Friday, 8 June 2018

PhD-Ness Part 10 Writing, Reading, Doing, Angsting...

This months post it note - accompanied by some of the reading I've been doing, some lovely skull emblazoned post it notes that were a present from a chum and some beautiful genuine nineteenth century death related ephemera - given to me by a friend when going through paperwork after her mother had died. 
The envelope contains a card from the twentieth century (1914) but I'm showing it as it was typical in the Victorian period for death notices to be sent in envelopes that had black borders (same as condolence letters) and the top of the two cards on the left (the one with lilies pictures on it) is from 1898 and the one beneath it with just the words 'In Memoriam' is from 1890 and it also has the following verse on the inside:
Affliction sore long time I bore
Physicians were in vain
Til God above out of his love
Did free me from my pain
Far from affliction, toil and care
The happy soul has fled;
Her breathless clay must slumber now
Among the silent dead.  

I've often seen the first verse inscribed on tombstones but never the second.

We've been blessed with foxes again this spring - been watching them get bigger and more confident over the last 5 weeks or so and they have been an absolute delight to watch (disclaimer - I do not keep hens or rabbits and these are urban foxes that seem to survive on a diet of discarded bits of take away given the number of KFC wrappers we find in the garden) - they are nothing to do with my studies but they have been making me smile a lot as well as tut when I couldn't get them in focus or missed the shot.....

This last month has seen me doing quite a bit of reading, an awful lot of writing, quite a bit of doing and an overall angsting as my upgrade viva gets ever closer.....
The reading has been of books like the one pictured above - a thought provoking analysis of the ephemera which surrounds death and The British Culture of Mourning from The Enlightenment to Victoria by Ester Schor, re-reading Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes, and all sorts of others - some which have made me rethink my thinking, some of which have made my brain hurt and some which have made me go 'wow'. Currently it is Adam Bede by George Eliot that is making me go 'wow'. Wordy but beautifully descriptive - I can see the 'methody' Dinah Morris which was my main reason for reading it. One of the women buried in St George's Field is Ann Carr (1783-1841) and she was a real life itinerant methodist preacher and I am hoping to gain some insight into what her life might have been a little bit like from George Eliot's novel.

I've also had the delight and privilege thanks to the hard work of the librarians at Huddersfield University to read a book called The Art of Hair Work - Hair Brading and Jewelry of Sentiment with Catalog of Hair Jewelry by Mark Campbell - a collection of patterns for making memorial jewellery out of braids of hair from loved ones (taken either in life or in death) first published in 1875 and which came to me from the Utah Merril State University Library in America via an international library loan brokered by the British Library. Amazing book - amazing way for it to get to me. And the patterns and tools you need to do them are essentially lace work. I hope to try and make something inspired by the patterns in the book and there were some excellent tips for working with real human hair. I've been experimenting with acrylic hair (it doesn't quite behave the same but it is a whole lot cheaper)  but once I've got better I might invest in some human hair.

In terms of writing - it's been a hard slog of bursts of eloquence followed by frustratingly long blankness of mind and blankness of page but I finally managed to complete a first draft and then got very useful but difficult to enact in places feedback which I've been working hard to take on board and incorporate into the second draft.  This is all for my upgrade document. It's a kind of report of what I've been doing since enrolling at Huddersfield Uni last September. I also have a to do a presentation to my tutors and two tutors who don't know anything about me or my work and they then say what changes I may need to make to my approach or research plan and so go into my second year or they might (absolute worst case scenario) say 'no' and I can't go into second year or I have to do the report and presentation again to see if I can.

I'm hoping for the first of those outcomes and fingers crossed that's what'll happen - please keep your fingers crossed for me too.

So what have been doing in terms of straightforward doing then? been taking lots of photographs, some on digital but the majority on 35mm but I did also get round to finishing off a medium format film that I initially started using back in March in the snow....I also did some double exposures on that so I must go and pick them up from the place I take all my colour film - The Photo Shop on North Lane in Headingley.

I've also been doing some grave rubbings - there is no way to write that, that doesn't make the juvenile in me snigger at the word rubbings. However the end results haven't made me snigger though they did make me go 'ouch' at times whilst I was doing them as one of the gravestones I was rubbing is taller than me and I'd done some different exercises at the gym the previous day and so my arms were especially achey. Graphite pencil makes a sharper clearer rubbing than charcoal and it also doesn't make the kind of noise that is similar to chalk on a blackboard (writing that I realise there will be many now who will go through their entire education and never have the (dis)pleasure of hearing that particular teeth clenching sound. I've then photocopied some of the rubbings and it's interesting how that changes some of them - the copier I use automatically copies them in colour and so the accidentally squished greenfly show up much more clearly on the copies. It also makes the graphite look shinier somehow. Interesting how things change whilst also retaining their essence.

So that's the reading,writing,doing,angsting covered  - what else have I been up to? been to a couple of really interesting conferences/seminars including one on the history and uses of medical photography and can those images be used as texts, a talk which featured the work of Godfrey Bingley where I met a fellow St George's Field enthusiast which was really lovely.

So busy, busy, busy and it's going to stay that way - presentation preparation, researching and practicing. It's all go and mostly in a good way. Long may it stay that way.

Monday, 7 May 2018

PhD-Ness Part 9 - Thinking, Doing, Housework Neglect, Concentration and Writing

this months post it note, some of the things I've been reading and listening to and my now signed by the author copy of Art Sex Music by the very marvellous Cosey Fanni Tutti and I love those little green penguin editions as they are a) just the right size to go in your bag without weighing it down, b)a good way to read stuff you wouldn't have read otherwise c) a pound each - bargain!!

Well it's a lovely sunny warm day and part of me wishes I was sat outside sipping a cold drink and contemplating which ice lolly I want to lick whilst reading a nice book but I've decided to do this instead as it'll hopefully get my head round what I've been doing since I last wrote and what it is I need to do next.

Plus as I'm struggling a bit with focus and concentration levels - this is an easier task to focus on for the time being. Plus the weather won't be quite so warm tomorrow - hopefully...when I fully intend to give my full focus and attention to writing more of my PhD upgrade document. I've got about another 1,500 words to go before I have to hand it in on June 18th - I'm a bit nervous about it (the usual nerves along the lines of is it jumping those academic hoops high enough, have I understood what it is I need to be doing and of course the ever present - is it good enough?) but as this date was my much loved and missed Grandad's birthday I'm taking that as a good omen.

So what have I been up to since I last wrote - in short loads but the highlights have been:
what feels like months ago at the beginning of April - the Remember Me Conference held at the Guild Hall in Hull - utterly gorgeous building, fantastic conference - real mix of papers and approaches and I gave a paper too. Met some lovely people and fingers crossed some interesting collaborations will come of it.

Plus having recently read Cosey Fanni Tutti's book it was interesting to see Hull as it is now compared to the way she describes it at the start of her book, had a mooch around and warmed the cockles of my republican heart having a drink in the White Hart Pub - complete with human skull behind the bar and was generally rather chuffed with my finding places I was meant to be at skills (though to be fair Hull isn't very big and well signposted too) as I do not have a smart phone and am well shonky when it comes to using maps. Also had a brief but good mooch round the very lovely Ferens Art Gallery and the Maritime Museum - am determined to go back and spend some more time in Hull. I love its mix of full on sixties concreteness next to Georgian splendour - to say nothing of the gorgeous Victorian and 1930's loveliness which also managed to survive the bombing. There was also a very heartfelt and angry shouting match between a christian evangelist and someone who took great exception to being evangelised which we listened to as we ate chips and tried to recover from our mercifully slight hangovers...

Been to see some great films - I Got Life (2017) was funny and really life affirming, as was Band Aid (2017) the documentary re Vivienne Westwood was good but rather a one sided hagiographic approach - I still have lots of questions though whether or not I'd dare to ask Ms Westwood in person those questions I'm not sure...A fantastic gig at the Ruby Lounge in Manchester(ford) by Brix and the Extricated - really energising and uplifting and so fantastic to see a female 'frontman' who really gives it some.

Talking of inspiring women I was also lucky to be part of the audience at Cosey Fanni Tutti's talk at Outlaws Yacht Club, she was beautifully interviewed and I asked her about her diary writing habits and also had a chat with her afterwards when she was signing my copy of her book. My 19 year old self would never have believed that one day I would be talking to 'wrecker of civilisation' Cosey about a)what my name means and b) how to check whether or not fuscias are dead*

Plus last Friday I had the privilege of seeing the inestimable Count Arthur Strong at City Varieties, I've seen the Count many times now and each time has been an utter delight but his Alive and Unplugged show with its unique take on the Last Supper was something else. Utter comic brilliance, plus he does remind me of my Grandad - the way he looks and his cantankerousness are very reminiscent of the old codger who I still miss and think of often.

But back to more academic/practiceness - along with the paper I gave amidst the splendour of the the Guild Hall in Hull, I've also spoken at Left Bank as part of their local history series on the history of St George's Fields, and at what will always be Leeds College of Art to me but is now officially Leeds University of the Arts about my PhD journey so far to their current crop of Masters students.

Academic wise I've mostly been concentrating upon my upgrade document the last few weeks and it's slowly but surely getting there. It just needs fleshing out a bit more - like the talks it is helping me narrow my focus and research, its narrowed location to St George's Field and my focus is now much more upon not just women in the Victorian era but specific women who have been overlooked or nothing is known about at all due to their ordinariness.

It's made me think about my research too - I don't think I do practice led research but research led practice. And I have been taking more photographs, made some lumen prints, and planned more for what it is I want to do next - in the short term it is make some anthotype prints with the cooperation of Leeds University who are very kindly giving me access to the Chapel to develop some anthotypes and in the longer term recreat/reenact/rewalk (I've yet to decide on what the correct terminology is for what I want to do) the route of Ann Carr's funeral.

So I've been doing lots of thinking, doing, reading - absolutely loved The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, devoured Theft by Finding by David Sedaris (read as part of my concerted effort to read something that is not in any way connected to my studies)and have made a start on Adam Bede by George Eliot as it features a 'methody' in the form of Dinah Morris who I hope will give me some more insights into the life of real life methodist preacher Ann Carr (1783-1841).

I haven't been good at housework though - doing the bare minimum really (ie washing up every day and keeping up to date with the washing)and mostly making proper meals as opposed to relying on take aways but there has been some ready meal consumption and a lot of last minute corner shop buying as opposed to a planned big shop. But at least this weekend I am pleased to have properly dusted everywhere and climbed the ironing mountain....though of course it will need doing again soon, oh how I wish housework could just stay done as opposed to being a sisyphean drudge.

I find it hard though to give myself permission to be away from my desk - even if when I sit at my desk I spend a lot of time clicking refresh on social media sites. I approach my studies as if it is a 9-5 job though I don't really keep those hours, it's more like 10-6.30pm and days when I am at the university or in libraries are different. But I am hoping to make myself go for a walk each day - even if it's just a 20 minute stroll.

I am still struggling on and off with anxiety - sometimes it is in relation to something specific eg public speaking and sometimes it is just how I feel. But a mix of medication, breathing exercises and exercise is helping. I am loving being back at a gym - I am anxious re hurting myself or making already dodgy knees worse but my trainer is working with me round this and I am definitely building stamina and strength - I can now walk to Headingley without having to stop en route to get my breath back and I have run for the bus twice in the last week - without feeling like I need to lie down. RESULT - proper chuffed with this and long may it continue.

So all that remains for my to do list today - is to write a list and plan my week...and treat myself to a glassette of chablis.

*I've followed her advice but sadly my fuscias are victims of the winter weather and deader than dead things. The reason I asked her gardening advice was because of the recent programme on BBC6 in which she revealed her love of gardening. My 19 year old self would have been all about Hamburger Lady and COUM no doubt....

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

PhDNess Part 8 - Positive Procrastination, Prevarication, Preparation and Post Exercise Rubbery-ness

Comfort In Sorrow (2018)
mixed media, including material soaked in solution of graveyard dirt for three days, embroidery hoops filled with images of St George's Field printed on coffin lining material (generously donated by Luke Howgate and Sons) and dried roses - as seen at the Living with Dying Conference at the Live Arts Bistro 27-28 March 2018 
this months post it note/s and the pad my keyboard sits on top of that I can make notes on as I'm typing...

It's been a mix of really busy times and consciously taking time out to rest times - but I have another busy few weeks in front of me with conferences, talks, presentations and such like and it'll be a while til I can have a proper long rest. But at least I've had  an Easter weekend filled with lovely old black and white film watching including Esther Waters (1948) based on the book with the same name published in 1894 by George Moore. Esther Waters is the tale of a woman who goes into service, has a child out of wedlock and via various twists and turns ends up back in service, though judging from the wikipedia entry about the book the twists and turns are much simplified in the film. I've also done a lot of cleaning and tidying.

The tidying and cleaning part of things is what I mean by positive procrastination - as in though I wasn't working on the things that have deadlines coming up - like my PhD progression monitoring or conference presentations I have been working on the things that will help with those tasks - like tidying and sorting my workroom and my notes and the files on the computer. My workroom is still less than ideal (currently using the sofabed as a bookcase) but it is in a much tidier and neater state than it was which means I can find the things I'm looking for much more easily and it is much pleasanter to work in. Plus whilst I am tidying I am thinking and marshalling my thoughts, getting my head round what it is I need to be writing about and doing next.

However there is also an element of fear in my procrastination (as in all procrastination)  - fear of elements of the tasks I am putting off (no matter how useful and necessary the tidying is) ie fear that I can't do them, that I don't really understand what it is I am doing or rather trying to do but I find I can face that fear by a) thinking about it whilst tidying b)recognising that it is a feeling as opposed to reality about the things and c) making a list and d)just getting on with it.

This blog is of course also useful in its own right as a record of where I'm up to and what I've been doing and a way of marshalling my thoughts but it is also procrastination of sorts - unlike my MA where I used my blog as my research journal and it was used for examination purposes. The way I'm going to be examined PhD-wise is by way of a document outlining my research so far and plan as to where it goes next, a presentation to two examiners and fingers crossed that goes okay.

That document is the main thing I'm thinking about at the moment and I need to progress from thinking to writing on it asap, and at least one of the other big things I've been working on - the installation of artwork at the very marvellous Living with Dying conference is now done and dusted. It was such a brilliant conference - one that was truly interdisciplinary as opposed to the art being an add on and the display needs of participating artists fully taken into consideration and time built in for the appreciation of the art the same as the traditional style presentations. There were films , interactive pieces as well as more traditional academic style presentations. One of the films - Rosalind UnCut by Claire Blundell Jones I found particularly affecting as it was about her mothers suicide, partly because it was a beautiful film but also as it coincided with the anniversary of the death of a friend. I don't miss him or our daft chats any less any other time but anniversaries make things more intense somehow, anyway I passed on the conference dinner and instead had wine and takeaway with my ever lovely and supportive husband as that was the way I needed to regain my equilibrium.

I've also been looking at material in the archives - namely founding documents for Leeds Photographic Society (founded in 1852 it is the oldest photographic society in the world) to see what if any involvement women had in it. In short not much at first though ladies could be members, and by the 1920's subscription rates for gentleman members was 7 shillings and sixpence and 5 shillings for lady members. One of the oldest photographs using indoor flash taken of the members in the 1880's does have a woman pictured in it though. A copy of the magazine 'Amateur Photographer' from October 1884 'welcomes contributions from either sex' and had an essay in it (no pictures) written by a woman getting her childs photograph taken.

Along with material in the archive, a friend has given me a very wonderful collection of mourning cards she found amongst her mothers belongings, the oldest is from the 1880's and the newest from the 1930's and all from her family. Some are really beautiful and it is fascinating to see how fashions and contents of them changed over the years, one is still in the original envelope from the funeral directors. It was very generous indeed of her to give them to me and I hope to use some elements of their design and some of the verses used on them to make new artwork.

I've been trying to read fiction that is not set or written in the nineteenth century in an attempt to properly switch off and distract myself of an evening/during a journey and I have mostly succeeded but over the weekend I finally (it has been on my list of things to read for months) succumbed to the glory that is The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) by Anne Bronte and very marvellous it is too. I'm only a quarter in but I am already very fond of the very marvellous narrator and the reserved mourning wearing Mrs Graham living in comparative seclusion in a big old draughty house.

Post exercise rubberyness is a feeling I've been getting in my arms and legs recently as I have started with a new personal trainer, I'm mostly doing weight training type exercise so the impact is somewhat lessened on my dodgy knees as I am not running. I am getting out of breath though as it's really bloody hard. But I am feeling the benefits already - fifth session today and pull ups are slightly easier in that I can do more of them before my arms feel like they're going to break, and I am lifting more weight, more quickly and more often. Feel so much better as a result and got a new target of being able to do at least one chin pull up at some point. 
Right that's enough crack on with rest of my to do list.....but first I'll check on the washing and make a cup of tea....

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

PhD-Ness Part 7 - Material Gathering, Thinking, Useful Procrastination

Gravestone of Ann Carr (4th March 1783-18 January 1841) - leader of Female Revivalists and Presidentess of the Friendly Sick Society, pro christian gospel, education and anti-drink 

this months post it note, field visit notes, ticket to an excellent production, date notes re two of my Anns.....

It's just a month since I've written a blog post and as I am supposed to be working on my literature review (I am - it is churning away in the back of my mind) but I am struggling to get it down on paper or rather computer screen  so I am usefully procrastinating and thought gathering by writing this instead -  I've always found writing blog updates on what I've been up to academic wise useful.  Plus ever since I read an article that explained that procrastination isn't usually inspired by laziness but by fear of the task you're putting off or rather failure at the task you're putting off, I've felt better about procrastinating and doing equally useful stuff in its place instead. Like this, I have also written and prepared the slides for a talk I am delivering in May - I know its official name is now Leeds University of the Arts but it will always be Leeds College of Art to me - anyway they have asked me to talk to their current masters students about what it is like to be doing a PhD (in short exciting, difficult and wonderful) and so I've prepared that and it'll just need a bit of checking and final edits/polishes before the talk itself.

I like wherever possible to be working ahead of myself  - I hate doing everything at the last minute and as I'm not meeting with my tutor to discuss my literature review for another couple of weeks I still have a week to draft something and get it to her a week in advance of when we're due to meet...I shall keep tell myself this when I am metaphorically tearing my hair out and still struggling to get words on the screen by the end of today....

So what else, well the other useful procrastination I have been doing which is also vital research work is material gathering - be it in the form of site visits and photograph taking and making at St George's Field, reading books like Mortal Remains by Chris Brooks, Vigor Mortis by Kate Berridge, Pablo Fanque and the Electrolier by Katrina Palmer for starters...and I have been doing a lot of research into the life of Ann Carr and mulling about how best to represent/recreate/make work about her and her extra ordinary life. In an age where women were positively dis-encouraged to speak out (even more so than today) and legally far more restricted than today she was an amazing proto-feminist - though like the other nineteeth century proto-feminist who I admire greatly like Elizabeth Gaskell and Mary Elizabeth Braddon she would not have recognised or used that term to describe her actions. 

I am really enjoying trying to find out more about Ann and the circumstances in which she lived - it means poking about in the library, trying to read old census records, looking things up on the internet and just generally looking at old musty things trying to fill in gaps - basically things that make my heart sing. I do not share Ann's love of the Gospel or her strict teetotalism but I very much admire her bravery and constancy and strength in fighting for what she believed in. I laid a flower on her gravestone on what would have been her 235th birthday - what she would have made of such an action I'm not sure - other than she'd have exhorted me to read and abide by the Gospel and forgo my treat of gin at the weekends. I'm also researching other women called |Ann who are buried in the site - with varying levels of success so far. I have many more library visits in my future.....

I've also been battling lurgy - the cough/cold/flu kind that make my asthma flare up and leave me coughing my guts up and gasping for breath so I lost a good few days of study to that as well as taking a week off to celebrate mine and my husbands ninth wedding anniversary. We went to Falstone near Kielder so we could sky gaze at Kielder Observatory, sadly we only go to do that on the first evening as the rest of our stay and our trip to the Observatory was shrouded in snow and low cloud - but the nightsky we saw that first clear night was utterly incredible - don't think I've ever seen so many stars and we even got to see the Milky Way - it's made me want to do lots more stargazing and I can now recognise many more things in the night sky than I could before - I might even start watching The Sky At Night.

I love the title music more than the contents of the show to be honest and if I do see it I still feel like I am staying up very late indeed. The tinternet tells me the music is 'At The Castle Gate' from Pellias and Melisande by Sibelius. The snow also put paid to some of my plans too - I still have a problem with my left knee which means I do all I can to avoid slipping and so making it worse - so when it is snowy or icey I am extra cautious (using a stick) and some days like last week when it was really bad I err on the side of caution and just stay at home til I feel it's safe again to venture out.

I have been trying different ways of working - I got lots of reading done when we changed broadband provider and the tinternet was down for the afternoon so I've been working at the dining table without the computer as the temptation to keep checking social media is often too great when I'm working on the computer, and instead of Radio 4 burbling away in the background (I've mostly stopped listening to Radio 4 Extra apart from when I go to bed - as they repeat programmes two or three times over a 24 hour period and I was getting feelings of great disconcertion and wondering what on earth time it was) I've been listening to music shows on NTS Radio after catching Chris Carter's amazing set - which you can listen to here - I found it really conducive to working.

So am going to try doing more of that - I also get lots more done if I'm out of the house as I don't have a smartphone (though that can also be a disadvantage in this app focused age) and so have to concentrate upon what I'm doing/reading.  But it was thanks to Radio 4 that I was listening to whilst doing the ironing that I heard Tacita Dean talking about film as a medium which was really interesting. Social media helps me keep in touch with chums but it is also my biggest timesink and distraction....

Well I think this is enough useful procrastination for now and it's now in danger of becoming I'll just check my email, have some lunch, listen to the news and the Archers repeat and then lit review it is........

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

PhD-Ness Part 6 - New Focus, Narrowing Down Research Plan, MA/PhD Differences, Anniversaries

the last months blog notes, new weekly planner and opening hours notes so I can plan where I can work when not at home

snow photo - taken on phone camera (3.2mega pixel) and post processed to b+w and vignette added 

Just over a month since I last wrote and things are slowly but surely milling along - am getting better at some things - like reading electronic books though my heart still belongs to the physical kind rather than the virtual kind. Plus I am really pleased with how the some of the latest lot of film photographs I have taken have turned out - though that is a digital one pictured above, and I am really excited by the things I'm finding out about women like Ann Carr (1783-1841) who was Presidentess of the Female Revivalists and Friendly Sick Society and who was buried in St George's Field. I'm also looking forward to trying out some of the techniques described in the Experimental Photography Techniques book I got for xmas.

But and it can be quite a big but at times - I am still struggling with concentration and just generally getting my head round this whole PhD malarkey and exactly what it is I need to do and when I've had some hiccups with the uni email system (it's based on office 365 and has quirks that have taken me time to work out - like not always highlighting new emails if it's a reply in a conversation) but I am getting there and I do feel further on than I did last time I wrote and hopefully after my next meeting with my tutor that feeling will be completely consolidated and instead of having an overall and overarching idea of what it is I need to do and how to get there - I will have a much more concrete one broken down into much more manageable chunks.

One thing I do find though is that I seem to have extremely productive days where I've read a lot, got on top of admin type stuff, tidied round and washed up and managed to cook something decent for dinner, not spent too much time clicking refresh on twitter, been for a walk but then the next day is completely fallow in comparison. I'm hoping I can find a way to even things out a bit more so I feel a bit more productive overall and banish the guilty feeling that time not spent at my desk working or reading or doing a site visit is not time well spent as well. 

I am failing though in my plans to get out for at least a short walk every day - I really must work harder on this but I am in the process of getting my (outdoors) bike fixed up so fingers crossed once that is ready I'll be able to go for a quick bike ride round the bridlepath - which hopefully will help me both have a bit of exercise, clear my head and collate my thoughts more clearly.

I've done a bit of public speaking the last few weeks - I do find having to do a presentation helps me focus my thoughts as does the process of illustrating them with appropriate images on slides. On the 19th January I spoke to the 1152 Club at Abbey House Visitor Centre on the history of St George's Field its place in the overall history of cemetery creation in Leeds in the Victorian era and was very heartened that there were 45 people in the audience. It was a very cold morning and the paths were somewhat perilous so part of me was wondering whether or not people would come along, but they did and I got really lovely heartwarming feedback and then I spoke to a much smaller audience (maybe 10 or 12?) at Huddersfield Uni on Friday as part of a Postgraduate Research Symposium, when I also got good and useful feedback on how to develop my research further - both gave me a good fillip and I got to meet other postgraduate students which is always good.

One thing I am finding is that this PhD malarkey is a much lonelier and befuddling experience compared to my MA experience so far. Part of me still can't quite believe that I now volunteer to get up and talk in front of people - if you'd told me five years ago that I would end up doing this and not have a complete meltdown at the thought (still get a bit nervous but nothing like I used to and my knees don't shake like they did at one point) I would have laughed in your face and thought you were terribly misguided and mistaken.

I'm used to working on my own - be that directly on art projects or on archives so that aspect of things isn't especially different but as it was a partially taught MA there was much more classroom based time and so opportunity to talk things through with colleagues also wrestling with the same questions and concepts, plus the criteria for assignments was also much clearer. I miss the cosiness and artyness of the Art College - oh and the library (even if it was always eyeball meltingly hot) as the library at Huddersfield though good is not as art focused (obviously) and it's not as personable either as all the book dispensing is done by an impersonal machine that reads barcodes. Plus it has quirks like the main staircase not going to all the floors and it can feel a bit Kafka like when trying to find books - I always feel like I've won a prize when I find a book there - in fact I have to stop myself from shouting out 'Huzzah!!!' when I lay my mitts on what I'm looking for.

Plus it's a time of anniversaries - some happy like friendship ones, wedding ones - can't quite believe it's nine years as in some ways it feels like a lifetime ago and in others like a couple of months ago but also sad ones - the anniversaries of the death of much loved and much missed chums and relatives is always hard. I don't miss them any less the rest of the time but anniversaries are somehow especially hard. 

Well I can now tick 'blog update' off my to do list and get on with the rest of it....but first - it's time to put some washing on and have some lunch.


Thursday, 28 December 2017

PhD-Ness Part 5, Festive Interim, Films, Forward Thinking, Stuff Done So Far....

My lovely new notepad with notes I've made over the last few weeks and some of my lovely xmas presents - I am a sucker for a shonky action film and there are few more shonky or actiony than those starring Chuck Norris and this was courtesy of my older brother. The experimental photography book was from my mother in law and it is a fabulous resource both in a how to sense but also in a who is already using these techniques - something that will be very useful in these literature review writing times and right at the bottom is a copy of American Gothic by Jonathon Rigby courtesy of my good friend and co-partner in horror and cinematic crime Penny. I've already read the section on Dracula - will be reading the section about Frankenstein later - I was also spoilt by my lovely ever supportive husband who treated me to lots of lovely things but in particular Frayling's marvellous book about Frankenstein, Kinsey's excellent Hammer Frankenstein scrapbook and some instant monochrome film.   

Ongoing experiments with using leafs and petals using hapa zome technique - either using a mallet or a hammer - a teeny tiny hammer that came with a toffee set. It's just right for hitting the leaves/petals to transfer their outline and essence onto paper (currently using watercolour paper) or material - so far have experimented with using muslin and coffin lining material, it's all part of my plan/aim to make images that are literally 'of the place'.

It's almost a month since I've written a blog post - it's not that I've not been writing though, I've been concentrating upon my research plan instead. Annoyingly the month has also been disrupted by the other tradition of the festive season - namely cough/cold/flu lurgy. Thankfully I've not had the cough part of it but I have had the snot, aching limbs and lack of energy part. So I didn't get to meet with my tutor to discuss my research plan and I am very much looking forward to getting together with her in the new year and refining the plan and getting my head round exactly what it is I need to do as well as want to do.

I knew that PhD research would be a lonelier journey than the MA research but it is taking a bit more getting used to, I'm not as clear about the academic hoops I have to jump and I'm finding the library at Huddersfield is a bit bewildering layout wise and a bit lacking artbook wise. I've joined the library at the Henry Moore Institute - this is an excellent artbook resource and it is open to anyone. I've also applied for a sconal card so I can make full use of the library facilities at both Leeds Uni and Leeds Art Uni. So hopefully once I've met with my tutor and got a better grasp of exactly what it is I need to be doing I'll feel a bit more on target with things and I'll have better resources to tackle with it as well.

I have been doing a lot of reading, not quite as much doing but also an awful lot of thinking. Reading wise I've been trying to get my head round some theory courtesy of Geffrey Batchen, Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault and history/literature wise I've been reading lots of British Association of Victorian Studies blog posts, Sarah Wise's Blackest Streets, and Adkins Eavesdropping on Jane Austen's England - because I figured I shouldn't be quite so fixated Victorian era wise - plus things that are Victorian didn't just begin out of nowhere in 1837 or end in 1901 - they had a before and an after life.  At times though I've found it difficult to concentrate and at times writing my research plan felt like pulling teeth but I got it into a shape/format I was happy enough with - without further direction or feedback that is and in plenty of time for the deadline set for me by my tutor and the admin staff.

I've also treated myself to my favourite bubblegum for the brain reading over the festive season - a Jackie Collins epic bonkbuster called The Power Trrip - it is absolutely terrible in so many ways - it's all exposition, product placement and utterly improbable un/intentionally hilarious sex scenes, identikit plotlines and characters but they are also such a good giggle and the best way to unwind - I am not looking for a subtext, or analysisng them from either a gender politics or a class politics viewpoint when I read them. They just make me laugh and wince in equal measure (see also action movies)

So looking back - it's been a mixed year, I've struggled with poorliness (having a poorly knee has really limited my mobility at times and had a damaging impact on my mental health) but have also done some stuff I'm really pleased with/about. So my plans for the next year are to build on those things, work on improving my knee and thereby my mental health and really get to grips with this PhD malarkey.....  I've also seen a lot of films - think my favourites of the year have been:
Multiple Maniacs (1970) - John Waters monochrome 'masterpiece' which is possibly the most sacrilegious film I have ever seen
A Quiet Passion (2016)- Terence Davies utterly enchanting and captivating biopic of Emily Dickinson played so beautifully by Cynthia Nixon
England Is Mine (2016) - M Gills Morrissey biopic which I loved - partly for its Shangri La filled soundtrack and partly for its being filmed in so many Mancunian locations which I recognised from my own childhood (plus Morrissey wasn't the knobhead he has sadly become then)
Headhunters (2011) M Tyldum  one of the most visceral, gripping, funny heist turned murder stories I've seen in years
Dave Made A Maze (2017) Bill Watersons's funny, fantastical and inventive story of Dave who builds a maze in his apartment.
Fargo (1996) Cohen Brothers - second time I've seen it on the big screen - it was the first film that my husband and I saw at the pictures when we'd just started going out together.  It had lost none of its funny grimmness and I remain in love with Frances McDormands pregnant police officer.

So onwards and hopefully upwards - just had a response to an exhibition opportunity saying 'thanks but no' but got all sorts of other opportunities coming up this year and fingers crossed they'll work out better.

Thanks for reading and all the best for 2018 :-)


Monday, 27 November 2017

PhD-ness Part 4 - Reading, Doing, Writing, Pushing Off From Shore....and Hacker T Dog

By chance after the Count Arthur Strong xmas special radio recordings at the Lowry last week - meeting my absolute favourite furry hero (and his handler who seemed v surprised that anyone had recognised him)  - the incomparable Hacker T Dog who told me I smelled like his hero Susan Barker - but alas this wasn't the compliment it seemed as he then told me she stinks cockers......this has got to be one of the years highlights and only meeting Sweep (another of my favourite furry fellows) could hope to be anywhere near as exciting.
lots in this weeks picture - some of the notes I've made, some of the things I've been experimenting with and some of the things I've been looking at.

It's been a really busy few days - so this is hopefully just going to be a quick brain dump of what I've been up to and where I've been so I can crack on with what I really need to be doing which is:
editing and submitting an abstract for a conference
finish drafting my research plan
put the flesh on the at the moment very bare bones of my literature review.

I met with my primary tutor this week and a very productive and useful meeting it was too. As a result I have a much better idea of what it is I need to be doing and I have been given two very definite targets of research plan and literature review and so this blog post is partly a thought collation exercise and partly procrastination as both those tasks whilst manageable also seem a teeny bit big and scarey at the moment.

Which is why things like looking at Hacker T Dog who never fails to make me if not laugh out loud then at the very least wryly smile is also a vital part of my day to day routine - we all need something/someone to make us smile in life, and especially so when your research mostly has you looking at or reading about death and decay...even if it is mostly the very beautiful aspects of  Victorian death culture - it can still get a bit much at times, even for a dedicated coimetromanic like myself. I have particularly struggled at times over the last couple of years with bereavement and anxiety/panic attacks and watching Hacker T Dog and his sublimely daft antics really helped me get through the day at times - I'll always be very grateful to him and his handler Phil Fletcher for that.

So eating properly, watching clips of Hacker and getting fresh air and going out and doing nice things are just as important as reading for example another chapter from Photographs Objects Histories by Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart...I've also been doing a couple of crafty things - covering a cheap pair of slip on shoes from Primarni with ripped up bits of Jenny Uglow's very fine biography of one of my literary heroes Elizabeth Gaskell ( my lovely husband bought me a secondhand hardback copy and I found a tatty paperback copy in the charity shop for a quid) which I have ripped up into bits and pasted onto the shoes using a solution of PVA glue and water - they still need to be tidied up a bit round the edges and then covering with a gloss medium coating.

It felt very naughty indeed to be ripping up a book but also quite exciting and quite therapeutic to be painting bits of paper and glue onto my shoes. I'd rubbed them beforehand with sandpaper bought from a fantastic tools stall from the indoor market in Huddersfield to ensure the paper had a surface it could stick to. I also bought a mallet from the same stall so I could do some more hapa zome prints/dye transfers of leaves. Pictures is a maple leaf on watercolour paper after being dipped in my home made mordant of rusty nails and white vinegar.

Also pictured is the guide from the very wonderful exhibition at Huddersfield of paintings and prints by Maxwell Doig - evocative and poignant - this is well worth a visit and I'll be going again before it ends next March.

So lots of doing - some therapeutic, some directly related to my PhD research and lots of reading too. I feel less at sea than I did the last few times I've written, I feel like SS PhD-Ness has well and truly set sail now and it's time to start coalescing all the reading I've doing into definite ports of call aka jumping specific academic hoops.

So before this sailing metaphor gets ever more tortuous and sinks under its own weight I'd best get cracking on with my tasks....

Sunday, 12 November 2017

PhDNess Part 3 - Slightly Less At Sea-Ness Part 2, Taking Pictures, Doing, Thinking, Reading...

Ice Skulls - plan to experiment with using twice boiled water, de-ionised water in attempt to make clear-er skulls - then to try make them using food colouring or home made ink or bits of site detritus with aim of filming or photographing their melting  

Mapp unimpressed with my experiments and attempts to see how long it takes them to melt

attempts to transfer colour from leaves, flowers onto paper and felt with aim of making some kind of eco-prints 

this weeks notes - am loving my day of the dead notepad
Been a busy few days and going to be busy over the next few days too - hence my writing this on a Sunday - a time when I would normally be lying on the sofa watching reruns of lovely proper 70's Columbo ('just one more thing...') whilst sipping tea.

It's been a week of reading Grayson Perry's very marvellous 'Playing to the Gallery', mulling over the meaning of anniversaries, taking some medium format photos in St George's Field using my lovely Lubitel twin lens camera, listening to podcasts about Mary Elizabeth Braddon and finishing Aurora Floyd, looking up recipes for home made ink, researching eco print techniques, experimenting with making ice skulls using a silicon mould and thinking about Victorian light.

I find Grayson Perry's work wonderful and intriguing to look at, I really enjoyed his Reith Lectures (almost as much as I enjoyed Hilary Mantels) but until now I hadn't read anything by him - other than his and Alan Measles twitter feed. Playing To The Gallery (2014) is wonderful - accessible, thought provoking, funny, and a lovely mix of text and drawn image/cartoon. Wonderful stuff.

Anniversaries can be happy or sad occasions - one of the ways I'm thinking of developing my work is by looking at the dates on the tombstones I photograph, and then either make more work using it on the anniversary of that date or going back to it to make more work on the anniversary of that date. I need to do some more research into why/how the associations of wedding anniversaries like paper, iron etc came about, and why we celebrate big numbers in particular eg centenaries and the like. I suppose part of their appeal is the fact that they are a fixed feast in the midst of uncertainty.

I've been taking more pictures in St George's Field - this time using my lovely secondhand Lubitel twin lens camera - since I got bifocal glasses using cameras like this (with a viewfinder at the top of the camera rather than the back of it) has become easier as I just have to move my head to get the camera in focus and then the view as opposed to having to switch between two pairs of glasses, I have taken 8 pictures on the roll so far so there'll have to be a few more days of good weather for me to finish it - or I could take it out with a tripod if the light is low and long exposures were needed.

I don't have a smartphone (I have a PAYG phone that has a camera and a radio on it but nothing more fancy than that) so the world of apps and podcasts unless you can access them from a PC or a laptop are a bit of mystery to me. But whilst I was working and reading last week I caught up with a few by the Victorian Scribbler and the Bonnets At Dawn people and loved them. They were about Mary Elizabeth Braddon (I didn't know she was such a keen hunter but was pleased also to learn she loved strong tea and split her working week into 4 days writing - she wrote until her death in 1914 - she was a long lived Victorian and two days hunting - with presumably a day for church going) or books by her or about 19th century novelists in general and were good to have on in the background whilst I was working. Braddon remains one of my very favourite writers - she writes such rattling good yarns with strong female characters (to a point - one of my criticisms of her work is that they tend to fade away at the end of the novels) plus for me it is very interesting to read stories that were written and set in the 19th century as opposed to just set in them.

I took part in a read along of Aurora Floyd (1863) twitter based experiment organised by Courtney Floyd in which we read Aurora Floyd in monthly installments of 3 chapters - the same as when it was first published in Temple Bar Magazine. I found it very difficult to stop at the end of the alloted 3 chapters at first and made a note in my diary as to when I could read the next installment. But over the summer I kind of lost where we were up to and got distracted - with such a big gap (and various life events) I found I had to reread previous chapters as I had forgotten key plot details and then when I did get back into it again - I read it to the end. I'm not too much ahead of the curve as it would have ended next month as it has 36 chapters in total. Plus I wasn't the only participant who read ahead - one participant finished it in the summer, one in the spring almost as soon as we started it as he 'couldn't put it down'. It made me wonder if it was accompanied by a 'story so far' type introductory paragraph but apparently it wasn't so I'm guessing Victorians had better memories or kept previous copies of the magazine close so they could catch up if need be. 

I enjoyed it but as not as much as Lady Audley's Secret but am not sure how much of that is down to the story itself or the way I read it. I devoured Lady Audley's Secret over a few days and so it was a concentrated hit of Victorian loveliness (if you count a tale of bigamy, arson, attempted murder, the status of women as lovely that is) and so I found my experience of Aurora Floyd gappy in comparison - though the opening chapters are wonderfully gripping - it was very hard to put it down. Hmm as ever food for thought re method of consumption and what effect it has on the experience of the novel as opposed to the novel itself.

Sometimes while I'm working (the research and reading type of working - when I'm taking or making photographs then it's the ambient noise of wherever I am taking or making images) I put music on - but it has to be music without words or singing or else I get distracted and want to sing along. I can listen to people talking though - I find the sound of voices and sound radio quite comforting as it makes me feel less alone I think. Radio 4 was a habit I got into when I first left home but I have been listening to Radio 4 Extra recently as it is less depressing and stressful to listen to than Radio 4 with its regular news programmes. The news at the moment is just so unrelentingly grim that I don't want to listen to it anymore. I get my news from the internet these days instead - it's still painful but it's much less awful that way.

One of the things I've been experimenting with over the last few days is making skulls out of ice using a skull mould my ever lovely and supportive husband bought me off the tinternet - I've been inspired by the work of Carol Sowden and Mel Dewey who were on the year below me MA-wise. I'd like to take time lapse pictures of them melting and also to try putting things in the ice - either food colouring or home made ink (I've been looking up recipes) or fallen petals/leaves that I have collected. So far I've not had much luck making clear ice - the tinternet advises using cooled twice boiled water and I've gotten clearer ice that way but it's still bubbly. I've tried de-ionised water today to see if that makes a difference - I have no idea what de-ionised means but that along with the reading I've been doing about mordants (what a wonderful sounding word) and eco printing methods means that I might end up learning a bit more about what de-ionised means and other basic chemical stuff.

I'm still thinking about Victorian light - in terms of the methods that were available in the Victorian period, and what effect the kind of light available to you had on the way you saw and did things. I'm also thinking along the lines of how to light pieces of work using Victorian methods. As ever lots of food for thought and lots of experimenting to do...along with lots of reading. I am really going to have to start reading more theory that I do/have done so far......Foucault here I come.....but I am also looking forward to working on this with my tutor and hoping that she can provide some useful insights and pointers.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

PhD-Ness Part 2 - Slightly Less At Sea-Ness, Leeds Library-Ness, Theory, Reading,Note Making, Doing.....

mix of notes made as I've been going along the past few weeks, and my contribution to Alabama 13's piece for the Girls Make Art #2 Reclaiming Pink event/show at Wharf Chambers Saturday 11th November and Sunday 12th November. 

Part of my lovely skully haul from Whitby Goth Festival - cushion in background bought a while back, pincushion by kerrysgifts, mug from which I am going to drink hot chocolate came from the English Heritage shop at the Abbey  

Latest book haul from the very marvellous Leeds Community Trust bookshop

So it's almost a month since I've written and it's been a busy one - not necessarily with study as I've also spent quite a bit of time at the dentist having root canal treatment (here's hoping I don't have to go back til my next scheduled check up and that I don't need anything doing then) and I am also just back from a delightful few restorative days in Whitby at the Goth Festival.

That was mostly marvellous - catching up with chums, going on a river cruise (saw seals, a heron, shags and a very fat squirrel) I also ate lots of lovely food (but didn't ice cream or fish and chips) and drank lots of lovely beer (diet starts now) a mooch round the Abbey which also led to me taking part in a Victorian funeral procession re-enactment - it was a walking* funeral and I banged the drum, a mooch around the Museum where I gazed again upon some of my very favourite artefacts namely:

  • the dead mans hand - a charm of a light made from a hung mans hand allegedly used by robbers to ensure homeowners stayed asleep when being burgled
  • Dr Merryweathers Tempest Prognosticator - a weather predicting device using the barometric pressure sensitivity of slugs to warn of impending storms
  • the charm against sore throats which was a tiny piece of the hangmans rope next to a little gold figure on a gibbet 
  • the jet jewellery
  • the camera cabinet - which houses many models of camera which I am fortunate enough to have of my own and be able to use
  • the creepiest collection of Victorian dolls - there is something beautifully sinister about their cracked wax faces

    The unmarvellous bit was seeing images of someone dressed up as a kind of wolf in nazi uniform - alongside a child also dressed in a uniform with a swastika - quite why anyone would want to do that I am not sure, it also distresses me that someone who was at the Goth Weekend as an onlooker as opposed to participant would think that was a normal and both acceptable and accepted part of the goth subculture when in my experience it is very much not. Quite how to challenge it effectively though I am not sure. Any suggestions would be gratefully received.
I did take some books to Whitby with me to read - some textbooks - Foucaults The Will To Knowledge, some reading books/primary sources of the Victorian period - Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (started reading this as part of the read along earlier this year organised by Janine Hatter on Twitter. The aim was to read it in three chapter installments once a month - the same as when it was first published in Temple Bar Magazine in 1862, but I'm afraid rationing the chapters as opposed to reading it all in one go as and when I can has made quite a fractured experience for me and I can't always remember what has just happened and have to reread bits and I have fallen behind with reading it - in spite of it being a wonderful read when I do read it.

I wonder if it was printed with a precis of the action so far? Anyway I didn't read anymore of it in spite of my plan to finish it - the sitting room in the cottage was a bit chilly and so I couldn't find a comfortable long term reading position, nor did I get further than the introduction to Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall but I did read a couple of HP Lovecrafts Short Stories from the Horror In The Museum collection - not the thing to read before going to Sandsend in the pouring rain with the waves pounding up the beach when everyone is walking past with their hoods up - to keep out the rain I know but part of me was wondering if it was whether or not to hide proto gills....

So aside from Whitby based loveliness and dental unpleasantness what else have I been up to - have been reading Barthes Mythologies, Peter Barry's Beginning Theory - a really basic but useful introduction to theory - something I am beginning to think about in much more depth. I haven't met with my primary supervisor yet as they are on sick leave but I have met with my secondary supervisor hence my theory reading and reading of Foucault in particular - at her suggestion.

I'm still feeling a bit at sea with it all and had been worried I wasn't doing any doing at all - but I did do a couple of churchyard visits in Whitby (St Marys and St Oswalds) and took some photographs on film too which I intend to use to make some prints and images with - providing they have come out okay that is. Both films (one 35mm, one medium format) are Ilford XP2 which means although they make black and white images they need the colour C41 process to be developed. So I shall take them to my usual colour film developer Mark at The Photo Shop in Headingley rather than stand shivering in the garage aka pop up meth lab to do them.

Both of the churchyards I went to had very similar gravestones in terms of overall shapes, and carvings on those shapes. Draped urns seem very popular as a carving whereas in the gravestones that remain in St George's Field the draped urns figure as actual objects on top of gravestones as well as carved on them. Grave poetry doesn't seem as common in either of the churchyards. Neither churchyard had any obelisk type gravestones. I'm not sure how much of that has to do with fashion, or with rules about what can and can't be used as grave adornment in either place.

I have still been trying to get a routine sorted out too - until my primary supervisor is back from sick leave I'm not sure when my meetings will be, but in the meantime I am still doing my roughly nine to five reading/working at the computer each day. I also need to work out a proper reading schedule and start compiling a to do list with dates to be completed by as opposed to just a to do list that I tick off (or often don't...) as I go along.

Thanks to a talk by Carol Sowden at the Art College (I'm finding it hard to remember to call it by its new name Leeds Arts University - I think it will always be Leeds College of Art to me) I also have some ideas about developing the more ephemeral aspects of my artwork, its connections to mourning culture and new directions in which to take it. This has involved buying some skull shaped moulds off the internet too. I am very excited about these arriving through the post - I can't wait to use them.

I showed a friend and fellow artist around St George's Field last week prior to going to the talk and then the fun of trying to find the correct chemistry department lecture theatre for Professor Griselda Pollocks talk on 'Truth Telling and Art History In The Digital Age of Global Uncertainty' which was both interesting and thought provoking.  Before we found it we did see some rather exciting locked rooms with impressive looking machines, bottles of impressively coloured liquid and signs declaring poisonous and dangerous substances within...

She concentrated on culture and what are definitions of it, quoting from Raymond Williams - someone whose work I am going to have to check out. It was also interesting to think of the differences between media and platforms as they often get confused, she also spoke of how cinema tells the stories of artists and invariably bolsters the idea that artists are neurotic. I also have a note that culture is not an it - it is a doing as it is being done all around you and you are part of it.

It was lovely to show a friend round what is one of my very favourite places and to see it again and afresh through someone else's eyes - someone who had never been there before. I'm talking of course of St George's Field - a place I probably go to at least once a month if not more and every time I go there is something either new or something that I haven't noticed before or something I hadn't realised the significance of.

This time it was the little shelves that could have just been decoration but could also be used to place  offerings on one gravestone, the proximity of innkeepers and temperance advocates graves (imagine the conversations between those graveyard occupants) and some symbolism on one gravestone in particular which I need to do some research into as to what it might mean,initial research leads me to believe it is a masonic symbol. I also noticed some espeically beautiful floral carving and I need to find a Victorian flower dictionary to help me translate some of the meaning of some of the flowers carved on the graves.

What else? I also asked my chums on social media what they think of if they see or hear the words 'Victorian' and got some interesting responses including one which made me smile which was 'grime, gruel, corsets,wills and fallen women'. This has given me some insight and ideas in terms of how eras are viewed by other eras - though I need to think more about how why what is thought is thought and how it has come about.

I've also joined the very beautiful and wonderful Leeds Library - an oasis of ages past calm on Commercial Street in Leeds. They have a wealth of Victorian era printed material and I have been very fortunate to see copies of Ainsworth magazine and editions of Gaskell's Ruth and Mary Barton from the 1850's in all their red rot encased glory. Utterly wonderful. My husband has taken to calling it the 'urban elite Victorian reading room' and I'm afraid the pedant and historically accurate nerd in me had to correct him and tell him that as it was founded in 1768 and moved to its current premises in 1808 strictly speaking it is a Georgian urban elite reading room. Plus unlike Huddersfield Uni Library - staff still stamp your book when you take it out - proper library bliss.

I've also been to the very wonderful and thought provoking Skeletons exhibition at Leeds City Museum which along with skeletons also has things made with human remains like a horn made out of a human thigh bone,mourning brooches with locks of hair and false eyelashes. The latter really make me feel icky in a way that mourning brooches do not. I'm not sure why - I think it's partly because anything close to my eyes always make me wince slightly but the thought of a strangers hair (or even if it was made from hair from someone I knew - and had donated it without coercion) so close to my eyes just makes me feel icky in a way that ones made from something artificial wouldn't.   

So in summary - been doing a lot of reading, a bit of doing and a lot of thinking and I have a LOT more reading,doing and thinking to do...I also think I'm going to continue with this blog but make it either a fortnightly or weekly thing again - it helps me gather my thoughts, review what I've done, what is working, what isn't working, what remains to be done and what I need to do to plan ahead. At some point I want to feel like I am properly researching again - it's still all feeling a bit tangential and not quite solid enough at the moment.

*that means there was no carriage pulled by horses style hearse - either the coffin was carried directly by mourners or pushed on a hand cart. It was the cheapest kind of funeral you could have.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

PhD-Ness Part 1, All at Sea-Ness,Trains, New Campus, Love Arts-Ness, New Desk and general ness of all kinds.....

Mono print made yesterday at the Love Arts Festival launch, student travel pass, pass card to Leeds Library, notes and misery....
It's now official - I am a PhD student at the University of Huddersfield (EEK but also YAY!!!) - I have a new email address, new website to get to grips with, new printing facilities to access, new campus to navigate, new colleagues and all other manner of new-ness to get my head around.

One of the loveliest newest things is my new desk - am hoping this will help with back pain and stiffness as it is much better proportioned than the old one and I can sit at it with my legs underneath it comfortably as opposed to my legs being jammed under drawers (though those drawers were very useful indeed for holding passports, mini sd card adapters, usb sticks and the like) - old desk has been moved to the garage where it will (hopefully) be used as a printing desk. The rest of my workroom still needs organising better - the plan is to do a big book cull and get new bookcases too and then maybe I will be able to sit on the sofa bed and read - as opposed to use it as a bookcase...

The plan was to have done all this by the start of term but the boiler was condemned and that was much more of a priority to get replaced (and then the shower wouldn't work alongside the new boiler because of the changes to the water pipes so we had to get a new shower sorted as well...ARGH and indeed OUCH wallet-wise) so new bookcases are still waiting on the shopping list. Aside from actually buying the house (which we effectively bought on tick thanks to a mortgage) last September was the most expensive month I think we've ever had - new boiler, new shower, guttering needed cleaning and new down pipes fitting, uni fees (GULP!!) new glasses for us both, travel pass - got a bus and train one to make getting to and from Huddersfield easier, root canal treatment for me. All adds up to 'new bookcases will have to wait for the moment'.

But along with all those necessary expensive things I also treated myself to student membership of Leeds Library - the one that's above Paperchase on Commercial Street in Leeds - I have wanted to join since I went there for a book launch some time ago. It's a beautiful building, it's the oldest surviving subscription library in the country and it was founded in 1768. It is steeped in history, the staff are really lovely and helpful - they were very helpful when I was doing my MA and I am sure they will be equally helpful now I'm studying for a PhD. Plus best of all they have many Victorian novels, newspapers and periodicals - the actual original paper versions - not reprints or digitally scanned copies. I will be a mix of a kid in a sweetshop and a Bisto kid - breathing in that delightfully heady mix of 'old' 'must' 'candle and coal soot' and 'paper rot'.  I can't wait to start reading their wares. One of the things I am interested in is how the stories I read now as compete editions looked when they were originally published in serial form and what they were placed next to,and what adverts they were surrounded by.

They also have a lovely DVD collection from which I borrowed the delightfully grim and hilarious Arsenic and Old Lace - Peter Lorre as Dr Einstein is glorious and the BBC adaptation of North and South which I am halfway through watching. It's quite tough going - am not finding the characters portrayed on screen as sympathetic as I did when reading them..but I will persevere - I'm intrigued to see how the scene where Margaret Hale is bonnet-less (caused scandal in the 19th century) and steps forward to protect the mill owner John Thornton will be done.

I am also getting to grips with the library at Huddersfield Uni - it's nowhere near as gorgeous to look at as the Brotherton, it's quite labyrinthine, quite noisy and I'm not sure where the librarians live in it as all the booklending is done by a machine which scans your card and the me old fashioned but I prefer to interact with a human and have my book stamped. But there are lots of helpers about - one of whom helped me navigate the difficulties of loading cash onto my printing account (it's mostly done online - ARGH!!! Another one of my bugbears as I prefer to pay for things in person if possible) and then it seemed fairly smooth. I found the book I was looking for and checked it out, I also found my way to and from the print room and got some nice b+w prints done of more recent images I've made.

I'm slowly but surely finding my way both round the campus and Huddersfield itself too - I've still to check out the cafe in the Parish Church (though I have had a look at the graveyard surrounding it) - am loving the 19th century architecture, the charity shops, Walkers the jewellers and the vegetarian sausage rolls from the pound bakery. I love the bit of the campus that goes over the canal - even though on the whole the campus is a bit too toytowny architecturally for me. Am looking forward to doing some more exploring off campus. Including of course Edgerton Cemetery which opened in 1855.

I have found where to get a good baked potato for lunch and got chatting to the lady sat opposite me whilst eating it yesterday. She turned out to be a fairly big cheese in the university and has offered to help me find a scientist type at the university who can help with analysing whether or not the 'mourning' brooch I got in Cleethorpes a while back is made with human hair. It was sold as a mourning brooch but it has no personal dedication or general memoriam-ness which makes me wonder if it is in fact a more mass produced fashion item or love token. Exciting times.

I was however given some undoubtedly authentic mourning items at the weekend by an old chum who kindly gave me a box of Royal Mourning Pins - they're completely black and not shiny and so therefore suitable for use during periods of deepest mourning. Not sure who made them but am guessing by their title that they were made after 1861 (death of Albert) to cash in on Victoria's going into deep mourning and helping make it a more fashionable/expected thing to do. He also gave me mounts for funeral card dedications - it's not clear whether they were 'real' people (will check next time I'm in the local history library where you can access the Ancestors website without having to subscrtibe to it) or examples for printers. The designs are gorgeous and will make beautiful outlines for making both cyanotypes and anthotypes.

Thanks to a workshop run by the lovely Hayley Mill-Styles  - you can find out about her and her work here that was part of the Love Arts Festival launch which you can find out  about here.

I made an image using printers ink and a tile yesterday (see red and white shapes above - I was channelling my inner late 60's early 70's design loves there) which has given me lots of ideas for developing my own work and my aim to present photographic images in a non 2D way. I need to get some new supplies - and dig the enlarger out of the wardrobe as I'll be able to use it to project images and so stencil them onto polystyrene...and then print with them - hopefully with added grave dirt/site specific material from the places they are images of.

The Love Arts Festival runs until October 18th and there is so much to choose from - art shows, plays, perfomances, a special showing of Now Voyager (on 35mm!!) at Hyde Park Picture House at 2pm on Sunday 8th October for which I've written a short introduction, and a pop up outside the by then newly reopened Art Gallery on Saturday 14th October from 11am til 4pm.

I have some of my coffin lining prints on show as part of the pop up exhibition in the Light and as ever I owe The Arts and Mind Network (the people behind the festival) massive gratitude - it was them that gave me the opportunity to take part in the Place and Memory Project which in turn led to me going back to big school (Leeds College of Art now the Leeds University for the Arts) to study for a Masters degree and in turn the PhD I'm studying for now.

I've also written my first proper grown up academic article - currently awaiting feedback on it, had a proposal accepted for a conference on death and memorialisation at Hull University next year, been booked by Darling Roses again to do a talk about my work, so although I've not been making much new artwork recently - the research  into the stuff that inspires me to make the work is ongoing....

What else - as am still settling in, am still trying to work out how best to do my PhD work but I have bought a notebook from the student union shop that is half lined paper and half graph paper and on its front is the embossed gold legend ' LABORATORY BOOK' which I am very much looking forward to filling with notes on anthotype experiments. I am hoping to still have proper down time too and to make that a part of my daily schedule too.

It's two months since I last wrote a blog post, this blog started out as just a general place for me to write about my obsessions, research and projects and then it became my official research journal for my MA. I'm not quite sure what format the academic hoops I have to jump during this PhD malarkey will take - I may update this weekly again like I did or I may just keep notes in a notebook instead - this is another question to ask my tutor when we meet....I already have a list for her.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Pre-PhD Ness - Ongoing Preparation and Prevarication and Procrastination, Slow Cookers, Gaskell-ness, Transporter Bridges, Barthes, RSI and Things.

Some of the books I've been reading, notes for my blog post, a piece of in progress embroidery (v long in progress - started it about 18 months ago but am determined to get back into sewing and knitting as a way to relax in the evenings) guide book to Gaskell's house - if you haven't been GO! for it is wonderful.

The aformentioned Gaskells house in the sunshine - check out their website for opening times, not only is it a marvellous place to visit I can thoroughly recommend the chocolate cake in their tea room.

the actual gibbett used to hang William Jobling - as seen in South Shields Museum, this made me think about the use of actual as opposed to reproduction objects in musems (as did the Gaskell house) plus I also learnt that apparently bodies hung in gibbetts were often covered in pitch in order to ensure they hung there for as long as possible so as to be a warning to other n'er do wells of the potential consequence of their actions. You can find out more about his story here and decide for yourself whether or not his punishment was appropriate to his crime or whether the fact that there was a strike on at the time also had something to do with it.

Along with Gaskells House, Tynemouth and South Shields I've also (thanks to a lovely chum) had a day out in Hull looking at the soon to be demolished remains of the Eastern Cemetery and the Western Cemetery which also features a very impressive cholera monument and pivotal places in turning points in the English Civl War.

It's over a month since I last wrote a blog entry, and I feel well out of practice with it. I reckon getting back into a regular habit with it will help PhD wise and will mean I'm not scratching about at the last minute to hand any writing in, it's a practice based PhD so it won't be as heavy on writing as a non practice based PhD but writing will still be a major component of it. Plus doing this helps be not just collate my thoughts but also to clarify them which can only be a good thing.

I'm also trying to get my workroom in order, read what seems to be an ever increasing pile of books but I made good progress recently on that front. Finally managed to plough my way through both Uglow's excellent 600+ page opus on Elizabeth Gaskell and re-read Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes (it's a beautiful book and read it if you haven't) and also finished Photography Degree Zero edited by Geoffrey Batchen - a collection of essays by various academics in response to Camera Lucida. This was quite a slog in places - I again feared about developing RSI reaching for the dictionary to look up words I had never encountered before or didn't understand.

Thanks to a top tip on a postgrad facebook group I'm part of I am making my own handwritten (in black archival ink) not in alphabetical order dictionary of words I have to look up. Apparently there is some evidence that you are more likely to remember something if you write it down by hand, I am also employing tactics like 'heuristic' is to do with learning and is *almost* similar's not a perfect method but it's getthing there and the book about Barthes has added two A4 sides worth of new words and their defintions and I no longer panic and feel stupid when I see the word 'hermeneutic'.

Other things I am trying to do to get ready are things like:  sorting out food cupboard,stocking up on tins of beans and sausages and stocking up the freezer with easy, comforting,  stick in the oven meal components like oven chips, fishfingers, veggie sausages and that kind of thing. We've also started using a slow cooker (impressed with it so far) as I find it easier to prepare a meal in the morning before I start working at my desk* than I do cooking from scratch at the end of the day when I get up from my desk and I'm tired. Using a slow cooker seems a good way to capitalise on this character trait as that way I can get up, prepare the ingredients, put them in the slow cooker and hey presto meal is ready at the end of the day and only further effort needed is to serve it up and eat it.

I'm still in the habit of looking at social media and online news (still mostly avoiding it on the radio and tv as frankly it's not getting any better) when I first wake up but I need to break out of my habit of looking at it so often through the day. This can be difficult though as writing something like this for instance means using the tinternet, the words I'm looking up aren't always in the dictionary so I have to look them up online and whilst I'm there I could just have a quick look at Facebook or Twitter and then I'm either chatting to mates or getting lost in links to other websites - not all of which are pertinent. It's a mix of potent addiction (though I am not so addicted that I have to look it up whilst I am out and about, properly watching a programme or at the cinema or in the pub chatting with mates) prevarication and of course procrastination. I'm getting better at undertsanding why I procrastinate some jobs more than others - some kind of fear is usually at the base of when I do procrastinate I invariably end up feeling guilty for wasting time as well so anything I can do to help balance out this equation as equally all work and no play/distraction makes for a v dull time indeed.

Like at the moment I have a deadline for an article and though I have made some notes on what I want to write about (some of which came to me in the middle of the night in Tynemouth when I was having difficulty sleeping and my non smart phone was put into use as a notebook by drafting a text) and the bulk of the actual historical research is done I still haven't actually sat down to write it. I think this is a mix of 'eek, I've never written a proper grown up academic article to go in a journal before' and 'eek, one of the people in charge of this journal is also a friend (and someone I've known for longer than I've been doing this research) and I'm scared they're going to read what I've written and think I'm hopeless' I need to counter this with - just sit down and make a start...I can remember the fear when I started writing my dissertation (and the mental pain) but I made a start by just formatting the document and making notes plus lots of things I've never done before aren't so scarey once I've started doing them and as for making mistakes - that's how you learn. Plus this isn't a matter of life and death - well the subject matter might be...but I am not doing this in an attempt to pursue a formal career in academia so if I make a mess of my first attempt at one it's really not the end of the world.

I'm very lucky that I'm not desperately pursuing a formal academic career as the pressures seem to be immense and the jobs at the end few and far between.

So back to what I've been up to over the last few weeks more than what I intend to do. Along with reading I've also been doing my physio exercises in attempt to strenghthen my knee and back and whilst they are no miracle cure they are definitely helping - managed to walk round lots of bits of Tynemouth and South Shields and I wouldn't have been able to do that last month.

The trip to Tynemouth was part of my birthday celebrations which actually kicked off with a trip to Manchester(ford)** and home of my literary hero de jour - Elizabeth Gaskell. It is a fantastic museum and the volunteers on duty are enthusiastic, helpful and knowledgeable. You are encouraged to pull the doorbell that before you the likes of Charlotte Bronte (who hid amongst the dining room curtains) and Charles Dickens have pulled. I'm not sure if it's still the original bellpull though - it's definitely a replacement bell (one of the volunteers said so) and the rooms have been fitted out with items from the Victorian period or that have been made to resemble items from the period (the wallpaper was handprinted to match a sample found when the house was being renovated) you can sit at a desk in the same spot as Elizabeth herself would have sat. There are some original artefacts (things like plates given to William Gaskell in honour of his ministerial duties) but it has made me think again about the use of original versus reproduced or replica items in museum settings.

I know it's irrational but part of me felt disappointed that it wasn't *the* desk Elizabeth had sat at but one like it. Maybe that's because I'm such a superfan of hers. Plus you could tell me that something was original or reproduction and unless it was completely obvious eg a modern Ikea table masquerading as an 18th century dining table I would be none the wiser. It's made me think again about authenticity and its importance.

So after fangirling at Gaskells house - which isn't just about Gaskell but the times she lived in and the place she lived in and sampling the very fine chocolate cake in the tea room and of course making a purchase or several in the bookshop we then headed to see True Faith at Manchester Art Gallery - the exhibition which is about Joy Division and New Order and is a mix of work made by artists that was inspired by their work and original posters, videos and at the end in a case all its own, permanently guarded by a gallery assistant to make sure you don't take a photograph, lit from below is the holy grail of the exhibition - the handwritten lyrics of Love Will Tear Us Apart. I was quite surprised by the scale of the reliquary like, quasi-religious worshipful atmosphere around this artefact on its own. I am a Joy Division fan (though I prefer Atmosphere) but I thought this was taking the religious inference of the title just a tad far. I felt like I was expected to genuflect in front of it or dip my fingers in holy water next to it - though maybe this says more about my probably not as lapsed as I'd like to think it is catholicism. It's on til Sunday 3rd September so go see it if you can.

The following day we headed to Tynemouth and stayed in the same house Harriet Martineau - friend of Gaskell and pioneering sociologist and femninist stayed in for five years when she was very ill. From our room we could see the Collingwood Monument, the Priory and watch ferries coming in and out of the rivermouth. We went on the pedestrian ferry to South Shields, chatted to a vicar and looked at the remaining gravestones, had a quick look round South Sheilds Museum which was very marvellous indeed - not only was there the gibbet as pictured above but also the dictaphone Catherine Cookson used to dictate her novels into and then there was afternoon tea at the Grand Hotel as stayed in by Margaret Rutherford, a mooch around the remaining magnificant gravestones of Tynemouth Priory, a climb up the steps of the Collingwood Monument and the following day a go on the Middlesborough Transporter Bridge and a trip to Sound It OuT Records in Stockton On Tees where a long chat and giggle was had about Goth as a musical subculture. Marvellous.

I also managed quite a bit of walking around Hull - unexpectedly encountering the very fine Cholera Monument which has these words written at the base of its big obelisk:
this monument
erected by the Hull General Cemetery
with the aid of private subscription
was set here to commemorate
the great visitation of cholera
during the months of July, August and September 1849
and to remember
the 1,860 in habitants
1 in 43 of the population
of this town
who fell victim to that
fearful disease
700 of whom
are buried near this

I don't have a good enough image to share as it was too dark for my cameraphone to take an image and the film on my regular camera had been used up by then.

I've taken lots of pics when I've been out and about and also took some instant pictures at a friends wedding - the later mostly came out okay and she was very pleased with them but they confirmed that my photographic pleasure doesn't come from taking pictures of people and events but of places and things. I'm really pleased with a couple and already have plans to use them to make cyanotypes and anthotypes. One thing I am really excited about starting back at big school is getting access to professional printing facilities again. I'm also looking forward to being able to borrow different kinds of cameras too - even though each camera is a learning curve and it takes a few goes to get used to a new viewfinder and the view from that viewfinder.

Well it's taken me quite a while to write this - it's quarter to three now and I started about eleven am - though I have had breaks with for lunch and a couple of social media breaks too, how long taks take is something that's on my mind at the moment too but I feel like I've got one more thing ticked off my to do list and collated some of my thoughts to do with authenticity.

Still to do on my to do list is lots of reading - I want to finish The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Gaskell that I started a couple of weeks ago, reread Dracula, Barthes Mythologies, and something that is nothing to do with any of my formal studies as one thing I also need is a proper break from them at times too. One thing I don't need though is anymore stationery for the time being - in fact if anything I've probably got enough notebooks to 'see me out'.

sitting at desk can also be trip to library, archive, making/ taking pictures
** as a diehard Victoria Wood and Acorn Antiques fan - it'll always be Manchesterford to me...