Gemma is an interdisciplinary scholar, writer and curator who works on the intersection of modern and contemporary art and literature with questions of health and care.
Gemma is Senior Tutor for Research. She works across MRes RCA and the School of Arts & Humanities (SoAH), where she supervises PhD projects, supporting postgraduate students’ practice-based research, especially in relation to their creative-critical writing.
A founding member of the Health & Care Research Cluster in the School of Arts & Humanities (SoAH), Gemma has worked for over two decades on the entangled histories of art and medicine in early 20th-century Europe; on what she has termed ‘clinical modernism’; and on the contributions of practice-based research to feminist histories of art, and to the critical medical humanities. She established SoAH’s CARE postgraduate group to consider how creative research methods might attend to the care of bodies, materials and environments across time, and co-edited its two anthologies of 2021 and 2022.
Gemma’s research-led curatorial practices are deeply archival, bringing unknown artists and objects to presentations of modernism, repairing histories of art and of medicine by attending to what has been deemed minor to them. She has curated major international loan exhibitions for galleries and museums in London (National Gallery; Wellcome Collection) and Vienna (Leopold Museum; Wien Museum). She is Academic Associate at the Freud Museum, London.
Prior to working at the RCA, Gemma was Professor of Art History at University of Plymouth where she coordinated research for Art History (2013–18); led the MRes Art History (2013–15) and the BA Art History programmes (2005–8; 2011–13); and co-led the BA Joint-Honours Fine Art & Art History programme (2005–08, 2011–13).
Research interests, fields and methods include:
- Questions of sickness, gender and sexuality in modern and contemporary art and visual culture
- Feminist approaches to art and visual culture in ‘Vienna 1900’
- Creative research methods as means of caring/repairing in and across time
- Critical and experimental approaches to the medical humanities
- Voice, and the sonic textures of research
Gemma’s practices include: curating; creative-critical writing; editing; performative reading; field recording/voicing/speaking/singing for experimental electronic music compositions that revolve around her research interests and methods. Her debut album Who Will You Love is made in collaboration with musical artist The Dengie Hundred and is forthcoming (December 2023).
An art-writer, writing for as well as to and through contemporary artists, Gemma’s essays for commercial galleries such as Victoria Miro often develop in conversation and correspondence with them. Artists she has exchanged with include: Alexis Soul-Gray (2022), Esther Teichmann (2021), Marita Fraser (2021), Rebecca Fortnum (2020), Chantal Joffe (2018; 2016), and Nicola Tyson (2014).
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Canada) Insight Grant for Edvard Munch, Modernism, and Medicine, led by Principal Investigator Dr Allison Morehead (Queen’s University, Canada), 2017-2021.
Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship for a single-authored book on portraiture in ‘Vienna 1900’; the book became the exhibition and catalogue Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 (National Gallery, London, 2013-14), 2010-11.
Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) Major Research Project Grant for Madness and Modernity: Art, Architecture and Mental Illness in Vienna and the Habsburg Empire 1890-1914, led by Principal Investigator Dr Leslie Topp (Birkbeck, University of London), 2004-08.
Current and recent projects
BESSIE (in development)
BESSIE is an epistolary biography of a show girl central to the circles of early 20th-century Viennese modernism before becoming peripheral with chronic illness, a position she would rage against in letters unanswered in the archive record. Working with the traces of her increasingly sick body in painting, photography, literature, paper ephemera, and marginalia in research archives and special collections, museums and private collections, with theories of cross-historical letter writing, chronicity and nonlinear, ‘sick time’, the book reflects on the risky yet reparative pleasures of piecing together a precarious, necessarily rebellious life, and on feminist art historical research as an expression of lovesick attachment to the ever-elusive object of study. Reimagining art history’s long relationship with the artist’s biography, the book offers in the form of an extended reply to Bessie, a sick woman’s life history as that of modern art and literature in ‘Vienna 1900’.
Discovering L.A. (in development)
Further to the discovery of a novel by one of Egon Schiele’s lovers previously known only as ‘L.A.’, who he drew while pregnant and in care at Vienna’s Women’s Clinic, this project draws together a ‘sick timeline’ of research conducted through two highly medicalised pregnancies, and correspondence with literary translator Natasha Lehrer, who reads, annotates and relays L.A.’s book (available only in French) in English. Drawing upon autotheory, Sick Woman Theory and theories of translation as ‘production’ (as opposed to ‘reproduction’), the project seeks to recover L.A.’s experience differently. Work in progress from Discovering L.A. has been published in CARE(LESS), (2021) and the journal of the annual Egon Schiele-Symposium at the Leopold Museum (2020).
With Dr Alice Butler, Sick Women: correspondences and performances (2020-ongoing)
A collaborative letter writing project that develops a multi-form and multi-disciplinary approach to its embodied, critical, and theoretical investigation of sickness, gender, and cross-historical correspondence and care. Across presentations, performances, readings, experiments, exhibition essay interventions, and a peer-reviewed academic article (“Sick Women Correspondents”, 2022/2023), it explores the potential of experimental feminist methodologies to ‘care for’ the ‘sick women’ figures (artists, writers, portrait sitters) of a global art history and visual culture.
Publications, exhibitions, other outcomes
(2021) The Body Electric: Erwin Osen and Egon Schiele, Leopold Museum Vienna
(2015) The Nakeds, De la Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea
(2014) The Nakeds, Drawing Room, London
(2014) Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900, National Gallery, London
(2010) Madness & Modernity: Kunst und Wahn in Wien um 1900, Wien Museum, Vienna
(2009) Madness & Modernity: Mental Illness and the Visual Arts in Vienna 1900, Wellcome Collection, London
Blackshaw, G. and Butler, A. (30 March, 2023). Sick Women Correspondents: Practices of Care in Cross-historical Love Letter Writing. MAI: Feminism & Visual Culture.
Blackshaw, G. (2022). The Sick Train. MAP Magazine. https://mapmagazine.co.uk/the-sick-train
Baluch, S., Blackshaw, G., Fraser, M., Heidorn, N., and Hermon, R. (2022). I care by… London: Research Communiqués, RCA School of Arts & Humanities.
Blackshaw, G. and Kaasa, A. (2022). Correspondence as Care for Erwin Osen’s ‘Lustknabe’. In: Egon Schiele, Mileus und Perspektiven, 4. Egon Schiele Symposium im Leopold Museum, pp. 122-134.
Blackshaw, G and Kivland, S. (2021). CARE(LESS): A Supplement to On Care. London: Ma Bibliothèque. https://mabibliotheque.cargo.site/CARE-LESS-A-SUPPLEMENT-TO-ON-CARE-2021
Blackshaw, G. (2021). On Constellations or Seeing Stars. Constellations by Esther Teichmann and Christopher Stewart. https://constellations.world/essay/on-constellations-or-seeing-stars
Blackshaw, G. (2020). Egon Schiele’s Clinical Modernism. In: Egon Schiele, Dialog und Inszenierung, 3. Egon Schiele Symposium im Leopold Museum, pp. 24-39.
Blackshaw, G. (2020). ‘In time the likeness will become apparent’: Rebecca Fortnum’s Feminist Copies. In: R. Fortnum and A. Hunt, eds., Rebecca Fortnum: 'A Mind Weighted with Unpublished Matter'. London: Slimvolume, pp. 4-21.
Blackshaw, G. (2020). Everything Painted Blue: A Letter to Bessie Bruce (1886-1921). Prova, Vol. 5, pp. 198-199.
Blackshaw, G. (2020). Rediscovered Drawings by Erwin Dominik Osen, The Burlington Magazine, Issue 162, March, pp. 224-227.
Blackshaw, G. (2018). Mother Figure: Gemma Blackshaw on Chantal Joffe, Elephant.
Blackshaw, G. (2018). “Crazier than I am, or crazier than I look?” Self-Portraits by Egon Schiele, Tate Etc. Issue 43, 9 May, pp. 2-9.
Blackshaw, G. (2017). Egon Schiele’s Passion: Spirituality and Sexuality, 1912-15 in T. Natter, ed., Egon Schiele: The Complete Paintings. Munich: Taschen, pp. 196-297.
Blackshaw, G. (2016). Confessional Painting: Recent Work by Chantal Joffe in Chantal Joffe. London: Victoria Miro.
Blackshaw, G. (2014). Dead Men and their Naked Truths in M. Doyle and K. Macfarlane, eds., The Nakeds. Manchester: Cornerhouse, pp. 12-29.
Blackshaw, G. (2014). Good Timing, Drawing Room Online Resources. Available at: https://drawingroom.org.uk/resources/good-timing-by-gemma-blackshaw
Blackshaw, G. (2014). The Modernist Offence: Schiele and the Naked Female Body in B. Wright and P. Vergo, eds., Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude. London: Paul Holberton Publishing in association with The Courtauld Gallery, pp. 30-49.
Blackshaw, G. (2013). Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900. London: National Gallery Company in association with Yale University Press.
Blackshaw, G. and Wieber, S. (2012). Journeys into Madness: Mapping Mental Illness in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. New York: Berghahn.
Blackshaw, G. and Topp, L. (2009). Madness & Modernity: Modernism and Mental Illness in Vienna 1900. London: Lund Humphries.
Selected Conference Papers & Invited Papers:
(2022) Reflections on Sick Women: The Chronic-poetics of Feminist Art History for the series ‘Looking After: Conversations on Art and Healing’, The Brooklyn Rail [co-authored and presented with Dr Alice Butler, RCA].
(2022) To Reply, To Risk, To Resemble: Bessie Bruce and Cookie Mueller for a workshop on Correspondence and Letters, offered as part of the ‘Correspondence in Feminist Art, Art Writing, and Art History, from Emily Dickinson to Now’ event series curated by Dr Alice Butler for the Centre of American Art Terra Foundation and The Courtauld [co-authored and presented with Dr Alice Butler, RCA].
(2021) Correspondence as Care: Writing to Bessie and Cookie, inaugural paper for Confabulations [co-authored and presented with Dr Alice Butler, RCA].
(2021) Correspondence as Care for Erwin Osen’s Lustknabe, Egon Schiele Annual Research Symposium, Leopold Museum, Vienna [co-authored and presented with Dr Adam Kaasa, RCA].
(2021). Sick Women: The Chronic-poetics of Feminist Art History. College Art Association Annual Conference [co-convened with Dr Alice Butler, RCA].
(2019) Egon Schiele’s Clinical Modernism, Egon Schiele Annual Research Symposium, Leopold Museum, Vienna.
(2019) Sick-Woman Bessie Bruce, Keynote Address, Sick Girls in European Visual Art, Literature, Medical Science and Popular Culture in the 19th Century, Aarhus University
(2019) Egon Schiele’s Clinical Modernism, ‘Artistry in the Spaces of Medicine’ panel, Association of Art Historians, Annual Conference, University of Sussex
- (2020-present) Academic Associate, Freud Museum
- (2018–2020) Honorary Professor of Art History, University of Plymouth
- (2014–2018) External Examiner, MA Art History and Theory; MA Gallery Studies and Critical Curating; MA Curating Contemporary Art, University of Essex
- (2009–2013) External Examiner, MA Art History, Birkbeck, University of London
- (2020) Guest Curator, Leopold Museum, Vienna
- (2014) Guest Curator, Drawing Room, London
- (2014) Guest Curator, National Gallery, London
- (2010) Guest Curator, Wien Museum, Vienna
- (2009) Guest Curator, Wellcome Collection, London
- (2019) Member of the Yale University Press Focus Group to consider the current priorities in art history publishing
Research Group Memberships:
- Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canada, 2017–2021
Research Project Collaborator (International): Edvard Munch, Modernism, and Medicine
- Arts and Humanities Research Council, United Kingdom, 2004–2008
Research Project Collaborator (National): Madness and Modernity: Art, Architecture and Mental Illness in Vienna and the Habsburg Empire 1890-1914
- Art History
- H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences Online)
- Journal of the History of Collections
- Nineteenth-Century Contexts
- Modern Jewish Studies
- Oxford Art Journal
- Wellcome Trust
- Carnegie Trust
- The Art Fund
- Austrian Cultural Forum
- Courtauld Institute of Art
- Drawing Room
- Freud Museum
- JW3, Centre for Jewish Cultural Life
- Neue Galerie, Museum for Austrian and German Art, New York
- Royal Academy Schools
- Zabludowicz Collection
Academic Event Management:
- (2006) Session Chair, Modernism and Medicine, College Art Association, Washington DC
- (2007) Conference Organiser, Journeys into Madness: Representing Mental Illness in the Arts and Sciences, 1850-1930, Wellcome Collection, London
- Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
- Member of the Association of Art Historians
- Member of the College Art Association