And suddenly it's Spring

I just had to check when was the last time updated this blog, and dearie me that was ages ago!
So, a lot has happened since the beginning of the semester.

First and foremost, I finished my dissertation right on time! And I have to say that I am quite pleased with the outcome. Or at least I was the day I handed it in. But since we are getting the grades sometime in summer, there's no point in wondering whether I could have done something better or not. All in all, I am happy for finishing in time and ending up with a paper to be proud of.

After emerging out of the writing bubble that I'd been inhabiting for the past months I took some downtime and went to London to visit a friend and take a breather from the academic life - and post-dissertation partying.

Another milestone in my artist career was opening my first solo show a week ago in Finland. Even though the exhibition is a rather modest one it is still my first, and on top of that, two of my bodies of work are going to be on display for two weeks. Any kind of visibility is a huge plus for an undergraduate such as myself. Furthermore, there are three more upcoming exhibitions before my official graduation - including the graduate show itself. These are all very small venues but just getting my work out there for free is extremely beneficial regarding my life post-university.

A few shots from my exhibition in Helsinki. The crazy balloons at the background weren't my aesthetic choice by the way...

Now I'm focusing on my current project, and checking out internships and such every now and then. Filming on HDV-tapes is a completely new technical challenge, and I'm also learning about working with audio, and a lot of other techie stuff that I know very little of. There is a lot of work to be done before the semester is over, so I'd better get back to it right now.

Research Diary: Assessment DONE!

So, I had quite an intense weekend finishing off my work for the first module in my last year of BA, and finally, at 5:30am on Monday it was done. A submission deadline was at noon so I only got a few hours of sleep but fortunately I was merely required to show up on time with my CD including a PowerPoint presentation, an artist statement and still images from my video piece. After handing my work in, I felt a great sense of triumph as the past weeks have been incredibly taxing emotionally, and thus making concentrating on my studies nearly impossible. And yet, I did it!

I had to give my presentation on Tuesday, which was good because I didn't have any extra time to stress about it, unlike some people who have to wait for theirs until Friday this week.
We are going to get proper feedback sometime next week, but the instant reactions of my two tutors were surprisingly positive, in fact, when I was finished one of them said, and I quote: "Thank you Anni, that was impressive", (I got flustered at this point) and also "You're definitely gonna be an artist" (even more flustered, and beaming). So I guess I did good.

But now, I'll share some parts of my presentation just because it was impressive.

First of all, I've named my project 'A Prisoner', after Emily Brontë's poem 'The Prisoner. A Fragment, and particularly the following passages.

"-- My outward sense is gone, my inward essence feels
Its wings are almost free, its home, its harbour found;
Measuring the gulph it stoops and dares the final bound!

Oh, dreadful is the check - intense the agony
When the ear begins to hear and the eye begins to see;
When the pulse begins to throb, the brain to think again,
The soul to feel the flesh and the flesh to feel the chain!"

I'll give you the most central part of my artist statement: the one in which I outline what my work is about.

Now, the piece itself is, as I said, video. A very unfinished, in progress video. But I can show some stills and try to explain where it's going through the various stages that I went through to get to the present, as well as my plans for the next module.
Before that, let's revise my historical source material - the images of hysterical patients of a Parisian hospital in the late 19th century, when photography was sporting the status of accurately representing the real and the true - if you could see it, then it must be a fact.

By taking countless photographs of mental patients, often hypnotized and/or bound up, in order to be more easily controlled, the head neurologist, Charcot, thought he could prove his theories on hysteria, which obviously seems very wrong today. I'm interested in the, almost obsessive need to pin down this disease or condition affecting mainly women of the turn-of-the-century Europe and America. How these physical confines sort of reflect on the social confines in which women had to try to lead liveable lives whilst their husbands, fathers and physicians were wrecking their brains over why their women seemed unhappy - and sometimes insane.

Like you've shackled someone to a wall, and then you wonder why they don't take a walk as if the chains didn't exist.

Now we come to my experiments in studio.

I started by recreating the series from the original material just see what would happen and know how it would feel to perform those movements. I felt like that wasn't going anywhere so I started moving in the studio more freely, always basing my movement on the source but not performing it in the correct order. I had my camera on self-timer so that I could still work alone, and in about five or six photoshoots I produced some 900+ individual images. For a long while I felt really precious about those images as their aesthetics intrigue me and draw me in, but I wasn't quite happy with just the pretty surface because it didn't actually bring across anything I wanted to talk about.
Moving on to video, I still stuck with the stills, assembling a film where all of the 900+ images were flashed rapidly one after the other. And for a while, I was captivated by the effect.

But then, even that felt somewhat - bland. So I started working with moving image.

These are stills from my current, short video piece and they don't really give any sort of a clue of that the film actually looks like. I mean, yes, that's how it looks like but you don't get the sound, the varying pace, the flickering or the movement quality. It is quite eerie and bizarre and compulsive - and it is going to be even more so once I have more footage, better sound and more time to edit.

Not only do I have to create some additional raw material, but also, I'm now thinking towards two separate screens that would bring more attention to the the confinement of the body within the frame, and how it can resist this confinement through movement. I want the final outcome, whatever it may be, to be an intense experience for the viewer.

And finally, let's have the last paragraphs of my artist statement that perhaps bring a bit more light to my intentions. Or merely confuse you - I don't know.

Now, onto dissertation!

Research Diary: 39 hours to the first deadline

Indeed, I am still here, alive and kicking, working on assessments.
The silence here has been due to some personal issues that kept me off uni work for about a month or so. After a lovely Christmas holiday with my family and friends has given me a new boost of energy, which I am currently using to get together a presentation for Monday noon when the hand-in for my artistic project is.

Regardless of the drawback in December I feel fairly confident about all of the components of my projects, and thus, without further ado, I will return to scraping together an example video piece, a written artist statement and a power point presentation.

I more profound catch up shall (hopefully) follow sometime next week.

Research Diary: Why I wish I hadn't watched that film

Sometimes it is incredibly refreshing to abandon the pile of books and notes that I mostly use for writing and planning my projects, and watch a film of a relevant topic instead. Even if you don't learn anything new as such, you get a new perspective to the subject, and that's always helpful. Even when the perspective is disappointingly shortsighted.

So, I watched a french film called Augustine, after one of the most famous hysteria patients of Salpêtrière. This particular rendering of the story concentrates on the relationship of the director, Charcot and his new patient, Augustine who, due to her extraordinarily prominent hysterical symptoms becomes the main interest of the medical team and their research into the puzzling disease. Now, if you look at the promotion picture of this movie below, it is needless to add that in this interpretation, Augustine and Charcot's relationship is erotically loaded, and - spoiler alert! - culminates in sexual intercourse. And therein lies the biggest issue that I have with this film.

old dude on the left is M. Charcot 
Actually, this whole movie is the problem. For me the pros are basically that it looks exactly right, good casting and they are speaking french. Everything else is somehow wrong.
Throughout the history of us humans there have been mental disorders and illnesses, and things about our health and behaviour that we have wanted to explain in a way most easily accepted for the social and moral climate of our culture. Hysteria has had a long and eventful history where it has transformed from an illness of a wondering womb to witchcraft to demonic possession to a symptom of repressed sexual fantasies to a variety of mental and physical disorders known nowadays as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis (MS), hypochondria, dissociative disorders and forms of depression, anxiety and eating disorders. And possibly something else too.
My point is that no one has ever known what hysteria actually is, or if it is a thing in the first place. Thus there is a certain artistic freedom in interpreting it especially in a creative medium such as cinema. However, the film in question has gone down the most obvious and simple route by taking the culturally assigned erotic connotations of hysteria and made them the utmost centre of the narrative. A very good parallel could be A Dangerous Method, set in early 20th century Vienna, at the birthplace of psychoanalysis and around the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, a film which I also didn't care too much about because of similar reasons, but also because the plot made mostly no sense at all.
But let's return to Augustine.

I'm not really that fussed about the film giving an extremely superficial and subjective impression about the whole 'hysteria in Salpêtrière' scenario for the general public, although I would much prefer a more profound and multi-layered presentation, as is also the case with Dangerous Method. Why it really bothers me at the moment, is that being a visual person, images tend to stick with me and become extremely valuable pieces of information in my mind. Imagine that I have this box with the word 'hysteria' written on the lid, and inside is everything that I know of the topic. Mostly it is stuff that I've read from historical, philosophical and medical books, journals, essays etc. Since all of this is stored in my brain, it's not in the form of written notes or Word documents but some complex neurological connections. When I think about hysteria I don't see pages of books in my mind; I just know what I've read. However, when I think about hysteria I do see images that I associate with the topic. I see them as I've seen them in the books or the Internet. And most of all, I see images from the film, Augustine - because of its visual accuracy, I suppose, so I guess a round of applause for the production designer is in order.
The reason why I would not like to see these images as part of my hysteria research - as representing hysteria, is that based on my research they seem inaccurate, artificial and biased.

Of course, it is crucial to come across material that contradicts your own concepts about the research topic, and I do appreciate that point greatly.
I just find these images popping in my mind every now and then quite distracting and irritating. Especially since we are not talking about a scientific or in any way authorised study of hysteria, but another artist's interpretation of the subject where a bunch of facts have been turned into historical fiction - as you do in the film industry, I am aware of that.'

So, now I just have to manage with these pieces of irrelevant information in my brain whilst working on my own mission.

Research Diary: 700 words

I did it! I finally started writing my dissertation! We are some 700 words in woohoo!

Well, it isn't much considering that I still have the remaining 9300 to write, and I'll probably end up deleting most of today's ramblings. Anyhow, it is good to have started. And if I can out of the blue come up with 700 words on just one single image I think I'll manage the rest of it too. To celebrate this accomplishment, and share it with you, I created this highly descriptive visualisation of today's thoughts.

In a nutshell, my very academically high standard notes here are pointing towards the controversies in this image - the juxtapositions of what it resembles and what it is supposed to represent. And let me help you with understanding what that means: the above picture looks like a fashion shot or a glamour photo of a film star, and yet it is a medical photograph demonstrating one of the physical symptoms of hysteria - a contracture. So, that's quite interesting. To me anyway.

Some other things that I've been up to recently are a couple more studio session where I've also filmed moving image. I haven't really looked into those yet, so I can't tell you what I think about them. After a group discussion and a lot of support and interest from my fellow students' and tutor's behalf on last Wednesday, I'm having a good drive to take this project further and further. Thus more banging myself against hard floors and walls in dark spaces lies ahead.

I've also booked train tickets for London where I'm going to do some more research in the shape of a library archive and art exhibitions. I'm quite excited to go out and have a week off from producing work although I'll be writing throughout those six days because anything else is out of the question at this point.

Last week, on our Thursday lecture we were rewarded by a talk from John Wood, one half of the duo Harrison&Wood. He was exceptionally funny, and the way he talked about the work was inspiring. Harrison&Wood work with video on a studio environment where they carry out all kinds of ridiculous experiments, studying how things work and how they could be described in simple ways. As my description is merely words followed by more meaningless words, I will offer you a link to their website which is also quite funny and absurd so good luck with getting the hang of that.

And let's have an inspirational song that is constantly playing in my head.

Research Diary: To Do List

So much to do, so little time. But let's see what kind of quests I have in the near future.

1. Visit an art exhibition in Cardiff. I know it's sad Chinese painting and apparently really good but that's about it, I like surprises. Going to go there today.

2. Get my studio risk assessment sheets signed by one of my tutors. Going to do that tomorrow.

3. Get props for my photoshoots. Need to do today or tomorrow.

4. Make a shooting plan for Friday.

5. Write a proposal for what I'm going to do on our November research week. Due Friday.

6. Contact Wellcome Library in London to book stuff for the research week.

7. Decide which exhibitions I want to see whilst in London.

8. Check out train/bus times and prices.

9. Find out whether I'm eligible for some kind of funding for this research trip.

10. Order a few books through our Interlibrary Loan Service.

11. Make notes of Chapter 3 of Madness and Civilization.

12. Finish the rest of the chapters of Madness and Civilization.

13. And make notes of each of them.

14. Understand what Michel Foucalt is actually on about in Madness and Civilization.

15. Go back to Invention of Hysteria and understand what it all means.

16. Write a review about it.

17. Get going with that bloody dissertation already!

18. Book more studio times.

19. Order some film.

20. Take pictures.

21. Take more pictures.

22. Panic because you have no idea what you're doing.

23. Drink tea.

24. Drink coffee.

25. Stop panicking.

26. Bring something new to every seminar and tutorial.

27. Infuriate all of your friends by constantly talking about new ideas for your project.

28. Write.

29. Write more.

30. Keep writing.

31. Drink coffee.

32. Drink tea.

33. Email tutors in panic.

34. Drink more tea and coffee.

35. Forget to buy Christmas presents.

36. Finish everything on time.

37. Relax.

38. Still keep on writing.

39. And taking pictures.

40. And drinking tea and coffee.

Research Diary: Epiphany?

Did I already point out how fast the time seems to be flying by?
Consequently, today I'll try to be brief with my updates as I want to get back to reading as soon as possible.

So, in the past week I've had two group seminars: one about dissertations, the other about artworks. Regarding my dissertation, after I finish the final chapter of Invention of Hysteria I'll move on to writing a critical review about the book which should help me form my thesis statement. This was a very helpful piece of advice that I got from my supervisor, and I'm increasingly happier that I got into her group. She also suggested Michel Foucault's Madness and Civilization for me, and boy am I in love with this book, having only reached the end of the first chapter. The language that Foucault uses is so complex and beautiful that the number of passages that I would like to quote is growing ridiculous. And as I said, I am only on the page 30. Anyhow, here's a sample that I've been reading over and over again, utterly perplexed by its beauty and depth.

"Witness that old image of wisdom so often translated, in German engravings, by a long-necked bird whose thoughts, rising slowly from heart to head, have time to be weighted and reflected on; a symbol whose values are blunted by being overemphasized: the long path of reflection becomes in the image the alembic of a subtle learning, an instrument which distills quintessences. The neck of the Gutemensch is endlessly elongated, the better to illustrate, beyond wisdom, all the real mediations of knowledge; and the symbolic man becomes a fantastic bird whose disproportionate neck folds a thousand times upon itself - an insane being, halfway between animal and thing, closer to the charms of an image than to the rigor of a meaning. This symbolic wisdom is a prisoner of the madness of dreams."

Other things that I got from the dissertation discussion were Lauren Greenfield's documentary project about anorexia, called Thin, and a collection of essays concerning photography, called The Burden of Representation.

To be honest, forming that thesis statement seems a mission impossible at the moment, but I'm just going to stay focused on the research material and have faith: it'll come up. There already is a very interesting relationship with madness and knowledge, suggested by Foucault, and on the other hand photography and knowledge, which is like the core question of photographic theory. Then bringing these ponderings together with the spectacle of hysteria in Salpêtrière - the marriage of madness and photography; I think there might be something there.

How about my art practice then? I just got an epiphany of sorts in this morning's run about my project, and am really excited to work on it.

So, my epiphany. I want to include audio in my work. And I want it to be many languages mushed together so that you can only pick up some words - obviously depending on how exactly how I'm going to edit it. What's it going to be about?
Well, you know how madmen/-women have historically been excluded from the rest of society, locked up in institutions and told they are somehow wrong, second-class citizens. In different times, different kinds of behaviours have been labeled as 'disordered' (e.g. homosexuality), diagnoses have changed, merged and disappeared but some attitudes toward mental problems or psychological disturbances have remained quite unchanged. Throughout Western history of madness, there have always been those who tell depressed, hysterical, manic, anxious and otherwise not-seemingly-controlled people to 'suck it up', 'get over it', don't make a scene', 'you are just seeking attention'.
I have been told some of those things. Some people commit suicide after being dismissed in this way. This is not Medieval or Victorian tragedies: this is our world today.

In my prospective audio piece, I would like to present phrases like shown above from people who have been told that they don't deserve or need any other help but that of someone kicking the in them backside. I'm still working on the strategy of collection this data, but I'm thinking some kind of an anonymous submission form ought to serve.

I have other plans for the installation of the work but I think this will suffice for today.
And I will go back to my books.