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 includes a number of projects in the UK and USA with close collaborators such as artists Mark Dion and Bryan McGovern Wilson; conceptual writers Dr. Simon Morris and Nick Thurston; archaeologists Dr. Aaron Watson and Dr. David Barrowclough; German cultural sociologist Dr. Hilmar Schäfer, and with his son, Jack Aylward-Williams.
Notable projects with 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). A series of prints made with Dion at Cumbria Institute of the Arts formed part of the London Underground Art Project. Other works together include, 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), and contributions to the exhibition Mark Dion: The Academy of Things at HfBK Dresden in 2015, and ExtraNatural at the École des Beaux-arts in Paris in 2016. 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 are currently working on a new book, Calvariae Disjecta: The many hauntings of Burton Agnes Hall, which investigates the dissemination of a regional ghost-story within popular culture.
Williams also collaborates closely with internationally respected artists such as the art publishers Information As Material (The Perverse Library (2010), I, Sparkie (2013) and The Nabakov Paper (2013) curated by Kate Briggs & Lucrezia Russo). A recent major 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 (2011-2014) was shown in the UK and France, and will travel to Umeå, Sweden in September 2016 as part of The Arts Catalyst Nuclear Cultures project, led by Dr. Ele Carpenter.
Robert and his son Jack’s interdisciplinary collaborations include explorations of ideas drawn from subjects as diverse as natural history, archaeology, anthropology, myth and legend. Their 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 a project investigating glass shards from around the world in Disjecta Fragmen Communitis (2011) shown at a museum of glass manufacture from the Industrial Revolution. Their recent work, Systema Naturae (2012-2014), is a collection of quotidian objects referencing representations of flora and fauna and was shown at The Galley Exhibition Rooms in Carlisle, UK May-July 2014.