Summa: New Beginnings (September 2021)

In TV programmes and films where employees are shown leaving their office — having either resigned or been sacked — they do so within the hour carrying only a cardboard box full of personal effects, including a mug, family photographs, a potted plant, an appointments diary, and their name plaque, usually. In reality, it took four hours to sift and empty each of my two filing cabinets alone, and two carloads of boxes and equipment, before I could finally empty the office for its new occupant: Dr Julian Ruddock. He is, in a manner of speaking, the ‘new Dr Who’. I’ve now handed him the keys to the Tardis. Julian was one of my former PhD Fine Art Tutees. I’m delighted that he’ll be parking his mug on my desk, and look forward to the contribution that he, Charlotte Brisland (the other new painting lecturer), and, from the USA, Lisa McCarty (who has responsibility for photography) will make to the School in the years to come. New blood, new personalities, new capabilities, new visions, new directions, new challenges, new-age, new beginnings.

Courtesy of Jacqueline Harvey

There was documentation in those filing cabinets going back over three decades. I doubt whether I’d had cause to consult most of it in the intervening years. The admin draws had become a morgue for minutes, agendas, reports, strategies, and an abundance of navel-staring exercises. How much time was frittered away on these things, and to what end? Among my teaching files, there were the remnants of ideas that would become foundational to my creative and pedological beliefs:

Personally, I would extend the breadth of Eliot’s ideal regarding ‘the two directions of sensibility’: not only ‘the critic’ but also the art historian ‘and the creative artist should frequently be the same person’. This has been my settled conviction and identity since the final year of my BA Fine Art studies.

In the background, the MA Fine Art finalists set-up their second and final exhibition in the School’s double-gallery and one of the main studios on the first floor. In keeping with our policy regarding postgraduate and undergraduate assessment since March 2019, the exhibition, as such, wouldn’t be contribute to the mark. This is because: a) the exhibition was not a mandatory requirement, and several students have chosen (due to personal circumstances) not to exhibit. It wouldn’t, therefore, be equitable to assess some on the basis of one set of criteria and others, on another; b) we need to remain consistent to the pattern of assessment that we’ve established for the MA under pandemic regulations. Moreover, students were told at the outset of the module that the exhibition would be an opportunity to show final work and have a further experience of exhibiting, rather than an opportunity for assessment also; and c) some students had already undertaken the Exhibition 2 module in May under the existing pandemic regulations.

The MA was a significant challenge for them all. It’s been designed that way. But developing a sustainable professional practice from hereon-in will demand far more of them, albeit over a longer stretch of time. Once the launch gantry of the degree scheme has swung back, the student (who is no longer such) either must take-off — propelled only by their own thrust — or else topple over. (Standing still is never an option.) Some will ascend to PhD level, others will go forward to train as teachers, and yet others will set-up a studio of their own. Neither trajectory is more worthy than another. However, one will prove more appropriate than the others at this juncture in their work and life (which is all anyone of them can hope and plan for).

5.00 pm, September 16: The Postgraduate Exhibition opening was the first substantial public event that we’ve held at the School since the beginning of the pandemic. It brought through the doors a measure of (masked)-normalcy. This was a very good show by a very good cohort of MA students. They’ve had to endure what, on paper, would look unendurable. As in life, we’d buckle if all the difficulties that lay before us were revealed to us ahead of time. The events of our life between our present and future help to develop the muscle and tenacity necessary to endure those trails when they arrive. Like Manna from Heaven, grace is given day-by-day, on the day, and only for that day.

This was the last time that the MA Fine Art class of 2019-21 would meet as such. No doubt the friendships forged during these trails and triumphs will endure for years to come. As for me, this was my last cohort of MA Fine Art tutees. They saw me off with a ‘bang’! And for that I’m very grateful.

Some of the postgraduate exhibiters: Top row (from left): Samantha Boulanger, Saoirse Morgan, Tracy Hughes, and Susan Forster. Bottom row (from left): Flora McLachlan, Irene Gardiner, and Junko Burton (courtesy of Saoirse Morgan).

What I’ve termed the ‘transitional’ creative projects are under way. Forward momentum is slow, however. Much time has been spent on grant acquisition to cover: a) the cost of a licence to use (in perpetuity) a British Movietone film of the first ever sound recording of a coal pit (Penallta Colliery in Mid-Glamorgan), which will form the basis of the new CD project; and, b) the cost of performing the composition, based upon the sound source, at the colliery. The 7 Prayers for Stephen Chilton [working title] is now off the starting blocks. Presently, I’m feeding off-station signals from SW [Short-Wave] radio bands into a DJ mixer and modulators to produce deep troubling drones. This marks a new beginning, which takes me beyond old habits of thinking.

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