Reconfiguring Relations: Britain and the Bauhaus at Tate Britain
image credit: (fragment) Ben Nicholson OM, June 1937 (painting) 1937. Tate. © Angela Verren Taunt 2019. All rights reserved, DACS
On 18th October 2019, Centre for Design History researcher Dr Harriet Atkinson presented research related to her AHRC Leadership Fellow’s project ‘”The Materialisation of Persuasion”: Modernist Exhibitions in Britain for Propaganda and Resistance, 1933 to 1953’ a one-day workshop at Tate Britain. This linked with Tate’s current display ‘The Bauhaus and Britain’ (until 17 November 2019), curated by Rachel Rose Smith.
The workshop, entitled “Reconfiguring Relationships: Britain and the Bauhaus”, convened by Elizabeth Darling (Oxford Brookes), Emilie Oléron Evans (Queen Mary University of London) and Rachel Rose Smith (Independent, Tate Research), brought together scholars and curators with research interests related to connections between Britain and the Bauhaus school.
The workshop consisted of three sessions. The first, chaired by Rachel Rose Smith, examined the interplay of material legacies (via archives, images, objects) and people-based narratives in research areas connected to migration and refuge. The first speaker, Valeria Carullo (Photographs Curator, RIBA) focused on a lecture Gropius gave in May 1934 on the occasion of an exhibition of his work held at the RIBA and the impact these had on the architects who attended them, paving the way for Gropius’s emigration to London later that year. The second speaker, craft historian Tanya Harrod discussed Ethel Mairet’s links with radical and vernacular weaving in Europe. The third speaker was Rachel Dickson (Ben Uri Gallery), whose paper on ‘The Lost Career of Werner “Jacky” Jackson’ (read by Sarah MacDougall) focused on the way a promising career in advertising and graphic design in Berlin for Bauhaus graduate Jacky had been devastatingly fractured by war and enforced exile. Michael White (York) responded to the papers and led a discussion.
Session two, chaired by Emilie Oléron Evans, focused on textual legacies of the Bauhaus and their role in transmitting and translating ideas. Harriet opened with a paper entitled ‘”From the tail of the class to the front row”? The impact of Bauhaus exhibition technique on Britain’ in which she questioned the extent to which the reproducible ‘story-telling’ form of exhibition used by the Ministry of Information as World War Two propaganda, could be attributed to the impact of Bauhaus ideas and ideals. The next speaker was Anne Sudrow (Centre for Contemporary History, Potsdam) who talked about the British interest in German industrial design and design education after World War Two and, in particular, the research report on this subject commissioned by the British Military Intelligence Service in 1946-7. Catalina Mejia Morena (Sheffield) then discussed how images of concrete silos, which fascinated both Walter Gropius and Peter Reyner Banham provoke reflection on modes of representation and dissemination. The session respondent was Ines Weizman (Bauhaus-Universität Weimar).
The third and final session, chaired by Elizabeth Darling, interrogated how the Bauhaus and its relationship to Britain had been talked about subsequent to its closure, asking what and who had been included in that history, and whether future focuses in considerations of Britain and the modern might lie elsewhere? Louise Campbell (Warwick) opened with analysis of Peter Behrens’ house New Ways built in 1925-6 for industrialist W.J. Bassett-Lowke in Northampton and the way in which this building, often hailed as the first modern house in England exposes the fault-lines in histories of the Modern Movement. Alan Powers (NYU London) followed with a paper ‘”Floating midway on the waves”: the Bauhaus as illusion or reality’, proposing that the power of the Bauhaus resides more in the idea than the reality. Finally, Dorothy Price (Bristol) in ‘Britain and the Bauhaus: Other Stories’ introduced Rasheed Araeen’s ‘Our House: Others’ Mudhouse’ published in Third Text in 1989, which criticised the failure of Eurocentric western narratives of modernism to acknowledge modernism’s ‘Others’, and explored its implications for future thinking about the legacies of the Bauhaus within a framework of decolonial thinking.
The day was generously supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and the Centre for Anglo-German Cultural Relations at Queen Mary University of London.