University of Surrey Institute of Advanced Studies

University of Surrey

Writing About Contemporary Artists: Challenges, Practices and Complexities

20 October 2017 - 22 October 2017



An international, multi-disciplinary three-day conference to be hosted at the University of Surrey, UK


Writing about living or recently deceased figures presents unique challenges for scholars, journalists, and creative practitioners alike. This conference seeks to nurture dialogue between a range of different artistic fields concerning writing about contemporary artists. It encompasses disciplines including music, dance, theatre, film, digital arts, and creative writing as well as biographical, analytical, socio-contextual, promotional, ethnographic, and other types of discourse. It will focus upon the act of writing and the strategies, ideologies, and assumptions contained therein, as well as the boundaries as to what constitutes “writing” about contemporary artists in its multifarious forms, considering creative practice approaches alongside more conventional representations.


All types of artists, from all styles, genres, and cultures, may be considered under the aegis of the conference, including (but not limited to): classical, popular and world musics, contemporary dance and theatre, musical theatre, biopics and documentary film, digital media, and creative writing. The conference views writing about all artists – performers, composers, directors, choreographers, conductors, etc. – as being of equal importance. The expectation is that the majority of papers will address innovative, distinctive, or otherwise leading work by living or recently deceased artists active within the last c.25 years.


The conference Keynote speakers will be Professor Lorraine York (Professor of English and Cultural Studies, McMaster University), Professor Paul Allain (Professor of Theatre and Performance, University of Kent) and Professor Björn Heile (Professor in Music since 1900, University of Glasgow).


A Keynote Concert and Dialogue by MusicArt London will explore in-depth the ongoing collaboration between renowned artist Christopher Le Brun (President of The Royal Academy of Arts) and pianist Annie Yim (St John’s Smith Square Young Artist in Residence 2016/17), including performances of a specially commissioned work by Richard Birchall (2015) as well as music by Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Schoenberg and Debussy.


The conference will also feature a complete performance of Morton Feldman’s three-and-a-half hour work for flute and piano/celeste, For Christian Wolff (1986), by Nancy Ruffer and Ian Pace, incorporating dance improvisation from in-house student dance company Actual Size.


Four roundtables are being planned:


1.      ‘Contemporary artists, contemporary writing: Internet and social media’.

2.      ‘Creative Practice as Research and Self-Reflexive Research around Practice: Equitability and parity’.

3.      ‘The practice(s) of writing on contemporary artists within and beyond academia: Ethics, institutions, and conflicts of interest’.

4.      ‘The composer’s voice in contemporary music scholarship’.


The full conference programme will become available in the coming weeks.


Conference Committee: Dr Christopher Wiley (Chair), Ian Pace (Deputy Chair), Dr Patrick Duggan, Dr Shantel Ehrenberg, Dr Bella Honess Roe, Kirk Woolford, Dr Lucy Ella Rose. This event is organised in association with the Department of Music and Media, Guildford School of Acting, and the School of English and Languages at the University of Surrey. The conference has received funding from the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Surrey.

Main organiser: Dr Christopher Wiley, Department of Music and Media, University of Surrey



Academic enquiries: Dr Christopher WileyChair of the Conference Committee

Administrative enquiries: Rachael Barnes, Conference Administrator