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.

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