Month: January 2017

January 31, 2017

6.50 am: Before I woke, and as I woke, I heard the sounds of birdsong close-by and a car travelling into the far distance. The experience evoked the memory — and with it my precise mood and frame of mind on — of waking-up at a bed and breakfast in Colorado Springs on my first morning, in 1999. It was like being there, once again, while simultaneously present, here. Perhaps the phenomenon is an example of a type of chronesthesia (or mental time travel):

8.40 pm: I walked to the Old College in the spitting rain on a morning that felt as though it belonged in a dream. Dark daylight:

9.00 am: A day of postgraduate teaching (PhD and MA Fine Art). I took on two PhD-ers to kick off. These were very different students, orientations, and tutorial discussions. At PhD level, the tutor should abandon all templates. The student is the course; the course is the student. It’s an entirely unorthodox experience of education. And, long may it remain so.

1.30 pm: Another expedition to the Old College for a partial afternoon of MA fine art tutorials. ‘The best laid plans …’. They forgot:

I, too, often need a reminder to remember my reminder to do stuff. Tutorials are, on occasion, like free-jazz performances. They’re in the moment, as it were. ‘You had to be there’, as they say. The ‘electricity’ that passes between the student and the tutor resides not so much in what was said as how it was received. A sound recording (which can be a useful learning aid) can capture only the externals of the transaction. The inner transformation (which is entirely the responsibility and resolve of the student) takes place in silence. 3.30 pm: Back to the mothership for the second PhD fine art tutorial of the day, at 4.00 pm. I’ve received a great deal of energy from my tutees today. Very grateful.

7.30 pm: I had piddling bits of admin to shoo-away and several emails of a confirmatory kind to ‘pen’/finger before opening a window on my article referencing once again.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Your work is your best tutor. But it speaks to you ever so quietly, and only when you’re prepared to listen.
  • The anchor of art finds its firmest hold in the soul.
  • In art, progress rarely takes place in a straight line.
  • Don’t resist a good idea.
  • Develop a sense of purpose in the broader field of your life and you’ll discover it in your work, as a consequence.
  • The older you get the clearer the task becomes.
  • Determine the core concerns of your work and steer everything else towards them.
  • I rarely reflect on my teaching. I always reflect on my conversations with students. Pedagogy is of less significance than relationships.

January 30, 2017

Yesterday, Holy Trinity Church held the annual  RNLI service. The church was filled to capacity:

8.45 am: Emailery, calendarization, and an orientation to the beginning of the teaching semester. 9.40 am: A jaunt up the steep hill to see the practice nurse, who was conducting her duties unsupervised for the first time today. (I was still keen.):

Medical matters generate their own admin. Having done all that a patient patient can do in this respect and updated the School’s social media sites, it was back to the article … for a final fling (possibly). Bring on the references and notes! 12.30 pm: An exchange with the National Screen and Sound Archive and the Royal National Institute for the Blind regarding possible future projects. ‘Cast thy bread upon the waters …’.

1.30 pm: Still soldering on, after lunch:

2.00 pm: I posted further emails related to the morning’s correspondence before retuning to the always tedious task of referencing. Analytical concordance to the ready.

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: Undergraduate teaching arrangements needed to be confirmed, and bits of postgraduate admin dispatched before I could return to today’s core business. 8.20 pm: Back to it.

9.30: 1987:

When I was about four to six years of age, I remember standing at the bottom of the garden path, facing my father’s shed, and looking up at the blue sky above the Arael Mountain. Across my view, rolling slowly from left to right, I saw what seemed to be a very large ball of crumpled aluminium foil glisten in the sunlight … Another incident – I must have been the same age — involved a hand’s shadow in motion, cast above the pelmet of my bedroom window … I was sure that I was awake, and pinched myself to prove it. From its position and definition, it couldn’t have been made by anyone in the garden (Aberystwyth, Diary > May 7, 1987).

Blaina (1960s) (photography courtesy of the Blaina and Nantyglo Community Archive)

All those stories of the pit that Pop [my maternal grandfather] told as he walked me across the grassed-over tips, along the rails where the coal trucks had been shunted, passed air vents and escape-tunnels built into the hills, and through the Pilgrims’ Gardens where the old miners sat-out the last years of their lives. All the experiences of looking down upon the town [of Blaina], and up at the dark clouds that threatened thunder, and buffeted one another as they slowly rolled across the valley, like fat men turning in their slumber (Aberystwyth, Diary > May 21, 1987).

January 27, 2017

It is not in an easy, careless manner that we get learning, understanding, and knowledge; no, it must be by labour, industry, and toil. It is necessary ‘to cry after knowledge, and lift up the voice of understanding — to seek her as silver and to search for her as hid treasure’ (Prov. 2: 3,4). We are not to be disheartened and cast down, in not succeeding to obtain knowledge of things at the commencement; it is the work of time (John Elias (1774–1841)).

8.45 am: A little juggling of the timetable to accommodate the needs of those who couldn’t, for good reason, conform their lives to the first draft. This is the nature of life and planning. Afterwards, I exchanged emails about related matters with Dr Forster. I feel the starship beginning to edge out of space dock once again. 9.30 am: Back to the article.

10.40 am: A summons from Kennedy Central to pop into the School in order to moderate a sample of examination scripts for The History of Photography module, before they’re sent to the External Examiner:

My home laptop (which is substituting for a departmental desktop, in absentia) chose it’s moment and went into massive-update mode:

11.00 am: Back at homebase, the article moved forward … achingly slowly. (In the background: some Bartók to ease the passage.) By lunchtime, I’d nearly reached the conclusion of the text.

1.30 pm: My resting brain poured over my diary for 1986 — the year in which I began my PhD in Art History; a year in which I prepared for loss, and also found many things. The experiences of the past tutor me in the present. I’m talking to me, from then to now. There are so many aspects of my history that I’d either rewrite, edit, or expunge, if I could.

1.45 pm: I began moving some of the article’s furniture around. Like belongs with like. 3.30 pm: A final look-over, before I begin the process of footnoting. 4.15 pm: My mind is dull. The terrain of the text is, now, too familiar. In this condition, I’m apt to edit ruthlessly. This is no bad thing.

5.10 pm: Eventide:

6.15 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: Back to the article. (Groan!) 8.30 pm: A change. A look. The awaited final effector for Pedalboard III arrived today — an echo pedal. I’ll install and test it tomorrow:

9.30 pm: No more, please!

There’s a particular state of semi-consciousness that I associate with lying on my back at the top of the Arael [Mountain, Abertillery], looking through closed eyelids at the bright blue sky, with the town at my feet (Cardiff, Diary > May 15, 1986).

January 26, 2017

Who knows where the time goes (Fairport Convention).

8.30 am: Admin beckoned. The trick is to distinguish between what one should do oneself and what one should delegate to others. 9.30 am: Time is ticking; the article needs completing. Onward! It’s hard to write about one’s own artwork without sounding as though you really believe that the thing merits talking about at length. (Modesty and measure, risk compromise.) Conversely, in academic writing of this nature, one shouldn’t acknowledge any reservations about the artwork’s resolution, integrity, originality, and importance. (This is the realm of criticism — a pain that’s best inflicted by others.)

11.00 am: Warm-drinks time. Progress, paragraph by paragraph, was embarrassingly slow. Still too many wasted words, imprecisions, and ‘conferencees’ (expressions that sound fine when spoken and heard but awkwardly informal when written and read) to remedy. 12.00 pm: I wandered into the studio, to distract myself. ‘My Foolish Heart’:

In a small department, like the School of Art, individual staff assume numerous roles that, in a larger department, are dispersed among several members. (Like the biblical demoniac, Legion: ‘we are many’ (Mark 5.9).) As a consequence, there are times when one is called to attend to more than one duty and meeting simultaneously. And, no amount of due diligence and good time management can either forestall or reconcile these conflicts. Such times give me pause for thought.

1.40 pm: Over lunch, I made another attempt to fully eradicate a low-volume, 50MHz hum in my sound system, which may be hardly noticeable to anyone else. But, to me, it’s as intrusive as a vacuum cleaner’s drone at close range. I inserted an electrically isolated pathway between the amplifier’s ‘send’ channel and the input to Pedalboard III. Bliss!:

2.00 pm: A few new pieces of writing to bolster the connectivity between the paragraphs of the article were required. (Most everything in my life involves either making or reconciling connections, it seems.) 3.40 pm: After a brief trip to the GP — where, waiting, I solved a transitional hiccup between one paragraph/one idea and another — I returned to my study in order to implement the solution. It’s cold. The wind cuts like a razor.

6.15 pm: Practise session 1. 7.00 pm: Undergraduate and postgraduate module admin. This coming week, I’ll concentrate on seeing all my available charge (from PhD, through MA, to BA second and third year studies) for one-to-one tutorials.

8.00 pm: 1986:

The ceiling of grey cloud and the top and distant edge of the Arael fused, as though the mountain had been erased, like a pencil drawing (Abertillery, Diary > January 1, 1986).

The Arael Mountain, as seen from the lower playground of The British Infants’ School, Abertillery (November 1, 1987)

8.40 pm: I returned to the article for the work day’s final hour, searching for a New Testament Greek word for ‘thunder’ (βρέμω).

January 25, 2017

8.40 am: At this time of the morning, a gentleman can walk into his barber’s shop and sit in the chair straightaway. 9.20 am: I returned, refreshed, walking into the sunlight:

Postgraduate and examination administration were at the head of my ‘must do now’ Post-it. I bit the bullet. A column of teaching preparation ‘to dos’ confronted me, too. (Semester 2 teaching begins on Monday.) For later. Admin breeds admin. I’ve two PhD viva voce (both of a non-standard type) to arrange, examination scripts (of a non-standard type) to send to the external examiner, inquiries to address, and appointments to confirm:

By noon, what needed to be done was done. On, then, with my teaching timetable and associated notifications.

1.40 pm: Off to School for an afternoon of postgraduate inquiry meetings.

The first visitor was related to one of my teenage heroes: a colossus of a musician. What a small world. From 3.00 pm to the close of the afternoon, Mr Croft and I held informal discussions with two intending PhD Fine Art applicants. These occasions are, without fail, fascinating, exciting, and tiring (in the most fulfilling sense of that word).

7.30 pm: My other life: I attended the Holy Trinity Church Committee, of which I’m the youngest member.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s auto-ruminations:

  • We’re prone to overestimate ourselves.
  • Just as a small noise can effect a large avalanche, so too minor mistakes may lever huge consequences.
  • Don’t be cocky!
  • Life is peppered with landmines: unseen and dangerous traps.
  • Chaos and pain inevitably ensue wrong doing. They’re the sting in its tail.
  • Do what only you can, the way that only you do.

January 24, 2017

8.30 am: Off to School for the final day of assessments. 9.00 am: Today, we reached the third year of undergraduate painting. An altogether different sense of urgency pervades the assessment discussions. The students have under four month in which to produce the most resolved, professional, and impressive body of artwork of their entire lives … and then go public for the first time. Therefore, straight talking and clear sightedness were the call of the day:

On the whole, the portfolios presented were encouraging and bode well for the coming degree show. Occasionally, we witnessed quite extraordinary endeavour. At such times the work transcended its identity as module submission; we were, instead, discussing art and responding to it as such. After over five hours of continuous assessment (an experience which gives a whole new meaning to the term), we were done (in every sense of that word). All that remained was for the principal assessors to commit their feedback reports to paper. Hybrid ‘selfie’:

2.20 pm: Following a hasty sandwich and catch up with the world’s news, I sat down, at home, to articulate Dr Forster’s and my judgements on those who I’d taught. I ended my final report with the encouragement: ‘Be aware; be cautious; be ambitious; be brave’.

4.45 pm: Emails had begun to accrue in my inbox and lists ‘must do now’ items, on my desk notebook. I get vaguely anxious when there are more than half-a-dozen unattended emails threatening for attention.

7.30 pm: I allocated the evening and tomorrow morning to put to rout tasks that were progressively descending my maxi-size Post-its. My calendar began to fill like a kettle. Ah! The simple pleasure of scoring through an item once it has been attended to. 8.30 pm: A little soldering, to break the routine and monoralize a stereo-jack plug. 9.00 pm: A distribution of certain assessment feedback forms and a culling of my inbox.

January 23, 2017

On the weekend, I integrated Pedalboards II, IV & V and the other effectors.  A problem arose with Pedalboard IV. Mmmm! Quite literally a ‘mmmm’ of 50Hz, where there ought to have been relative silence.

8.30 am: Off to School for the penultimate-day of fine art assessments. This period in the year is something of a marathon for staff. And, no sooner than the assessments are completed, we will need to discover fresh reserves of energy in order to crank up the next semester. And so it goes on:

12.00 pm: I had time to write-up several of the morning’s assessments before a MA inquirer’s consultation at 12.30 pm and a pastoral tutorial at 1.15 pm:

1.30 pm: Back at homebase, I had a swift, late lunch of egg fried rice, before completing the writing up that I’d begun at the School. 3.15 pm: An Abstraction module, essay resubmission beckoned to be marked. 4.40 pm: Studiology. Over the weekend, I’d battled with a hiss n’ hum produced by Pedalboard II (above) when it was installed in the send and receive loop of my amplifier. Having replaced various effectors and examined the integrity of the patch cables, to nil effect, I could only conclude that the cause of the noise was the mono to stereo transition (TRS to TS connections) from the amplifier to the board. This was indeed the case, as I discovered this afternoon. I’d been caught out by this mismatch before. Perhaps, now, I’ve learned my lesson.

6.30 pm: Domestic sock matching from the laundry basket. 7.30 pm: Studiology, again. I’ll not settle to anything else unless I first convince myself that Pedalboard II’s noise emission had been remedied. And, so I rebuilt the board from scratch. 9.00 pm: Done! Optimised. One can never completely remove noise from a sound system comprising so many individual effectors. Their collective gain will always generate a small amount of hiss. The trick is to keep it to a minimum. I’m now confident that I’ve done my best in this respect.

January 20, 2017

Bright skies will soon be o’er me, where darkest clouds have been (Anna Letitia Waring (1820–1910)).

8.15 am: A better day:

9.00 am: There was time for minor adminy tasks related to assessment, postgraduate matters, and research before my shipment of assessees arrived. 10.15 am: The beginning. 2.10 pm: The end. And, in between, a great deal of wise words, sagacity, sober thoughtfulness, gentle rebuke, focussed encouragement, resolution, repentance, and illumination:

2.20 pm: A hurried, late lunch before an afternoon of assessment write ups, with occasional peaks at the US Presidential Inauguration. (I’ll refrain from commenting.)

5.20 pm: Eventide:

6.15 pm: Practise session 1. 7.15 pm: Studiology. Before re-adding the repaired devices, Pedalboard I required a complete overhaul of its power supply system in order to ensure that as many effectors as possible had an independent, isolated input. After a day of heads-on work, a hands-on activity made for a welcome change:

9.30 pm: 1982:

On walking down the rough track from the National Library of Wales towards my studio at the Art Department on Llanbadarn Rd, I saw sunlight — diffuse and shimmering — on the sea. At the same time, I became aware of a strongly illuminated playing field in the middle distance, with rugby players, kitted in blue and red, in various positions, against the saturated emerald-green grass. I experienced a mixture of delight in the elusive feeling stirred by these phenomena and of frustration at my inability to convey them (Aberystwyth, Diary > November 12, 1982).

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Discover the water that you can swim in best.
  • Making art gives us spectacles and, thereby, a vision of the world that would otherwise be impaired.
  • Discipline is your defence against slackness, vacuity, and self-indulgence.
  • When you have to choose … follow either the style, or subject matter, or sensibility that has taught you the most thus far.
  • Focus, prune, narrow, delimit, jettison, abandon.
  • Nothing ‘just happens’.
  • Learning can often be of greater value than succeeding.

January 19, 2017

8.15 am: Trust for the past, too. 9.00 am: Admin generated by last night’s efforts needed to be collated and dispatched before I could settle, for an hour, to the article again. When the parcel of time available is small, I concentrate on resolving a few tricky or otherwise unsatisfactory sentences.

The morning’s partial light and the eventless sullen, grey tarpaulin of the sky reflect the spirit of the nation, presently. On the human plane, it’s hard to be up-beat. What are the consolations of art in this situation? What can art contribute to this situation? Art is at least as important as politics, was Clement Greenberg‘s opinion. Perhaps we should start believing that.

10.15 am: Into the winter’s glower and on to the School for the morning’s line-up of second-year painters, printmakers, and photographers. Two of our MA Vocational Practice students attended as part of their teaching observation commitment.

2.00 pm: After a late lunch, a period of email catch-up and respite, I re-engaged my article. There’s still too much that’s ill-considered, elliptical, and poorly expressed. The clarity of a writer’s articulacy is always in direct relation to the perspicuity of their understanding. (Fuzzy thinking = fuzzy writing, in other words.)

5.10 pm: 1982. I was one month into my MA Visual Art degree:

Work on the drawing was painfully slow. I spent hours undoing the previous day’s work … The bursts of sunlight that illuminate the leaden grey sea are both a distraction and a glory to behold. There are many possible ideas for paintings passing in and out of existence from one moment to the next. I hope my efforts won’t be frustrated by a hard winter (Constitution Hill, Aberystwyth, Diary > October 7, 1982).

6.15 pm: Practise session 1. 7.15 pm: On with a write-up of this morning’s second year Painting assessments. A feedback form is composed for each student, with indications of their strengths and weaknesses across a range of categories and a narrative that fleshes-out and humanises their performance overall, for better or worse. In this sense, the forms are both critical and diagnostic. As a tutor, you should always prescribe a cure for their malaise. Whether they take their medicine … well, that’s another matter. There was time at the close of the evening to eke out of my creakier sentences sharper clarity.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • A student’s performance is measured against two axes: the ‘aptitudinal’ and the attitudinal.
  • A disinclination to work is harder to remedy than a lack of ability.
  • Our progress in work and our understanding of such may not occur simultaneously.
  • Sometimes, as an assessor, one must search for diamonds amid the coal dust.
  • Follow the path of your ability rather than that of your inclination. They may not always be the same, alas.
  • Some students see through feeling rather more than they do through looking.
  • Better cack-handed poetry than arid dexterity.
  • Don’t aim to do something that’s different; rather, aim to do something that’s honest.

January 18, 2017

8.15 am: Confession; contrition; consolation. 9.00 am: Forgiveness; fortitude; focus. I dedicated the morning to the article. The objective was to prune and polish (to mix metaphors) what had already been composed and will be retained in the final submission. Thereafter, I’ll add any further material that is presently conspicuously absent. (Playing in the background: Laurie Speigel’s The Expanding Universe (1980).) I sometimes find it hard to determine which tense I should use to write about personal work. There’s a conflict between having made it (in the past) and the endurance of the same (in the present). Context usually decides the matter.

11.00 am: 1984:

In the far distance of a photograph taken by my father — in which my mother and I were posed, arm in arm, standing on the Promenade, Aberystwyth — two women, both dressed in blue coats, walked towards us. They passed us, unnoticed. This was thirty-three years ago. In all likelihood, both have now passed in a more profound sense. As, too, the photographer, my companion, and the bandstand for sure.

1.00 pm: I took a swift lunch, so that I could get to the School in time to set up the seminar room for this afternoon’s tranche of Research and Process in Practice presentations, which Dr Forster and I would be assessing.

1.30 pm: En route; on Trinity Road:

I noticed this plaque only recently. It resonates with some of the concerns touched upon by the next The Aural Bible project. Is this, then, a sign? Evidently, yes!

2.00 pm: Kick off!

Eastern European students see and represent Aberystwyth through the filter of an entirely different sensibility than that possessed by locals. They transform the town and its environs to such an extent that, in some of examples of their work, you’d hardly recognise it. Fascinating! ‘I was always a step behind my work’, spoke one student. What an elegant and simple expression of a discomforting realisation many of them experience, particularly in their first and second year. ‘What! You mean to say there are no pickled eggs available in Poland?’, I exclaimed, at the close of one photographer’s presentation. Both Polish students present confirmed this bleak reality. A marketing opportunity presented itself. One of the most touching and impressive aspects of this afternoon’s proceedings were the students’ testimonies to, variously, a growth in confidence, the development of a mature self-awareness, and their victory over insuperable personal odds, during the past two years … all with the aid of art. While art should not be made for therapy, it can be therapeutic. The creative process is a powerful medicine for self-repair. Art won’t meet all the soul’s needs, but it can fulfil some.

7.30 pm: Reports on the afternoon’s presentations needed to be written-up. (In the background: Scott Walker’s Scott 4 (1969).) There’s something deeply consoling and evocative about lush, 60s-style string arrangements: oceanic … like a mother’s caress. There’s a quote on the album cover that’s attributed to the philosopher Albert Camus: ‘a man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened’. I believe that.