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PhD Students

PhD students within the research group Visual and Material Culture.

Laia Anguix

“From shavings to an art collection: the origins of the Laing Art Gallery (Newcastle) and the creation of its permanent collection (1904-1957)”

Supervisor: Dr Matthew Potter

Summary: The Laing - first public art gallery in Newcastle – was unusually created without a collection: C.B. Stevenson, its first, charismatic curator, liked to joke that the most valuable object exhibited on the opening day were the wood shavings left by the construction workers. The research articulates the 53- year career (1904-1957) and achievements of this first curator. The aim of the thesis is to allow a better understanding of the birth and evolution of this key gallery and its collections, its management, and its relation to historical events of the first half of the 20th century.

Bio: After completing a degree in Art History (Universitat de València, Spain), and a degree in Fine Arts (U.P.V., Spain), Laia Anguix specialized in Conservation of Heritage and completed an M.A. in Cultural Management (U.O.C.). She has worked as an art critic (2002-2003), conservator of cultural assets (2004-2005), cultural manager, curator and guide in art galleries (2005-2007, and 2015-2017), and History and Arts teacher (2007-2015). She has collaborated in publications on art subjects (like the handbook Valencia Museos y Monumentos or the cultural magazine Arte y Libertad) and has worked for museums and cultural enterprises in Spain and Italy. (IVAM, Lonja de la Seda).

Funding: Northumbria Research Studentship


Caroline Ali

"Repetition and Substitution in Fine Art Drawing Practice, and Conservation Retouching of Drawings, with Special Consideration of the Charles Sims R.A. (1873-1928) Archive at Northumbria University"

Supervisor: Jane Colbourne

Summary: This PhD project aims to explore the position of repetition and substitution in Fine Art drawing practices and Fine Art Paper Conservation retouching. Informed by conservation retouching procedures and protocols, this is the first practice based research study to specifically explore the Charles Sims (1873-1928) archive belonging to Northumbria University. A new body of work produced with the archive as a point of departure aims to explore notions of repetition and substitution in contemporary drawing practice.

Bio: Caroline is a part-time practice-based Post-Graduate Researcher at Northumbria University. Current practice is situated in the context of encounters with drawings in archive and museum collections. Since completing her M.A. Fine Art with Distinction at University of Wolverhampton (2013) Caroline has worked as Artist in Residence and Visiting Lecturer, alongside exhibiting both in Britain and abroad. Recent academic papers include presentation of Copy Drawing and the Archive of Charles Sims R.A. (1873-1928) at Northumbria University to University of York (2016).

Funding: Northumbria Research Studentship (Partially Funded) 


James Bell

"Archiving Queer Feminist Cultural Activism"

Supervisor: Dr Victoria Horne

Summary: Researching contemporary artworks that mediate queer-feminist cultural archives and pasts. Based around artwork case studies, including Sharon Hayes’ In My Little Corner of the World, Anyone Would Love You (2016); each engaging with archives, moving-image and forms of learning in their recitation of feminist and LGBTQ* histories in the present. Cultural, queer and feminist theory alongside art histories on the archive, education and moving-image are used to explore the artworks. The research ultimately seeks to understand the contemporary political efficacy of such mediations of queer-feminist pasts in and beyond the field of art.

Bio: James Bell is an artist, writer and researcher, with a background in education and production in artist-led and contemporary art organisations. Graduating with a BA (Hons) Time Based Art and an MFA from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, Dundee (2011), James was a committee member of  artist-led spaces Generator, Dundee (2011—12), and Rhubaba, Edinburgh (2013—15). Prior to undertaking a PhD, James was the Producer (Learning) at Collective, Edinburgh (2013—17), researching, developing and delivering the contemporary art organisation’s learning programme; and served on the Board of Baltic Street Adventure Playground, Glasgow (2015—18).


Funding: Northumbria Research Studentship


Kathleen Boodhai

"Indian ‘Heritage-ness’ in diaspora"

Supervisor: Dr Susan Ashley, Department of Arts

Project Summary: My research explores how 'heritage' is understood by diasporic peoples and organisations of Indian Heritage in UK and postcolonial settings. Heritage not always understood as buildings and objects, but as traditions, characteristics and ways of thinking drawn from the past. My aim is to include northern England, Trinidad, and also Canada within this research to enrich its comparative potential, and the hyphenated and intersecting identities and 'heritageness' within Indian, South Asian and Caribbean ethnicities.

Funding: Northumbria Research Studentship 


Joan Buchanan

"Valourising Cornish heritage: UNESCO and Cornwall's Man-Engine pilgrimage"

Supervisor: Dr Susan Ashley, Department of Arts

Project Summary: My research will explore how heritage is ‘valourised’ on different scales, and the placement of minority narrative in this process. Heritage will be studied here as a cultural process of communication that engages with an act of remembering, and facilitates minority communities as active agents of heritage, not passive and peripheral to Authorised Heritage Discourses (Waterton, 2010). The research focuses on Cornwall which has recently celebrated two events: being recognised by the Council of Europe as a national minority in need of protection and its ten-year anniversary as a World Heritage Site.  The latter led to a UNESCO performative heritage event in 2016: the Man Engine. This twelve metre tall mechanical puppet, replicating parts of the mining process, made a pilgrimage across the mining landscape visiting old mining sites in an act of community remembrance and celebration. Focusing on this event as a potentially alternative approach, the Cornish minority will be explored in relation to research on intangible Celtic heritage, historically celebrated through music and stories. This will be related to the contemporary Cornish reconnection expressed though the Man Engine as an alternative heritage space. The pilgrimage through this significant landscape (and territory) will be studied as a ‘loose space’ as opposed to a ‘managed’ heritage space and potentially key to Cornish minority self-valorisation.

Bio: My research is based on my experience as a heritage manager in a private country house, set well within the apparent confines of the AHD of a heritage institution. Unusually, my experience involved a multisensory creative presentation of the house and engagement of this heritage, to a wider audience (including disabled groups). This included co-creation of annual exhibitions/events with leading artists within the creative industries (including an Arts Council funded project with the Soane Museum) to an annual event (Port Eliot Festival). This creative heritage experience, combined with my MA in Cultural Heritage Management, has not only highlighted the potential of cultural heritage as a social process but also a need to critically question the level of participation and discourses in heritage. 


Funding: Northumbria University RDF Fellowship


Fran Guy

"‘Here you are’: examining the uses and impacts of socially-engaged art in heritagescapes " 

Supervisor: Dr Susan Ashley, Department of Arts

Project Summary: I am researching the uses and impacts of socially-engaged art commissions in heritagescapes, drawing on my professional experience as a curator. I will reflect on the role the practice occupies in the wider context of cultural and heritage discourse, and to ask whether such commissions offer a form of cultural democracy for those participating in creating the work. My research methodology consists of case studies drawn from the UK using a mix of primary source materials, participant observation, and interviews with commissioners, artists, visitors and participants to build a 360-degree view of the commissioning process.

Bio: My research topic draws on my experience as a curator at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester where I worked as Head of Collection and Exhibitions from 1998 to 2009. Among other responsibilities, I curated artist-in-residencies and contemporary art interventions in the 18th century townhouse in response to the collections, architecture and history of the site. More recently, at The Hepworth Wakefield, I developed the collection and exhibition programme in the years immediately before and after the launch of this new art gallery (2009-15). My most recent curatorial project, an exhibition on painter, poet, sculptor and key figure of the European avant-garde, Hans (Jean) Arp, will open at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, The Netherlands and Turner Contemporary, Margate in 2017.

Funding: AHRC Heritage Consortium


Vanessa Johnson

"Degradation-induced fluorescence patterns of zinc white in watercolours"


Dr. Charis Theodorakopoulos (PI) Department of Arts
Dr Justin Perry (Co-I) Department of Applied Sciences

Project Summary: The PhD project aims to study aqueous zinc oxide pigments on paper and their unique range of UV fluorescence as it relates to observed degradation of surrounding materials over time. A range of analytical equipment will be utilized to measure the pigments’ UV fluorescence, crystal structure and composition as well as degradation of surrounding materials after accelerated aging. The study aims to establish correlations between these properties and create a tool for art conservators to use when making decisions about the storage and display of artworks on paper containing zinc oxide pigments.

Bio: Vanessa Johnson is an arts post-graduate research student at Northumbria University studying the degradation of zinc oxide watercolour pigments. She received a BFA in Painting from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in 2009 and an MA in Conservation of Fine Art with a paper specialism in 2015. 


  • Northumbria University Faculty Funded Studentship
  • University Research Development Fund at Research Council UK


Sandra Elliott

"Humility and Authority in the Lives of English Saints in the Golden Legend English Tradition from Manuscript to Print" 

Supervisor:Prof Lesley Twomey, Dept of Arts

Secondary Supervisor: Carlos Condes Solares, Dept of Humanities

Project Summary: My thesis aims to establish and then theorize the differences discovered between manuscript and printed text in the light of the different reading publics in the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods. It will do this by investigating the transition from manuscript to print contextualised in the European tradition of the codex The Golden Legend. The thesis will focus on comparison of the hagiography of English saints held within the fifteenth-century manuscript translation, hand written on vellum, of Lambeth Palace MS72, with Caxton’s printed translation into English of the same period, in each case establishing differences and similarities between these and other saints’ live in the English tradition with the focus of the themes of authority and humility.

Bio: Sandra has 19 years’ experience in the field of Education beginning in the Primary sector she then moved on to teach English as a foreign language abroad for 5 years primarily in Italy. Her 3 years teaching Military English for the Italian army she found most rewarding as well as 2 years living in the medieval town of Viterbo. Her fascination with language inspired her to return to England to study for a Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics at Durham University.  This then saw her pursue a career in academia as she began lecturing in EAP at Northumbria University in 2008. However, her passion for the medieval world, which originates from reading about the Lindisfarne Gospels as a child, continued to beckon. Hence, her current study for her Doctorate.

Inge Panneels

“Beyond the Map; mapping in art”

Supervisor: Ysanne Holt 

Project Summary: Artists have increasingly been using maps and mapping strategies in their work over the last few decades, as part of a post-modern idiom (Harmon, 2009), ‘providing a model of interdisciplinarity that was not afraid to challenge existing geographical or artistic approaches’ (Hawkins, 2014). But why do artists across the world use maps and mapping as visual strategies? Is this multi-disciplinary and questioning approach a good model with a viability in the increasingly collaborative practices of both arts and science?

Inge Panneels is an artist and academic whose commissioned work in the public realm has used mapping strategies and maps to inform both the content and form of art works, mostly made in glass.


Massimiliano Papini

"Transcultural Exchanges between the North East of England and Japan, 1862-1923: visual and material culture in relation to the Anglo-Japanese interaction"

Supervisor: Dr Elizabeth Kramer

Project Summary: The aim of my research will be to clarify the pivotal role of North East England in the longstanding relationship between Japan and the United Kingdom, and to demonstrate the importance of peripheral regions in understanding this transcultural interaction. Moreover, I am going to underline the importance of the Japanese and Anglo-Japanese visual and material culture in tracing the development of this cultural interaction, but also the agency of these materials on the North-eastern community from the 1862. What do these transcultural objects reveal about the sharing, interpretation and transformation of knowledge, design and cultural beliefs, practices or values between Britain and Japan?To what extent did Anglo-Japanese interaction contribute to the cultural identity of the North East of England? In order to answer both questions, I will focus on the historical background of the relationship between Japan and the North East, underlining prominent figures and trade channels; the genesis of the major collections of Japanese art in the region; the impact of the Japanese products on north-eastern material culture, especially interior design and household objects (such as coffee/tea service, and lacquered trays); and the influence of the Japanese aesthetic on local artists and manufactories. 

Biography: My research topic builds upon my previous studies regarding Italian Japonisme, but I am particularly interested in the figures of the art dealers that imported Japanese art into Europe. Trained as a traditional art historian, I received a MA in History of East Asian Art (SOAS, 2015) and another MA in History of Art (University of Florence, 2016), and I am now a full-time PhD student at Northumbria University. During my graduate studies in Italy, I was able to publish an essay catalogue on the occasion of an exhibition on Renaissance marriage chests, at the Frederick Stibbert Museum (Florence, 2015).

 Funding: Northumbria University RDF Fellowship


Anna Reid

“Wild Stones: A geological way of seeing”

Supervisor: Prof Ysanne Holt

Project Summary: This practice-led research project experiments in describing the new ontology implied by contemporary geological discoveries and researches. It takes the form of an experimental fiction, including four interconnected textual parts: A letter from a geological scientist, the journal entries of a Museum Curator, the voice of the Museum and a set of Inquest documents. It also includes a string of images. The practice is accompanied by a commentary text which makes a novel reading of the art and writing of Paul Nash in the context of a history of engagement between visual art and geological discovery.

The text proposes that Nash’s post-theological but pre-critical engagement with geology is rich, distinctive and prescient, read from the current perspective of new realisms, with particular reference to the work of Quentin Meillassoux. It also reads Nash’s approach as that of a ‘materialist mystic’, with particular reference to the artist’s interest in Thomas Browne’s ‘Urne Buriall and the Garden of Cyrus’. As such, the reading of Nash’s work acts as an indicator of the method  and structure employed by the practice in forging new description of the geological real

Bio: Anna Reid worked as Director and also Curator at commissioning organisation Pavilion from 2006-16. She has a broad experience in producing projects with artists including Lucy Skaer, Eva Stenram, Céline Condorelli, Aurélien Froment, and Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc. Anna holds an MA from Goldsmiths College, University of London and a BA from the University of Cambridge

Funding: Northumbria Research Studentship




Andrew Schaer

“Gustav Stickley’s Daring Business Enterprise”: Historical Mindedness and Modernism in the Marketing of the American Arts and Crafts Movement 1880-1920

Supervisor: Matthew Potter


Jin Wang

"Exploring Branding in Contemporary Visual Arts Organizations"

Supervisor: Dr. Lesley Twomey

Project Summary: My research explores whether and how corporate branding theories are applicable in contemporary visual arts organizations in Northeast England. I aim to find out how much the stakeholder’s lifestyle may affect the corporate brand identity in the contemporary visual arts sector. Further, I am studying whether there can be appropriate corporate branding approaches for a contemporary visual arts organization. My research project involves an 18-month participant observation, narrative interviews, semi-structured interviews, content analysis, discourse analysis and semiotic analysis. 

Bio: My research topic draws on my branding experience at global advertising agencies from 2001 to 2011. In JWT and Leo Burnett, I worked as a creative director leading a team to solve branding problems for a variety of brands. My clients covered all different ranges of industries, from the fast consuming goods such as Procter & Gamble, to telecommunication such as Huawei, to financial services such as China Merchants Bank, to fashion brand such a ST&SAT, Eblan, Teenmix. Conducting my research project, I am trying to merge my branding knowledge with the operations strategies in the arts organization. In 2016, among other research responsibilities, I invited the Chinese contemporary artist Mao Kai to come to the UK, and curated the contemporary visual arts exhibition for Breeze Creatives. This exhibition lasted 4 weeks from 12 Oct to 5 Nov, 2016. It is named after the topic of the paintings that are particularly created for us: Superior Animals.


Song Wang

"What branding strategies are Chinese regional football clubs adopting and how far are these having an impact locally, nationally and globally?"

Supervisor: Dr. Lesley Twomey

BIO: Song completed a BA International Trade at Northumbria University in 2007, and an MSc Business Management in 2012, followed by an MA in Cultural Management at Northumbria University in 2015. He is due to complete his PhD in 2019.


Val Webb

“Edward Stott (1855-1918): The Forgotten Artist”

Supervisor: Matthew Potter

Project Summary: This thesis researches the life and work of Edward Stott whose career as an artist spanned three periods: late Victorian, Edwardian and 'modern' until his death in 1818. The thesis examines the contribution Stott made to the history of English landscape painting, and the critical reception his work received at the time. It also investigates the historiographical marginalisation he has since experienced, and aims to restore his reputation and, in the process, stimulate further research interest into art of the Edwardian period. 

Bio: Valerie Webb completed her Masters at Kingston University, and then went on to study for an M.Phil., where the focus of her research was the Camden Town Group. Whilst at Kingston, she also lectured in the History of Art where her specialisms were British Art and women artists. Since leaving Kingston, her research interests have been focussed on English landscape painting with particular interest in the Edwardian period. She has published on the Camden Town Group, as well as being involved in the early planning stages for an exhibition that was held at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, where she devised the exhibition theme and chose the initial selection of paintings.


Leonie Wieser

“Minority Histories in Local Contexts: A Negotiation of Difference and Diversity in Past and Present Tyneside”

Supervisor: Susan Ashley

Project Summary: This project researches minority histories and memories in North East England and their part in a bigger “English” story. It investigates, in theory and practice, how local people engage in the diverse nature of a place’s heritage. This will inform our understanding of what heritage is and how it is constructed by normal people in different ways, as well as how minorities can democratically access the public sphere. The research focuses on the diverse heritage of South Shields, where immigrants have settled and made their impact for the past 150 years. (Tabili, 2011) These are a set of immigrants differing to the rest of the UK – among less visible minorities like French and German migrants in the mid-19th century, there was one of the first Muslim communities in England consisting of Yemeni sailors settling in the 1890s.

Bio: Leonie is a member of the multi-university AHRC-funded Heritage Consortium group. Originally from Austria, she has studied history as an undergraduate at Sussex University and  received a masters in political philosophy and public history at the University of York, UK.

Funding: AHRC Heritage Consortium


Siqi Zhang

"An analysis of the Digital Music Industry in a Chinese context"

Supervisor: Dr Lesley Twomey

Project Summary: am examining how the Chinese Digital Music Industry has been developed and integrating a suitable management theory which may fit the up-to-date global market. The research comparing the similarities and differences between China’s Digital Music Industry and others which including, definitions of Digital Music, historical developments, people's concept of consumption, attitude, and behaviours habits on Digital Music. This research seeks new insights into advanced business models and management theories which is set to enhance study of China’s Digital Music Industry and which may provide practical assessment of good practice in a Chinese context to inform management practice. My research includes a practical element, proving examples of good management practice, which could inform practice for Digital Music managers in China. The primary source analysis consists of strategically important official documents relating to the development of China's Digital Music Industry, archive sources and interviews with key stakeholders in the music industry from a range of companies (large, telecoms based; large internet provider based, small independent; musician collectives).

Bio: My research topic largely based on my experience as a musician and musicological researcher. I am a traditional Chinese wind instrument performer with over 15 years of experience and also a music major student with systematic and comprehensive training. Throughout my undergraduate years (2007-2012), I have participated in many musical activities including National Talents Test, University Celebration Performance, National Festival of Music, Digital Creative Festival, Band Tests of Social Art and a series of music activities, with which allowed me a deep understanding of China’s music industry. As a team leader in student union, I have successfully organized some musical commercial performance and work as internship teacher of Music in 2010. During my graduate studies from2012-2013, I was participated in an artist promotion project launched by Loft Music. Recently, I am a full time PhD student turned to the study and practice of music industry since 2014.


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