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Professor David Houston Jones

Professor of French and Visual Culture

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01392 724228

Prof David Houston Jones

I came to Exeter in 2005, having taught previously at the universities of Bristol, Oxford and Paris VIII Vincennes-St. Denis. My main research interests lie in Art History and Visual Culture, in particular photography, installation art and new media.

My recent book Visual Culture and the Forensic (2022) explores the ways in which forensic activity, such as crime scene investigation, spills over into the broader cultural sphere. A number of contemporary artists and photographers respond to forensic evidence, including crime scene photography, and to some of the assumptions underpinning its consumption. Their work asks how we look, and in whose name, foregrounding and scrutinising the enduring presence of voyeurism in visual media and instituting new forms of ethical engagement. Such work responds to the object-oriented culture associated with the forensic and offers a reassessment of the relationship of human voice and material evidence. It displays an enduring debt to the discursive model of testimony which has so far been insufficiently recognised, and which forms the basis for a new ethical understanding of the forensic. The book brings this methodology to bear upon a strand of contemporary visual activity that has the power to significantly redefine our understandings of the production, analysis and deployment of evidence. Artists examined include Forensic Architecture, Simon Norfolk, Melanie Pullen, Angela Strassheim, John Gerrard, Julian Charrière, Trevor Paglen, Laura Poitras and Sophie Ristelhueber.

My collaborators include Dr Kathryn Smith (chair of the Department of Visual Arts at Stellenbosch University). Kathryn is an interdisciplinary visual artist, curator and forensic imaging specialist. Her forensic and curatorial work come together as dual expressions of critical care for bodies, infrastructures and non-human things, directed at mutual visibility and legibility, and applies her skills to archival, forensic, humanitarian, and historical contexts.

Much of my research is concerned with art and evidence, in particular as they are shaped by testimony, the archive and the medical humanities.

My book Installation Art and the Practices of Archivalism (2016) is concerned with the many installation art  projects which respond to the archive. Some artists explicitly depict the archive (Beckett, Boltanski, Walid Raad), while others are preoccupied with archival materials and practices (Bałka, Godard, Kolbowski, Egoyan). Work like this is part of the pervasive contemporary nostalgia for ‘archival’ media such as analogue photographs and film, a tendency I analyse by reference to five types of archival practice, the intermedial, testimonial, personal, relational and monumentalist. The book produces new understandings of how we archive today: contemporary archiving, I suggest, is a response to the predominance of ‘prosthetic’ memory (Nora), in which cultural memory has gradually shifted away from communities of memory and into archiving technologies themselves.

From 2013-15 I was UK principal investigator on the EU INTERREG IV-funded research project 1914FACES2014 on the cultural legacy of facial disfigurement, in particular the way practices derived from art and sculpture come to influence surgical techniques, and vice versa. The unprecedented scale of facial injury, and the radical measures adopted to attempt to mitigate its effects, are the starting-point for an enquiry into the changing understandings of the face from 1914 to the present. I led the Exeter team for 1914FACES2014, based in the Colleges of Humanities and of Social Sciences and International Studies, and coordinated the third project strand, on Representing the Face, working with partners including Changing Faces, the Historial de la Grande Guerre, the Université de Picardie Jules Verne and the Institut Faire-Faces led by the world-leading surgeon Prof Bernard Devauchelle.

In 2011, I published Samuel Beckett and Testimony (Palgrave Macmillan). Here, I argued for the first time that testimony helps us understand Beckett's fiction, and that Beckettian narrative helps us understand testimony. I questioned the association of trauma in Beckett's work with the Second World War as historical event, arguing instead that the idea of testimony has to be understood via philosophical and iconographical traditions.  In particular, I analysed the debt in Beckett's work to the Noli me tangere tradition and depictions of the crucifixion, a debt which engages with the work of Georges Didi-Huberman on understanding the visual documentation of the Holocaust.

Research interests

My research is situated at the interface between art and evidence, and has explored key modalities of the forensic including testimony and the archive. I am concerned with the way visual rhetoric informs the production of evidence and the discourses which surround that production. I am interested in particular in installation art, photography, and in the connections between the forensic and the medical humanities.

Some of my work in the medical humanities concerns the face, in particular facial difference. From 2013-15 I was UK principal investigator on the EU INTERREG IV-funded project 1914FACES2014 on the cultural legacy of facial disfigurement in the UK and France. The project looks at the new surgical practices developed in the context of World War I and their debt to techniques derived from art and sculpture.

My publications include Visual Culture and the Forensic (2022), Installation Art and the Practices of Archivalism (2016), Samuel Beckett and Testimony (2011), The Body Abject (2000), a critical edition of Tanazacq's La Supreme Abjection de la Passion du Christ (2001) and Jean Genet, Journal du voleur (2004). I am an active member of the Centre for Medical History and of the Centre for Intermedia at the University of Exeter, I sit on the management board of the Centre for Translating Cultures, on the editorial board of Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture, on the editorial advisory board of e-France: an on-line journal of French Studies and the international advisory board of Reinvention: a Journal of Undergraduate ResearchI have peer reviewed for the journals Miranda, Studies in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Literature, Modern Philology, Twentieth-Century Literature and the Journal of Beckett Studies.

Research collaborations

My collaborators include the interdisciplinary visual artist, curator and forensic imaging specialist Dr Kathryn Smith (Chair, Visual Arts, Stellenbosch). I led the Exeter team for 1914FACES2014, based in the Colleges of Humanities and of Social Sciences and International Studies, and coordinated the third project strand, on Representing the Face. Project partners include the Université de Picardie Jules Verne and the Institut Faire-Faces led by the world-leading surgeon Prof Bernard Devauchelle. I co-curated the exhibition Faces of Conflict at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (2015) and in this context worked with the Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons of England and the Historial de la Grande Guerre. I have worked with the charities Changing Faces and Saving Faces and the artist Paddy Hartley. Paddy was artist in residence in the College of Humanities during 1914FACES2014, and that collaboration is reflected in a special issue of the Journal of War and Culture Studies  and in the book Paddy Hartley: Of Faces and Facades (2015). 

Research supervision

My research interests span modern and contemporary literary and visual culture, from trauma and testimony to visual archives, installation art and the forensic. I have particular interests in photography, the face, French contemporary art, the medical archive, archiving practices and technologies, Samuel Beckett, new media and cultural memory and am happy to receive PhD proposals in any of these areas.

Research students

I am currently supervising

Irem Kasar, PhD thesis on Bilingualism, Co-Translation/Self-Translation and Hybridity in the Prose of Elif Şafak and Samuel Beckett

Jo Sutherst, PhD thesis on The Algorithmic Gaze

Tenzin Yangkyi, PhD thesis on Indonesian and Tibetan Literature and the Postcolonial

Najla Alsalamah, PhD thesis on Visual Representations of Saudi Women in the British Media

I have recently supervised the following:

Tara-Monique Etherington, PhD thesis on A Comparative Investigation into the Circulation, Cultural Influences, and Social Impact of Anime and Manga (awarded 2015)

Zoe Jeffra-Adams, PhD thesis on The Translation of French Language Holocaust Writing:
A Case Study of Elie Wiesel’s La Nuit (awarded 2014)

Marjorie Gehrhardt, PhD thesis on Les Gueules Cassees: representations of facial disfigurement (awarded 2014)

Isaure Triby, interdisciplinary PhD thesis on Representations of Cultural Identity in Alsace / Strasbourg (awarded 2013)

Lara Cox AHRC-funded PhD thesis in French: "Transference in the Theatre of Ionesco, Arrabal and Adamov: The Schismatic Scene of Misrecognition" (awarded 2012).

External impact and engagement

Collaboration with those who benefit from research, and with non-academic practitioners, is at the heart of my work. I have worked with artists, surgeons, charities, school pupils and teachers, and my work on facial difference has led to collaborations with the charities Changing Faces (CEO: James Partridge) and Saving Faces as part of a project led by the world-leading surgeon Prof Bernard Devauchelle. I co-curated the exhibition Faces of Conflict at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (2015) and in this context worked with the Hunterian Museum, the Royal College of Surgeons of England and the Historial de la Grande Guerre. We ran schools sessions in tandem with the exhibition, involving staff and students from King Edward Sixth College, West Exe School and St David’s School, Exeter.

In consultation with teachers working in the South West I worked with Dr Marjorie Gehrhardt and Dr Catriona Pennell, both CI on 1914FACES2014, in order to produce new educational resources on facial difference and the facially injured soldiers of the First World War. A pilot study in which the resources were used in the classroom ran at Penrice Community College, St Austell, Cornwall in July 2014, and the resources are now freely available online for academic purposes.

During the project it was my privilege to work with artists including René Apallec, Eleanor Crook, Mark Gilbert and Paddy Hartley. Paddy Hartley was artist in residence on 1914FACES2014 at the University of Exeter, a collaboration which led to the publication of Paddy Hartley: Of Faces and Facades (2015). I continue to work with Paddy in the context both of facial difference and of the medical archive.

I took part in the conversation series at The Print Room, Notting Hill, as part of the Beckett in London Festival in May 2016, participating in a discussion of Becket and the Arts: Texts for Nothing, a conversation with Dr Derval Tubridy and Dr Sarah Hayden on the occasion of the remaking of O’Doherty’s Hello Sam, Redux at The Print Room.

I acted as academic advisor to the Winter Warmed theatre festival (January-Feb 2013, dir. Richards), and participated in public discussion sessions held at the Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter. Entitled Fervent Thoughts, the sessions focused on comedy and performance and theatre and installation art. The festival, which combined productions of well-known plays by Samuel Beckett with a range of scripted and devised work by professional and amateur groups, was conceived in dialogue with community groups including Clyst Vale Community College, Exeter College and Uncommon Players.

Contribution to discipline

I am a member of the editorial board of the journal Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture, and sit on the advisory board for e-France: an on-line journal of French Studies. I am also a member of the International Advisory Board, Reinvention: a Journal of Undergraduate Research. I was French section co-editor for The Literary Encyclopedia (2006-12), and was editor, Current Research (Society for French Studies) between 2002 and 2006. I have peer reviewed for the journals Miranda, Studies in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Literature, Modern Philology, Twentieth-Century Literature and the Journal of Beckett Studies.

Media

In the context of the 1914FACES2014 project, I have recently spoken on contemporary art and representing the face on ITV West Country and BBC Radio Devon.

Teaching

I teach widely across the Art History and Visual Culture programme, specialising in modern / contemporary art and visual media. I focus in particular on installation art and photography, and offer specialist modules in both these areas, as well as contributing to team-taught modules and dissertation supervision in a variety of areas, including on visual media and French Visual History. I am a contributor to the interdisciplinary final-year module AHV3003 The Face.

Modules taught