Thursday, 28 December 2017

PhD-Ness Part 5, Festive Interim, Films, Forward Thinking, Stuff Done So Far....

My lovely new notepad with notes I've made over the last few weeks and some of my lovely xmas presents - I am a sucker for a shonky action film and there are few more shonky or actiony than those starring Chuck Norris and this was courtesy of my older brother. The experimental photography book was from my mother in law and it is a fabulous resource both in a how to sense but also in a who is already using these techniques - something that will be very useful in these literature review writing times and right at the bottom is a copy of American Gothic by Jonathon Rigby courtesy of my good friend and co-partner in horror and cinematic crime Penny. I've already read the section on Dracula - will be reading the section about Frankenstein later - I was also spoilt by my lovely ever supportive husband who treated me to lots of lovely things but in particular Frayling's marvellous book about Frankenstein, Kinsey's excellent Hammer Frankenstein scrapbook and some instant monochrome film.   

Ongoing experiments with using leafs and petals using hapa zome technique - either using a mallet or a hammer - a teeny tiny hammer that came with a toffee set. It's just right for hitting the leaves/petals to transfer their outline and essence onto paper (currently using watercolour paper) or material - so far have experimented with using muslin and coffin lining material, it's all part of my plan/aim to make images that are literally 'of the place'.

It's almost a month since I've written a blog post - it's not that I've not been writing though, I've been concentrating upon my research plan instead. Annoyingly the month has also been disrupted by the other tradition of the festive season - namely cough/cold/flu lurgy. Thankfully I've not had the cough part of it but I have had the snot, aching limbs and lack of energy part. So I didn't get to meet with my tutor to discuss my research plan and I am very much looking forward to getting together with her in the new year and refining the plan and getting my head round exactly what it is I need to do as well as want to do.

I knew that PhD research would be a lonelier journey than the MA research but it is taking a bit more getting used to, I'm not as clear about the academic hoops I have to jump and I'm finding the library at Huddersfield is a bit bewildering layout wise and a bit lacking artbook wise. I've joined the library at the Henry Moore Institute - this is an excellent artbook resource and it is open to anyone. I've also applied for a sconal card so I can make full use of the library facilities at both Leeds Uni and Leeds Art Uni. So hopefully once I've met with my tutor and got a better grasp of exactly what it is I need to be doing I'll feel a bit more on target with things and I'll have better resources to tackle with it as well.

I have been doing a lot of reading, not quite as much doing but also an awful lot of thinking. Reading wise I've been trying to get my head round some theory courtesy of Geffrey Batchen, Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault and history/literature wise I've been reading lots of British Association of Victorian Studies blog posts, Sarah Wise's Blackest Streets, and Adkins Eavesdropping on Jane Austen's England - because I figured I shouldn't be quite so fixated Victorian era wise - plus things that are Victorian didn't just begin out of nowhere in 1837 or end in 1901 - they had a before and an after life.  At times though I've found it difficult to concentrate and at times writing my research plan felt like pulling teeth but I got it into a shape/format I was happy enough with - without further direction or feedback that is and in plenty of time for the deadline set for me by my tutor and the admin staff.

I've also treated myself to my favourite bubblegum for the brain reading over the festive season - a Jackie Collins epic bonkbuster called The Power Trrip - it is absolutely terrible in so many ways - it's all exposition, product placement and utterly improbable un/intentionally hilarious sex scenes, identikit plotlines and characters but they are also such a good giggle and the best way to unwind - I am not looking for a subtext, or analysisng them from either a gender politics or a class politics viewpoint when I read them. They just make me laugh and wince in equal measure (see also action movies)

So looking back - it's been a mixed year, I've struggled with poorliness (having a poorly knee has really limited my mobility at times and had a damaging impact on my mental health) but have also done some stuff I'm really pleased with/about. So my plans for the next year are to build on those things, work on improving my knee and thereby my mental health and really get to grips with this PhD malarkey.....  I've also seen a lot of films - think my favourites of the year have been:
Multiple Maniacs (1970) - John Waters monochrome 'masterpiece' which is possibly the most sacrilegious film I have ever seen
A Quiet Passion (2016)- Terence Davies utterly enchanting and captivating biopic of Emily Dickinson played so beautifully by Cynthia Nixon
England Is Mine (2016) - M Gills Morrissey biopic which I loved - partly for its Shangri La filled soundtrack and partly for its being filmed in so many Mancunian locations which I recognised from my own childhood (plus Morrissey wasn't the knobhead he has sadly become then)
Headhunters (2011) M Tyldum  one of the most visceral, gripping, funny heist turned murder stories I've seen in years
Dave Made A Maze (2017) Bill Watersons's funny, fantastical and inventive story of Dave who builds a maze in his apartment.
Fargo (1996) Cohen Brothers - second time I've seen it on the big screen - it was the first film that my husband and I saw at the pictures when we'd just started going out together.  It had lost none of its funny grimmness and I remain in love with Frances McDormands pregnant police officer.

So onwards and hopefully upwards - just had a response to an exhibition opportunity saying 'thanks but no' but got all sorts of other opportunities coming up this year and fingers crossed they'll work out better.

Thanks for reading and all the best for 2018 :-)


Monday, 27 November 2017

PhD-ness Part 4 - Reading, Doing, Writing, Pushing Off From Shore....and Hacker T Dog

By chance after the Count Arthur Strong xmas special radio recordings at the Lowry last week - meeting my absolute favourite furry hero (and his handler who seemed v surprised that anyone had recognised him)  - the incomparable Hacker T Dog who told me I smelled like his hero Susan Barker - but alas this wasn't the compliment it seemed as he then told me she stinks cockers......this has got to be one of the years highlights and only meeting Sweep (another of my favourite furry fellows) could hope to be anywhere near as exciting.
lots in this weeks picture - some of the notes I've made, some of the things I've been experimenting with and some of the things I've been looking at.

It's been a really busy few days - so this is hopefully just going to be a quick brain dump of what I've been up to and where I've been so I can crack on with what I really need to be doing which is:
editing and submitting an abstract for a conference
finish drafting my research plan
put the flesh on the at the moment very bare bones of my literature review.

I met with my primary tutor this week and a very productive and useful meeting it was too. As a result I have a much better idea of what it is I need to be doing and I have been given two very definite targets of research plan and literature review and so this blog post is partly a thought collation exercise and partly procrastination as both those tasks whilst manageable also seem a teeny bit big and scarey at the moment.

Which is why things like looking at Hacker T Dog who never fails to make me if not laugh out loud then at the very least wryly smile is also a vital part of my day to day routine - we all need something/someone to make us smile in life, and especially so when your research mostly has you looking at or reading about death and decay...even if it is mostly the very beautiful aspects of  Victorian death culture - it can still get a bit much at times, even for a dedicated coimetromanic like myself. I have particularly struggled at times over the last couple of years with bereavement and anxiety/panic attacks and watching Hacker T Dog and his sublimely daft antics really helped me get through the day at times - I'll always be very grateful to him and his handler Phil Fletcher for that.

So eating properly, watching clips of Hacker and getting fresh air and going out and doing nice things are just as important as reading for example another chapter from Photographs Objects Histories by Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart...I've also been doing a couple of crafty things - covering a cheap pair of slip on shoes from Primarni with ripped up bits of Jenny Uglow's very fine biography of one of my literary heroes Elizabeth Gaskell ( my lovely husband bought me a secondhand hardback copy and I found a tatty paperback copy in the charity shop for a quid) which I have ripped up into bits and pasted onto the shoes using a solution of PVA glue and water - they still need to be tidied up a bit round the edges and then covering with a gloss medium coating.

It felt very naughty indeed to be ripping up a book but also quite exciting and quite therapeutic to be painting bits of paper and glue onto my shoes. I'd rubbed them beforehand with sandpaper bought from a fantastic tools stall from the indoor market in Huddersfield to ensure the paper had a surface it could stick to. I also bought a mallet from the same stall so I could do some more hapa zome prints/dye transfers of leaves. Pictures is a maple leaf on watercolour paper after being dipped in my home made mordant of rusty nails and white vinegar.

Also pictured is the guide from the very wonderful exhibition at Huddersfield of paintings and prints by Maxwell Doig - evocative and poignant - this is well worth a visit and I'll be going again before it ends next March.

So lots of doing - some therapeutic, some directly related to my PhD research and lots of reading too. I feel less at sea than I did the last few times I've written, I feel like SS PhD-Ness has well and truly set sail now and it's time to start coalescing all the reading I've doing into definite ports of call aka jumping specific academic hoops.

So before this sailing metaphor gets ever more tortuous and sinks under its own weight I'd best get cracking on with my tasks....

Sunday, 12 November 2017

PhDNess Part 3 - Slightly Less At Sea-Ness Part 2, Taking Pictures, Doing, Thinking, Reading...

Ice Skulls - plan to experiment with using twice boiled water, de-ionised water in attempt to make clear-er skulls - then to try make them using food colouring or home made ink or bits of site detritus with aim of filming or photographing their melting  

Mapp unimpressed with my experiments and attempts to see how long it takes them to melt

attempts to transfer colour from leaves, flowers onto paper and felt with aim of making some kind of eco-prints 

this weeks notes - am loving my day of the dead notepad
Been a busy few days and going to be busy over the next few days too - hence my writing this on a Sunday - a time when I would normally be lying on the sofa watching reruns of lovely proper 70's Columbo ('just one more thing...') whilst sipping tea.

It's been a week of reading Grayson Perry's very marvellous 'Playing to the Gallery', mulling over the meaning of anniversaries, taking some medium format photos in St George's Field using my lovely Lubitel twin lens camera, listening to podcasts about Mary Elizabeth Braddon and finishing Aurora Floyd, looking up recipes for home made ink, researching eco print techniques, experimenting with making ice skulls using a silicon mould and thinking about Victorian light.

I find Grayson Perry's work wonderful and intriguing to look at, I really enjoyed his Reith Lectures (almost as much as I enjoyed Hilary Mantels) but until now I hadn't read anything by him - other than his and Alan Measles twitter feed. Playing To The Gallery (2014) is wonderful - accessible, thought provoking, funny, and a lovely mix of text and drawn image/cartoon. Wonderful stuff.

Anniversaries can be happy or sad occasions - one of the ways I'm thinking of developing my work is by looking at the dates on the tombstones I photograph, and then either make more work using it on the anniversary of that date or going back to it to make more work on the anniversary of that date. I need to do some more research into why/how the associations of wedding anniversaries like paper, iron etc came about, and why we celebrate big numbers in particular eg centenaries and the like. I suppose part of their appeal is the fact that they are a fixed feast in the midst of uncertainty.

I've been taking more pictures in St George's Field - this time using my lovely secondhand Lubitel twin lens camera - since I got bifocal glasses using cameras like this (with a viewfinder at the top of the camera rather than the back of it) has become easier as I just have to move my head to get the camera in focus and then the view as opposed to having to switch between two pairs of glasses, I have taken 8 pictures on the roll so far so there'll have to be a few more days of good weather for me to finish it - or I could take it out with a tripod if the light is low and long exposures were needed.

I don't have a smartphone (I have a PAYG phone that has a camera and a radio on it but nothing more fancy than that) so the world of apps and podcasts unless you can access them from a PC or a laptop are a bit of mystery to me. But whilst I was working and reading last week I caught up with a few by the Victorian Scribbler and the Bonnets At Dawn people and loved them. They were about Mary Elizabeth Braddon (I didn't know she was such a keen hunter but was pleased also to learn she loved strong tea and split her working week into 4 days writing - she wrote until her death in 1914 - she was a long lived Victorian and two days hunting - with presumably a day for church going) or books by her or about 19th century novelists in general and were good to have on in the background whilst I was working. Braddon remains one of my very favourite writers - she writes such rattling good yarns with strong female characters (to a point - one of my criticisms of her work is that they tend to fade away at the end of the novels) plus for me it is very interesting to read stories that were written and set in the 19th century as opposed to just set in them.

I took part in a read along of Aurora Floyd (1863) twitter based experiment organised by Courtney Floyd in which we read Aurora Floyd in monthly installments of 3 chapters - the same as when it was first published in Temple Bar Magazine. I found it very difficult to stop at the end of the alloted 3 chapters at first and made a note in my diary as to when I could read the next installment. But over the summer I kind of lost where we were up to and got distracted - with such a big gap (and various life events) I found I had to reread previous chapters as I had forgotten key plot details and then when I did get back into it again - I read it to the end. I'm not too much ahead of the curve as it would have ended next month as it has 36 chapters in total. Plus I wasn't the only participant who read ahead - one participant finished it in the summer, one in the spring almost as soon as we started it as he 'couldn't put it down'. It made me wonder if it was accompanied by a 'story so far' type introductory paragraph but apparently it wasn't so I'm guessing Victorians had better memories or kept previous copies of the magazine close so they could catch up if need be. 

I enjoyed it but as not as much as Lady Audley's Secret but am not sure how much of that is down to the story itself or the way I read it. I devoured Lady Audley's Secret over a few days and so it was a concentrated hit of Victorian loveliness (if you count a tale of bigamy, arson, attempted murder, the status of women as lovely that is) and so I found my experience of Aurora Floyd gappy in comparison - though the opening chapters are wonderfully gripping - it was very hard to put it down. Hmm as ever food for thought re method of consumption and what effect it has on the experience of the novel as opposed to the novel itself.

Sometimes while I'm working (the research and reading type of working - when I'm taking or making photographs then it's the ambient noise of wherever I am taking or making images) I put music on - but it has to be music without words or singing or else I get distracted and want to sing along. I can listen to people talking though - I find the sound of voices and sound radio quite comforting as it makes me feel less alone I think. Radio 4 was a habit I got into when I first left home but I have been listening to Radio 4 Extra recently as it is less depressing and stressful to listen to than Radio 4 with its regular news programmes. The news at the moment is just so unrelentingly grim that I don't want to listen to it anymore. I get my news from the internet these days instead - it's still painful but it's much less awful that way.

One of the things I've been experimenting with over the last few days is making skulls out of ice using a skull mould my ever lovely and supportive husband bought me off the tinternet - I've been inspired by the work of Carol Sowden and Mel Dewey who were on the year below me MA-wise. I'd like to take time lapse pictures of them melting and also to try putting things in the ice - either food colouring or home made ink (I've been looking up recipes) or fallen petals/leaves that I have collected. So far I've not had much luck making clear ice - the tinternet advises using cooled twice boiled water and I've gotten clearer ice that way but it's still bubbly. I've tried de-ionised water today to see if that makes a difference - I have no idea what de-ionised means but that along with the reading I've been doing about mordants (what a wonderful sounding word) and eco printing methods means that I might end up learning a bit more about what de-ionised means and other basic chemical stuff.

I'm still thinking about Victorian light - in terms of the methods that were available in the Victorian period, and what effect the kind of light available to you had on the way you saw and did things. I'm also thinking along the lines of how to light pieces of work using Victorian methods. As ever lots of food for thought and lots of experimenting to do...along with lots of reading. I am really going to have to start reading more theory that I do/have done so far......Foucault here I come.....but I am also looking forward to working on this with my tutor and hoping that she can provide some useful insights and pointers.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

PhD-Ness Part 2 - Slightly Less At Sea-Ness, Leeds Library-Ness, Theory, Reading,Note Making, Doing.....

mix of notes made as I've been going along the past few weeks, and my contribution to Alabama 13's piece for the Girls Make Art #2 Reclaiming Pink event/show at Wharf Chambers Saturday 11th November and Sunday 12th November. 

Part of my lovely skully haul from Whitby Goth Festival - cushion in background bought a while back, pincushion by kerrysgifts, mug from which I am going to drink hot chocolate came from the English Heritage shop at the Abbey  

Latest book haul from the very marvellous Leeds Community Trust bookshop

So it's almost a month since I've written and it's been a busy one - not necessarily with study as I've also spent quite a bit of time at the dentist having root canal treatment (here's hoping I don't have to go back til my next scheduled check up and that I don't need anything doing then) and I am also just back from a delightful few restorative days in Whitby at the Goth Festival.

That was mostly marvellous - catching up with chums, going on a river cruise (saw seals, a heron, shags and a very fat squirrel) I also ate lots of lovely food (but didn't ice cream or fish and chips) and drank lots of lovely beer (diet starts now) a mooch round the Abbey which also led to me taking part in a Victorian funeral procession re-enactment - it was a walking* funeral and I banged the drum, a mooch around the Museum where I gazed again upon some of my very favourite artefacts namely:

  • the dead mans hand - a charm of a light made from a hung mans hand allegedly used by robbers to ensure homeowners stayed asleep when being burgled
  • Dr Merryweathers Tempest Prognosticator - a weather predicting device using the barometric pressure sensitivity of slugs to warn of impending storms
  • the charm against sore throats which was a tiny piece of the hangmans rope next to a little gold figure on a gibbet 
  • the jet jewellery
  • the camera cabinet - which houses many models of camera which I am fortunate enough to have of my own and be able to use
  • the creepiest collection of Victorian dolls - there is something beautifully sinister about their cracked wax faces

    The unmarvellous bit was seeing images of someone dressed up as a kind of wolf in nazi uniform - alongside a child also dressed in a uniform with a swastika - quite why anyone would want to do that I am not sure, it also distresses me that someone who was at the Goth Weekend as an onlooker as opposed to participant would think that was a normal and both acceptable and accepted part of the goth subculture when in my experience it is very much not. Quite how to challenge it effectively though I am not sure. Any suggestions would be gratefully received.
I did take some books to Whitby with me to read - some textbooks - Foucaults The Will To Knowledge, some reading books/primary sources of the Victorian period - Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (started reading this as part of the read along earlier this year organised by Janine Hatter on Twitter. The aim was to read it in three chapter installments once a month - the same as when it was first published in Temple Bar Magazine in 1862, but I'm afraid rationing the chapters as opposed to reading it all in one go as and when I can has made quite a fractured experience for me and I can't always remember what has just happened and have to reread bits and I have fallen behind with reading it - in spite of it being a wonderful read when I do read it.

I wonder if it was printed with a precis of the action so far? Anyway I didn't read anymore of it in spite of my plan to finish it - the sitting room in the cottage was a bit chilly and so I couldn't find a comfortable long term reading position, nor did I get further than the introduction to Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall but I did read a couple of HP Lovecrafts Short Stories from the Horror In The Museum collection - not the thing to read before going to Sandsend in the pouring rain with the waves pounding up the beach when everyone is walking past with their hoods up - to keep out the rain I know but part of me was wondering if it was whether or not to hide proto gills....

So aside from Whitby based loveliness and dental unpleasantness what else have I been up to - have been reading Barthes Mythologies, Peter Barry's Beginning Theory - a really basic but useful introduction to theory - something I am beginning to think about in much more depth. I haven't met with my primary supervisor yet as they are on sick leave but I have met with my secondary supervisor hence my theory reading and reading of Foucault in particular - at her suggestion.

I'm still feeling a bit at sea with it all and had been worried I wasn't doing any doing at all - but I did do a couple of churchyard visits in Whitby (St Marys and St Oswalds) and took some photographs on film too which I intend to use to make some prints and images with - providing they have come out okay that is. Both films (one 35mm, one medium format) are Ilford XP2 which means although they make black and white images they need the colour C41 process to be developed. So I shall take them to my usual colour film developer Mark at The Photo Shop in Headingley rather than stand shivering in the garage aka pop up meth lab to do them.

Both of the churchyards I went to had very similar gravestones in terms of overall shapes, and carvings on those shapes. Draped urns seem very popular as a carving whereas in the gravestones that remain in St George's Field the draped urns figure as actual objects on top of gravestones as well as carved on them. Grave poetry doesn't seem as common in either of the churchyards. Neither churchyard had any obelisk type gravestones. I'm not sure how much of that has to do with fashion, or with rules about what can and can't be used as grave adornment in either place.

I have still been trying to get a routine sorted out too - until my primary supervisor is back from sick leave I'm not sure when my meetings will be, but in the meantime I am still doing my roughly nine to five reading/working at the computer each day. I also need to work out a proper reading schedule and start compiling a to do list with dates to be completed by as opposed to just a to do list that I tick off (or often don't...) as I go along.

Thanks to a talk by Carol Sowden at the Art College (I'm finding it hard to remember to call it by its new name Leeds Arts University - I think it will always be Leeds College of Art to me) I also have some ideas about developing the more ephemeral aspects of my artwork, its connections to mourning culture and new directions in which to take it. This has involved buying some skull shaped moulds off the internet too. I am very excited about these arriving through the post - I can't wait to use them.

I showed a friend and fellow artist around St George's Field last week prior to going to the talk and then the fun of trying to find the correct chemistry department lecture theatre for Professor Griselda Pollocks talk on 'Truth Telling and Art History In The Digital Age of Global Uncertainty' which was both interesting and thought provoking.  Before we found it we did see some rather exciting locked rooms with impressive looking machines, bottles of impressively coloured liquid and signs declaring poisonous and dangerous substances within...

She concentrated on culture and what are definitions of it, quoting from Raymond Williams - someone whose work I am going to have to check out. It was also interesting to think of the differences between media and platforms as they often get confused, she also spoke of how cinema tells the stories of artists and invariably bolsters the idea that artists are neurotic. I also have a note that culture is not an it - it is a doing as it is being done all around you and you are part of it.

It was lovely to show a friend round what is one of my very favourite places and to see it again and afresh through someone else's eyes - someone who had never been there before. I'm talking of course of St George's Field - a place I probably go to at least once a month if not more and every time I go there is something either new or something that I haven't noticed before or something I hadn't realised the significance of.

This time it was the little shelves that could have just been decoration but could also be used to place  offerings on one gravestone, the proximity of innkeepers and temperance advocates graves (imagine the conversations between those graveyard occupants) and some symbolism on one gravestone in particular which I need to do some research into as to what it might mean,initial research leads me to believe it is a masonic symbol. I also noticed some espeically beautiful floral carving and I need to find a Victorian flower dictionary to help me translate some of the meaning of some of the flowers carved on the graves.

What else? I also asked my chums on social media what they think of if they see or hear the words 'Victorian' and got some interesting responses including one which made me smile which was 'grime, gruel, corsets,wills and fallen women'. This has given me some insight and ideas in terms of how eras are viewed by other eras - though I need to think more about how why what is thought is thought and how it has come about.

I've also joined the very beautiful and wonderful Leeds Library - an oasis of ages past calm on Commercial Street in Leeds. They have a wealth of Victorian era printed material and I have been very fortunate to see copies of Ainsworth magazine and editions of Gaskell's Ruth and Mary Barton from the 1850's in all their red rot encased glory. Utterly wonderful. My husband has taken to calling it the 'urban elite Victorian reading room' and I'm afraid the pedant and historically accurate nerd in me had to correct him and tell him that as it was founded in 1768 and moved to its current premises in 1808 strictly speaking it is a Georgian urban elite reading room. Plus unlike Huddersfield Uni Library - staff still stamp your book when you take it out - proper library bliss.

I've also been to the very wonderful and thought provoking Skeletons exhibition at Leeds City Museum which along with skeletons also has things made with human remains like a horn made out of a human thigh bone,mourning brooches with locks of hair and false eyelashes. The latter really make me feel icky in a way that mourning brooches do not. I'm not sure why - I think it's partly because anything close to my eyes always make me wince slightly but the thought of a strangers hair (or even if it was made from hair from someone I knew - and had donated it without coercion) so close to my eyes just makes me feel icky in a way that ones made from something artificial wouldn't.   

So in summary - been doing a lot of reading, a bit of doing and a lot of thinking and I have a LOT more reading,doing and thinking to do...I also think I'm going to continue with this blog but make it either a fortnightly or weekly thing again - it helps me gather my thoughts, review what I've done, what is working, what isn't working, what remains to be done and what I need to do to plan ahead. At some point I want to feel like I am properly researching again - it's still all feeling a bit tangential and not quite solid enough at the moment.

*that means there was no carriage pulled by horses style hearse - either the coffin was carried directly by mourners or pushed on a hand cart. It was the cheapest kind of funeral you could have.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

PhD-Ness Part 1, All at Sea-Ness,Trains, New Campus, Love Arts-Ness, New Desk and general ness of all kinds.....

Mono print made yesterday at the Love Arts Festival launch, student travel pass, pass card to Leeds Library, notes and misery....
It's now official - I am a PhD student at the University of Huddersfield (EEK but also YAY!!!) - I have a new email address, new website to get to grips with, new printing facilities to access, new campus to navigate, new colleagues and all other manner of new-ness to get my head around.

One of the loveliest newest things is my new desk - am hoping this will help with back pain and stiffness as it is much better proportioned than the old one and I can sit at it with my legs underneath it comfortably as opposed to my legs being jammed under drawers (though those drawers were very useful indeed for holding passports, mini sd card adapters, usb sticks and the like) - old desk has been moved to the garage where it will (hopefully) be used as a printing desk. The rest of my workroom still needs organising better - the plan is to do a big book cull and get new bookcases too and then maybe I will be able to sit on the sofa bed and read - as opposed to use it as a bookcase...

The plan was to have done all this by the start of term but the boiler was condemned and that was much more of a priority to get replaced (and then the shower wouldn't work alongside the new boiler because of the changes to the water pipes so we had to get a new shower sorted as well...ARGH and indeed OUCH wallet-wise) so new bookcases are still waiting on the shopping list. Aside from actually buying the house (which we effectively bought on tick thanks to a mortgage) last September was the most expensive month I think we've ever had - new boiler, new shower, guttering needed cleaning and new down pipes fitting, uni fees (GULP!!) new glasses for us both, travel pass - got a bus and train one to make getting to and from Huddersfield easier, root canal treatment for me. All adds up to 'new bookcases will have to wait for the moment'.

But along with all those necessary expensive things I also treated myself to student membership of Leeds Library - the one that's above Paperchase on Commercial Street in Leeds - I have wanted to join since I went there for a book launch some time ago. It's a beautiful building, it's the oldest surviving subscription library in the country and it was founded in 1768. It is steeped in history, the staff are really lovely and helpful - they were very helpful when I was doing my MA and I am sure they will be equally helpful now I'm studying for a PhD. Plus best of all they have many Victorian novels, newspapers and periodicals - the actual original paper versions - not reprints or digitally scanned copies. I will be a mix of a kid in a sweetshop and a Bisto kid - breathing in that delightfully heady mix of 'old' 'must' 'candle and coal soot' and 'paper rot'.  I can't wait to start reading their wares. One of the things I am interested in is how the stories I read now as compete editions looked when they were originally published in serial form and what they were placed next to,and what adverts they were surrounded by.

They also have a lovely DVD collection from which I borrowed the delightfully grim and hilarious Arsenic and Old Lace - Peter Lorre as Dr Einstein is glorious and the BBC adaptation of North and South which I am halfway through watching. It's quite tough going - am not finding the characters portrayed on screen as sympathetic as I did when reading them..but I will persevere - I'm intrigued to see how the scene where Margaret Hale is bonnet-less (caused scandal in the 19th century) and steps forward to protect the mill owner John Thornton will be done.

I am also getting to grips with the library at Huddersfield Uni - it's nowhere near as gorgeous to look at as the Brotherton, it's quite labyrinthine, quite noisy and I'm not sure where the librarians live in it as all the booklending is done by a machine which scans your card and the me old fashioned but I prefer to interact with a human and have my book stamped. But there are lots of helpers about - one of whom helped me navigate the difficulties of loading cash onto my printing account (it's mostly done online - ARGH!!! Another one of my bugbears as I prefer to pay for things in person if possible) and then it seemed fairly smooth. I found the book I was looking for and checked it out, I also found my way to and from the print room and got some nice b+w prints done of more recent images I've made.

I'm slowly but surely finding my way both round the campus and Huddersfield itself too - I've still to check out the cafe in the Parish Church (though I have had a look at the graveyard surrounding it) - am loving the 19th century architecture, the charity shops, Walkers the jewellers and the vegetarian sausage rolls from the pound bakery. I love the bit of the campus that goes over the canal - even though on the whole the campus is a bit too toytowny architecturally for me. Am looking forward to doing some more exploring off campus. Including of course Edgerton Cemetery which opened in 1855.

I have found where to get a good baked potato for lunch and got chatting to the lady sat opposite me whilst eating it yesterday. She turned out to be a fairly big cheese in the university and has offered to help me find a scientist type at the university who can help with analysing whether or not the 'mourning' brooch I got in Cleethorpes a while back is made with human hair. It was sold as a mourning brooch but it has no personal dedication or general memoriam-ness which makes me wonder if it is in fact a more mass produced fashion item or love token. Exciting times.

I was however given some undoubtedly authentic mourning items at the weekend by an old chum who kindly gave me a box of Royal Mourning Pins - they're completely black and not shiny and so therefore suitable for use during periods of deepest mourning. Not sure who made them but am guessing by their title that they were made after 1861 (death of Albert) to cash in on Victoria's going into deep mourning and helping make it a more fashionable/expected thing to do. He also gave me mounts for funeral card dedications - it's not clear whether they were 'real' people (will check next time I'm in the local history library where you can access the Ancestors website without having to subscrtibe to it) or examples for printers. The designs are gorgeous and will make beautiful outlines for making both cyanotypes and anthotypes.

Thanks to a workshop run by the lovely Hayley Mill-Styles  - you can find out about her and her work here that was part of the Love Arts Festival launch which you can find out  about here.

I made an image using printers ink and a tile yesterday (see red and white shapes above - I was channelling my inner late 60's early 70's design loves there) which has given me lots of ideas for developing my own work and my aim to present photographic images in a non 2D way. I need to get some new supplies - and dig the enlarger out of the wardrobe as I'll be able to use it to project images and so stencil them onto polystyrene...and then print with them - hopefully with added grave dirt/site specific material from the places they are images of.

The Love Arts Festival runs until October 18th and there is so much to choose from - art shows, plays, perfomances, a special showing of Now Voyager (on 35mm!!) at Hyde Park Picture House at 2pm on Sunday 8th October for which I've written a short introduction, and a pop up outside the by then newly reopened Art Gallery on Saturday 14th October from 11am til 4pm.

I have some of my coffin lining prints on show as part of the pop up exhibition in the Light and as ever I owe The Arts and Mind Network (the people behind the festival) massive gratitude - it was them that gave me the opportunity to take part in the Place and Memory Project which in turn led to me going back to big school (Leeds College of Art now the Leeds University for the Arts) to study for a Masters degree and in turn the PhD I'm studying for now.

I've also written my first proper grown up academic article - currently awaiting feedback on it, had a proposal accepted for a conference on death and memorialisation at Hull University next year, been booked by Darling Roses again to do a talk about my work, so although I've not been making much new artwork recently - the research  into the stuff that inspires me to make the work is ongoing....

What else - as am still settling in, am still trying to work out how best to do my PhD work but I have bought a notebook from the student union shop that is half lined paper and half graph paper and on its front is the embossed gold legend ' LABORATORY BOOK' which I am very much looking forward to filling with notes on anthotype experiments. I am hoping to still have proper down time too and to make that a part of my daily schedule too.

It's two months since I last wrote a blog post, this blog started out as just a general place for me to write about my obsessions, research and projects and then it became my official research journal for my MA. I'm not quite sure what format the academic hoops I have to jump during this PhD malarkey will take - I may update this weekly again like I did or I may just keep notes in a notebook instead - this is another question to ask my tutor when we meet....I already have a list for her.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Pre-PhD Ness - Ongoing Preparation and Prevarication and Procrastination, Slow Cookers, Gaskell-ness, Transporter Bridges, Barthes, RSI and Things.

Some of the books I've been reading, notes for my blog post, a piece of in progress embroidery (v long in progress - started it about 18 months ago but am determined to get back into sewing and knitting as a way to relax in the evenings) guide book to Gaskell's house - if you haven't been GO! for it is wonderful.

The aformentioned Gaskells house in the sunshine - check out their website for opening times, not only is it a marvellous place to visit I can thoroughly recommend the chocolate cake in their tea room.

the actual gibbett used to hang William Jobling - as seen in South Shields Museum, this made me think about the use of actual as opposed to reproduction objects in musems (as did the Gaskell house) plus I also learnt that apparently bodies hung in gibbetts were often covered in pitch in order to ensure they hung there for as long as possible so as to be a warning to other n'er do wells of the potential consequence of their actions. You can find out more about his story here and decide for yourself whether or not his punishment was appropriate to his crime or whether the fact that there was a strike on at the time also had something to do with it.

Along with Gaskells House, Tynemouth and South Shields I've also (thanks to a lovely chum) had a day out in Hull looking at the soon to be demolished remains of the Eastern Cemetery and the Western Cemetery which also features a very impressive cholera monument and pivotal places in turning points in the English Civl War.

It's over a month since I last wrote a blog entry, and I feel well out of practice with it. I reckon getting back into a regular habit with it will help PhD wise and will mean I'm not scratching about at the last minute to hand any writing in, it's a practice based PhD so it won't be as heavy on writing as a non practice based PhD but writing will still be a major component of it. Plus doing this helps be not just collate my thoughts but also to clarify them which can only be a good thing.

I'm also trying to get my workroom in order, read what seems to be an ever increasing pile of books but I made good progress recently on that front. Finally managed to plough my way through both Uglow's excellent 600+ page opus on Elizabeth Gaskell and re-read Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes (it's a beautiful book and read it if you haven't) and also finished Photography Degree Zero edited by Geoffrey Batchen - a collection of essays by various academics in response to Camera Lucida. This was quite a slog in places - I again feared about developing RSI reaching for the dictionary to look up words I had never encountered before or didn't understand.

Thanks to a top tip on a postgrad facebook group I'm part of I am making my own handwritten (in black archival ink) not in alphabetical order dictionary of words I have to look up. Apparently there is some evidence that you are more likely to remember something if you write it down by hand, I am also employing tactics like 'heuristic' is to do with learning and is *almost* similar's not a perfect method but it's getthing there and the book about Barthes has added two A4 sides worth of new words and their defintions and I no longer panic and feel stupid when I see the word 'hermeneutic'.

Other things I am trying to do to get ready are things like:  sorting out food cupboard,stocking up on tins of beans and sausages and stocking up the freezer with easy, comforting,  stick in the oven meal components like oven chips, fishfingers, veggie sausages and that kind of thing. We've also started using a slow cooker (impressed with it so far) as I find it easier to prepare a meal in the morning before I start working at my desk* than I do cooking from scratch at the end of the day when I get up from my desk and I'm tired. Using a slow cooker seems a good way to capitalise on this character trait as that way I can get up, prepare the ingredients, put them in the slow cooker and hey presto meal is ready at the end of the day and only further effort needed is to serve it up and eat it.

I'm still in the habit of looking at social media and online news (still mostly avoiding it on the radio and tv as frankly it's not getting any better) when I first wake up but I need to break out of my habit of looking at it so often through the day. This can be difficult though as writing something like this for instance means using the tinternet, the words I'm looking up aren't always in the dictionary so I have to look them up online and whilst I'm there I could just have a quick look at Facebook or Twitter and then I'm either chatting to mates or getting lost in links to other websites - not all of which are pertinent. It's a mix of potent addiction (though I am not so addicted that I have to look it up whilst I am out and about, properly watching a programme or at the cinema or in the pub chatting with mates) prevarication and of course procrastination. I'm getting better at undertsanding why I procrastinate some jobs more than others - some kind of fear is usually at the base of when I do procrastinate I invariably end up feeling guilty for wasting time as well so anything I can do to help balance out this equation as equally all work and no play/distraction makes for a v dull time indeed.

Like at the moment I have a deadline for an article and though I have made some notes on what I want to write about (some of which came to me in the middle of the night in Tynemouth when I was having difficulty sleeping and my non smart phone was put into use as a notebook by drafting a text) and the bulk of the actual historical research is done I still haven't actually sat down to write it. I think this is a mix of 'eek, I've never written a proper grown up academic article to go in a journal before' and 'eek, one of the people in charge of this journal is also a friend (and someone I've known for longer than I've been doing this research) and I'm scared they're going to read what I've written and think I'm hopeless' I need to counter this with - just sit down and make a start...I can remember the fear when I started writing my dissertation (and the mental pain) but I made a start by just formatting the document and making notes plus lots of things I've never done before aren't so scarey once I've started doing them and as for making mistakes - that's how you learn. Plus this isn't a matter of life and death - well the subject matter might be...but I am not doing this in an attempt to pursue a formal career in academia so if I make a mess of my first attempt at one it's really not the end of the world.

I'm very lucky that I'm not desperately pursuing a formal academic career as the pressures seem to be immense and the jobs at the end few and far between.

So back to what I've been up to over the last few weeks more than what I intend to do. Along with reading I've also been doing my physio exercises in attempt to strenghthen my knee and back and whilst they are no miracle cure they are definitely helping - managed to walk round lots of bits of Tynemouth and South Shields and I wouldn't have been able to do that last month.

The trip to Tynemouth was part of my birthday celebrations which actually kicked off with a trip to Manchester(ford)** and home of my literary hero de jour - Elizabeth Gaskell. It is a fantastic museum and the volunteers on duty are enthusiastic, helpful and knowledgeable. You are encouraged to pull the doorbell that before you the likes of Charlotte Bronte (who hid amongst the dining room curtains) and Charles Dickens have pulled. I'm not sure if it's still the original bellpull though - it's definitely a replacement bell (one of the volunteers said so) and the rooms have been fitted out with items from the Victorian period or that have been made to resemble items from the period (the wallpaper was handprinted to match a sample found when the house was being renovated) you can sit at a desk in the same spot as Elizabeth herself would have sat. There are some original artefacts (things like plates given to William Gaskell in honour of his ministerial duties) but it has made me think again about the use of original versus reproduced or replica items in museum settings.

I know it's irrational but part of me felt disappointed that it wasn't *the* desk Elizabeth had sat at but one like it. Maybe that's because I'm such a superfan of hers. Plus you could tell me that something was original or reproduction and unless it was completely obvious eg a modern Ikea table masquerading as an 18th century dining table I would be none the wiser. It's made me think again about authenticity and its importance.

So after fangirling at Gaskells house - which isn't just about Gaskell but the times she lived in and the place she lived in and sampling the very fine chocolate cake in the tea room and of course making a purchase or several in the bookshop we then headed to see True Faith at Manchester Art Gallery - the exhibition which is about Joy Division and New Order and is a mix of work made by artists that was inspired by their work and original posters, videos and at the end in a case all its own, permanently guarded by a gallery assistant to make sure you don't take a photograph, lit from below is the holy grail of the exhibition - the handwritten lyrics of Love Will Tear Us Apart. I was quite surprised by the scale of the reliquary like, quasi-religious worshipful atmosphere around this artefact on its own. I am a Joy Division fan (though I prefer Atmosphere) but I thought this was taking the religious inference of the title just a tad far. I felt like I was expected to genuflect in front of it or dip my fingers in holy water next to it - though maybe this says more about my probably not as lapsed as I'd like to think it is catholicism. It's on til Sunday 3rd September so go see it if you can.

The following day we headed to Tynemouth and stayed in the same house Harriet Martineau - friend of Gaskell and pioneering sociologist and femninist stayed in for five years when she was very ill. From our room we could see the Collingwood Monument, the Priory and watch ferries coming in and out of the rivermouth. We went on the pedestrian ferry to South Shields, chatted to a vicar and looked at the remaining gravestones, had a quick look round South Sheilds Museum which was very marvellous indeed - not only was there the gibbet as pictured above but also the dictaphone Catherine Cookson used to dictate her novels into and then there was afternoon tea at the Grand Hotel as stayed in by Margaret Rutherford, a mooch around the remaining magnificant gravestones of Tynemouth Priory, a climb up the steps of the Collingwood Monument and the following day a go on the Middlesborough Transporter Bridge and a trip to Sound It OuT Records in Stockton On Tees where a long chat and giggle was had about Goth as a musical subculture. Marvellous.

I also managed quite a bit of walking around Hull - unexpectedly encountering the very fine Cholera Monument which has these words written at the base of its big obelisk:
this monument
erected by the Hull General Cemetery
with the aid of private subscription
was set here to commemorate
the great visitation of cholera
during the months of July, August and September 1849
and to remember
the 1,860 in habitants
1 in 43 of the population
of this town
who fell victim to that
fearful disease
700 of whom
are buried near this

I don't have a good enough image to share as it was too dark for my cameraphone to take an image and the film on my regular camera had been used up by then.

I've taken lots of pics when I've been out and about and also took some instant pictures at a friends wedding - the later mostly came out okay and she was very pleased with them but they confirmed that my photographic pleasure doesn't come from taking pictures of people and events but of places and things. I'm really pleased with a couple and already have plans to use them to make cyanotypes and anthotypes. One thing I am really excited about starting back at big school is getting access to professional printing facilities again. I'm also looking forward to being able to borrow different kinds of cameras too - even though each camera is a learning curve and it takes a few goes to get used to a new viewfinder and the view from that viewfinder.

Well it's taken me quite a while to write this - it's quarter to three now and I started about eleven am - though I have had breaks with for lunch and a couple of social media breaks too, how long taks take is something that's on my mind at the moment too but I feel like I've got one more thing ticked off my to do list and collated some of my thoughts to do with authenticity.

Still to do on my to do list is lots of reading - I want to finish The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Gaskell that I started a couple of weeks ago, reread Dracula, Barthes Mythologies, and something that is nothing to do with any of my formal studies as one thing I also need is a proper break from them at times too. One thing I don't need though is anymore stationery for the time being - in fact if anything I've probably got enough notebooks to 'see me out'.

sitting at desk can also be trip to library, archive, making/ taking pictures
** as a diehard Victoria Wood and Acorn Antiques fan - it'll always be Manchesterford to me...

Monday, 26 June 2017

Post MA-Ness Pre PhD-Ness Part 3 - Proactiveness, Pain, Picture Taking, Procrastination and other things.....

A piece of paper covered with scribblings, and the wonderful biography of Elizabeth Gaskell I'm currently ploughing my way through.

It's just over a month since I last wrote and I've been a mix of busy, not so busy, melting with the heat and at times incapacitated due to an ongoing poorly knee in that time. Poorly knee has meant I've not been able to go to see some art events I would have liked to but I did get to see the very wonderful Pete Mitchell in conversation with Martin Parr at the Hyde Park Picture House - a wonderful evening in which he talked about his love of typeface design, the palette of colours he loves, why he loves and still uses film. It made me get a copy of his wonderful book Strangely Familiar out of the library and me and my husband spent a lovely evening trying to find the locations on googlemaps and see how they have changed in the intervening years. I did get to take some pinhole photographs at St George's Fields though thanks to my ever lovely husband acting as both my photographic assistant and at times human walking stick. I did also get to mooch around Ripon and if you get the chance to go to the Workhouse Museum there - you must for it is fascinating, moving and humbling. Also visited the Police and Prison Museum there too - and the Cathedral. The latter as my husband said being more of a building of hope - the former being more buildings of despair.

I am struggling at times with both the poorly knee itself (though physio does seem to be helping a bit) and the discomfort but also the impact it is having on my sense of independence and ability to get around. Some days it really gets me down and has me worrying that I'll either end up having to have an operation or housebound or brooding that this is the beginning of the end and that my life onwards is just going to be one of decline - thoughts which I am trying hard to snap myself out of as they aren't helpful in the long run. Plus if this the beginning of the inevitable decline then I'd best make the most of it before it becomes really declinous (I know that isn't a word but you get my drift).

I'm glad that the heat has become much less over the last few days - I had to decamp to the dining table downstairs as that was a cooler place to sit and read than my workroom which is under the glare of the sun most of the day and so even with the curtains closed becomes unbearably hot. I'm back to my cramped workroom now - I really do need to sort out some more books for the charity shop - I've already got three boxes ready but there are more shelves to go through. I'd especially like my workspace to be a bit less cluttered by the time I go back to big school in September which means I'm going to have to be ruthless. Things is I adore books and find it very difficult to become unattached to them - often times they have not just content value but sentimental value too. But I must harden my heart and send more on so that others can enjoy them too.

So proactiveness and procrastination have been much on my mind - I've been re-reading Barthes, making an A-Z of words/concepts I find difficult to understand - a hand written one as I read somewhere that you are more likely to retain information if you handwrite it as opposed to just type it. And this seems to be working a little bit as I no longer have to reach for the dictionary/look up online the following words: hermeneutic, ontology or heuristic. Eschatology and epistemological are words I'm going to have to write out a few more times though....

The difference between writing by hand and writing by keyboard is for me quite considerable. I still write my proper journal style diary by hand (using a fountain pen filled with black archival ink) and I make ordinary notes using biro or pencil. I have been attending a creative writing class the last few weeks and I have found I draft my efforts longhand on paper and then when I'm reasonably pleased with it, write it up on the computer using the thesaurus function to help me choose better more apposite words. But even when I'm sat at the computer I often have a pen or pencil in my hands - to make notes as I go, add something to a to do list (always written by hand - never on the computer) or scribble down an idea.  As I type this I have a pencil in my left hand - I am left handed...

Some many years (forget how many) after getting a copy I finally got around to reading The Artists Way by Julia Cameron and one bit in it really stood out for me (otherwise I found it a bit too syrupy and simplistic) which was the bit about procrastination and how often it isn't laziness or being easily distracted that causes it but fear. FEAR. That really struck a chord with me. Fear of failure has often stopped me - in the same way fear of further pain/getting stuck is limiting me at the moment. I need to work on being less frightened.

I've got a note on my piece of paper (note to self - get into better habit of referencing as you go along) about how the writers mind is chaotic and what a messy and chaotic process writing is as in effect you are inventing out of nothing. I find I tend to write a lot then as I look back over it and start rewriting that I also start doodling.

I don't hold a pen or pencil when I'm making or taking pictures though, enjoyed using a pinhole lens in St George's Field the other weekend - taking advantage of the sunshine to do some exposures, though as some were looking into shaded by trees enclosures of graves they were long exposures - some up to 5 minutes. I'm quite pleased with some of the results - it's making me want to do more long exposures so I can get the blurring of movement of leaves in the breeze, ghostly figures but I think I'll do these using a different lens that I can get better focus with. Pinhole lens are difficult to get a really sharp focus with but some of the images I've taken look delightfully old - even though they're not.

There's been a lot of listening to old music as well - though one of the albums I especially like at the moment was actually made in 2017 (it's What Kind of Dystopian Hellhole Is This by The Underground Youth) but after seeing a documentary about the making of Sergeant Pepper that's been on a lot - not least for the mention of Pablo Fanque who is buried along with his wives in St George's Field and so has an album I've not heard for years but have fond memories of becuse it used to make me laugh - namely Quark Strangeness and Charm by Hawkwind. I'm not a fan of Hawkwind as such but I do love that album in all its shonky glory. Damnation Alley seems very on point in these benighted days of Trump related horror. I do of course intersperse listening to it with blasts of Laibach and The Sisterhood so I don't become too ungoth and have to hand in my goth card again....... ;-)

I gave a paper at a Persepctives In History conference at Huddersfield University earlier this month - it seemed to go down well and it has just made me even more eager to start there in September plus it was really lovely to meet some other students from there and find out some fascinating facts from other periods of history - though there were a couple of fellow Victorianists as well. I really enjoyed putting together my paper as it really made me think about what it is I am hoping to achieve with my work and the way history feeds into it.

Other food for thought is the excellent Elizabeth Gaskell biography by Jenny Uglow which I'm ploughing my way through at the moment (up to page 461) - regular readers will know of my unashamed love of Gaskell (see also ME Braddon and Wilkie Collins) and I love the way this biography is not just about Gaskell but also about the times in which she lived and worked. I can almost see Elizabeth writing and gossiping - I really must go to her house when it is next open and see inside. I was saddened to see that the Cross Street Chapel in Manchester which her husband was Minister at from many years and which she worshipped at too was destroyed by bombs in 1940. A chapel is still there but now it is a modern building.

Another thing which has given me much thought and which I must listen too again are the Reith Lectures by Hilary Mantel, both of which were absolutely fascinating and have provided me with much food for thought. So much food I am still digesting it. So on that digestive point - I'd urge you to listen to them if you haven't already - you can do so here.

Right best crack on - these books and workroom aren't going to sort themselves out....


Monday, 22 May 2017

Post MA-Ness-PrePhD-Ness Part 2, Preparation, Procrastination, Presentations, Pop Up Shows and other things beginning with P...

A blink and you miss it pop up show in St George's Fields as part of my walk around the site that was part of the Jane's Festival nb no gravestones were harmed in the putting up of this show as they were either propped up against or hung with black ribbon - but my husband did get quite cold whilst keeping an eye on them for me. 

This months post it note - looking a bit empty but that's because I've been really busy at times.
So what have I been up to since I last updated three weeks ago? I've taken part in some academic research into gothic subculture and its origins, led people around St George's Field as part of the Jane's Festival and in the process ticked off one of the things on my bucket list - namely have a pop up show in a former cemetery - see image above, particpated in Reimagining The Gothic 2017 at Sheffield University (and somewhat stupidly forgot to take a picture of my pop up show there - doh!!) and so seen the fantastic film 'Gothic Heroines' made as a result of research by the Melodrama Research group at Kent University - you can see it here , been to the opening of the very lovely exhibition at Leeds College of Art which features Ann O'Donnells wonderful jewellery, sat through another Eurovision Song Contest (one of the highlights of the year for me) and delivered a paper at the Cemeteries Colloquium at York University.

So all in all - quite busy.....and I continue to be quite busy as I've got a paper to prepare for the Pespectives in History Conference at Huddersfield University in a fortnight, as well as trying to get in lots of reading before I formally start PhD studies in September. A thing that makes me feel a mix of eek and yay - yay continuing to outweigh the eek but the eek is there nonetheless.

So it has been a mix of the P's so to speak - preparation, procrastination - usually in the form of pressing the refresh key on social media or getting distracted by trains of thought but also a little bit of painting too - I painted some plain wooden picture frames in two of the traditional colours of  Victorian mourning - namely black and purple and I do find the application of paint to surfaces a soothing thing to do. I wish I could transfer what I see in my minds eye through my fingers onto surfaces using paint but I can't - hence my use of photography as a medium instead. Though as ever I am trying to show/create images in a way that isn't just the traditional two dimensional print on a wall in a frame.

I've also been watching lots of films - The Cars That Ate Paris (1975) a beautifully sinister and disturbing film, The Legend of Hell House (1973) which was v good in places and had the most fantastic set design and a soundtrack recognisable in many a sample - most notably Orbital's 'I don't know you people' from 1999, Mindhorn  (2016)  which really made me chuckle, Dracula (1957) - an old favourite in which Peter Cushing is simply wonderful and I've been listening to/watching lots of interviews with John Waters - there's plenty about at the moment as he is promoting his latest book 'Make Trouble'. I adore him as much as ever, and he continues to be an inspiration.

So there's been lots of food for thought - both in terms of learning new information/new ways of looking at things and in terms of presenting my research and arguments in as professional a manner as possible.  One new way of looking at things has arisen from being asked my use of 19th century literary texts in my research - primarily Gaskells'  Mary Barton (1848) and North and South (1855) and I'm still mulling over this, another suggestion from the colloquium was there is a firm of undertakers in London who have a museum - I shall try and visit but in the meantime I have also emailed one of the oldest firms in Leeds to see if they too have an archive I could consult.

I need to think about my methods of working - partly for the methodolgy part of a PhD but also in a how best can I work kind of way - I need to reorder my workroom to make it a bit more efficient and also get better at switching social media off whilst I'm working so I don't get distracted so easily. I'm still not listening to or watching the news - beyond looking at the front page of the BBC website and picking bits up from Facebook and Twitter and I am finding that much more conducive to working as it's doesn't have the negative impact it was doing on my mental health.

One thing I am thinking about a lot is the creative writing class I'm going to and the fact that a lot of the language to describe writing - eg viewpoint, is the same as the language used in photography but I'm not sure which came first as a descriptor. I've also been doing some writing that is purely imagined - as opposed to writing up stuff that I've done like this, or notes or presentations and I've been really enjoying it - have even *gasp* managed to finish a couple of pieces. I like the way it's making me think - the same as I like conferences for meeting other people, hearing new approaches, honing arguments, and for getting research tips or feedback.

Purely for pleasure I'm reading Music for Chameleons (1980 ed) by Truman Capote at the moment - I picked up a copy in Meanwood Community Shop a few weeks ago - oh it is exquisite writing. It's a collection of short stories and they are gorgeously descriptive and I shall be using this quote from the story Hidden Gardens 'the voice of the hour bell tarries in the greening air, shivering as it subsides into the sleep of history' - utterly wonderful stuff. I was reading it purely for pleasure but now it has become part of my thinking

Right I'd best crack on with stuff - need to do a bit of tidying and a to do list......and as they kind of used to say on Sesame Street - todays blog post has been brought to you by the letters P and the numbers 1855 CE.....


Thursday, 4 May 2017

Post MA-Ness - Pre PhD-Ness, Fan-Girlness, Walking and Future Plans

Diary (still old school paper one) and various notes I've since I last wrote this way back in January) 

Disperse Ink Prints - made on coffin lining material and mounted in embroidery hoops.

It's been a while since I've written, I'm afraid my post MA resolution to write at least monthly somewhat faded away over the last few months. However it's a habit I'm going to have to get myself back into as all being well I'll be going back into full on official academia as from September when I'm due to officially start PhD studies at Huddersfield University. I'm a mix of tremendously excited about this and a little bit nervous too.  I did a lot of thinking about what I wanted to achieve from formally furthering my studies after xmas and looked at various institutions and options, made enquiries, applied, got nowhere with some institutions and some way with others and then BINGO :-)

So it's not that I've not had stuff to write about but that I've been busy doing other sorts of stuff. Sitting at the computer writing up what I've been up to has always been on my to do list but it hasn't especially appealed. But it's appealing now as I am trying to get back into the habit plus it seems a good way of rounding up what I have been doing these past few weeks and getting my head round what I want to be doing next.

I've been doing lots of reading - am taking part in a Braddon read along on twitter. We're reading her novel Aurora Floyd in monthly installments of three chapters. The same as it would have been when it was originally published in installments in Temple Bar Magazine in 1862. It is a rattling good yarn with all manner of goings on - deceit, blackmail, romance, feverish illnesses and faintings just for starters. Read along with us if you want - you'll find it all at #MEBAread.

I've found it incredibly difficult to put it down at the end of the alloted three chapters and on Monday night I read just a little bit into the next installment. It's such gripping stuff. Plus it's really interesting for me to read something that isn't just about life in the Victorian era but was written then too, though admittedly I am reading it with 21st century eyes. I can't imagine just how shocking the hat falling off and the hair falling down scene must have been then. I wish I could find the diary of someone reading it then to see what they said about it - there are contemporaneous critics responses but I'd love to read an ordinary readers response.

I have taken to writing my own notes/key plot points on it though as I go along and a little precis of what has happened over the three chapters - as I got a bit confused at one point as to what had happened. Not because Braddon's writing is sloppy but because my memory can be poor at times.  Am guessing they'll have been printed in the Magazine with a brief catch up before each installment though - that reminds me I must ask Leeds Library if they have any original copies as it'd be amazing to see them in situ as it were and see what they were next to and what the main adverts around them were for.

Along with with my Braddon addiction - my Gaskell addiction continues apace and I was *so* excited to see some of her quill pens and ink bottles at the The Life of Objects Exhibition at the John Rylands LIbrary - along with a tin helmet used by Delia Derbyshire's father during the last war, and a glove worn by Queen Victoria. Sadly I wasn't in Manchesterford when her (Gaskell's) former house on Plymouth Grove was open but I did see it from the outside and it is definitely top of the list of places I want to go to. I read a potted history of her life by A Shelston and was amazed to learn that she was close friends with Florence Nightingale's sister who was called Parthenope. A name I had never come across before and am keen to get back into circulation as it's so marvellously old fashioned and unwieldly. As I don't and won't be having a child I could call it -  best I can do for the moment is tell everyone about it and my beloved cat Mapp now has it as her middle name. Much to her continued non plussedness about it. Unless it involves biscuits or catnip she's not fussed about much really.

Elizabeth Gaskell was also friends with Harriet Martineau who I'm going to have to do some more research into and read some of her works. She was a pioneering feminist sociologist so am definitely going to have to read some of her works too.

My Wilkie Collins addiction also shows no sign of abating and I finished No Name a couple of weeks ago - again a rattling good yarn (a serialisation is on R4Extra at the moment if you can't face reading 700 pages plus it features the delightfully voiced and much missed Jack May as Captain Wragge) with fascinating and thought provoking insights into the Victorian era's attitude towards women and their place and status in society along with that of 'illegitimate' children.

I've also been to see A Quiet Passion (2017) Terence Davies exquisite biopic of Emily Dickinson. Twice, As I enjoyed it so much the first time I went to see it again. It's made me want to read more of Dickinson's poetry and find out more about her as I know very little indeed. She is played beautifully by Cynthia Nixon in the film, the dialogue is captivating as is the period detail and the music used so sparingly is wonderful. It was very unusual to see a film that didn't have musical clues signposting what was about to happen. It's v funny in places too. I did have a couple of quibbles though - I found the brother a little bit wooden, there are modern umbrellas used in a rainy funeral sequence but those are very minor quibbles indeed as overall it is magnificent.

I also got to see a little of the behind the scenes at Thackray Medical Museum the other week. Thackray Museum is housed in what was the workhouse (somewhat ideally situated opposite Beckett Street Cemetery) and they have all manner of medical related stuff in their archive - including hearings aids made specially to be used and worn during periods of mourning. I am still somewhat blown away by this - that mourning culture extended to personal aids in this way, talk about talking something to the nth degree. They would have been expensive though - so only really available to those with the cash. I also learnt more about gutta percha and its uses - like vulcanised rubber it also became a way for those who couldn't afford jet jewellery to have look-alike jet jewellery. Gutta percha is still used by dentists today in root canal work apparently. I must ask my dentist if he has any spare next time I see him.

I was part of the Gothic Transformations Conference at Sheffield University on 17th February 2017 and all being well will be back there for the Reimagining The Gothic Creative Showcase on May 13th but this time instead of giving a paper about my work I'll be showing some of my prints that I've made on coffin lining material. I was also one of the presenters at the Death and Disease day at Abbey House Museum in March, talking abit about the history of cemeteries in Leeds, St George's Field in particular and quite a bit about cholera outbreaks in Leeds in the 1800's. I really enjoyed both of the days I did with the Museum service and hope there are more.

I've also just found out I've had an abstract accepted for the Perspectives On The Past Conference at Huddersfield University on June 9th 2017 which is exciting as well as a little bit nervewracking. Plus I am leading a walk around St George's Field on Sunday May 7th at 1pm as part of the Jane's Festival - full details here so am still busy busy busy. But I must also remember to build in proper down time too and take advantage of my not being an official student at the moment as well.

I did have a few weeks where I didn't take any pictures at all but I have been doing a bit of picture taking and making recently too, some on film and some on my lovely old trusty point and shoot digital which is very handy for taking note type pictures in archives as well as being small and light and so easy to fit in my bag when I want to travel light like I did to Birmingham the other week.

I saw the exhibition about Frank Hurley's incredible photographic work on Shackleton's Antartic expedition of 1914-1916 at the Library (and got to go on their amazing escalators again) and also had a long mooch amidst the Victorian splendour of the Art Gallery where I gazed in delight at such paintings as A Widow's Mite by Millais from 1870, and Walter Langely's Never Morning Wore to Evening But Some Heart Did Break from 1894. The title comes from a Tennyson poem apparently (something else to add to my reading list) and is a heart rending painting which for me captures perfectly that all encompassing pole-axing feeling of grief. I also fell in love with Charles Rossiter's To Brighton and Back for 3s and 6d from 1859. As you can probably tell I am a bit of a sucker for Victorian narrative paintings and would happily gaze at them all day.

There were also some fantastic modern photographs and paintings of people from Birmingham, but the art gallery and the museum are so big you really need to decide what you want to see before you go so you can make the most out of it. I made quite a bit out of the Edwardian Tea Rooms in the gallery as i had lunch there and a post narrative painting hot chocolate and that's where I read most of the potted history of Elizabeth Gaskell before making my way back to Leeds.

My plans for the next few days are get head round getting back into a proper habit of reading and writing - as although formal study doesn't start til September it'll be best to start making good habits now plus I do have a couple of papers to prepare over the next couple of weeks...I'm also going to have to think about things like methodology (I'm quite magpie-like in terms of inspirations and following leads from unlikely places) and read quite a bit more Barthes....