OU blog

Personal Blogs

New photo

Mumford, L. (1961) 'The City in History' Notes

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 24 Jun 2018, 19:27

A844 - Preparatory Reading

Book:

Mumford, L. (1961) The City in History San Diego, Harcourt, Inc.

How does it reflect on A843 themes?

It is obviously related to Geography and Institutions primarily, since it looks at the origin and development of cities by investigating how human purposes and needs interact with given landscapes: coasts, rivers, valleys and mountains to produce common forms of the city and how that form changes over time as political & social geography takes some importance in the matter. But it is also about authorship, ‘form’, iconography and meaning and identity to name 4 themes. Can a city’s form be ‘authored’? A key lesson in Mumford is that it both can’t and shouldn’t and that planning of the city is always historically messy and multi-authored (even by people who do not see their agency as crucial to that end 168). When authorship is directly involved it is powerful but mistaken (as in the Baroque as Mumford calls it) imposition of political controls and this is reflected in ‘ideal’ city planners. Thomas More is nearer to the reality of the medieval city than (to Mumford) is the noisome closed and controlling thinker, Plato (159-180), who dares to promote the idea of the city as a (sterile) ‘work of art’. The nearer city planners move to geometry the nearer they move to closedness and control and the stifling of organic development. Not that laissez-faire principles of ‘planning’ are any better – they produce Coketown (447).

It is interesting that Dickens provides a lot of the terminology and exempla of the human city (Coketown is created by Dickens in Hard Times but even Wemmick’s suburban ideal is there from Great Expectations). Dickens admired the principle of making things better too, while expecting any development to be still mired in human realities and the ‘messiness’ these produce.

How do I predict that it might foreshadow A844 themes?

A844 appears to concern itself a lot with art that is very obviously social and cultural, like architecture and decoration. It seems as if it will be about art that is multi-faceted and perceptible in toto only from many perspectives – including those from internal and external standpoints. Hence Mumford’s concern with public politics and its relation to ‘private’ and domestic needs (including sanitation and the role of toilets and hygiene in both realms) will be important, although Mumford’s own ideas are clearly over-focused by the sloppiness of American liberalism (that can extol the importance of Mill’s associative liberalism (572) and yet supports the virtue of US opposition to the regulation of private gun ownership and the primary role of individualism and free will (177, 228f.).

 

The key focus will be on conceptions of ‘space’ and how these are articulated in architecture and city planning from the vitally important definition of city as a ‘container’ which holds diversity and controls both external and internal threat through disposition of walls, routes and the width of avenues. But also vital is the dynamics of growth and containment of growth that allows him to summarise the medieval in the East (Byzantium) as making a virtue of ‘arrested development’ (241) & say very little else about that beautiful Empire.

What are the books key themes and narratives?

In a book of this length and ambition there are so many. The concepts I think that will be useful are:

·        The complex interaction between ‘containment’ of diversity and growth – storage is involved but it includes the dangers of having no containing limits of the latter as in the slummy sprawl of Coketown and the modern Megalopolis of unlimited city complexes where all boundaries are fuzzy (540). In all this there is a recognition of the importance of conflict and its containment and/or release in encouraging growth by association (163 Athens, ugly coercive discipline in the Baroque 363 and its ‘sterility’ 406). The role of theatre and drama in all of this (70, 378f.,

·        The contrast between city ‘bildung’ and ‘unbuilding’ (Abbau 451). This is very complex, and I don’t yet understand it. But the latter is associated with the destructive potential of quantifiable masses of ‘atomic individuals’ and the economic role of mining and large industrial agglomerations of people and buildings whose functions deny the value of appearance and begin to utilize the underground (479).

·        The contrast in city planning function of the contrasting processes of ‘materialisation’ (where ideas become the built environment) and ‘etherealization’ (where ideas themselves serve as a means of limiting their materialisation in buildings). This runs throughout starting at about 319. These ideas seem related to material buildings like walls, monuments, temples and politically sacred monumentalism. Materialisation is at its apex in Baroque – which Mumford sees as emerging from the Renaissance (not seen as ‘rebirth’).

·        The holistic review of cities as a form of space management – transport takes up space that could be used for living for instance (407, Medieval principles (occidental) 288-299)). See functional zoning explained by Venice 623, in preparation for its less humane form in Coketown 446.

·        The definition of ‘monumentalism’ as a ‘materialisation’ of sacral, civic and memorial ideas and practices – especially in ‘museums’ (199). In modernity the role of ‘processing mechanisms’ as a substitute for real human association especially in universities 542.

And probably many more.

How does the book relate to the analysis of art and architecture?

There are specific analyses that are of useful weight such as the discussion of Athens, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam and London. The interesting thing is that Mumford does not focus on any building separate from its functional and ideological context – especially in Baroque. Moreover, no building is representative of a city if we miss the importance of non-monumental architecture meeting the needs of continuing domestic life. No place is just a ‘showplace’ 177. The attack on fashionable expression is at its best (but surely questionable) in its ‘analysis’ of skyscrapers (plate 46, 430 and the genesis of ‘high rise’ in well-intentioned Peabody initiative 434). The contrast between outer appearance and inner life-reality (197). The analysis of Charlotte Square (399) in Edinburgh as merely façade (and the truth of Baroque) is masterly.

Any other points!

There are so many - so perhaps none is better here. The expression through aphorisms is appealing but warns (especially because of the necessary abstraction and generality of some of the ‘analysis’ and its omissions) of the possibility of intellectual sloppiness. You admire the phrasing of: ‘Knowledge … externalised in museums and libraries…’ (199) but you need to keep open a view that more specific analysis of specific museums and libraries will reveal much more fine-grained truth that might invalidate the generalisation as such.

 Other preparatory reading completed:

Benedict Anderson Imagined Communities (click to see in new window)

Schama Landscape & Memory (click to see in new window)

Conway & Roenisch Understanding Architecture (click to see in new window)

Elkins & Naef (Eds.) What is an Image? (click to see in new window)

Moxey, K. (2013) Visual Time: The Image in History (click to see in new window)

Aynsley & Grant (Eds.) Imagined Interiors (click to see in new window)

Boswell & Evans (eds.) Representing the Nation (click to see in new window)

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

MoMA Photography Course: People in Photos

Visible to anyone in the world

4.10 Discussion Questions

What can a photograph of a person tell us about that individual?

It can in the first instance tell us about their physical appearance although I don’t think there this is a ‘value-neutral’ phenomenon, because aspects of appearance will be coded complexly to reveal diverse:

·        Behaviours

·        Deducible Attitudes

·        Meanings,

·        Emotions,

·        Evaluations

·        Interactions between these things.

In a sense it tells us about all of these things and their relative priority for the person or none of these things in itself and only the viewer’s priorities since, even appearance is codified by an onlooker, a viewer, the gaze of the other. In some senses it can tell us nothing about the ‘individual’ but only codable categories of gender, supposed class and so on. Together with context, we might be able to tell that that the aspects of social role designated are being playacted or found naturally in everyday life but not always.

At the moment I am taking Campbell’s University of Tokyo course on the image and text in photographs – as well as painting since that sets a context for uses of the photograph in the 1860s and onwards after the Meiji restoration (and the turn to Western Values). Here text is used to domesticate and acculturate meanings in the visual imagery.

How does photography reinforce our understanding of people as representatives of groups or types?

This happens without necessary pre-intention – the Brown sisters photographs show this where the artist does not intend a portrait of developments of American upper class life but produces it anyway – in the eyes of others as he sees it. The wonderful Palestinian photographs of El Madani allow the person to choose appurtenances of their role – ijn trhe case of the studio photographs a gun. However, the gun has different meanings for each participant and interacts differently with contextual objects – such as toys. We are forced to examine meanings and values as in contest and I’m not sure we are allowed the comfort of a ‘true’ reading of anyone photograph. This can help to breakdown stereotypes based on visual cues and strong cultural associations as in the wonderful photos of fair striptease dancers we saw earlier. This is employed a lot in the wonderful work based on gender and sexuality by Zanene Mukholi. Stereotypes of lesbians and women are forcefully challenged – perhaps too those vof lesbians held by white lesbians in the ‘overdeveloped’ world.

 

How does a picture of a subject who is aware of the camera differ from one whose subject is not?

Of course it would be easy to say that the person can act rather than be themselves, but this is a false opposition i think since even everyday life contains performance values – of clothing choice or mandation, gesture and so on. Roles are dispersed for most people so that acting always occurs. Is there a true unitary self? We needn’t answer that but the suggestion is strong in itself. In effect photographs of people will always explore this dilemma of who and what am I, and what is my agency in providing or presenting this ‘image of self’ whether to others (as in Mead and Goffman) or to ourselves in a real or notional mirror (Lacan and others).

The best answer is to insist that there is no binary difference since awareness of self in the gaze of the other operates already at different levels in intrapersonal, interpersonal and social interaction. In a sense we don’t need CCTV to be always in the camera’s gaze – performing roles from a repertoire (a very incomplete one) at our death might add up to the diverse thing we are. In early Meiji Japan it was common for people to compose a self-reflection in words (in stanza form) as near to their death as they could. One I’m studying at the moment writes (in classical Chinese – the sign of the traditional Japanese intellectual): ‘This image is one of that very heart’. Here words try to fix an appearance in the manner of the dignity a life has tried to attain (with the cultural standards) that can be equated not only with ‘heart’ but ‘spirit’. If I* can I’ll include the photo.

 Samurai (elder) photo


Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

Coursera course for invited mentors: Exercise 1

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Tuesday, 5 Jun 2018, 17:30

I have been invited by Coursera to take this course leading to the role of an invited mentor for learners on one particular course. Here is the first exercise.

The course is;

"Modern Art & Ideas

The Museum of Modern Art”

To read about the course's aims and objectives, see: https://www.coursera.org/learn/modern-art-ideas/home/info

Steve’s view: This course focuses on ‘ideas’ as a tool for engaging with Modern Art. It defines the latter through the holdings of the first and arguably most influential institution for the representation, collection, storage and display of ‘Modern Art’, The Museum of Modern Art in New York. This needs to be said before we start because the function of selection runs through this great institutions’ role: in decisions about what to buy and maintain, what from this store is to be displayed and where.

1.     Think back to when you took this course as a learner. Which part of the course did you find the most challenging or interesting? (This is the topic you will use to respond to the next question)

2.     Write at least 200 words to explain the topic you chose above to a learner just starting this course. Make sure your explanation is clear, detailed, and easy to understand.

 

·       The modular nature of the course enables participants to take on central ideas as they emerge and focus on a well-selected number of art-works for comparison and evaluation focused on that idea. For me the key idea (and that I did my coursework on - https://learn1.open.ac.uk/mod/oublog/viewpost.php?post=204161) were contrasting ideas in art and art criticism & history of ‘space’ and ‘place’.

·       Approaching ‘modern art’ can be problematic for people who look in it for a picture representing a world they can always recognise – something you identify as a place, such as my place of birth or where I met my husband. Instead modern art has considered a more fundamental idea – what is ‘space’ and how is it represented without the familiarity assumed in the notion of ‘place’. Space can be two, three or four-dimensional (that is it can be a flat shape, have depth as well as length or breadth or have time as a component as well as depth, etc.)

A lot of theories of modern art have identified, for instance in the 1950s by Clement Greenberg (and in the claims about his own work of Jackson Pollock), that the fundamental problem for art is that it needed to avoid the illusion of a picture having depth (or perspective) and understand that it’s essence was pattern built or composed on a flat surface. Here ‘space’ was an idea that included not depth illusions (only width and length of a given canvas) but which did include ‘time’. Pollock talked about his painting as having rhythm like music or poetry (both time-based arts) and being composed in the action of their making (over time) and the action of the observer’s duration of gaze at the picture.

You will see lots of art in this section that makes both space and place a problem (as in Van Gogh’s Starry Night) where the painter’s claims about the space he inhabits contrasts with simpler ideas of ‘place’. Starry Night is definitely not just a picture of the town, Saint Remy, that Van Gogh’s asylum window looked down upon.

This idea is even more difficult in Rachel Whiteread’s House where she recreated (the East London artwork was demolished) the space INSIDE a house as a solid object or in Matta Clark’s Bingo (which is shown on the course) since that conveys the meanings of house space by translocating a wall of a demolished house with a flat inside and outside into MoMA itself. We see stairs and doors but are they such in a detached single wall or only ‘spaces’ that tell us something about what we mean by living in the world. In Rachel Whiteread’s artwork, space in becoming solid no longer can be anyone’s ‘place’ (a home that is lived in). So what is it?

1.     Think back to when you took this course as a learner and choose another part of the course which you found difficult or interesting.

2.     Write at least 200 words to explain the topic you chose above to a learner just starting this course. Make sure your explanation is clear, detailed, and easy to understand.

·       Rather than choose another module week title as above, I’d like to take one word from one week – that is the word ‘Transforming’ from ‘Transforming Everyday Objects’. That is because in each week you will examine how things (even everyday things like walls and houses) are transformed by becoming art and / or being placed in an art-museum.

·       I think art has always ‘toyed’ with the idea of ‘transformation’. A favourite source for an artist’s subject-matter was the Latin poet, Ovid’s, Metamorphoses, where things change into other things all the time – like the young woman Daphne pursued by Apollo turns into a laurel tree. Bernini couldn’t resist sculpting this in stone in the seventeenth century.

In ‘modern art’, this issue is both less and more complicated. For instance, putting a single wall (like that in Bingo) in a museum makes us see (and perhaps interpret) it differently.

The thing now in the museum (whatever it starts off as being named) is in a new context physically but also takes on the ability to mean more and different things to different viewers.  What happens when we put fur round a tea-cup? You’ll see this very thing so I won’t give the game away yet so you can ‘see’ it – whatever it is- for yourself.  In a complex sense, we recognise art as ‘strange’ when things we thought we ‘knew’ about now seem strange to us.

Even what looks like very ‘realistic’ painting of a real-world place, such as that in Wyeth’s Christina’s World, actually makes the world look queer - we see it from the stance of a grasshopper but yet we also see it in human dimensions, so that single bits of grass at the front of the picture as being as visible as Christina’s house on the horizon. Our sense of vision is ‘queered’ (it’s transformed). In Wyeth’s picture, this may help us to see3 the world as Christina as well as one containing Christina. If we take the time we learn that Christina (she was a real neighbour of Wyeth’s) could only mobilise comfortably by a kind of side-ways crawl over the ground. In this way art makes us see the world anew. Jump in! Enjoy it!

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Steve Bamlett, Tuesday, 12 Jun 2018, 08:44)
Share post
New photo

A844 History of Art Preparatory Reading 1. Anderson on 'Imagined Community'

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Tuesday, 3 Jul 2018, 09:41

A844 - Preparatory Reading

Book:

Anderson, B. (2016 Revised Ed.) Imagined Communities; reflections on the Origin and spread of Nationalism London, Verso.

How does it reflect on A843 themes?

The themes it resonates with are Identity, Otherness and the Subject, and Geographies and Institutions. If we start with the latter, BA’s view is that the institutionalisation of ‘imagined’ ethnic boundaries was performed through the mixed agency of political cartography, population ‘census’ and museums and that these created an imagined national identity set against the other of foreignness and migrancy. This links with the discussion of an art that aligns normative identity with central images and the creation of margins in which liminal identities from a dark past or threated present and future are cast. It is important here that images of a novel national identity projected onto the present are also given a substantive memorial past or significant myth of origin. Art can serve that role. The link of imagined communities to racism and gender bias can also be explored in terms of a notion of ‘nation’ in art and the creation of a national art.

How do I predict that it might foreshadow A844 themes?

Clearly intended for Section 1 and the study of the role of nationalism in the formation of an art and architecture that imaginatively constructs (together with a myth of re-creation of a past ideal now debased) a built and visible environment that embodies a notion of the ‘imagined community’. It will do so by creating otherness that it attempts to place as a threat to a heritage-in-the making.  It will reflect further on the function of national museums and monumentalism.

What are the books key themes and narratives?

1.       Preconditions of imagined communities are (p. 36): loss of a script language that embodied the TRUTH; decay of belief in a representative at the head of a human hierarchy, and; cosmology and history were becoming aligned rather than separated by a doctrine of transcendence.

2.       Historical time-space shifts involve Victor Turner’s notion of a ‘meaning-making experience’ conceived as a journey (p. 53).

3.       The arts are implicated in this journey in forming strong cognitive-emotional attachments aligned to places conceived to have a vertical synchronic relation to their history and future aspiration (141).

4.       Museums and memorising and monumentalism and sacralisation of places are fundamentally political acts (178, 181)

How does the book relate to the analysis of art and architecture?

Mainly indirectly through point 3 above. Art is seen as a means of making meaning – including the sacralisation of places and peoples and stories of origin. Architecture described as monumental plays with meanings associated with power, memory, security against threat. The nation will attempt to share its meanings with art and sometimes supplant them. It might attempt to create a boundary containing a taxonomy of the arts equated with its own assumptions.

Any other points!

I am happy to be surprised on this one.

 Other preparatory reading completed:

Lewis Muford The City in History (click to see in new window)

Schama Landscape & Memory (click to see in new window)

Conway & Roenisch Understanding Architecture (click to see in new window)

Elkins & Naef (Eds.) What is an Image? (click to see in new window)

Moxey, K. (2013) Visual Time: The Image in History (click to see in new window)

Aynsley & Grant (Eds.) Imagined Interiors (click to see in new window)

Boswell & Evans (eds.) Representing the Nation (click to see in new window)

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

MONET & ARCHITECTURE

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Friday, 1 Jun 2018, 16:34

MONET & ARCHITECTURE: Continued from here (click to open prequel in new window)

This exhibition’s curation is a return to the tradition of the 'monographic' (as NG calls it) exhibition. Obviously, the work of a senior academic art historian it is of the ‘old school’ while dressing itself up in a trendy and novel theme: architecture. However, architecture is widely understood to include village church spires, older picturesque built phenomena in ruins or restored or the new build villas of the bourgeoisie who formed the clientele of Monet’s Art. Within this remit a lot gets included and one can’t help but see how the thematic structure of rooms – picturesque village & town, urban modernity and finally monumentalism is a cover for largely preserving a chronological presentation of remarkable stylistic developments.

This isn’t true entirely though because the themes also expose the contradictions that make up the whole phenomenon of Monet’s art. Whilst producing some instances Thomson calls ‘modern’ that are self-consciously aware of industrial and commercial capitalism as a change-agent not only of landscape but the media we see landscape through – the media of space, time, light and variant density of volumes. It is these latter that allow London's polluted fog to become a subject as much as the motif - say Waterloo Bridge - we see (sometimes dimly) through it. But for me Monet’s take on the produced landscapes of capitalism is weak. The Coal-Heavers (1875) is a remarkable picture in which, as Thomson says, everything is man-made. I was dying, as they say, to see it but it disappointed. The depiction of working-class people turns them into ciphers and their impact on the environment is likewise eradicated. The planks over which they carry heavy bags of coal do not even receive their weight and, likewise, the Seine beneath them is barely touched by the coal droppings which must have discoloured it. One effect is of a Monet water piece (with all the shimmering play of light on water) that sort of blithely ignores the labour going on round it. It strikes me, as Ruskin would have said, as ‘untrue’.

So, this was a wonderful experience – not least because as Monet ages we see the increasing ways in which purely visual effects – things we notice as a surprise by virtue of heightened perception – become less cognitive and more emotional (perhaps despite Monet who still though he painted only what he saw) such as the Rouen West Front of the Cathedral series or late Venice or London paintings. And this is not all stylistic. The concentration of Monet increasingly on effet rather than motif or a balance of the two, allows him to remove all figures from his late pictures – those tourists he so hated and lambasted – although he was one such.

But these are beautiful pictures. They aren’t though, to my mind, great pictures – although the chance to see this collection made something wondrous accessible – a man’s journey through the psychology of vision. I say not ‘great’ though because that psychology was far from a social psychology. It eradicates the social eventually – although only via some wonderful experiments in urban art – which we see here in his mid-career Paris pictures.


Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

Art Exhibitions visited in London May/June 2018

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Friday, 1 Jun 2018, 16:29

Art Exhibitions in London May/June 2018

This was our annual London extravaganza, starting with:

Rodin and Classical Greek Art

It was a common-place of the revues I read to marvel at this exhibition in toto but to assent (‘with civil sneer’) to Rodin’s ‘obvious’ inferiority to the Greek masters. Yet this didn’t cross my mind whilst there. The curation is subtle enough to provide opportunity for seeing the learning involved in Rodin’s tactile love of the Parthenon marbles without seeing a need for easy comparisons of purely aesthetic value, since aesthetic value is the least interesting way to compare these sets of sculptures. The texts from the poet Rilke helped here because they reflected the ways in which Rodin’s contemporary, and assistant, focused on the major differences in the ontology of art between the two exemplar sculptures. They are not the same thing at all – such that even shared monumentality has a different set of sensations and meanings attached to it in each case. Rodin’s fragments are self-conscious not accidental – the effect of past and passing time on culture and identity not just on the physical imprint of age and conflict on stone.

The effect of fragmentation (say of figures from The Gates of Hell) is that, in taking-on autonomy, they take on different identity and scale in freeing themselves of their context. The key to this is ‘The Thinker’, who separated from the gate on which he looks down is also severed from easy acquisition of any straightforward claim to ontology – as god or man, saint, sinner, angel, devil, artist, philosopher and so on. Alone and monumentally so he merely reflects and thinks the questions: What am I? Who am I? Do these questions matter?

Nothing in Greek art can go there, though it can evoke severance from a divine it once pretended to as ritual object, whilst articulating some kinds of very close perception of the feel of spirit, body and clothing and the relationships between them. Yet The Burghers of Calais are locked in distance from each other – unsure as a group as is each figure whether it is like each other figure, even in its reflection on itself and the others. They are even locked in their own private symbols as the comments from Rilke’s commentary show us. Having said this, I loved seeing the London Parthenon marbles in a context other than their rupture from any proper context within the clinical situation of the Duveen Gallery – that gallery of body parts divorced from any appropriate housing. For Rodin, the dispersal of the ‘marbles’ was inevitable consequence of the effect of a contemporary Imperialism that he just accepted grumpily after the manner of Zola.

Picasso 1932

You leave this exhibition unsure that you could have really seen such a magically haunting set of pictures from one year of Picasso’s life as painter, curator and self-reflector. What can one say?

These pictures are as terrifying as they are lovely. You feel as if it is difficult to divorce even feelings of revulsion from ones of awe and even humour – but revulsion certainly in the constant dissonance between animal and human, still-life stasis and motion, fertility and decay, water and stone, sexual parts and anuses – as well as ambiguous orifices that suck and bite and close and open, like eyes – even like the eyes of octopi (visitors to the exhibition will know to what I refer here).

The chances of seeing the like again as an exhibition are almost nil. But it can’t be reviewed, it must be seen. Strange how even the sparest of monochrome in-drawings can evoke other pictures whose affects you believed were mainly ones of colour and more solid illusory form. You go back to Picasso’s use of line with a new respect.

All TOO Human

What a massive multiplicity there is here – perhaps even too much to convince that the narrative progression of this exhibition is anything other than tenuous, whilst not wanting to complain because you were bowled over again and again in different ways by Bomberg, Bacon, Freud, Souza, Kossof, Auerbach (how much bowled over by him), Kitaj, and … By the time we reach Paula Rego, we wonder if the idea of the figurative isn’t far too wide to hold this all together. You come out needed to go in all over again --- and again!

This can have an unsettling effect of reducing some of the greatness you see here – particularly in neglected artists like Bomberg and Kitaj. It is fashionable to sneer at the latter these days and you do wonder that neglect by the art establishment and overt Jewish themes and meanings often seem to come together. Kitaj’s Cecil Court is a great picture, but I wonder if it belongs here other than to be submerged under the Bacon and Freud. It is a wordy story-filled picture, like Rego’s pictures are, where the stories are occulted and difficult to restore and insufficiently conveyed by visual impression, and its emotional-cognitive reflection, alone. Moreover, great pictures by Kossof and Auerbach here are not primarily important because of the figures created therein but because of the new spaces and underscapes that painting began to explore after the Second World War, particularly those of excavation and demolition. The more pictures took on narrative and/or ambivalent or liminal spaces, the less they seemed to belong here. Freud could suppress story by sheer volumes of visual effect – my favourite version of that effect being in the smaller portrait of the dying Leigh Bowery.

But I find it strangely perturbing how few visitors this exhibition welcomed unlike either Picasso or the Hockney exhibition last year. The Bacon paintings alone are worth seeing – the late George Dyer triptych for instance or, in comparison, is earlier wonderful dog and baboon paintings in an early room. See it – it won’t come together like this ever. In some ways this is because the curation is less than convincing but sometimes, as shown in the sample of Picasso’s curation from 1932 in the other exhibition, strange curation is compelling. When asked how he wanted to curate his retrospective he said ‘badly’. And in that bit of typical humour he cocked a snook at conventional art-history. So, see ‘All Too Human’ – like its title it implies both magnificence and a set of huge and irreducible limitations.

Monet, tomorrow! (click to open irreverence about Monet in a new window)

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

MoMA Photography: Photo as 'evidence' Week 3

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 27 May 2018, 18:02

In what instances might we accept photographs as evidence or accurate records?

This is a very loaded question to which, after working through this week’s material, you really want to answer that ‘in no instance should a photograph be accepted as evidence of the meaning of an event that has really happened’. This seems to be the point of Mandel and Sultan’s art-joke in their book of photographic documents named ‘Evidence’. The title begs the question since the work itself makes us question whether our assumptions about what evidence is contain a lot of unexamined and hard-to-validate assumptions. Even the look of their work in Mandel’s words has this effect: ‘It looks like it's kind of a library binding, and it's made so that you would think that it is some kind of evidentiary document.’ The point is we learn that we are being duped. We assume a photograph evidences a truth and its potential meanings but the book will puzzle us and generate meanings quite out of any range intended by the original photographer. Likewise, Meiselas challenges one narrow feminist conception of ‘carnival strippers’ by allowing new meaning to be generated by her images: they do show us ‘what is there’ but we are challenged to find a simple meaning – not least inj the women themselves who are more than just ‘victims’ of the male gaze.

 

What makes photography’s relationship to truth so complicated?

Papageorge’s comparison of his and Winograd’s images of a mixed race couple and their pet monkeys is fascinating. The latter’s image compresses into its frames ideas about children and parents that arise from the juxtaposition of the monkey and an ambient child holding his father’s hand at the back of the monkey, via some unacknowledged but deeply-culturally ingrained racism in white viewers. To see this picture then is to see ‘racism’ in action although it is not ‘evidence’ of it. The point is that documents show us something complex, full of multiple (and sometimes contradictory) meanings. This is true of Atget’s use of the term ‘documents for artists’. Meanings come from all directions and I think Atget knew that they would and that not all of them would be under his control. This is the case of Mandel and Sultan – where juxtaposed images ‘infect’ each other with meaning.

In what ways do a photographer’s artistic choices and point of view affect the meaning of a picture?

The above does not say that the way a picture is ‘made’ (framed, cropped, focused, printed) does not change meaning – it does – as we see in comparing Winograd and PapaGeorge where the latter’s pictures is somehow much simpler in semiotic terms. It is also to say that even in less conscious hands the photographs framing and other features however unplanned or intended for another function will begin to take on functions of which its photographer was totally ‘innocent’. I think Meiselas is very wise here in giving up some of her control of choices to her ‘subjects’ – the carnival strippers. Their desire for ‘portraits’ imposes an intention on her oeuvre that feels alien to Meiselas’ open feminism but which is in the end reconcilable with that feminism – since the women are not just subjected to the photographer’s gaze (in this sense just as they are to male gaze) but also able to make new meanings out of that event that have autonomy from both gazing men and the female photographer.


Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

MoMA Photography Course Discussion Week 1-2

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 27 May 2018, 18:01

How do the photographer’s intentions—whether artistic, scientific, commercial, or personal—influence the final image?

This is not so straight-forward a question as it might seem, since so many variables are involved. If the photographer has an 'intention' that need not be the sole purpose that the image produced serves. This could be because:

  1. The photographer has multiple intentions. If, for instance, a work (such as a collage of the moon's surface) is commissioned for scientific purposes - to record (as accurately as possible) a panorama of the surface - then other purposes could be possible. Some may be public, others private, some conscious, and others unconscious: they may simultaneously be there in fact (at least for the photographer-as-viewer).
  2. The image's purpose or intention could be said to be entirely opaque and, if existent at all, reconstructed by the viewer and hence different for different viewers and types of viewer. This is certainly the case in Atget's work - even in the eclipse scene, the presence or absence of a knowledge of the contextual loss of the Titanic a day before the photograph was made can be seen as 'intentional' but may not be so. This raises the question whether the determinant influence on the picture might not be the viewer's alone - as might be the case in the commentary this week on the picture.
  3. Photographs are not the product of one agency but several. In that case where any conception of 'intention' will be dispersed amongst different agencies. We could say that about multiple prints of the same negative (Ansell Adam's Moonrise) where our commentator infers an intention based on Adam's advancing age that changes somewhat, as Adams' identity changes or varies. Here, in fact, lots of agentive processes within one person are potential.

How does the scale of a photographic print affect our relationship to its subject?

When the scale is fixed 1:1, as in Atget's process, then scale will be preconceived. The preconceptions can be multiple but the framing of the event will have been much more conscious because cropping is not available. Issues of focus arise here too but I don't have enough technical knowledge to comment. Scale can be 'read' as a sign of the intention of the photographer or commissioner. In a recent Tate Liverpool exhibition a reviewer points out that comparisons of Schiele's large expressionist figures belittle Atwood's co-shown photographs precisely because of scalar issues. Are ambitions vis-a-vis, say, artistic purpose, betrayed by scale? There are clearly interactions between determination of subject (ontology and meaning) based on a photograph's scale - what is the 'subject' of Adam's Moonrise against various printings for instance in relation to static scale. Does it matter about the size of a surface photogravure image of a part of moon, in terms of viewer's impression?

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

Threats or opportunities in future heritage thinking. Leiden MOOC Week 6

Visible to anyone in the world

Threats or opportunities in future heritage thinking. Leiden MOOC Week 6

One of the most telling lessons from the course is that 'heritage' and 'threat' are often co-defined. In wars or revolutions (or other variations including wars of ideology or attitude between contrasting groups) I only identify my 'heritage' when it is under threat of extinction. This threat can be conceived as active and agentive or as the effect of natural and everyday forces that are not confronted and in some way seen as something into which we ought to intervene. I see these issues underlying the concerns of Holtorf (2016).

As soon then as I sense that 'my heritage' is under threat, I need to ask (aided by this course): By what? By whom (if it is a person or group)?. A deeper question that precedes that is 'to whom' is this perceived as a threat. Here 'me' would be an insufficient answer since identity can bew conceived of as distributed in such ways that we need to look at what aspect of identity is threatened - identifications for instance with locality, group, gender, ethnicity, occupation, nation and do on. We need to determine whether we see the threat arising from the agency of others, or something we conceive as 'other' or from our failure to respond to a change that is inevitable and where no other agency need be invoked than our own. Of course, 'doing nothing' in relation to a perceived threat is also an option but it needs to be conceived as an active choice - an act of omission at least.

My concern with Castle Hill throughout these exercises has been to present that phenomenon in terms of its ontology as it might be perceived by different stakeholders or different strands of identity in myself. It is possible to conceive of the different aspects in competition where one concept of the phenomenon takes hegemony over others. Thus, an interest group may want to preserve evidence of pre-industrial mining and aim to open adits for inspection by tourists, building on the top of the hill, facilities that inform and create opportunities for remembrance (souvenirs, books, leaflets). To do so would compromise the pre-Roman earth works. Hence one idea of what Castle Hill 'means' and 'is' can threaten another.

However, that is only if we see reconstruction in terms of a choice between alternatives from different domains and times-of-origin of the particular facet. Reconstruction can be done (Byrne 2008) through other media and social actions (videos, e-construction software (see Cunliffe on Palmyra), imaginative opportunities - story-telling etc.) in ways that allow one site to develop itself in many ways without one function compromising another. That seems to be the purpose proposed by the Paris Declaration wherein developers and other stakeholders are encouraged to enter into dialogue about what they mean by both 'development' and 'sustainability' in relation to any proposed project - of international significance. This is called 'development with a human face'. My only concern is that sometimes it is difficult to differentiate a face from a 'mask'.

Multiple construction of sites by partial differentiation of its developments and multiple 'ownership' (not necessarily non-conflictual since dialogue involves resolution of conflict) relations seems to be the key. This too can be covered by Holtorf's (2016) idea that no one idea or ideology of the heritage represent by Castle Hill asserts the need for 'timeless continuity of existing forms' over the rights of other existing and yet-to-be-proposed future forms associated with it in 'fluid continuity'. This will integrate too awareness of ecosystems at the level of flora and fauna. 

In part this means priority processes involved in the 'interpretation' of heritage over the physical phenomena of the site itself and hence an acceptance that those phenomena are not and cannot be remade as we suppose them to have been in the mythologies surrounding their origin. It is an argument for keeping interpretation open to diverse practices that might assist in the process - which must include more than those available to academic expertise. This also means making the meaning of 'visiting' a site more fluid too, such that visiting does not demand so great a local infrastructure that it buries the site in necessities involved in its own maintenance. Visiting can include the multi-media opportunities already proposed.

This means that 'doing nothing' will sometimes be a choosable option for part of a site at least. In those cases we realise that the meaning of a site may not be entirely the product of our human agency but that to keep that diversity we have implements active means to prevent intervention that comes from less thoughtful domains - at least in part. 


Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

Avoiding the question of Legal and Statutory Protection of Heritage: Leiden MOOC Week 5

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 20 May 2018, 20:09

Avoiding the question of Legal and Statutory Protection of Heritage: Leiden MOOC Week 5

How could international conventions and measures help to protect your heritage? How is your heritage placed in these frameworks (is it national/international, tangible/intangible)? Would your heritage be, for instance, eligible for 'enhanced protection?' 

 

I learned from Isakhan (2015) that at the time of writing, the UK had still not ratified the Hague Convention (1954). In fact it was not ratified until just over 6 months ago (UK ratified on 12/09/2017 (http://www.unesco.org/eri/la/convention.asp?KO=13637&language=E&order=alpha).

This piece of information rather perturbs me and stops me, perhaps from answering this question, in an appropriate way – not least because I only discovered this fact today in reading up to answer this exercise (20/05/2018).

I may be muddled here but it remains a point to me then about the extent to which ‘my heritage’, that part of the set of forces that have co-determined my inheritance of an identity that is to some extent based on being an UK citizen, includes the resistance of my nation to this convention. It is obviously still too early to decide what effect ratification might have.

What appears to be the case is that the UK has a troubled relationship to the idea of ‘cultural property’ precisely because so much of its heritage, including that it took from colonies – even the word ‘bungalow’, was taken from, copied from, gained at the expense of or glorifies in the subjection of its colonial ‘property’ (those things it took to itself). Even in long-dead and less obviously ‘alive’ cultural property such as that of the Parthenon (Elgin) marbles, the UK establishment plays fast and loose with any interference with what it owns, supposedly in the interests of preserving ‘everyone’s global’ heritage. In preparation of going to the new exhibition on Rodin next week in the British Museum I am looking at the wonderful Farge et. al. (2018) book on the ’Rodin & the art of ancient Greece' (BM) exhibition book. Lo and behold it is sells itself as a self-defence of the universal survey museum. Clearly the debate about ‘cultural property’ remains edgy. The Director of BM, Hartwig Fischer says in his Foreword:

If we are to understand the place of the encyclopaedic museum and its influence in world culture, we have to acknowledge the extraordinary creativity in art and thought it has engendered.

But do we really have to? Surely such an argument means that 'creativity' stands for a means of justifying the status quo, a way of saying that there is and was no alternative to the cultural imperialism of the great art centre, where because Elgin was able to buy, through duping the Ottoman holders of this Greek art, it therefore belongs to the UK? Is Rodin inconceivable without the BM (as Rodin himself seemed to suggest). 

How are we counter this strand of colonialism in everyday thought and how disentangle them from what I call ‘my heritage’? To a certain extent, my failure not to know about this late ratification of the Hague Convention and my validation, by remaining silent, of Hartwig’s disguised colonial-imperialist arguments (because I love it that in a couple of weeks I can see Rodin’s and great Ancient Greek art together) make me complicit in a ‘heritage’ that essentially has claimed rights to make national judgements about our own interests that it passes off as interests in universal values about art and culture. I have a hand in the maintenance of the marbles in the Duveen Room as evident as Hartwig’s, Duveen’s, & Elgin’s.

To look at my ‘heritage’ and considers its right to ‘enhanced protection’ seems problematic. It has had that because the might of a colonial past has passed itself off as a citizen’s right and I have swallowed that hook, line & sinker.

For this reason, I feel I have to take an oblique approach to this question? Many elements of ‘my heritage’ are reflections of an attitude to ‘heritage’ that analyses it (literally takes it apart) to see how the same heritage site looks to different stakeholders with different values. As an adolescent, as I said in my first piece, Castle Hill meant something different to me from my heterosexual male friends. As a working-class boy in a grammar school, various signs of heritage seemed to me to speak of values with which I couldn’t identify – such as the English nationalism associated with interpretations of the pre-Roman fort and the imperialism built into the stones and legends of the Victoria Tower.

For citizens of nations that has died-in-the-wool its imperialist past and a related value-set, I can’t talk about ‘my heritage’ very simply. The signs of symbols of working class community are swept away hastily – as were ‘pitheads’ after the NCB victory over miners’ unions in 1987. Those of the gay community are barely recognised – even by ourselves – in ways that makes sites tenable, or protectable (even the Stonewall bar in the USA).

Hence, I don’t know how to answer this. When in the late 1960s I was in the sixth-form, I taught English to first-generation migrant Pakistani boys. Can I remember reading the legend of the Empress of India on Victoria Tower? How could I do so in order to allow this young man (about 16) to make it his heritage as much as mine, and to see in it the reality that our heritage is a bag of mixed, and mixed-up, value systems, some of which oppress some of us, as he was oppressed and, as, at that time, was I (much more so than now). 

To protect heritage without looking at the meanings we are protecting (and those we let go by the wayside), especially in the declining old imperial cultures, is not responsible. It will fail to see the power politics of heritage as it is disguised (not necessarily intentionally) from citizens. In the rage about Persepolis, we might forget (may never have been told) about the complicity of US forces in the destruction of Babylon or of UK forces in Moussa that Isakhan also tells us about (this text has really got to me!).

Sometimes I just want to find an ancient (or aesthetic – Rodin) stone to hide behind rather than face this moral conundrum. However, that is why this piece does not really do what it is asked to do. I needed to say this first and then reflect! And perhaps the latter will take time but not the 64 years from 1954 (also my birth-date as well as that of the Hague convention) to now. I can see why this course is run from the Netherlands – a culture that has always renewed itself through principle.

All the best

Steve

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

Humanity-made threats to heritage: Heiden Heritage MOOC Week 4

Visible to anyone in the world

Humanity-made threats to heritage

The topics discussed this week have to do with the various threats to heritage and we mostly focussed on man-made threats. How does this relate to your site? What could be potential threats to your heritage? How would you counter these threats, both in theory and in practice? Write about these issues in order to show - both to yourself as well as to your fellow students who will be grading your work - that you understand them and you know how to incorporate those with your chosen personal heritage. Through thinking about these issues and incorporating them into something of your own you will learn how these concepts influence heritage managing decisions.

 

As I work through these exercises I am finding them more and more challenging. I begin to ask myself why I am trying to relate the issues in the module with ‘my heritage’. After all, what seems to be suggested is that there are problems with the term, ‘my heritage’ and the ontology of heritage it implies – as something whose being depends on its importance to me.

To tell truth, I have struggled from the beginning to define ‘my heritage’. This is partly because deriving from a post-colonial colonising culture, ‘My heritage’ has been formed outside myself – in histories of an over-determined shared consciousness of ownership of a world or universal heritage – the kind of ideology Hamilakis (2012:4f.) sees as supportive of the idea of the ‘universal survey (or panoptic) museum’ (like the British Museum).

I struggle with that ideological inheritance and it pushes me to empathy with emergent post-colonial local identity in order to identify with cultures threatened by neo-colonial thought. That empathy might advocate the repatriation of the ‘Elgin’ Parthenon marbles, and support for the removal of the icons of colonial thinking (Rhodes-Must-Go! Victoria-Tower-on-Castle-Hill-must-go!). For me it makes me value values of my own ‘sub-culture’ that are under threat from being immersed in majority OR hegemonic cultural icons (such as being a gay man, or class – these themes came up in my Castle Hill pieces).Yet Hamilakis (2012:8) argues that this binary presentation of the issue is itself a fallacy. His preferred position is the ‘exilic imagination’ and I must say that this resonates with me. What it suggests is that there is nothing warm, comfortable or easy about determining your heritage: ‘about ongoing clashes with the colonial and neo-colonial regimes of authority and rule, not only in faraway places, but … in our own nation-states and localities, ….our own projects, our own writing and scholarly practice.’

That raises for me another perspective on statues of Rhodes and Victoria Tower, that emblem of mock-Gothic superiority over the Indian sub-continent in a town-environment now home to many families, once self-identifying exiles of that continent, even if no longer. 

Victoria Tower on Castle Hill

Victoria Tower on Castle Hill. By Richard Harvey - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1005635

Victorian imperial heritage and intangible culture linked to it are part of my ‘heritage’. The point is NOT to rip them down and pretend they too are forgotten but to exile yourself from them: they are heritage not ‘my heritage’. They need to be understood in all their complexity but not as symbols of assurance for a stable identity but as memorials that nothing is as stable as is comfortable in our identities and that relating to objects, sites and practices from the past is necessary as exiles if we are to imagine them differently (under new ontological conditions, in Hamilakis) in the future.

So ‘my heritage’ (exiled from the present comfort with itself) is not universal and not local in significance but in continuing evolutionary and perhaps revolutionary emergence. It is there and must be understood but only by some kind of struggle, even if that is struggle in writing and thought – deep down in the ontology of the self.

So that is why I think the kind of unprotected ‘multi-temporal perception and embodiment of materiality’ is my Castle Hill – and on it still stands it Victoria Tower with its uneasy relation to my ‘self’. But if this is not comfortable, it is also difficult to make practical for a heritage manager. If we venerate the pre-Roman site is that at the cost of eighteenth-century mining adits, or of complex unreconciled sites of Victorian early working-class radicalism or later Victorian comfort with a wealth-creating imperialism. Where would I start to preserve – or perhaps I preserve bits, some parts of which will be documentary interpretation and showcase them all, or do I just turn it into a forgotten state that will reap its rewards in physical deterioration of all these features. Whatever, I do, what would I do if this later perceived as an excellent site for a nuclear-bomb bunker in a new Cold-War against an imperialist Russian or American state? Who knows? All Hamilakis says is that, it is hard, isn’t it!

My favourite quote – still getting my head around it is Pels in his interview:

So in a way, very often the individual pieces of heritage, again, often defined by a certain origin in the past, those may be under threat. But I think the overall collection of heritage sites, and heritage objects is increasing. And heritage is not under threat,

…. 

And so, I guess if you put it in two words. The exploitation of heritage sites by people who actually do not care about this assignability is probably the major threat.

 Is this translatable thus? What matters is attributing and respecting the multi-assignability of the significance of all heritage and finding ways of respecting that whilst still struggling against colonialism and racism. Maybe so!

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

Ownership & Heritage: Leiden Heritage Mooc Week 3

Visible to anyone in the world

Ownership  comprises the right to possess, the right to use, the right to manage, the right to the income of the thing, the right to the capital, the right to security, the rights or incidents of transmissibility  and absence of term,  the  prohibition  of  harmful  use,  liability   to  execution,  and  the incident of residuarity.  

 

Source: Honore’, A., 1987. Making Law Bind, Oxford:  Clarendon Press, pp.161-79.


I am going to start this with a classic definition of ownership from jurisprudence, because it puts in context the readings done this week where we have considered contested ownership. Weiss’s (2016) study shows a quantifiable decline (across a number of criteria where an increase was predicted) of interest of academic and research archaeologists in osteological studies once a principle was established in law that the ownership of the bones studied lay in the tribes from whose burial grounds the bones were found. This suggests that, for academic archaeologists a motivation for maintain interest was the ownership of the relevant bones was theirs in ways defined by Honore’.

 What it suggests to me is that the claim to be the legitimate manager of heritage (presumably for everybody at some level of abstraction) is already a claim to own that heritage, at least in trust. Without such ownership academics could not hold the evidence for claims made by studies, encourage replication or follow-up. These may seem selfless claims but they do require a relation of ownership which ignores other interested claims in the ‘evidence’, claims which would treat bones not as the ‘evidence’ of for making objective claims but as an object or person of respect, love or adoration worthy of ritual use. If such ritual use involved destruction of the bones by incineration, we can feel the ‘objective’ scientist’s emotions rise.

 For this reason I needed to work on Boom’s (2013:27) claim that it was easier for heritage managers to maintain ‘objectivity’ in situations of conflict and war than to be ‘neutral’ between ‘sides’ in the conflict. S(he), citing Nora (2002) on p.18, argues that memory is a co-construction with identity. If that is the case, it is likely that places, buildings and intangible practices which form the materials of both concepts are unlikely to things about which we can be ‘objective’ about precisely because they are not solely objects.

 This is especially the case when the meaning of a heritage ‘object’ is contested between two or more cultural or ethnic groups (note the objects in Jerusalem and their meaning currently). If this object is part of my values, it is, As Boom citing Kelman in 1997 (2013:20) indicates, these objects will be perceived more and more as conflict grows, as exclusive to me or ‘my side’ – my cultural identity and necessity to maintain my memory. And this precisely happened in the Yugoslav wars.

And, I would argue that Weiss’ evidence shows that ownership of artefacts to the academic, though justified by being objective is also defined by its validation of the identity of the scientist or academic. My objective beliefs allow me to protect heritage better, to make a claim for it that is not neutral in a conflict but has sought to validate another combatant (a quisling – as they may be perceived – in each camp – Serb, Muslim Bosnian, etc.). It means that the academic has to be clear that they desire not both sides give up rights to ‘ownership’ and cede them to them – in the name of universals, like science or world heritage.

So Boom’s suggestions about heritage management are not easy to bring about – and I think s(he) knows that.

 This means that I have to tread carefully when evidencing ‘my’ heritage, since this is already an ownership claim, as would be ‘our’ heritage, if it applied only to certain cultural groups. I might apply that to the memories I have of Castle Hill. These memories also touch upon other people’s discourse about that site – discourse that I may find repugnant (that discourse printed in a metallic legend on the Victoria tower upon it to the Empress of India) in a township composed of large populations of different (and sometimes opposed – put at opposition moreover by the policies symbolised in the Empress of India) post-Indian ethnic groups, whose heritage is at risk. What we need then is ownership supplanted by an ideology of stakeholding that admits of sectional interests? Or is it? That would mean that no-one ‘owned’ Castle Hill (could possess, use, manage, reap income or sell etc.)? And wouldn’t that already compromise identity.

As you see I’m still working on this one.

 All the best

 Steve

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

Who defines heritage and who cares for / maintains it? Leiden MOOC Week 2

Visible to anyone in the world

Who defines heritage and who cares for / maintains it?

 

Bertaccchini et.al (2015:13) summarise evidence based on analysis of processes of international decision-making that huge influence is wielded by nations with common economic interests. In this case, these nations are ones with much political investment in the economics and ideologies of growth. These aims may in various cases be at loggerheads with value systems based on local, religious or communal practices that attempt to preserve heritage, tangible or intangible, natural, human-built or theologically inspired. The case of the preservation of forests in the face of economic interests is a case in point. Here nations acting in concert can block forest-heritage conservation in another nation often because not doing so would threaten their right to exploit their own ‘uneconomic’ heritage. In nations with declining ability to sustain growth by deforestation (because it has already largely happened), an apparently ‘more balanced’ view might equally be led by self-interest. Preservation of forest in third-world countries is their only chance of defending their ecological survival.

Regarding Castle Hill, preservation is no longer an urgent issue because of the declining value to developed capitalist countries of localised defensive uses and human-made formations in them of natural hill-tops. Castle Hill is overlooked by power. Such economic interests that took a stake in it – small household farmers building adit mines or the remains of a defunct public house – were never a great threat and could be sustained with the preservation of the much earlier earthworks and land-markings because they didn’t need each other and didn’t get in each other’s way. Now that both are consigned to economic, social and cultural irrelevance (in the views of majorities), they may be allowed to decay together.

I will concentrate on Byrne (2015) as an analogue to my further thoughts. Although such religious traditions as might have been important to pre-Roman civilizations are now not fully understood, they die because communities of ‘souls’ no longer have enough interest to maintain their important sites or the intangible heritage that makes them understandable. Of course, intangible heritages are a site of changing meanings and this is why, I think, the practice of Buddhist communities and individuals in ‘maintaining’ or ‘restoring’ shrines are resisted by some national and academic heritage interests because bearers of that intangible heritage may, and probably will, maintain and restore something in ways that change it because of forgotten or now seemingly irrelevant aspects of older parts of intangible heritage.

This is a dilemma. Castle Hill represented almost certainly a hill-top means of defending against Roman imperialism but the value to me of Castle Hill is sometimes that it represents the focus for Chartism in the 1840s – a tradition that contained some political beliefs and interests that still are radical and would be seen as such. When a powerful Huddersfield bourgeoisie commissioned Victoria Tower on Castle hill top, it also served to change the meaning of the hill from association to liberty and anti-imperialism (Brigantine or radical working-class Chartism). It became a monument to Empire under the Empress of India in fact.

The Chartist association is forgotten because it has little intangible heritage to value and re-interpret it from a radical working-class perspective. Hasn’t Castle Hill as heritage already been then preserved as a heritage that only serves the few – those to whom movement on to new political and economic definitions about what matters to communities in the present, past and future. Byrne’ practising Buddhists keep Buddhism alive after all, not monuments frozen behind boundaries. But, of course, it is not that simple. Ownership of heritage then needs to reflect many stakeholders. In doing it, we would still have to accept that what survives is partial and the product of dialogue with a future-moving tendency. Any answers out there?


Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

Is the Bishop Auckland Mining Art Gallery the 'only' such institution of its kind in England.

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Thursday, 17 May 2018, 16:31

It is not an idle boast that a permanent collection in the ‘Mining Art Gallery’ in Bishop Auckland, County Durham is the only Mining Art Gallery In England. In every way that is in the strictest sense true, since it is the only one with that one and only purpose. However, others may query this, so here is a note in defence.

Although calling itself the only institution of its kind, substantiating such a claim means excluding institutions whose primary role is to memorialise mining per se, such as Woodhorn Colliery in Northumberland (http://www.experiencewoodhorn.com/) and the National Coal-Mining Museum (NCMM) near Wakefield (http://www.ncm-collection.org.uk/), which hold and display significant collections. 

Moreover if the 'only' it was not the first to claim this status: Salford Corporation[1] opened in the 1970s what became the Lancashire Mining Museum with a permanent and growing collection – which was curated by the miner-artist, Alan Davies, in the 1970s and closed by Salford in 2000 (and is perhaps now even forgotten) for reasons of significance to our purpose. 

It is also to ignore the significant presence of the exhibition history of the Gemini Collection paintings in various contexts – as an example of the art of northern artists , on the one hand, or (under varying titles) as an example of mining art. The Gemini private collection, formerly owned by McManners & Wales, a former local head-teacher and local Town-Hall manager respectively was gifted to the Bishop Auckland Trust. These former owners remain on the board of the Mining Gallery Trust.

Let's say though it is the only one - although Scotland and Wales too have claims for a British title. But one thing I have learned about mining - its transregional and international identity can sometimes be as strong as its regional and local one.

[1]

Davies, A. (1999) [unattributed] Facing Coal: Art Inspired by the Coal Industry and Its Communities Salford, Salford Museums Service. One copy privately owned by Steve Bamlett.


Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

Three Miners In a Cage - A Tom McGuiness etching

Visible to anyone in the world

THROWN OUT OF THE EMA!

Let’s look for instance at Three Miners in a Cage (hereafter Cage). The function of this painting is clearly not representational realism – the real constriction of cage travel arose from the mass of miners that travelled the cage at once and McGuinness captures that constriction but reduces his miners to three. This ‘Trinity’, and we should never forget Tom’s Catholicism, become a means of filling all available picture-space and the cage with a kind of abstract geometry, using, like Hewer and valorised by Kandinsky, mainly partial triangles. Look at my attempt for instance to reduce the shapes to linearity below. It is pure figural Kandinsky (even the triangle motif) - even down to his White ZigZags (1922):

 

This contrast between a live image and its reduction to abstraction is not meant to simplify our path to meaning (it denotes a symbol rather than an allegory) but it does reveal one source of the rhythms and repetitions in the picture space, which have pictorially a right to left direction and create directional pull between top and bottom edges that is tense visually and restless. Here both abstraction and formal composition convey motion – the cage falls and the miners resist the downward force. The collapse caused by downward pressure is countered by the men’s resistance to it in the rightwards dynamic.

All the best

Steve


Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

Loving Martin Gayford's new book!

Visible to anyone in the world

Before I go to see Freud, Bacon and other members of the ‘London group’ (http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/all-too-human) I’m reading and have nearly finished Martin Gayford’s Modernists and Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney & The London Painters just out in 2018. What a wonderful introduction or resume of the period in art – as it was in London anyway. This book talks about art movements without mystifying them or, in the manner of some academic accounts, reifying them.

It allows you to see how intellectual history and the choices and decisions of both individuals and groups interact. No-one is reduced. There isn’t much on Pauline Boty but what there is shines!

The account of Hockney – maverick in chief – places him where he should be as a rebel against over-domineering discourses, notably those of academic art history. Even Martin Kemp (Leonardo specialist in chief) enjoyed that aspect of Hockney’s work.

I treasure most the lesser known artist’s vignettes and the attempt to rearrange the canon with a healthier appreciation of Bomberg, Kitaj, and Kossoff. You can rise from this book and go and find them out (or find them again!). There are wonderful perceptions about the importance of Victor Pasmore’s Kandinsky impersonation (in career-shape rather than in the art per se). And this gave me more reason to go and see the British Museum’s bit on John Craxton’s sojourn in Greece with Leigh-Fermor.

A lively boundary-crossing period gets a respectful but understanding outline here. Gayford doesn’t cross the boundaries for you but you can get back into the artists and do it for yourself. It was good to see William Coldstream treated interestingly in this context.

I’m thinking again though about the ‘starry night’ of this book – it is Frank Auerbach’s role as co-narrator and subject. His greatness shines. I was shocked to hear the story about the thick impasto period and why it was as it was but that kind of maverick shine glints through even the greatest artists’ marriages of form and content.

Do read it. Gets you through the boring bits in formal art history and even helps you to put that chore into a wider historical perspective. He calls it a group biography. I see what it means but that is a reductive description in my view.

Steve

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

‘GEOGRAPHY’ AND MINING: Terminology to talk about ‘mining art’. (And some frustrated venting about capitalism).

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 13 May 2018, 19:08

‘GEOGRAPHY’ AND MINING: This term may have to go! Terminology to talk about ‘mining art’. (And some frustrated venting about capitalism).

In talking about mining as a function of the term ‘geography’, there are significant problems. Whilst we can identify geographical areas on the surface of a landmass as ‘Coalfields’, this is a long way from the understanding internal space necessary for, and probably internalised by, the miner-artist. 

The academic discipline ‘geography’ is indeed already deeply challenged in earth sciences as insufficient for even a descriptive account of the earth. Rudwick (1996:272.) argues that the very fact of mining opened the eyes of any ‘mineral geographer’ to a third dimension of the term geography, ‘that converted distributions of the earth’s surface into structures in the earth’s interior.’ Speaking of rock ‘formations’ was the lexical sign of this change and of evidence seen by the all working miners as well as mineralogists of ‘the three-dimensional spatial relations of ‘mineral bodies’ or rock masses (ibid:274).’ In epistemological terms the science of geography historically in this particular gave way in the eighteenth century in France to that of ‘geognosy’ or ‘knowledge of the earth’. This science was the categorising features of the earth above and below its surface (or anything else) that required penetration of surface distinctions (land / sea, mountain / plain, boundaries of political entities related to the ownership of parts of the earth). That science itself gave way in the mid nineteenth century to a causal science that by importing temporal understandings of cross-sectional space so that a geographer’s discourse could move easily between describing strata as not just spatially lower in the earth’s interior (in geognosy) but also as ‘older’ strata. Thus was born ‘geology’ in the nineteenth century (established by 1840).

Whilst Rudwick treats of this as part of the epistemological history of earth and natural science (since fossil records were also part of the process of development), I think we need to show that this was not a matter concerning intellectual developments for leisured and educated classes. To miners, such understandings were essential to their work, health and safety. I sense the complexity of this in some of McGuinness’ development of an art that utilised strata as a means of conveying the interior life of the miner as a person and a class defined by social determinants. So, through ‘geography’ as a study of earth’s surfaces can be sufficient for studies that stop at the consideration of art as an ‘object’ of trade, as a commodity as in A843, it is not for the study of art as experienced by working miners.

My example of this is McGuinness History of Mining. Here the development of mining towards greater mechanisation and labour efficiency throughout the course of the nineteenth and twentieth century Northern Coalfield history follows backwards the much longer (unimaginably longer) history of development of the coal seams of that same Coalfield. As mining gets more up-to-date and shapes its internal spaces with a difference, miners themselves must regress through geological time to the deepest and earliest time-spaces. It would not take us long to see herein a metaphor similar to Freud’s use of the palimpsest. Miners were travelling back to a time of greater vulnerability that was presenting itself as if it were greater security. Just as a causal explanation based on geological catastrophes explains the formations under the earth of the strata of the carboniferous period of geological time, so the miner is shaped and reshaped by political considerations that dwell on the earth’s surface but push him ever deeper. It is an allegory of political oppression and the role within it of mechanisation and central management. The deeper the miner goes under the earth – the lower their sense of agency and autonomy as a socio-human being.


Isn’t Capitalism the pits!

Rudwick, M. (1996) ‘Minerals, strata and fossils’ in Jardine, N., Secord, J.A. & Spary, E.C. (Eds.) Cultures of natural history Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 266-286.


Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

Describing HEWING

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 13 May 2018, 18:58

Describing HEWING

These are notes related to work I’m doing on Tom McGuiness’ wonderful painting The Hewer (1995).

I’m fascinated at the moment by the role of description of visuals, especially of spaces and objects that aren’t widely known – either because they are from the past but also because they belong to cultures that were truly marginalised – such as mining cultures were. When represented, and when these representations are reproduced, they stereotype (sometimes in idealised forms – Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland and Stanley Spencer) their subjects or view them in contexts associated with community life rather than labour (later Norman Cornish).

Moore's 'Miners At Coalface'McGuinness was known to believe that Henry Moore, an artist he admired, got ‘some things wrong’. One if those things, in my view is the attempt to know or cast light on miners. This emerges in the very unreal light sources utilised in Moore’s mining pictures.

The issue for McGuinness was to make ‘darkness visible’ in the words of Milton. This is done by imaging darkness through combinations of colour and contours between figure and background. It does not utilise ‘picture depth’, in this picture but variation of surface form. Depth is seen as a ‘void’ and is easily mistook for something solid. To do this McGuinness in my view utilises the names of  mining roles – where painting is about scraping off and removing paint where necessary (‘hewing’) – as it is about building colour up. Such light as was there was a material light that utilises contrasts of reflective and non-reflective surfaces and this may be some explanation of his use of glazes.

Detail

Some thoughts.

These descriptions have a lot to do with the representation of masculinity in coal-mining. In war-time and post war recovery under nationalisation the myth of heroic male potency was a useful source of positive stereotype - but stereotype none the less. McGuinness limns male vulnerability. For analogue see Bella Dicks (2008) 'Performing the Hidden injuries of Class in Coal-Mining Heritage' in Sociology 42 (3) 436-452.

 

Steve

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

The value of 'jargon' in academic Art History

Visible to anyone in the world

This interesting topic was raised in a Tutor Group Forum in A843. To date I've been puzzled. However, recently I read Ann Gibson's wonderful book on Abstract Expressionism in the USA. This book queries why artists who had a theme or subject, especially one related to their own gender identity, sexual orientation or were marginalised by the canon that favoured (admittedly very great) Painters like Pollock, Rothko and De Kooning. The use of language about language is employed to characterise the difference between: 

  • 'universal' art whose symbolic value was great but difficult to pin down on any 'local' meaning; and,
  • those which indicated themes (by allegory and metonymy) in the artist's life and 'personal politics' and which merged some figures with their abstractions.

She uses the contrast between painted symbols & metaphors in art in cotrast to the allegory (in narrative painting) or metonymy in subject-based topic (Ossorio on his sexual orientation for instance). I find that pretty useful - if not for A843 where it isn't safe to use material not 'on the course'.

All the best

Steve

The PASSAGE below is the one I find most useful - jargon or worth working at:

Mimeticism in art may be likened to narrative, or allegory, or even metonymy in literature. Like these latter figures, it depends on contiguity, on touch, following what is “out there,” rather depending for its connection on the imaginative jump predicated by metaphor or symbol. As Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett has observed, “The universalizing rhetoric of ‘art’, the insistence that great works are universal, that they transcend space and time, is predicated on the irrelevance of contingency.”

It needs to be noted, however, that the representation of any subject matter (freedom just as much as maternity, transcendence just as much as Catholic or Haiitian ritual) is tied to some kind of figuration. To privilege symbol and metaphor over the supposedly more pedestrian allegorical devices of narrative and mimesis, which depend on metonymy’s contiguous connections, is more an assertion of power than of intrinsic quality, or even difference, as it may be argued (convincingly I think), that all metaphor is allegorical at base.

Gibson, A.E. (1997) Abstract Expression: Other Politics New Haven & London, Yale University Press

p.99.



Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Steve Bamlett, Tuesday, 8 May 2018, 19:56)
Share post
New photo

A (not-good enough) Poem for Tom McGuinness

Visible to anyone in the world

Musing On Mining ART

 Tom McGuinness entering the cage with others & going underground

You-Tube still with part of commentary transcribed. BFI (2016) ‘Tom McGuinness: 1972 profile of County Durham’s famous miner-artist’ in National Coal Board The Mining Review London, British Film Institute. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eUlRGPd7kQ&feature=youtu.be (Accessed 23/04/2018).

To Tom McGuinness (on The Hewer 1995)

Mining Art or miner-art is not minor art

But trawls along deep roads

For memories that might endure.

Through the shaped artefacts he finds,

Then to put it like a miner putted,

Putting them into motion –

A full tub of shapes that consume by being consumed,

And in their togetherness find meaning.

Kandinsky found expression in abstractions of shape

And colour. Tom’s Hewer

Performs those shapes – spiritual triangles

Underlie those tentative moments

Where the pressure of a world above

Content in its warm housing

Finally and unthinkingly

Crushes his lines and elegance.   

 


Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

Jonathan Yeo Skin Deep

Visible to anyone in the world
http://www.thebowesmuseum.org.uk/Exhibitions/2018/Jonathan-Yeo-Skin-Deep 

A  Great show at the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, County Durham Based on pre and mid surgery elective surgery.

The portrait artist, Yeo examines what the pursuit of physical beauty means in a world where elective surgery is used to re-shape bodies based on ideas that reflect insecure consumer values that feed off that insecurity. 

Most of the images are of Mammary Augmentation, showing the acts of line drawing surgeons use on womens' bodies to visualise their aims. The most chilling are those labelled Extended Superficial Muscular - Aponeurotic System Facelift, & the most intriguing those on Reduction Rhinoplasty. Research shows that selfie's on mobiles form notions self-conceptions trhat one has an overlarge nose. 

 The whole asks where does art begin and finish? 

The master works are fragmentary paintings from: 

  1.  gender reassignment operations (female to male at the point of mammary section) which question what the term 'elective surgery' means; 
  2. A beautiful full body portrait in which contours and edges merge of Siena Miller pregnant; 
  3. Lilly Cole in a modern Madonna - 'Mother & Child' 
Together they ask what and why we select images certain images as 'beautiful' and why we see them that way. Pregnancy being a touch case. 

 Really worth seeing - this great Northern chateau musuem is coming to life. It also redresses the lack of interest in figural modern and post-modern art in A843. 

 All the best Steve

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

Hansterley Forest as heritage? Week 2 Leiden MOOC Heritage Under Threat

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 15 Apr 2018, 08:19

Steve Bamlett

Steve Bamlett

 · 11 days ago

I moved to the village of Hamsterley in County Durham in 1990 and from thence till I moved to the town of Crook, about 5 miles away in 1996, visited the Forest frequently with my dog. Even those short periods create a sense of a heritage to be valued and I wanted to write about my relationship to Hamsterley Forest. The official Forestry Commission website is:

https://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-6vyg9a

The website shows how this wide forest on the edge of the Northern Pennine moors and Dales has begun to embrace a primary function as a site for tourists, earning money from a widening set of franchised enterprises - mountain-biking and bike hire - and a forest drive route serviced by a fee.

The Forest is a site of economic production - producing a range of pines - but for the area served as a place of rest and leisure sport. Across it run routes which connect to older moor roads and the remnants of ruined houses.

Throughout the period of living here the forestry Commission has been under threat of privatisation - and various attempts by successive governments have been resisted, but not without the absence of micro changes which make increasing parts of it marketable. Each change makes it more available to management for and by private commerce, not least by the invitation to franchised ventures.

What though of the needs that the free access to this vast area offered to local people?

I chose to write about this because it is not until recently that I learned that the Forest was born of a project of local and national government tin the 1930s to utilise the huge army of working men made unemployed from mines and heavy steel industries thrown out of work by industrial change - another heritage under threat but an urban one.

What strikes me is that the heritage of the Hamsterley Forest is in part a product of urban unemployment and early attempts to create local social and cultural capital from the decline of a culture supported by economic capital. Yet this aspect of the county's heritage is not explained in the forest itself.

And County Durham remains a region of relatively higher unemployment than the national average. And the huts around which I used to walk in its centre and which looked like the remnants of a prison camp where once part of a means of organising alienated labour by further alienating it.

See Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamsterley_Forest

Steve


Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

Durham Coal Mine Ownership and threatened heritage: Leiden MOOC Week 3

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 15 Apr 2018, 08:22

My contribution is based on a heritage that is already lost in some important ways, because of changes dictated by the policy of the owners of the objects, spaces and buildings that made up the heritage. In short, this heritage is that of coal-mining practices in County Durham where I now live. County Durham was in the last century seen as a tragic case of over-specialization in one dominant industry, coal-mining, but also its allied industry, such as iron & steel.

Ownership is surely only one relation of a heritage to groups with a stake or interest in it. In 1947 nationalization took many of the remaining coal - pit sites into public ownership, but the degree to which that changed the stake in the organization and future of the site by local miners was minimal, in practice, although NCB publicity and training films often promoted the notion that committees with miner involvement represented that voice.

What followed is a long story but it involved vast changes in the siting of coal-mining (from the interior of the county to the coastal seaboard). From exposesd coalfield drift mines and low shafted mines to deep seams that extended off coast under the sea (Vane Tempest and Easington). Gradually West Durham pits closed, new towns were built and populations migrated (internally) to new modern mechanized pits. The end of the Miners Strike in 1987 strook the death knell of even these pits and they were gone by the early 1990s. NCB as owners had a policy of destroying all pit buildings central to the site, re-landscaping the sites and reducing their visibility as memorials of a past truly to be consigned to the less visible parts of history - like the underground engineering architecture of the mines themselves.

If miners and their continuing families are stakeholders in this heritage, then policies determined by ownership (even public ownership) did much to remove nearly everything that could be its memorial, apart from small sculptural reliefs - which often sentimentalized miners, ponies and pit-lamps.

Here is a heritage under threat. Its memorials now are often version of intangibles translated into other media and discourses - mining art galleries, show pits (none in Durham) and photographic and textual archives.

This need work as a theme.

All the best

Steve


Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

Castle Hill: A site from my childhood and its development as an idea about the nature of heritage.

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 1 Apr 2018, 20:56

Castle Hill: A site from my childhood and its development as an idea about the nature of heritage.
Submitted on April 1, 2018

Prompt

Think about something which is connected to you, which you can describe or call your personal heritage. Write down what you have in mind, and why in about 250 words. Connect your selection to this week's discussed topics: show that you understand it's contents.

Heritage under Threat by Universiteit Leiden & Centre for Global Heritage and Development Week 1 assignment by Steve Bamlett

Chosen site: Castle Hill, Almondbury. Huddersfield. Photo: Castle Hill and the Victoria Tower viewed from Farnley Tyas Richard Harvey - Own work. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_Hill,_Huddersfield#/media/File:Castle_Hill_2003-11-12_14-04-25_P1210664.jpg (Accessed 1/04/18)

Used in Wikipedia (England): Item available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_Hill,_Huddersfield (Accessed 1/04/18)

Steve’s assignment:

This site is ‘heritage’ for several reasons explored in Harrison (2010) that are shared with numerous other people. However, because of my participation and engagement with it as a child, it represents something I see as part of a heritage that may have taken on a personal meaning for me.

As a geological phenomenon it dominates the landscape vistas of the area that lie between the areas in which I lived as a child and, even more so those to which I moved during my secondary Schooling. It formed part of a canonical heritage (ibid:14), sanctioned institutionally and in the official narratives received at school as a centre of importance in pre-Roman invasion history. Although the evidence does not add to certainty, in primary school it was described as a Brigantine hill fortress, whose dykes and earthworks represented defences against Roman invasion. Yet to us, as children that history often merged with the presence of a Victorian folly (the Victoria Tower) placed to commemorate Victoria’s jubilee and opened in 1899.

To us, the latter structure was the castle of ‘Castle Hill’, despite the officially sanctioned story of its older importance. In both forms, it too mythic importance as a symbolic of national, perhaps even nationalistic heritage, which seemed less connected the British spirit before Romanisation up to the Victorian Empire.

Yet this site had meaning in other canons and political-cultural traditions than these. For instances, it is part of the pre-industrial mining history of the city and county (not a mining but a textile area) Even as a sixth-former, I mistook some of the pre-Roman defensive earthworks with the open-cast and adit (entrance to a small mine) excavations. In a real sense this was part of an economic heritage of major importance to the area, probably supplementary to agriculture.

However, in another sense the association of the site with resistance to powerful authority, by Brigantines or others, was used by Chartists in the 1840s to organise a few open-air meetings political assemblies. This ‘Victorian’ political heritage became very important to me through my own political development, which increasingly became alienated from the grammar school I attended, and which nestled in the valley below Castle Hill.

The association with revolt may have been emphasised by the fact that Castle Hill was the frequent focus of compulsory cross-country runs from that school. As I recall that period, I remember too that on top of the hill in the ‘outer Bailey’ was a large public house.

This was a favoured venue for early alcohol drinkers, since it seemed so remote from parental (or even police) surveillance. Even in this then the place became part of an anti-state (at least from a naïve adolescent perspective) rebellion.

This suggests that a site can have contesting interpretations to the persons who variously interpret it depending upon the canon into which it is inserted and through which it gains meaning. Thus Harrison’s (2010:15) statement that ‘canons … represent ideological tools that circulate the values on which particular visions of nationhood are established’ is not necessarily a statement about the coherence of the meaning, or meanings attached to it. Nor should these notions of ‘nationhood’ be necessarily reactionary.

Revolutionary Chartists promoted a sense of nationhood, for instance prognosticated on the value of ‘change’ rather than stasis. Whether Castle Hill will ever make West Yorkshire or Huddersfield more attractive to tourists and hence raise its economic status. If it does, one can only hope that the tourist is not invited to admire only certain meanings sanctioned in its potential (ibid:17) such as the virtue of the defensive military state but also as monument in which the values of subaltern classes, such as miners, and alternative political traditions are also celebrated.

Of course for me, it remains a place of opposing emotions because it was place I walked to in order to reflect on my developing feelings and to accept them but it also was a place where I learned about cultures where I could not share the fruit of that self-reflection – all ‘heterosexual’ male drinking excursions ‘on the pull’ and competitive cross-country running icon.

All the best

Steve

References:

Harrison, R. (2010) ‘What is heritage?’ in Harrison, R. (ed.) Understanding the Politics of Heritage Manchester / Milton Keynes, Manchester University Press, The Open University, 5 – 42.


Permalink Add your comment
Share post
New photo

First exercise: Leiden Univerity course on Heritage

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 1 Apr 2018, 18:02

         i          First, choose a means of representing what ‘heritage’ might mean to me or My Heritage.

       ii          Secondly, this medium/media with a text. It can be brief, but should contain

1.     Your thesis, research question, or topic, shortly introduced

2.     Introduction: in what scientific/historical discourse or context are you putting this? How are you approaching this topic? Why is it important?

3.     Are there heritage theories that you can exemplify with this heritage? Can you connect it to discussions, e.g. among our experts or to subjects Sada Mire mentioned?

4.     Conclusion: summarize your project or discussion very shortly and re-connect it to the research question or topic, posed in the introduction. Are there implications for the future of this heritage?

The following piece is less an attempt to follow the prescription above but to make reflective links for my own purposes. For me, nowadays, its what I want from learning!

Steve

Like Amy Shrecker, I feel very uncomfortable with the possessive pronoun here. What I think of as ‘heritage’ is far from singular -  it covers many places, nations and cultures even though the relationship to each is unequal and of varying quality. Moreover they endure in ways that aren’t always all present to me simultaneously and can appear separate from each other, or can variously interact both positively and negatively with each other. It is as if they were like a palimpsest of laid down experiences that can variously and in different combinations be called into action to help me act, reflect on myself, my social roles and my sense of what makes action or reflection meaningful. It relates to communities whose traditions are nearly always intangible and, when tangible, far from universal to the whole ‘community’ in which they are found. An important sense of identity to me is my identification as a gay man and that in itself is not represented by one kind of discourse or object-set.

(i)                I’m going to represent this sense of fluid and amorphous heritage by an exercise I did for another course, in which I was urged to devise a representation of my relationship to my work. That work is as a part-time lecturer mainly operating at distance from learners in online settings. It can be accessed here:

https://learn1.open.ac.uk/mod/oublog/viewpost.php?post=198558 (opens in new window)

This page also gives access to the analysis I used with this artefact in my Social Research module. Here, I want to use it rather differently, so on to (ii).

  •  Your thesis, research question, or topic, shortly introduced
  • Introduction: in what scientific/historical discourse or context are you putting this? How are you approaching this topic? Why is it important?
  • Are there heritage theories that you can exemplify with this heritage? Can you connect it to discussions, e.g. among our experts or to subjects Sada Mire mentioned?
  • Conclusion: summarize your project or discussion very shortly and re-connect it to the research question or topic, posed in the introduction. Are there implications for the future of this heritage?

I chose this collage of images representing me at work – preparing an online ‘room’ for synchronic (and recorded) teaching purposes. I did it because it illustrates what I mean by the multiplicity and interactivity of various images from my past and their use in the present, but also in terms of the different kinds of space which form ‘my’ heritage. This includes notional online cyberspace interpreted by metaphors from other spaces – rooms, whiteboards, markers, highlighters and so on. Pictured entering an online room to prepare it variously interacts with the solid physical room I enter to start that work. 

But that 'room' contains multimodal objects which open up other cultural spaces and places. Either that or objects that inhabit space to change it in ways that, at some level, I have, at some past point, desired. By saying this, for instance, I mean the ways I have placed photographs or art by friends' children or in reproduction in certain spaces picked with varying degrees of acknowledged intentionality. 

This placing sometimes means, as in all palimpsest structures – or archaeologies – places where I have placed images on top of or obscuring other objects. I am very aware of this as I look around the room now, although I’m also aware that some objects have stayed where they are. The book combinations on the shelves has changed as have some objects, although a poster I bought in Leningrad (before the fall of the Soviet Union) represent Mir (peace) ironically as a young soldier holding a wild flower in his hand and by his eyes STAYS. Its meaning has probably changed for me a little though, although it represents a trip I made with my partner thirty years ago, now (after legalisation in 2006) my husband, on a train-linked trip to Moscow and Leningrad.

Memories change in ways that act like palimpsests too. The object may have had its original meaning obscured by what now is its purpose in the present (my politics have changed somewhat as has the left (with which I still identify) in general) as if it had been layered over by another version of itself.

To the other side of where I sit are photos, put into one frame following the funeral of my mother of a holiday to Blackpool as a child in the Huddersfield ‘Wakes Week’ (the common annual holiday given in working-class districts by the factories in which my mother worked).  The same shelf that holds that picture-holder allows it jostle with photographs of me (now an out gay man and somewhat then alienated from my parents) holidaying in Tunisia as well as mementoes of past pets (the present one – now enfeebled by arthritis can be heard climbing the stairs to achieve some closeness she wants for reasons best known to her).

And there is also personal and impersonal clutter – debris from the signs by which I attempt to make room for new books to fill new learning needs by dispatching ones less present to me through EBay at give-away prices. In this room the books are really mixed – behind me books on online teaching and art, to my left philosophy and classic (the latter two being in part debris from recent online course I have studied) but which have left a nearer sense of the presence of other parts of a heritage – of Classical Greece for instance.

Sometimes debris from the past – a kind of unsorted waste from throughout my 64 years – also tells you a lot about what heritage might be. Just above my comfortable line of sight are a set of ‘digital stop-clock’ timers I used to use when I taught experimental methods in schools for Psychology foundation courses. I notice that I look again, resolve to recognise their total obsolescence and throw them away – but I don’t (and deep down know I won’t) because these too are part of the heritage, serving to remind me that I once switched from over-exclusive study of the arts alone to sciences – and I catch sight of my model skeletons and ‘brains’ (all used in present teaching on mental health in online synchronous & asynchronous interactions).

It is the nature of heritage as represented by my collage that I could go on infinitely perhaps, so I won’t.

I have tried to argue that cultural heritage and identity have an uneasy relationship in which cultural objects and intangible practices often interact and sometimes don’t do so – but lie dormant (perhaps temporally forgotten or otherwise obscured or buried. Heritage might be called a kind of data mining.

Well it’s a start.

Steve

Permalink Add your comment
Share post

This blog might contain posts that are only visible to logged-in users, or where only logged-in users can comment. If you have an account on the system, please log in for full access.

Total visits to this blog: 54838