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  • phildunn641

Making Some Noise

Updated: Apr 17, 2021

This is another of those catch all posts as I've not really reflected on what has been happening outside very specific events for a couple of weeks. I would normally have at least a blog post on my reading for Critical Debates, but even that did not happen this week.

I will start with Critical Debates and the lack of blog post. This week's reading was Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others, chapters 5, 6 and 8. This was available to us from the library on a very limited licence basis - so no possibility of downloading local copy, or printing more than half a dozen pages. I find this makes reading very difficult - I spend a lot of time in front of a screen and for any extended reading, I prefer to do it from paper, or a paper-like e-reader. So I just kept putting off the reading and having done it, did not have the energy or time to construct a specific blog post.

The book itself (or at least the chapters I read) was terrific. Sontag has an engaging and communicative writing style that meant I felt I understood her arguments on the first pass (rather than the 3rd or 4th as has been the case with some of the other Critical Debates texts). The subject matter too is one where perhaps I already have an opinion as the photographs she describes have been part of everyday news publication throughout my life. And in response to one of her propositions,. "To remember is, more and more, not to recall a story but to be able to call up a picture", I say yes, as I recall images from before and during my lifetime where the picture endures, but not the story - to my shame, famine victims, but from where precisely and in what years - what else was going on that caused this?

This was the last of out set texts for Critical Debates as we are now on our own to research and present on a topic of contemporary cultural debate. As a part time student, I'm just starting out on this while my full time colleagues have already been hard at it and will present their papers at a symposium just after the Easter holidays. I have some additional insight into this as part of the student organising committee for the symposium. This for the second time this week and we now have a list of topics which we are attempting to group into panels of related subject matter. I think this format could work very well if we manage to get a good alignment and, hopefully, it will mean that different disciplines (fine art, photography, graphic design etc.) will be represented on the same panel linked only by theme - the same questions could apply to all, but could be answered very differently depending on context. As for the subject of my own contemporary cultural investigation, that remains a mystery.

On the developing practice module of my course I continue my scatter-gun, scatter-brained approach.

For the past few weeks I've been having a go at mono-printing using paper placed on a glass plate rolled with ink and drawing on the reverse. There were a couple of image ideas that I wanted to play with. One was all the offices I have ever worked in. I had already stopped working in an office at the time of the pandemic, and in truth for the last few years of my previous career, I only visited an office a couple of days a week. For many people, this pandemic was the first time that they had worked away from their offices and it has been interesting to hear how friends have adjusted to this over the last 12 months. The images were an exercise in absence and memory - could I remember a feature, layout or object that I could turn into a print for each office... what would stand out and how far would I get? As it turned out, I did not progress beyond a few images - I was not particularly excited by the results I was getting, so just tried drawing objects from around the kitchen where I was printing. I may still take this forward, but need to be more methodical in listing my locations, memories and objects.

On the next printing day (a week later) I played with coal mining imagery using photographs I'd found online of Pennyvenie Colliery which was one of the last working coal mines in the Doon Valley when I was growing up there in the 1960s and 1970s. (I now have a print-out of photograph of the pit head alongside Bernd and Hilla Becher's pit heads work on my wall.) The prints, which I based on pit head winding gear and bings, are still some way off what I was hoping for, but it's a start and helps me to think about the direction my potential coal mining project is taking. I'm aware that there is a danger with these images of falling into some sort of post industrial nostalgia cliché (smokestack nostalgia), so just keeping an eye on that.

Smokestack Nostalgia?

I've been using sound in my work since my foundation course - scripted voice and field recordings of my own and others who have made their recordings freely available. Alongside data and technology, sound is probably the area of practice I expect to develop most in my MA. Since starting my MA I've attended a couple of talks by John Dack about sound art and our programme leader Tansy Spinks dedicated one of our fine art seminars to sound art and listening. We discussed the origins of sound art and that it has touch points in so many fields of cultural investigation. We were introduced to sound walks, listened to sounds produced by Tansy, conducted our own sound sit and were set some homework to record our own sounds: Something everyday/mundane (to you); something you are fond of,; something scary… (to you). I was aware of a few of the Artists that Tansy spoke of, e.g. John Cage, Susan Phillipsz, Janet Cardiff, Christian Marclay and Lawrence Abu Hamdan, but there is so much more in their work need to research and listen to in addition to getting up to speed on some other artists and theorists - Pierre Schaeffer, Michel Chion, R M Schafer and Christina Kubisch (among others). I was discussing this a bit with Tansy during my tutorial last week and that at the moment I'm feeling overwhelmed by the amount of theory out there and with no background in music or composition, I think I'm going to struggle.

I enjoyed recording some sounds for the homework and compiled it into a 1 minute track featuring some joyful local community sounds including birds, the mundane hiss and fizz of gas escaping from a jar of fermenting sauerkraut and the vey worrying sound of a telephone ringing after midnight. I liked the order or the compiled sounds - I'm not sure if they produce a narrative, but it works. This has let me to try putting more sounds together. I'm using the code that I use for Twitter monitoring to listen for some activities/events that many have an associated sound, e.g. walking around, water running, ice melting, and then playing the sound. Sounds may overlap, or there may be periods where there is no sound at all. There is more to do with this - more activities and sounds and the potential for either a random narrative in a short space of time or an unfolding narrative over the course of a day or longer that responds to global time zones waking up and conducting their daily routines. I've just ordered myself a sound recorder to facilitate more of this.

Alongside the experimental making, I'm continuing my independent topic and artist research. I wrote above about coal mining imagery that I was attempting to include in prints. This comes about from thinking more about my upbringing in a coal mining community in Scotland, the potential of a new deep coal mine being opened in Cumbria, and the association of the term mining with the computational effort of completing the proof of work performed to verify crypto currency transactions which is being reported more widely with a new peak in the value of Bitcoin and the specific interest in the Art world resulting from auction value achieved for NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens - the digital equivalent of a proven original work of art). I have a mind map on my studio wall that I started several weeks ago that is now meandering over several pages and encompassing the personal, social, environmental, economic and cultural associations I am making with mining. I'm reading Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese (2003) and I'm about to start on Coal Country. The Meaning and Memory of Deindustrialization in Postwar Scotland by Ewan Gibbs (2021) which I attended a launch for in February. It was encouraging to hear that some of the associations I'm making are still a very active part of academic research.

The expansive nature of the mind-map is not really helping me focus on developing work around the topic and I discussed this with Tansy at a tutorial last week. So I may be taking the scissors or coloured pens, or both to it in the coming days. In addition she suggested recording half a dozen examples of each sensorial element e.g. images, sounds, smells etc. Hopefully a combination of the two will help me to move forward.

I'm also starting to try to use my blog as a way of capturing some of the online resources that I've found or been pointed towards. I'm finding that at the end of a week I have so many tabs open of things I want to go back to and I know from past experience that if I just bookmark them, I'll end up with a long list of bookmarks, no context and I'll just forget about them. So here goes with just a few.

Sound art resources, projects and institutions that have come up in the last few weeks:

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