Monday, 8 October 2018

PhD-ness Part 10 Year 2 Doing, Showing, Listening, Study Level Differences, Brain Weasels and Potential Collaborations

View of my show 'Once and Now - part of the Love Arts Festival, on until November 3rd upstairs at Kapow 15 Thorntons Arcade Leeds 

some of the things I use to make work on a day to day basis - now thanks to workroom reorganising, bookcase buying and wardrobe wrangling all on their own shelf and easily located and used  

Some of the books I'm wading my way through on the new shelves 

this weeks post it note with the programme from the exhibition, and two of the books I bought this week - the Lee Miller one is from the now closed Lee Miller and British Surrealism that was on at the Hepworth which I visited this weekend and was very marvellous indeed and a book on modern photography I bought from the John Ryland library when I went over to Manchester to listen to Royal Photographic Society member Gilly Read talk about early Victorian photography at the Cross Street Chapel - a different building to the Cross Street Chapel Elizabeth Gaskell went to (that one was destroyed by a bomb in 1940 and it has been rebuilt twice since then) but in the same location. The books full title is 'Why it does not have to be in focus' by  Jackie Higgins and published by Thames and Hudson and I am finding it really interesting as it's a list of different modern photographers, with an image, a brief outline of their work, some quotes, similar pieces to look up, the kind of equipment they use. I am finding it very useful and I wish there was a companion volume called 'why it does not have to be pretty' which I could give to my Mum as her usual response to the work of mine that she has seen is 'oh that's nice' and then on closer inspection 'oh no it isn't!! why can't you do something pretty??'. 

So as you might be able to tell from the above images last week was a particularly busy one - I spent a day in Manchester listening to an interesting talk by Gilly Read on early Victorian photography and some of the photographers working in Manchester, I spent a day in Huddersfield doing some printing and attending some PGR Informed Researcher Lectures - the series this year is looking especially useful from a practice based/practice led PhD point of view. I'm really pleased about this and hopefully it will still be in time to help me with my studies. There was some training and lectures last year (ie in my first year) but there were initial issues over location of the lectures and the lectures as a whole felt much more slanted towards and more relevant for traditional style PhDs.

The lectures last week were especially thought provoking and interesting to the point where it led into a spiral of thoughts along the lines of  'I'm not clever enough for this' and 'how am I ever going to get my head around this?' and 'oh how am I ever going to get this sorted?'. To compound those feelings there was sadness on the way home as the trains were delayed because of someone killing themselves on the tracks described as 'emergency services having to deal with an incident'. This made me feel especially sad - that someone should have felt so sad and desperate that they chose to do this and the terrible effect it can have on the train driver, passengers on that particular train and the emergency service personnel who are called in.

It took me some time to regain my equilibrium the following day and to feel more positive and on top of things again, or to at least have a plan to feel more on top of things again. I am still working on my research plan alongside continuing to do the more straightforward archive delving for information on some of the women buried in St George's Field. Last week I paid someone else to do the delving for Ann Carr's will at the Borthwick Institute at York University and in return they sent me a colour A3 photocopy of that remarkable document. Written in October 1840 just three months before her death Ann leaves more or less everything to her 'sister in Christ' Martha Williams, who according to the document is actually a Quaker. By then Ann was seriously ill and fading.

I need to read it again and write it out so that it is easier to read. The faded to brown ink is mostly legible but bits are only legible by slowly and painfully making out each word or by getting the gist of the sentence so that the bit you can't read either suddenly makes sense or narrows it down to a few words it could be until you hit on the right one. It also has the signature of Ann - faint compared to the rest of the document, and the signature of Martha Williams and the witnesses bold in comparison. I am going to make an appointment to go and see it in person now, it is an amazing document and fills me with awe and wonder that I will be able to see and maybe even touch albeit with gloved hand a piece of paper they both touched.

This to me is magic, that such a thing has survived. I don't literally believe in magic but there is a tiny part of me that hopes there is some kind of apotropaic quality to seeing and touching such a document, not in an evil averting kind of way but in a good luck bringing kind of way. I think the power of touch or actually being in the place where someone from the past and long dead is really important even if it can't cure scrofula*. I think it's part of the reason that tourism is still thriving in an age when you can do virtual tours of almost everywhere and anywhere. I think it's a very human thing that wherever possible we need to see and touch things for ourselves. Although understandable and something I abide by it always seems sad when there is a sign saying 'please do not touch' next to what appears to be a fantastically tactile object in an art gallery.

Along with the excitement of seeing Ann Carr's signature albeit in facsimile form, I also had the excitement of hearing about early photographic methods and photographers based in Manchester at the talk by Gilly Read at Cross Street Chapel. Not only did I learn a little more about the early photographic pioneers and why the cleaning of daguerreotypes should only be left to professionals with experience on how to clean them but I got to learn that information in the space that Elizabeth Gaskell worshipped in and where her husband was minister over 100 years ago. In the wall of the building is the remains of the fulsome headstone her husband Reverend William Gaskell had had erected for her. Damaged during the bombing raid in 1940 it is missing its bottom left hand corner but is otherwise readily legible.

Along with this excitement there was also the thrill (for me anyway) of the official launch of my show 'Once and Now' (title taken from North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell) upstairs at Kapow in Thorntons Arcade on Thursday. I should have taken a clicker counter and so properly counted everyone who came but I did make a list as soon as I got home and I could remember 31 and not all of the visitors were friends though the majority were. I was very nervous but it went well - something I should perhaps ascribe to the halloween themed sweets I was handing out to visitors. Their positive response and asking of questions about the images and the stories of the people named on the stone sin the images also helped me feel more on track again. A couple of artist friends who came along have also asked me if I'd be interested in working with them on collaborative pieces and I would. That would be a whole new world of excitement and learning.

So I didn't do much doing last week, in fact the matte medium transfers I started making the week before are still waiting for the paper to be rubbed away with tepid water and I haven't taken any new pictures for a while, despite having a couple of new to me cameras to play with, but I have been doing a lot of listening and a lot of showing and a lot of thinking and a bit of reading.

One of the things I've been thinking about is the differences between MA and PhD levels of study and how you evidence it. Both require commitment and self direction, the PhD even more self direction is required as unlike the MA I did it is not taught. The postgraduate lecture series I attend is not subject specific but general PhD process specific. I am absolutely loving the picture making and ferreting about in archives side of things but finding remembering the books and articles I've read more difficult - in spire of making notes about them and am unsure on how best to reference them in this blog. I'm also unsure as to the purpose of this blog and who it is for. It is a way of advertising my work on the internet and a good way for me to get my head around what it is I've been doing but am not sure it serves the same research journal purpose it did when I was doing my MA and whether or not that way I write on here is suitable for PhD inclusion.

So as ever much food for thought.....

Programmes/Films Watched
I accessed a documentary through the kanopy website of films through my membership of Huddersfield Uni library for my husband to watch about space, it didn't have a narrator as such as it was made of clips of footage shot at the time either on the training programme or in Mission Control. I didn't really pay it any attention other than being fascinated by the man who was smoking a pipe at his desk in Mission Control and the differences between hairstyles of those who appeared to be from a military background and those who didn't. There were no women in the footage at all, despite there being women who worked for NASA at the time, neither did there appear to be anyone from a minority ethnic background when there were ethic minority employees. 

Books Read
Higgins,J (2013) Why It Does Not Have To Be In Focus UK Thames and Hudson
Clayton,E.(Eds.).(2018) Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain UK Lund Humphries in Association with the Hepworth Wakefield

Exhibitions Attended

Miller, l. (2018). Leed Miller and Surrealism in Britain. [visual art ] Exhibited at the Hepworth, Wakefield , 22 June 2018- 7 Oct 2018 .I have long been a fan of surrealist art, I fell in love with the work of Rene Magritte on seeing the homage to his painting The Pleasure Principle on the cover of The Pleasure Principle by Gary Numan. So it was exciting for me to see a Magritte cloud painted face of Napoleon's death mask high up on the wall. There were works from a range of artists and publications in various formats - prints, recreations of objects - most notably for me the bracelet around a mannequins forearm made of little false teeth set in pink resin by originally made by Miller, as well as the lobster topped telephone in white, a typewriter with nails glued to the keys, and the recreation of the metronome by Man Ray with the eye of Lee Miller atop it. There was also a painting by Leonara Carrington called Pastoral which portrayed delightfully spectral beings. There also many photographs by Lee Miller ranging from ones of her fellow surrealists including Carrington, her partner Roland Penrose, and one of her most infamous photographs where she is bathing in Hitlers bath shortly after his defeat.

I think this is where I struggle most with writing this blog - do I keep it in what I hope is an accessible un-academic jargon free format or do I write about what I've seen in a way that is more properly academic but also a way that I feel is a more inaccessible more academic art english kind of way with in text citations and references? I don't know....

But here are some of the quotes and notes I made in my notebook as I was walking around the Hepworth.

The writer William Plomer (1903-1973) said in an article in the London Bulletin after an exhibition opened just after the evacuation from Dunkirk 'culture foreshadows events,sustains hopes and invigorates the human heart'

The painter Ithell Calquhoun (1906-1988) was expelled form surrealist circles because of her interest in the occult.

Max Ernst's sculptural bird was called Loplop.

Stephen Gill photographer buried some of his work where he took the pictures so that 'maybe the spirit of the place can also make its mark' which I find both intriguing and inspiring. I am going to have to find out more about him and his work.

Perhaps the most disturbing and powerful piece though was Millers photographs of a cancerous breast removed from a patient and photographed upon a plate with cutlery placed next to the plate and on a napkin.   

* in years gone by it was believed that the touch of a royal personage either by you touching them or them touching you could cure disease most notably that of scrofula aka tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis.

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