Tuesday, 29 September 2015

MA-Ness Year 2 Term 1 Week 3 Running Around Being Curious, Lady Audley's Secret, Painting Petals With Gloss Medium, John Waters, Taking Time Out...

this weeks post it notes - surrounded by my latest ongoing obsession 'Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon - one of my all time favourite books - part of the literary movement decried by the Archbishop of Canterbury of the time 'as a danger to the fabric of society'
experimenting with painting petals with gloss medium to arrest decay 
Well it's been a really busy couple of weeks and I've been looking forward to today - the first day in almost two weeks that I've not had to be anywhere other than home. I didn't have much of a lie in - was doing the ironing whilst listening to the 8am news but it's just lovely not to have to be anywhere by a certain time - either appointment wise or start time or to get a coach time. So I've taken advantage of it by catching up with lots of housework and tidying my workroom and just generally trying to get my head round what I've got coming up..which is loads - in order of priority this week first and foremost is:
Out Of The Shadows at St Johns Church (part of the Love Arts Festival - one of the British Art Show 8 Official Fringe Events - full details here ) and then it's paper preparation for What Lies Beneath - Gothic Studies Conference in Manchester and then it's dissertation.

But I have already made a start on dissertation reading by making a start on the International Art English essay so kindly suggested and found for me by the ever helpful college library staff and it's so far so good...and hopefully by the end of the week I'll have read a bit more of it and when I'm invigilating for the Out Of The Shadows show if I'm not speaking to exhibition visitors then I'll be doing more dissertation reading...and possibly paper writing/practicing.

I don't think I've ever met an unhelpful librarian though there was the time as an undergrad at Leeds Uni when one of the assistants stood over me and checked I didn't photocopy one page more than the amount allowed (can't remember what it was - maybe no more than 10% of the book?) and I was hovered over in a semi threatening manner.

And weekend before last I met another lovely one at Leeds Library (the really old georgian one on Commercial Street) who has said I can have access to their original copies of the Leeds Intelligencer and Leeds Mercury from the 1830's. I have read sections of them online but I want to see them and smell them in their original musty papery victorian form. Early victorian newspapers are very different from todays in terms of layout (not that different really in terms of sensationalist politically biased articles though or the kinds of things advertised in them) and I've often wondered how on earth people read them without getting instant eyestrain or a headache in the days before widespread bright electric light. However an object I saw last Monday at Bankfield Museum in Halifax may shed some light (please pardon the unintentional terrible pun) on this.

I tried taking a picture of it but couldn't get one good enough to share here, so you'll have to make do with my poor description -  it was basically a tall stool type thing with 4 prongs sticking up from the seat with a big empty glass orb shaped bowl on top of each prong. In the middle of the 4 prongs was a candle holder. It was a light increaser for lace workers and it worked by each of the glass bowls being filled with water and then lighting the candle - the refractive power of the water made the light of the candle brighter. Though this one said it was especially for lace workers am guessing there were similar arrangements for use in the home too. Mirrors were often used for making the most of light sources too.

I was at the Leeds Library for an event organised by Pavillion called Little Birds and a Demon - A Live Transmission by Grace Schwindt. It is an experimental soundwork with live and recorded elements and was broadcast from the Sumburgh Head which is on the southernmost tip of mainland Shetland. It was inspired by a conversation with a birder whose job it is to monitor the health and amount of seabirds in the area. It was hard to listen to at times because of the subject matter - the description of the way the oil in oil spills burns and kills the birds was distressing, and there were various different voices - some speaking, some singing and a very sonorous clock plus I was slightly distracted by the loveliness of being surrounded by so many wonderful books in such old grand surroundings. But it was very beautiful and haunting in places and it was an interesting process to listen to a piece with no visual clues whatsoever - you couldn't anticipate what was coming next as there was no movement to see from a musician picking up their instrument or changing the way they hold it, or seeing a singer take a deep intake of breath. I found myself closing my eyes at times so I could concentrate solely on the sound coming out of the speakers. Lovely if somewhat disconcerting too. 

The reason I was in Halifax at Bankfield Museum was for the Conference For The Curious which featured enlightening and inspirational speakers talking about things like who collects, why they collect what they do, what role museums have in preserving collections and making them accessible. There was also an outline of the case of Adolphe Shrager who sued a firm of antique dealers for selling him furniture that might not have been what they claimed it was. There was also a tantalising glimpse of some of the more curious things amongst the collection held at the Media Museum. A fascinating look at clothing and this was especially lovely as you could actually touch the items on show - including a strawfilled bustle and there was a also a vampire slaying kit. I held the stake and the mallet in a Van Helsing stylee. It was a wooden box containing a verse from the bible (the paper looked like it had been dipped in bleach and tea like my tea toned cyanotypes) a wooden rosary but unlike most rosaries I have seen as the beads were all the same size and not indented every so often (I forget how a rosary goes...in fact I don't think I've ever said one which is probably another reason I'm heading straight to hell) a prayer book from the 1850's, short wooden stakes (too short really as to use them you'd be dangerously close to the vampire) and bottles for holy water, garlic essence and holy earth.  

It was of course a real vampire slaying kit as in - I could see and touch it and so it was real. But then there is the question as to whether or not vampires exist - I think they do, if not in reality then most definitely in people's imaginations. The vampire slaying kits emerge in the early 1970's though they purport to be from centuries before, but of course it is in some people's interest that they are real - see also above re furniture. 

And indeed the lovely gift I was given yesterday - a doorstop made apparently/allegedly from one of the salvaged rafters from Althrop after a fire. It's real as in I can see it and hold it but I have no way of checking if this is true - and it is a lovely story (well providing no-one was hurt in the fire that is) the friend who gave it to me said the chap selling them was very unassuming and not like a con man at all - but then if con men had a badge saying they were con men we'd be able to spot them all the more easily. It cost £1.50 so lovely if true and no great financial loss or swindle if not....

So aside from these musings on authenticity and provenance and using railway journey time to start reading International Art English - what else have I been up to?

Well learning that there is a specialist academic search engine - namely google scholar (til now I had just been using ordinary google) and that adding pdf to your search words will invariably bring up a relevant article that you can print off easily. This is hopefully going to make my online research a lot more relevant and apposite.

I also finally got time to go to St Johns Church to make some work in response to it - as was listed in the Love Arts blurb. I was beginning to panic as I'd not had time to go there when it was open to do this but then I thought well actually I have lots of work I could put up and could just say it was in response to the space. But I knew I wouldn't be able to do this with a clear conscience and would have to label it as such and so it was with immense relief that I was able to take and make some pictures last week. Though the relief was somewhat shortlived when there was key related confusion but massive thanks to my fellow ma-er and exhibitor who sorted it out and helped me be unstressed about it.

But still the pictures are taken and printed and now it just(!) remains to put them up...I'm also somewhat amazed that the time taken from taking to printing was less than 24 hours - I used my trusty old point and shoot digital in the morning (the camera I used to create the work for my very first exhibition at Temple Works some 7 or 8 years ago...) and then did some cropping,image inversion and level boosting in photoshop and had them printed on tracing paper the following morning. A chum said it's a sign of my increasing professionalism and skill that I could work so quickly. I think it's also because I have been subconsciously mulling on it and so knew the kind of things I wanted to do as soon as I had access to the space.

I also took some images on film - but I haven't finished the roll yet and so not had it developed. As they are on the roll I inadvertantly exposed they may not come out anyway - though they may also be excellently shadowy...who knows...

I spent yesterday in Manchester (though my love of Acorn Antiques means I almost always refer to my home city as Manchesterford these days) with the lovely chum who gave me the somewhat improbably but also potentially plausibly provenanced doorstop. We had a look round the wonderful John Rylands Library - host to two fantastic exhibitions at the moment and you can find full details of both here. We especially enjoyed the Noisy Bodies - beautifully delicate images inspired by MRI images by Daksha Patel and Darkness and Light:Exploring The Gothic which features gorgeous copies of wonderful books.

It was very exciting for me to see a beautifully aged slightly ragged edge copy of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and to be reminded that I have still to read The Monk by Matthew Lewis (I bought a copy in the library shop before having one of their delicious and very reasonable afternoon teas) and Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (it was once a bookclub choice and I only managed 2 pages and one of those was a drawing) , The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe and the Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole... though at least with that one I have seen an adaptation at the British Library as part of their Gothic Exhibition and listened to an adaptation on Radio 4 iplayer.  I also want to read The Recess or a Tale of Other Times by Sophia Lee. As ever - so much I want to read and so little time in which to read it....I've also finally got my mitts (courtesy of the ever lovely college librarians organising an inter library loan for me) on a copy of Secure The Shadows by J Ruby. A book about death and photography in America.... and as that is on a limited borrowing time I'd best put that to the top of the as yet unread pile.

This was followed by listening to Professor Craig Young's inaugural lecture at Manchester Metropolitan University entitled 'Making A Place For The Dead: developing inter-disciplinary perspectives on contemporary encounters with dead bodies' which was both thought provoking and interesting. There were wonderful phrases that I might steal like 'itinerant corpses', 'deathscapes', 'bodily despolation', the phenomenon of impromptu displays of private grief in public places, necrogeographies and the myriad rules regarding burial at sea.  

But the most important thing I learnt yesterday was all work and no play is an unbalanced way to do things and as well as planning my work time I need to plan in some leisure time too, as in go see and do things as well as sit and read and take and make pictures. And most importantly to not feel guilty about doing this - I laughed lots yesterday - especially at the thought that some gothic critical theory is okay expressed in an academic context but if you were to say some of those things in non academic life and assert they were true you'd likely find yourself on a psych ward for observation* and laughter has for various reasons been in relatively short supply recently and I need more of it.

Watching John Waters at his BFI Q+A session last week also made me smile as well as make me think - I'm struggling to find a link to it on the main BFI website so you'll have to cope with the link to their page on FB here and scroll down to the relevant post. he again talked about how he likes elitism in art and how if you want to be part of a world you have to participate in it. As ever much food for thought...

And I'll leave you with one of my favourite passages/quotes from Lady Audley's Secret - Robert Audley is worrying he is going to be haunted by his dead friend who he thinks is lying unburied in unhallowed ground:

'There is nothing so delicate, so fragile, as that invisible balance upon which the mind is always trembling.Mad today and sane tomorrow'.... but I think this is true for all sorts of situations and times.

So as ever lots to crack on with....but first dinner. I'm hungry.

*or you might if mental health services were being adequately funded... 

Sunday, 20 September 2015

MA-Ness Year 2 Term 1 Week 2 Flowers, Tea Toning, Reading, John Waters and Successful Academic Hoop Jumping.

this weeks post it notes - as you can see lots going on
Cyanotypes in progress - taking advantage of the strong sunshine in the bathroom
pic on the left is of rubbings from a grave in St George's Field, pic on right is a still from Becketts Park Cemetery

washing, bleaching, tea-toning, washing in action - there are lots of uses for litter trays that don't involve cats bottoms
(these are brand new litter trays bought especially for tea toning)

experimenting with arresting decay of petals using gloss medium as a preservative - painted these a few days ago and they seem to be holding up okay so far...

It's been a very busy week and it was crowned by finding out on Friday that I had been successful in my academic hoop jumping so far as I got a distinction for the last module I handed in and a distinction for the first year overall. To say I am pleased is somewhat of an understatement - not least because it confirms that I am on the right path for jumping those academic hoops but also because it makes the possibility of further study as in a phd a more realistic prospect. Plus my self confidence work-wise can be shakey - especially when looking at other peoples and imposter syndrome rears its ugly head so this is a very welcome confidence boost too.

My giddiness and relief was celebrated by going to watch Henning Wehn at City Varieties who was very funny (I was unsuccessful in my quest for tickets to the John Waters Q+A at the BFI or else I would have been there being all fan girly) and this was followed by much fizz (too much in fact and I spent most of yesterday somewhat regretting my previous nights enthusiasm for said fizz) and a rewatching of one of my favourite Hammer films - Dracula AD 1972 which is wonderfully bad and whose soundtrack I can often be found listening to.

So along with drinking my bodyweight in fizz what else was I up to last week? as you can see from the pics above I was taking advantage of the strong sunshine and developing some cyanotypes which I then toned in tea (thought I'd used yorkshire tea but realised afterwards it was trose own label decaf - must use yorkshire next time and more teabags - this was 4 in a big teapot and next time I think I'll use 5) after a few seconds (up to 30) in a bleach solution (1 tablespoon washing soda crystals to a litre of water). I am fairly pleased with the results though sadly one picture tore as I was washing it. I was a bit surprised as this was on watercolour paper and the one I did on lined notebook paper lasted better though I didn't wash that one for as long just in case.

I left these in the sunshine for over an hour which I think on reflection was far too long - think 45 minutes would have been more than enough (but I struggle with the fear that they won't be developed enough...)  but I'm pleased with the tone they've taken on with the tea. One MA colleague asked if one was a drawing as it looks like one. I usually colour photocopy them too and I am happier with the colour photocopies than with the originals. Will have to re-read Benjamin's Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction to see what he has to say about such matters as IIRC his piece was more about the value of pieces as opposed to aesthetic changes but I have read lots since I read it so it's all gone a bit hazy and muddled in my mind....

Anyway the colour photocopies look to me like pictures you find in old text books, I won't put pictures of them on here as I'm reluctant to put pictures of the finished items without watermarks but equally watermarks change the look of the piece in a way I don't like so mmm, will have a to find a way round that one. It's not a problem handing it in to be marked though (which is the primary purpose of this blog - it's my research journal to hand in) so I think I'll just do that...as well as add re-read of WB to my to do list.

I've been doing lots of reading this week too - as well as watching photobooks being skimmed through on Vimeo. It's not very satisfactory as you can't really see in good clear close up definition but it's good enough to give you a feel for the piece and what it encompasses - in this way I've watched/skimread/seen Tulsa by Larry Clark and The Ballad of Sexual Dependency by Nan Goldin as both works were mentioned in Art and Death by Chris Townsend which I finished and took back to the library on Friday. Hurrah - along with a wonderful book called Red which features some of the eerie, unsettling, beautifully moving work by Ralph Eugene Meatyard (what a fabulous name for a start!!) and another book called Death which was actually the catalogue from the exhibition of the same name held at the Media Museum in 1995*. You can see a copy of it here.

All were thought provoking and inspiring and have given me much food for thought and other artists work to look at and explore. They have also given me a sense of 'argh, there is so much I want to read and comparatively little time in which to do it'....especially as my priorities must be over the next few weeks:
exhibition Out Of The Shadows
paper for What Lies Beneath Conference

Though I have made a start for all of theabove - the latter two are more started than the first one though which is something I hope to remedy this week. I also want to keep up the balance I've had so far of healthier eating/exercise and time off so I am trying to plan my use of time better - getting reading sorted for journeys so that travelling time (I cannot drive and so either walk to places or use public transport) can also be utilised. I've got an article entitled 'International Art English' by Alix Rule and David Levine bookmarked for a train journey this week - which one of the librarians suggested might be of use to me when he overheard me talking about my dissertation topic to one of the other librarians.  I've found the library staff at the college to be unfailingly helpful - either with book suggestions, helping me learn how to copy onto acetate and fixing the copier when it jams on me which thankfully hasn't happened for a while...or with getting hold of books for me. The latest being Secure The Shadow by Jaye Ruby. My rule re books are if it's around a tenner on Amazon I'll buy it - anymore than this and I'll get it from the library and then if it is worth buying saving up for it. Secure The Shadow is around £200 a copy so a library copy will do just fine.

I also need to start narrowing down exactly what projects I'm going to work on as I am still a bit kid in a sweetshop and I need to decide which ones I should (no pun intended) focus on. I am enjoying my experimentations with flowers though. I am using gloss medium in an attempt to stop them decaying and it's kind of working so far - but what I am more pleased with are the glossed decayed remains of petals I have photocopied using a black and white copier and which now look like pencil line drawings.

John Waters has been a recurring theme this week (as ever) as I listened to a Q+A session he did with Jeff Koons (which you can see here) at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles in 2014 whilst waiting for my cyanotypes to develop. It was Jeff Koons comment that 'art happens inside the viewer' that reminded me that however much you try to guide a particular reaction in a viewer of your work it is absolutely ultimately up to the viewer. This also chimes in with John Waters seeming view that it is other people who ascribe the accolade 'artist' rather than yourself. I also listened to the interview he did with Graham Norton on Radio 2 yesterday (which you can hear here) in which he revealed that he has a cameo in the new Alvin and the Chipmunks movie which I am going to have to go and see as a result.  Plus one of my lovely fellow MA-ers got to see  his show in London and brought me back one of the promotional posters which features him as he see himself if he had gone in for botox, surgical facelifts and use of 'improbable brown' hairdye. I shall have to find a space to put it on the wall.

Plus both interviews also highlighted for me one of the aspects of artwork that I struggle with - namely my gut reaction either when viewing or making a piece of work and the post viewing/post making intellectualisation of it. My gut reaction happens first - on a very basic level 'do I like this enough to look at it for longer/more closely' and then the intellectualisation happens and I struggle with that as it's that with its jargon that I think can put people off looking at work or wanting to take part. Mmm I need to think this through a bit more...which is just as well as that's what my dissertation is going to be looking at.

Aside from cyanotyping I've not taken many pictures this week - though I did take some on my crap kids digital camera on the way home including one of Leeds Town Hall which I am very chuffed with - partly because the building has a soft spot in my heart as not only is it a fine example of victorian civic architecture but also where me and my husband got married. I am loving the lomo-ness of the camera and its limitations and my husband also really likes the pic as the way the colour has come out makes it look like an old postcard. I'm especially pleased about this as I adore old postcards - especially ones from the fifties, sixties and seventies with their slightly overdone optimistic febrile colourtones.

Something else I have been doing a lot this week is learning new words and phrases - or rather writing them down once I have looked them up in the hope that this way their definition will stick and here's some of my favourites from the last week:

aspersorium - medieval term for container of holy water

ontological - concerned with metaphysics and nature of being
prolepsis - answering questions in rhetorical speech or a representation of something before it has happened eg he was a dead man when he entered the room
aposiopesis - short break for effect 
caesura - point of natural pause
mise en abyme - literally placed in an abyss but used to describe repeating reflections between two mirrors
preterite - past tense

sedulous - persevering, diligent
aporia - irresolvable internal contradictions eg a liar declares all liars are liars

to name but a few...

No wonder it has felt like my brain has been bleeding this week...and it can only get more intense....

* I know I need to get into the habit of Harvard Referencing and I do when I write my bibliography when handing stuff in but I've yet to find a way to make it seem less clunky in this blog....which again makes me think who am I writing it for and why am I writing it - if it is for research journal purposes then why do I wish to make it less clunky as it is only going to be read by academics and they're used to clunky..or is it because I'd also like it to be read by non academics too and I would hence my reluctance for what I see as clunkiness...

Monday, 14 September 2015

MA-Ness Year 2 Week 1 Re-enrolment, Victorian Fabulousness, Cyanotyping, Clumsiness+Forgetfulness, Post It Notes and Joyce Carol Oates

Book marks made out of 120 film backing paper and leftover sticky back plastic

end results of yesterdays cyanotyping drying above the litter trays used for bleach baths and washes
 top row far left and second row from bottom also had additional post development dip in bleach solution  and top row right I forgot to put the negative the right way round - doh!! and the coffin shaped one should have had an image of a dancing skeleton on it but it didn't work - as all the others did I suspect it was because a mix of not being in strong sunshine for long enough and the acetate negative not being contrasty enough/clamped tight enough to paper under the glass.
The images are (starting top left hand side)
reflection of branches in Birmingham Cathedral in digital camera lens taken on crap kids digital camera
dancing skeletons that worked
back to front skeletons warning that death to will come to you the viewer - both images taken from images in textbook but can't remember which one...
pylon near nature reserve in Castleford (aka Cas Vegas) taken on crap kids digital camera
close up of grave details Scarborough Cemetery - taken on b+w 35mm film
as above
coffin shape that sadly didn't work...in terms of taking an image but at least it works as a coffin shape
steps near Scarborough Art Gallery taken on 35mm b+w film
close up on angel on grave in Scarborough Cemetery taken on 35mm b+w film.
All need trimming and framing.

experiments with trying to extract colour from geranium leaves - wetting watercolour paper both sides and clamping leaves in plastic wallet beneath piles of partially read and unread books, so far getting best results with dying semi dried up geranium leaves, fresh ones don't seem to work but do leave an interesting stain which I have (hopefully) preserved by coating with gloss medium. Difficult to do without further dislodging petals - need to work on both technique and maybe get better brushes or use a sponge.

So these are some of the results of what I've been up to this week, there are also some 36 b+w film pics from the tour of Beckett Street Cemetery (part of the Heritage Weekend) which I scanned in yesterday. After my ever lovely and supportive husband did his Breaking Bad impression in the garage and developed them for me in return for tea. Though this was after I had to re-dry them as in my clumsiness and difficulty to reach them down from the shower rail I dropped them in the cyanotype washing bath (a repurposed litter tray) ARGH!! And I am hoping to get the best of them printed this week on tracing paper. I am still absolutely loving the translucency and cheapness of tracing paper - I also need to see if it is available in widths of 1.06 metres so I can realise my plan to print images the same size as the burial plots that were available at St George's Fields....

I'm glad I made the most of the sunshine yesterday and got so many done - though I am also cheered by the news that the darkroom at college now has a UV bed specifically for developing cyanotypes in a comparative blink of an eye (about 3 minutes) as opposed to 30-60-90 minutes. But the luddite part of me likes the time and awkwardness involved in developing them in sunlight in various points around the house and washing them in the bath. Plus whilst I'm waiting for them to develop I can do things like the washing up or make the dinner.

Though the back ache I get from bending over the bath awkwardly to wash them out is a pain  - at least it's more easily reachable in terms of height in the darkroom and I might be able to better see what I am doing in the darkroom when putting the acetate negatives on top of the cyanotype solution painted paper, as opposed to somewhat flailing about in the near darkness of my workroom with the curtains closed....If we had the money I'd have the garage rebuilt to house a proper little darkroom.

I was a bit rusty and distracted yesterday though I think - hence my getting something backwards, dropping stuff and most of all forgetting that I could tone them as well as bleach them. But by the time I remembered I wasn't in the mood for making tea and then letting it go cold. But it was a massive relief when some images did appear and I'm pleased with most of them but especially chuffed with the pylon taken on the crap kids digital camera and the reflection of trees in a lens. I want to use both of those negative acetates again and this time tone them with tea too.

My other massive mistake yesterday was forgetting that I had taken the b+w film out of the canon slr I got for a fiver from the charity shop and had it developed. I had then reloaded it with poundshop Agfa Colour as I had thought about going to take more pics at St Matthews Cemetery in Chapel Allerton  - when you load this camera it winds the film on so you count down from 24 or 36 and it tells you how many you have left - as opposed to all the other film cameras I have which don't wind it on other than to the first frame and tell you how many you have taken so far. At least I haven't lost/fogged any pictures already taken but I may have fogged the film for any future pictures I might take on it. DOUBLE DOH!!!

It goes against the grain for me to just throw stuff away  (hence my using backing paper and leftover sticky back plastic to make bookmarks) so I am tempted to take some pics on it and see how they come out - pics I could easily recreate that is rather than unrepeatable/unrecreateable ones. Plus I realised as soon as I opened it and it was late last night in electric light in the living room and I didn't have either the 'big light' or my craft light on - I was trying to plan my days for this week so thought I was getting it out ready to drop off to be developed and I closed it as soon as I realised. But equally it was only a pound (it came from the poundshop) and it wasn't special film so I don't know...think I will use it and see what I can get from it - you never know it might end up being one of those happy accidents I'm so fond of.

The other thing I noticed yesterday though was not being to find anything - even though I knew it was there or I'd just put it down - the usual suspects that went missing even though they were there were sellotape (I'd put the dispenser back in it's usual place but backwards so I couldn't see the tape in the gloom) and scissors. I'm sure scissors have a will of their own - I have 3 pairs in my workroom - one pair is one of my all time prize possessions LEFTHANDED FABRIC SCISSORS which I bought over 20 years ago and are labelled with a note that says 'DON'T USE THESE ON PAIN OF DEATH OR WORSE' and a black ribbon so that they can't be confused with the other two pairs - my husband knows they are never to be used on paper or anything other than fabric. They were expensive and are wonderful and would be one of the things I would consider fighting flames for to rescue should we ever have a fire. The other two are just inexpensive ambidextrous stationery scissors and both are in the pen pot where they normally live...but both kept disappearing yesterday - note to self when using scissors put them back in the pot as opposed to just putting them down as I'll be picking them up again in a minute as that isn't a timesaver as I then can't find the bloody things....

Friday was re-enrolment in person and it was exciting to see all the new faces (a couple of whom I already know) signing up - they have the next couple of weeks as induction before lectures proper start again - some of which I may revisit. And it was a massive relief that the struggles I had logging in to the online part of the enrolment system had worked and my details were correct. It took 5 goes to get into the system - and that was after I had emailed them to reset my password from 12 months ago...but it's done now - hurrah!!

Plus it was also lovely to see my fellow ma-ers too and catch up with what they've been doing over the summer and plan a bit for the next few months like where to have our final show and doing our own crits. Hopefully we'll get back what we handed in for assessment in August back so I can show physical items rather than this blog. Plus we found out that we all passed - hurrah but I'm still very keen to know my mark seeing as I am a) a girly swot and b) am enjoying jumping academic hoops and c) am thinking of doing a practice led phd and high marks may make that process easier.

What hasn't been easy has been my reading the last couple of weeks - well some of it was easier than others and some of it was pleasure but some of it was and is very painful indeed. The easiest and most pleasurable in terms of feeding my obsession with all things victorian (well not all things - not keen on rickets, workhouse system though am beginning to wonder if it was in some ways preferable than current benefit sanctions in at least you got some food and some physical shelter, lack of antibiotics, lack of effective accessible contraception, position of women in society, disenfranchisement of a huge swathe of society, living conditions, imperialism, jingoism, colonialism ....) was the book Jeremy Paxman wrote (or rather had big chunks of written for him) to accompany his series from a while back - The Victorians: Britain Through The Paintings Of The Age (BBC Books 2009) which is an interesting overview of the period as well as a collection of some of the most wonderful paintings.  It is thanks to a painting by Charles Wynne Nichols that I saw in Scarborough Art Gallery and promptly feel in love with - and which you can see here along with others by him that I started reading Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon.(Oxford University Press edition from 1987 but it was originally published in installments in Robin Goodfellow magazine in 1861)  I also persuaded WI Book Club to read it too and I am absolutely loving it  - the writing is exquisite plus it is written both in and of it's time and by a woman. 

Plus I have used the chapter titles as titles for some of my pieces of work - including the image I submitted through Curator Space for consideration to be included in the 'Imaginary Museum, Mapping Memory' piece. And I am slowly getting into the habit of writing page numbers down as I make quotes and using post it notes to mark places when there has been something especially quoteworthy.

The other book that has been pleasantly difficult but wonderful too has been The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates published by Fourth Estate in 2013 - it's long, has many characters, an overall narrator that stresses their qualities as a historian but then tells the story from different points of view of the characters involved and in different ways of telling - some are as an apparent observer, some are said to be journals or letters. But it is also utterly entrancing and disturbing - like many of her works - Zombie made me reach for pictures of kittens every few pages just to restore my equilibrium. The Accursed is set in Princeton in 1905-6 and centres on the curse visited upon the Slade and Wilson family. But there were some passages that absolutely stood out for me:

from page 132
Though it is the rare historian who will speak candidly of such matters, all of us who are engaged in the rendering of the past – by way of amassing, selection, and distillation of a multitude of pertinent facts – are commonly beset by two dilemmas: the phenomenon of simultaneity of event and the phenomenon of the authenticity of evidence.

from page 180 Postscript: The Historians Dilemma
‘perhaps it is the historians dilemma: we can record, we can assemble facts meticulousy and faithfully, but only to a degree can we interpret. And we cannot create.’  

And from page 669 in the Acknowledgements section
The truths of Fiction reside in metaphor, but metaphor here is  generated by History.

But the most difficult book I'm reading at the moment is Art and Death by Chris Townsend published by IB Taurus in 2008. Difficult because of it's dense text, presumed familiarity with philosophical concepts and works by Derrida, Barthes, Foucault and words that I do not know and so have given me RSI as I have had to continually reach for the dictionary.  But I can now add the following to my vocabulary:
sedulous = persevering. diligent
meretricious (which I thought meant something to do with lying) but in fact means showily attractive or flashy 
ludic = playful
aporia = irresolvable internal contradiction eg a liar declares all liars are liars...
prosopopeia = figure of speech in which an abstract thing is personified

Frankly it made my brain bleed - both in a good and a bad way and has given me much thought for my own work and an analysis of others too. Plus it feeds nicely into what I want to do my dissertation on - namely the use of language around/in/about art. I've got a rough plan which I hope to go through and flesh out a bit with my tutor this week.

Along with dissertation (in which I need to learn to cite things in the correct Harvard academic fashion) plus I also need to work on the work I want to include in the Out Of The Shadows exhibition that is going to be part of the Love Arts Festival which opens in October plus I also need to work on the paper I'm going to present as part of the What Lies Beneath conference too.

So as ever - lots to do so I'd best crack on with it...so where is the dictionary and my notebook?... 

Thursday, 3 September 2015

MA-Ness Interregnum Year 1 to Year 2 Not Quite Going On A Summer Holiday..

the last couple of weeks post it notes 
experimenting with geranium flowers and wet water colour paper

It seems somewhat strange sitting down to write this after my self imposed hiatus (post portfolio hand in and prior to college restarting shortly) and it feels like it is a lot longer than 3 weeks since I last sat down and wrote one of these blog posts. It did feel a bit strange on each of those Mondays not to be sat at the computer writing up what I'd been up to, think this coupled with today being a Thursday is going to confuse me for days yet...  but a bank holiday usually has that effect on me anyway.

Anyway as you can see from the post it notes - I've still been making notes on the post it notes and I have been taking photographs too and yesterday I did an experiment with a dried up geranium head and damp watercolour paper to see if I could extract the colour from it and make a kind of drawing. It's definitely made a mark but it's not quite as vivid as I would have liked - so will try it again with a more lively geranium head and see if that makes a difference. I also did a lumen print that I'm a bit happier with - especially as when I covered it post development with an A4 sheet of white paper I didn't quite then place it between two books so part of it got a second light exposure with a very sharp edge - so hope to experiment with that kind of secondary exposure further.

So I haven't been doing a lot of doing - I made a conscious decision to do feck all college-wise for a few days and so instead I have been pottering about shops and doing a bit of tidying, a lot of watching Murder She Wrote, Law and Order and Columbo and a lot of lying on the sofa reading The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates which is a beautifully grim and unsettling tale set in and around Princeton in 1905-6 when a 'curse' descends on prominent society members - it is wonderful stuff and she is easily my favourite living author.  

However sitting down to write this has for some reason been really quite hard - so much so that the phrase 'reluctance to sit at desk' is written twice on this post it note - not entirely sure why as it's not like I don't enjoy the work I'm doing but I think it's partly because I don't feel like I've had a summer holiday as such though to be fair my husband and I aren't really traditional summer holiday type people. Even when on holiday I'm a fiend for museums, seeing something new, finding out stuff about where I am - I can fritter away time on the tinternet pressing refresh on Twitter and the like each day but I find it very difficult to lie on a lounger next to a pool - in fact I can't really think of when I've done that. Even when I've been on a more traditional type of summer holiday I'm far more likely to be found at a table with a book albeit with a glass of something tasty in my hand. Am drinking fizzy water at the moment - it might be 'better' for me healthwise but it's nowhere near as much fun.

But I do need to look again at how much time I'm spending on artwork - as it did become all encompassing last term to the detriment of my health as I pretty much stopped going to the gym and slipped back into less healthy  habits as I relied more on convenience food and take aways. Not good - so I hope to maintain a better balance of work/relaxation time this year, as the feeling of reluctance to sit at desk is I think in part compounded by fears I'll not get the balance right again and I have been doing a bit more exercise recently and feel better for it.

I did go on a Hammer Horror and Peter Cushing pilgrimage with a friend though - we went to Whitstable where we saw Cushing's water colour set in the museum, a couple of his very beautiful watercolour paintings in the pub (converted from a cinema) named after him, his house, the view named after him and we chatted to the lady who sold him his slippers - all this via the Mossman Collection of Carriages which is held at the Discovery Centre in Luton  which features a lot of the carriages featured in many of our favourite horror films - namely the hearse used in Dracula and the carriage used in Brides of Dracula plus I got to sit in a carriage used in the filming of the Wicked Lady which made me very giddy indeed.

But I have been doing a lot of thinking whilst I have consciously not been doing any 'doing' and I have been to a couple of events which have been enlightening, fun and productive - namely the secret Bettakultcha Arts Event on 25.8.15 - held amidst the cosy charms of Wharf Chambers and the first day of the British Association of Victorian Studies Conference at Leeds Trinity University.  Plus I got news that I have had my abstract accepted for a paper at the Gothic Studies Conference - What Lies Beneath in October in Manchester. That made me go 'yay' and then 'eek...got to do it now'.

But I have been doing quite a lot of thinking - and this will shortly become planning as I have 4 big things to think about work-wise over the next few weeks - namely the paper (which I need to write and sort the images for) for What Lies Beneath, my work for the show Out of the Shadows which is part of the Love Arts Festival and will be at the St Johns Church near the Grand Theatre from October 9th til 21st 2015, my research journal hand in in December - that should be fairly easy as it consists of this blog and am sure I can get back easily into a habit of writing it regularly...as that saves so much headless chicken running around at the last minute...and last but not least dissertation. 

The dissertation is giving me much thought as I think I've decided on my subject for it (the language used around art and a gut versus an emotional response) but fitting it into the format rules I've been given is going to be somewhat of a challenge as I will have to get to grips with academic conventions as well as marshalling my arguments. Plus it can't just be printed out at the last minute - it has to be printed by the university printing service. As I have a loathing of running round like a headless chicken at the last minute I want to have it ready in plenty of time for hand in so any problems with it I can hopefully more easily resolve...

So a couple of the things that have stayed with me from the Bettalkultcha Event have been after the presentations had finished were chatting with Carlotta Goulden Allum  who works with this charity and she told me of the Koestler Trust which shows works by offenders but not necessarily with a description of their offence. This in turn made me think I would feel uncomfortable knowingly looking at the work of someone convicted of sexual offences (regardless of the merits of the work in and of itself) but I wouldn't necessarily feel the same discomfort whilst looking at the work of someone convicted of murder or manslaughter. Are these misplaced and unreasonable discomforts on my part? Aren't all crimes against the person equally abhorrent? Shouldn't work be looked at regardless of the other actions the artist may have done or can it only be looked at and truly appreciated with the knowledge of what else the artist may have done? Don't think I have the answers to those questions though or rather I haven't got an absolute answer to any of them.

The Victorian Studies Conference was very good as I got to meet and chat victorian-ness with similarly obsessed with victorian death culture folk as well as explore possible supervisor opportunities should I decide/be able to do a Phd. I also got to purchase the most wonderful piece of victoriana - namely a copy of The Lady's Newspaper and Pictorial Times published on Saturday March 28th 1857. It includes an overview of amusements, London and Paris fashions, foreign and colonial intelligence, embroidery patterns, parliamentary reports and travel but best of all adverts.
Adverts for all manner of things - hair dye, latest model at Tussauds - Monseigneur Sibour Archbishop of Paris who was assassinated in St Etienne Du Mont and who you can find out about here, dressing cases, gravy in a moment, hair destroyer, stamped and traced muslin, seamless parasols, holloways pills, framptons pill of health....not that much difference in essence from the back pages of womens magazines today - though of course todays would include botox, plastic surgery and so called psychic hotlines....

I also watched most of the BBC series POP which featured programmes about individual pop artists,their inspirations and interviews with some who are still around. Sad that there weren't more women pop artists covered but at least there were some featured - and I'm not sure if that's because there weren't that many women pop artists or just the programme makers not considering them for the programme. I've also enjoyed seeing the media coverage of Dismaland and the Dismaland website makes me chuckle too - you can see it  here. I wish I could go see it for myself but don't think I'll be able to manage it before it finishes. Plus it's many a year (almost 20) since I've been to Weston Super Mare and it would be nice to see it again.

The other film I saw which I loved and found most inspiring was Iris - the film about interior designer and fashion collector and fabulous wearer of said fashion Iris Apfel. If you get chance to go see it, then do.

Well I think that's about it for now - though of course recent news events are on my mind too. The refugee crisis has been going on for a long time now but it seems it is the power of an image of a dead child lying face down on the beach that seems to be creating more of a positive political response than there has been. You can only hope that the people fleeing horrors in their home country ultimately end up safe and secure and able to call somewhere else home. On the news this morning the image was being compared to the equally powerful photograph of Kim Phuc taken by Nick Ut in June 1972 (it pictures her running naked along the road after being severely burnt) and this makes me ask all kinds of questions - the attribution to the image on the Guardian website is Reuters (they also name the child as Aylan Kurdi) - did the photographer take it simply to document events? or was it with the hope that it would raise awareness and so hopefully create more action that previous images of the refugee crisis haven't so far? Were they right to take that picture? was it right that it should be shown? is it invasive and prurient? what about the turkish police officer pictured carrying Aylan's body? what about Aylan's remaining family? what about the police officers family? Again I have no answers just questions and of course sadness that a) a situation like this exists in the first place and b) it takes a photograph like this to get some more remedial action on the part of the governments involved.