Professor Dr. Robert Williams is an artist and academic. He trained at Lancaster University (BA 1983/PhD 2013) and at Leeds University (1990/1) where he was a Henry Moore Scholar in Sculpture Studies. He was the Leader of the Fine Art Programmes at Cumbria Institute of the Arts/University of Cumbria between 1998-2013. He currently leads the practice-led arts research group ARI (Arts Research Initiative) for The University of Cumbria Institute of the Arts based in Carlisle.
Williams’ practice draws on elements of the environment as diverse as ghost stories, folklore, the nuclear industry, natural history, archeology and anthropology. He works across Europe and the USA with collaborators including artists, conceptual writers, archeologists and sociologists, and also works in collaboration with his son, Jack Aylward-Williams. One focus of Williams’ work, particularly it’s interdisciplinary approach, is to question received wisdom and to acknowledge the contingent nature of knowledge itself.
Projects with artist Dion include The Tasting Garden at Lancaster (1998), The Tate Thames Dig (1999), Theatrum Mundi: Armarium at Jesus College, Cambridge (2001) and the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (2011); and An Ordinall of Alchimy (2010), commissioned by Cabinet Magazine, a collaboration with fellows from the Mildred’s Lane Project in Pennsylvania for Williams’ project Opus Magnum: Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum (1998-present). A collaboration with Dr. Hilmar Schäfer and fellows from the 2012 session produced Dis Manibus: A taxonomy of ghosts from popular forms (2013) which featured tin-type spirit photographs by Corey Riddell and publication design by Natalie Wilkin. Schäfer and Williams’ book, Calvariae Disjecta: The many hauntings of Burton Agnes Hall (2017), which investigated the dissemination of a regional ghost-story across popular cultural forms. The book was nominated for the 2017 Katherine Briggs Award of the Folklore Society.
A recent Arts Council England funded project with American artist Bryan McGovern Wilson explores the confluence of nuclear energy, mineral extraction industries, archaeology and folklore in the North-west of England. Cumbrian Alchemy (2014) was shown in the UK and France, and travelled to Umeå, and Malmö in Sweden, and Hasselt in Belgium as part of The Arts Catalyst Nuclear Cultures project, led by Dr. Ele Carpenter.
Robert and his son Jack’s interdisciplinary collaborations include Thesaurus Scienta Lancastriae (2004-2005) and Virga et Lapilla (2006),which explores archaeological inexactitude in the exhibition Stones, Circles, Landscape & Art curated by archaeologist Aaron Watson. Robert and Jack have also worked on projects about The Underworld, Arca Tartareum (2007-08), Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne (Historico-naturalis et Archaeologica ex Dale Street 2007-09), and Systema Naturae (2012-2014), a collection of quotidian objects referencing representations of flora and fauna and was shown in the UK in 2015. Robert assisted Jack with his first one-person show, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral (2019) at The Pharmacy in Carlisle.
Academic Staff profile: Professor Robert Williams, Institute of the Arts, Cumbria Univeristy