Summa: diary (January 22-26, 2024)

In order to belong we must establish a context and a tradition that are the same shape as ourselves.
Don’t give up something for which you still possess the capacity, desire, and opportunity to pursue. For one day you won’t, and it’ll give you up.

January 22 (Monday). As I fell to sleep last night, I heard the low-pitched resonance of strong wind as it forced a path through the branches and around the corners of neighbouring properties. It sounded like the thunder of a tube train charging through the tunnel towards the station platform. 6.30 am: By early morning, Storm Isha had passed. Last night, Capel Curig, 72 miles north of Aberystwyth, was hit by winds in excess of 90 mph. Ten years ago, on January 6, 2014, a high tide coupled with a storm surge out in Cardigan Bay tore up, and cast a significant tonnage of beach onto, Aberystwyth’s Promenade. There were other storms that year. Some rumble on in the background still.

7.45 am: Writing, and a review of the week ahead. I planned to conduct my operations in both the study and studio. Like a circus plate spinner, I run from one project to another and ensure that all are rotating at speed. While the completion of the book has no deadline, it’ll go stale if it remains unresolved for too long. At the same time, the practice-based work must be maintained. The Aural Bible VIII sound project (‘Affirmation’ [working title]) needs to be pushed out of dry dock. The promotional and sales endeavours still simmer on the back burner for now.

8.45 am (and for the remainder of the day): The book. Searching for new ways of writing. 11.00 pm: The late edition of Gmail: an opportunity to contribute to a German radio program on the occult, culture, technology, and sound.

January 23 (Tuesday). 7.30 am: Studyology. A review of yesterday’s writing and research admin. The Malchus’ ear incident will serve both as a case study and test-bed for the book’s theory and methodology. The origin of my inquiries into the imaginal sounds implicit in texts, and their representation, was a paper entitled ‘Quiet Bell: Seeing Silence in Millet’s The Angelus’, presented at ‘The Listening Art Historian’ Research Forum, sponsored by the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, in 2013. ‘The Acoustic Angelus’ (2013) served as an illustration and exemplification of the paper’s core proposition. It’s a speculative reconstruction of the sounds that the two peasants, in the foreground of Jean-François Millet’s painting The Angelus (1857-59), might have heard as they prayed and the church bell tolled. Today, I’m the ‘listening biblical scholar’ too. In the decade that followed the paper, the triangulation of sound, image, and text has remained a constant in my practice-based and historical work. It’s, now, a way of thinking and doing … a way of life.

As Storm Jocelyn slowly swept-in over the course of the day, I applied myself to writing during the morning and afternoon, and to reading a book about sound and painting in the evening. I’d included it on the bibliography of my Art/Sound: Practice, Theory, and History, 1800–2010 undergraduate module some years ago, on the basis of its synopsis and favourable reviews. Only now have I the time to read it for myself. Such was the pace and intensity of academic life, back then.

January 24 (Wednesday). 7.00 am: Cold moon, condensed windows, still air, and the first coo of a wood pigeon close by. 7.45 am: Until noon I — wrapped in a Harris Tweed shawl that makes me look like a cross between an elderly Welsh woman from an earlier generation and the ‘Man with No Name‘ from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns — pressed on with writing. To begin: an observation of stasis and silence in Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut depicting ‘The Betrayal of Christ’ (c. 1509). 12.00 pm: A climb to my GP surgery for an annual blood MOT test and ECG.

The text and the image are taken apart and their respective components compared, one with another.

General Sir Patrick Sanders’ recent comments on the need to prepare a ‘citizen’s army’, should the Russian threat escalate and draw other European countries into conflict, took my mind back to 1982. Then, the Conservative prime minster Margaret Thatcher’s government was less oblique about the possibility of compulsory conscription to raise troops to fight the Falkland’s War (Guerra de las Malvinas). My friends and I sat and stared at one another wondering whether our future careers would be stymied by impending military service.

Returning grace brought with it repentance and renewed resolve.

January 24 (Thursday). The American sculptor Carl Andre (1935–2024) died yesterday at 88 years of age. He was one of the most significant contributors to the minimalist movement. In 1972, the Tate Gallery purchased what is arguably its most controversial acquisition and Andre’s most significant work, Equivalent VIII (1966), for the princely sum of £2,297 (which was a bargain-basement price, even at the time). Four years later, the British press finally caught up with story and (not unsurprisingly) ridiculed the gallery’s curatorial policy and waste of tax payers’ money on what was, in their view, self-evidently just an arrangement of 120 fire bricks which could’ve been bought at a builders’ yard for £16.

I first came across the work on the front page of the Daily Mirror on February 16, 1976. Then, I was struggling through the first year of my A-level art course barely able to draw and paint, with very little knowledge of art history and far less understanding of modern art. And yet, Andre’s sculpture chimed with me (for reasons that I couldn’t then articulate), opened a window onto a expansive vista of what art could be, and was one of the principal reasons why I applied to attend art school in the following year.

As part of a seminar on my Abstraction: Practice, Theory, and History, 1913 to the Present module at the School of Art, Aberystwyth University, the students and I undertook to understand in distinction between Equivalent VIII and a pile of bricks on a local building site. The exercise encouraged students to detach themselves from their presuppositions about art and its nature, observe, contextualize, develop an articulable criteria of evaluation, and describe.

January 26 (Friday). 7.00 am:

7.30 am: Studyology. Writing and promotion. 9.00 am: Studiology. Studio tidy-up, in preparation for today’s and tomorrow’s sound work, supplies purchases, equipment modifications, and rig reorganisation. 12.00 pm: An ‘normous-egg hunt at our local health food shop. ‘A dozen please, if you have them.’ Request granted. The hens had met their weekly lay quota, once again. 1.30 pm: A review of the morning’s incoming mail. 2.00 Modifying (again), renewing my university identity card, and installing additional effectors on the tabletop rig. Today, I snapped three cobalt drill bits and one hacksaw blade.

The German radio broadcaster had sent me a number of steering questions and directions for a discussion about sound and spirits. The evening was spent formulating my response. Other researcher’s perspectives on what, for me, is a familiar subject challenge my mind to walk over the same landscape with a different step and rhythm.

See also: Intersections (archive);  Diary (September 15, 2018 – June 30, 2021)Diary (July 16, 2014 – September 4, 2018); John Harvey (main site); John Harvey: Sound; Facebook: The Noises of Art; X; Instagram.

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