Monday, 5 October 2015

MA-Ness Year 2 Term 1 Week 4: 'it's the most wonderful time of the year..', crap kids digital, making an exhibition of yourself, coimetromania, returned unsold work, words and lovely old cameras.

this weeks post it notes with spoils from last weeks trip to Manchesterford

home made work carrier - didn't fancy struggling with A2 folder on bus but A3 just bit too small so made one out of carrier bag and chopped down cardboard - did the job and much easier to manoeuvere   
laying prints out on bed - as only space in house that was nearly same size as exhibition space but beware perils of cat jumping on it....
sneak preview of work at St Johns Church - background looks much redder in real life...

I found it quite difficult to get into the groove writing this last week for some reason and I had to force myself to sit there and finish it - hence my writing MUST FINISH BLOG POST BEFORE DOING ANYTHING ELSE' and I think I'm going to have to be equally strict with myself over the next few weeks as I'll have to balance doings things I'm not especially keen on (like starting to write dissertation, ironing, washing up) with things I am keen on like taking and making pictures as well as making sure I take some time out to do things which aren't housework or coursework related.

Plus this is in a context of being very busy indeed - and even though the bulk of the things I am busy with are delightful, it doesn't make them any less tiring and I need to remember that too. This week is full of lovely things like festival launches, cinema and theatre trips, exhibition launches and tutorials and so is the following week but then it calms down a little before the Gothic Studies Conference (part of the Gothic Manchester Festival) so whilst last week my priorities were:

  1. exhibition
  2. paper
  3. dissertation 
this week they are:
  1. paper - have drafted outline of what I want to say but need to flesh it out now and write it down so I'm hopefully not umming and erring as I speak on the day. I did spend an afternoon last week sorting out the images I want to use and resizing them. A boring task - well the resizing bit is but a necessary one as it makes things so much easier to email and sort out and at least that time consuming bit is done now.
  2. dissertation - at least I know what my topic is and what I want to say and I have done some reading on it but I need to do quite a bit more before I sit down and actually start writing the thing. Plus I need to stop thinking about Paul Calf (as created and played so brilliantly by Steve Coogan) talking about 'stewdents' with utter contempt and 'dissitations'...
I like to do as much stuff as I can in advance as possible as I hate rushing round at the last minute feeling panicked and stressed. Partly because I hate feeling like that anyway but also because that in turn makes me make mistakes more readily. So fingers crossed I can fit in some reading and writing in amongst the gadding about this week. I'm also hoping to get into a habit of putting into a word document a list of all the things I'm reading and watching in a Harvard Reference style so that job is done too...instead of scrabbling about when it comes to hand in time and I'm panicking trying to find the information...

There was a really interesting programme on C5 last week (and part 2 is tomorrow night - Tuesday 6th October that is at 9pm) and unlike a lot of their so-called documentary output, this was well considered and thought through. It was called Body Donors and featured interviews with people suffering from terminal illnesses who wanted to donate their bodies to science, their families, and the technicians and teachers who then prepare and use their bodies. You can see the details about it here. It was accompanied by a warning that the programme would include 'graphic views of dead bodies' but there was no warning that it would also include heartfelt and harrowing emotional scenes that would make you cry. Not that you should be warned about that as such - but why we as a society are worried about the effects of seeing dead bodies as opposed to talking about the process that leads to that and what emotions are involved struck me as incongruous to say the least.

And that got me to thinking about how skewed as a society our values are - there are rarely warnings that there are going to be graphic scenes of (albeit fake) dissection in programmes like CSI (though there might be one re violent scenes) and that murder is such a run of the mill topic for entertainment.

I'm not complaining about that as most of my tv programme watching for entertainment is murder related and I have often only half joked that if a programme doesn't contain an autopsy then I'm not interested in watching it. I love Columbo - but it has to be proper 70's Columbo with huge angular cars and wonderful 70's fashions. Murder She Wrote - but again the 80's ones though to be fair I watch that more to spot wigs (it has some shockers) and the repeated use of cliches and tropes within it and for the end shot which invariably features Jessica Fletcher grinning inanely. CSI (but not CSI Miami as I find that too much of an insult to intelligence)  Law and Order, Law and Order Criminal Intent (I am ever so slightly in love with Detective Goren) and Law and Order Special Victims Unit. Morse, Lewis....and rarely have any of these programmes carried a warning and most were made to be broadcast and watched in the days before on demand viewing pre-watershed.

The interviews in Body Donor appeared sensitively done and it was quite heartbreaking to see those with the terminal illness and their loved ones talking - not so much about the donation itself - they viewed that as a way of making sense and taking some control back from the illness they were suffering from (cancer and luekemia) but hearing them talk about how it was affecting their loved ones and then listening to those loved ones talk about how they were going to cope without them made tears come to my eyes. Though maybe that's also because various friends of mine have been either dealing with this issue themselves recently or been bereaved and of course it reminded me of all the people and creatures I'm missing too.

It's a world removed from the way bodies were procured for dissection in the 18th and 19th century  with no consent from or respect for the donors - though it would appear that those societies were more open to discussing death. Perhaps because they were more surrounded by it then and it was more of an everyday and less medicalised process. The pain of bereavement was I'm sure no less though - even if you believed that your loved one had gone to a better place (as most of the poetry I've read on tombstones would suggest) and that you would be reunited when you too died, it wouldn't stop the heart rending pain of bereavement and you missing them like hell in the meantime.

Jay Ruby talks about this disconnect far more eloquently that I have in his book from 1995 called Secure The Shadow which is primarily about the practice of non medical post mortem photography in America but it is also about so much more. He talks of how we rarely see a real death in everyday life though we do occasionally see them in news stories (often with a warning that we find it distressing) and yet we  are confronted with hundreds of them in entertainment settings. Plus there was a time when cemeteries used to be designed as not just body disposal sites but also recreational sites - whereas now to most they seem to be places to be actively avoided.

It will come as no surprise that reading more of this book is on my to do list for this week. Plus it also ties in nicely to one of the new words I met this week and is in the title of this post COIMETROMANIA which means an 'abnormal attraction to and desire to visit cemeteries'. It is nice to have a diagnosis at last.....

I've been using my crap kids digital again this week - technically it's one of the worst cameras ever. Fixed focus, no zoom, no internal memory (I've added black insulation tape to the the battery cover so as to avoid a repeat of the batteries becoming dislodged when you take it out of your pocket/bag and so losing my pics of St George's Field in the gloom) warped lens, inability to capture colour properly, room for only 24 pictures if you want them at anything even vaguely approaching a reasonable resolution but ---- it's also the one of the most fun I've ever used even if I can't really see much on the stamp sized screen on the back and it's light and small. Plus I love the slightly warped off colour pics it produces - they have an other worldly quality to them that I really like.

I bought another camera this week - the one pictured above. It is a Zeiss Ikon Cocarette which according to Camerapedia was made between 1926 and 1930 - making this a Weimar Republic Era camera (I also have an AGFA Billy Clack from the mid 1930's making it a Nazi Era camera) I spotted this in a charity shop on my way home on from college on Friday and went back the following day to have a closer look at it with my much more knowledgeable about the technical side of things when it comes to cameras husband. It goes without saying of course that we decided to buy it. Mostly because it looks in really good nick and usuable (it takes 120 film which is still readily available and developable)  but also because it came with handwritten on german notepaper instructions. I wonder who wrote those, when and why? The leather case is in really good condition too - the purple velvety inside is still vivid and threadful. It is stamped with the sellers details Photo-Porst Nurnberg - a photographic suppliers chain which is still going and was founded in 1919. I cannot wait to use this camera but am going to wait til the weather is at it's brightest as previous experience tells me this will work best in 'sunny 16' conditions.   I am also wondering what pictures have been taken on this camera, who looked at what through it's viewfinder and how it ended up here in it was nice to overhear one of the sales assistants say to the other when we were leaving that the camera was clearly going to a good home and would be used as well as looked after and how she liked when that happened.

A couple of other things caught my attention this week - namely phrases like 'vectors of infection' though I'm not sure where that was from now, and thinking about the social purpose of pictures - portraits in particular after watching Simon Schama's programme about portrait paintings. It's on BBC2 on Wednesdays at 9pm  and you can read about it here.

Last weeks episode concentrated upon paintings of the powerful - Churchill, Elizabeth 1st, Charles II and Victoria amongst others. He talked about the role photography had in promulgating Victoria's image and ideals but there were a couple of points when I found myself tutting at the television (and not just at the usual unnecessary hagiographic reverence used for the members of the House of Windsor) - he said something about Victoria understanding that she needed to be visible by her subjects. I appreciate that it was a programme primarily about portraiture and you cannot fit everything about a subject into an hours long programme but one of the problems with Victoria during her reign was the fact that after Albert's death she didn't go out in public for a long time - Albert dies in 1861 and she isn't publicly seen again until 1866, in spite of the clamouring of some of her subjects and the attempts of prime ministers to persuade her that she needed to. So it is a bit disingenuous to say she that she understood she needed to be visible by her subjects - she did, but she ignored it for a long time and it was only after a lot of cajoling and badgering and seeing the albeit shortlived success of the Paris Commune in 1871 which boosted republican sentiment that she went out and about again.

I find myself shouting and tutting a lot at the television these days - a bit more in depth knowledge and more rounded view than is being shown or explained in the programme is a difficult thing (and anything that deals with the victorian period, bodysnatching, photography are those kinds of programmes for me as those areas are of such interest to me and central to my own research) and it makes me wonder how much has been missed out of programmes that I've watched and thought had taught me something when in actual fact they've probably barely skimmed the surface and as a result I'm nowhere near as well informed about a subject as I thought I was....

The other thing you can see in big capital letters on the post it note are PERILS OF NOT HAVING A BIG FLOOR SPACE AND USING BED - CAT! which refers to my trying to get the images ready I had made for the Out of the Shadows exhibition at St Johns Church (full details of all the Love Arts Festival happenings available here and Out of the Shadows is on page 23 of the brochure) or rather deciding where abouts in relation to each other I wanted to put them. Me and a fellow exhibitor had measured the boards we could use and the only comparable space that was nearly big enough for me at home was the double bed. So I decided to use that and started laying them out and making a plan of what I wanted where when Mapp jumped up on them and put her back paw through one of them - something I hopefully unobviously fixed with black marker pen and invisible tape. It's the perils of not having a dedicated studio space - and not closing the door but as she normally stears well clear I didn't think it necessary. Oh well lesson learnt for future.

The other lesson I learnt was - check the double sided tape you buy in advance and think you're being all organised with by attaching it to the edges of the images you want to use, because if it's like the tape Wilko's sell as double sided it won't work. It will instead have you tutting and swearing and pulling at it trying to see where the backing tape is - but theirs has no backing tape and is instantly sticky both sides (WHY?) and so there is no point attaching it in advance to the images as then they'd only stick to themselves. Cue getting to college the following morning as soon as library and shop opens and buying double sided tape there which does have backing tape so it can be affixed to image and then taken to where you want to to stick it without mishap...I took advantage of the tables in the library to cut the tape to fix to the images but by then I was getting a bit flapped as I felt like I was running out of time - even though I wasn't really but after the previous weeks key related confusion I didn't want to be the last person at St Johns Church. So it's not always as straight as I would like but as it's mostly invisible - hopefully you'll won't be able to see where I went a bit wonky with it.

Believe it or not - I did use a spirit level to attach the pictures to the board but as the board wasn't entirely level this became a bit of a moot point so I ended up doing things more by my probably just as wonky eye. Oh well. It's not perfect but overall I am pleased with it and that is the main thing plus as a chum said people have different expectations of art in spaces that are not like todays traditional white cube gallery space and the difference too between those exhibitions which are well funded and those that are done on a comparative shoestring. So now I just have the nervousness of whether or not people will go look at it and what they think of it and whether or not I'll get to hear of those thoughts....

But it did make me think of how in come circles curating has become somewhat of a pejorative term - I heard someone say 'oh you can curate a paper bag these days' - showing no understanding of how difficult it is to put things together in a way which works - either in a way to help bring out what the artist is trying to get across, or to highlight the connections between objects or illustrate a narrative.

To say nothing of the practical skill of trying to ensure things are level, visible, and exhibited in such a way as to show them at their best - for this exhibition we weren't allowed to attach things directly to the existing information boards in the church but to material that has been hung over the boards.

Initially I thought I would attach them to the material by way of pins, black ribbon (in a nod to victorian mourning customs) and bulldog clips but then I realised that whilst this would not only be fiddly - it would also detract from the clean-ness of the images I was using.

I still want to use that as a hanging arrangement but in a space where the images would be hanging like that in mid air from the ceiling so that their see-through-ness would also be visible rather than use it to hold them directly against something. So in this instance I went for double sided tape as it was a cleaner and less fussy way to present the image. The ribbon bulldog clip arrangement would add in other circumstances but detract in this one I fear.  

The title of this post begins 'it's the most wonderful time of the year' - a line from a xmas song. Well bah humbug to xmas (though there are aspects of it that I am very fond of) I am of course referring to Halloween and the shops are full of wondrous skully goodness at the moment which I may have purchased bits of over the last few days. Coco Chanel said a woman could never be too rich or too thin - I say you can never have enough skulls.    

I got my unsold work back (all 3 pieces of it) from Woodend gallery in Scarborough this weekend. I'm a little bit disappointed but not surprised as I don't think they were especially commercial in the grand scheme of things - though some of the most commercial of my work. It's kind of nice to have them back though really as I can put them in something else now. And it's nice to know that they have been on show in one of my favourite seaside towns.  

I'm sure there was something else I wanted to write about but I have forgotten what it was and I have ticked off all the things on my post it note and draft post plan so that's it for now. And so will begin this next weeks thoughts....oh no actually I've remembered - it's almost the happy accident/serendipitous* nature of my studies at times - like thinking 'oh I'll just have a rummage through the books the library are chucking out and finding a quote from someone's diary in which they talk about putting black ribbon through their underwear, or like today when my work is in an exhibition called Out Of The Shadows when the book I'm reading (after finishing The Help last night for WI Bookclub - a thought provoking and interesting read) The Tattoed Girl by Joyce Carol Oates has a character in it who has written a book called The Shadows....

*though for some reason I hate the word serendipity as it has too many hippie connotations for me..


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