September 22, 2020

Monday, September 21. 8.00 am: A morning walk to the postbox. It felt not like any other first day of the academic year that I’d ever experienced. Melancholy, without hopelessness. Tentativeness, without timidity. A quiet beginning. 9.00 am: The inbox would be like a dripping tap for the next few weeks. Last minute changes were to be expected. Letter by letter, Freshers’ Week moved forward, while dark prognostications about the significant advance of Covid-19 were announced. Moments of cognitive dissonance would form part of the background noise for this coming semester.

Tuesday, September 22. 8.00 am: As restrictions tightened across the nations of the UK, I was left wondering how soon their universities would be asked to move to online provision only. I pushed on. The usual boundaries between work-life and home-life had dissolved. The sky was thick with grey cloud: inert, motionless, and mildly dispiriting. The confirmation of late MA applications and preparations for ‘meeting’ my first year personal tutees, mid morning, were my priorities.

11.00 am: Students will take time to get comfortable with using Teams. This would be my last new-year ‘pep-talk’. Covid-19, we hope, won’t eclipse the thrill of being taught and learning. I think, as staff, we do need to bleat on to them about pandemic regulations. But life can’t be allowed to shrink to the size of a virus. An engagement with art will help keep our vision broad.

11.30 am: I returned to the School of Art for the first time since the lockdown had begun. I’d had no reason to enter prior to this week. It was good to be back. ‘Home’. Entering my office was like returning to a cabin on the wreck of a sunken ship. Everything was still where I’d left it when it went down. The room was surprisingly undusty. (Because I make most of the dust, I guess.) But it would no longer be a place wherein I’d hold tutorials, for sometime to come. Signs of the times (everywhere):

1.45 pm: The days are now punctuated with brief flurries of emailology, in order to keep the infestation at bay. I ‘penned’ the text to a one-minute video introduction to myself, for 1st year students.

Welcome to the School of Art. I’m professor John Harvey, and I teach across fine art and art history. My principle responsibility is for the school’s postgraduate provision, which I co-ordinate. While I don’t contribute to the first-year teaching, I will have contact with those of you who’re my Personal Tutees. But, of course, I’m available for consultation should any one of you have a need.

My areas of teaching include painting and drawing in fine art, and abstract art and sound art in art history. My practice-based research deals with sound principally, while my art historical studies are about sound, image, and religious texts. More information about both can be found on my website, which is linked to staff pages on the School’s own.

I’ve two sons, both of whom have gone through university. So, I know well, both as a parent and their supporter, the stresses and challenges of student life as a young adult. These are unprecedented and challenging days. Higher Education may demand far more of you than it has of any preceding cohort of students. Together, as a responsible and determined community, we will get through it. My best wishes to you all.

In order to help offset the effects of RSI caused by over-typing (my industrial injury), I give my hands a workout with a device designed to strengthen those of guitarists. Ideally, for the purposes of playing, I require both to be equally strong:

4.00 pm: A Turnitin problem had perplexed me all day. One student couldn’t see the assignment portal I’d set up. But I could. There was a mismatch in time frames. Students could only access the 2019-20 version of the MA Exhibition 2 module. I could only access the 2020-21 version, on which the submission had been set up. So, as it was, they couldn’t submit their project.

4.30 pm: A walk to the avenue and back. This afternoon, I sensed that Autumn had arrived. 7.30 pm: On with the video. ‘Oh my goodness!’ This was my first, and there was so much wrong with it. ‘Lighten up, man!’ ‘Relax!’ Alas, it’s the sort of vestigial presence that get’s played at your funeral. Self-direction, in this context, is hard going. Some of my colleagues have a natural affinity with the camera and a winsome manner. I shall be the member of staff that students will avoid:

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