England and Northern Ireland. The aim was for the students to engage with a series of case studies in advanced research, and to be enriched by that most powerful of things, time in the BSR’s interdisciplinary environment to chew over ideas with one another and the BSR’s fellows in residence.

Stephen Milner [BSR Director] offered a warm welcome to the group and delivered an outstanding and wide-ranging session, covering current HEI and BIRI [British International Research Institutions] policy, thinking about careers, and the bioarchaeology of the book, an exemplar of the kind of interdisciplinary thinking we sought to showcase in the programme. Stephen’s comments underscored the depth of the BSR’s commitment to engaging across the research community and reminded all present of just how much the BSR does and can continue to do to support cutting edge work across the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Our wonderful cohort contained students from many fields not normally represented at the BSR, but from the moment they arrived on Monday morning, they soon found themselves at home. Our first trip out of the BSR was to the Venerable English College, a visit organised and facilitated by BSR Research Fellow Professor Maurice Whitehead, exploring the astonishing history of the college, its library, students, buildings (including the glorious chapels and most importantly its collection of rare books and archives).

Niccolò Mugnai leads a visit to the Forum and Trajan’s Markets.

Dr Niccolò Mugnai, another BSR Research Fellow, led a perfectly pitched tour of the Roman Forum and Trajan’s Markets, and the students were able to understand the archaeology and topography of the site from a real expert, as well as enjoy some sunshine. This followed a trip beneath the Lateran Basilica in which Professor Ian Haynes sought to explore not just the subterranean world of Rome, but also the potential of Digital Humanities. The students were wowed by the scale of the site and its obvious importance, and were able to think about the benefits of interdisciplinary and international research.


One of the students’ favourite sessions on object-based learning was run by two of the Assistant Directors, Martina Caruso and Harriet O’Neill. After a presentation from Valerie Scott [Librarian] and Alessandra Giovenco [Archivist] , the students were put into small groups, encouraged to select an object, image or text and work together to write a museum label for it, thinking about how to work collaboratively to express their research to a general audience.


Alessandra Giovenco with students looking at objects from the Library and Archive.

Given the strength of the BSR and the richness of research in creative practice, we were keen to expose attendees to work in this area. Accordingly, Martina Caruso kindly arranged for a special tour of the BSR’s studios, with artists in residence outlining how they were setting about their projects. The session was a resounding success.


Studio visit with Abbey Fellow in Painting Dillwyn Smith.

One of the strengths of the programme is the way in which, as well as exposing students to the cutting-edge research being done in the BSR and by its fellows, Northern Bridge academics can also take part and lead sessions. So, the Northern Bridge director, Dr Annie Tindley, led a session around Britain’s nineteenth-century relationship to Roman imperial history. Dr Jon Quayle, a veteran from the 2018 residential and a superb addition to the team, was able to draw on his own experience both as researcher in residence at the Keats Shelley House and as an early career scholar whose PhD was funded by the AHRC to help raise students’ awareness of its holdings. The whole group spent a morning at the museum and were joined by the Curator, Giuseppe Albano, in a fascinating presentation. Professor Crawford Gribben, the Queen’s academic director for Northern Bridge, led a brilliant session exploring puritan apocalyptic visions of Rome through time, a session that folded beautifully into the visit to the Venerable English College.

When not fully engaged in this rich programme, the students were divided randomly into two teams, and were given time over the week to discuss their reactions and responses to the programme, the BSR and of course to Rome. Using the fine library resources of the BSR, their own skills and imagination, the students are to deliver projects on a theme of their choice on the topic of ‘UK and Italy’ to their peers at the Northern Bridge Summer Conference in June. They presented these as works in progress on the final evening, with one group exploring the creation of a ‘Museum of Curiosities’ to house their memories of the programme, with the other working on creating a photo archive on the idea of spolia, a theme which recurred over the course of the week.


Northern Bridge DTP students in the BSR courtyard.

While there are always lessons to be learnt, the unanimous conclusion of all who participated was that this was one of the most exciting, energising and fruitful experiences of their research careers. Planning is already underway for next year’s event.


Annie Tindley (Consortium Director for the AHRC Northern Bridge DTP)