Thursday, 11 August 2016

MA-Ness Week 18 - Endings and Beginnings, Slogging Through Fog, 41 Hours To Go, Treats and Heartfelt Thanks

This weeks post it notes - including one with the fancy fountain pen I've just treated myself to for getting to the end of the course, a copy of a book I've just bought as I have become seriously addicted to Elizabeth Gaskell, a postcard of the painting Hard Times from 1885 by Sir Hubert von Herkomer chosen because a) I think it's a wonderful evocative painting and b) because I feel like the little boy sitting on the ground next to his mother ie dead tired... I hope the family portrayed in it went on to have less hard times but I suspect in reality the workhouse would have beckoned....

It's taken me a while to get round to writing this - partly because I have been concentrating upon getting my portfolio together ready to hand it in tomorrow. This is the big and final module - this is the 60 credits on its own module so I've been totally concentrating on it and its contents for the last few weeks so I can make it as good as possible. I want a distinction parly for my own satisfaction at successfully jumping that kind of academic hoop but also because I am hoping to do a Phd and if I get a distinction that should make that goal a little bit easier to accomplish.

I've followed the same template as I used when I handed it in this time last year and got a distinction for it but I have (hopefully) improved it further by being a little more discerning about what I've put in it as well adding little overviews for each of the projects I've worked on. I also wrote a general overview of my work over the last couple of years complete with proper harvard referenced footnotes and sub headings. I started work on that document about a month - six weeks ago and a lovely chum of mine helped me out on Monday night by helping me put the final touches to it in terms of inserting said footnotes and referencing them using the Harvard Reference system...which I think I've now more or less got a grip on how to do properly.  I know I used them for my dissertation but I was in such a state of brain fog at the time that I wasn't sure if I was doing them properly or not.

Anyway with that done I spent most of Tuesday at college printing it out along with the final images I wanted to include. I thought I had got myself all organised and sorted image-wise for printing but I hadn't - I had taken the images off the camera memory card that I had taken of my burial shroud size piece blowing in the wind at St George's Field on Sunday but I had only transferred them to the laptop - I hadn't put them on my memory stick or on google drive. ARGH - nor had I taken a picture of it on my phone. DOH!! I had put a picture of it on my Facebook page but social media sites are kept behind a firewall during lecture hours at college so you can't access them unless you have a smartphone - which I don't. Cue husband coming to my rescue again by downloading the image off Facebook and emailing it to me - it's not the best resolution but it's good enough to see the piece of work so PHEW I didn't have to come home and go back in again....

I have still one or two final final touches to make on my portfolio - namely printing out the submission lables and putting in some file dividers but I had otherwise finished putting it together by 7pm last night. I felt such a huge sense of relief that such a massive job was done, and with plently of time to spare before the deadline of 3pm on 12.8.16. I hate rushing round like a headless chicken at the last minute and finishing it last night meant I had 41 hours left in which to tinker with it, put in anything I realised I had forgotten and also be able to take a massive breath and so finally after what feels like a very long time indeed of feeling stressed about it relax a bit.  If I'm completely honest I may also have teared up a bit.

Part of me still just still can't quite believe what I've achieved and been able to do over the last couple of years, especially with the additional challenges of dealing with multiple bereavement and health problems over the last couple of years....but I got through it, in part due to my own determination and the course being an excellent focus to distract myself from the sad things going on but it is also thanks to supportive tutors and college staff, supportive and encouraging friends and last but by no means least thanks to my ever supportive and lovely husband who has been so supportive and encouraging, not just on an emotional level but also on a practical and financial level too. I don't think I'll ever be able to thank him enough really. Thanks must also go to Mapp who has listened (albeit not very closely and with no feedback) to every presentation or paper I've done but most importantly has let me fuss her when I've been feeling rubbish which frankly has been often.

A lot of the time thanks to non course related events it has felt like I've been wading uphill through treacle with a very heavy backpack, but it has also been the most brain stretching, challenging, thought provoking and rewarding time. I've been able to poke about in all sorts of archives, read all sorts of fantastic books, potter about in the darkroom, learn lots of new techniques and got to print burial plot size pieces of work - so what's not to love?  And I must remind myself of the overall joy of the process and what it brings to me when I'm sat in front of the computer cursing the fact that it has frozen yet again and all I can say is 'oh for fucks sake, just fucking work!!!' and all I want to do at that moment is sack the whole thing off and go and watch rubbish telly.

There has been some fantastic stuff on the radio recently - there was an excellent programme about leeches with Sir Christopher Frayling, an Infinite Monkey Cage about Frankenstein that was also very good (though I have otherwise somewhat gone off that programme and I can no longer take Professor Brian Cox seriously since my husband pointed out he has the same vocal phrasing as Philomena Cunk) and I have been taking time out from slogging away at course related stuff to go the pictures - seen some wonderful films like South Riding (1936) and the truly mind boggling Author: The JT Leroy Story (2016) -  though if I'm honest one of the most boggling things is how anyone could have believed Laura Alberts alter ego Speedy was british as that was one of the worst british impressions I've ever heard. I must write up my proper reviews of them whilst they are still reasonably fresh in my memory. Going to see films at the Hyde Park is one of my very favourite things to do - plus I love the fact that if you go to see a film at the cinema rather than watch one at home then you are less distracted as your only job is to watch the film and you don't have to answer the phone/check email/catch sight of the pile of ironing still undone.

One resolution I have made is should my phd plans/hopes come to fruition is that I will write my bibliography as I go along, something which I hadn't done this term and it was a right slog and pain in the arse to write it up earlier this week. A task which should have been easy but which became somewhat pained and led to a lot of procrastination and social media checking whilst writing it (I can thoroughly recommend Hacker T Dog on Twitter  as he or rather his handler who I suspect is a man called Phil Fletcher is hilarious) and I don't want to have to do that all in one go again. It's been made harder though because of the really noisy and invasive roadworks going on outside too - from 7am til 7pm there has been the sound of drilling, or the noise and vibrations of rollers making the tarmac flat and it's been going on for the last two weeks and is scheduled to continue for at least another two...

Another resolution would be to make meals in advance and freeze them as I've put weight on as I've been eating less than sensibly and reaching for easy comfort food as opposed to making healthier food from scratch.

One thing that did happen though this week or rather last Sunday was the first time I've felt unnerved in St George's Field. Along with taking images of my burial plot sized print, I also took pictures with my new pinhole lens and I wanted to take some amidst the clump of graves and trees in the corner nearest the transport studies department which is being refurbished.  It was quite a windy day and as I set up the camera on the tripod at the edge of the clump the branches above began groaning and squeaking as they rubbed against one another in a really alarming 'I'm about to break and come crashing down' kind of way so I moved to another spot sharpish. It really felt scarey and a bit threatening at the time though now I'm thinking oh for goodness sake it was just wind on the branches.

It didn't stop me going and getting a pizza from La Besi though for lunch and taking it back there to eat. Though we sat nowhere near the offending branches. Eating pizza there after taking pictures on a weekend has become a bit of a habit for me and my husband and it's one I'd like to continue. Though I will need to up the amount of exercise I'm doing in order to offset them....

I'm not sure if I'll keep up the habit of writing this once a week when I no longer need to for college purposes but even if I don't write so frequently I think I'll make a point of writing it at least once a month as although I'll no longer be at college as much I still have lots of academic and arty stuff on and I'll need to record what I'm up to somewhere, plus if all goes to plan potential phd-wise then I'll be no doubt writing about that.

Fingers crossed........

Monday, 1 August 2016

MA-Ness Week 16 and 17 Final Countdown, Portfolio Compilation-Ness, Seaside Wonder, Cholera, Gaskell, Exhibitions in Manchester and that kind of thing...

two weeks worth of post it notes (please note fancy new lined purple ones) damaged mourning brooch bought from antique shop on the front in Cleethorpes (the pin is broken so it cannot be worn as a brooch plus it also needs a bit of a polish) and the bag with a doodle made by the man who sold it to me. I know lots of people find it morbid that people used to make keepsakes and memorials of their dead loved ones using actual bits from them but I find it rather lovely and wished we still did. Sadly this brooch doesn't have any makers details or details of the deceased either, and part of me is wondering if it might be more of a mass produced fashion type item rather than a more individual one - though of course this could also be because that was all the person doing the remembering could afford.
Sweep rocking out on his cardboard bass guitar in the Humber Pastimes Arcade on the front at Cleethorpes - Sweep never fails to make me smile and every so often I have to go on pilgramage to see him in all his dusty rickety motheaten faded glory and put 50p in and watch him rock out to Buddy Holly and the Crickets..if you want an original Sooty and Sweep soundtrack and them playing Polly Put The Kettle On or Pop Goes The Weasel and a 'bye bye everybody, bye bye' by none other than the original Mr Corbett and less dust and sellotape and no led lights then head over to Southport and the pier where there is an arcade filled with just such wonder.
Forgive poor quality pic - taken on phone, it was quite high up on the wall and I'm not very tall plus quite a lot of wine had been consumed by this of the birthday presents from my lovely supportive husband was a book from Thackray Medical Museum about the impact cholera outbreaks had in terms of public unrest, public health reforms, building of cemeteries and it is absolutely fascinating - Cholera and Conflict 19th Century Cholera in Britain and its Social Consequences (2009) edited by Holland M, Gill G and Burrell S Medical Museum Publishing. However he didn't share my giddiness at standing in the above spot.
A nineteeth century wedding dress on the left - reputedly worn by Miss Heald of Parrs Wood for her marriage to Dr James Wood in 1831 or 1832 and the red dress is an evening dress printed with pineapples and is from 1828-1830 - both on show at the Costume Museum in Platt Field Park Manchester.

So it's less than two weeks til final hand in and I'm trying not to stress too much about it and am steadily plugging along with portfolio compilation. The research journal, public engagement and academic presentations part of it is good to go, the bag to put it in just needs ironing and printing and so all(!) that's left to do is to go through the work I've made and decide which pieces to submit - one complete piece is ready though. My 12 Belle Ends and A Sock On The Door complete with Come Curtains Viewer (TM) is good to go...more or less. I'm still trying to decide whether to compile it by production method or subject matter or some combination of the two, so that's what I'll be concentrating on for the next few days. My work won't end though as then I'll be concentrating upon a paper for Death and Culture, a mini solo show at Lentos in Headingley, putting together a Phd proposal, making work for inclusion at the third Gothic Festival in Manchester just for a start....

So this is going to be one of my final blog posts for this MA malarkey (think I'll keep it on though as it's a useful way to  record what I've been up to, and it's a good way in which to reflect on what I've been up to)  so I'd best get cracking on with it and then I can do some more portfolio compilation. My aim to make an anthotype of St George's Field that was literally of St George's Field has been partially realised in that I got a faint but undeniably there result from an anthotype I made using minced up grass and weeds from St George's Field and an acetate negative of a picture I took on my crap kids digital of a reflection of the trees in my husbands camera lens. I'm not sure exactly how long I left it in the sunshine as I can't remember when I left it on my workroom window ledge and then I went away for a couple of days to Cleethorpes to celebrate my birthday and then I had an overnight trip to Manchester when I got back. In fact I'd forgotten I'd left it there so I had a nice surprise when I opened the curtains when I got back - so maybe 6 or 7 days.  So the method works - so it just needs refining and I need to use an acetate of St George's Fields as a negative. I hope to do this later this week so I can include it as part of my submission.

The other thing I've had some small amount of success with is acetone transfers, apparently they work best when you're transferring an image from a freshly photocopied image and it's a handy other technique to have had a go of, it's smellier than matte medium image transfer but quicker plus acetone is also a handy nail varnish remover. I've tried them on canvas, cotton material and I did try on a bit of coffin lining offcut but that just kind of melted so I won't be doing that again.

One of the notes on my post it note says 'feeling like a boss sorting a computer problem out' but I can't remember what the problem was now. I can only remember feeling exultant at the time. Oh well. I'm not the brightest when it comes to computers and often struggle to make them do what I want - I still find photoshop uninituitive and unuser friendly though I am using it more often these days. Mostly to boost levels in and to invert images and of course to get rid of unsightly modern bloody bins in otherwise lovely vistas of Victorian graves...oh and of course getting rid of cat hairs which no matter carefully I clean the scanner bed and gently wipe the negative with nonabrasive cloth/use the puffer blow thing on it ALWAYS end up with a cat hair on them. I guess Mapp just doesn't like being left out.

The 12 Belle Ends...and the solo show at Lentos are down to my love of John Waters - the 12 Belle Ends is my response to his seminal (and I use the word advisedly) '12 Assholes and a Dirty Foot' piece and the solo show is thanks to my using his mantra of 'a no is free' and so when I was waiting a couple of weeks ago for some films to be developed at The Photo Shop I popped in to Lentos to get a cold drink. I noticed that instead of the usual whats on flyers there were photos (of summer schools set up by Mussolini in the 1930's in Italy now in advanced stages of disrepair and covered with graffitti) so I asked if they were looking for images for the future and luckily I had some on me as I was on my way home from the print room at college and the answer was yes :-)

Very pleased about this as I'd only been saying that morning that I'd love a solo show and this fits the bill nicely. Probably going to concentrate on images I've made of local bridlepaths as opposed to the more funereral ones.  It's exciting though and something to look forward to after the end of the course and the start (fingers crossed) of the next one as it's looking like Phd plans are coming along nicely and fingers crossed they come to fruition.

I am a big fan of Twitter (and especially Hacker T Dog on Twitter as he never fails to make me laugh/groan in equal measure) and I use it to find out what's going on locally, nationally, plus I find it excellent for showing art opportunities as well as finding out what it out there artwise to go and have a look at. It was seeing a tweet by Arts and Minds Network asking for contributors that partly got me started on this making work to show people as opposed to just making work, which then led to my taking part in the Place and Memory Project which then led to me applying to Leeds College of Art and what I'm doing now. I also use it to chat to chums but not as much as other social networks. Anyway I asked what weeds have the highest chloropyhll content so I can make anthotypes more successfully and was chuffed with the response - looks like nettles are going to be my best bet. So I think I need to get some gardening gloves and develop the art of grasping them firmly as that way they don't sting apparently. I'm not entirely convinced by this - hence I shall be getting some gardening gloves.

Part of the reason this is a fortnightly catch up as opposed to my more usual weekly catch up is because I was away most of last week - initially in Cleethorpes celebrating my birthday, visiting 19th century cholera outbreak hotspots, having champagne afternoon tea in a restored Victorian pier tea room and doing the usual seaside things like playing the twopenny falls, air hockey at which I uncharacteristically trounced my husband 7-3 and getting our photo taken by a reincarnated disembodied Van Gogh in a booth. I also went wild in the camera shop and bought a zoomy lens for the Canon film slr I bought in a charity shop this time last year. My husband also got me a Holga pinhole lens for it too - really enjoyed using that on the beach at the Fitties   - a beautiful bit of the seafront we'd never visited before and where we'll definitely be visiting again.

Can't really see anything through the pinhole lens so I set up the shots using the nifty fifty for framing, a handy breakwater to balance the camera on and with the help of my much more maths literate husband and a light reading worked out what exposure times were needed. 10 seconds in the sunshine on the beach, 15 seconds in the less bright Humber Bridge. Got some results I'm really pleased with too - especially as I've post processed them to black and white. They have a lovely other worldly quality to them. Hope to make more like them soon.

I also took the opportunity to rephotograph one of the angels from Cleethorpes Cemetery that I use repeatedly in my work, plus the weather and light and surrounding shrubbery were very different when I took the first lot of photos in February 2015 and it was an excuse to play with my new zoomy lens too. I also made a point of taking details of the people buried in the tomb too as that felt appropriate somehow though I doubt I would use that detail visually in my work, but I feel I might detail it in any accompanying literature. I might also try and find something out about the sculptor/stonemason.   

I was back home for a night before I was off on my travels again, this time to Manchester (or as a long time devoted Victoria Wood fan more often referred to as Manchesterford) to do a few things - discuss my involvement with the Gothic Festival in October, go to the very interesting and thought provoking Emerging Infectious Diseases lecture (about the connections between the science of disease outbreaks and some of the literary responses to such outbreaks) , catch up and have dinner with a lovely chum and the following day go to wonderful temporary and permanent exhibitions, go wild in the aisles of the fantastic John Rylands library and sample their very fine indeed sausage sandwich, go round childhood haunts and be a bit sad to see them in a comparatively sad state (there are no boats anymore on the boating lake at Platt Fields Park) before getting a rather delayed coach home and so being too tired to go and see Elvis and Nixon at the Hyde Park.

The exhibitions were in order of attendance - Fahion Freedom at Manchester Art Gallery and part of the 14-18 NOW WWI Centenary Art Commission. Some beautifully structured pieces - I especially liked the rather 70's looking in terms of the material it was made of (shiny and itchy looking) homage to the Red Cross nurses which made them look sort of superhero-ish, a lot of the costumes featured were yellow in homage/remembrance of the women who worked in the munitions factory and who were known as yellow canaries as the chemicals they were working with made their skin take on a yellow tinge, it was a mix of photographs and costumes and I wish I'd had a longer time to peruse it.

I also spent some time looking at the incredible prints and articles in the Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World at the John Rylands library which included a fantastic print of Death and the Devil Surprising Two Women by Hopfer, first hand  accounts of the haunting by Old Jeffrey of Epworth Rectory - home of Wesley, Lo Stregozzo's Witches Procession, accounts of the 1762 Cock Lane Ghost Affair and bracelets for shackling a child to life and warding off death and a recipe from John Dee for a liquid to keep your skin looking young whose ingredients contained cinnamon and donkeys milk. Plus to see such items amongst the wonder of the John Rylands library itself just makes it extra special. Plus there was also the tantalising and incredible tale contained within the Malleus Maleficarum which details the case of a restless corpse of a witch who caused a nearby town to be overcome with disease by chewing on her burial shroud - her corpse is only made still when she is posthumously beheaded.

I also very much enjoyed looking at the Schiaparelli and Thirties Fashion exhibition at the Museum of Costume - such beautiful gowns though I had gone primarily to look at their 19th century fashions and I will hopefully be making an appointment to go and look at the mourning items they have in their collection. It wasn't just the costumes that I loved but also the very fine pair of huge vases by Grayson Perry at the bottom of the staircase up to the bulk of the collections - I especially loved the used condom motif as decoration though initially I walked past them and didn't notice the intricate detailing as I'd initially thought they were the kind of vases you often find in stately homes - note to self - look at things closely and properly!! The setting of some of the Schiapirelli gowns were in what had been the dining room and were accompanied by a fabulous 1930's soundtrack on mannequins not in cases worked especially well plus Platt Hall itself is a wonderful 18th century building.

Then it was back through the rain and the considerable roadworks on Oxford Road back to the Art Gallery to see Vogue 100 A Century of Style on recommendation by the curator at the Gallery of Costume (which meant I didn't go wild on the shops on Oldham Street instead and so saved my bank account further distress ) - some of the photographs were amazing. I especially liked the torn creased one of Francis Bacon, the ones taken during the second world war and in its immediate aftermath. I also especially liked the one of Stephen Jones in one of his  pink feathery hats and a pink suit which he said made him feel like 'Barbara Cartland on acid'.

The photographs and galleries were split into the different decades Vogue has been going and there were some that left me cold, some left me uncomfortable with their designer consumerism and one made me want to throw something at it - though that was because of its subject matter - Margaret Thatcher and my feelings towards her. Horrible to be confronted with a large portrait of her sitting comfortably in a chair in a gown - I had a really visceral response to that one. I had my usual 'I just don't get the appeal of Kate Moss' response to all the pictures of Kate Moss because I just don't get the appeal of Kate Moss and don't understand why she is so popular as a model. If I get chance I'd like to go back and have a proper longer look and savour some of the pics by Lee Miller (one of my photographic heroes)  amongst others and marvel again at the excesses of 80's fashion.

Well I'd best crack on with both my portfolio compilation and my reading of Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell - I'm on a Gaskell kick at the moment and so far have read North and South (and marked with a post it note every reference to death/dying/burial customs) and couldn't put it down, Cranford which I was very sad to finish as I just loved it but apparently Mary Barton is filled with death and disease so it's just as well I bought some new post it notes last week as otherwise I might have run out.

 Plus just remembered what it was that I solved computer-wise - the difference between using blogger in googlechrome and firefox, in the former it's much easier to format and in firefox it's a pain in the arse....