History of Art


UCL History of Art runs Experimental Art History Workshop

29 June 2021

On the 3rd and 4th June 2021, the UCL History of Art Department ran an Experimental Art History Workshop dedicated to the re-enactment of historical and contemporary artistic techniques ranging from photography to painting and conceptual art.

Adding wishes to the Wish Piece

Adding wishes to the Wish Piece. Photo: Nathan Paley.

Students in the Department of History of Art participated in the 2-day workshop “Experimental Art History”, which took place during the first week of June. The first day of this workshop was dedicated to black and white photographic processes in gelatine silver prints. Students made their own pinhole camera and took photographs across the campus. They then developed the photos and selected positive prints in the Material Studies Laboratory (which turned into a darkroom for this workshop).

Photographic print. Photo: Nathan Paley.

Photographic print. Photo: Nathan Paley.

The second day focused on Rachel Whiteread’s process of casting the in-between. Students used recycling materials to create plaster casts of the detritus of the everyday, also experimenting with colour. In the afternoon, students enacted two artists' instructions from Hans Ulrich Obrist “Do It”: Yoko Ono’s “Wish Piece” (1996) and Annette Messager’s “Untitled (Signatures)” (1996). Despite the rain, students' wishes were hanged on a tree next to the Student Centre. Although Yoko Ono collects the wishes in iterations of her work and sends them to the John Lennon memorial in Iceland, the students decided to leave them on the tree to decay.


Experimenting with plaster and colour (1) and Experimenting with plaster and colour (2). Photos: Nathan Paley.

The Experimental Art History workshops were deeply engaging and enriched my understanding of a range of creative processes, from producing photographs from handmade pinhole cameras, to forming colourful plaster moulds of everyday objects. Engaging in Art History in an active, hands-on manner generated forms of knowledge that cannot be readily accessed through other forms of teaching; by experiencing the processes first-hand, a new and different type of understanding is created between the student and the medium. I hope that these sessions will continue to be held, and can see how they could be effectively integrated into teaching in the department. Thank you for a wonderful experience!

Phoebe Thomas

This workshop was essential to practice some of the concepts the students of the BA in History of Art, Materials, and Technology learned this past year. It was also an opportunity to open this practical course to other students in the Department. It was hugely rewarding to see the students working together, creating something new, and being together in the Department (some for the first time).
The workshop convenors would like to thank Nathan Paley, Leora Kurtzer, and Daen Huse for the photos, Phoebe Thomas for her testimonial and to all the participants for the insightful experience.

Pinhole camera. Photo: Leora Kurtzer; Mixing plaster with colour. Photo: Daen Huse.

Mixing plaster with colour. Photo: Daen Huse; Pinhole camera. Photo: Leora Kurtzer.