Queen Mary Conversations Week

Interdisciplinary conversations between artists and academics

9-16 April 2021

The great critic William Hazlitt once observed of authors that they might be good at writing – but they shouldn’t be expected to talk: ‘an author is bound to write […]. But I do not see that he is bound to talk, any more than he is bound to dance, or ride, or fence better than other people.’ 

During a week-long celebration of the art of conversation, we set out to prove William Hazlitt wrong. 

Conversation is a vital part of how academics work at Queen Mary University of London. In the past year, when talking mattered more than ever, QMUL Arts and Culture commissioned 27 exchanges between artists and academics. Conversations with dancers, sculptors, curators, writers, actors, poets, photographers, performance artists, producers and community organisations allowed researchers in science, medicine and the humanities to develop new insights and exchange knowledge through the expertise of the cultural sector.  We celebrate these conversations with a week-long series of events that talk about everything from boxing to housework, data science to teeth, childcare to synaesthesia, engineering and zombies. 

We welcome you to join us: to push the boundaries of knowledge, to create new collaborations, to trade in talk - to celebrate the art of conversation.


Event details and booking

Fighting Talk: creative workshops on boxing and storytelling with Jake Boston


29 March, 6 April and 13 April

6:30-7:45pm online

Free to attend for current students and Alumni of Queen Mary, University of London


What do boxing and storytelling have in common?

How can your experiences and connection to boxing tell your story?
Come and find out in this series of creative workshops in which you will explore and develop techniques to shape and perform your own story, using the art of boxing in the East End as our inspiration.
The workshops will start by looking at the life of the celebrated East End prizefighter Daniel Mendoza, whose technique revolutionised boxing in the late 18th century. As a Jewish boxer, Mendoza experienced and challenged antisemitism throughout his life. Mendoza’s body was buried in QMUL’s Jewish cemetery and there is a plaque on campus commemorating his life. With Mendoza in the ring with us, we will explore the craft of writing and performing your own story in solo form.
By the end of the workshops, you will have the beginnings of a new creative piece coming out of your own personal experience.  
The workshops will be led by actor and writer Jake Boston, whose acclaimed solo performance Bare Knuckle recently toured to New York, Edinburgh and London. In Bare Knuckle Jake takes us into the world of bare-knuckle fighting through stories of his childhood growing up the son of a champion fighter, his father’s desire to pass the title of champion on to him, and Jake’s ongoing journey to find himself. 
This series of workshops is open to all Queen Mary students, and no prior experience of boxing or performance is necessary!
Based at the QM campus, Phakama are a small yet highly ambitious participatory arts company who have storytelling and collaboration at the heart. Our executive team is supported by a diverse group of Associate Artists (such as Jake Boston), Young Creatives, Youth Board and Board. We are all driven by the common desire to make high quality work that is fuelled by the diversity of those involved. 

All workshops will be online. 

Contact Bibi - bibif@projectphakama.org - to get involved in Fighting Talk

But first… Some Housekeeping: A Conversation On Housework And Magic


Stacy Makishi, The Promise © Stacy Makishi and Vick Ryder

What are the histories of tidying up?  What are the geographies of household rituals?  How do students navigate their first experiences of doing housework in their own flats?  What if brooms had a mind of their own?  And how can being housebound set us free?

This conversation investigates the histories, rituals and art of housework. We celebrate the commissioned conversation between Stacy Makishi, a performance artist who offers audiences transformational and sacred rituals using the most mundane household objects, and Dr Rhodri Hayward (QMUL Reader in History) who writes on the histories of magic and tidying up.  They are joined by Tommy White, QMUL’s Assistant Residences Operations Manager, who helps students to learn the art of housekeeping when they first arrive on campus and by Dr Laura Humphreys, Curatorial & Collections Engagement Project Manager at the Science Museum, and author of the forthcoming Globalising Housework: Domestic Labour in Middle-class London Homes,1850-1914. Sophie Harman, Professor of International Politics, will discuss how pandemics and global health security rests on those who do the cleaning, always have and from what we know about COVID-19, always will. The panel will think about the histories, geographies and practices of household rituals and the conversation will be followed by a twenty-minute household ritual performed by Stacy Makishi, which will prepare us for the week of conversations to come.


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QMUL Network: A Conversation on Sustaining Craft Practice in the Digital Era


This promises to be a vibrant conversation that will draw on international perspectives to explore contemporary craft practice and economy. Facilitated by feminist craftivist practitioner and researcher Dr Katja May (Goldsmiths), the panel will consider the role of communities of belonging and how craft’s quality of hand-made, intimate connection is maintained across digital, development and diversity divides. Panellists include Professor Nick Bryan-Kinns (QMUL), who will discuss his AHRC funded project, Digital platforms for craft undertaken in collaboration with Hunan Uni, China; Dr Karen Patel (Birmingham City University), who will discuss her AHRC project Craft Expertise or ‘Supporting diversity and expertise development in the contemporary craft economy’; craft practitioner Yemi Awosile, who is active in the development of digital craft economies in Africa; and Suzanna Petot, who is a curator, writer and co-organiser of the interdisciplinary project Decorating Dissidence.

This event is organised by QMUL Network, a centre for the creative and cultural economy, directed by Professor Morag Shiach in the School of English and Drama. Network works to facilitate knowledge exchange and collaboration between the creative industries and research interests at QMUL, towards building a resilient, sustainable and socially inclusive sector.  


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On Conversation: A Conversation on Conversation



Long Table © Split Britches

In the last year, conversation has been more important than ever. Celebrating our commissioned exchanges between artists and academics at QMUL, this event launches our week of events by hosting a conversation on the topic of conversation. We ask: How have communications technologies altered the way that we converse with each other? Who is speaking, and who is listening, when we engage in conversation with ourselves? How can we experiment with the form that conversation can take? Join us for a wide-ranging and exploratory panel on how conversations, as they happen in our daily lives. Professor of Human Interaction Patrick Healey will discuss how conversations make us feel; Professor of Humanities Barbara Taylor discusses philosophies and representations of voice in solitude; and Lecturer in Experimental Cognitive Psychology Magda Osman will speak on how conversations are brokered. Throughout this panel, Professor of Contemporary Performance, artist and activist of conversation Lois Weaver will infuse her work designing and facilitating new forms and protocols for conversation.


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On the Verse in Conversation: Poetry and the State of the Nation


‘Listen closely, the one language speaks in scattered tongues’, writes poet Nisha Ramayya in States of the Body Produced by Love (Ignota, 2019). As a gathering of scattered tongues, this panel of poets from the UK and US asks: what is the role of poetry in the national conversation? How can poetry help us to take personal and collective action in times of crisis? Nisha Ramayya (QMUL Lecturer in Creative Writing) is joined by Meera Dasgupta, 2020 Youth Poet Laureate of the United States; Asia Khatun, poet, founder and editor-in-chief for Thawra; Kashif Sharma-Patel, who as a writer and editor at 87 Press, focuses on queer and racialised experimental work; and Kay Rufai, poet, photographer and filmmaker. Together they will put verse into the national conversation, exploring the power of poetry to create solidarity, to offer a place of dissent, and to challenge state-fuelled crises.

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See me, feel me, touch me, heal me: A Conversation on the Multimodal Experience of Sound


Xenia Pestova Bennett performs © Cath Du Puy

This panel will examine how people associate colour, shape, and touch to sound, how human sensory experience varies across individuals, and how associations between the senses support uniquely human forms of communication like language and music. The online event will begin with streaming audio and video recordings from Xenia Pestova Bennett’s (University of Nottingham) semi-improvised work Glowing Radioactive Elements (2018, 25’), which consists of five interwoven movements, each exploring different timbral techniques for the Magnetic Resonator Piano. The MRP is an innovative instrument designed by Andrew McPherson (QMUL Augmented Instruments Lab). Electromagnets are suspended above the piano strings without coming into contact with the mechanism, allowing resonance to be “shaped” from the keyboard while retaining the use of the original action. The five pieces include continuous control of the resonance, pitch bends, harmonic glissandi, envelope shaping and a unique “stutter” of the MRP mechanism, an unintentional scanner by-product. Each movement is associated with a radioactive element and its “colour” signature. To examine how these quasi-synaesthetic poetic associations encourage interplay between artistic expression and listener perception, the panel will initiate a conversation with audience members, recording their perceptions of sound-colour and other crossmodal associations evoked during the performance. Following the streaming, Xenia Pestova Bennett and Andrew McPherson will be joined in conversation by timbre researcher Charalampos Saitis (QMUL Centre for Digital Music; panel coordinator), cognitive linguist Christine Cuskley (Newcastle University), artist-performer and researcher Camille Baker (University for the Creative Arts), sound-led performance artist Julie Rose Bower (QMUL Drama), and artist-researcher Sebastian Löbbers (QMUL Media & Arts Technology).

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On Deafness and ‘Hearing’ Music: A Conversation


Dame Evelyn Glennie performs © James Wilson

Although it is often presumed that you need good hearing to appreciate music, the act of hearing extends across multiple senses. Tonight we explore how we literally ‘hear’ music. What faculties might compensate if our hearing is impaired? Does hearing loss change the way we ‘feel’ music? Chaired by Queen Mary's Director of Music Paul Edlin, this panel will explore hearing from the perspectives of musicians and physicians. We are joined by the internationally celebrated percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, who is the first person in history to successfully create and sustain a full-time career as a solo percussionist. Growing up on a farm in the north east of Scotland, Evelyn became drawn to percussion as her hearing declined because she could ‘feel the sound’. Former QMUL Music Society President and London Chamber Orchestra Music Scholar Atalanta Hersey will reflect on her experiences of performing as an oboist with severe deafness; they are joined by the renowned fortepiano recitalist Professor John Irving (Guildhall School of Music and Drama) and Grant Llewellyn is Music Director of Orchestre National de Bretagne and Music Director Laureate of the North Carolina Symphony and was seen by millions conducting the Proms in the Park in 2016. President of the British Otology Society and one of the world’s leading ENT hearing specialists, Mr Chris Aldren, contributes insights as a consultant endoscopic ear surgeon with particular interest in hearing restoration.  


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On the Future of Trust: A Conversation on Vaccine Hesitancy


After all the clapping, does vaccine scepticism point to an erosion of trust in doctors, scientists and the NHS? Who will we trust in the future?  How has trust changed during the pandemic? Trust is a necessary prerequisite for the functioning of public health systems like vaccination programmes. But trust must extend far beyond the medical system in order to ensure that vaccine uptake succeeds. Trust in government, in expertise, in the state, in science, in community, in technology all play a crucial role in how confidence and trust in vaccinations can thrive – or not. Building confidence in the Covid-19 vaccination programme therefore requires a multidisciplinary approach that goes beyond the medical, taking account of perspectives drawn from politics, law, social science, finance and the arts. This conversation includes academics from six disciplines across Queen Mary to think about the future of trust. Conversationalists will include Valsamis Mitsilegas, Professor of European Criminal Law and Global Security; David McCoy, Professor of Global Public Health; Stella Ladi, Senior Lecturer in Public Management; Mario Slugan, Lecturer in Film Studies; Sarah Wolff, Reader in European Politics and International Politics; and Gülnur Muradoğlu, Professor of Finance.

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On Imagining the Future of Mobility: A Conversation on Putting the Civic into Engineering


How will transport engineers contribute to rebuilding London after lockdown?  What is the relationship between transport and access to public space and how might this relationship be reimagined in the future? How was the future of transport imagined by Londoners in the past?  What is the relationship between mobility and social mobility in the engineering profession?  This panel will explore the civic value of transport engineering by asking what the future of mobility in London might be. Natalie Cheung, a civil engineer and STEM ambassador will talk about women’s access to public space and the role of social mobility in the engineering profession. Dr Jun Chen, QMUL Senior Lecturer in Engineering Science, will investigate how passenger flow in public transport shapes our experience of cities, and Louise Webb will reflect on her experiences as a Passenger Handling Project Manager for Thameslink Rail. Recently celebrated by the Women in Engineering Society as one of the Top 50 Women in Engineering 2020, QMUL Lecturer in Functional Materials Dr Petra Ágota Szilágyi will discuss her focus on energy and sustainability, and opportunities to address global challenges in a multidisciplinary way.

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On Remembering Bangladesh: A Conversation on the War of Independence


We often think of history books as the official place where major events, conflicts and independence movements are recorded. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s War of Independence, this panel explores how art and cultural practices can also help us to remember. We ask how photography, dance, cookery and film can keep memories of independence movements alive, and how art can also help us to mediate the meanings of those memories. The panel will include Shahidul Alam (named one of Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year in 2018), whose photography has captured major events in contemporary Bangladeshi history, Showmi Das, a Kathak dancer (who will perform a commissioned work in response to the anniversary), and Asma Khan, the chef and owner of Darjeeling Express restaurant and star of Netflix's Emmy nominated Chef's Table, who will discuss how food can keep memories alive. Dr Clelia Clini, Research Associate with the Migrant Memory and the Postcolonial Imagination research project at Loughborough University, will discuss the ways in which the memories of the war circulate within migrant communities. The panel will be chaired by Dr Ashvin Devasundaram, Senior Lecturer in Film at QMUL. This panel has been commissioned in collaboration with Tower Hamlets Council.

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On the Undead: A Conversation on the Politics and Performances of Zombies


Martin O'Brien in LAST(ING); credit Guido Mencari

Born with cystic fibrosis, QMUL’s Dr Martin O’Brien (Lecturer in Drama, Theatre and Performance) has recently surpassed his life expectancy – as such, the artist is now living in what he terms ‘zombie time’. This conversation, chaired by Martin, explores how performance practices can reveal the politics and possibilities of the zombie by laying bare the experience of living with – and past – life limiting chronic illness.  Martin is joined by the South African writer, theatre-maker, and poet, Genna Gardini, whose doctoral work explores Multiple Sclerosis, gender, queerness, and performance, and curator Dr Jane Wildgoose, Keeper of the Wildgoose Memorial Library, who will discuss what it means to work with museum objects that are neither alive nor fully dead – human remains, skulls, and a single hair from Lord Nelson’s head, along with her costume work inspired by Bob Flanagan for the film Hellraiser.

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On the Art of Teeth: A Conversation


Absence of Light © Janetka Platun

While they are inside our mouths, teeth shift, decay and fragment; yet once outside of the mouth, they become almost indestructible remnants of who we are, and were. This conversation explores the practices of dentistry and the histories of teeth and asks: what has art got to do with it? In this conversation, QMUL historian Colin Jones, author of The Smile Revolution in Eighteenth Century Paris, offers a history of teeth and smiling, while sculptor Janetka Platun and David Mills of Queen Mary’s Institute of Dentistry discuss the exploratory art of scanning and depicting teeth through – among other means – microtomography, Pringles cans, and heritage techniques. They are joined by Professor of Applied Performance Practice Ali Campbell (QMUL Drama) and Head of Paediatric Dentistry Ferranti Wong (QMUL), who will discuss their collaboration on the child-led research project The Dental Detectives to explore dental anxiety and possible solutions in paediatric dentistry.


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On Data in Motion: A Conversation


Image © Alex Whitley

How does data move, and how does motion create data? What counts as predictable or unpredictable motion, and how does it move us emotionally?  These are questions that dancers, sports scientists, mathematicians, data scientists and choreographers all grapple with. This conversation will explore the overlaps between the work of data scientists and mathematicians in using data to predict motion, and the ways in which dancers and sports scientists map movement.  Starting with the commissioned conversation between the choreographer Alexander Whitley and QMUL Professor of Mathematics Thomas Prellberg, the panel will also include Professor Dylan Morrissey, Consultant Physiotherapist and Professor of Sports and Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy at Bart's and the London NHS Trust in conversation with Andy Reynolds, Medical Director at the English National Ballet, Professor of Computer Vision and Human Sensing Ioannis Patras of the QMUL School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, and Dr Elisabetta Versace (QMUL School of Biological and Chemical Sciences), who will explore how digital technologies can support dancers’ learning, including the potential for Artificial Intelligence to help dancers gain additional skills from home during the pandemic. The panel will be chaired by Dr Martin Welton, Reader in Theatre and Performance.

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On the Art of Boxing in the East End: A Conversation


Jake Boston in Bare Knuckle © Jake Boston

The celebrated East End prize-fighter Daniel Mendoza revolutionised boxing in the late 18th and early 19th century. As a Jewish boxer, Mendoza experienced and challenged antisemitism throughout his life. Mendoza’s body was buried in the Novo Jewish Cemetery at Queen Mary, which still contains a plaque commemorating his life. Following a series of workshops with QMUL students on autobiography and boxing, this conversation gets into the ring with Mendoza to consider the arts and histories of boxing in the East End. Chaired by QMUL’s Dominic Johnson, Professor of Performance and Visual Culture, the conversation will include Professor of Urban Literature Nadia Valman (QMUL), who will explore the Jewish histories of Mendoza’s East London, while the artist Jake Boston will discuss his autobiographical show Bare Knuckle and Dr Mark Phelan from Queens University Belfast who will talk about the Irish histories of bareknuckle boxing. They are joined by sports scientist and Upper Limb injury specialist Ian Gatt of the English Institute of Sport, who is Head of Performance Support for GB Boxing.

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On the Arts and Creative Sector after Covid: An East End Town Hall Conversation on Diversity


By Invitation Only

This closed workshop invites local arts, creative, community and heritage organisations to join with Arts Council England and other funding and advocacy organisations at an East End Town Hall.  We will investigate the possible forums, formats, venues and membership for the creation of structures of solidarity and mutual support within the arts, creative and heritage ecology of East London. We will think about ways to combat threats to the diversity of the workforce in these sectors and examine how employment practices, spaces and opportunities in the sector might be transformed in the future. We will consider what role Queen Mary might play in supporting and advocating for the East End cultural ecosystem into a new future.

For enquiries about this event please contact qmul-arts@qmul.ac.uk

I'm Thirsty: A Conversation on Reclaiming Water and the Arts as Universal Common Goods


What does water have in common with the arts? This conversation starts from the premise that as much as water is indispensable to our survival, so are the arts. And yet, both are dangerously devalued in our society. To start the conversation social anthropologist Megan Clinch (Blizard Institute, QMUL) and artist Ruth Levene will introduce their research exploring the impact of flooding on the communities that live in the Calder Catchment, Yorkshire. This will include reflections on how communities are re-connecting with water in response to climate change. After this, the co-directors of the MSc Creative Arts and Mental Health, Bridget Escolme (Professor of Theatre and Performance, QMUL) and psychiatrist and theatre scholar Maria Grazia Turri (Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, QMUL), will reflect on the value of the arts for mental health and social justice. Join us for this conversation on the common challenges and opportunities faced by those who believe that both water and the arts should be reclaimed as universal common goods, accessible to all.

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On Storytelling, the Child and Public Health: A Conversation


This panel will explore the critical work of storytelling in communicating public health messages to children or about children. Professor Tina Chowdhury (QMUL Engineering) will talk about her work using immersive tech to visualise foetuses in the womb – a practice that both treats foetal illness, and inspires women to experience agency around preventative health measures during their pregnancies. Professor Fran Balkwill of Queen Mary’s Centre of the Cell and Barts Cancer Institute, a pioneer in the field of communicating biomedical science to children, will reflect on her experience in publishing children's literature around biomedicine and public health. Roz Paul, Artistic Director of Scene & Heard children’s theatre charity, will discuss the company’s twenty-two year history of using playwriting as a mentoring technique with children in Camden, including some of the remarkable plays involving illness and health written by nine-year-olds. Dr Lucie Glasheen and Dr Rachel Bryant Davies will share insights from their ongoing British Academy-funded project exploring how storytelling can help children understand COVID-19 and mitigate its effects. The panel will be chaired by Professor Kiera Vaclavik, co-founder and Director of the Centre for Childhood Cultures at Queen Mary.

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On Promoting Wellbeing Through Music: A Conversation

7:30pm- 8:45pm

This conversation delves into the incredible power of music to support the flourishing of young people in social and educational settings. Professor Paul Heritage of Queen Mary’s People’s Palace Projects chairs the discussion with panellists from leading music education and social outreach organisations.  María Claudia Parias Durán is Director of the Fundación Nacional Batuta in Colombia, who make music with 40,000 young people each year - many of them displaced by the civil war. Hattie Rayfield and Emily Husband of the London Chamber Orchestra introduce the LCO’s Music Junction programme, which works with children and young people from a wide range of backgrounds to provide them with opportunities to develop artistic and social skills through shared music making. Dr Maria Turri co-directs the university’s MSc Creative Arts and Mental Health and collaborates with LCO. Kerstin-Gertrud Kärblane joins the panel to discuss her work with Music Junction as a mental health practitioner through Queen Mary’s MSc in Creative Arts and Mental Health. Director of Music Dr Paul Edlin (QMUL), was Composer-in-Residence for London Chamber Orchestra's Music Junction programme in 2017 and has created an online space for student musicians at Queen Mary to share their experiences and music throughout lockdown.

With the power of music as a catalyst for conversations today and in the future, the evening will features short films about the work of Batuta and LCO Music Junction.

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