Summa: diary (June 14-29, 2022)

Nothing has changed / Everything has changed (David Bowie, ‘Sunday’, Heathen (2002))

June 15 (A reflection). The last two weeks of June would be busy. The established demarcation between paid-work and independency fell like the walls of Jericho. My cohort of completing PhD Fine Art tutees were the priority. I determined to get them as close to the finishing line as I could in the time that remained. One would be ‘handing-in’ (uploading) their thesis at the close of the month. The PhD Research Monitoring Reports were finalised by the deadline that I’d set to coincide with the end of my teaching and supervisory responsibilities, on June 30. In the vast majority of cases, it had been a joy to write the reports in my capacity as either the first or the second supervisor. The following extract — taken from my appraisal of a very good student — is typical. We all need reassurance, and for most of the time:

There’re times (and these may be yours, presently) when our work utterly perplexes us. It’s the nature of the beast; and we should want it no other way. However, our obligation in PhD-dom is to nail down those ephemeral and mutable resonances as far as possible. That will happen. We talked about the value of developing a habit of writing about the work. The difficulty of setting down your ideas cannot be underestimated. But, then again, neither can the value. Think of it as keeping an account with yourself. (Write as though to yourself.) I guarantee that, thereafter, you’ll think about the work somewhat differently.

Now that the major projects were all completed and in production, I’d time to look again at my main website. It needed both updating and reformatting — to rectify the oddities and errors that a year’s worth of upgrades had introduced into the design. This was just another annual site MOT. However, on this occasion, I was conscious of making a reckoning of all that had done since I first began studying art, in 1977. Having looked over the past forty-five years, I considered that I’d achieved something. Then, I looked again and thought: ‘I’ve achieved nothing’. And so I went on — oscillating between two contrary points-of-view.

I found myself writing my ‘last will and testament’, as it were, to those new members of staff who’d take up the mantle of postgraduate coordination in July. So much of what one does is instinctual, rather than inscribed. Things that could not be read had to be said. That took time. I believe in the principle of an orderly transition. ‘What would I need to know in their position?’, I asked myself.

June 22. I attended my final staff meeting at the School. At is turned out, it was the first face-to-face gathering since March 2020, when we held an emergency sitting to decide our online-teaching protocols prior to the initial lockdown. It felt appropriate for me to leave this august ‘band of brothers’ having being in their real-world company one last time. The occasion was a Faculty consultation-cum-‘information download’-cum-‘state of the nation’ address by the Dean and Manager. The problems that my colleagues will face in the coming years are the same as those that I encountered when my career began. Only their complexion and the context have changed. While the nature of such difficulties is often complex, the solution is always straightforward: more money to fund further space, equipment, and staff, coupled with an informed and visionary intelligence able to deploy these precious resources strategically.

I’d come across an artefact that was new to me: it’s variously called either a postcard record or a sound postcard. It has a spindle-hole at the centre, around which grooves — into which music has been recorded — have been engraved into the laminated surface. In this case, the music is a rather anodyne dance-band instrumental that bears no relationship to the image printed on the postcard. In Poland during the 1960s and 1970s, the pocztówka dźwiękowa (as these postcards were known) was a relatively cheap way to manufacture and buy records. There’s something singularly disconcerting about watching a rectangular surface spin at speed on a turntable.

It was while snooping around the Internet for information about the above that I came across a cognate mode of recording and medium dissemination called ‘bone music‘. Here, the sound is inscribed into the surface of old X-ray plates that had been illegally salvaged from hospitals waste bins. In the former USSR during the Cold War years, western music — such as rock ‘n roll, boogie woogie, and jazz — was banned by the Soviet government. Bootleggers built their own lathes to cut copies of the contraband tracks into the film. Sound and vision, audiography and radiography, music and mortality were brought together on the same plane of experience.

With acknowledgement to the Kotte.org website

June 28. Tuesday and Wednesday were my final PhD tutorial days. In between online discussions, I reviewed chapter and other submissions and posted emails about finalising and submitting theses. Among my ‘last words’ were:

May I take this opportunity to thank you for being such interesting, stimulating, talented, and hardworking tutees. I’ll miss our conversations. (Honest!) I’m confident from what I’ve seen of the exhibition and the thesis submissions that you’re all on the right path to a sound conclusion to your studies. I wish you well, and know that I won’t be able to fully let go until you’re all safely over the finishing line.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been trailing a new audiovisual configuration for the studio PC (on which I conduct my online tutorials). The arrangement includes a device that permits a webcam to be dropped from the top of the screen to a position that’s in-line with one’s eyes. Accordingly, I can now ‘appear’ to be talking to the correspondent directly. (Usually, I’m looking in the direction of the my own image on screen.)

June 29. 9.30 am: My penultimate PhD Fine Art tutorial. 10.30 am: Then it was off, lunch in my rucksack, on a one and a half miles walk to Llanbadarn Fawr for the final engagement. The poignancy of the occasion didn’t escape me. The session was marked by a serious and metaphysical tone. There’re times — and they are very rare — when tutee and tutor, together, close-in on an understanding of the essential nature of art. This was one such time. The experience was simultaneously intellectual and emotional. I couldn’t have wished for a more satisfying finale.

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