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.