School of Arts and Cultures

Staff Profiles

Irene Brown

Lecturer in Fine Art, MFA Course Leader


I am a sculptor and site–specific installationist.  My research and practice is engaged with wonder, focusing on the history and philosophy of science, specifically cabinets of curiosity (wonder cabinets), investigating the threshold between aesthetic and scientific realms.  I work directly in response to place, usually a museum or heritage site, using a broad range of media including sculpture, video, virtual reality and augmented reality. 


I supervise PhD students on a range of topics related to installation and welcome inquiries from prospective PhD applicants interested in my fields of specialism. 


Roles and Responsibilities

Previously: Head of Fine Art (2008-2011)

Currently MFA Degree Programme Director.

MFA and PhD admissions.


1985-87 Reading University, MFA.
1980-83 Trent Polytechnic, Nottingham. BA(Hons) Fine Art, First Class.

Previous Positions

2007 Senior Lecturer in Fine art and Sculpture (full time) Wolverhampton 
University 1987 – 94 Studio Demonstrator/Lecturer in Sculpture, (full time) Newcastle upon Tyne University1994-

Research Interests

In 2010 I established the Gallery of Wonder as a discussion point and exhibition facility for research into the evocation of wonder through visual display. Building upon research outcomes of the GoW project, I continue to explore the potential of art to reinterpret and represent historical information in a manner that engages and stimulates ‘wonder’ in the viewer, producing new artworks for specific sites of historical and scientific interest. These temporary site-specific installations provide alternative approaches to conventional methods of informational display, stimulating debate and encouraging museums and heritage sites to explore the potential of art to attract and expand their audiences.

Brown explores the curiosity, wonder and even terror that accompanied scientific experiments from the seventeenth- to the nineteenth centuries. In her work, we see that the Enlightenment commitment to objective and universal truths, and to uncovering nature’s ‘secrets’, were only ever partial, and accompanied by darker impulses. Those things invisible to us – the microscopic life and the stars beyond our sight, and the electricity that is invisible, inaudible, and untouchable – are not ‘objects of knowledge’ we can safely command. They are both Other to us, and able to exert forms of power over us, rather than vice versa’. (A. Robinson NGA)

Current Work


Gallery of Wonder on Tour was a major touring exhibition of newly commissioned artworks by leading contemporary artists traveling to county fairs and small rural shows in Northumbria. A mobile art gallery housed in a large, customised tent, travelled to seven Northumbrian venues during Summer/Autumn 2015. Tracing the historic link between the Wunderkammer and travelling curiosity shows, the Gallery of Wonder on Tour project re-examined the fairground sideshow – a dwindling part of Britain’s cultural heritage – as the locus for wonder and a new type of venue for contemporary art. Identifying some of the fundamental properties of the cognitive ‘passion’ of wonder, enduring features of the object of wonder, and devices for arousing wonder, Brown examines their application in the contemporary artworks selected and commissioned for the Gallery of Wonder on Tour.


In 2017 I wrote and co edited (with Dr Christian Mieves) Wonder in Contemporary Art Practice, a book Published by Routledge as part of their Advances in Art and Visual Studies series.  The book addresses the issue that wonder has an established link to the history and philosophy of science, however, there is little acknowledgement of the relationship between the visual arts and wonder. It presents a new perspective on this overlooked connection, allowing a unique insight into the role of wonder in contemporary visual practice. Artists, curators and art theorists give accounts of their approach to wonder through the use of materials, objects and ways of exhibiting. These accounts not only raise issues of a particular relevance to the way in which we encounter our reality today but ask to what extent artists utilise the function of wonder purposely in their work. Reviewer Christopher Smith, editor of the Journal of Visual Arts states 'Brown and Mieves bring a much neglected attention to the topic of wonder and the visual arts in this edited collection of reflexions drawn from a diverse range of distinguished scholars and practitioners....It goes beyond theory into the studio and the role wonder has in the production and reception of visual arts.  This stimulating read is a must for academics and practitioners in the visual arts'. 


Esteem Indicators

External Examiner for University of Chichester MFA (2017- 2021)


Validation Panel Member for the Open University 2013 – on going.


External Advisor for the University of Salford, BA Visual Studies (2016).


Co-Investigator, Panegyric Panorama. (2015).  Large Grant AHRC funded project, The Poetics of the Archive: Creativity and Community Engagement with the BloodAxe Archive, Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts.


Phantasmagoria Electric (2014) Installation, exhibited as part of the ‘Twice Upon a Time: Magic, Alchemy and the Transubstantiation of the Senses’, Centre for Fine Art Research, School of Art, Birmingham Institute of Art & Design. 


Recall (2012-14) Member the international interdisciplinary (Art, Architecture and Archaeology) research project, funded by the European Union and led by Politecnico di Milano, looking at interpreting ‘difficult heritage’ sites from WWII in Europe.  Ran workshops and a public art competition for international, cross-disciplinary art, architecture and archaeology teams of young professionals in Venice and Rome, Italy, Falstead, Norway, Amsterdam and Berlin.


Working Wonder Conference (2013) – organized a one-day interdisciplinary conference at Newcastle University investigating the circumstances and motivations for the re-emergence of wonder in contemporary artistic practice and discourse. 


Creating a Context (2012-14) Erasmus IP funded by the British Council. Organized and ran an International, cross-disciplinary Intensive Project for Postgraduate students in Art and Architecture involving seven Universities across Europe, Academics and 60 Students at a two week summer school; 2012 in Bologna Italy, 2013 in Duisburg, Germany and 2014 in Krakow, Poland.


External Examiner (2011-14) Nottingham University, School of Education.  Fine Art BA   






2016                     Artist in Residence, Thackray medical museum, Leeds as part of the Meeting Point project by Arts&Heritage, which sees nine new contemporary art installations at four museums in the North East and five museums in Yorkshire during 2016

2015                       Artist in Residence, Gallery FOE 156, Munich, Germany.

2013                       International Research Fellowship at the Bakken Museum of Electricity and Mesmerism, Minneapolis, USA.

2008-11                 Artist in residence, Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle upon Tyne.


Commissions and Awards:

2016                       Meeting Point (View to the Past), Artist residency and installation, Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds.

2015                       ‘Electric?’  Residency, Gallery FOE 156, Munich, Germany.

2015                       Gallery of Wonder on Tour - an Arts & Heritage project designed and led by Irene Brown. The tented Gallery toured Northumberland agricultural shows during the Summer 2015. Funded by Arts Council England, Northumberland County Council, Berwick Visual Arts and Newcastle University NICAP

2015                       Folly: Hall of Mirrors – Installation commissioned by the National Trust for Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal, North Yorkshire, UK.

2015                       Locomotion, installation, Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle upon Tyne, video work made for Spineless the first major natural history exhibition at the museum since it reopened in 2009. 

2013                       International Research Fellowship at the Bakken Museum of Electricity and Mesmerism, Minneapolis, USA

2013                       Fulmination Installation commission for the National Trust at Cragside House, Northumberland as part of the ‘Building Dreams 150 year anniversary celebrations.

2013                       International Research Fellowship at the Bakken Museum of Electricity and Mesmerism, Minneapolis, USA

2008-9                   Artist in residence at the Great North Museum: Hancock. Newcastle upon Tyne



Group Exhibitions:

2017                       Artistic Encounter, Group exhibition, The Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle upon Tyne.

2017                       A Scientific Encounter: on Interobjectivity, Group exhibition, Montpellier University Medieval Medical Libraries: 2 rue de l’École de Médecine, 34000 Montpellier

2015                       A Foreign Encounter. Group exhibition Munich, Germany: Galerie Foe, 1.

2015                       Panegyric Panorama. Sculpture/video- exhibited as part of the ‘Poetics of the Archive: Creative Community Engagement with the Bloodaxe Archive, an A&H research council project at the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts in the ExLibris Gallery, Newcastle University, UK.

2014                       Phantasmagoria Electric.  Installation, exhibited as part of the ‘Twice Upon a Time: Magic, Alchemy and the Transubstantiation of the Senses’, Centre for Fine Art Research, School of Art, Birmingham Institute of Art & Design, UK.

2013                       Returning to the Philosophers’ Table, two installations at the Literary and Philosophical society, Newcastle upon Tyne.


Solo Exhibitions:

2015                       ‘Electric?’  Gallery FOE 156, Munich, Germany.

2010                      The Realm of possibilities, Installation, inaugural exhibition to launch the Gallery of Wonder.

2009                      Wielding Wonder – Photography Exhibition, Great Exhibition Hall, Great North Museum: Hancock


Selected Publications and Articles:

2017                       View to the Past. Electronic Visualisation and the Arts (EVA 2017) Published Conference paper: BCS The Chartered Institute for IT.  ISBN978-1-78017-399-3

2016                      Wonder in Contemporary Artistic Practice. Book, Publisher Routledge.  Co Editor and author with Dr Christian Mieves.

2015                      Zetesis - International Journal for Fine Art, Philosophy and the Wild Science. Chapter in Vol. 2. Published by Centre for Fine Art Research, School of Art, Birmingham Institute of Art & Design. 

2015                      The Poetics of the Archive, catalogue published by Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts.

2011                       Sixth International Conference on the Arts in Society, Conference paper, Berlin.

2009                      The go between, conference paper, Cardiff University and City Museums. 

2006                      Book - Commissions in the North East of England 2003-2007 – Arts Council Pub.

2003                      Book - Commissions in the North of England – Arts Council Pub.  ISBN 0-7287-0937-6

2000                      Citation - Public Sculpture of Northeast England- Paul Usherwood, Jeremy Beach and Catherine Morris. ISBN 0-85323-625-9


Research Interests

Shortly after taking up the post at Newcastle University in September 2007 I decided to refocus my research. I have over twenty year experience of combining a full time lecturing post with a professional career as a site specific public artist and gallery based installationist. Most of my work has been funded from non academic sources such as the Arts Council, One North East and Local councils. I now wish to explore the potential of a more ‘academic’ approach towards my research.
This refocusing has been brought about, at least in part by project I initiated with the Great North Museum: Hancock while it underwent a major new rebuild and refurbishment For eight months between October 2008 and May 2009 I photographed the gradual transformation of the interior of museum, eventually taking over 3,000 photographs creating a permanent digital archive for the GNM and a major resource for my own practice. This experience prompted extensive research into the relationships between artists and museums, museum history and philosophies, taxonomies and even taxidermy. It instigated a new and ambitious research project the ‘Gallery of Wonder’. GOW is an exhibition and research facility for exploration into the evocation of wonder through display. It invites exploration into the potential of visual display to provoke enquiry and stimulate innovative associations. The Gallery of Wonder extends an open invitation to artists, scientists, writers and researchers to engage with and contribute to this research. The original Gallery of Wonder is comprised of two large oak and glass display cabinets built into the windows of the Fine Art Building in Newcastle University.

Although mainly artist led, the GOW project has been intrinsically interdisciplinary – many of the artists engaged with the project have either worked directly with scientists or explored aspects of science; performance artist Lady Kit worked with Dr John Lazarus, an evolutionary biologist and psychologist in the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution, Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University. Artist Helen Bullard explores subjects of animal-human divergence and convergence, her fascination with science and natural history has often led her to work in collaborative partnerships with scientists and researchers. Corinne Lewis worked as artist in residence within the school of Biology at Newcastle University working with Dr Gary Caldwell, examining live algae specimens using Microscopy, as part of the ‘MarineBioEnergy Initiative’. Professor Paul Younger, Director, Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability at Newcastle University, Chair at SustaiNE, an Environmental Engineer and Hydrogeologist presents Images taken using a petrographic microscope, commenting on the aesthetics of science.


Other Expertise

Irene has experience of running a bronze casting facility and a broad range of experience in hot and cold casting techniques. She also specialises in the use of digital photography, the use of lenticular technology and large scale stainless steel engineering and construction.

Current Work

accommodate 18 projects over two years, February 2010 to April 2012. In November 2010 the project was expanded to include a new venue, a specifically designed cabinet installed in the Great North Museum: Hancock,    This new GOW/GNM project presented 10 opportunities to engage with the project within a museum context completing in December 2011.

I am working towards a NIASSH supported international, cross disciplinary conference, of 100 participants, with publication entitled ‘Wonder and the modern world: An exploration into the role of wonder in contemporary society’, summer 2012 to conclude this phase of the GOW project.

The GOW project is about to enter a new phase; leading a new ‘Cabinets on Campus’ imitative supported by the Coherent campus group. The Kings Gate and the Robinson Library buildings on the Newcastle University central campus will provide two new venues. Each will accommodate museum grade cabinets for the curation of exhibitions that can include items from the permanent collections of the university.

I am also working on an AHRC – Science in Culture Exploratory Awards application in relation to the future of GOW/ at he GNM: Hancock. The application is to trial an innovative dissemination approach for Science based researchers within Newcastle University. The aim is to present aspects of scientific research in a visually stimulating way, to a largely non-academic audience by empowering and building confidence in the scientists to test new ways of sharing their research. The project would provide experienced, professional advice and technical support, working with a fine artist/ curator to develop, design and install exhibitions with the scientists within the Great North Museum: Hancock.

Future Research

Personal research is focused on resourcing a second residency at the Great North Museum: Hancock, this time based at the Permanent Collection facilities in the basement of the Discovery Museum in Newcastle. I am working to develop a series of 3D photographs for Exhibition.

If the AHRC – Science in Culture Exploratory Awards is successful then I will be developing the theme into a major bid. Continuing to curate the cabinets on campus imitative.

I’m also intending to build upon my experiences of delivering/ publishing papers at international conferences.

Studio practice and Dissertation supervision on MFA programme. PhD first and second supervisor.

Esteem Indicators

Commissions and Awards and residencies:

2008 Photography residency at the GNM: Hancock.
2007 Extramuros – art outside the walls, Sculpture in the landscape.
International touring exhibition of sculpture to Spain and Portugal plus permanently sited series of sculptures for Ellesmere, Shropshire (Launch March 28th )

2006 Eyes of Aberafan – Design for solar powered, illuminated sculpture.
Aberafan, South Wales.

2006 Paper Work – Permanently sited public sculpture for the Wansbeck Business Park, Ashington, Tyne and Wear.

2005 Encompass- International Symposium and permanently sited public Sculpture. Lake Vyrnwy, Wales.

2005 Elemental - Permanently sited public art for The Quorum Business Park, Newcastle upon Tyne.

2005 Chair - Personal Practice Symposium. Allen Heads
Arts Centre. Northumberland

2003 Llanwddyn Arc. International Symposium and permanently sited public Sculpture. Lake Vyrnwy, Wales.

2003 The Golden House. International Symposium and permanently sited public Sculpture. Lake Vyrnwy, Wales.

2003 ‘Gallery without Walls’ – Developing new teaching aids for
Primary school s based on the Art on the Riverside works

2003 Fleet - Permanently sited Public Art Commission
Market Dock, South Shields. Art on the Riverside.

2003 Design for regeneration of
Grange Rd, Middlesbrough.

2003 Sea Change- Temporary event. / Installation for the
launch of the New Arts and Cultural policy for South

2003 People of South Tyneside (POST) awards.
Design and manufacture of 13 glass awards.

1998-2000 Spirit of South Shields- Artist in Residence & permanently sited Public Art Commission.
Market Dock, South Shields.
Art on the Riverside / Tyne and Wear Development Co.

1993 Racing Ahead - Permanently sited Public Sculpture – ‘
Stockton on Tees High Street.

1990 Northern Arts travel bursary – Four month research trip to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.

1990 Caesar’s Sofa -Public Sculpture –
Gateshead Garden Festival.

Solo Exhibitions:

2010 The Realm of possibilities, exhibition to launch the Gallery of Wonder
2009 Wielding Wonder -Exhibition in the Great Exhibition Hall for Launch of GNM: Hancock

2004 Installation - Carpe Diem
The Myles Meehan Gallery, Darlington Arts Centre.

2001 Installation – The Vision (Part1)
The Customs House, South Shields, Tyne and Wear.

1995 Installation – ‘House of Fun’
Northern Stage Company, Newcastle Playhouse.

1995 Installation – ‘MOTEL, MOTEL’
Two major site Specific Installations for the Hatton Gallery, University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Selected group exhibitions:

The Castle Keep Chapel of Newcastle upon Tyne.

1998 Installation – VANE, G.o.t.m. in the City.
Newcastle upon Tyne.

1996 Sculpture – ‘ARTLANTA’ – Hatton Gallery, The University of Newcastle upon Tyne and the King Plow Arts Centre Atlanta USA.

1996 Animation – Take Over TV. Channel 4.

1994 Installation – ‘Light Fantastic’ works using electric light.
Walsall Museum and Art Gallery.

1994 Sculpture. The Newcastle Group Show.
The Hatton Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne.

1992 Sculpture - ‘Take a Seat’
Kings Lynn Arts Centre.

1991 Theatre Design/Sculpture – ‘Women Prefer’
The Gilbenkian Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne.

1991 Sculpture – ‘Animal Crackers’
Newcastle Arts Centre and Ayr.

Selected Publications and Articles:
2009 The go between - Conference Cardiff. Delivered and published paper

2006 Commissions in the North East of England 2003-2007 – Arts Council Pub.
2005 Journal- Culture -Colour supplement October 05 (images)
2005 The Culture Show. BBC 2 May 25th (images)
2003 Commissions in the North of England – Arts Council Pub.
ISBN 0-7287-0937-6
2000 Public Sculpture of Northeast England- Paul Usherwood, Jeremy Beach and Catherine Morris. ISBN 0-85323-625-9
1999 Guardian Review of ‘Vivata In Memeoriam Mortis’
1999 Catalogue - VANE
1995 Observer colour supplement – Year of the Visual Arts Northeast.
1996 Catalogue – ‘Artlanta’



Undergraduate Teaching

All undergraduate programmes on the Fine Art BA Stages 1-4.

Postgraduate Teaching

Postgraduate tutees and contribution to MFA seminar programme.
First and Second supervisor for PhD