I've decided to start blogging again. I'm especially interested in blogging about things with a visual or spatial interest, as I don't feel I engage with either of those things naturally or easily (or most of the time, willingly!). I'm one of those people who don't generally see where they're going or what they pass on the way to where they're going. I'd like to challenge myself more in this regard, and to test my thesis advisor's theory that I am more visually or materially oriented than I realise. It's certainly been an interesting and thought-provoking week in this regard.
On Saturday 21/11/15, I went to a postgraduate classics conference in Cardiff to present a paper, where two papers by others stood out. First, Jill Mitchell from Trinity St David's paper recreating a 4th century journey from Rome to Bovillae, taken by Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, through her own photographs of the (modern remnants of) landmarks and buildings he would have encountered on his way. She proposed this as a way of getting closer to the ancient experience. The second paper was given by David Colwill from the University of Cardiff, about their history department's outreach initiative into local primary schools, by means of objects.
On Wednesday 25/11/15, I went to a TECHNE-funded all-day workshop called 'The Object in Focus' where I had been asked by said thesis advisor to be a panel respondent on a panel entitled 'Object as Image and Image as Object: Early Photography in Focus'. I referenced these two papers from Cardiff in particular and explained that for me the visual has never been a way 'in' to the past, not even as a child. I then spent some time both describing this 'condition' (as that's sometimes how it feels!) and trying to get to the roots of why I may feel this way - whether there is something inherent in the textual versus the visual approach to the past which accounts for my marked preference for one or the other. Or whether it's just personal, and I happen to be more extreme than other people in this regard. I'm not sure there was a consensus on the why, but I think everyone, including myself, felt it was important to go outside of one's comfort zone as an academic sometimes. The full text of my talk will be posted on the Image as Object blog soon. I also came across some other wonderful visual resources relating to antiquity which I will save for a different blog.
Lastly, on Friday 27/11/15 I went to a second TECHNE-funded event with a much wider brief, where TECHNE-funded doctoral students of all Arts & Humanities disciplines of this particular consortium's institutions 'presented' their research in a variety of media (from standard-style papers to poetry to film to dance to interactive exhibitions). I did a poster. I had done one earlier this year for a different event at my institution, Royal Holloway (University of London) and found the thought process that goes into expressing text in a visually appealing manner quite interesting, so I wanted to do another one. I shall reserve a discussion of both of them and how they came about and what I find difficult and all of that at some later date. I also found myself rather more receptive to things which previously would have alienated me in their 'otherness', such as interactive installations or sculpture. The work of Richard Carter in particular on patterns as human-made ways of breaking the world down into comprehensible bits yet things which come about through digital technology as an intermediate stage with its own 'agency' (he mentioned computer glitches as an example) rather blew my mind - especially the art he then produced in order to demonstrate his personal engagement with the human-digital nexus in which we're all embroiled these days. I'm probably massively misrepresenting his work, but seriously, check him out. Agency is something I'm going to be exploring in chapter one of the thesis, specifically the agency of Tacitus' written landscapes in northwestern Europe, and it was surprising how many people either talked about this or were interested in it when I brought it up (a sculptor/photographer PhD-student emailed after the Wednesday workshop to ask about this, which was pleasing). Other themes which kept coming up were identity and space/the spatial, which can mean they're either hot at the moment or on some level perennial concerns in academia, or maybe both at the same time. In any case, it gave me much more of a connection to this motley crew of performers, dancers, installateurs, musicians, etc. than I could ever have imagined.
All this combined left my brain percolating like nobody's business, and I'm sure it will be a while before the full effects make themselves felt. I can already feel another poster brewing, however, and this time I hope to do something radically different to the two I have so far, and hope to make the visual far outweigh the textual. More later - perhaps I will blog about it as a work in progress...?
Meanwhile, here's a pretty photo of the Barbican I took - the unusual environs of the conference attracted even my attention, it seemed: