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Rosemary Shirley

My research centres on everyday life and visual culture, with a particular emphasis on contemporary rural contexts. I am interested in how the English landscape might be explored through notions of national identity and discourses of modernity. This has led me to write about topics as diverse as litter, motorways, folk customs and scrapbooks. I am also interested in how contemporary artists engage with landscape as a place that is lived in rather than simply looked at or visited.

My book Rural Modernity Everyday Life and Visual Culture (Ashgate/Routledge 2015), explores the countryside as an inhabited and practised realm with lived rhythms and routines. It relocates the topography of everyday life from its habitually urban focus, out into the English countryside. The rural is often portrayed as existing outside of modernity, or as its passive victim. Here, the rural is recast as an active and complex site of modernity, a shift which contributes alternative ways of thinking the rural and a new perspective on the everyday. In each chapter, pieces of visual culture - including scrapbooks, art works, adverts, photographs and films - are presented as tools of analysis which articulate how aspects of the everyday might operate differently in non-metropolitan places. The book features new readings of the work of significant artists and photographers, such as Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane, Stephen Willats, Anna Fox, Andrew Cross, Tony Ray Jones and Homer Sykes, seen through this rural lens, together with analysis of visually fascinating archival materials including early Shell Guides and rarely seen scrapbooks made by the Women’s Institute. Combining everyday life, rural modernity and visual cultures, this book is able to uncover new and different stories about the English countryside and contribute significantly to current thinking on everyday life, rural geographies and visual cultures.

I work on curatorial projects that explore notions of critical landscapes, rurality, art and visual culture. These include Always Greener at PM Gallery, London 2012, which brought together artists who challenge preconceptions about the contemporary countryside and explore it as somewhere that is constructed from powerful cultural, economic and political forces. I am working with Compton Verney Art Gallery in Warwickshire to curate a major exhibition for Spring 2017, exploring the concept of the rural idyll as a powerful force in our national imaginary. It aims to examine how key moments in art history and modern art have shaped the concept of the idyll and how contemporary artists continue to access and often challenge these ideas. Uniquely, it will map the interconnections between representation of the rural idyll in art, and in a wide range of objects and images that populate our everyday lives.

I teach Art History and Curating at Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University.





2007-2011          PhD, University of Sussex.

2005-2006          MA Contemporary Art Theory, Goldsmiths, University of London (Distinction).

1996-1999          BA (Hons) Fine Art: Painting, Winchester School of Art and Ontario College of Art and Design, Toronto (Upper Second Class).


Publications and Research:


  • R. Shirley (July 2015) Rural Modernity, Everyday Life and Visual Cultures Farnham: Ashgate.

Book Chapters

  • R Shirley (2016) ‘Pylons and Birds Eye: The Women’s Institute go Electric’ in Electrifying the Countryside by Paul Brassley, Jeremy Burchardt and Karen Sayer (Eds.), Farnham: Ashgate.
  • R Shirley (2016) ‘The Wide Margins of Modernity’ in Companion to Modern Art by Pam Meecham (Ed.) Oxford and New York: Wiley Blackwell.
  • R Shirley (May 2015) ‘Speed and Stillness: Driving in the Countryside’ in Affective Landscapes in Literature, Art and Everyday Life by Christine Berberich et al. (Eds.), Farnham: Ashgate.
  • C. Cartiere, R. Shirley, S. Willis (2008) ‘A Timeline for the History of Public Art: The United Kingdom and the United States of America, 1900-2005’ in The Practice of Public Art by Cameron Catiere and Shelly Willis (Eds.), Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

Exhibition Curation

  • Rural Idylls (Working title), Compton Verney, Warwickshire, March – June 2017.
  • Research in Translation, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, June – Dec 2015.
  • Always Greener: Views from the Contemporary Countryside, PM Gallery, Pitzhanger Manor, London, April – June 2012.

Book Reviews

  • R. Shirley ‘The Everyday by Stephen Johnstone’, New Formations, 65, Autumn 2008.

Conference Organisation

  • Nordic Geographer’s Conference, Universities of Tallinn and Tartu, Estonia, 15-19 June 2015. (Panel convened with colleagues from UCLan and Sheffield Hallam).
  • Enid Marx and her Contemporaries: Women Designers and the Popularisation of Folk Art 1920-1960, Compton Verney, 13 Sept 2013. (Conference organiser, working with colleagues, Dr. Jane Webb and Desdemona McCannon).

Essays in Exhibition Catalogues and Publications

  • Making it up as we go along, RSVP, Aspex, Portsmouth; Fabrica, Brighton; La Malterie, France; L’H du Siege, France; Kunst & Zwalm, Belgium and Netwerk, Belgium, 2010.
  • Don’t Get Your Hopes Up, Susan Collis, The Torrance Art Museum, California, 2010 (essay reprinted as part of larger catalogue) - From the Archive, Archive , National Media Museum, Bradford, 2009.
  • Beating the Bounds, Periphery, YH485 Press, 2009.
  • Guilty Pleasures, Paul Denton: Remember the last time you were here, Whitewall, Milton Keynes Contemporary 2008.
  • Particpiant Observation, I’m not a Tourist I live here, Pennwood House, Oxford, 2007.
  • Don’t Get Your Hopes Up, Susan Collis, Seventeen Gallery, London, 2007.
  • The Extraordinary Ordinary, Is Britain Great?, The Caravan Gallery, Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth, 2006.
  • Bird Watching with Neeta Madahar, Garageland, Transition Gallery, London, 2006.
  • The Devil’s in the Detail, Garageland, Transition Gallery, London, 2006.
  • Ann Course, Machissmo, Garageland, Transition Gallery, London, 2006.
  • Theatre of Restless Automata, Boredom Research, Touring Exhibition, 2005.
  • I know all about you, Susan Collis, Aspex Gallery Portsmouth, 2004.
  • Post Marks, Melanie Rose and Arrabella Lee, Transition Gallery London, 2004.
  • Stephen Peirce, Galeria Thomas Cohn Sao Palo, Brazil, 2004.
  • Synthetic Truths, Greg Palmer, Aspex Gallery Portsmouth, 2003.

Reviews and Articles in Art Magazines (Selected)

  • 'Country Living' Art Lies (Texas USA), Spring 2010.
  • 'Country Living', a-n Magazine, Sep 2007.
  • 'Exploration in the Domain of Idiocy by Tami Bent Tor' a-n Magazine, Aug 2006.
  • 'Tiara', The High Horse, Apr 2006.
  • 'Report on the UK featuring CAN 05', ContextK (Belgium) 2005/06.
  • 'Ventilation by Victoria Melody, Millais Gallery Southampton' a-n Magazine, Jan 2006.
  • 'There's Gold in Dem Der Hills' a-n Magazine, Oct 2005.
  • 'CAN05, Norwich', a-n Magazine, Aug 2005.
  • 'The Electronic Sketchbook Two, Nextstep Gallery, Southampton' a-n Magazine, Jul 2005.
  • 'Previews Section', a-n Magazine, Jun 2005.
  • 'Arty Greatest Hits, (published by Transition)', a-n Magazine, Mar 2005.
  • 'Why Invigilators should have Whistles', arty magazine, Mar 2005.
  • 'New British Painting II, John Hansard Gallery, Southampton', Circa, Summer 2004.
  • 'Once Again, John Hansard Gallery, Southampton', Contemporary, Nov 2002.

Contributions to Academic Conferences

  • Pylons and Birds Eye:  Golden Jubilee Scrapbooks from the WI, Amateur Creativity Symposium, University of Warwick, September 2015.
  • Breathing Spaces, Nordic Geographer’s Meeting, Universities of Tallinn and Tartu, Estonia, June 2015.
  • Anna Fox, Performing the Village, Re-imagining Rurality, University of Westminster, London, February 2015.
  • Scrapbooks and “Unsophisticated Art”, Enid Marx and her Contemporaries: The Popularisation of Folk Art 1920-1960, Compton Verney, September 2013.
  • Performing the Village, Visualising the Rural, University of Cumbria, July 2013.
  • Golden Jubilee Scrapbooks from the WI, Unofficial Histories, Manchester Metropolitan University, June 2013.
  • Pylons and Birds Eye: The WI goes Electric Transforming the Countryside: Rural Electrification Conference, Leeds Trinity, March 2013.
  • Scattered Papers: Litter trails and the productivity of collage in Mass-Observation Mass Observation Anniversaries Conference, University of Sussex, July 2012.
  • Speed and Stillness: Driving in the Countryside Affective Landscapes, University of Derby, May 2012.
  • Keeping Britain Tidy: Litter and Anxiety, Rubbish Symposium, London Consortium/Birkbeck, 2011.
  • Keeping Britain Tidy: Litter Anxiety and the Non-Metropolitan Everyday, Association of Art Historians, University of Glasgow, 2010.
  • Keeping Britain Tidy, Emerging Landscapes, University of Westminster, 2010.
  • A Fortunate Man: John Berger’s commitment to an authentic expression of the non-metropolitan everyday, Association of Art Historians (Post Graduate), Cambridge University, 2009.
  • A Fortunate Man: Mapping the Non-Metropolitan Everyday in Visual Culture, MeSSCA Post Graduate Conference, 2009.