Books, Galleries and Café Crèmes: My Experience of Paris

MA in the Contemporary student Ellie Martin reflects on life in Paris.

Ellie Martin

14 Jul 2016

Following a discussion between ICA Curator Matt Williams and NTS Radio's Femi Adeyemi, part of the Motion Festival and celebrating the relationship between the ICA and the University of Kent, MA in the Contemporary student Ellie Martin reflects on the talk and her experiences of the course, which includes a term in Paris.

My relationship with the Institute of Contemporary Arts began during the first term of my Master’s degree at Kent University. My main focus is Modernist and contemporary literature and art, and having studied The Contemporary module as an undergraduate, naturally I decided to develop this further. From September to December 2015, half of my seminars for the Reading the Contemporary module were spent at the ICA. This experience was invaluable. I was given the opportunity to learn about contemporary art through those who exist at its centre. On one occasion our group met with ICA Associate poet Sophie Collins who talked about her co-founded journal Tender, the politics of translation and gender inequality in the publishing world. She ended the discussion with a reading of her poem Healers, which I found particularly beautiful and inspiring.

Life in Montparnasse

In January 2016 I relocated to Paris, my suitcases consisting mainly of books. I was excited to begin something new; to study the art and literature I loved in the city that gave birth to it. What I wasn’t fully prepared for was discovering that many of the books in my suitcase were either written in cafés a few apartments down from my own, or set within the surrounding boulevards.

Reid Hall, (where Kent at Paris is based) is tucked away in-between Boulevard Montparnasse and the Jardin du Luxembourg. This is where all of my seminars took place along with frequent events and lectures (which were accompanied by copious amounts of wine and cheese!) Whilst studying on the Modernism module, many of the seminars were followed by a trip to an art gallery. For example, while reading Virginia Woolf, we visited the Post-Impressionist exhibition at the Musee d’Orsay.

"I have always seen art and literature as inseparable."

I have always seen art and literature as inseparable. To study a novel without an artistic context is to drain the literary experience of colour in some way. This is why the Kent at Paris MA was perfect for me; I had the best of both worlds, and everything was on my doorstep. I could read Andre Breton’s Nadja upon the street it is set, and then visit his writing desk and collection of artworks at the Pompidou Centre. Read Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, and then gaze upwards at her apartment on the Rue Fleurus, five minutes’ walk from Reid Hall. Or study the short stories of Julio Cortazar, and then walk over to visit his grave in the Montparnasse Cemetery. 

The Postgraduate Festival

Alongside my studies, I was on the committee for the first ever postgraduate festival held at Reid Hall at the beginning of June. This week long event was a huge success - it allowed the Kent students to showcase their work, and celebrate their achievements collectively. The theme for the festival was Motion, and this topic provided us with an incredibly diverse range of speakers.

An Interview with Femi Adeyemi

On the second day of the festival, Matt Williams (ICA Curator) was in conversation with the founder of NTS Radio: Femi Adeyemi. This talk enlightened listeners on the online world of internet radio. On the NTS website, the station is described as being "built by music lovers, for music lovers," and this was certainly translated though Femi.

"The content of NTS Radio is constantly in motion, adhering to the contemporary flux of new music and listeners."

He expressed his desire to create an online platform, an international community, a space in which people can connect and share their music tastes. He described NTS as a radio station that was flexible. It isn’t precious of one particular genre because its content is constantly in motion; adhering to the contemporary flux of new music and listeners.

The connection between Femi, NTS and the ICA became clear to me during this interview. Furthermore, the ICA’s relationship to the University of Kent gained substance and clarity. Similarly to Femi, the ICA is creating a platform; an innovative way in which to view contemporary art. When we think of art, we do not necessarily include music within our understanding of it. The ICA provides a spotlight which illuminates these overlooked areas, for when they are left in the shadows our experience of art is somehow faded and incomplete. The four months that I spent in Paris worked in a similar way. My knowledge of my subject gained a richness that I could not have attained without this term spent abroad, books and artwork had more texture and life because I was surrounded by their history; they were tangible. Because of these shared attributes, an MA course that has connections with the Institute of Contemporary Arts and Kent at Paris is very rewarding. It is an opportunity not to be missed. ■

Jointly taught by academics and practitioners in the School of English, the School of Arts, The School of Music and Fine Art, and Curators at the ICA, the MA in the Contemporary allows students to enrich their academic knowledge and gain unique access to the ICA Programme. Prospective students can now also apply for the MA in the Contemporary with a term in Paris, in the heart of Montparnasse. Learn more about the MA in the Contemporary.