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.

Research Diary: studio, field-trip and David Bate

It is Friday morning now, and man does it feel like time is just flying by. But let's go back to the beginning of the week.

On Monday I picked up some new books from the library even though I'm still in the middle of reading Georges Didi-Huberman's The Invention of Hysteria and Andrew Scull's Hysteria: The Disturbing History (and Hannibal but that's not course related, fortunately). I wanted to find out what has been written about women's mental illness in books that are not exclusively about hysteria. So I chose the following three, none of which have I had time to start reading yet.

The following day I started with a three-hour long photoshoot in one our amazing studios on campus. And that's me right there doing un-project-related posing for the camera.

What I actually worked on was a series of images created in the mental ward of the Salpêtrière Hospital in the late 19th century. The neurologist running the institution had come to conclude that hysterics experiencing an attack went through certain predetermined stages which manifested themselves through certain kinds of movements. He drew charts of these phases, and also had his patients acting them out in front of a camera. So that's what I did too; the camera part, not the drawing.

The above is a screenshot of how my Adobe Bridge looked like as I started editing my material. Just click the image too see it bigger.
As you notice it looks pretty much like a series of dance movements; consequently so does the original. And to prove that I'm not making this up, here's the photo set that I used as reference.

Augustine who was everybody's fave in Salpêtrière
What I thought about during my studio session:

1) Augustine was pretty flexible
2) I need a sofa
3) ...or a bed
4) ... or anything soft really because my bones hurt
5) I wonder how long she had to hold each pose
6) these knickers are too bright and shiny white, I need to get a better outfit
7) my back hurts
8) should I use models?
9) ...and a medium format camera?

Then I went to Photoshop and produced this:

And it's like exclusive material - no one except for myself has yet had the honour of seeing it so you should feel special. I have a group seminar next week where I'm going to be discussing this and other things that I've been up to, and will hopefully figure out what I'm going to do next. I have some ideas though but let's see what my peers and tutors think.

 Moving on, the following day we went to Bristol for the whole day to see some exhibitions and meet a few people. This trip was primarily arranged for the first-years but since they had a couple of places left in the coach, a bunch of us third-years tagged along. I personally really enjoy getting to hang out with our tutors outside lectures because they are in such friendly terms with us students.

So, our first stop was at the Bristol Observatory where they had a not-so-impressive camera obscura, and some caves that were frankly lame. Then, after lunch, the coach took us to Spike Island which is this awesome art centre by the riverfront. They had a big show featuring a lot of recent art graduates, called New Contemporaries. It's an annual event that goes to a different venue each year. For me the absolute highlight was finally getting to see Jo Sowden's (graduate from my course in 2012), The Lilies of the Field, which is an absolutely amazing video piece, and a great source of inspiration for me.
You can visit Jo's website here. She was meant to come and meet us at the gallery but unfortunately she couldn't.

A terrible iPhone photo from the exhibition
There was also another former Newport graduate associated with the exhibition - a technician whose name I can't recall. He talked about his job at Spike: art handling, AV stuff, building plinths, putting up art shows etc. He also told us how he got there after graduation, and now I got interested in doing a volunteer placement in a tech job at some point.
Spike Island also has studio spaces for about 100 artists on its top-floor. Two of our tutors actually have their own rooms up there so we got to go and see what a real art studio looks like, which make me want to have one of my own.

Next we stopped by Hello Blue, a printing/mounting company who consequently fabricated my prints last spring for our exhibition. They are truly awesome those two guys, and I hope I get to work with them again.
And on we went, to see a portrait show, and then a solo show of one of our tutors, which was great by the way.

Finally, I'll just briefly mention yesterday's lecture by David Bate, who's a senior lecturer in the University of Westminster, a well-known photography theorist and a practicing artist.
His talk was pretty much the same he gave last year in an event we had at our uni, but since he is such a brilliant speaker I didn't mind at all.
He mostly talked about his own art practice but what I found most valuable personally was his introduction to the talk where he explained a few terms used in the context of looking at different types of art images. It really gave me a few ideas for my dissertation, and I'll probably end up reading the book in which he'd picked up the model was talking about.

It has such a pretty cover too

Research Diary: Inspiring Lectures

On late Wednesday afternoon I ventured in the Cardiff National Museum with a few friends of mine to attend to a lecture about Victorian women's scrapbook tradition in 19th Century England. The talk was given by Dr Patrizia de Bello, a tiny but enigmatic and engaging woman.
The topic as such isn't exactly relevant to my ongoing projects but in my opinion, one should never discard an opportunity of listening to a specialist presenting their research in a beautiful lecture theatre of a big museum just because the content of the talk doesn't directly relate to one's own interests. And besides, you can never know what you can learn.
Anyhow, we went there and my, was that lecture just absolutely fascinating.
It is always such a pleasure to see someone who's clearly 100% committed to their subject, and enjoys sharing the vast knowledge with an audience. The amount of hidden messages and meanings that can be picked up from those Victorian photo-collages is mindblowing. What seems like a silly, childish hobby on the surface, actually depicts complicated quirks of the social structures and games that were so important for the upper social classes of the time. A subtle questioning and criticism of strict gender roles may be read as an undertone of these surreal collages - but it is obviously impossible to say how much of that interpretation is due to pure chance and how much really intentional from the part of the women who put these books together.

What made this particular lecture all the more intriguing to me is that exactly a year ago I was working on a project, quite similar to these scrapbook collages. I, too, was playing with gender roles in a strikingly similar way to some of the images that Dr de Bello showed us - except that before that I wasn't even aware of such a tradition.

As much as I'd love to go on about this lecture I'm going to move on to the next one, because indeed this afternoon, in the great Visiting Lecture programme of my university we had a talk by a photographic artist, now working on his PhD, John Sunderland.

Again we are somewhere else in the art field than in my area but as I said, you can always learn something new. In fact, I like it better when things are not spoon-fed to me but I have to really think and process what I'm being offered.

So, John Sunderland is working on memory and experience in landscape, and lot of his theoretical research is based on phenomenology - a field that I too have briefly explored in one of my previous uni projects. Perhaps the vague familiarity with his topic was one of the reasons why I got absorbed in the presentation. Also, I think there is a part of me that is very attracted to landscape photography even though my current interest in making art lie elsewhere. The idea of sublime in landscapes but also in other associations - that is, something of overwhelming beauty that it is almost terrifying - is something that I find really interesting. What makes an image so powerful, so captivating that it takes the spectator's breath away?
And then he, Sunderland, mentioned something called 'apocalyptic sublime', which is one step closer to the aspect of terror over the magnificence of a view, how it pictures an actual danger that we can safely enjoy without having to physically engage with.

Which brought me back to my own research of images of Victorian madwomen, and how too, their pictures evoke a sense of disturbed fascination in their viewer. The pain, physical and mental, narrated through these photographs is there for us to be seen and analysed along with the horrifyingly cruel treatment methods of the time. But unlike the subjects in the photographs, the glamorised and victimised starlets of hysteria, we have the privilege of being able to stand back and enjoy the spectacle they are presenting to us.

one example of the kind images I'm talking about

To Start a Research Diary

Let's have it said out loud: I have nine months to finish a) a major art project, and b) write a 8,000 to 10,000 word dissertation.
Nine months.




In reality though, I should be pretty much done by Christmas with the written part.


So, to keep track of my academic activities while on this quest, I have decided to attempt at keeping a diary of them. I'm going to do it here, in this blog - and I'm going to try my best to do it at least twice a week. These posts won't probably be long, reducing exponentially in word count towards Christmas when you should expect something like this to occur:

"TOday I writes 1000 wordss and deleteds half of  if after draining an xtra large triple shot caramel latte whilst sobbing under the desk SEND HALP..............."

But now, here is my 'post it' - board (= a bunch of A4's taped together) where I regularly write and glue new stuff from books, conversations, websites, tutorials and the depths of my brain.
Making it is actually quite fun and relaxing, and also useful for a visual person like myself.

There you also see my topic, hysteria, which probably doesn't really say anything to most people in the context of art studies but we'll get there. Eventually. Hopefully.

And being the Photoshop savvy individual that I am, I also put together a collage of the books from this area of study that I've read so far.

see, that took a lot of skill to make
And thus we have reached the end of the first page of my new research diary, which means that I can tick a box in the list of my to do's: to start a research diary done.

Manic Episode, Unspecified

As I in my last post referred to, there is indeed a project called Manic Episode, Unspecified, the development of which can be followed through a few older entires in this blog. For some unknown reason though, I never shared the final outcome - hence here it is.