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... 

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