Looking back at the life room: a project by Naomi Salaman

Research output: Non-textual outputExhibition


This installation looks 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 sequences her life room photographs alongside historic prints and photocopies from her research archive. Revisiting the academic art curriculum, she explores the process, practice and pedagogy of looking at, drawing from and reading images in relation to iconology, critical theory and the technologies of image reproduction. In charting the remnants of a pedagogical system now suspended, Salaman identifies a ‘curved space of observation’ in her collection of life rooms and dissection theatres. This morphology is presented as a black and white print series; new research offering visual associations as a way to analyse the architecture as visual apparatus. 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 reconsiders the academy life room as an institutional space and a theoretical apparatus that served to mark a distinction between fine art as an intellectual pursuit and the workshop practices of the guild. The exhibition as ‘visual essay’ that informs Salaman’s practice has, most recently, been exemplified by Patrick Keiller at Tate Britain with his investigation into the politics of Landscape. Of crucial importance to this way of working are the art historians who wrote about and produced the visual essay through photographic reproductions rather than access to original objects, such as Aby Warburg and Walter Benjamin.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2010
Eventexhibition - Strang Print Room, UCL Art Collections, UCL, 2012
Duration: 27 Jan 2010 → …


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