Tuesday, 28 October 2014

MA-Ness Weeks 7 and 8

Me and numbers are not the closest of friends -in fact wherever possible we have as long a distance relationship as I can get away with as I'm not that keen on them at all. Any kind of maths recalls the anxiety and dread of maths lessons though I did have one teacher who had no eyebrows who magically made maths much clearer for me for the year she taught me. I wish I could still call on her. But hey ho - I just had to look back at previous blog posts and count on my fingers to work out that though I am in week 8 I am writing about week 7.

I felt like I didn't do much MA-wise last week as two days of it were taken up with the Love Arts Festival Love Arts Conversation which was about the links between mental health and creativity and I had been asked to speak at it. Two years ago I'd have laughed in your face if you'd told me I'd say yes to something like that. But things can change a lot in two years and I said yes - partly because I'm much more about stepping outside my comfort zones these days plus I wanted to give something back to an organisation that has given me so much - if it wasn't for Arts and Minds I wouldn't have taken part in Place and Memory and if it wasn't for Place for Memory I wouldn't be at Leeds College of Art now - and of course the others who I must thank for helping me get there include my lovely patient supportive husband and the lovely Jon Eland ex Exposure Leeds and numerous lovely supportive friends who have helped me too.

It was very interesting and I met some fab people and had some very thought provoking conversations (including the ethics of someone wanting to donate their ribcage to me for use in my artwork which then led to me emailing the Human Tissue Authority and I'm still awaiting their reply) and I also helped put up a tippee, saw some wonderful dance and the presentation re portrayals of mental ill health in films by Michael Flexer was v v good indeed - participatory and revelatory and also very funny.

But I digress - something I am very good at, though it does feel like my brain is like a search engine or tinternet provider with anything from 10 to 20 pages open at any one time.... I did plan to go to the library earlier this week as I could do with some of the peace and quiet and learning vibe of the Brotherton Library but I got distracted by shopping for new camera lenses (got a super wide angle one now) and I ended up using the college MAC suite instead but now you see I'm talking about week 8 when I should be writing about week 7......so in order to solve that issue as I suspect I'll be too busy next week to post again if I make the title weeks 7 and 8 it doesn't matter - bingo!!

So big chunks of week 7 were taken up with writing my speech which I managed to read out in front of about 90 people at Leeds Museum whilst images of my artwork and the others from the Place and Memory exhibition from Trinity Church played across the screens above my head and though I felt like the nerves twitching in my right knee might make me look as if I had St Vitus Dance and my voice did wobble a couple of times I got through it and got cheers and a big round of applause. And afterwards both the head of Leeds Mind and the head of Leeds and York NHS Partnership Trust told me how inspiring they'd found my speech. My goth armour of very very big boots indeed and blood red lipstick held firm.....here's hoping they will do the same for me this week when I have to give my first (thankfully formative as opposed to actual hand in mark assessment type) presentation. The fact that I have to do it on Halloween I'm taking as a good omen as Halloween is my favourite time of year - the shops are full of wondrous skull emblazoned tat and this makes me very happy indeed.

So at times last week I was feeling not quite on top of things homewise let alone collegewise so I set Saturday aside to do things like shopping and washing and tidying and Sunday I started work on the presentation and thanks to both a bit of input from a tutor and a chum I think I've just about got to grips with this powerpoint malarkey, and thankfully the Leeds Uni website has a good clear how to harvard reference page and as I'd been thinking about it on the back burner all the time it kind of came together fairly smoothly - though of course whether or not it makes sense and is what they're after I won't know til I deliver it on Friday.  It's about professional context so I have been researching 'gothic' (it's really rather wonderful timing that the Gothic Season on BBC4 is on now) and 'neo gothic' artists and the ethics of my work. Lots and lots of thinking and lots and lots of 'mmm which images to pick to go in it'....

And before I forget I have booked a time to talk to morticians re changes in funeral practices over the last few years and what if any hark back to victorian times (which in turn harked back to the glorious spectacle of medieval aristocratic funerals) and how many 'paupers' funerals are done today and what they feel about photography at funerals......I'm still not sure how I feel about that beyond my initial gut reaction of 'NO'..... I had to chase them up about interviewing them and I felt a bit bad about doing that - they are busy people doing a very important job not flibberty gibbet artist types so I did feel a little guilty and almost silly interrupting them and I know it might sound daft but I had to take a deep breath before I dialled the number but they were lovely and their first words were - 'oh we're so sorry we forgot to call you back - right when would you like to come in?' PHEW!! plus I'm so glad I haven't lost my tenacity or badgering skills.....

I also got my first inter library loan - Death and the Victorian Family by Pat Jelland has come to me via the wonder of the British Library and I intend to make good headroads into it over the next few days, I also made time to go to St George's Field prior to lectures on Friday and took lots of photographs. It made me feel good to be 'doing' as opposed to 'thinking about doing' plus as I was using a digital camera as these were more research shots I could see what I was doing as I went along (once I'd got back out of the habit of raising the camera to my eye to look through the non existent view finder) and so move into different positions better but I've yet to look at the pics I took on computer screen as I've been too busy doing other stuff to properly look at them.....

Time eh? but this week (again I'm getting my weeks mixed up but never mind) I'm feeling a bit more on top of things again - research plan coming along nicely, presentation done ahead of hand in as opposed to working right up to deadline and pulling an all nighter and I've planned food-wise so I can eat a bit more healthily and once that pile of ironing is done and I've tidied my notes up I'll feel a bit better plus I made time to go to the gym last night and that has made me feel better too.

And apropos of nothing other than it makes me smile every time I see it - here is a phone camera picture of a picture of a sand sculpture of a Blue Peter dog from a sand sculpture place in Weymouth. It in turn makes me think of the That's Life badly taxidermied cat and that always makes me chuckle. I have a print of it on the wall above my desk, along with a Man Ray portrait of Lee Miller, a couple of Atkinson Grimshaws - well 3 actually but one is partially obscured and a picture of Whitby - my spiritual home.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

MA-Ness Week 6

Have spent today being shown the amazing and at times contrary properties of liquid light (a photo sensitive emulsion you can paint onto surfaces) saw it being used on stones today and oooh it's beautiful if tricksy stuff. Felt like I was in the company of John Dee and I am now mulling over the possibilities of using it in my own work though I think I'll need some more dark room practice first as I struggle with the technicalities of printing from negatives at times - I wear glasses and find the focus finder a bit difficult to use and me and numbers have a difficult relationship at times. It doesn't help that in photography the numbers for things are (in my head anyway) counter intuitive to how maths normally works - eg a 100th of a second is less than a fiftieth of a second and F16 though a bigger number is a smaller hole (aperture if you want to use the correct term) than F8.....I'm an intuitive rather than technical photographer and this side of things makes me slightly anxious. Massive thanks to Lesley for letting me watch the magic happen.

The other thing that makes me anxious is what I have talked about before - namely 'artwankspeak' which the more I think about is unfair as oftentimes it isn't wank at all but is highly specific language - though this change on my part could be because I am both starting to understand it better and speak it too. This week we were asked to think about our bias and I have many but I've been really thinking about this one and my worries about it are:
  • I worry it is terribly exclusive and cuts out and cuts off people who have with artistic skill and appreciation but not the language from taking part in art in whatever way, be it being too frightened to pick up a pencil to not wanting to go in art galleries for fear of ignorance showing.
  • That it over academicises (there I've made up a word if it doesn't already exist which seems to be the vogue amongst certain of the papers I've been reading) what for me has been up til now more of an immediate response to an artwork - either 'ooh I really like that' or 'that leaves me cold' or 'wow, I really don't like that. I found it difficult to read literature after doing an English Literature A Level as picking apart pieces like that so minutely was both tortuous and torturous after a while.....
  • I fear my inability to speak it is not ignorance but stupidity on my part as I grapple to get to grips with some of the papers and books I've been asked to read.
  • that the more I learn of it the more I'll lose my instant response of 'ooh I really like that'
  • I am however loving the books I alone have chosen to read - Lou Taylors Mourning Dress is an especial favourite and I have finally got my mitts on a copy of Photography and Death by Audrey Linkman - these two tomes in particular will be my research bibles. I am also immensely impressed with my first purchase with student discount of The Gothic Subculture by Chris Roberts, Hywel Livingston and Emma Baxter-Wright which has such an excellent starting point definition of goth that I intend to use it in my first formative presentation in a couple of weeks.

But all this thinking and reading made me realise I hadn't done any 'doing' and I was really missing it so on Friday morning before college started as I had the time I went for a wander around one of my favourite places in Leeds and in some ways the cause of all this over thinking art malarkey St George's Fields. I took some pictures on my phone, thought about other research possibilities into the history of some its communal grave stone occupants and just generally drank in its peace and quiet and then found (not that it was lost but I hadn't noticed it before) the most marvellous standard victorian exhortation for a grave 'be ye also ready' (to be fair they weren't being melodramatic as they surrounded by death in a way we aren't) in a marvellously modern font which shall attempt to replicate somehow.

It made me feel lots better and I think I shall try and make time each day before college to go for a pootle round there - it's good for my soul.

And because I had so enjoyed pootling round there I made a conscious effort to do the same on Saturday - when I went along Otley Road. It was lovely to load up my camera (Ilford Pan 400) and 'just take some pics' except of course now I consciously think of all the things I do as I 'just take some pics' - the way I frame it, the angle I decide to take it at, exactly what bit of urban decay am I asking the camera to focus on. Following a discussion (first proper one to one with my personal tutor which was really good - both energising and thought provoking plus she hugely reassured me by saying what I was doing already was 'excellent' PHEW!!!) in which I talked about my love of film. I have been known to paraphrase Charlton Heston by saying that 'you will have to prise my film camera out of my cold dead hands'. 

There is no romance in an sd card.

I didn't just take pictures though - I bought a couple of graphite pencils (the big chunky ones) from the college shop and also took rubbings of various surfaces along Otley Road - I liked the rusty metal security gates and the temporary but clearly been there longer than intended thick chipboard. I'll take pics of my rubbings (which the juvenile part of me just wants to snigger at) and post them once I've worked out how the new sd card slot thing on the computer works, we've had a couple of issues with sd cards becoming corrupted and a new slot thing (I bet there's a proper technical term for it) has been fitted but I want to check again with my lovely patient thoughtful husband who fitted it how best to use it.

It felt lovely to be being physically creative again - even if I did garner strange looks from passers by as I rubbed away and even my lovely patient thoughtful husband looked at me askance whilst I was doing it.

I started this post on Monday 20th but I've not had chance to finish it til now Thursday 23rd as have been so busy attending a two day event on the relationship between mental health and creativity. I was asked to speak about my experiences with the Place and Memory Project and it was quite something to stand and speak in front of about 90 people in the arena room of the Leeds Museum. My voice wobbled at times and my right knee kept shaking but I had on my armour of blood red lipstick and very big stompy goth boots and I got a lovely round of applause and was told afterwards by a couple of people how inspiring they'd found my speech which was lovely and worth the nerves.

Here's hoping I don't feel quite so nervous when I have to do a presentation next week......

In other news some brief points to put here before I forget them - art isn't just about the visual it's about language, just what are the differences between Art with a capital A and creativity.......

and as it doesn't seem right to do a blog post without a picture here's one of the mourning stationery on display at the Beamish Museum.

Monday, 13 October 2014

MA-Ness Week 5

I've not been up to much this week as somewhat annoyingly I have succumbed to some kind of cough/cold/flu lurgy which put me out of action earlier in the week - though I am fortunate in that I can afford to make an active choice to not do very much at all for a couple of days but it has now made somewhat of a resurgence and has resulted in me having to use my inhaler a lot.

Thankfully though I was able to to rally my forces so I could be fit to go into college for our first 'show and tell' of a piece of our artwork and the second (but first for me) lecture on research methods last week.

And barring one coughing fit which resulted in me needing to use my inhaler I was okay but completely knacked by the time I got home, though I did go via a bookshop on the way home (en route) and bought a book on gothic subculture. First time I've used my student card to get discount too - that felt good and the book has a good overview and catergorisation which I think will help me with my first presentation which I think will be in a couple of weeks......

But in those days when I took things easy I did do a bit of reading  - am most of the way through an Introducing Cultural Studies book, made an attempt to start North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and I have pinned a lot of links and articles on my pinterest board - some about photography, some about body snatching and I did make a phone call to try and set up an appointment with some morticians too and I have been doing a lot of thinking.....about the differences between observers and participants,objectivity and subjectivity, different types of research and how best to further my studies and just generally basking in the fact that I'd been organised enough the week before to have done all the ironing necessary for the week and that there was enough food in the freezer and some home made soup in the fridge to see us through without me having to leave the house to go to the supermarket.

photo taken by husband on b+w 35mm in basement of John Rylands library - somewhere whose archives are on my list to peruse...

I also did quite a bit of knitting - I usually have two types of knitting, one which is easy 'comfort' knitting which I can do whilst watching Corrie, or some other inane but fab rubbish which doesn't take too much concentration - this often takes the form of booties which is handy at the moment as lots of chums are about to have children or more complicated follow a pattern or stitch I've never done before which is done as more of a rewarding challenge. Anyway I now have two pairs of booties which just need sewing up, the start of a cowl and a couple of experimental brooches which may become xmas presents......and I need to keep this up as I find knitting relaxing.....
........but back to academic-ness:

I had a brief chat with my personal tutor and set up one to one times and she said it was good to have thinking time too - especially as I'd been doing a lot of running about in the sweetshop style reading and thinking will help me focus on exactly what it is I both need to do in terms of fulfilling the course requirements but also what I want to do too.

I am still all about victorian death culture, trying to recreate post mortem photographs but also looking to explore more fully the class and death system in victorian times and how much of that still echoes into today.....mmm still got some thinking to do about this and some research and some experimentation and I intend to enjoy doing just that.

My brain did bleed a bit during the research methods lecture though - unfamiliar words and phrases and a general not so much over-thinking of things but what I see as 'over academising' of processes which I find hard - not just because I don't (yet) have that vocabulary down pat but also because I think it can be so exclusive and not for nothing can academics rightly be accused of being in ivory towers....by its nature it excludes those who don't have that vocabulary. My flippant and exasperated  shorthand for this is 'artwankspeak' and though I think you have to be able to speak it - partly because that's the nature of the academic beast and the course I have chosen, but also partly because I think in order to be able to effectively argue against something you have to be able to do it in its own terms and partly because of my own back story and history (meta-narrative if you like) ........but argh it is difficult and cumbersome to learn.

Hmm, like I said though lots of food for thought, lots of opportunity and lots to be doing over the next few days......and most importantly of all I am still loving it :-)

Tasks for this week include:
A proper analysis of Mourning Dress by Lou Taylor
Follow up call to morticians if I haven't heard back from them by Friday
Organise notes made so far into something a bit more coherent

Prepare for first 'proper' one to one with personal tutor later in the week
Get head round the 3 different modules of the course and exactly what is needed for each one.

Not so exciting tasks include: washing and ironing and getting over this bloody lurgy!!

Monday, 6 October 2014

MA-Ness Weeks 3 and 4 - Learning So Far....

I am loving this MA malarkey - even if at times it is making my brain bleed and my arm ache from reaching for a dictionary (well looking the word up online but it's roughly the same thing) but I am also doing my other favourite thing - namely poking about in libraries.

Last week I went to Leeds City Libraries to look at the trade directories from 1851 onwards - in particular I was looking for details of Frederic Forsters aka The Leeds Mourning Warehouse 12 Briggate which sold all manner of mourning paraphernalia including mantles, cloaks, head dresses, bonnets, shawls, widows caps, silks, dresses, hosiery, gloves, ribbons and jewellery and Mr Forster in his advertising 'begs respectfully to call the attention of Ladies requiring Mourning to his large and and well assorted Stock, as he has devoted his entire premises exclusively for the sale of Mourning Attire thereby ensuring them not only every Novelty of the Day but great economy in prices'.

They continue to be listed in either Kelly or Robinsons Trade Directories until 1923, I couldn't find a copy of either directory on the shelves for 1924 and they are no longer listed in 1925, the address being taken over by Flather and Co Ltd Electrical Engineers and Reynolds and Bransom Chemists. Their phone number in 1923 was 22840 though I suspect you would have had to ask the operator to connect you rather than dialling them directly.

They weren't the only mourning providers on Briggate as at 168 there was S Johnson who 'begs to inform the public that her Stock is always large, well assorted and warranted of Genuine Manufacture' and that S.J. 'gives especial attention to the FAMILY MOURNING DEPARTMENT, where Family, Complimentary, and Servants Mourning may always be had to any extent, and of the very best description'.
(their capitalisation) 

I love that Forsters is appealing directly to women and assuring that their wares are both economical and fashionable and that S Johnson is a woman and her goods are not counterfeit. Evidently serious concerns of the time.

It is a wonderful book full of all manner of useful information, including details of churches and cemeteries and a wonderful full page advert for Leeds Royal Park which apparently is the 'best place in Yorkshire for healthy recreation' - I doubt the same could be said now. It was a red jacketed book that smelt beautifully of 'old' and its pages were loose and it left red dust marks on my fingers and on my skirt - which an archivist chum tells me is very normal for books from these times.

I am inspired by the wording of these adverts and of their typeface and setting - I hope to use the marvellous print facilities and the expertise of the print technicians to try and create work that looks similar to this, though as yet I'm not sure what form it will take, I'm still mulling over that.

The other thing I've been mulling over and changing is my studio space - and by studio what I really mean is back bedroom. So with the help of my ever lovely and supportive husband it has been rearranged,  wall space-wise a couple of pictures have been replaced with cork noticeboards and we sent a lot of books we no longer want to the charity shop (4 bags worth) thereby clearing up 4 shelves which are now solely for my MA use - how quickly will they fill up I wonder........

I'm also mulling over a lesson I learnt regarding this sculpture which as a piece in itself leaves me cold but the ideas behind it I think are really interesting so I think I need to learn to look at things a bit more in depth before I dismiss them in future.

I've also managed to read a paper online - no mean feat as I much prefer paper and don't get so distracted by online nonsense when reading a book in the library and finished an article by Audrey Linkman on Post Mortem Portraiture in Britain 1860-1910 which detailed not only the aesthetics of such a practice but also some of the unpleasant practicalities...I will never look at a teaspoon handle in the same way again.

So much wonderful food for thought....so much inspiration for artwork.....  

The British Library has opened it's Terror and Wonder Exhibition details here and I am really looking forward to seeing it - not least because the contents are right up my alley (or should that be right down my graveyard?) and also because last April when I was in Whitby I met one of my photographic heroes Martin Parr who was there taking photos for this exhibition and he very kindly let me take this picture. 

B+W 35mm taken with Minolta 7000
 A lucky chum who got to the opening said that my photos of Whitby are better than his. High praise indeed as I think his photos are wonderful. Leaving aside the highly subjective nature of what makes a 'good' photograph I wondered if it is also something to do with the fact that he is an outside observer as opposed to an active participant in the festival like myself which then led me to think about the differences between observers and participants.

Anyway I haven't seen his photographs of the Goth Festival yet and so I asked my chum for more details as to why she preferred mine and I'm just going to bask in it for a while as she said  
 "his portraits bar a few were just that and in such a good space (including a stunning mourning dress) it's a shame they weren't something more. Not saying they aren't good but Having seen your body of work I reckon they would have looked great on the walls"