Peter Seddon, artist and educator
Peter Seddon, an artist, educator and critical practitioner, retired from the University of Brighton in 2013 following a career which had shaped fine art at the institution, developing and leading the courses in critical practice and developed doctoral studies in art practices.
His own work as an artist and researcher covered covered artistic practice, curation and curatorial intervention. He used the term ‘historiographical practice’ to describe not just an interest in history and the genre of history painting, but also an interest in the various mechanisms of representation, by which these histories are read, distributed, made, exchanged, exhibited and developed over time. Rather than being ‘mixed media,’ his practice is best described as ‘mixed genre,’ much in the same way as the writings of WG Sebald can be viewed as multi genre literature.
Peter Seddon, with his wife Jill, led the PMSA National Recording Project for Sussex, a review of the public sculpture of the region, and part of his wider interest in relating art practice to the practices of collecting and curating.
His research examined the potential of museum interventions, expanded practice and was informed by his interest in historiography; both in the sense of histories of art, and wider political/social/cultural histories. It was also informed by an interest in image/text and theories of language, something he reconfigured through a ‘mentoring’ programme of collaboration, consultation and critical conversation with Andrew Wheatley, curator and director of the Cabinet Gallery, London which sought to evolve a working method that brought together visual images, writing, and researching into something he termed ‘historiographical practice’.
This practice crossed genres and his historical referencing made use of computer, digital cameras, large format inkjet printers, stencilled vinyl text and the materials of the stationary/office/graphics supply store. In his work Peter Seddon has recognised a shifting, rather fluid set of meanings when the term ‘curator’ is used in the art world and it is this that the curatorial research explores. What seems to be the inexorable rise of the curator as a creative personality in his or her own right (an art director for fine artists perhaps) is a reflection or symptom of wider current change. The situation contains two contradictory impulses: on the one hand, we have what curator and gallerist, Andrew Wheatley, has referred to as the curatorial strategy of didactic/thematic exhibition making becoming ‘ a bankrupt professionalised rhetoric in visual art administration’; on the other hand there is a notion that the art of curatorship is an act of subversion against the rationalisation of bureaucrats.
The Historiographic Imagination and the Site of Memory in Museums
Peter Seddon’s practice in this field culminated in a succession of examples: the email@example.com at Rochdale Museum (2003), interventions into the Brighton Regency House by artists John Murphy (2004) and William Kentridge (2007), the William Kentridge exhibition at Brighton University Galley (2007), the exhibition Tête-á-Tête at Nîmes Musée des Beaux Arts (2007-8) and the Marcel Broodthaers retrospective exhibition at Milton Keynes (2008).
All were examples of using artworks, items within sites of special historical resonance, layered memories and museological approaches to exhibition making and curatorship. ‘Historiographic imagination’ has informed both Peter Seddon’s studio practice and also recent work in ‘curatorial interventions’ that result from a strong attachment to the ‘art of the museums’.
This is a practice based on critical understandings of complex multi-layered histories, building on that experience to develop cultural wellbeing both inside and outside the museum. The methods and outputs of Seddon’s research were not only text-based but utilised a variety of visual forms in areas such as exhibition curatorship, curatorial intervention and visual recording. In this way he aimed to trace the changing flow of historical representation surrounding an object or image and at the same time create something which itself is also a contribution to that very process of history and representation.
firstname.lastname@example.org led directly to further research in subsequent outputs in Nimes Musée des Beaux Arts. The exhibition was a complex, elaborate ‘collage’ of prints, paintings on paper, wall text, and Victorian paintings of Civil War subjects borrowed from a number of municipal gallery collections, mostly from the North of England. The wall text, They had tongues like angels but cloven feet, repeated above the visual works, was intended as a metaphor for the difficulty of practice both that of my own and others. This phrase (attributed to Cromwell when describing certain elements in his New Model Army) is suggestive of the inter-relationship between image and text, ideas and materials, and between different sorts of knowledge. Since the publication is a set of polemical texts about the subject matter and approach of this practice rather than a catalogue of the exhibition, there is no need to elaborate further on it here; except perhaps to point the reader to the essay Concerning Angels and Cloven Feet in the publication email@example.com which gives the background and informing rationale for the exhibition and practice from which the exhibition was derived.
Tête à Tête avec Cromwell: A curatorial/historiographic/artist’s intervention using Cromwell opening the coffin of Charles 1st by Paul Delaroche, 1831, Musée des Beaux Arts, Nimes. 15 November 2007 – 3 February 2008 was a curatorial/artist’s intervention into the space of a major French regional museum around a single major painting from mid 19th century French art. The centrepiece of the exhibition was Delaroche’s famous painting of Cromwell contemplating the beheaded corpse of Charles 1st in his coffin after execution in 1649. Painted in 1831, it was the sensation of that year’s Paris Salon. Against it Peter Seddon presented projection of Cromwell’s own subsequently posthumously decapitated head taken from 1950s photographs and animated into slight, almost imperceptible, movement.
The ironies of this were many and multi layered but one of them related to Delaroche’s own much quoted remark on the invention of photography in the 1840s, “from today painting is dead!” Death and the echoing presence of afterlives dominated this exhibition which included images from English collections in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Cromwell’s alma mater), Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight (Charles’s last domicile before his trial) and the Museum of London who gave permission to reproduce digitally a painting in their collection of the dead Charles with his head stitched back on. In a final flourish and acknowledgement of the macabre the Lord’s Prayer was printed in Latin backwards on the gallery wall opposite the Delaroche painting. The show itself was a reflection on historiographic concerns in politics and art from the 17th to 19th centuries; the very period which is the dominant focus of the Museum’s entire collection.
The work was made possible by an AHRC award of £16,400 plus some support from the CCVA and the faculty. Opened with a speech by the Regional Cultural Minister, it was the first time the Museum at Nimes had collaborated with an English artist using a work in their collection. The cultural context of exhibitions within which its sits however includes The play of the unmentionable at the Brooklyn museum by Joseph Kosouth in 1991, Give and Take at the Serpentine Gallery by Hans Haacke in 2001, and the Counterpoint exhibition at the Louvre curated by Marie-Laure Bernadac in 2004.