Like many great ideas, HENI Talks is a response to a problem. Two years ago art history in UK schools was in peril, as the A-level qualification was about to be scrapped by the then awarding body. The crisis was averted when another exam board decided to offer the subject, but the previous board’s suggestion that ‘the complex and specialist nature’ of art history made it too difficult to examine worried many teachers, curators and scholars. HENI Talks, launched in April this year, is a practical riposte to this claim. Its free library of short films on art and culture, narrated by experts in their field, seeks to prove that the study of art can and should be for everyone.
Technically speaking, it’s a simple platform – the films are hosted on the video-sharing site Vimeo (they’re also available on Youtube) and can be browsed on the HENI Talks website. The emphasis is on the quality of the contents of the catalogue. There is a dedicated team led by head of HENI talks, Munira Mirza, of producers, researchers, editors and camera operators, and high production values are particularly evident in the large amounts of newly filmed footage, often shot on location on streets and in museums. There are also several collaborations with institutions such as the Courtauld Gallery, where an episode on paintings by Paul Cézanne was filmed. Unlike many digital enterprises, HENI Talks is not trying to replace the physical experience of art within traditional brick-and-mortar contexts; rather, it seeks to build bridges to new audiences for this experience.
An impressive roster of individuals who have already taken part includes the art historians Hal Foster and Griselda Pollock, artists Damien Hirst and Ashley Bickerton, and museum directors Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine and Iwona Blazwick of the Whitechapel Gallery. As Blazwick explains, ‘The film allowed us to look back at Malevich through the filter of our 2015 exhibition “Adventures of the Black Square” and to use film footage, archive materials and images from many other artists to show how his legacy had resonated around the world and through the century. I hope that these short films will seduce young people to get engaged with visual art and to explore its fascinating histories.’
There are 42 of these films at the present count, on topics as varied as St Paul’s Cathedral, Mona Lisa and chromophobia, and new contributions are released every fortnight – the fun is just getting started.
Gabrielle Schwarz is web editor of Apollo.
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