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"Taking steps towards independent academic work was daunting, but I was glad to be involved"
Matt, 23, graduates this summer with a first in English, and has been chosen as joint winner of the School of English's prize for the highest ranking finalist student, as well as the Mary Dove prize for the highest ranking English Literature student.
He is going on to a internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, having been chosen as this year’s Melissa Ulfane intern – a candidate who, according to the prize committee, ‘has distinguished himself among other applicants with his exceptional profile and motivation’.
“I applied for the internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection partly out of a desire to spend some time abroad before deciding where might be best to carry on my studies, and partly out of panic at not having anything planned beyond my dissertation hand-in,” he says. “It was a bit of a shot in the dark as I didn't have much of a background in Art History, but hopefully I will be able to pick things up quickly when I get out there.
“Guggenheim amassed this extraordinary collection of Modernist and Surrealist paintings and housed it in her unfinished palazzo in Venice before opening it up to the public – pretty much everything there was bought by her direct from the artists. I think the work will be quite varied, opening and closing the gallery, running the tickets and shops and giving tours here and there. It hasn't really sunk in yet that I will be spending every day surrounded by a collection of work that has had such a profound influence on my life and world view.”
Studying English with French as an elective allowed Matt to study at La Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3 for a year during his degree. He was also chosen to participate in a European project on cultural relations between Eastern and Western Europe, Trauma & Revival, co-organised by BOZAR in Brussels, the Fondazione Pistoletto in Biella, the Association kim? in Riga, the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art in Poland and the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.
“A large exhibition was recently held at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, re-examining the idea of an East-West split in post-WWII art. As part of an attempt to re-examine some of the same ideas through contemporary practice, a group of artists, writers and researchers under the age of 35 from across Europe were chosen to meet over the course of a month and discuss the idea of trauma in post-war European identity, with a view to creating a body of work as part of a travelling exhibition afterwards.
“We first met up as a group in Moscow about two months ago to visit the show at the Pushkin. Next comes the residency in September – I will be at Pistoletto for a month – before which we will reconvene in Krakow for a few days at Bunkier to sum up this leg of the project.”
Matt plans to continue his international work and study over the summer, revisiting his family’s Polish heritage in an innovative way.
“I am working this summer on a film project called Wywiad, reimagining my family's journey from a small village in central Poland to England at the turn of the twentieth century through a speculative walk. We have the bare minimum of archival materials about my ancestors’ life in Poland — a few photos, a couple of pages of diaries — any attempt at constructing a factual understanding of their existence would be soon come up against the brick wall of fractured diasporic history.
“Instead, I will film my journey by foot back to where my family are from, attempting to draw from the collective landscapes and cityscapes of western Europe a new subjective and impossible topography, and in doing so locate a form of imaginative truth about my origins and what it means to piece together a tapestry with none of the requisite parts at hand. I am hoping to screen the finished film at a few venues in Paris and then in London and elsewhere when I get the chance.”
Throughout his time at Sussex, Matt ensured he took every opportunity to undertake research, taking part in the University’s Junior Research Associates Scheme (JRA), which enables undergraduates to work alongside faculty staff on research projects over the summer.
“In the summer of second year I worked on a research project around Humphrey Jennings, the propaganda filmmaker and member of the British Surrealist movement, supervised by Sam Cooper in the School of English. There was some funding available through the Junior Research Associate scheme, which allowed me to visit Jennings's papers at Pembroke College, Cambridge as well as access his scripts and notes at the BFI Reuben Library.
“This work eventually became a small talk I gave the following March at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research at Manchester Metropolitan University, entitled 'Humphrey Jennings: towards a prismatic theory of Surrealism'. More recently, I picked up a few of the strands rotating around this Jennings project for a talk at the Sussex Modernists and Transformations in the Twentieth-Century Landscape Conference organised by Alistair Davies and Hope Wolf.
“Being given the chance to take some tentative first steps towards independent academic work was a touch daunting. It ended up being a lovely day and I was so glad to be involved and to have the chance to return to some of Jennings's lesser known work a few years down the line and attempt to stitch together a narrative.”
The flexibility and choice built into the English degree curriculum at Sussex allowed Matt to focus on the areas of study that most interested him.
“My dissertation module was Experimental Writing, taught by Sam Solomon – we were given free-reign to choose a creative-critical topic to write 6,000 words as the final submission of the degree. My dissertation was called '‘A contour map through the soles’: B.S. Johnson, a space for reckoning', focusing on the poetics of failure in the writing of the British novelist, poet and filmmaker Bryan Stanley Johnson.
“In my final year I also took two special author modules, one on William Blake and the other on Samuel Beckett – both were wonderfully taught and profoundly inspiring.”