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A reflective journal of my practice, process, and thoughts.

Posts tagged history
Mid-Point Review


The feedback I received during the crit session has already proved tremendously helpful and I’m grateful for everyone’s comments and insights - it’s so important to share work, and to ‘test’ it - is the work doing what you expected it to? This is one of the aspects I’m most enjoying about the course, being back in a shared environment with the framework in which that is an objective.

To a large extent and overall I feel as if the recurring themes throughout my crit align very strongly with my own feelings about where I am at right now, and some of the questions that would be constructive to consider. This is very encouraging.

The question of the extent to which my project is rooted in and weighted by personal history and identity, and how effective it might be in communicating something relatable on a wider scale is something I think is central for me to address, and it one of those continuous considerations that I am working to unravel. It was very valuable to hear how, for example, Betty read the project as being more concerned with a search for identity than an investigation into geography and change, and in response to this Ed said that he felt that identity was one of several subjects tied in together, being expressed through metaphor, and that the tricky part will be to communicate all of that in a way that each subject gives meaning to another. This is definitely a key objective for me now and something which I will focus on more as I work my way through the project - Aristotle describes what I am handling as a ‘phenomenal amount of data’ - and I do feel this. Identity is definitely a concern, and the way I have been approaching the project is from a point of this forming the basis, or the roots, of it and everything that follows or is overlaid or extruded from personal narrative, into something that I intend to speak more of our collective experiences in today’s geological context, and something that works outside of the confines of my own geography, or my home. More and more I am treating this project as something which is so multi-faceted that I do not, in one way, want to impose borders on it, but rather begin to focus in on one metaphor or ‘dimension’ at a time. I will be revisiting and reworking the globe-shaped project map, in order to begin working into it - the project - now, rather than reading around it. I hope to develop something compelling in that multi-faceted way, in which connections that at the moment feel like hints or confusions might emerge more thoroughly as the result of working on this for years to come.

Action Points / Development

Consider the potential of both writing, and verbal description, as a branch of methodology in the communicative behaviour of the project

Pav commented that he felt the quality of the spoken narrative in the video was more important and effective than the visual communication. This is one of a few comments that surprise me - it is intriguing and I am very eager to engage with this. I did not write a script for the video presentation. I made the video piece in a way that was possibly much less efficient than I could have, and I think that this is actually an example of my continuous approach and nature to labor over something, which often results in research dominating time I could be utilising more carefully in making. I developed the video in a very linear way, beginning to end, adding visuals and making mental notes for what I might say as I worked my way along the timeline, then made two sound recordings for the narration - a hiccupy and stumbling rough edit and then something a little better. However, I did greatly enjoy this and this is important actually in a couple of ways - I love writing and research and I have often gravitated towards those modes over visual communication. In this case, I spent much longer processing the visual work I had made and images I had collected along the way via the research than the text. This feedback is helpful also because it suggests to me that the text or the ‘non-visual’ research is at a point where I have something I can begin to articulate and make sense of in terms of a basic framework, so now I can really push forward with that framework more into visual/aural. Having said that, there is something about the spoken element which I, though I do not necessarily in any way enjoy listening to own my monotone drone, think might be worth pushing or at least reminding myself of as I work because it could inform part of the communicative behaviour of the project. Alexis provided a connection to the work of Stephen Jay Gould, explaining how “his essays sweep ideas together in classic form taking one through a disclosure of idea that eventually settles as a sedimentary bed in ones mind, creating a geology of thought”. In response to Alexis’ question, I have considered writing previously, and the feedback he has offered encourages me to revisit it in this context, and indeed how writing could form a dimension of the project in itself, in relation to the thread of historical constructs and reconstruction.

Explore the soundscape, and evaluate it’s potential relationship to the aesthetic of the project

For the Mid-Point Review video piece I wanted to record a very simple soundscape, and something that echoed the time-bound aspect in connection to the research; deep time, memory, life-span. I slowed down and amplified a recording I made of ice cubes cracking in warm water, and this together with one piano chord formed the basis of it. I did enjoy this, and I am thankful for the feedback I received as regards how the sound worked; Aristotle commented that it was significant in his reading of the project, and this seemed to be a shared interpretation amongst others in the group. The development of soundscapes in correlation to the environments that I am imagining each of those metaphorical dimensions within my project to ‘look’ like is definitely something I intend to pursue - I will continue experimentation, and I plan to make field recordings to enrich the process moving forward.

Continue to investigate: extrusion, depth maps, interaction

As I state in the video, testing and trialling methods and techniques of making the project immersive and experiential is a key objective of the project. Christopher suggested the concept of being able to navigate through the embossed landscapes in real-time, which certainly speaks to the thoughts I have regarding experimentation I plan to begin this week in connection to perceptions of the past. On the subject of the embossed landscapes, I’m grateful to Ed for pointing out that those I included in my presentation look very similar to satellite recordings of the breaking up of ice sheets in the Antarctic - this is a useful reference point. Kelda spoke about the way in which I’m currently switching between digital and physical and how that is intriguing and this is something which I have thought about quite a lot; generally I imagine this as actually being a comment within the work somewhere about the two, and about formats - I’m thinking back here a little bit to Daria Martin’s show at the Barbican which I discussed in my previous blog post, and also I am always quite mindful of, for example, the fluency of Joseph Beuys’ interdisciplinary process. I’m also very interested in Kelda’s reading that my work “has a gritty monotone approach a bit like a black and white documentary, which looks real but is a representation of the real.” Documentary is very important to me… there are a few very distinct qualities concerning direction, narrative, and truth (Werner Herzog’s pursuit of the ‘ecstatic truth’ comes to mind) which I have always been fascinated by in that field that deals with negotiating representations of the real - and persuasion. I’d like to pay some more attention to this. Dannii and Jonathan referred back to the concept of extrusion as a device which should be investigated further, and core samples as frozen records of previous events and environments, lifeforms, being literally pulled from within the earth, the question of how our behaviours will be defined in future samples - layers of plastics, the ‘unnatural’… These are certainly reflective of, and valuable extensions of, my thought process. All of the feedback I have received is beginning to inform my planning and direction, and the weight of the focus I give to certain questions that directly affect the experience of viewer.




At the Edge of the Humber

In September I attended an interesting lecture by historical and cultural geographer Dr. Briony McDonagh, during the British Science Festival at University of Hull. The lecture traced the histories of settlements on the River Humber, beginning with an examination of the intercommoned wetland marshes of Wallingfen which resisted drainage and agricultural development until the eighteenth century and parliamentary enclosure, working along to the mouth of the river via the remote Sunk Island in Holderness, all of which was also waterlogged until the Middle Ages, and has more in common geologically with the Netherlands than other parts of Yorkshire. I am much more familiar with Sunk Island, living nearby and aware of it’s strange, fractured and lonely beauty, and did not previously know of the existence of Wallingfen, but figments of the soft Holderness clay and the way I visualised the Norfolk Fens in my reading of Graham Swift’s Waterland came to mind, which is probably quite an obvious and reductive reference to make at first. Incidentally, a couple of years ago I traced my mother’s family back a few generations to living in Norfolk. One of the reasons for them moving north and settling in Holderness might have been connected to a more widespread migration of labourers from Norfolk to Yorkshire in the early 1800s as the result of an excess of agricultural workers in a region feeling the effects of increased mechanisation. Nonetheless, it made me consider the winding rural psychogeography Swift developed; the drenched landscape an active witness slowly shifting and churning the past into the shared present, reshaped - reclaimed, and present back beneath, eventually out to the river and lost into the sea. “That's the way it is: life includes a lot of empty space. We are one-tenth living tissue, nine-tenths water; life is one-tenth Here and Now, nine-tenths a history lesson. For most of the time the Here and Now is neither now nor here.” 

Sunk Island reclamation stages2.jpg
image credit - Andy Medcalf

Collapsed WWII gun emplacements exposed as the cliffs wear away at Kilnsea.

Read The Draining of the Marshlands of South Holderness and the Vale of York, June A. Sheppard, 1966

As Above, So Below

animation from gelatin prints, fossils from east yorkshire coast, 2018

… because photographs trigger a memory reflex, the scene they depict takes on a personal significance that is like a shadow and cannot be fixed precisely. This is an unconscious mechanism, silently nagging the viewer (Where does this fit in my life? Was I there?) . The places are also, of course, points on the earth, coordinates in what we call our environment, that which envelops us. In this sense they are part of a different history, but one that is much harder to comprehend, the story of a planet that has existed for more than 4 billion years before humans. This too is part of our collective unconscious. - Saylor/Morris, ‘A History of the Future’.


One of the main threads of my practice is the idea that the only resource we have is the past, and the question of how this informs the production of visual work in relation to new technologies is something that lies at the roots for me. I am interested in the idea of the ‘time-stamp’ - fixing and unfixing a moment, and chasing the absence of a memory. This roughly began a few years ago when I decided to delve into some boxes of photographs my Nanna left behind. One in particular stood out to me, and has fixated me ever since, and this is the one you can see above. There is a shadow of a man visible in the shed, but I can’t quite see who it is. I realise that the threads of curiosity that are bound up in this can be traced back through my practice, more widely through an exploration of natural history as a field of accumulating agendas and constructs in parallel to the ‘true’ natural history of the earth, and back through my life and experiences of being a witness to various neurological diseases in my grandparents as a young person. These are perhaps both small chronicles of mystery, accumulation and loss. For these reasons the aesthetics of the archive appeal to me and sometimes I make use of this in the way I mine for historical visuals and found objects to form projections of the present, and is intrinsic to the properties of print in general. Joseph Beuys has been an influence on me in this area.

Prior to uncovering those photograph, I either actively or unconsciously avoided any personal material. The last thing I want to do is make work that is sentimental and I think this is maybe partly the reason why. More and more however I’ve realised that there is an emotive core to my practice which maybe bears potent relationships to geological process, and those threads of exploration into natural history and the archive make sense in terms of my interest in what is happening on the surface - on and between land, and below the surface - those shifting and mysterious stratifications of hidden matter which are largely absent from our active thought. Gradual change over time. I’ve spent a lot of time visiting and investigating the rapidly eroding cliffs which are eating into an agricultural area known as Holderness, on which my family lived and worked for decades and is pictured in those tiny polaroids fixating me. Thomas Sheppard’s ‘Geological Rambles in East Yorkshire’ (1903) served as a way of understanding some of the muddied and isolated locations, and became a starting point for a consideration of how this area of landmass which features the fastest eroding coastline in Europe, with bolder clay rich in fossilized life forms from ice age glacial deposits, is fragmenting and reforming like a society itself – the wear and tear of the people on the surface, the wear and tear of the crumbling clay and the shifting forces beneath our feet. I have begun to collect those fossils and make contact prints from them as an immediate visual starting point.

I am interested in the metaphysical, and the potential of the term ‘the fossil record’ as being a description of the recorded human memory of experiences of a landscape and relationships as much as it stands for a scientific collection of measurable and agreed historical evidence. The fossil record is, of course, notably incomplete. What does generation loss look like in the earth? Are there ways in which we gravitate towards anxiety in our psychological landscapes that might be reflected in the visualization of the gaps in the fossil record – in data and collections? Are there parallels to be drawn and associations to be unearthed between neurological disease, memory loss, and geological processes such as erosion and overprinting, at a point in time at which the geologic, biologic and technologic are becoming so much more tightly bound and blurred? These are all broad questions, which I seek to investigate, to distil, and push the boundaries of.