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.