July 29, 2020

‘I’ve produced a lot of “failure-paintings” recently!’ (MA painting student)

WFH: DAY 104. 8.00 am: A communion. ‘Is this a memory of an actual event or of a dream scenario?’ I sometimes find it hard to distinguish the identity of those mental images that involuntarily present themselves to the imagination, usually when I’m either emerging from sleep or otherwise dosing. Perhaps the social isolation endured during lockdown plays into the phenomenon. Our experience of the real world is more narrowly circumscribed. Habitual experiences are no longer being replenished in the same way. Thus recollections and re-imaginations of the old way of life, either while we wake or are sleep, take on an uncertain reality.

9.00 am: The first of the morning’s MA fine art tutorials. ‘Trouble at Teams!’ Glitches happen. They’re part of the new-world order, as they were of the old. Only now, they seem to matter more:

I suspect that both tutee and teacher work at online tutorials far harder than they do during face-to-face encounters. We each try to compensate for the other’s ‘absence’. I find myself pushing the conversation along relentlessly, and against the clock. Those moments of reflective silence — the natural pauses between uttering, hearing, and considering a piece of advice — now feel uncomfortable. It’s as though the other person is either lost for words or taken aback by something untoward that’s been said. Silence on the radio is problematic too. Our attention to the content is disrupted by sudden break in the stream of information. ‘Has the signal been lost, or the battery expired, or the device failed?’ That said, the concept of broadcasting silence gives me a distinct buzz.

10.15 am: Tutorial number two:

My conversations with those students who’re committed to landscape inevitably take me back to the time when the genre was central to my own preoccupations. While an undergraduate, I created semi-abstract images about the industrial and, subsequently, post-industrial scene of my childhood and late adolescence in South Wales. It made sense to paint what I knew, and knew to be disappearing. When, in 1982, I landed in Aberystwyth, my experience of landscape was thrown entirely. This was a different world. To paint it, I had to humbly sit at the feet of what was before me and, as it were, begin again by making small-scale, direct observations:

11.00 am: Postgraduate administration, while listening to yesterday’s additions to compositions — as though they’d been made by someone else. Whatever I hear, in this respect, sounds as though it’s taking place somewhere. Thus, the compositions are situated, rather than abstractions only.

12.30 pm: Tutorial number 3:

Tutor: ‘Could you make a face mask out of a bra cup?’ Tutee: ‘Rather depends on how big you are!’ Their technologies are remarkably alike. My tutee has been painting bras for several years; she knows her kit.

1.30 pm:

Back to recording: the construction of the ‘Big Bang’. This would, in the context of the account, under-gird the sound metaphor for the house ‘going away’, following the spirit’s impress upon the physical world. ‘Beware obvious solutions! Beware repeating solutions! Beware literalism! Strive for a consistent level of abstraction’. 3.30 pm: I continued to read. Academic life ought to be characterised by regular periods of immersive reading. These days, we are too busy policing everything else that we do. Taking-up a book related to one’s field feels like a guilty pleasure:

4.30 pm: The clouds gathered; the light diminished; and rain dribbled through the canopy. I pressed forward towards home:

7.30 pm: I picked up where I’d left off in Genesis, and searched for sounds. Much of the biblical text is ‘silent’. That’s to say, it doesn’t refer directly to acoustic phenomena. Nevertheless, throughout the narratives there are a great many ‘silent sounds’. These are sounds that are present in the text by implication rather than description: prayers uttered; Sarah’s laughter; the voices of God, angels, and patriarchs; the noise of cattle; the cleaving of wood; a lamb bleating; a camel grunting; the wind in the trees; the ambience of a burial cave; water being drawn from a well; a pitcher of water being emptied into a trough; the clink of earrings and bracelets handed over as a dowry; and the washing of feet.

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