Wednesday, 9 December 2015

MA-Mess Year 2 Term 1 Week 13 - Blog Slog, Printing, Writing, Reading and the reverse of the Talking Heads instruction Stop Making Sense

this weeks post it note - mostly made up of quotes, fab events and argh-ness
Mapp doing her best to help.....

It's been a really busy few days and it has been really increasingly hard over the last few weeks to keep going - a mix of insomnia, ongoing upset and distress given the accumulation of recent events have left me struggling to concentrate and make sense of things...but I have kept plodding on. But it really does feel like plodding at the moment - plodding with a heavy backpack uphill through treacle and with a badly drawn map....though at least I have more time in which to plod at the moment and so I don't feel quite so stressed anymore...still a bit stressed but nowhere near as much as I did...but it is still plod, plod, plod....and some writing is easier than others...this is a slog but it is less of a slog than the dissertation which is making me think really hard about - or rather I know I'm going to have to do some very hard thinking about whether or not I'm cut out for/want to do a phd....

So that extended metaphor and musings over - what have I been up to? mostly reading and writing. With a bit of conference going in the middle which was very interesting indeed and at which I premiered my first proper grown up academic poster and got to chat about various things including what's hot and what's not (in a fashion sense) when it comes to clothing for the dead and the reasons why clothing for the dead is so important, murderabilia (until last week I was happily ignorant that apparently you can buy fridge magnets* of Jeffrey Dahmers victims -that raises a whole truckload of uncomfortable and interesting questions) pathographies aka dying memoirs  imagery associated with psychobilly and last but by no means least and way up near the top on the scale of yuck - necrophilia and the different kinds of it. I like to think  I have a fairly strong stomach but I don't think I'd have the stomach for that kind of research, fascinating though it was.

This was at the Marginal Death Studies Conference held in an especially picturesque but also in the arse end of nowhere bit of York University campus.

Other things which caught my attention this last week have included a Don McCullin article in the Guardian in which he said that digital photography could not be trusted and his difficulty with photography as a fine art form. You can read the full interview here, I think he raises some interesting points but I disagree that digital photography is inherently less trustworthy than film photography.  I prefer using film - I like the fuss and faff and time it takes and I prefer the look of the images I make and take on film but either kind of image can be manipulated - right from the way the photographer frames the shot and decides how to shoot it up to the way it is processed and edited. The camera might not lie - but the person using it can certainly manipulate the viewpoint it shows.

The article on peta pixel opened up lots of debate along these lines and also along the demarcation and battle lines between 'documentary' photography and 'art' photography, something else McCullin has strong views on. The quote that stood out the most for me was one from someone called Jim Marton in which he wisely and rightly said 'some people pick up a camera to document the truth, others use a camera to make art. Nothing wrong with either pursuit.'

There was also some discussion this week about the development and spread of digital photography to the point where photograph taking as a skill has become devalued - everyone is a photographer now. I can see that argument but I also think you can see the difference between 'good', 'bad' and 'better' photographs  and there will always be different kinds of photograph taking and different levels of skill. I'm all for the democratisation of technology and techniques because you can still do something unique with it and everyone's vision and realisation of that vision is different.

What else - well a couple of lovely latin mottos:

mors vincit omnia - death always wins or death conquers all
mortui vivos docent - the dead teach the living.

And I think that's enough for hoping that some proper time off once I've finished a couple of things off will recharge my batteries and give me the oomph back to do all the things I want to crack on with in the new year - things like more image making at St George's Fields, more cyanotyping, more anthotypes, just lots more doing in general.

* I have a fridge magnet of a Deads Man Hand on my fridge - from Whitby Museum, it is a a picture of a hand found in a building. It will have been chopped off after they were hung for a capital offence.
The folklore around deads men hands was that they were used as a magic charm by burglars to keep the people they were burgling asleep - the thumb was used as a wick and apparently it worked best if it was the hand of a murderer used. And what is the difference between that and the Dahmer victims? Although neither chose to be killed and made into an object to go on a fridge and Dahmers victims will presumably still have living relatives which in my mind makes them far worse than a hand of someone we don't know and definitely doesn't have living relatives. Plus who is making money from these ghoulish trades? I'd far rather Whitby Museum got my cash but when I really sit and think about it is there really that big a difference between the two cases?

As ever - much food for thought.  

Sunday, 29 November 2015

MA-Ness Year 2 Term 1 Week 12 - Ongoing Dissertation Determination, Walking, Not Doing Enough Doing, Joy of Doing, Poster Meltdown and Lumen-Ness

this weeks post it note - looking a lot fuller than last weeks - got a bit more blog mojo back

Mapp 'helping' with my research - she told me she too was fascinated with Secure The Shadow by Jay Ruby  - the name comes from a daguerreotype photographers advertising slogan 'secure the shadow, ere the substance fade, let nature imitate, what nature made'
a nice bit of doing - a lumen print made using very old photographic paper indeed - Agfa Type W Brovira Crystal normal white lustre and a card sent to me by a chum a while back which I thought would make a nice 'negative' as it's a cut out. This is a photo of the print - I have also scanned it, might try and fix it too but not sure yet. Did a couple of others using acetates I'd initially made to make cyanotypes with - well chuffed with the results. 

I was getting slightly better at maintaining a balance between doing and thinking (which for the purposes of this blog also includes writing and reading - by doing I means hands on image creation of some kind)  but the last couple of weeks that went right out of the window as all the concentration has been on what has become known as 'the bastard dissertation'.

It's also thanks to the 'bastard dissertation' that I am writing this on a Sunday afternoon (which is normally reserved for proper 70's Columbo watching) for the third week running when I normally do it on a Monday but deadlines are fast approaching and as this blog functions as my research journal and also needs handing in for assessment I need to keep up with it and if I do it today it means I have more time to concentrate on said 'bastard dissertation'...

I had been getting more disciplined at going for a walk before settling down in front of the computer but that too had got a bit lost in the midst of bad weather and the bed being so much warmer than the cold outside. But I must remember that I feel *so* much better for doing some doing and going a for a walk too.

I did try last week though to follow my husbands suggestion of going for a walk around lunchtime as opposed to earlier in the day but then it didn't happen as I was stuck in midst of bastard dissertation arguments and didn't want to lose my thread plus the weather was really horrid and so I stayed in front of the computer instead. On balance I think it would have been better if I'd gone for a stroll.

Very glad though that I went for a walk today and also that I went when I did - ie before the weather became really wet and storm force windy or else there was a real risk I'd have ended up in either Kansas or Atlantis. Didn't really do much thinking on the walk though, was too busy enjoying squishing through mud and big puddles in my wellies..andf hoping that the wind didn't blow down any trees or blow the pilot light out on the boiler.

But I forwent the temporary loveliness of the weather on Wednesday morning for a go at doing some lumen prints instead using some very very old photographic paper given to us by a chum. I also used the safe light they gave us too - made poking about in the dark so much easier. We don't have a darkroom but we do have very heavy bedroom curtains lined with black out material so in that room at least I can block out the bulk of the light. There is still a bit of light that comes in over the top of the curtains which I can't block out and a bit at the bottom of the curtains which I can by flattening the curtains against the radiator so although not completely light tight it is light tight enough to set up cyanotypes and lumens - providing I get the bulk of it done beforehand - ie deciding which acetate to use, getting the clip frames ready and the red safe light saves a lot of extra fumbling about on my part.

Can't find a manufacture date for the paper but it must be decades old - it looks like Agfa started manufacturing Brovira in the 1940's and the packaging on the stuff I've got looks quite 60's-70's. I love that it has none of the browny purpley tones I've got with lumen prints before and instead is a quite gentle shade of original paper and blue. I left them in the bright wintery watery sunshine for about an hour - I really must get better at timing things and making a note of what time I put things in the sunshine, but think it was about an hour - it was long enough for me to do some washing up, hoovering, tidying round and some washing and also to check email and so have a mini meltdown over an email informing me that the academic poster I'd sent through for a conference in York wasn't the right size.


I am a bear of little brain when it comes to computery things at the best of times and I googled for how to resize it, asked on Facebook for advice and got some but still wasn't able to do it myself as in spite of following the instructions and getting partial success I couldn't do it....but a knight in shining armour (well a chum in a very nice new winter coat) came over and helped sort it out for me in return for dinner (lincolnshire sausages, mashed spuds and sprouts) and I am enormously indebted to him. Not just because he helped me sort it out - turned out to be quite a simple fix (setting image size in powerpoint before you even start) but also because his saying that he would come round after work and help me fix it (he is a photoshop wiz and one of the sites I'd looked at suggested using photoshop) meant I could stop trying to fix it and getting nowhere and concentrate upon bastard dissertation instead in the meantime.

I am very lucky indeed to have such clever, technically able and generous friends.

What else - well the week before I went to a lecture at Thackray Medical Museum which was partly about the use of puppets in theatre and featured the story of a woman called Anne Green who in 1650 was sentenced to death and dissection for infanticide (it was a crime then to not reveal if you were pregnant and you then miscarried - if this happened you were considered to have brought about the miscarriage on purpose) but who revived on the dissection table and whose first words when she properly came round were 'behold god's providence'. She was helped in this coming round-ness by one of her would be dissectors ordering one of his maids to get under the covers with her and warm her up.

You can see an image here  of the woodcut contained in a pamphlet called Wonder of Wonders which was published the following year.
It was fascinating - both from a seeing how a puppet can become so lifelike that even though we know and can see it is a puppet we still believe it is real and from a history point of view too and from a wow - just how misogynistic a culture and legislature we have had (and in lots of ways still do) and also I am really glad I am not anyone's maid and can't be ordered to do things like that.

But aside from computer wobbles, not going for a walk (as I typed the word 'walk' The Cure song of the same name came on - I am experimenting with working to music at the moment again and have got some kind of 80's compilation on media player, not sure what it was called as when I ripped it, it didn't transfer over the names or titles so it's been a fantastic meander down memory lane so far with wonderful gems from Landscape, Haysi Fantayzee, Associates, Siouxsie and The Banshees, Soft Cell and Japan to name but a few...) I have also done some gazing this week.

I gazed at the buildings being demolished on Headingley Lane - a huge crane like machine with a jaw on the end was twisting and tearing down girders - fascinating to see the skeletal insides of a building - the layers of bricks, plasterboard and insulation as well as watching the jaws almost play with the girders the same way a cat does with a spider - that is tapping and gently holding before applying the killer blow. I was utterly mesmerised by it and spent a good few minutes just watching it and wishing I'd had a good quality video camera on me to record it....

The other gazing I did was at the big screen - the big screen of the ever fantastic Hyde Park Picture House to see a documentary called Star*Men which was part documentary, part road trip and part memoir of a group of british mathematicians, astronomers and physicists who literally changed the way we view the world or rather the sky. Donald Lynden- Bell, Wal Sargent, Nick Woolf and Roger Griffin met at Cal Tech in the early 60's and one of them helped develop the spectrascope, one changed the way telescope mirrors were made and the film followed their reunion, the recreation of a long road trip to an american national monument called Rainbow Bridge interspersed with head shots whilst they talked about their respective childhoods and beliefs and of course amazing shots of the night sky which thanks to light pollution we so rarely get to see.

Apparently to make mirrors suitable for use in modern telescopes takes 2 days to bake the silica in the oven, 2-3 mths to cool it down and then 2-3 years to polish it!!! - clearly not a job for someone as impatient as me which does make me wonder why I love the comparative slowness of film when I could have the speed of digital...I occupy some kind of liminal space inbetween the two photographic disciplines though my heart belongs to film really.

It was that fantastic mix of thought provoking, poignant and just gobsmackingly beautiful to look at and it made me want to learn more of the stars (I can only reliably spot the Plough) and learn a bit more about astrophysics too. I saw a bit more - I know feck all of astrophysics so some would be a more accurate word to use. One thing that stood out for me (partly because it's one of the things I look at in my dissertation) was Wal Sargents assertion that it was hearing Fred Hoyle's voice on the radio - not just what he was talking about but that he had a yorkshire accent which made him realise that he (Wal) as a working class man could also learn of these things and go to university and how that Britain was and is such a class ridden society. The others in the film came from much more middle class backgrounds where university was more of a matter of course than a rarity. Anyways you can see a trailer for it here  - see it if you can for it is aces...especially the bit where Roger Griffin explains that though it might look to others as if he was in a sulk - actually he was in a misery.

The other word on my post it note is Locarno - when I was little my folks used to talk about the Locarno all the time, which was initially the local swimming pool and then converted into a dance hall and then sometime in the late 60's it was converted into the form it has now - a bingo hall. I didn't know then that Locarno was in Switzerland but I knew that it was some kind of exotic place where all sorts of shenanigans had gone on - girl and boyfriends met. It just reminded me of the way places might change but that the names for them stay the same for some and is all part of the differences of language and how people might ostensibly be speaking the same language but might mean or understand very different things....

It's making me want to visit it - not the part of Switzerland but the Locarno as was via time machine in its dance hall prime.


Sunday, 22 November 2015

MA-Ness Year 2 Term 1 Week 11 - Dissertation Determination, Caffeine Intolerance, Reading Comments on the Internet and John Betjeman

slightly fuller post it note this week and examples of artwork I'm trying to focus on dissertation-wise

This last week has again most been taken up with dissertation and I'm doing this on Sunday evening as opposed to my usual Monday daytime so I can (hopefully) properly concentrate on dissertation stuff tomorrow - have just emailed the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery regarding the signage for the piece 'Sign For Art' (which you can see in the above pic on the left,) and hopefully they'll get back to me pretty quickly and I can crack on with it that bit of it at least. I am painfully aware of the ever decreasing amount of time I've got to get it finished in. EEK and that also I also need to do nothing at times as well just to recharge my somewhat depleted batteries so yesterday I watched a Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes and very marvellous it was too. A bit of old school black and whiteness in which he fights the Nazis is good for the soul.

What else - well the rather gorgeous yet more disturbing the more you look at it 'Courtship On The Beach' by Charles Wynne Nicholls which I had a discussion about this week. It's also taking up a lot of my thoughts. I will be forever in debt to Scarborough Art Gallery and the wording they have next to this painting which states that the book the woman is reading is Lady Audley's Secret - which I am still absolutely in love with...and I have just bought what I hope will turn out to be another victorian era gem - The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins.

Though as much as I love the fashions of the era, the mourning customs, the literature, the paintings - I wouldn't want to live in that time as I am far too much a fan of the right to vote, the NHS, modern medicine and John Waters to even contemplate a lifetime swap. Plus as a woman I would have very few of the legal rights I have today. Though I would kill to be a fly on the wall though - especially say at a time of funeral organising just to see exactly the motivations behind some of the customs being enacted and I'd also like to be a fly on the wall of a very rich person's house, a not so rich person's house and a not rich at all person's house just to get a more rounded view of what was actually going on across social strata rather than just one affluent section.

I wish I had made a note of the Guardian article in which I saw the following comment 'leave the narrative moralising to the victorian throwbacks' as opposed to just the comment though. Bah to my currently rubbish memory....

Walking is not a part of my practice as such - though I do walk round St George's Field a lot and invariably notice something I haven't noticed before each time I visit but I am trying to make time each day for a good 45 minutes walk - partly for health reasons but also because I find going for a walk helps me clear my head and formulate my thoughts. Something I am finding increasingly hard to do at the moment.

But in amongst the downpours I have been out in the sun - and then immediately thought that instead of using this sunshine to warm me up and give me some vitamin d I should be using it instead to develop cyanotypes - not made one of those in ages. That side of things all feels a bit on hold at the moment though - partly on hold because the weather hasn't been too brilliant, partly because been feeling too sad due to recent events and partly because of my trying to focus on my dissertation. I really must take some more photos soon though and develop some cyanotypes - I have been doing a bit of relaxing knitting though.

The first note at the top of the post it note is the phrase 'stations of the cross' - a thing which I've been told is one of the distinguishing physical characteristics of catholic churches in particular as anglican churches don't have them. The reason I made a note was because a chum posted a picture on Facebook of some oak carved stations of the cross headers he'd bought in an antique shop - 14 cross almost maltese cross shaped carvings with roman numerals from I - XIV on them. They were beautiful but had none of the images of the stations associated with them. I'm afraid I didn't pay enough attention when I was little as to which number goes with  which but I was always taken by the one featuring Veronica giving Jesus a cloth to wipe his face with - which retains the image of his face which the tinternet now tells me is number 6 in the traditional version. They were paintings in the church next to my primary school, kind of brass relief modern sculptures in the chapel that was part of my secondary convent school. I'd love to see them again but don't want to go back to school - might have to email them though and see if they have any images of them.

My favourite ones though are the ones in the church on Baxtergate in Whitby - St Ninions which is an anglican catholic one apparently and you can read about it here which is a beautiful hidden gem that smells of frankincense and myrhh. They are black and white framed photographs which on first glance appear to be of people posing as Jesus, Simon, Veronica etc but are in fact exquisite alabaster statues. My next favourite ones are the ones in the hidden gem church in Manchester aka St Mary's on Brazzennose Street which are very colourful semi abstract figurative ones which shout out against the otherwise very traditional white stone walls - it's like someone put acid in the communion wine and something trippy in the incense.

There is also a very wonderful german film called Stations Of The Cross from 2014 by Dietrich and Anna Brugermann which is bitterly poignant but also darkly funny if like me you were brought up a roman. I thought there were 14 stations but I had to look it up to check and in doing so I also leant that they are also known as The Way of Sorrows or Via Dolorosa. A phrase I often heard as a child but had no idea what the adults were referring to - and now I do.

Words are very prominent in my thoughts at the moment or rather the way we use them to communicate but also the other languages we use for communication - like visual language and gesture and I also had cause this week to look up some sign language and thanks to the tinternet there is an online version of the British Sign Language dictionary which you can see here - it's times like this that I really really love the tinternet.

The other joy of the tinternet this week was finding and watching John Betjemen - A Poet Goes North on youtube - you can see it here - a film in which he goes around Leeds in 1968 - some bits utterly unrecognisable and some bits delightfully the same. Best of all though he goes to St George's Field still in the middle of its desecrational transformation into its present form and it is also wonderful to see some of the famous buildings of Leeds - still black with when they had character, when there was still some individuality as opposed to the arseboring and depressing conformity of cities today when all high streets have a similar ring to them of corporate uniform chain stores and all the buses look the bloody same too.

The other thing that struck me this week was while listening to a programme about grave digging on Radio 4, that graveyards are actually full of love not just sadness and maybe it's just recent events that I was concentrating on the sadness associated with them and the pain of loss but it's true - they are also full of love. And you can hear the programme here.

Right best sign off, my dinner is going cold....

Sunday, 15 November 2015

MA-Ness Year 2 Term 1 Week 10 Ongoing Blog Slog, Caligari's Cabinet, Funerals and Concentration

Not much on the post it note this week - taken against the backdrop of an essay I'm trying to read and make sense of - husband likes it though as he said it looks like one of those pictures within a picture within a picture

It's a very thinly filled in post it note this week - not surprising really as most of the last week has been taken up with either trying to concentrate on dissertation writing or helping my husband finalise the preparations for his youngest sisters funeral which was held on Thursday.

All funerals are sad occasions (unless you really disliked the deceased I suppose or had no deep emotional relationship with them) and this funeral was especially sad for various reasons. I also find that each funeral you go to reminds you of all the other funerals you've been to,  so there is an accumulative kind of sadness too. As well as the certain and depressing knowledge that you will end up in the same situation again - either as the deceased yourself though you'll likely have no awareness of that or as the heartbroken bereaved as more of your relatives and close friends die and the fervent hope that either of those circumstances are a very long way off indeed.

Again it's really brought home to me that the victorian graveyard and victorian mourning customs aesthetic that I love so much is also born in and of heartache and I think I need to think a bit more about this and the ethics of using it for my own artwork - I use images of gravestones of people so long dead that they have no living relatives so as not to offend, but even so is it right that I am using personal grief and sadness made public as inspiration? Is it more or less ethical to use someone else's as opposed to my own grief? Like I said more thinking needed about this.

I must be honest I did find myself looking at the flower displays at the crematorium and the dress of the undertakers and thinking of their historical and social origins and I also noted the overt christian symbolism within the chapel which was removable - unlike the cross shape in bricks on the crematorium chimney and then thought I was being disrespectful thinking about such things as really I should have been concentrating on my sister-in law, one thing is for definite though I will never again hear Karma Chameleon by Culture Club again without immediately thinking of her.  

I think that's why the quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet struck me as her death is the latest in what feels like a long and sad list of illnesses and losses. I  read it on an Archers related discussion group - I have long listened to the Archers, ever since I left home and became addicted to Radio 4 as the sound of voices made me feel less lonely. At the moment there is a character Rob who is a grade a twunt - misogynistic, controlling, gaslighting and he basically makes my skin crawl. I can't bear to listen to it when he is on and the sooner he comes to a sad and sorry end on the end of some sharp farm machinery or a bulls horn the happier I'll be. By the way I do know it is fictional - but this fiction is uncomfortably true to life and so I often don't listen to it anymore but instead find out what has happened via the discussion group.

Anyway that is a very roundabout way of saying where I heard the quote 'when sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions'. And thanks to the tinternet age I can just type it into a search engine and be told where it comes from - as opposed to ploughing my way through each of Shakespeare's plays until I found it. The tinternet tells me it is from Hamlet and is spoken by Claudius to Getrude.
This in turn reminds me of the other ways I've found things which have gone on to be inspirational, comforting, interesting or a source to be further researched - I wouldn't have got into Magritte if Gary Numan hadn't used one of his paintings The Pleasure Principle (Portrait of Edward James) from 1937  as both the inspiration for the title and cover image for his 1979 album The Pleasure Principle (which I still have on very crackly vinyl and very marvellous it is too) - you can see a version of the painting and a copy of the album cover side by side here and I wouldn't have found out about the life of Leon Trotsky if it hadn't been for hearing about him in the Stranglers song Heroes and you can hear a version of that song from 1977 here though of course when I found out more about both of those things by looking them up in the encyclopedias held in the school library rather than typing the details into a search engine.

Which is another roundabout way of saying that my opening quote for my dissertation (which deals with my relationship with the use of language around art) doesn't come from an artist or a book about art but a writer - my beloved Joyce Carol Oates. And I got into her work by coming across a copy of her incredible book My Sister My Love from 2008 in a charity shop. It is a reimagining of the Jon Benet Ramsey case but with ice skating as opposed to beauty pageants as the background. It is incredibly difficult and painful reading but very wonderful too and if you haven't read it - I would urge you too, or anything by her really as her work is incredible - powerful, thought provoking, clever, insightful, disturbing, and just wonderful.

The dissertation is another reason why the post it note is so empty compared to usual - as in the time that hasn't been taken up with funeral prep and travelling to and from (it involved an overnight stay) has been mostly taken up with it. But I am finding it much harder than this blog aka my research journal and each word is torturous to write. But I have at least drafted the introduction, decided on my source material and key texts....just got to finish the thing now - but given everything that's going on at the moment - really struggling to concentrate on it.

Which is where the 'working late' note comes in on the post it note - as that's what I've been having to do to make any kind of noticeable progress, but other thigs which I have done this week are:
finishing and mailing off academic poster to York University for a conference next month.
contacting the researchers suggested by York University as being useful to speak to as their research is in similar fields to mine.
contacting the Gothic Studies group at Sheffield University for the same reasons.

The note gallery manners refers to a meeting that was cancelled at very short notice for the third time - am reminded of Oscar Wilde's maxim 'to loose one parent looks like carelessness and to lose both looks like carelessness' and it's tricky. It's a local gallery and one day I'd like to have work on show there - so am reluctant to name them - but equally if this is how they treat prospective clients of their gallery then do I really want to be involved with them? Anyway I'm going to take a chickeny approach and so won't name them publicly on here - but will name them if you ask me in person.

There was something nice in the week though - even if my concentration drifted at times whilst watching it and listening to the wonderful sound of the accompanying organ and that was the screening of the Cabinet of Dr Caligari at Leeds Town Hall as part of the film festival. The only film festival screening I've been to this year - some years we've done the get 6 tickets for the price of five (carefully researching each film on the tinternet first - a lesson learnt after we saw a film called Heretic which was potentially a really good story let down by v poor camera technique - so swimmy was the handheld camera that it made me feel sick at oner point and someone asked in the Q+A afterwards - why didn't they a tripod and the acting was a bit sixth formy too) and one year we went for broke and got passes. At one point I saw 6 films in one day. And by the end was almost begging my husband to let me stay at home and not make me go to the cinema - words which normally never issue from my lips as watching films is one of my very favourite things to do.

I'd not seen the Cabinet of Dr Caligari in one go all the way through before and it was a treat and it was also a treat to see just how influential it was in terms of set design on one of my very favourite films - Son of Frankenstein from 1939 which features so many of my favourite actors - Bela Lugosi (who this blog and my twitter is named after) Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone (my favourite Sherlock Holmes to watch though John Moffat is my favourite Sherlock to listen to) and Lionel Atwill. If you haven't seen it - then do as you're in for a treat - the relationship between the Creature and Ygor is glorious as is the set design.

And in other film news - very glad to have spread the love of Douglas Sirk films to my tutor, I heard of Douglas Sirk through reading about John Waters film Polyester - which is his (Waters) homage to Sirk. If you haven't seen a Sirk film then you must - the colour and sets are utterly sumptuous, and whilst they may appear a bit hammy and schmaltzy and superficial they are actually insightful and quite devastating critiques of the social hierarchy of 1950's America.  And Rock Hudson has never looked more beautiful than he does in All That Heaven Allows.

She did ask me if I'd thought of doing a phd on John Waters but I;d be afraid too - in case I got sick of him and could no longer enjoy his work or worse - found something out about him that meant I could no longer idolise him.

Well that got longer than I thought it would seeing as I've not really done much course stuff this week - this gives me hope for the next round of dissertation wrangling.....


Monday, 9 November 2015

MA-Ness Year 2 Term 1 Week 9 Blog Slog, Making and Doing, Dissertation Determination and Joyce Carol Oates.

notebook I bought from a high street chain and added a skull sticker - also bought from a high street chain - this kind of juvenile wordplay and object changing makes me chuckle - chuckles are in short supply at the moment so anything like this helps

collection of petals from each bunch of flowers I've had since the start of the course - am saving them for use in artworks

work in progress - using small frame (which I have painted red)  with an inch worth's of depth to make a vitrine-esque object using some of the flowers from the orchid which my husband gave me the night we got married - at the back is a picture of the two of us reflected in a shop window in Bridlington - think I'll move the piece of gauze to the back though and let the petals come right to the fore

this weeks post it notes - surrounded by notes for dissertation

Really struggling with energy levels this week - a mix I think of the change in the weather, ongoing sadness given recent events and just general under the weatherness.  I've been trying to combat that with trying to go for a decent walk each day and doing some physical making of things as opposed to just reading and writing. But even the reading and writing hasn't been so much this week - I'm finding it very difficult to sit and concentrate on anything for any length of time.

Though I did get the skeletal outline of my dissertation fleshed out a bit more this week - but only by forcing myself to sit at the computer and not allowing myself to leave the room until I had written at least 500 words. It was like pulling teeth though and in between those 500 words there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth and checking of social media and other distraction.

And some of that distraction was also very fruitful as I now have the draft of my academic poster ready to send to York University for the forthcoming Death Conference.  Just need to save it as a PDF and send it through - it wasn't difficult to decide which of my images to include but it was difficult to write the text to accompany them - writing about yourself in the third person is something I find tricky at the best of times and trying to distil the essence of your work and research in to as few words as possible is hard. But for writing to work  as I read this week - the intent of the author needs to match the intent of the reader too.

It's also complicated by the fact that my work and research is interdisciplinary as it comprises detailed historical research as well as art making but so far my academic outings (What Lies Beneath Conference and this forthcoming one in York) are not art events as such and so to explain what I'm doing I have to include words as well as images. Not that words should or can be excluded from art work but that they are far more of a primary focus in the two conferences so far.

It was nice though to bump into the head of the MA Programme at the Art College in the corridor and for her to tell me how proud she was of the work I'd been doing outside the college and how she'd followed it on the day on Twitter. It gave a proper fillip to my day in what otherwise feels like a long not very rewarding slog.

But it was when reading the bits I have written so far outloud to Mapp (who just listens bless her and carries on with her usual feline disdain for anything I do unless it involves food) and then explaining my argument to my husband that I had a bit of a breakthrough argument-wise and realised the narrowing down and specific examples I needed to properly flesh it out - though at the moment it's still a bit like the creature in Frankenstein's lab floating in the tank and it still needs a lightning bolt of energy to bring it to life.

And by that analogy I'm referring to the tank in Hammers 1957 adaptation of Mary Shelley's wondrous tale which is my favourite version as Peter Cushing is beyond wonderful as Victor Frankenstein in it and not the execrable 1994 version by Kenneth Branagh - though of course to stretch the analogy I really hope my dissertation has more luck than Christopher Lee's Creature....and let's just gloss over the fact that a tank is never mentioned in Mary's original tale and is entirely the invention of set designers, adapters and directors.

So as I am calling the writing of this blog slog - in turn I am calling the writing of the dissertation - dissertation determination and something tells me I am going to have to summon up a lot of it from somewhere over the next couple of weeks.

But I have been doing some physical doing (though of course it could be argued that writing is just as physical and something I think Joyce Carol Oates would be in agreement with) too and I am quite pleased with what I've made so far - a victorian inspired vitrine -esque piece. Need to work on it though - and also want to make bigger ones but for a practice work in progress - am pretty pleased with it. Plus the act of physical doing as in painting a frame, or pressing the shutter and taking a picture is satisfying - and also a welcome distraction from mental anguish at the moment.
One of the phrases on my post it note was 'document slattern' and I'm not sure where that came from now - perhaps it was the auto correct function on the ipad thingy - which drives me mad!!! But wherever it came from I like it - and it also sums up nicely the state of the left hand side of my desk as it is currently a hodge podge of notes, bits of paper and books... and quite slatternly though I have finally got round to taking off the chipped nail polish I was sporting. Chipped nail varnish being according to my mother - the sign of a slattern - along with drinking any liquid straight out of the bottle...

I finally got round to listening to the Halloween special that John Waters and Iggy Pop did for BBC6 and you can listen to it here and very wonderful it was too - wonderful songs and wonderful chat including John Waters revealing that the way to curse someone you don't like is to lick their furniture when they're out of the room. They played some wonderful tunes - including Bobby Boris Pickett and The Crypt Kickers Monster Mash, Tarantula by Jody Reynolds and Ruthless \bitch by Taiirie B which I had never heard before.

So I've learnt some new music this week, some new words - including 'gerund' which means a noun made from a verb by adding 'ing' eg reading and there are lots of new ones - some of which I hate like 'medalling'. But than that could also be because like John Waters - I hate sports.

I've also learnt how to add watermarks to pictures using photoshop (is it just me or is photoshop not very user friendly? I just about managed it with a lot of swearing thanks to an online tutorial but I need to practice with it and refine it as it's not the best watermark - but I only wanted it so I could protect my work)  as I sent off a couple of pictures to be considered for a book cover. They were't taken specifically to fit the brief  which was something that captures the horror of Thatcher and Reagan's legacy - abandoned factories, urban blight, disenfranchised youth but I'm not surprised as I was picking photos I had already taken with a different view in mind. I've asked when the deadline is as if I get chance I might try to take some pics with that brief in mind but not if it's within the next few days as am too busy with other stuff at the moment.

Well am very glad I have finished writing this as I really didn't think I'd be able to find the energy to do it this evening but I have - so that's another thing I can tick off my to do list. Phew!!!


Monday, 2 November 2015

MA-Ness Year 2 Term 1 Week 8 - Death, Dissertation, Discomfort, Donkey Work, Delight of Dismal Weather

Ongoing experiments with trying to extract pigment from flowers - not very successful in terms of colour but am liking the stains left by the petals and stalks and have painted them with matte gloss this time to fix them.

this weeks post it note and notes including a quote from a quote from a character in Murder She Wrote -a clearly inspired by Tenessee Williams alcoholic southern writer who said 'it's art, Jessica, it has to end badly'.  

Image from a pre Halloween shoot at Temple Works using my favourite prop -the many skulled silvery skull I got from TK Maxx many moons ago and how I wish I'd bought the other one at the time and one of those changing light sabre toys that were being sold at Light Night - it changes colour and is really good for making light paintings - not quite as bright as sparklers or burning wire wool but with much less of a fire risk and different colours too.

My work is mostly inspired by death - either in terms of the images that I like and inspire me (skulls are a recurring motif) but I am also a massive fan of old graves and graveyards, victorian mourning culture, anatomical drawings - especially the work of Andreas Vesalius whose allegorical posing of skin stripped figures I adore. These are just a few of the things that I love to look at and read about.  But I am aware that this is not everyone's cup of tea and that some people are actually frightened by it. But as it what I surround myself by I am inured to the symbols of it - I even wear a silver coffin on a chain around my neck which opens to reveal a little skeleton and a lot of the jewellery I wear has skulls on it too.

But to quote a famous line 'in the midst of life we are in death' - which I thought was from the Bible and was also almost used by Morrissey in a Smiths song (Sweet and Tender Hooligan has the line 'in the midst of life we are in debt...etc')but tinternet searching tells me it actually comes from the anglican Book of Common Prayer and never has it felt truer than in the last few months and years. The latest untimely and heartbreaking death is that of my youngest sister in law. And it brings home painfully to me that what I use as artistic inspiration and subject matter - especially from the victorian era - was also likely to be the source of someone else's heartbreak and distress.

Wonderful books like JS Curls The Victorian Celebration of Death, or J Morleys Death, Heaven and The Victorians focus almost exclusively on the aesthetic,fashions and their origins, the growth of the funeral industry but the pain of loss, the grieving process (if it can be called a process as process makes it sound clean and clinical and controllable and it is none of those things) are left out. Of all the books I've read so far on the memorialisation and commemoration of the dead only one explicitly look at this in connection with the monuments left behind - Bereavement and Commemoration: An Archaeology of Mortality by Sarah Tarlow mentions the pain and distress too and how not only were monuments indicative of the wealth and culture and technology of the society they lived in - but also an expression of love and admiration by their loved ones too.

Also on my reading list is The Secret Cemetery by Doris Francis, Leonis Kellaher and Georgina Neophytou but that is a book less about the aesthetic and more about the behaviour. It does have an especially beautiful picture of a memorial on its cover - a kneeling supplicant woman on rocks next to what looks like a carved verse from the bible under a draped cross. It's a memorial in Abney Park according to the cover - really makes me want to go and visit it.

I must also learn to read dates carefully - I think I've said this before but I am a bit rubbish with numbers which is part of the reason I struggle with the more technical discussions of photography as 'sunny 16' is about as technical as I can grasp - and I misread the dates and info on one of my favourite graves at St George's Field - that of gentleman Francis Henry Vant whose death is 'deeply regretted' - he died on August 28th 1875 and I misread that as he died aged 28. He didn't he was 56 when he died but I somehow transposed the numbers. Thankfully no-one noticed my mistake when I talked about his grave at What Lies Beneath - but I need to get someone else to check my maths if it comes to actually publishing these papers. My substantive point re his memorial still stands but I don't want to get caught out by making mistakes like that.

I asked my husband if he wanted me to hide all the stuff that references death that is around the house, and not to talk about the work I'm doing or the stuff I'm involved with in case it further upsets him, he said no. But I will bear it in mind more closely over the next few weeks as my going 'wow' at an especially impressive monument or exclaiming my delight in learning a new post mortem fact might be insensitive.

When a good friend died unexpectedly a couple of years ago I remember another friend saying that at our age this is what we have to look forward to - the loss of loved ones. It made me wince - I am lucky that I still have both my parents around and all my siblings but it does make me feel like stamping my feet like a teenager and saying 'it's not fair' and retreating to my room and playing music very loudly. The advance of years makes me look back on my teenage and early twentied self and think 'yep' - there were problems at the time but here is how to deal with them and I would swap those problems for the heartbreak of recent times in an instant.

I used to collect grave poetry and I still do - but now I make a note of the person whose grave it has come from - it seems only manners to make a note of their name and details when I might use the poem dedication as inspiration for something of my own. I feel a little bad that two of the images I have used the most - an angel from a grave in Cleethorpes I didn't make a note of the names, though the other image was an anonymous bunch of daffodils secured to a bench in St Marys Churchyard Whitby. In the same way that I  need to acknowledge references and sources in my dissertation - I need to do the same with my photographic work too. Sometimes the statues I picture have a name of the artist/worker who created them but not always but it should be possible to work out as most cemeteries have an attached stonemason that you have to use so even if I cannot credit the individual worker I could credit the firm.

And speaking of dissertations - had a meeting with one of my tutors on it last week and got some useful feedback and pointers on how to take it forward but I am finding it a hard slog at the moment - same as this blog (a condition I refer to as blog slog) and I am going to have to apply the same determination to get it done as I do to this blog...but right now I'm struggling with finding that determination and an advancing deadline isn't helping either as it is still too far away to make me really panic...but annoyingly it is near enough to make me anxious. Especially if I want to keep up my score when it comes to marking...

I have done some reading and planning and come up with a sort of title and chapter headings but I have yet to put fingertip to keyboard - though I have put pen to paper. I really must transfer those notes into legible typed sentences soon though. Especially as my days are full over the next few days with other stuff and it'll be a while til I can fully concentrate on it again.

The discomfort in the title isn't related to my subject matter as such but to my feet and suffering for my art earlier this week when taking advantage of the mist and murk and taking photos in both St Matthews Cemetery in Chapel Allerton and St George's Fields. I set off in my pink fake DM's forgetting that they are only fit to last for one winter before cracking and letting in water and after half an hour of tromping about on the wet grass I had feet that could best be described as 'swampy' but it was worth it though as I got some pics I am well chuffed with - used 35mm b+w film - one roll was the stuff packaged and sold by First Call Photographic and the other was Ilford Pan 400. Took pictures of my favourite graves and views and am looking forward to getting some of them printed up. Especially as it's looking like I might be having a solo exhibition in the New Year and so feel the need for new images - watch this space for further details.

I will have to get another pair of winterproof boots...

Donekywork is how that side of things feels a bit at the moment - ie repetitive and not very rewarding unlike taking pictures - which I am enjoying doing. Have taken lots over the last couple of weeks. Am enjoying using the crap kids digital as well as the canon I got for a fiver from the charity shop and I got my husband a lovely old bakelite camera which takes 127 film last week. Not that being bought an old camera would take away the pain of losing his sister but  because I thought it would bring a smile to his face temporarily and he could have fun using it in the future so it would be worth it.

I don't like weather like this (ie foggy as fuck)  when it causes accidents or interferes with people's travel plans but I do love it when it comes to taking photographs - as it makes everything look so creepy and murky - I finished off a roll of film this morning whilst on a mist infused walk round the bridlepath but as I took those on poundshop colour film I'll have to wait to get them developed to see them.

Earlier this week the computer decided to have one of its hissy fits and in spite of the green light flashing on the tinternet booster signal thingy that sits on top of one of the speakers (if it's flashing it means the tinternet is working) and the tinternet working on the tablet thingy it insisted that the tinternet was down. And so I couldn't do what I normally do which is have social media channels open at the same time as I sit at the computer working and so I had to completely concentrate upon the tasks in hand as opposed to flitting from one site to another when I get bored. Instead I had to concentrate on what I was doing - namely some dissertation prep and catching up with updating my bibliography and lists of films watched and books read. So much so I'm almost completely up to date with it - just got the wonderful Tiger Lillies performance to add. Saw them on Halloween at the Howard Assembly Rooms. And very marvellous they were too.

I'd never seen them before but had heard of them and got tickets because a) I'd heard chums speak highly of them and b)  they were doing the songs of Cole Porter and I love Cole Porter songs. They made wonderful versions of them - they had an electric double bass, a theremin, a piano accordion, a home made banjo, a grand piano and best of all a saw and a vocalist whose strange strong falsetto was entrancing to listen to. I absolutely adore the sound of the saw and their versions of Love For Sale, Anything Goes highlighted the seedier more depressing aspects of those songs. Utterly enchanting mix of pathos, filth and humour and we got a cd afterwards (I'm not a download type person) - and the Tiger Lillies signed it too. I really like being able to buy work direct from the artist. Going to go and listen to it now.    

Monday, 26 October 2015

Ma-Ness Year 2 Term 1 Week 7 - Gothic Manchester, Papers, Picture Taking, Attempts At Reading and that kind of stuff...

this weeks post it note - looking a little emptier than previous ones as been concentrating upon one main task - namely getting paper ready and practising it for Gothic Studies What Lies Beneath Conference - hence rather snazzy wristband - not worn anything like it since going to Infest way back in 2008, also note clear promotional glasses case given away by high street chain of opticians - painted over their logo with black metallic acrylic paint - but I doubt it's very permanent - think the paint used on model kits might have been better (and would certainly smell nicer), then stuck a skull image on it and then covered with gloss medium...way better than walking round as an advert for somewhere I don't especially want to advertise for nothing.
Pic of me in action at What Lies Beneath Conference - very relieved that it went so well and my classic anxiety dreams of losing shoes so being barefoot and because they were high heels too short to reach microphone didn't come to pass - also met lots of lovely peeps, learnt some new stuff, heard of work by two artists I'd not heard of who I need to find out more about, ate amazing necromonicon cake as well as dirty but delicious clown food at lunchtime and took some pictures of reflections in mancunian puddles   

ongoing attempts to capture colour/image from begonia and african violet flowers - not quite the colour I want but liking the marks left on the page anyway, next stage is to varnish these with gloss or matte medium

Last week I was mostly putting the final touches to my first proper grown up academic paper 'That's About The Bones Of It' for the Manchester Metropolitan University Gothic Studies Department Conference. I had written the bulk of it a week last Sunday and so had time to print it out, practice it, and refine it. I decided to take out certain bits - I was on the Sickness and Death panel and it was clearly labelled and described as such in the programme but even so I erred on the side of caution when it came to discussing certain aspects of the death of named individual newborn children in the burial records as I didn't want to unduly upset anyone in the audience - this is because a chum of mine has recently gone through a similar bereavement and I would hate to be unintentionally insensitive. I know that could be applied to any bereavement but the details of these children was so especially heartbreaking I changed my mind about talking about it - I would however be more comfortable about including their details in a paper and might still do so - with a suitable disclaimer that is.

So I took out specifics and talked in generalities instead. Aside from my loving the aesthetic of victorian graveyards - one of the other reasons I love using such spaces as background and inspiration for artwork is whilst there may be descendants there are no living relatives and so my chances of offending anyone is lessened. Plus by using a no longer active as burial ground as a background for my work I am not going to interrupt or disturb any services being held there for the newly bereaved and grieving families.

But even though I had left myself plenty of time to get it finished it still felt quite stressful getting it ready - I think that was mostly because a) I'd not quite done anything like that before  - I mean I had done presentations at college and for WI groups and read work at Headingley Literature festival but in my head this was something bigger and scarier than that as it needed to have 'academic rigour' and b) the self imposed deadline of having it ready a day or two before it was actually needed - as I wanted to email it through - I took a paper copy of my accompanying speech but I wanted the powerpoint slides I'd put together (all 36 of them containing specially resized images - which I'd individually resized using Paint but thanks to a conversation in the Print Room and my moaning that doing it individually had taken for-effing ever, I know now of a way to do images in bulk using Photoshop....) emailed through in advance as that way I knew they'd be available on email - as well as on my little memory stick shaped like a little black rubber skeleton that my lovely ever supportive husband bought me last xmas. I have a horror of technology not working...and this time I didn't spend hours either using exactly the gothic typeface I wanted as last time I did that - it wasn't supported at the other end and so showed in an ordinary font, I took the view that as long as it was legible it would be okay. And it was.

I also wasn't sure how big the audience would be or what the room would be like I would be talking in - in the event there were some 120 tickets sold for the event and it was deep in a former cinema with little stage in the basement of 70 Oxford Road - an address which may be more familiar to some of you as the Cornerhouse. Plus as a member of the panel I had to sit on that stage with the other paper givers until all three of us had delivered our papers and answered questions. I hope I answered the questions I had okay - and I had that uncomfortable contradictory feeling of relief when a question wasn't for me mixed with 'oh,no-one wants to ask me a question'....and then panic when they actually did...

Plus as I am from Manchester - or rather Manchesterford as I prefer to call it, and used to go to 70 Oxford Street when it was known as the Cornerhouse - there was something especially lovely about having my artwork on show in there - even temporarily in a resized format on a screen.

But I must be honest I did reach a point on Thursday evening where after working on it almost solidly for two full days that I was sick of the sight of it - my paper was just over 3,000 words (I was told it could be no more than 20 minutes so I looked at the word count of the timed 10 minute presentations I'd done for college and they were 1500 words so I just doubled it) and perhaps this doesn't bode well when it comes to a) writing my dissertation which has to be around 8,000 words and b) articles to be published - the most obvious opportunity for me are looking for articles that are 5,000 and c) if I do go on to do a practice based phd that's going to need at least 40,000 words along with a solo exhibition...maybe it's just because I was tired and because it's the anniversary of sad occasions and well anyway it's certainly something for me to think about.  I copy and paste each of these blog posts into a word document and print them off - so it can be easily handed in as my research journal and they have got a lot longer each term. The amount of paper they take up seems to be doubling each term - the second term was twice the thickness of the first and the third twice the thickness of the second. Not sure how thick this term is going to be but it is already looking longer again...

It reminded me that this time last year I was doing a similar sort of thing and tearing my hair out trying to email through my first presentation that was going to be assessed - though thankfully I hadn't fully realised that at the time - I had just realised I had a deadline to meet and the presentation which was my first attempt at using powerpoint was too big to be emailed!!  Hence once of my first powerpoint lessons learnt was resize images before inserting them....

I also remembered what a lovely chum from the WI said to me earlier this year that I was the expert on what was I was talking about and that I speak in an engaging manner. And this helped a lot, although I don't think I am *the* expert but I am certainly *an* expert plus I got laughs in the right places - as even though it is a sad miserable subject it also has humour and I got a big round of applause and quite a few people coming up to me afterwards to tell me how much they enjoyed it so I know I must be doing something right.
My slides were a mix of images of my own photographic artwork and copies of pictures I'd taken of original artefacts relating to St George's Field in the Special Collections Unit of the Brotherton Library at Leeds University ( I had their permission to show them in this context but if I plan to publish  this paper with those images then I would need their permission again) - some of the images were from the crap kids digital but the bulk were from the fancy medium format camera I borrowed from college over the summer and a couple of appropriated but credited where from images of All Saints Park and the Sisters of Mercy.

It was fun putting them together to try and make a kind of over arching narrative - my format was bit of why/how I do gothic art, use of graveyards in gothic art, film and fiction with a few examples, specific differences between All Saints Park (also a former cemetery) and St George's Fields - the role of victorian mourning culture within it, class and economics and a brief history of some of its more famous residents - I picked the wife of Pablo Fanqo who was killed in March 1848 at one of their performances when the audience seating collapsed on her head, and Atkinson Grimshaw, a brief overview and analysis of some of the diseases listed as cause of death, the fact that occupations for dead men are listed but not dead women - they are only described in terms of their marital status, and the tombstone and records of Francis Henry Vant whose stone always intrigues me as is has on it 'deeply regretted' and it's not clear if that's his comparatively early death or his actual existence and the in my opinion desecrational relandscaping carried out on behalf of the university in the late 1960's to make it into the park space it is today.

I can't remember if I wrote the words and then found images to match them when I did the ones I had to do for college or if I found images and then wrote the words to match...think I did them in conjunction as opposed to completely finishing the words first and then looking for images to go with them like I did for this one.

I also had some printing done - am absolutely loving the otherworldliness aka shonky focus, warped lens and inability to capture colour correctly that the crap kids digital camera (renamed lo-mo digital camera for the purposes of sounding a bit more professional at the conference) captures - took some more pictures on it today around the woods and I am looking forward to getting them printed too - tracing paper remains my favourite paper to digitally print on. It has such a lovely translucency - as well as being comparatively inexpensive. I really must get those letter written to coffin makers though to see if they have any leftover bits from lining coffins that I could use to print on as well as trying to fins a way to get stuff printed - or rather find the money to get stuff printed on silk/satin in burial plot size pieces.

I took my work down from St Johns Church this week as the Love Arts Festival came to a close - it's so much quicker taking stuff down than it is putting it up and whilst there a couple of things I could have differently - could have rotated one of the skulls through 180 degrees so there could have been one facing one direction and the opposite one facing the other way and scattered them about a bit more randomly too, I was pleased with it overall. It also makes me want in a meglomaniacal way to have a show entirely made up of my own work and fingers crossed there is a possibility of that after xmas so watch this space.

I am in the process of thinking about attempting to combine some of my photography with some embroidery and I was delighted to find some old photos I'd done in the darkroom a while ago that will be just right for this - especially the test prints as I kept those along with the ones that didn't work at all. Plus some of them I am really pleased with as prints - should get them framed really, I'm reminded that it's good to a) not throw things away as they can be repurposed and b) looking at stuff again with fresh eyes is useful as you can see where it might be improved but also where it is good enough after all.

I also went to a couple of things last week that were fun as well as thought provoking - Head by The Monkees complete with introductory talk at the Hyde Park. I had seen the film before but it was interesting to see it again with some new insight - partly provided by the interesting talk given by Peter Mills but also because since doing this masters malarkey my close reading/observing things skills are slowly but surely being honed and Head is an excellent film to closely analyse as well as having a rather wonderful soundtrack - which reminds me I must get a copy of it. It consciously includes familiar set tropes from westerns, horror films, science fiction, romances whilst also making subtle and none too subtle digs at fame, consumerism, pro war tendencies and  it is quite shocking in places - especially the bit where they show the footage of a summary execution by a vietnamese general of a communist fighter (you can see the footage and information about it here) and it is disturbing viewing - not just because you watch a human being get shot for real as opposed to special effects plus the circumstances as to why he is being shot in the first place. I loved the set piece with Davy Jones dancing in black and white and white and black beautiful too. I think I'd like to watch it again and would definitely want to listen to the soundtrack again. The studio related shenanigans to get it made and the choice of actors to be in it was also very interesting.

I also went to see a version of Nosferatu at the Carriageworks by the Proper Job Theatre Company. I enjoyed it on the whole - but I was a bit thrown by the fact it was a musical version of the tale - the claustraphobicness of being enclosed on a ship with something killing off the shipmates was nicely portrayed and there were beautiful visual pieces - where blood appeared to rain down the cabin doors, Orlok's shadow flits across the stage on its own, a blood spattered hand appears at the cabin door, and a face appeared too but it was marred for me by not caring about one of the central characters when there was only 3 (well 4 if count Count Orlok too who you don't really see) - there was the rational captain, the superstitious mate and the fervently christian mate. I didn't care what happened to the superstitious mate and wanted him to fall overboard quite early on, but he didn't. 

My to do list is getting ever longer - and I really must knuckle down and get some quality work and reading done for my dissertation, and I must finish reading Secure The Shadow by Jay Ruby as that is on loan from the British Library and can't be renewed as easily or as often as the other books I have out from the library.

I mentioned last time I had sent off an abstract to a call for papers at a conference in York and I was waiting to hear back, as I hadn't heard from them I emailed to chase it up and was disappointed that my abstract hadn't been picked but then excited as they have offered to pay for an academic poster for me to stand by during the conference and suggested a couple of people to contact about their upcoming conference as they think my research and work will suit it better. So swings and indeed roundabouts.

Think I'd best crack on getting this list written I don't forget everything that is on my mind...


Monday, 19 October 2015

MA-Ness Year 2 Term 1 Week 6 Blog Slog, Distinctive Difference, Special Collections, Invigilation, List Making and Chores

experimenting with putting flowers between damp pieces of watercolour paper in attempt to extract the colour - mixed results, nothing I'm completely happy with but some I'm happier than others 

run out of space on the edges of the table (left has books working on now and right has books working on soon - hopefully) so had to use end of sofa bed. Some days it's a bit more organised than this and more neatly piled and in less danger of toppling but it also functions as a handy press for attempted colour extraction experiments - see above

this weeks post it note along with pot of paint I've bought to paint a picture frame and make a kind of mini vintrine, some utterly beautiful and rather old black and white photo paper given to us by friends who know we love and use such things and one of the books I've been reading this week - others include purely for pleasure - The Tattooed Girl by Joyce Carol Oates and  Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler...

I found it a right slog last week to sit down and write this - a not too different feeling to today but it is also somewhat compounded by ongoing muscle soreness (at least I hope that's what it is) which got lots better yesterday but seems to have returned again today. Arse. But I am making myself do it - as a) writing it up on a Monday has become a beneficial habit as it makes me collect my thoughts and re-prioritise what I'm doing and why and b) handy record of what I've been up to and c) for the purposes of academic hoop jumping and box ticking this is my research journal which I need to hand in again in December for marking so d) writing it each week, printing it out and putting it in a folder ready to hand in makes it a lot less of a mad scramble ball-ache to do that at the last minute.

But it is a little bit weird knowing that your tutor has recommended reading it to fellow new ma-ers...and I'm not sure why. After all I have chosen so far to make this public so why people reading it makes me feel a little bit weird is odd. The fact that it is public also makes me temper what I say sometimes and most of the time I think that is for the best as it means I've really considered what I'm saying. But sometimes I wonder if the tempering is also a form of self censorship and that the tempering is also a watering down maybe...Mmm not sure. Last time I handed stuff in I did add an additional overview piece that was less tempered regarding a couple of art events I'd been to. Mmm as ever - need to think about this.

And whilst I'm reet chuffed with my academic hoop jumping success so far - am also feeling it's a bit of a millstone now too, as in I've got to keep this level of effort up (which is bloody hard at times) or else my marks will drop and in turn the possibility of doing a phd may also recede. I know that it has to be (bloody) hard work and that in some ways it also has to be a complete mindfuck (in a good way) or else why do it? I could just carry on as I had been doing in terms of taking and showing photographs locally but I know that wouldn't be enough for me anymore as in spite of my moaning about it I am finding the theory side of things - though difficult - also enlightening and challenging and in some instances rewarding....

Plus I think as a result my work changed, evolved and basically got better and if not in terms of content then certainly in terms of technique - though I still couldn't explain depth of field to someone - though I know what it is in practical terms and how to use it to get the image I want. I still struggle with the technical definitions pertaining to photography and I would struggle to explain them to someone else but I think I could *show* someone what I meant and what I was doing - I am still very much a touchy feely atmosphere creating kind of photographer as opposed to a technically competent explainy one.

My husband (also a photographer) and I were at a party on Saturday night and someone asked which of us took the better pictures. I instantly replied I did but I was joking - I might prefer my melancholic black and white output to my husbands more upbeat colourful work but prefering is it not the same as it being better and I think it's those kind of value judgements about any kind of artwork which make it a) so difficult at times as the fear of making something that is not 'good' as opposed to concentrating upon how good it makes you feel to make something in the first place and b) so much fun talking about it. But preferment is not the same as 'better'.

Plus I think our strengths and weaknesses nicely compliment one another - I know I can ask him for help when it comes to using a camera, equally he can ask me for inspiration/approach to subject matter. Plus I make him really lovely builders tea whilst he develops the b+w film in the garage aka pop up methlab which I think is an extremely fair exchange - especially with winter around the corner and the garage being cold and damp... 

Along with the paper that was very kindly given us by our friends was a lot of photographic equipment - measuring jugs, a safe light (can't wait to use this as although we don't have a darkroom as such - it is very difficult to see what I'm doing when I'm making lumen prints and have the room as dark as possible and this lovely red light is going to make things *so* much easier) exposure meters, contact sheet - which will form an interesting lined look to cyanotypes or lumen prints done on it.
It is lovely that people think of us as a home for equipment they no longer use but don't want to throw away or sell - they know it will be cared for and most importantly used by us as opposed to just sitting on a shelf being decorative. I mean I'm all for decoration and think that can be enough on occasion but I am also about using too. When we bought the Cocarette the other week from a charity shop I overheard one of the assistants say to the other as we were leaving 'I love it when that happens, you can tell that camera has gone to a really good home'.

Our camera collection is ever increasing - though alas the space to store it does not so the floor space in my work room is slowly but surely getting smaller as stuff piles up round its edges. It isn't valuable financially as we don't have anything that new,that fancy or that rare but is it beyond quantifying in terms of value - because of the pleasure and potential they give me.

They are immeasurably valuable in terms of the things you can create with them - I remember being asked by someone what filter I had used on an image and they were somewhat gobsmacked when I replied none - other than using a camera from 1956 and black and white film. Immeasurably valuable in terms of the way they look - just looking at their lovely oldfashioned filmyness of another era gives me a warm glow plus lots of them have a backstory - either in terms of remembering where we were when we bought it (lots have come from junk shops we pottered about in when on day trips to the seaside) or where it came from (though I'll give the ones we got from Ebay don't have the romantic backstory and it is sad to think that some will be children selling dead parents camera stuff off that they have no time or use for) or who gave it to us.

Plus every old camera we have always makes me think when I pick it up and use it - I wonder who else has used this camera and what for, where and why? Questions not too dis-similar to the ones we were being asked to ask in college on Friday on object based research. We were given 3 beautiful fabric objects to look at - one was a very tarnished and threadbare devotional cloth with what looks like an embroidered picture of St Jerome - as it was a man with a halo, a lion and a book.  It was beautiful and we were asked to talk about it - I was somewhat suffering from a hangover on Friday as it had been gin cocktail tasting at the WI the night before and said 'isn't gorgeousness enough?' in response to the question what was its value and usefulness. For some things I do think gorgeousness in and of itself is enough. Though of course how you define gorgeousness is another matter and the beautiful stained faded cloth that I described as gorgeous I'm sure my Mum would describe as 'tatty,filthy and only fit for the bin'.

It did also make me think of museum collecting and exhibiting policy - is it the establishment view of what you're supposed to see/remember. Who is it that decides the collecting and (had to take a break there to switch off the radio - whatever was on the afternoon play on R4 was bollocks and I could bear the wailing no longer so now I've switched to Belbury Tales by Belbury Poly which in turn I'm sure some would decry as bollocks) the showing is an interesting question.

I am still putting the radio on - as a matter of habit in the mornings but I have worked in complete silence a couple of times last week - the Special Collections Unit is beautifully quiet as in hardly any sound at all except a distant computer keyboard being clacked, the sound of the library bell, and St Johns Church was quiet but not as quiet (aside from our occasional chattering) as there was the sound of passing buses, people using the church as a cut through (I wonder if they noticed they were walking over graves and gravestones) and the noise of people using the tasty, friendly and reasonable Arch Cafe which supports the work of Age UK. I can thoroughly recommend their soup, hot chocolate and cake.

This picking apart of things is extremely useful on one level but also extremely difficult on another - I'm reminded of the time when I was asked to break down the elements of someone coming into a room and picking up a book, so it could be made into a storyboard and so filmed. You'd think it would be fairly straightforward but actually breaking down into its component parts all the actions and elements involved into 'just going into a room and picking up a book' are extremely involved and involve a lot of subconscious thought, planning and decision making. I think that in turn is why I find some of the theory we're asked to examine so difficult - precisely because it asks us to stop just subconsciously doing and reflect on each one of those tiny component parts. I often find doing much easier than thinking about doing - even though I often use the excuse of thinking about doing something to put off the actual doing.

This in turn though feeds into my fears of not being clever enough or being as my Mum would say 'too clever by half' and 'up myself'. This is along with the fear that I am becoming utterly self absorbed and divorced from every day reality along with the general difficulties of being objective about something that is subjective.  ARGH!!!!!!! you can wind yourself up into some right knots thinking about that kind of thing you know - as well as potentially sounding like a bit of a knob and putting people like my Mum off things - I can remember writing an article for a sixth form magazine a long time ago and asking her what she thought of it - I know it included something about Brecht and didatic techniques and when I asked her what she thought of it - she was very proud I'd been asked to write for the magazine but she couldn't understand a word of it and so wouldn't be showing it to anyone.

Little wonder then that one of my constant preoccupations is with accessibility is it? 

I spent part of last week pouring over burial records of St George's Fields in the Special Collections Unit of the Brotherton Library - I love archives - both in terms of their contents and the quirky differences in terms of using them. They can be a bit intimidating though at first but they exist so people can go and look at the stuff - if no-one's looking then what is their point? (Apart from being repositories of wonderful things that are gorgeous)  and the librarians and curators within are invariably happy to share with others the joys of their collection - perhaps precisely because they control the sharing of it so precisely - be it in terms of temperature controlled rooms, whether or not you have to wear gloves, what you can take into the room with you,  and of course unlike most libraries you absolutely cannot borrow any of the items and you can usually only have one item per time too.

Though last week I was pouring over two handwritten heavy rebound editions of burial records from 1861 to 1863 and 1891-1893. Afraid I cannot share with you the photos I was allowed to take as I will need to get permission from the librarian so the pictures I took were for my own research purposes only.

So you will have to put up with my written descriptions of them - or of course make an appointment to go in and look at them yourself. The Special Collections Unit is open to everyone - not just academics and you just need to make an appointment - you can find out their details here. And it's free at point of use too - it's funded and maintained by the university.

So the books are big and heavy - bound in a kind of sisal coloured cover with green leather/ette corners and spine embossed with gold leaf. They are about 17 inches tall and open to about 30 inches wide and each heavy thick page contains 16 records with details from left to right of:

Number of burial within the cemetery eg 41,633

Plot Number
Date of Death
Date of Interment
Name - in cases of Stillborn they had none other than the family surname and Stillborn written - heartbreaking
Cause of death

Place of Birth
Parents names
Fathers occupation
Name of person registering the death
Name of the minister - again the words no service for still borns was especially moving as they were not considered deserving/needing of one (which must have been especially heartbreaking for the parents - if they were christian believers and worried whether or not their little one would be able to go to heaven if they had not been baptised) and the cost of the funeral would have been born by the parish - I read in JM Strange's wonderful book Death and Poverty in Britain 1870-1914 that there is some evidence to show that midwifes sometimes said that children that had lived up to 4 days were stillborn so as to spare parents the cost.

On one level what an absolute goldmine of information - though not always necessarily 100% accurate or legible but always in black ink and cursive handwriting - apart from the crossings out of information and the phrase 'NOT INTERRED' in red. (How intriguing is that?)  And on another level - heartbreaking as some pages were almost entirely made up of stillborn or children. One plot contained 46 lots of human remains and of those only 4 had made adulthood. The reasons for death made depressing reading too and also made me very grateful for the advances in public sanitation, medical treatment, and health and safety legislation.

On one page for the beginning of February 1861 the causes of death were listed as:


Whooping Cough
General Decay
Disease of the Head

Of the sixteen listed above 4 were adult women, 1 was adult male, 11 were children - 6 female and 5 male. 

The 14,614 person to be buried there in plot 1778 was a 24 year old woman called Mary Elizabeth Hibbert - a cloth dresser from Hunslet whose cause of death was 'found drowned'. I must look her up in the British National Newspapers website - an amazing resource you can access for free if you have a Leeds (council) Library card. I searched it yesterday for details of Atkinson Grimshaw but could find no mention of his death in either the Leeds Intelligencer or the Leeds Mercury - the two local newspapers of the time.
General decay, natural decay, decline, appear often - as does consumption, accident and exhaustion.  Times were in lots of ways definitely harder then.

I found the entry for Atkinson Grimshaw - one of my favourite painters of moonlight, mysterious ladies with umbrellas, park walls and Whitby Harbour. But I only found him thanks to the assistance of the really helpful librarian who googled his details for me -  and  then it took quite a lot of looking for him in the register itself as the dates given on various websites that come up when you google him have him dying on 13th October 1893 but according to the register he died on October 31st 1893 (buried on 4th November and the service was done by A Wekkers at 4.30pm) and of an abcess and not the cancer/consumption listed on various websites.  So he is in the register a good few pages and days after he is supposed to have been if you were just relying on tinternet sources about him.

This makes me wonder about the reliability and 'truthfulness' of information and what does it matter what he actually died of - the man is still dead and his family and friends still grieving. But anyway I'm digressing - as ever....

Along with looking at burial records (my life is non stop rock and roll as you can tell) I also took some more pictures in St George's Field on the crap kids digital camera, had a quick and somewhat cheeky shufty look inside what was the Registrars Lodge then the Fine Art department and is now a prayer facility for Leeds Uni Islamic Society. I felt a bit of an imposter but I took my shoes off and only went in the room marked 'Sisters' which was full of women saying prayers, chatting and checking their smartphones. There were some prayer mats - it looked like you brought your own but other than that and a radiator the room was completely bare. I don't know what the other rooms were like as they were marked 'Brothers' and so I didn't enter. But in the brief moments whilst I was there I did wonder what conversations had been held there and whether or not that was the room that those details in the burial ledgers were entered.

I also invigilated for a day (a very very cold day in spite of my wearing multiple layers, taking a cushion, a hot water bottle and having soup and hot chocolate for lunch) at the Out Of The Shadows exhibition in St Johns Church. I invigilated with a lady called Ruth Steinberg who you can see work by here and it was  really interesting to chat to her about faith (I learnt that space isn't regarded as sacred in the jewish faith the way it is in say the christian faith but that time is instead.) and feminism and we had 15 visitors which for a grey cold day wasn't bad at all and some good feedback about the art too. I managed to read quite a bit more of Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler, made some notes dissertation wise and finished reading (with a trusty highlighter by my side) the essay by Alix Rule and David Levine on International Art English along with some work by cultural theorist Stuart Hall which was very intriguing (which is also my code for found it bit difficult to grasp in places) and will need another reading before I think I've understood it properly.

So in amongst some doing I've managed to do some reading too - but my to do list does feel a bit out of control at times and I struggle with feeling on top of everything - even if most of the time I am practically on top of most things as I've yet to incur a library fine or miss a deadline....the house is a bit dusty in places but the washing and ironing are up to date and I even made proper food a couple of nights last week plus I am standing down from running WI Book Club so that's one less thing to try and balance though I still hope to make it as just an ordinary member.

I still need to work on making sure taking time out gets included too - as I don't want to end up like Jack Nicholson's character in The Shining. Not that I think I'd bust down a door or get trapped in a snowdrift (details are a bit hazy as it is a long time since I've read the book or watched the film adaptation) but the sections where blood pours out of the lift and where she discovers that what he has been typing endlessly is the phrase 'all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy' are still firmly etched in my memory.

I spent most of yesterday putting together the paper I'm delivering for the Gothic Studies What Lies Beneath Conference that is part of the Manchester Gothic Festival next week. Or rather I spent a while faffing about on Farcebook (deliberate sp) as I was battling with those feelings of 'will it be clever enough, oh I'm not clever enough/imposter syndrome' and then I remembered what a lovely WI chum told me as I was about to do a talk and I was saying I was nervous and she said 'remember you are the expert in the room on this'  and yes I am - I am the expert on my work and I am an expert on St George's Fields and its place within victorian death culture and I will be with other experts on other aspects of gothic culture so it's going to be a learning opportunity as well as fun - plus it'll look good on a phd application too.....

I've also sent off another abstract to a death studies conference in York but am waiting to hear back from that one....fingers crossed eh.

The other thing which interested me this week was a programme on the radio I caught in passing or rather the woman talking about it - a lady called Rhiannon Adams who has journeyed to Pitcairns Island - my geography is poor but even I know this is a piece of british territory but it is absolutely nowhere near the landmass of  Britain and is in fact in what I would call 'the arse end of nowhere' but she uses a Polaroid camera. And one of her reasons of using such a (now) difficult to obtain film medium is because of it being so sensitive to its environment and the weather on the day will make a difference to how the resultant picture looks. It is a fragile medium - as is all physical film really though some is more sensitive and fragile than others but it made me think of again the magical unique properties of places and how they can be absorbed/affect work made there and it made me realise that I still haven't realised my aim of making work that is not only about St George's Fields but is of St George's Fields itself.

Best get cracking on with that list again....  and one of the things on it - must be to deliberately destroy some work and see how that makes me a recycling and repurposing hoarder feel.....