Looking Back at the Life Room
27 January to 11 June 2010

Naomi Salaman unpacks the legacy of the life-room as a theoretical aparatus in a visual essay. 

This installation looked back at an academic model of art education that centred on drawing the male model in classical poses. In the tradition of the visual essay, artist Naomi Salaman puts together photographs of spaces where drawing is still taught alongside historic prints and photocopies from her research archive. Revisiting the academic art curriculum, she explores the process of looking at, making and reading images in relation to institutional forms of knowledge and the technologies of image reproduction.

Drawing a nude model after the antique was the apex of an hierarchical course which began with copying from copies of old master prints and plaster casts and lessons in anatomy. This curriculum served as the basis of art education in Europe from the 1600s. In the 1960s art schools in this country moved away from mandatory exams in these subjects.

Charting the remnants of a pedagogical system now suspended, Salaman identifies a "curved space of observation" that builds up through a montage of historic life rooms and dissection theatres. Her research path begins with the much-cited painting of The Royal Academicians (1772) by Johann Zoffany and its reproductions in feminist art history texts two hundred years later. Zoffany's group portrait in the life room was contentious as it illustrated the exclusion of women artists from the life room, and therefore from professional advancement. Looking back at this painting, through feminist critiques, to the early ambitions of the life room, Salaman reconsidered the academy life room as a theoretical apparatus that marked the distinction between fine art as an intellectual pursuit and the workshop practices of the guild.

Naomi Salaman is a London-based artist and a lecturer at the University of Brighton. Her research-based practice is rooted in the politics of representation and combines photography, installation, curated exhibitions and publications.

Co-curated by Nina Pearlman and Naomi Salaman, this exhibition was supported by Arts Council England and the University of Brighton. It drew on research supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and was accompanied by a limited edition artist's print.

In conjunction with the exhibition, UCL Art Museum, the Royal Collection and the University of Brighton have organised a conference entitled Art Schools: Invention, Invective and Radical Possibilities


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