Professor Robert Williams, PhD

  • Emeritus Professor of Fine Art Research Lead for the University of Cumbria Institute of the Arts Contributions to BA (Hons) Fine Art and MA in Contemporary Fine Art
  • Institute of Education, Arts and Society
  • Arts Research Initiative (ARI)
  • Art and Design
Professor Robert Williams, PhD


I am an artist and academic. I trained at Lancaster University (BA 1983/PhD 2013) and at Leeds University (1990/1) where I was a Henry Moore Scholar in Sculpture Studies. I was the Leader of the Fine Art Programmes at Cumbria Institute of the Arts/University of Cumbria between 1998-2013. I currently lead practice-led arts research initiatives for the Institute of the Arts as part of the Arts Research Initiative (ARI).

My 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 my 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 and were later included in Kunst und Alchemie: Das Geheimnis der Verwandlung at the Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf in 2014. 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 Extra Natural 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 published a new book in 2017, Calvariae Disjecta: The many hauntings of Burton Agnes Hall, which investigates the dissemination of a regional ghost-story across popular cultural forms.

I also collaborate 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 (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.

Interdisciplinary collaborations with my son Jack 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 in the UK in 2015 and which will travel to Denmark in the near future.

Qualifications and memberships

PhD by Published Work

MA in Sculpture Studies (Leeds)

Member of the Steering Group for the National Association of Fine Art Educators (NAFAE)

Member of AHRC Peer Review College

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Academic and research interests

Research based art practice.

Interdisciplinary and collaborative art practice.

Sculpture and installation.

Alchemy, archaeology, folklore, speculative fiction & popular culture.

Public Lecture:Notes from the Phantasmagoric Society – Recent Practice Exploring the Alchemic and the Supernatural Otherly – Collaborative Works with Mark Dion and Bryan McGovern Wilson. CRASSH/Alchemic Landscapes. University of Cambridge. 5.3.19

Public Lecture:The Curios Society: Alchemy.With Kate Briggs and Jane Topping. Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. 3.3.18

Recent projects include: Project:Mildred’s Lane Projects. Pennsylvania.  Opus Magnum: Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum – The Alchemist’s Shack. Mildred’s Lane Project, Pennsylvania. Summer 2018. The Pastoral Otherly & the Search for the Great God Pan Session. Featured speakers, visiting artists, seminar leaders, field trips and other guests included: J. Morgan Puett, Critical Art Ensemble; Matthew Friday; Alex Schecter; Rudi Salgado; Susanna Crum; Nicholas S. Heskes; Jack Aylward-Williams. Summer 2016. The Rural Uncanny, High Strangeness and the Hummadruzz Session. Featured speakers, visiting artists, seminar leaders, field trips and other guests included: Mark Dion; Bryan McGovern Wilson; Paul Bartow, Cameron Klaveson, Alex Schecter, Sandy Williams.  Summer 2014. The Underworld Session.  Session Leaders Robert Williams & Hilmar Schäfer. Featured speakers, visiting artists, seminar leaders, field trips and other guests included: Bryan Wilson, Mark Dion, J. Morgan Puett, Paul Bartow, Joanna Ebenstein, Kirstin Nieman, James Prosek, Clayton Lewis, Pierre Warny, Pablo Helguera, Amy Yoes, Jorg Columbo and Daria Dorash, Ashley Byers; Christian Meade; Jonathan Williams; Chelsea Wills, Mattias Quinetro.

Research supervision

Current Research Students:

Jane Topping: PhD by Arts Practice: The Peter and nou Handbook: A Field Guide to an SF Practice (So Far) (Completed)

Dr. Frida Yngström: PhD by Arts Practice: Pushing the rational – using dreamwork as a method for art and resistance (Completed)

Patti Lean: PhD by Arts Practice: Walking the Environment: the Mountain Writing of Nan Shepherd as Methodology for Environmental Abstraction in Painting.

Dr. James Issit: PhD by Arts Practice: Performing Miracles: The real magic behind the performance (Completed)

Pat Walton: The Lived Experience of Chronic Pain: A project to transcend difficulties of communicating pain through photography. (Submitted)

Laura Harrison: PhD by Arts Practice: Welcome Darkness: A practice-led investigation into the inherent potential and value of the dark.

Michael Coombs: PhD by Arts Practice: Land: The extent to which new technologies and internet services influence our experience and understanding of place, particularly from the perspective of the visitor and tourist.

Dr. Charlotte Wilson: PhD by Published Work: Improved access to health care and self-management of long-term and disabling conditions including end-of-life care: a corpus of published work incorporating evidence appraisals and critical approaches to public health. (Completed)

Also second supervisor for x2 PhD by Arts Practice, and x2 PhD by Published Work (one submitted).


Recent Related Public outputs:

Conference: Mundus Imaginalis & Intellectus Agens: Imagination et agence dans la création d'organigrammes relationneles' in Organigrammes: L'art face aux mondes complexes. Universitie 1, Sorbonne, Paris. 22-23.11.19.

Conference: 'Notes from the Phantasmalogical Society: Recent practice exploring the alchemic and the Supernatural Otherly' in Alchemical Landscapes, Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. Cambridge University. 5.3.19.

Conference: 'The Alchemical Apollo' in The Aesthetics of Alchemy. Birkbeck University, London. 24-25.7.19.

Book: Williams, Robert (ed.) with Schäfer, H (2017). Calvariae Disjecta. Information As Material. York

Book: Contributions. Le Thoral, Pascale (ed.)(2016). Mark Dion:ExtraNaturel. Beaux-Arts de Paris Éditions.

Book: Contributions. Carpenter, Ele (ed.)(2016). The Nuclear Culture Source Book. Black Dog. London.

Public Lecture: Robert Williams: A Phantasmagoria: Some Recent projects Dealing with the Supernatural. Arts, Letters & Numbers. Albany, New York. July 23 2016.

Conference Proceedings: Radioactive Waste Management and Constructing Memory for Future Generations. Conference Proceedings. NEA No. 7259. OECD. 177 pages. 2015. Cumbrian Alchemy (2014) Robert Williams & Bryan McGovern Wilson. See Section  III – Contributions from artists, and posters. pp. 111-116.

Book chapter. Lange-Berndt, Petra (ed.) (2015). Materiality (Documents of Contemporary Art). Robert Williams ‘Mark Dion: The Tate Thames Dig/1999’. Whitechapel/MIT. London. September 2015.

Presentation & Workshop: Collecting as Subject, Strategy and Architecture for Vergleichende Kultursoziologie, Kulturwissenschaftliche Fakultät. Europa-Universität Viadrina. Frankfurt (Oder). 13.7.15

Conference: Visualising the Animal Paper: Uncanny Animal RK&M: Animal Stewards and companions of the Atomic Priest within the Cumbrian Alchemy Project by Robert Williams and Bryan McGovern Wilson. Conference organised by Dr. Katrin Joost & Dr. Sarah Bonner. Learning Gateway, Fusehill Street Campus. University of Cumbria.18-19.6.15

Public Lecture: Robert Williams: The Magical Quotidian Artists Rooms (Tate): Anselm Kiefer. Event: Anselm Kiefer – An Exploration. Participants: Caroline Dalton; Derek Eland; Mark Gibbs, Helen Walsh; Robert Williams. Tullie House Art Gallery and Museum. Carlisle. 28.5.15

Catalogue: Lange-Berndt, Petra & Rübel, Dietmar (eds.) 2015. Mark Dion: The Academy of Things. Walter König. Köln

Conference: Curiosity 0.2. Die Wunderkammer in der zeitgenössischen Kunst. Höchschüle für Bildendenkunst, Dresden. Organised by Dr. Petra Lange-Berndt (UCL) & Prof. Dr. Dietmar Rübel (HfBK Dresden). Panel Discussion: Mark Dion (Artist, New York), Dirk Syndram (Director Grünes Gewölbe, Dresden), Robert Williams (Artist, Lancaster). Facilitated by Dr. Petra Lange-Berndt.

Public Lecture: Veracities: Sculpture, Minimalism and Dan Flavin. Artists Rooms (Tate): Dan Flavin. Gracefields Arts Centre. Dumfries, Scotland. 10.10.14

Public Lecture & Seminar: Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow (GoMA)/UWS The Artist/Teacher M.Ed Masterclass

Robert Williams & Jack Aylward-Williams: Ars Quotidianus Cogitata: Practice & Collaborations 2005-2014.

GoMA Royal Exchange Square. Glasgow. Scotland. 20.9.14

Lecture: Dis Manibus: A taxonomy of Ghosts from popular forms.

i. The Morbid Anatomy Museum and Library. Brooklyn, New York. USA.23.7.14

and at ii. Strange Attractor Events: Haunted Taxonomies; with Dr. Roger Luckhurst (Birkbeck University): Voids, Corridors, Wires. The Horse Hospital, London. 23.9.14 & iii. Atticus. Lancaster. 24.1.15

Article/Review: Perez, David Michael (ed). ‘Everyday Ecologies: The Art of Father-and-Son Robert Williams & Jack Aylward-Williams’. In Kindling Quarterly No. 6. Fall 2014.

Catalogue/Book: The One Minute Film Festival 2003-2012. Simon, J & Markonish, D (eds.) (2014). Mass. MoCA. North Adams. Massachusetts.

Williams, R (ed). Cumbrian Alchemy: Robert Williams and Bryan McGovern Wilson. UniPress Cumbria. 2013.

Catalogue: The Nabakov Paper. Briggs, K & Russo, L (eds.). Information As Material. 2013.

Book chapter: Even Wilder Talents: Uncanny Talking Animals. In Dodds, A & Thurston, N. (eds.) I, Sparkie (2013.) Information As Material. Essays by John Mullarky (and Robert Williams.

  1. Dreams, Phantasms & Memory. University of Gdansk. Poland. Paper: ‘Robert Williams & Jack Aylward-Williams - Arca Tartareum’. 12-13.9.13

Publication/Artwork: Williams, R & Schäfer, H. (eds.) (2013) Dis Manibus: A Taxonomy of Ghosts from Popular Forms. Information As Material. York

Presentation: Libellus Comparandorum! Qui Libellus Comparandorum? Robert Williams: Collecting and Collaborations. Hšchschule fŸr Bildenden Kunst Dresden. Germany. 10.11.11

Conference: Places, People, Stories: An interdisciplinary & international conference. Linnaeus University. Kalmar, Sweden. 28-30 September 2011. Paper: Corrugatio Cogitatum : Recent collecting projects by Robert Williams & Jack Aylward-Williams. General Session: Collective Memory 0.2. 29.09.11.

AB3 Monodrome. The Athens Bienalle. Curators: Nicholas Bourraiud & Xenia Kalpaktsoglou Athens, Greece. 23.10.11 - 11.12.11

Trial and Retrieval. The World of Glass. St. Helen's. UK.May 14 - July 10 2011.

Robert Williams & Jack Aylward-Williams Project: Disjecta Fragmen Comminutis. 2011.

The Luminous Interval: The D. Daskolopoulos Collection.

April 12th - September 11 2011. Theatrum Mundi: Armarium (2001) Mark Dion & Robert Williams

The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao. Curated by Nancy Spector & Katherine Bimson.

Conference: Taxidermy Ñ Animal Skin and Colonial Practice AHRC-Network Cultures of Preservation. The Afterlife of Specimens between Art and Science since the Eighteenth Century Workshop in collaboration with the Natural History Museum. London, 12th-14th May 2011

A Perverse Library Shandy Hall August-November 2010 Curated by Simon Morris.

Robert Williams & Jack Aylward-Williams Historico-naturalis et Archaologica ex Dale Street: Appendix I: Bibliotheca ab Gilbertus Niveus (2010)

An Ordinall of Alchimy A Project from Mildred's Lane organized by Mark Dion and Robert Williams. With Matt Bettine - Joseph G. Cruz - Kathryn Cornelius - Gabriella D'Italia -

Scott Jarrett - Aislinn Pentecost-Farren - John Wanzel - Laura E Wertheim & Bryan Wilson

Slought Foundation Philadelphia, PA.30.4.10 - 14.6.10

Cabinet Magazine 300 Nevins Street, Brooklyn, New York. 30.3.10 - 17.4.10

Recent external roles

External Examiner Birmingham Institute of Art and Design. Margaret Street. Birmingham. Birmingham City University (completed 2011).

External Examiner - Fine Art - Leeds Arts University (Completed 2019)

External Examiner - MA in Fine Art - University of Wales, Trinity St. David (2020 - Current).