Silvia Albertazzi

Panel 1E: Transcoding the Artist’s Life
Session 1 – July 1, 11:00 – 13:00

Nostalgia of the present:
Pauline Boty from the swinging sixties to post-Brexit UK

Pauline Boty was the first female pioneer of British pop art. Yet, owing to her tragic and untimely death at the age of 28 in 1966, her work has been forgotten until the late Eighties, when a Barbican curator found many of her pictures in a shed by her brother’s farm and, after a bit of freshening, exhibited them in 1993 in a show called Art in 60s London. Yet her fame was mainly limited to the artistic world until the publication, in 2016, of Ali Smith’s novel, Autumn, whose protagonist is an Art Phd student writing a thesis on Boty. Through the fictional discoveries of Smith’s character, the readers became acquainted with Boty’s life, and with her experiences in many cultural fields (painting, acting, dancing). An incarnation of the swinging sixties, her parable can also be interpreted in terms of transcodification: from the canvas to the screen to the theatre (when she was alive), and to narrative fiction (after her death). I will start by examining her role in Ken Russell’s tv documentary film Pop Goes the Easel (1962), devoted to the young British pop art scene. Then, I will take into account her most famous paintings and collages as well as her proto-feminist pronouncements, and activity as a leftist protester, to show how, as Smith noted, “she did not just embody but seems literally to have helped create” the ground-breaking new 60s spirit. Lastly, I will show how, in her 2016 novel –  which was one of the first Brexit fictions  to appear in UK – the figure of Pauline Boty acquired new meaning and dimension in the light of quite a different British social and political situation.

Short bio

Silvia Albertazzi is full professor of New Literatures in English and History of the English Culture at the University of Bologna. Her main interests are postcolonial literature (Lo sguardo dell’Altro, Carocci 2000; La letteratura postcoloniale. Dall’Impero alla World Literature, Carocci, 2013) and contemporary fiction (Bugie sincere. Narratori e narrazioni 1970-1990, Editori Riuniti 1992; Belli e perdenti. Antieroi e post-eroi nella narrativa contemporanea di lingua inglese, Armando, 2012). She has also tackled literature in relation to photography and music with a comparative approach (see her essays Il nulla, quasi. Foto di famiglia e istantanee amatoriali nella letteratura contemporanea, Le Lettere, 2010; Letteratura e fotografia, Carocci, 2017, and Leonard Cohen. Manuale per vivere nella sconfitta, paginauno edizioni, 2018).