London, Paris, Big News

Just a few days in London. I gave a keynote lecture at the Association of Art Historians (AAH) in the beautiful lecture theatre of the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), on anachronism. The topic of the conference was “history in the making” - just my kind of thing! It was an opportunity to reflect on history and the way anachronism can be useful to make history visible in the present,and to present our project Madame B as an example of “history in the making” in the double meaning of the phrase: the past being constantly (re)made as part of the present; and making and scholarship as complementary activities.

Apart from that lecture, these few days were entirely devoted to working with Michelle, who moved to London in February. We edited material for the second disk in our DVD box of Madame B. Apart, that is, from having drinks with Ola Jach, curator at the muzeum Sztuki in Lodz, who also attended the AAH conference.

In addition, I had a “plotting” breakfast with Bill Sherman, director of research at the V&A, with whom I had felt a productive connection when meeting him a month ago at MoMA in New York. We discussed issue of “history in the making” from the vantage point of an institution like the V&A devoted to history but functioning in the present. I hope we get to work together in the future.

I also had the great pleasure to seeing Julia, Michelle and Elan’s daughter. When they lived in Amsterdam I more or less followed her growing up, becoming a toddler and starting to walk & talk. Now, the encounters are much rarer. I was astonished by how much more mature she seemed suddenly. She also is clearly extraordinarily talented. She makes paintings of which her dad said, “I wouldn’t mind having framed and on my living-room wall.” And I agree.

I was also very happy to spend some chatting time with an old friend, Marquard Smith, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Visual Culture and to be given his recently published book, The Erotic Doll: A Modern Fetish (Yale University Press 2013). The cover alone tells us about gender politics in modernism.

Time flew by, and I was on my way to Paris directly from London. There, I was going to shoot a small documentary for the DVD box of our current project, of an interview with Thomas Germaine. He is the actor who plays the three men in Madame B. The BIG NEWS he told me was that the Shakespeare play Henri VI (18 hours!) by La Piccola Familia, the theatre company of the brilliant director Thomas Jolly, had been awarded the Beaumarchais prize for “meilleur spectacle” - an untranslatable phrase that means best play / best performance. You can read more about the play in my blog of 14 April 2013. Here is “our” Thomas as Henri VI again, in a photo by Nicolas Joubard. I couldn’t find a better picture, so I repeat this one. Needless to say, the award is entirely deserved. I can’t wait to see the entire 18 hours in Avignon, at the famous theatre festival, this Summer. Congratulations to the two Thomases and their many colleagues (the play has some 50 participants)!

Remembering Sonja Neef: an afternoon in Köln

On April 6th, 2013 Sonja Neef, one of my best, most creative former PhD students, died at age 45. I went to the funeral service in Braunschweig, Germany. On Friday April 4th, the nearest we could get to the actual anniversary of her death, an afternoon symposium was devoted to her intellectual legacy at Morphomata, a research institute at the University of Köln, where Sonja had been a resident the year before she fell ill, and where I was last year. It was a sad occasion but a wonderful event. Her direct family members - husband, children, parents, sister - were all present. Sonja’s friend from her Morphomata year, Henry Sussman, came from Yale University to give one of the lectures. I also gave one. Among other elements of her work I appreciate especially her work on William Kentridge, whom we both esteemed as one of the most creatively political artists of our time. Here Sonja is lecturing on his Felix in Exile.
The event was also a book launch for an edited volume, Astroculture, she had vigorously worked on while also finishing her own long-term monographic project, Der babylonische Planet. Sonja was incredibly active, creative and brilliant. Imagining what she would have achieved had she not been taken at the half-way point of her life leaves me flabbergasted.