Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Post MA-Ness What I Am Up To Now and What I Have Been Up To Over Last Few Weeks

Gone for something a bit bigger than a post it note - but that's because a post it note was okay for when I was writing this on a weekly basis but now it's more monthly a bigger piece of paper is necessary....now where to start......
Think I might go along with Julie Andrews and so start at the very beginning as it's a very good place to start - so will start at top of the page and work my way round. So PhD proposal - I have redrafted it after a bit more thinking and reading on my part and some very useful feedback and input from a chum who has just completed a practice based PhD herself.

I've had a positive response from most of the people/institutions I've submitted it to so far (still awaiting a response from one) and whilst it might need a bit more work on it the basic premise of it is okay and something they'd be interested in supervising.

PHEW!! This gives me a mix of yay and argh! yay in terms of I want to continue this study/work malarkey and argh! in terms of 'it's really difficult - will I be capable of doing it?'

Plus application forms have always made me feel a bit anxious - they can be even more scarey than a blank page. I wish I could just kind of click my fingers and skip straight to already got a place and funding if possible and have started it - that would make me very happy indeed.
But that isn't realistic so I shall keep on plodding through 
the next stage and then of course there's applying for funding too and interviews.
I use the word plodding because I often feel I am - literally because my knee is playing up again. But thankfully I have a referral to an NHS physio and fingers crossed they'll be able to help, I did see one privately and it helped a bit but not enough and I would rather see someone who is on a salary rather than commission and see what they can suggest - so fingers crossed they'll be able to help so I can move again and not feel quite so ploddy...or uncomfortable. 

The inspiration from friends is something I'm always grateful for - be it the recommendation of a film, book, painting, a way to develop a piece of my work, a new technique or simply just to hang out with as this art making and researching malarkey can be quite lonely sometimes. It's another reason I really miss the supportive atmosphere of college - to say nothing of the printing facilities, it was so lovely to be amongst other people also involved in creative processes which although different to mine either had overlaps or things I could learn from or things they could learn from me.

I'm still in touch with most of my classmates/chums from college but I don't see them as often as I did - and annoyingly I was too poorly to make it to the last sort of reunion that we'd organised but I did see them at the opening of Walking In Urbana by Karen Tobias-Green (currently on show at Leeds College of Art Blenheim Walk Campus) last week before going on to see Sir Christopher Frayling talk about Angela Carter and introduce a showing of Jean Cocteau's La Belle et Le Bete which was utterly magical.

Magical for lots of reasons - one it was lovely to catch up with arty chums I am missing seeing so often, two - on chatting with a chum getting ideas for photographic techniques that don't need traditional darkroom facilities and three Frayling is such an intelligent, thoughtful, insightful and engaging speaker and four - revolting and unpleasant portrayal of the money lender aside it's such a beautiful film.

I'd gone to see the film really - I first saw it a couple of years ago at the John Rylands Library in Manchester and seemingly anti-semitic moneylender portrayal aside completely fell in love with it - the chandeliers, the dreamlike floating, the fireplaces with human faces plus it's rather a lovely love story really.

Plus entirely by coincidence and luck I'd bought a copy of Angels Carter's In The Bloody Chamber in a charity shop the previous weekend and read the story so his discussion of Carter and her work made more sense to me than it would have done otherwise. But regardless I would have loved and enjoyed the tales of her calling the Arnofini Gallery in Bristol the Anal Finney, their asking Bath City Council to erect a plaque to Mary Shelly creator of Frankenstein and being told 'no, that's more Hollywood really than literature', her wearing lots of layers rather than having heating and her suggestion that children would learn to read best with a King James bible and a whip in the hand of the teacher. It's also interesting the way fashions change in academia and how Gothic Literature is acceptable in academic circles now in a way it wasn't in the mid 1970's  and how comparatively difficult it would be to try and study DH Lawrence now.

I've also really been enjoying the biography of Wilkie Collins that was on Radio 4 Extra earlier - in which I learnt that when he was a child in Italy with his parents they saw yellow sedan chairs going past which contained people who had cholera. (I've been reading a lot and talking a lot about cholera recently as I was asked to talk about it at a Death and Disease in Victorian Leeds study day at Leeds Museum) containing people afflicted with the disease, the amazing success of The Woman In White and how he lived in age of an increase generally in printed books as printing techniques changed and materials became cheaper.

I've also just finished watching the 1982 BBC adaptation of The Woman In White which I also really enjoyed - although I don't think Count Fosco was quite right - beautifully menacing and manipulative but not quite melodramatic and flourishy enough. The lighting wasn't right either, lighting looks much more natural in modern television dramas whereas this looked like big studio lights were full on the action - something my husband says is likely down to the camera then needing huge amounts of light to work whereas digital sensors now don't need so much.

The lighting was in huge contrast to the lighting in House of Frankenstein (1944) which I rewatched a couple of weeks ago. By contrast it is sublime, the shadows in the monochrome are just amazing. It's a terrible load of old hokum as a story and it just sort of fizzles out at the end but as an exercise in lighting design it's a masterclass. Plus Boris Karloff is always a delight for me to watch.

So as you can probably tell my obsession with the 19th century shows no sign of abating - (which is just as well as I hope to do a PhD in aspects of it) and the other thing I'm especially enjoying is reading Aurora Floyd by one of my other literary heroes - Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I am doing this as a read along on twitter with other Braddon enthusiasts and it's really good to be able to talk about it with others.  You can join in too if you want - just look up #MEBAread on Twitter.

I am still loving Twitter as a way to chat to people and find out what's going on locally and nationally. Plus the humour in the anti Trump movements is much welcome. I'm finding the news terrifying and depressing at the moment so it's good for my soul to see digital defiance.

Plus I have put the people I follow on Twitter into different lists which all concentrate on different areas eg gothic studies, death studies, victorian studies, and I make a point of checking these lists at least once a week. Which is just as well as if I hadn't I would have missed a deadline for an art showing opportunity - which I haven't been successful in getting but it was really good practice to put together the application and now I have it in electronic format I can copy and paste it for other ones. I applied for two - one I've heard back from with a no and one I am still waiting to hear back from.

I'm hoping that now I have set up a better system of reminding myself about closing dates - a combination of printing off an A4 calendar sheet, electronic reminders on my phone, and notes in my diary. I had neglected to put details of the one I almost missed in any of those places but thanks to them changing their deadline by extending it a week I was able to put in a submission. PHEW!! The one I didn't get. Oh well - better luck next time.

In other news I have completely fallen in love with a painting called Maid Reading In A Library by Edouard John Mentha which was painted in late 19th -early 20th century and you can see a version of it here,  can't find out much about it or the man who painted it though as yet, so I'm going to ask the help of the college librarians as although I'm no longer a student I am a Leeds College of Art alumni and so can use the library facilities.

In redrafting my PhD proposal I reread some of my old notes about practice as research and they make much more sense now than they did at the time. A fact which is either explainable by my having learnt lots or my having been subsumed into academic speak - or maybe a combination of the two. Though I still find it difficult to define and explain as a process - it's more just something I do instinctively really rather than analytically. But I am going to have to get better at that if I want to succeed PhD-wise.

I also remain rather in love with Francis Bacon having seen a documentary about him at the weekend, and read a book of conversations with him published by Phaidon. The book is especially beautiful as it has prints of his work and the work that influenced him too so much so that I had to write down some quotes from it as they are givign me much food for thought:

 'photographs are only of interest to me as records...a means of illustrating something and illustration doesn’t interest me’....

’since the invention of photography painting really has changed completely...'

photographs were my aide memoire, they were useful to me simply as a tool’

'...cinema is great art, during the silent era the image had tremendous force’...

’a photograph can also produce emotions’.

‘the way people regard my work is not my problem, it’s their problem.I don’t paint for others, I paint for myself’.

‘I’ve probably been influenced by everything I’ve seen’

‘Life and death go hand in hand in any case, don’t they? Death is like the shadow of life.When you’re dead you’re dead, but while you’re alive, the idea of death pursues you.’

I didn't like the concealing of his then lovers death George Dyer until his exhibition in Paris had opened though. That's taking art too far.

The other notes on my sheet are TERMAGANT and RELICT - put there because I wanted to get better definitions for them. If I hear the word termagant I think it's some kind of bird but I know it isn't because of the context I hear it in - it does in fact mean:

  1. 1.
    a harsh-tempered or overbearing woman.
  2. 2.
    an imaginary deity of violent and turbulent character, often appearing in morality plays.

    and in medieval times it was the name incorrectly given to a god christians thought muslims worshipped.

Relict - I had thought could only be applied to women and meant they were widowed and didn't have any children but I think I had partly misunderstood it as it seems it can be applied to man or woman and is used to describe the surviving partner in the marriage when the other one has died.
eg A relict is the surviving spouse upon the death of the other partner, either husband or wife. The word refers to the survivor of the marriage union, not to the survivor of the other person -- as is commonly thought.

I also find it a desperately sad word - sadder than widow or widower as to me it also implies no longer needed.

Well I think I've covered all the points I want to make - I want to keep in a semi regular habit of doing this because it keeps my brain ticking over and once I'm back at college (fingers x'ed eh?) it'll make the transition back to it easier. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Post MA-Ness New Year New Start - Same Obsessions, Round Up and Thoughts/Plans For The Next Few Months.....

these are the books I got this morning from Meanwood Community Shop not just textbooks about the Victorian period but Victorian era texts too - namely Shirley by Charlotte Bronte and Mrs Oliphants Autobiography and letters in beautiful proper old editions that just exude old world-ness.
Meanwood Community Shop is in my opinion one of the best charity shops in Leeds - not just for their stock but for the work they do. There's also a picture of me in my graduation outfit I've had printed for my Mum - it was taken by my brother and made monochrome to tone down the hideousness of the blue gown and yellow outfit I had to wear also in the pic is my lovely supportive husband without whose support I wouldn't have been able to do the MA at all and my slightly garbled notes - note to self - get back in proper habit of leaving notes in one place/same notebook as opposed to different places so I can keep track of things better.

So 2017 is in its infancy just 4 days old and I've been meaning to write this for the last few days. I initially set up this blog many many moons ago so I could write about some of my obsessions like lovely old picture postcards, vintage Sooty and Sweep machines at the seaside, art shows and projects I was involved with and then its sole focus became being my research journal for the MA in Creative Practice at Leeds College of Art which formally came to an end last August when I handed in my last assignment. But that wasn't quite the end as there was getting the results and then of course the end of year show and then the graduation ceremony at the end of November.

My Mum came over for the graduation ceremony and was here for just under a fortnight which meant that my workroom aka the back bedroom had to become more bedroom and less workroom. It took me a good three or four days days to try and make it sleepable in again - but even so there wasn't really room to unfold the sofa bed (til them mostly in use as an extra temporary to long term bookshelf) but thankfully she is a very little lady and so could comfortably and happily sleep on it as an unfolded sofa.

It still has the same stuff on the walls (a mix of inspiring quotes, work in progress, pictures by other artists) but there are now double and triple piled bookshelves, see through plastic stacking storage boxes full of stuff and lots of mini portfolios piled up.

Yesterday and today is the first day in what feels like weeks but isn't that long in reality since I've sat at my desk and tried to get things in order again - after all this PhD proposal isn't going to write itself and I really need to do some work on it. I also have another number of projects I want to work on/through and it's taking me a while to get my head round what needs doing and when - cue lots of disjointed bits of lists as thoughts strike me so it's good to be slowly but surely getting back into the work habit I find most conducive and productive - ie sitting at a desk in front of a 'proper' ie desktop computer and deciding what needs doing and then doing it.

I last posted on this blog on 9th November in which I was talking about the end of year show, the preparations for my Mum's visit and needing to get to grips with my PhD proposal. I didn't talk about needing a rest which I think was and in some ways still is just as important and still needed. I have had a few days of lovely peace and quiet over the festive season (once the worst of a relative's  health scare had passed) and it made me realise that wherever possible I need more of this resting malarkey or else I run the risk of becoming poorly myself. I've been struggling with anxiety and feelings of panic the last few months and these get appreciably worse the more tired I am. So proper rest and a holiday of some kind is now on the the to do list as well. I know some people find making lists isn't helpful but I find it better than not making one as then I'm not struggling to try and remember everything I have to do. It can get a bit depressing though when I look at it and realise how much of it is unfulfilled but hey ho onwards and keep on keeping on.

But back to the graduation ceremony - it was a strange and lovely day. Strange in that I'd never been to one before - I'd not gone to my undergraduate degree ceremony as I hadn't wanted to and so never had the obligatory photo clutching certificate so beloved of parents - especially parents who haven't had the same opportunities. My Mum had never forgiven me for this decision so if anything she was even more excited about the ceremony that I was. She said she felt tearful when my name was called out and I walked across the stage to get it. Or rather get a letter explaining there was a delay with the Masters certificates and it would be posted out. I have it now - albeit still in its stiff envelope and I teared up when I got it. I'm not entirely sure why - some of it though is sadness that such an enjoyable and wonderful time is over but fingers crossed there'll be a new similar chapter soon.

I might frame the certificate and put it on the wall but there's no point doing that until I've finished applying for courses as I'll need it to hand for that. It also felt very odd for me to have to wear clothes on the day that a) weren't my choice and b) weren't in a colour I feel comfortable wearing (ie black, red, purple, grey and maybe a bit of dark green). My antipathy to being told what to wear stems from childhood - the secondary school I went to was fantastically strict about uniform and a very hideous uniform it was too.   And worse than having to wear such a monstrous for me colour scheme was the fact that you had to pay for the 'privilege'.

It was beautiful to be amongst the wonderful Victorian splendour of Leeds Town Hall though - a building I love partly for its quintessential Victorian loveliness and the history of that period which has soaked into its stones but also for emotional reasons too. I got married there and also saw films and listened to organ recitals with a much missed friend Henry Tickner - who I know would have been thrilled for me on the day as prior to his untimely death he was one of my 'Man Ray People' - see previous post for an explanation of what being a Man Ray person means.  So it's a poignant building to me for many reasons and now I have another one to add to it.

After the ceremony there was much relief that the clapping was over and much needed food and drink could be had - which we had in abundance and then there was lots of merrymaking with my Mum til she flew home a few days later and then there was getting ready for Xmas. Though thankfully the bulk of that work ie a proper deep clean and sort out of the house had already been done in terms of getting ready for Mum's visit. Lots of stuff for the charity shop, lots of stuff for recycling and sadly some stuff for landfill too as it was too broken/unre-usable though thankfully there was relatively little of this.

So in short - hardly any art making or academic style working over the last couple of months really but I did go to a fascinating symposium at Leeds Uni School of Art in part about the representation of the Artic which has made me think again about the patience and skill of Herbert Ponting, the way we think we are seeing things that are original but often they are instead original through the lens of current fashions in restoration or viewing eg rewriting of intertitles, re colourisation or de colourisation of films and also perhaps most fascinating for me is the knowledge that the paintings made on some artic expeditions were done using lamps lit by seal oil and the colours look different under that kind of light. Same as all things can vary depending on what kind of light you are looking at them in/with....which in turn is making me think about Victorian light and shades thereof eg light from coal fires, gas mantles, candles and whether or not there is a difference (aside from smell) between the kind of light given off by tallow candles as opposed to beeswax ones and whether or not it can be recreated or approximated. As ever more reading and research to be done.

Also fascinating was the talk I went to at the School of English at Leeds Uni about the relationship between photographs, and their use in/mention of in Dracula by Bram Stoker and how photographs were used by and in the theatre in the late Victorian period. As ever much more research and reading to be done.

And in terms of reading - I am tremendously looking forward to this - a read along Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon organised by Courtney Floyd of the Braddon Association. I have made a start on the introduction to the edition I have (the latest Oxford Classic) and can't wait to get started properly. I was lucky to be a recipient of some of Braddon's short stories for xmas including  The Cold Embrace and The Shadow In The Corner - both of which were delightfully creepy. I look forward to reading more soon. Gaskell and Braddon remain my favourite authors of the moment.

I've even taken some 'proper' photographs as in ones I've really thought about composition-wise as opposed to just snaps as an aide memoire and using a 'proper' camera as opposed to the one on my phone (though I do specifically use that on occasion - most notably in my John Waters homage piece 12 Belle Ends and a Douche) with my trusty Cannon film SLR and my new instant mini Fuji for which you can get monochrome film. A fact that makes me very happy.  I've yet to have the film pics developed (I took the pictures on Boxing Day - what better day to go to a former cemetery and I also took/made some more when we went to Whitby for a day trip between xmas and new year) but I will do soon. Part of the joy of the instant ones is the fact that they are instant - though the ejection noise made by the camera isn't as iconic and evocative as the one made by Polaroid cameras.

Mention of Whitby reminds me of another place of Victorian era pilgrimage I have found and another one I want to visit - namely a blue plaque from Whitby Civic Society on a building on the end of Hudson Street near the Royal Hotel proclaiming that Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) novelist and biographer stayed there in 1859. Whitby though it is known as Monkshaven in the novel is the place central to the action in Sylvia's Lovers, which is apparently 'the saddest story' she ever wrote. Given that 'barrel of laughs' (Cranford stories aside and even they are bittersweet in places) is not an epithet I'd give to her work so I think I'll wait a while to read this. Another one of my xmas presents - I was very lucky indeed this year.

I must also make time to visit her house and home of the Elizabeth Gaskell Association in Manchester too. For me there is something tremendously exciting about being in the same physical space as your heroes have been. I felt the same excitement standing in the entrance to Oakley Court knowing Peter Cushing had stood in the same spot for many of my favourite films.

One of the things I normally do on the start of a new year is write a list of all the famous folk I think are likely to die in the next 12 months but frankly 2016 has been so full of deaths of folk that meant something to me that I didn't bother. I'd more than had my fill, especially when my work is often so death focused/inspired - or maybe loss focused is a better description. Anyway the latest death to make me sad was that of John Berger whose Ways of Seeing I recommended just a week or so ago to my brother who wanted tips on how to take 'better' photographs. I loved the way Berger's writing challenged me to think about things differently and the way he spoke to and valued the contribution of women in his Ways of Seeing programme. The way women are treated, portrayed, discussed, viewed, represented in programmes is something I am increasingly aware of and excised by so if you haven't watched his Ways of Seeing on Youtube - please do. It's eye opening and beautiful. RIP John Berger and thank you.

So my immediate plans include thinking about and making a proper plan re my PhD proposal, getting some discipline back into my next few days in terms of working on it and and also preparing for the Death and Disease in Victorian Leeds I'm co presenting at and a Gothic Transformations Conference too. So although the immediate college related pressure is off and I must take advantage of that by building in some proper down time there's still lots on and very glad I am about that too. Though it is a bit strange writing this knowing I am no longer being examined on it in an academic sense and don't have to hand it in.

So anyone who's got this far and even if you haven't - here's hoping 2017 is full of loveliness and very little horrible-ness indeed.