Month: October 2015

October 7, 2015

7.00 am. Rise. This is a hotel that services builders and contractors; they were mobile from shortly after 6.00 am. When men only run a hotel, there’s often a certain conviviality and homely sparkle lacking at the breakfast table. Still … the cereal fayre was decent and the scrambled egg, a treat. Apparently, in the fourteenth century, when the hotel was a manor, the Lord had made one of his maid servants pregnant. Her baby was still-born and, afterwards, buried in the cellar. The mother, who died of heartache, is to be seen wandering in tears between two bedrooms today.

8.30 am. Taxi booked; I waited. The taxi driver wasn’t sure where the college was situated, and he was a little hard of hearing. iPad GPS to the rescue. I arrived shortly after 9.00 am, but much of my ‘merchandise’ hadn’t preceded me. I improvised with a MacBook and an iPad (again). My new found, if rather taciturn, friends:

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Is the ‘merchandise’ en route? This is very frustrating. Cardiff Metropolitan is drawing my customers away like a blackhole. Other institutions have loads of visuals, and their stalls are dual staffed. People want stuff, not consultation necessarily, to take back to their colleges and schools. ‘Turn on the charisma, John!’ Most of those who came to me had had little by way of advice about how and where to apply. They are young people in transition, They hardly know themselves yet, let alone what they want to do in life. They were impressed by my dual deployment of a MacBook and iPad. (There’s a lesson to be learned here.) And, everyone liked the pens:

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11.45 am. A lull. Lunch was on the way, I was told:

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Inquiries about illustration, photography, and fashion were particularly prevalent. I assembled lunch on a plate a little larger than a saucer. Balance and design skills were called for in order to construct a tight and tall arrangement of sandwiches and crisps (which can be inserted in the negative spaces between quartered sandwiches).

Get the students to sit down … then, they open up. Be humane.

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The final half hour offered slim pickings. My colleague from Cardiff drove me back into town. Competing institutions can still behave civilly one to another. 2.30 pm. It was time for a hot chocolate with email catch-up before heading for the train station:

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I took the dinky train again from Stourbridge Town back to the Junction (which has a winning spirit):

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From there I went on to Smethwick GB, and endured a prolonged wait for a crowded train. Tiredness was catching up on me. Every time I pass Newtown Station I recall John McCasey, who passed away during his first year of PhD Fine Art studies. He’d made several memorable and haunted paintings of this and other stations on the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth line during his MA Fine Art degree.

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A passenger opposite me reminded me of a student that I’d once taught, as she might have appeared in her youth. Lo and behold, that very same student and her husband passed me in the train aisle a little later on. Some coincidences are very curious. (‘Thela Hun Gingeet’.) 7.20 pm. Arrived home. After a late dinner, I buried myself in the study to complete various bit of admin and teaching preparation for tomorrow.



October 6, 2015

7.00 am. An interrupted night’s sleep. (Perhaps something I ate.) Time to get on top of the small tasks. 8.45 am. Off to School. There are signs of turbulence in the skies; ‘As below, so above’. 9.00 am. The first MA Fine Art tutorial of the new academic year. And this is odd: a painting of a forest by a former MA Fine Art student turns up, from who knows where, in the studio space of a new MA Fine Art student, whose passion is painting forests. One should not take such coincidences seriously:

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10.00 am. The second MA Fine Art tutorial of the morning. Different student; different complexion to the tutorial. That’s, in part, what makes these exchanges so rich and demanding. 11.10 am. Having done battle with a counter-intuitive and begrudging photocopier, I fell headlong into the second Vocational Practice class, dealing with small-group tutorials (of which the class was a prime example). The group is shaping up well; it already has cohesion and that internal and necessary self-respect. 12.30 pm. A second BA Dissertation tutorial of the semester, on the topic of the visual culture of astrology. I’m learning a great deal.

1.00 pm. On the way to the railway station, I picked up lunch before beginning the first leg on my journey, in the drizzle, to Stourbridge. Emails confronted, instructions despatched, and diary updated, I settled to examine an MA Art History dissertation. (Reading the topic on a train was entirely apposite.) Approaching Borth: Autumn is present as much in the lowering sky as in the hues of the trees:

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4.22 pm. I arrived at Smethwick GB and took another train to Stourbridge Junction, where I alighted the smallest train I’d ever been on, to Stourbridge Town:

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From the town rail and bus station I took a shortish walk to The Talbot Hotel (pronounced ‘Tal’ not ‘Tall’): formerly, a seventeenth-century town house of some substance … that must be haunted. It simply must. My room is spacious and characterful, and like the rooms that I used to occupy on holidays with my parents as a child. I’ll endeavour to sit on every chair before my stay is out, to get my money’s worth. Old hotels no longer boast trouser and tie presses:

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What?!!:

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The WIFI is super slow. The offer of free-WIFI always has a sting in its tale. Having settled, I was off to town in search of an evening meal … until I found the bar/restaurant in the hotel, and remained there. An acceptable lasagne was had:

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7.10 pm. I revived my original intent and made a brief walk up and down the High Street, before committing myself to understanding how the shower worked. I stare at the mantlepiece in the hope that an ornament might move without mortal agency. This clearly isn’t the Overlook Hotel. I showered to the commentary of a BBC 4 documentary on the Birmingham and Stourbridge canal system. I’ve watched Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) too many times to be entirely comfortable taking a shower in a hotel with the bathroom door unlocked. 8.30 pm. A time for reflection.



October 5, 2015

8.00 am. A time for reflection, repentance, restitution, and resolve. 8.30 am. A little Blackboard updating, a little inbox deflating, a little filial communicating, before preparing for this afternoon’s Abstraction lecture, and collecting my thoughts about research matters that’ll be undertaken in the next few weeks. In the sound studio, next to my study, I continued processing the S/SNA files in the background, while adding a single guitar note:

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10.30 am. After the period of settlement and establishment during this last two weeks, I reinstated my old regime. On with various, small funding applications to support the publication of the next CD and start-up administration for the ‘Daughter of “Noises of Art”‘ conference. 12.30 pm. An early lunch, before a return to School for the afternoon’s teaching schedule.

1.30 pm. The first BA Dissertation tutorial of the year on a topic that crosses painting and music. 2.10 pm: Abstraction, and into Cubism:

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I’m aware that the students’ reticence to speak up in lectures in response to questions is caused by a lack of confidence coupled with self-consciousness, rather than a dearth of intelligence and knowledge. We need to work on this. As I remind them, it’s better to say something daft than nothing at all. Rarely is ‘daft’ so far from the mark of what is required.

3.00 pm. A discussion with Penny Icke of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales about an ‘inspirational’ project, to be run by the Commission, that will permit students, creative writers, and professional artists to access their archives with a view to generating creative engagement. Even as Penny and I talked, names and faces from within our community came to mind as being ideal candidates for the occasion. 4.30 pm. To close the day, a PhD Fine Art tutorial.

7.30 pm. Time to prepare for tomorrow’s jaunt to Stourbridge, where I’ll be representing the School at a higher education arts fair. Well, it’s day out:

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Afterwards, I updated modules, registers, and notifications about coming events.

We live in strange and unsettling days. The freedom to be, act, and speak according to conscience and with due regard for the best interests of others — which we once considered sane and self-evident — is threatened. Fear and panic have corroded that freedom; control has replaced trust; blame and shame have become the primary motivators; compliance and surrender are made the touchstones of loyalty; statistics become the measure of reality; manipulation is masked by good intentions; and plans substitute for vision. As a consequence, the heart is made heavy; the soul shrinks; the spirit is broken; and the intellect, bound.

Historically, liberation has always been the powerhouse of productive change. Moses said to Pharaoh: ‘Let my people go!’ Thus began a journey that led to the Promised Land.

Towards another life.



October 3, 2015

8.10 am. Oh, miserable and dreadful world! Contact with the server that hosts my website had been lost:

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I filled the time — that would otherwise have been set apart for dairy updating on my site — by finalising a number of postgraduate references. 8.45 am. Wondrous joy, with thanksgiving!; the website server was resurrected. I was told that it had crashed overnight, and the automatic monitoring tools weren’t able to restart it. 9.45 am. I pushed outwards towards the School to post the references. There, Tali, one of our MA Fine Art retirees, was performing an act of wanton iconoclasm in order to ready her studio space for the next occupant. Then, on to town to do battle with Boots the chemists over delayed prescriptions, and to harvest fresh vegetables at the Farmers’ Market:

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10.20 am. Back to the Dialogues3 descriptor, and to the construction of my website’s account of the event. 12.00 pm. I fired up the sound studio’s console in readiness for a review of the recordings made on Thursday evening. An equipment check indicated a break in the triple pedalboard circuit that required some attention. 12.30 pm. Fixed!

2.00 pm.  I began a two-fold review, first, of the new ‘Image and Inscription’ files and, secondly, of the ‘Suspension/Strictly No Admittance’ recordings.  In respect to the former, there are files that, while not being suitable for the intended composition, have merit and could be developed as an independent track. 3.30 pm. I explored a new (to me) method of recording through the mixer directly to the MacBook’s DAW via the USB. Then, I reprocessed some of the S/SNA files through effectors in order to tease out some of the higher frequencies:

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I’m aware that I need to build the sound layers in exactly the same way as Sandra constructed the paintings: from the bottom layer to the top. What, then, is the sound analogue for unprimed canvas, for primed canvas, and for the base layer of the painting, and so forth? Should the sound work reveal the process of incremental painting, or the sum of those layers only? In the exhibited works, Sandra presents a summation — the final product — of that process. Sound is time based and linear; sound artworks have the capacity to present both the process of accretion and the product, and, indeed, to present the process as the product.

5.30 pm. Press ‘Esc’. 6.30 pm. An evening to myself.



October 2, 2015

9.00 am. Off to School on a winning autumn morning. Quite the best time of the year:

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On arrival, we discovered that there was no one in building who had keys to open the galleries for the External Examiner. 9.15 am. I updated registers and Blackboard and prepared for a telephone conversation with a BBC researcher, who was putting together a radio series on the topic of the invisible. 10.00 am. The conversation. I suspect they’ll return to me at a later date for a fully-fledged interview on the topic of spirit photography and spirit audiography. The purpose of these initial calls is to test whether the ‘expert’ knows their stuff, and can articulate such without too many pauses, splutters, and ungrammatical inelegances. (Editors love interviewees who can speak in complete sentences.) 11.00 am. A final feedback discussion with one of our retiring MA Fine Art students.

Another retiree (who had, incidentally, already been marked) kindly baked me a gluten-free chocolate slab cake. Yum! Too good to keep to oneself:

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11.45 am. On with a raft of references that have to be completed in the next few days. 1.00 am. I attended the examination board, with lunch, to discuss the show and its participants, and finalise the marks. With David Ferry, this is always an instructive, positive, and enabling (dreadful cliché) conversation, with fair and unanimous outcomes. 2.20 pm. Business done; everyone satisfied; justice and equity prevailed.

2.45 pm. The assessment feedback having been posted, I got down to my final reference. The MA exhibition was getting down too:

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In the background to all things, I was twiddling knobs to produce a range of Bebe and Louis Barron-type moans and groans. (Quite unnerving with the right amount of reverb.) Ben, one of our MA Fine Art retirees, is helping me find a software solution to create a real-time visualisation of these noises for an Open-Day presentation. 4.00 pm. I knuckled down to my teaching diary for the next week. There’s much to fit in and around a day and a half away from university mid week.

7.30 pm. Bloomsbury Publishers (who published the Harry Potter books) contacted me about a potential book on the bible and visual culture. I responded with a cautionary tone:

You need to be careful about is any overlap with the forthcoming The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Bible and Arts, to which I contributed. The book covers other art forms besides the strictly visual (music, drama, film etc.). Of course, there’s room for another publication in the field, but it will have to define its territory in relation to the Oxford book. One thing needful is a reference book that deals with methodologies of studying the visual art in relation to the bible. A good model is The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion (https://www.routledge.com/products/9780415559201). This includes a chapter on the bible and visual culture (which I wrote); but the book’s reach is far far broader in all directions. Indeed, the problem I had was in condensing methodological approaches the bible and visual art and culture. The topic required a much larger canvas. 

One of the salient limitations of both publications is their failure to properly deal with contemporary art and new media. (I touched upon this in my own The Bible as Visual Culture (http://www.sheffieldphoenix.com/showbook.asp?bkid=258).) Moreover, today, the visual arts are not hermetically sealed; they seep into, for example, music and, most notably, sound art to form hybrids and interdisciplinary practices. So, a book on the bible and the visual arts only may already sound a little dated to the ears of art historians, fine artists, and art researchers. 

The other limitation of existing books on, or close to, the subject is that they are addressed to biblical and religious studies scholars primarily, rather than to scholars and practitioners in the visual arts. So, to my mind, there is still an audience who is under served in respect to this subject. 

8.30 pm. I sat and began to write a description of my response to Sandra’s paintings, yesterday evening. What’s happening on the surface of her works:

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October 1, 2015

8.15 am. Emails opened, answers posted, and submissions collated, filed, and foldered. 8.50 am. Off to School to pick up my laptop on the way to my first tour of duty at the Old College studios. Can there be a more wonderful walk to work than this?:

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10.15 am. Hot chocolate in hand, courtesy of the Cabin, I mounted the stone stairs to the West Classroom. When light enters, I’m filled with expectation:

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10.30 am. Off we go, and the first, third year painting tutorial of the morning. The students dribble in, coughing like TB patients. ‘Freshers’ flu’ has struck again. This illness is in danger of becoming institutionalised. Some principles and observations:

  • We can be burdened by our failures and underachievement in the past. This heavy rucksack needs to be dropped at the foot of the mountain before we make our next ascent.
  • Natural talent is not fixed. You can enter art school with great ability and it atrophy for want of exercise. Alternatively, you can enter art school with a modicum of ability and it grow significantly with exercise.

1.00 pm. Back to the School and to a working lunch before Professor David Ferry, the External Examiner for Fine Art, arrived at 1.30 pm. He was impressed by the quality of the show overall. The students have been allocated to one of three groups. The first group saw him this afternoon, and he interviewed each member individually thereafter. Periodically, I looked in on those waiting for and returning from their vivas. ‘Stop fussing!, John.’ 2.00 pm. A third year fine art tutorial with a ‘go-between’ (being a student who works across two mediums):

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I want to get rid of one cabinet immediately, and both eventually. What do I do with all the files of slide transparencies? Today, the Internet is my image bank and computers, my filing cabinets. I rarely open the draws of their analogue predecessors any longer. Mid afternoon, I had the opportunity to prepare a wall for my first ever white board (non-interactive) to be installed. Now, I’ll be a proper teacher. More de-paperisation followed.

7.30 pm. Having shipped out an economic and portable range of sound equipment to the School, I set up in the Project Room to fulfil ‘Live Art: Dialogues3: “Strictly No Admittance”‘. The modulation, looping, and recording processes were facilitated by Apple Logic X, controlled by an Apogee GiO Floorboard:

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9.00 pm. Job done! I’ll need to write up a description of the projects aims and outcomes, as well as process the recording before it can be released publicly.



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