Art, Architecture and Visual Culture

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Jonathon Shears

Increased concern for the welfare of the working classes is one dominant motif of political debate in the mid-nineteenth century with which the organisers of the Great Exhibition could not avoid engaging. The ballads on the Great Exhibition, represent the working class as an impoverished but colourful group, revelling in their leisure time, with the Exhibition an opportunity for 'larks and sprees', a chance to see exotic foreigners and marvellous exhibits. The 'Shilling Days' were designed to promote the social inclusiveness of the Exhibition, although it was also a manoeuvre partly intended to keep the classes apart. Three issues predominate in the organisers' plans for creating accessibility for the working classes: travel, accommodation and affordability. Throughout 1850 the Executive Committee communicated with the local committees encouraging the arrangement of co-operatives, the first of which was formed at the Hope and Anchor public house in Bradford in March.

in The Great Exhibition, 1851
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Jonathon Shears

The numerical classification system and the floor plans of the Crystal Palace, incorporating the galleries, demonstrate that imposing theoretical order on the actual space of the Great Exhibition was fraught with problems. In the eastern nave foreign exhibits were organised by country rather than category leading to the impression of miscellany and incongruity in some sections, such as the North German one. British products displayed in the western end of the nave were, in keeping with the Victorian mania for taxonomy, categorised by a thirty-point class system, devised by Lyon Playfair, that aimed to impose some sort of logic on the object matter displayed. The near omnipresence of glass at the Exhibition is explained by new technological advancements in its production. Older optical discourses were, however, also pertinent and it is worth recalling that the word phantasmagoria has the same etymological root as fantasy.

in The Great Exhibition, 1851
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Jonathon Shears

Joseph Paxton may have designed the Crystal Palace, and Samuel Peto's money enabled its construction, but the semantics of the Great Exhibition are as much female as they are male. There is one aspect of the Great Exhibition that, more than any other, shows distinctions made along gender lines. The anticipated presence of women descending to Hyde Park en masse raised genuine concerns about security and safety. While displays of weaponry, machinery and industrial products were designed to appeal primarily to male visitors, the attractions aimed at women, particularly those associated with domestic interiors and the arts, and the strategies used to cultivate this interest, are noteworthy. Ringletted and bonneted women surround the royal party and the only faces visible are female. Male visitors are, as The Times predicted, screened behind this barrier of women, their presence only signalled by distant hats raised in approval.

in The Great Exhibition, 1851
A sourcebook
Editor: Jonathon Shears

This book, a collection of essays, presents new interpretations of one of the most significant exhibitions in the nineteenth century. It exposes how meaning has been produced around the Great Exhibition held at the Crystal Palace. The book contains a series of critical readings of the official and popular historical record of the Exhibition. The 'Exhibition of the Industry of all Nations', as it was initially referred to, was the product of a number of issues. The first is the liberal shift in politics of the 1830s that popularised laissez-faire attitudes to manufacture and enterprise. The second is the need to address Britain's position as an economic power and moral arbiter in post-Napoleonic Europe. The third is the fortunate incidents that occurred in the 1840s to bring together the men who would shape the venture. Mass production, as much as artisanship, was showcased at the Exhibition and much of the rhetoric of the Official Catalogue concerned the way mechanisation could save time, expense and labour. The fear of ethnic and cultural difference was rampant in Exhibition literature. The presence of women at the Exhibition raised gender issues such as being objectified and the threat of being 'seen'. Increased concern for the welfare of the working classes is one dominant motif of political which the organisers of the Great Exhibition could not avoid engaging. The book portrays the determined use of industrial knowledge, definitions of nation and colony, and the control of the Crystal Palace after the Great Exhibition closed.

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Jonathon Shears

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book. The book is primarily conceived as a teaching aid. It offers numerous departure points for researchers in the history of the Great Exhibition, and material culture more generally. The book also offers numerous departure points for researchers working on specific issues such as British imperialism, social class and the representation of gender politics in the Victorian period. Allardyce Nicoll was partly right in arguing that 'The Great Exhibition was a symbol of an age that was passing away and the premonition of an age that was to come'. Louise Purbrick, influenced by Marx, notes that one of the functions of the Great Exhibition was to illustrate the 'achievement of industrial technology without reference to the conditions of industrial labour'.

in The Great Exhibition, 1851
Jonathon Shears

The Great Exhibition, as is often the case with events of national significance, offered Britain an opportunity to reflect on her position in a global context. The fear of ethnic and cultural difference was rampant in Exhibition literature. One of the obvious attractions of the Exhibition was the opportunity to see the exotic produce of distant lands in propinquity with British manufactures: this was to be a whistle stop tour of the globe. The extract taken from The Times bemoaned the utilitarian nature of British products but championed the nation's advancements in mechanisation. In 1807, an Act of Parliament had abolished the slave trade in the British Empire, although it was not until the Emancipation Act of 1833 that slave ownership was made illegal. Britain exerted its status on the world stage to influence other nations to follow suit, and by 1851, slave-owning America looked increasingly out of step.

in The Great Exhibition, 1851
Jonathon Shears

The Crystal Palace is the iconic building of the Victorian age, a vast edifice of iron and glass that adorns the cover of most books about the Great Exhibition. The composition of the Royal Commission is indicative of Prince Albert's view that the exhibition should belong to the people. At the time of the preparations for the Exhibition, Joseph Paxton was working as head gardener for the Duke of Devonshire. Those in favour of the Exhibition and those objecting to it can generally be separated into two factions. Firmly supporting the vision of Albert and Henry Cole were the proponents of free trade, the newly emergent liberal party, the broad church and, most significantly amongst the press, the Daily News and the Illustrated London News.

in The Great Exhibition, 1851
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Amy Bryzgel

Roselee Goldberg argues that artists in Eastern Europe utilised body art because it left little trace of the unofficial and experimental creative activity that it engendered. This chapter examines the manner in which artists from the East used their bodies in performance to navigate the varying degrees of state control over artistic production and cultivate their own forms of individual integration and self-expression. The artist's body can undergo its most significant transformation by being pushed to its physical limits, sometimes to the point of significant harm or near-destruction. Branislav Jakovljevic has written about the performances that took place at the Student Culture Centre in the context of the protests in Belgrade, among other places across the world, in 1968. The Autoperforatsions artisten had consistently staged visceral, destructive and absurdist performances and actions throughout the 1980s in Dresden.

in Performance art in Eastern Europe since 1960
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Amy Bryzgel

Artists working in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe during the communist period adopted performance art as a free-form, open-ended means of expression. Performance art gave voice to concepts, relationships and actions that otherwise would not have been possible in the official realm of art or in the public sphere. In the post-communist period, artists continued to embrace the experimental nature of performance. Performance art created under the communist and post-communist systems manifests other points of continuity as well. Just as East European artists working under communism faced potentially severe repercussions for actions deemed politically or otherwise subversive, so, too, have their post-communist successors, as the controversy surrounding Pussy Riot, among other examples, attests. The fact that performance art continues to be relevant in the region attests to its lingering efficacy in both the world of art and the public sphere.

in Performance art in Eastern Europe since 1960
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Amy Bryzgel

The issue of gender, not to mention feminism, in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe remains complicated and fraught. Prior to 1989, the 'woman question' was largely considered to have been resolved throughout the region on an official level, with gender equality a stated priority of socialist governments. Performance art was a preferred genre among feminist artists in North America during the 1960s and 1970s, a time of political activism, when such work was embraced as a platform by both male and female artists. This chapter provides a comparative analysis of examples of performance art addressing gender-related issues from across the socialist and post-socialist East without sacrificing the specificity of each local context. It focuses on themes addressed by the artists of various generations, providing local cultural and historical references in the discussion of works addressing gender, beauty, women's sexuality and the challenging of traditional notions of gender.

in Performance art in Eastern Europe since 1960