Monday, 27 June 2016

MA_Ness Weeks 11 and 12 Post Referendum Shock and Horror, End Times, Fulneck Loveliness, Laminating Fun, Thinking Things Through and History

Two weeks worth of post it notes - one considerably fuller than the other, this can be blamed on pre and post referendum horror and general end of things-ness

Practice digital print on coffin lining material - am still experimenting with transferring images onto this fabric - this is an inverted digital scan of a colour film negative - post processed to black and white and inverted using photoshop - the image is of the Chapel (now a University bookstore) in St George's Field taken using a lomo camera with a fish eye lens.

I think I'm still in a state of shock after the referendum, and sadness too. I am not sad because I voted for leave and am now regretting it like some seem to be doing on seeing what a fuck up that has been so far,  but sad because I voted for Remain and so sad because not enough others can see what wider benefits membership of the EU has had. I am not saying for one minute that the EU is perfect (far from it) but as someone with a reasonable grasp on European history - the more time our respective countries representatives are talking in Brussels the less we are literally fighting one another. Plus the seeming legitimisation it appears to have had of the most repellent and revolting racist views is truly appalling, saddening and maddening. The fact that so many of the people in this country seem to feel so disenchanted and disenfranchised that a Leave vote seemed like a good idea is truly depressing. It is one unholy truly fucked up mess - to say nothing of the hiatus now where the political elite all seem to be floundering with seemingly no clear idea of what to do to sort things out. And along with the revolting racism I'm also uncomfortable with the describing of people who did vote Leave as  'morons, idiots etc' as it seems it's exactly that kind of dismissal and disrespect that has helped create this toxic situation in the first place...even if I might think that the decision reached was a shortsighted and stupid one,  but then again is it kind of understandable given the unfounded and unbelievable claims the Leave campaign were making if we don't teach or encourage critical analytical thinking from school onwards. The anti-immigrant and anti immigration tone of a lot of Leave propoganda though was absolutely disgraceful and there is no excuse for that.

Sweet suffering fuck frankly. Part of me just wants to completely retreat into a world of Victorian sensation fiction, cyanotypes and that kind of malarky as that gives me great comfort and another part just wants to put my head under the covers and not come out til it's all calmed down a bit - though it doesn't seem that it is likely to for a while and I've got a big college deadline coming up - the last one on this course and so I must get my arse in gear to get that done if nothing else - clicking refresh on Twitter and watching News 24 isn't going to help with that.

And as a student of history - I'd far rather be reading about these kinds of upheavals from the comfortable distance of a few years than actually experiencing it. And aside from stopping the name calling and somehow teaching folks to be more analytical and critical of the things politicians and more importantly the media say I'm not sure what to do - but this quote from Toni Harrison is giving me both some hope and some focus:

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self pity. No place for silence, no need for fear. We speak, we write, we do language - that is how civilisations heal'.

I'm not quite sure how to put it into practice and in the first place it might be by doing something as simple as taking and making some pictures and just making myself feel better. So now I've got that off my chest and fingers crossed all the worst possible outcomes don't actually come to fruition - what have I actually been up to over the last fortnight?

Been to see some inspiring and thought provoking films:
Somewhere to Disappear (2010) - a film by Uyttenhove and Flammarion in which they followed photographer Alec Soth when he was working on a project that involved photographing men (there were no women in the film) who had decided to opt of mainstream society - a mix of hippies, stoners, ex drug addicts/possibly current drug addicts and far right survivalists who live (way) off the grid. It was interesting - a little bit unnerving at times partly because of the people he was talking to and worrying for both his and the film makers physical safety, partly because at least one person he was speaking to I wasn't entirely sure was capable of giving fully informed consent to being filmed and photographed, admiration of his people skills by being able to talk his way into people's lives - something very evident from the exhibition of his work at the Media Museum which accompanied the film. He persuaded people to let him photograph them in very intimate and potentially vulnerable situations but also unease at his people skills and to what end he's using them - especially as he was talking to them from a position of influence and what would appear to be a better education and certainly more financially secure position. He  gets them to open up and pose for a picture, persuades them to let him take some of their personal items (incredibly personal break up letters) and then not return them, plus it seems that as he is not using their picture to advertise a particular product he didn't need to get model release forms signed. Plus it was also unsettling in places because it was shot with a hand held camera and so the picture wobbled a lot in places. I also have questions like - he was using a big 10*8 plate camera so with a camera that size which takes minutes to focus he's not taking pictures in a covert way but how did he develop the plates? Save them up and do them all in one go, or in batches as he went along. He planned what he wanted to get pictures of each day so I wonder if that also included developement plans. The other thing the film brought home is just how big America is - acres and acres and acres of empty plains.  That said though some of the pictures were achingly beautiful and poignant, especially the ones of love stories from in and around Niagra Falls. 

Heart Of A Dog (2015) - a film by Laurie Anderson which was beautiful to look at, was thought provoking and which made me cry as it was about aging, relationships - particularly with pets in this case her dog Lolabelle who she teaches to play piano when she (the dog goes blind) and loss. Laurie Anderson has the kind of voice I could listen to all day - I find it incredibly soothing. Plus it had lots of interesting points about the death beliefs of Buddhism and ancient Tibetan practice which was very thought provoking indeed. Apparently hearing is the last sense to go - even after all other visible signs of life have gone and the Tibetan Book Of The Dead specifically forbids crying as it stops the dead moving on - and they cannot come back anyway. Plus death is seen as a release of love. It was the kind if film that would bear repeated watching and analysis as it covered so much so I think I'll be asking for a copy of the soundtrack if not a dvd of it for my birthday. 

Holding The Man (2015) a film based on the memoir by Timothy Conigrave directed by Neil Armfield which details his falling in love with John whilst teenagers at school and their at times rocky relationship as they navigate being with one another against parental, religious and societal disapproval. Their coming out, being apart, getting back together and becoming ill with HIV and dying. In spite of its sad ending it was an especially life affirming joyous power of love film with a cracking soundtrack even if by the end I was weeping buckets (thank goodness for waterproof mascara) as it reminded me so much of friends of mine who have died and whom I still very much miss.  

Sing Street (2015) a film by John Carney which I saw on Saturday afternoon and which was the perfect antidote to referendum related misery as although it too is very sad in places (the violent bullying that happens in schools - both on the part of the other schoolkids as well as the teachers, the fall out of relationship breakdowns,feeling you have to leave where you grew up for lack of opportunities) it was also very optimistic and joyous. It's the story of a schoolboy who falls in love with a girl and wins her and himself by setting up a band who wear their influences all too obviously on their sleeves (I especially enjoyed their goth phase) and it was just glorious. So much so I might go and see it again.

This along with semi bingewatching season 1 of Bates Motel means that I've been doing an awful lot of listening and watching. But I have been doing some doing too - and some people have been doing some doing on my behalf - namely printing on the coffin lining material. I cut and prepare the material by painting an edge round where the images can be placed with gloss medium (matte medium shows up more for some reason)  as this not only gives a guide for where the image can be placed but also means I can then cut the material without it fraying. And boy does it fray - I'm reading North and South at the moment and each time Bessy complains about getting 'fluff' on her lungs I cough in appreciation as my workroom is full of bits of this material. I am (hopefully) going to be experimenting with using a heat activated method of image transfer this week. Applying heat to this material is something I'm somewhat anxious about though as it is synthetic and potentially liable to melt...but I have been able to put bits of it through my latest acquistion - a laminator.

At one point last week I was laminating almost everything - old amusement arcade tickets (they make v good bookmarks) and the coffin lining material both survives it unscathed and then it can be cut without fraying - result!! I've also experimented with leaves, petals, bits of detritus I've found on the floor whilst walking about. They're not as long term successful as so far I've used pieces I haven't dried first and so the liquid in them has kind of boiled round them in the pouch and the petals have faded. But I reckon it'll work well with the petals I have collected and dried - namely every bunch of flowers I've been given since starting the course. It's kind of nice watching something you've collected further decay under plastic though.

I've also finally thought (why of why has it taken me so frigging long to think of this??) of a way to make making lumen prints a bit less slapdash. Putting them together under a black throw but with a red safelight on underneath the throw with me so I can make sure things are level and exactly where I want them before I expose them to the light. As I don't have a darkroom I've just been doing it in  a darkened room under the throw but that of course means I cannot seen a bloody thing but at least with the safelight I'll be able to see much better what I'm doing. This is in turn part of thinking things through - something which I need (and if reports are to be believed Leave voters) need to do a bit more of - like I have a burial plot size piece of silk printed with the a digitally reinverted lumen print I made of a tombstone in St Matthews and other than hanging it up with fishing wire I hadn't really thought how I was going to attach the fishing wire - doh!! am now thinking with black ribbon adorned bulldog clips of some kind. Black ribbon played a role in Victorian mourning culture and it seems only right to include it somehow in the finished work. So now I'm experimenting with different hanging techniques so i can find the ione which not only works the best but looks the best also.

I've been to another phd open day too - this time at Leeds Beckett University and interesting and useful - both in terms of clarifying my thoughts about what exactly it is I want to do and what it is they have to offer. I am still hoping to do a phd - but still not sure when exactly or where. I'm kind of dreading my studies officially coming to an end at Leeds College of Art as I have had such a good time there - learnt lots, met some interesting and supportively challenging people and I'm really going to miss having regular meetings with my personal tutor who has been a source of insight, suggestion, guidance and support. I'm also going to really miss the library, print rooms and the darkroom not just in terms of facilities but also in terms of the people in them. Oh well - I'd best make sure I make the most of what time I've got left with them then.

I've also been to a burial ground that I've been meaning to go and see for a long time - namely that of the Moravian Settlement at Fulneck, ever since a tutor told me about long ago way back in the days when I was a history undergraduate and doing a module called the Archaeology of Death. He talked about how as refugees fleeing religious persecution in Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic) set up a new settlement in 1744 on the outskirts of Leeds and how their burial ground has monuments flat to the ground as all are equal before God and God's judgement therefore all tombstones must be level to the ground. It was a really interesting, atmospheric and contemplative place - want to go back again when the Museum is open and have a look round that bit too. I can thoroughly recommend the tea rooms though - really lovely.

I've been using photoshop a bit more recently too (I feel dirty even writing that word *grin*) I'd resigned myself to using it to post process images to monochrome, boost levels and invert images and occasionally crop out either a modern bin or unwanted bit of tombstone) but last week I used it to get rid of graffitti around a graffiti skull I found on a building in Leeds, as I wanted to print just the skull on its own.

I've also been thinking a bit more about the role of memory and both music and smell and their role in it. If I hear Alice by the Sisters of Mercy I am instantly transported back in time to being in front of a mirror, choking on hairspray fumes and desperately trying to backcomb freshly dyed black hair into something approximating a sort of Siouxsie Sioux hairdo - but sadly it always went flat. Likewise if I smell Dettol or Savlon I am transported back in time to when I often had grazed knees (playgrounds were made of gravel when I was little) and this week I was transported back in time to a time of not quite sure but at least twenty years ago when I heard Brassneck by The Wedding Present - I had a chum who was mad about them but I was never much of a fan apart from that one song. Though I do have a copy of Bizaaro somewhere on vinyl - that was the only song I ever played on it and I know I didn't buy it when it came out but rather secondhand from somewhere. I hope to incoporate sound and smell into works I'll make in the future.

One of the phrases I have on my post it note is 'pebble in a pool of memory' and I really like it both as a description and as a possible action. Wish I'd written down where I heard/read it though. I have however made a good note of the next quote - it's from the bottom of page 108 of the second book I've read by an ex Fall member - The Big Midweek - Life Inside The Fall by Steve Hanley (bassist) and Olivia Piekarski. Less new agey and more down to earth than Brix Start Smith's I read it over the weekend. I recognised some of the places he talked about and some of the characteristics of growing up in a roman catholic family originally from Dublin. It confirms my belief that as much as I like the end product of Mark E Smith I doubt very much I'd like him in person. It's when Hanley is describing Mark E Smiths performance on a song called Papal Visit in which he tries to play a violin 'it's pushing avant-garde to the threshold of dross'. A phrase I hope no-one will ever ascribe to my work - not least because I don't think it's that avant-garde (lots of people work around death) but mostly because I'd be really sad if someone thought it was dross. 


Monday, 13 June 2016

MA-Ness Week 10 - last formal week, pop up meth lab fun, tidying, sorting, sad sad news...

This weeks post it note and an experiement in glossing flowers...

I'm writing this on Monday afternoon - trying to get back into the habit I'd got into of writing it on a Monday and I'm struggling to be honest. The ongoing misinformation,scaremongering and barely disguised racism of some of the Brexiters coupled with the truly appalling, depressing, shocking and sad news from Orlando means I'm finding it hard to concentrate to be honest. The news makes me feel not only helpless but also quite hopeless and a bit what's the point of doing anything.

But having said that I must press on and get this post finished and start putting my portfolio together ready for final hand in in mid August. That seems like a bit of a big ask though at the moment and 'portfolio' keeps appearing on my to do list, so really I need to start breaking it down into its component parts - eg write an overview, sort the separate pieces I've been working on into coherent pieces so that it doesn't feel quite so overwhelming. I also need to sort out what pieces I need to get printed too.

The fact that it is coming to the end of the time I have at Leeds College of Art is at the forefront of my mind too - I've had such a fantastic time I don't want it to stop, which is part of the reason I want to do a Phd. I've not made much headway on that score (got a couple more open days coming up) think I might have to put aside definite time to do it (like this blog/research journal) so that I make more progress than just keep writing it on my to do list.  But I have also got a draft copy of a successful phd proposal which is going to be a guide for trying to come up with mine.

One thing I am really going to miss about the college (apart from the tutors, the facilities, the other students) is the library - even if it is the warmest room in the college and makes me feel at times murderously hot. I love libraries - I always have. On my wall is a quote from Anne Tyler about books - 'I read so I can live more than one life in more than one place'. Books are one of my biggest passions and take up so much room in the house - 2 to 3 deep on shelves, in piles both next to and under the bed. More bookcases and how to fit them in the house are also on the to do list...

And in spite of the fact that the house is almost overflowing with them and I haven't read all of the ones I've got (I've had some from the college library on almost permanent repeat loan since last year) I got some more on Friday on the way home from college - a copy of Vanity Fayre by William Makepeace Thackery which began to be published in serial form in 1847 and was published as a collected edition in 1848. Mine is the BBC tie in version from 1998 and was a quid from Meanwood Community Shop (which is in my opinion one of the finest charity shops in Leeds - partly because of the work it does and partly because of the stuff it sells, the books in particular are excellent). I've seen adaptations of the story and listened to it on Radio 4 Extra too but I've yet to read it for myself. Though first I must finish North and South which I am really enjoying now I've properly got into it.

I also got a copy of Victorian Women by Joan Perkin, and The Victorian House by Judith Flanders - so as you can see my obsession with all things Victorian shows no sign of abating as yet. I also got a copy of Nigel Slaters Eating for England which is delightfully nostalgic and makes my mouth water when he talks of such things as Fry' Five Centres and Mint Cracknell.

I did a bit of experimenting with making bookmarks from coffin lining offcuts and bits of detritus I'd collected from the ground at St George's Fields, covering them with sticky backed plastic hadn't worked brillianty well but a fellow ma-er has suggested laminating them instead - think this will work much better so am going to give that a go next. Just need to find a laminator.

I had fun in the pop up meth lab aka garage yesterday developing the Ilford Delta 3200 I used last week - I reckon we need a couple of trips to the charity shop, a couple of trips to the tip and a trip to Poverty Aid to buy a new set of shelves/cupboard or small wardrobe and I'll be able to convert it into a bit more of a darkroom. It won't be so dark that I'll be able to do traditional black and white photograph printing but that's okay as that doesn't make my heart sing but I will be able to cyanotype prep and make and that's okay - because that does.

Am pleased with some of the pics I took but a lot are out of focus, I've taken pics on a film slr before using Delta 3200 and was really pleased with the results but that was on a Minolta SLR and it clearly likes the dark better than my Canon SLR which really struggled whatever settings I used on it. But at least I got some I'm chuffed with plus I quite like agitating. My ever supportive and lovely husband has an app on his phone (I don't have that kind of phone and so would have had to use a pen and paper to write down the times/chemical concentrates needed and then used a clock) which made it all a bit easier. But even a couple of the out of focus ones are so out of focus to be kind of interesting in an abstract way so am counting it a win all round.

I finished reading Brix Smith Start's autobiography last week - it was really interesting to read about someone else's creative process and also about The Fall - a band I have loved (even if it's just Mark E Smith and a granny on bongoes) for almost 30 years. (Writing that sentence makes me feel really frigging old) and of course their drunken rambling shambling but also wonderful leader the aforementioned Mark E Smith. A man who it appears moved his new girlfriend in whilst his old girlfriends dirty underwear still littered his flat. This added to the way in which he treats people so badly that they leave makes me think that song and lyric writing skill aside he is not a very nice man. But as a chum pointed out - oftentimes bad people make good work. The separation of work from character of the creator is something I have often mused upon. Gary Glitter is an utterly repellant and vile individual but he did write some good pop songs.  The Young Gods version of Did You Miss Me is one of my favourite songs and I console myself that even if he did write it - I am not listening to him singing it and as I playing the version I bought on vinyl many moons ago he is not continuing to get any royalties on it from me - apart from a one off payment way before he was charged and found guilty of his offences.

I didn't go to the end of year overview session at the college on Friday but I did go in for a meeting about our end of year show (which will be at the end of October) and a sneak preview of the other end of year shows - I wasn't in the mood for the hustle and bustle of the evening opening and so just wandered about looking at the last of the stuff being put up. There was some amazing work - the kind of work I look at and think wow I wish I had the skill/thought to make that, some good thought provoking work and some work that I look at and think 'mmm, just not getting it'. It's on til June 16th so get down to Blenheim and see it for yourself and see if you see anything that makes you go 'wow'.

I did do something on Friday though that I had been putting off for ages - namely a tidying of my workroom which had become more teetering piles of disorganisation and I was struggling to both find things and get things done. It took me two hours (The Chemical Brothers are usually my cleaning soundtrack of choice though I did also use the soundtrack to Cecil B Demented) and now I can find things again and see what I'm doing - all my library books are in one place ready for me to (finally!) read them and you can see the floor again which is going to help when it comes to portfolio pulling together time.

The sofa bed is still in use as an extra temporary book shelf but at least it is now only one end of it - the end nearest my desk and you can sit on the rest of it. There are still piles of folders under the desk but at least they are now neatly stacked and I can find things again. A box of papers and out of date brochures went into the recycling bin...

And so here we are - almost at the end, certainly at the end of formal teaching though I still have a couple of tutorials before hand in. Not sure whether or not to carry on writing this blog in this way though, I might do though as it's become a good habit, plus I've had lovely feedback on it too and not just in an academic setting. This is important to me as although this blog became my research journal for handing in to be assessed and jump those academic hoops I don't just want it to be an exclusive academic document. The feedback was from a chum who has moved to Australia and she says 'I love the way you write, it's like you're talking to me over a cup of tea' and this added to the feedback from my fellow ma-ers about how much they have enjoyed the talks I've done gives me good cheer. This and Ilford have just retweeted one of my gig pics that I took last Saturday :-)   

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Ma-Ness Week 9 - Better Late Than Never, End Of An Era, Printing, Lumen Prints, Collaborations and Cemetery Jaunts...

Quite a full post it note this week - surrounded by experiments with making bookmarks out of coffin lining offcuts, bits of detritus found in St George's Field (also found a £2 coin - result!!) and other bits and pieces.

Well college is officially coming to an end - and I don't want it too, as I am still having far too much fun. I really don't want to leave - last hand in date is 12th August and then we have the end of MA graduation show in late October early November so I've still got plenty of opportunity to be there for a while yet, but part of me is thinking oh I wish I'd gone to more lectures, I wish I'd read more books, spent more time in the dark room, spent more time in the print room but overall I'm pretty pleased with how things have worked out and what I've done - I've made lots and lots of work so much so it is going to be difficult to wittle it down into a sensible submission come hand in time, learnt some new techniques, learnt to look at things in different ways, learnt some art theory, met some really lovely and interesting people, been challenged, been to lots of conferences, learnt how to do presentations well enough to be asked to be a guest speaker (an MA colleague told me it was my sense of humour that makes my presentations - which is lovely feedback but also welcome as given the subject matter they could otherwise be unrelentingly grim),  held but not used a £20,000 camera, written a dissertation, done an awful lot of photcopying, poked about in some fantastic archives, neglected housework, not always eaten as healthily as I could have done, worked on some collaborative pieces, doubted myself and my abilities, regained confidence in myself and abilities, lost it again, got it back again.....and getting better at holding onto it and realising what my strengths and weaknesses are, got into some good habits and tried hard to break some bad habits and got lots of exciting stuff lined up. PHEW!!

I normally write this on a Monday but I spent this Monday sorting out new reading glasses (rock and indeed roll eh?) and then lay on the sofa reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1855). It's taken me some getting into as the sentences are quite long and not always straightfoward but really got into it now and am rather in love with Margaret Hale. It is also wonderful to read contemporaneous Victorian literature and am making note of each reference to a mourning custom (she has had to wear mourning dress in honour of a distant relative of her father) and the fact that it is about my home town Manchester - though in the novel it is named Milton is also a bonus.

Anyway I've been busy with meetings and so not had an opportunity to write it ti now - I did think of leaving it til next week but then thought no, get it written now and then you won't have that ongoing feeling of work undone hanging over you. The meetings have been a mix of talking to folks from Leeds University with a view to potential future collaborations based around St George's Field and Leeds Museums with a view to working on education days about the Victorian period. It's very exciting and fingers crossed it will work out okay.

I've also been trying to work with the coffin lining offcuts Luke Howgate and Sons so generously gave me, I've just made some bookmarks but am not sure about them - both technically as the gloss I've used to preserve the dried flower leaves looks shiny on the fabric but I'm not sure I can make it less noticable,  the material frays very easily so I've coated some with that old Blue Peter makes favourite - sticky back plastic which stops it fraying but looks too shiny and doesn't entirely stop fraying either....mmm more work to be done. But the printing I've had done on bigger pieces is looking good - so will be getting more of that done soon. These prints will form part of my piece for the graduation show. I've not submitted anything for the interim end of year show - part of me wishes I had but the bigger part of me is pleased I haven't as I have been so busy.

I've had two jaunts to St George's Field this week - one was an impromptu jaunt with an MA chum and it was really lovely to show him round as he had never been before, I did apologise in advance for the possibility of boring his arse off with facts about the place but he didn't complain. That was when I picked up the bits ot make a lumen print - I really should have taken advantage of the full colour sunshine and done some cyanotyping and had a practice with the Solarfast fabric but I couldn't summon up the oomph to do it. Maybe next week - when the sun has come back....but I did do a lumen print - using some of the detritis I picked up from St George's Field, left it in the sun slightly too long but scanned it in and clicked 'enhance' and am quite pleased with the result. I've yet to make a lumen print using modern paper that I'm really pleased with though. Part of the difficulty I have is not having a proper darkroom so I arrange them under a throw which is not ideal as it is a) v stuffy and b) dark enough so as not to ruin the print but also so dark that I can't see at all what I'm doing.

In discussion with other cyanotyping colleagues I have worked out a way I can do them without access to a dark room - paint the solution on late at night in the garage (don't mind rinsing them off in the house but don't want the chemicals needed to make them in the house) and then out them in a light tight cupboard to dry until I'm ready to use them. So a trip to Poverty Aid to buy a cupboard is on my to do list now.

Anyway my first jaunt to St George's Field was late on Saturday night after a stonking gig by the very excellent Zeitgeist Zero (you can check them out here) at the Lending Room at the Library (which in turn made me wonder what meetings have been held in that building over the years) as I had tried taking some b+w pics (on Ilford 3200 Delta film which is the business at low light conditions)  at their gig (still waiting to see if they have come out) but unlike my beloved Minolta SLR which can cope with low light conditions my Canon SLR can't and I could barely see what I was doing - focusing was a real struggle so lesson learnt for next time - take a torch and use my Minolta instead. I took lotsof pictures earlier on the day at Aberford Churchyard as I was tipped off about a stone sarcophagus propped up against the churchyard wall which have come out okay plus thankfully although my knee is still not quite right it's getting lots better and I can bend to take pics again - HURRAH!!

What else? well need to crack on with rest of my to do list really....that portfolio isn't going to assemble itself for hand in....