CONCEIVING HISTORIES EXHIBITION

Peltz Gallery. Birkbeck School of Arts. 8th November – 13th December 2017.

How can something that doesn’t happen have a history? How can there be a material trace of un-pregnancy in the archive? This exhibition explores this paradox, finding and reimagining a material history of pregnancy feigned, imagined, hidden and difficult to diagnose. Whilst reproductive medicine is at the front of scientific modernity, biomedical technology has no jurisdiction over the experiences of waiting, unknowing and disappointment.

Conceiving Histories is a collaboration between literary historian, Isabel Davis, and visual artist, Anna Burel, producing creative and fictional reworkings of the archival materials of un-pregnancy. This exhibition re-materialises the past, giving structure and shape to things that have been left to us in text. The artworks explore the search for knowledge about a reproductive body which is as opaque as history: resistant, mediated and contested. They reflect on the signs of pregnancy in, from and on the body, and on messages and messengers, divine or earthly. Empty uterine spaces are imagined here displaced from the corporeal frame, labelled and dated, filled with strange visions. Swollen and flat structures, pads and envelopes, hollow and filled, contrast the fantasies of or desire for pregnancy with the reality of the un-pregnant body.

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We welcomed 1372 visitors through the doors of the Conceiving Histories exhibition in November and December 2017. Amongst the many generous comments in the Peltz Gallery visitors’ book, people described the exhibition as: ‘compassionate’, ‘moving’, incredible’, ‘fascinating’, ‘evocative’, ‘heart-breaking’, ‘haunting’ and ‘emotional’.

Anna and Isabel took around six tour groups, hosted a gallery launch and an academic/artist symposium, The Pregnant Archive, with Dr Emma Cheatle of Newcastle. We took part in the Being Human Festival, the UKs first national festival for humanities research.

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We are sending out copies of our exhibition catalogue to those who couldn’t make it but would have liked to. If you would like a free copy contact Isabel (i.davis@bbk.ac.uk) with your name and address and she’ll send one to you.

Isabel spoke to the amazing Natalie Silverman at the Fertility Podcast about the project in the lead up to our exhibition.

Four visitors were inspired to write blog posts about the exhibition:

A review by Kerry McMahon, a member of More to Life (an organisation for the involuntarily childless) for Fertility Network UK

Review by Professor Diane Watt, University of Surrey

Review by Pauline Suwanban for Birkbeck’s Institute for Social Research Blog

Review by Leonie Shanks for the MaMSIE Blog (coming soon).

We also received a great write up by journalist Matthew Reisz in the Times Higher Education Supplement

Although our exhibition has closed, this isn’t the end of the project. Watch this space and follow us on Twitter to keep up with the project.

With special thanks to our funders: the Peltz Gallery, Birkbeck’s Centre for Medical Humanities and those philanthropic individuals who donated through our Kickstarter campaign.

With thanks to the Wellcome Trust and Birkbeck College who funded the research behind this exhibition.

With thanks too to all those who came, blogged, tweeted, gave us their feedback, told their friends and generally and in every way supported us.

Photographs © Dominic Mifsud 2016.