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Journal

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

Posts tagged neurology
Mid-Point Review

FEEDBACK

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.

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COMMENTS FROM ONLINE STUDENTS >

COMMENTS FROM THE STUDIO -

 
 
Conversation with David Gelsthorpe, Manchester Museum 08-02-19
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A few weeks ago I met David Gelsthorpe, Curator of Earth Science Collections at Manchester Museum, and we discussed a broad range of topics relating to engagement, representations of time, climate change and positive action. I always greatly appreciate the opportunity to consider possibilities and lines of inquiry in my research from a different perspective, and from within a very different specialism. Museology as a ‘lens’ for representation is quite an established thread in my work and recently I have been reconsidering the effectiveness of that, my use of that, in the past and how I could utilise this again. David provided valuable insight and offered numerous viewpoints which I continue to reflect on moving forward. The following is a transcript of our conversation.

M: In the museum setting, how important is narrative in encouraging audiences to position themselves within the context of, for example, geologic time?

D: I think that narrative is absolutely essential because I think geologic time particularly is a very hard concept for people to understand. I find it quite interesting in terms of climate change and geologies because climate change has always happened - it always will happen, it’s an entirely normal and natural thing.

M: But do we subdue it?

D: Yes, I think that’s a good point because, sometimes, in the context of for example the work we’ve been doing around action on climate change, it’s almost a confusing narrative for the public, because if people get the strong message that climate change has always happened and always will, then people could see it as being a helpless thing. I always heavily qualify climate change narratives with human induced carbon dioxide levels and the massive changes on a geological time scale, which happens pretty slowly generally, but climate change in the last hundred, hundred and fifty years is astronomical. Saying that, there is some reasonably good evidence that in the last Ice Age, particularly from dating different fossils in our collection, for example in bones, that some of the changes were quite extreme and quite quick. From dating bone specimens such as from Hippo from North African type climates and Woolly Rhinoceros for example, some of the major climate changes from those extremes were probably several hundred years, and that is almost a lifetime isn’t it?! And that’s not so radically different to what’s happening now, but now it’s very very clearly manmade, and there are massive consequences to what is happening. So trying to help empower people to act positively is important.

M: Thinking politically on some level, the museum has a voice as an authority doesn’t it, and so does that translate to an exciting position for you to be in here?

D: Absolutely. Basically, we feel very strongly that there are so many public institutions that have a very heavily eroded level of trust – the NHS, the government… so we feel that we’re a very trusted organisation and that people identify strongly with us, and trust us to give them the ‘facts’, in inverted commas, and positive interpretations. We’re very conscious of that and don’t ever want to be in breach of that trust. We try to provide a really safe and balanced space as well, in which people can disagree with us, and we are totally okay with that.

M: We were talking about the power of conversation, and there are so many museum spaces I feel that do not enable conversation in the same way as Manchester does… in terms of a different type of space – the art gallery, there is obviously quite often the element of the uncomfortable or the impenetrable which the public invariably struggle with, and maybe some of those conversations that could happen remain internal because of the pressure of the space. What you have with the Natural History collections in the Living Worlds space here seems to be something which bridges display, and objects, with issues and contexts in a multitude of engaging ways.

D: That kind of makes me think about the question of ‘who has the answers?’. For example, in terms of our exhibition on climate control, we very specifically said ‘we do not have all the answers – what action on climate change would you like to take?’, and we had a lot of responses from visitors that were entirely unprompted, which was brilliant. Equally we had a lot of feedback from visitors who had been telling us they want to do great things about climate change but were overwhelmed and would appreciate some guidance on what they could do to make a difference. In the Living Worlds gallery downstairs we still have the display ten ways to make a difference, which includes a lot of things people have generally heard about already but another thing we looked at were the values we share as well. So, with climate change particularly there is a lot of research which points towards people feeling that they do great things and are ‘doing their best’ but nobody else cares, and actually we are trying to devise a way which shows that other people share your values. With ten ways to make a difference we had sweet jars and we had recycled bits of plastic that you voted into these sweet jars. With each one there was ‘yes I want to do more of that’, or ‘no, it’s not for me’, and the idea was that, with the votes saying ‘yes I want to do more of that’ you could suggest ways forward.

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It’s quite a false environment being in the museum in lots of ways, but people love it and keep coming back, and we get so much feedback when, for example we are doing work on the galleries and renovations people will ask ‘you’re not taking that away are you?!’. The mammals gallery used to be very 1970’s – a very of-its-time undergraduate display and you can’t really imagine why anybody would want to keep that, but for example lots of people really loved the polar bear!

M: I must admit I’m a real sucker for that as well. The last time I visited the comparative anatomy gallery at the Jardin des Plantes, which is basically the old Great Chain of Being style display which seems very impenetrable in terms of language – there seemed to be almost no attempt there to tease out any kind of dialogue or question from the collection and the context of the arrangement; it did literally seem like a dead space in a lot of ways and seemed very static and fixed. Which in itself of course is fascinating and has its properties. 

D: I think we tend to approach from the perspective that we have an incredible building here from 1888, and I guess there are two ways you can see that – we try to see it as something which nobody else has got – very atmospheric, beautiful and a phenomenal backdrop to work on. Or you could see it in the other direction of all the cases being listed so we can’t do an awful lot to them or with them! It’s never going to be a white cube space. We can’t have a Brontosaurus in our space for example! But we’ve absolutely tried to play on our heritage as something that’s an absolute treasure, and our objects play a similar role in that – the key ones in terms of popularity I guess now would include the T-Rex even though we only got him in 2006, but you can’t possibly imagine that space without him in it now. It’s interesting how things evolve in that sense.

M: This makes me think about the relationships between funding and engagement with the big charismatic pieces. The Natural History Museum had its Diplodocus and the dinosaur exhibit is still such a big sensational selling point… a lot of those people might visit and take away that they’ve seen big dinosaur models but what is embedded in terms of knowledge or the present?

A very different experience to that might be that in terms of the Holderness coastline every now and again when I’ve read about the geological history of the area or visited museum collections, I‘ve seen examples of Woolly Rhino teeth or Ice Age animal remains from the area, or even just online or in the local news… someone has been down to the beach and pulled a tiny Ichthyosaur vertebrae or part of a fin or something out of the cliff and this happens a lot and that opens up questions I suppose about why they aren’t there anymore – ‘that’s an amazing thing that I’m holding but that isn’t there any more’… or is it? Just transformed?

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D: With Ice Age animals for example, they are categorised as sub-fossil bone, so they are half way between being the original animal and the fossil. Half-way between the bone being replaced by mineral content. I always find it quite interesting that when you take it out the ground, to stop it from being destroyed, you’re also stopping the geological fossilisation process – almost halting it’s potential in some way.

M: I’m interested in that within my practice and my research – looking at absence or ‘fixedness’ and trying to draw parallels between geology and memory loss. Most of my grandparents suffered from degenerative neurological diseases and witnessing those things as a young person aren’t necessarily unique or unusual, for a child to lose a grandparent, but there is something I’m trying to explore there on some kind of poetic or experiential level about erosion and transformation. What you are describing about retrieving things from the ground and ‘fixing’ them in the process is similar maybe to the ways in which we encode memory; encoding, consolidation, retrieval. These are very broad ideas to unravel!

D: In lots of ways those suggestions make sense. Things that spring to mind involve erosion which is obviously something very stark on the East Coast – effectively time is speeded up. This makes me think about the top of Mount Everest being made up of marine limestone – how more extreme do you want to get than that?! In terms of the fossilisation process, some bits have a much higher chance of becoming fossil – this is so complicated but the process is so heavily dependent on water, water temperature, chemistry of what is around at the time dissolved in the rocks et cetera which might be displaced, so there are so many variables on whether something becomes a fossil or not, and even if something is on its way to becoming fossilised it might be pulled out of the cliff and not get that far and placed in a museum or something…

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M: Which is similar to a memory in terms of variables – the strongest memories taking hold for a number of reasons becoming more robust possibly either because of being very negative or very positive, mostly I think the negative memories are those which really take hold but are easy to ’confuse’. I was talking to my lecturer about this and the act of reframing memories as being transformative rather than being positive or negative, for example witnessing a process of neurological degradation as being something in which a person might reach a state of peace or a different space which is unique to them and is almost protective rather than purely terminal and traumatic for the people around them. There is something within that that takes me back to what you were saying earlier about viewing climate change as something which is transformative but it’s not something that is very definitely terminal – maybe we are in a space now in which a lot of collective reflection is happening…

D: I think thats maybe right. I think one of the key problems we have when we’re talking about rising sea levels et cetera… Manchester for example: currently it’s looking like it might be a few degrees warmer maybe but the feeling is that we’re safe, or even that those differences are desirable – the reality of course is that there could be thousands of refugees, we could be struggling to get certain types of foods… to take it back to the exhibition we did on climate change, in the case of our brilliant front-of-house staff, they took quite a lot of ownership of the public workshops we ran, they devised flashcards as a way of talking to people and asking questions, and we had items for example like a model of a Manchester tram driving through the snow to get people thinking about the idea that we might not be able to get work. We are just trying to think about some of the smaller or more subtle ways in I guess. 

M: Maybe the places that we read about this happening can also be very potent politically and the challenge is to keep the critical mind open. In terms of migration, you mentioned refugees – I have this fascination with historical migration in particular as regards the last Ice Age and conceptions of Doggerland’s submergence – the implications this would have had on our distant ancestors and the idea that our island isn’t a fixed shape. Im not entirely sure we are all familiar with the reality of what it might be like to be a climate refugee today or are even vaguely presented with objective information on how immigration actually works. If our institutions and our media and our education systems aren’t adequately explaining without political agenda or bias why immigration might be occurring in and from certain areas in a more accelerated fashion then we’re left to make judgements, maybe treating people as numbers possibly rather than in a humanitarian way – the rightwing press in my opinion has an awful lot to do with this. There is something very strange about this because at least in my mind if I think about migration its nature is as a very human or a very ‘natural’ phenomenon which adapts to pressures and changes over time and is not some huge threatening and fearsome set of behaviours. 

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D: I think the key is having something people can relate to in terms of how to intervene and engage with reality. It’s also interesting thinking about the last Ice Age in terms of what exotic animals we did or didn’t have in Britain at different times, and its migration in and out of Britain rather than localised extinctions that shaped our landscape then to a large extent. Something which struck me a few years ago when I was working on a research paper was that even though we talk about a land bridge between Britain and Europe we tend to make it sound much more simple than it really was – there would have been really massive substantial rivers that created boundaries which animals like Giant Elk could obviously swim across, but it wasn’t as casual as maybe the images in our minds would lead us to believe. Presumably the people of the last Ice Age would have found it quite traumatic if they managed to settle in a place with access to hunting and a degree of relative safety, and they gradually found that life was getting harder and harder, and actually people can relate to that.

M: That sounds very present!

D: Yes it does – absolutely. And no doubt there were people migrating elsewhere all the time and simply couldn’t survive. You’re right that I think it’s saturation point in terms of information, that it’s too much and you just switch off, but actually some of the interesting conversations we had around the climate change exhibition were about us not overwhelming people with facts and leaving people depressed, and feeling unable to act… actually we came to conclusion that it was okay to make people aware of realities and possibly even a little bit depressed as long as you give them the tools to deal with it, and the means to actually do something about it, a strong sense that other people you care and have shared values. It’s something that we can influence positively. For us here as a museum, if we’re not meaningful and relevant to people visiting here then we are not going to get funding and we don’t have a future as an organisation. If we’re irrelevant and unpopular then we cannot exist. People will not come here if we do not care about relevant issues.

M: What does the future look like?

D: The future is an exciting place where things can be quite amazing. I think the future looks like something we can shape. I don’t think that we are victim of where things are now and where they are going. I don’t think a lot of people think that necessarily. There’s sometimes a feeling amongst people that things are only ever getting progressively worse, and it will be worse for our grandchildren, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

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The Fault Line
It is a characteristic of our species, in evolutionary terms, that we are a species in despair, for a number of reasons. Because we have created an environment for us which isn’t what it should be. And we’re out of our depth all of the time. We’re living exactly on the borderline between the natural world from which we are being driven out… and that other world which is generated by our brain cells. And so clearly that fault line runs right through our physical and emotional makeup. And probably where these tectonic plates rub against each other is where the sources of pain are. Memory is one of those phenomena… And I think there is no way we can escape it.
— W.G. Sebald
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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’.

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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.