Archive | November 2011

Another Year Older

I really can’t believe I’ve been in Manchester for less than 3 months! With so much happening in such a short space of time – including new intellectual challenges and what seems like hundreds of new faces – time seems to be moving in a very different way from usual. Actually, it feels like a whole new dimension: which is great for the dynamism, but sometimes it’s a bit of a whirlwind!

I could blog about my latest pub trips; Trauma’s November film screeningsan excellent gig at the Deaf Institute; or hearing some new pals DJ to an appreciative crowd at the Sandbar. I could even, I suppose, write something about how my research is progressing – but that can wait for next year, when I’m going to be starting some preliminary data gathering activities, putting together focus groups, and exploring the use of Semantic Differentials. That’s going to be really exciting as I will get to test the waters with my empirical work at the same time as talking to the wider community and continuing to read. I don’t want to give too much away at this stage but can tell you that my data gathering should involve 2 inter-connected strands:

  • A semi-structured focus group discussion with participants from 4 subject disciplines about their views on “Old Media” and “New Media”.
  • A task- and semantic-based exercise using concepts, objects, and adjective pairs derived from and illustrative of participatory theories in relation to media, academia, and communications technology.

Right now, I am reading the ultra-thought-provoking work of Lev Manovich. His beautifully written and meticulous technical/historical analysis of computational and cinematographic innovations since the 1830s suggests (among other things) that many characteristics of “New Media” are – at the very moment we claim them as “revolutionary” – either already existing or mythical. Many preconceptions are misguided and do not get to the heart of what New Media’s novelty and potential really are.

Spoiled today with cake and sweets!

But all of that seems like too much hard work since it’s my Birthday today. Right now I want to say thanks to all the friends and family who got me excellent presents and who sent me good luck wishes; including my lovely flatmates Laura and Quentin, who baked me a surprise cake! Yum. It’s pictured here alongside some sugary loose candy sent over from Sweden by my friend Emma. 🙂 Thank you everyone. And special birthday wishes to my twin sister, Jennifer. The trainers fit perfectly! I love them! Looking forward to seeing you soon!

So this is Christmas…

…and while, sadly, War still isn’t over, at least I can report that the atmosphere at Manchester’s wonderful Christmas Markets, which opened this week, is one of peace, happiness, and genuine “good cheer”. Lots of food from around Western Europe; many flavours of delicious mulled wine; artisan glassware; sweets; wooden decorations; and tonight (for one night only) a fabulous vintage clothing and accessories fair, hosted in Manchester’s Town Hall.

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These markets are fantastic because without any pretension and without any slick PR campaign trying to guide people’s perceptions they draw a diverse crowd of people to enjoy an unusual and value-for-money combination of “commerce” (though somehow it doesn’t feel like it) and socialising in a makeshift market community.

Good Luck Wishes

A photo from last night’s “happy retirement” party for Professor Dick Hartley, Director of the Institute for Humanities and Social Science Research. Liked and respected by everyone, you’ll not hear anything except good things said about Professor Hartley. It seems like he’s helped everyone you speak to at one point or another!

Dee H. wanted to photobomb her good luck wishes...

Still, if rumors are correct, he won’t be managing a full escape any time soon.

Good luck and best wishes! 🙂

A Few Wee Films

I am becoming a bit of a regular at Monday night’s Trauma film screenings, as well as at their post-screening pub sessions. This means that the Trauma team have very kindly agreed to let me put on a little film season as part of next year’s line-up. 🙂 At the very moment of leaving my country of origin I’ve noticed myself starting to feel ultra-patriotic about it. So, in recognition of that, I have decided to introduce the locals to 3 excellent Scottish movies (two of which are set in Glasgow) that they might not have seen. Below is a sneak preview of what I’ve written for the always enticing and soon to be in-press Trauma promo material.

Scotland on Screen: Against the Odds
Nowhere is Scotland’s masterful combination of politics, poetry, pathos and humour more apparent than in its varied — and often low-budget — film productions. A keen eye for the ironies (and the comedies) of injustice gives the nation’s cinema a particularly strong and always relevant modern identity. Even when situations and characters seem rooted in particularly “Scottish” cultural perspectives the appearance of parochialism is generally deceptive. A distinctly realist approach is typical – but so too are moments of the dream-like and the absurd. At its best, Scotland’s cinema is a provocative and lively cinema of truth: with tradition, history, and myth never far from shot.

Local Hero, with a cast of familiar Scottish faces and featuring Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster, shows how small town folk and corporate giants alike lose all sense of proportion when it comes to matters of money. With just the right lightness of touch, director Bill Forsyth keeps the audience laughing out loud with an array of wittily observed and wonderfully acted characters.

Just North of England...

Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher is a truly incredible film that quietly insists on drawing you in. Set during the 1975 binmen’s strike, we are offered a haunting, beautifully composed, and deeply lyrical account of how one 12-year old boy perceives the squalor, the tragedies, and the little glimmers of hope that fill his environment alongside the rats and the growing heaps of rubbish.

Poetry from tragedy

Peter Mullan’s NEDS, a bold take on familiar themes of masculinity, class, violence, and Catholicism, is also set in 70s Glasgow. 16-year old John is conflicted over how best to make use of his intelligence, moving swiftly and angrily from academic success and educational aspiration to the destructive spiral of gang life. With a young handpicked cast of local ‘non-actors’, there is nothing amateurish about this gritty and semi-autobiographical tale that lifts itself above cliché.

Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, based on Lionel Shriver’s novel, was just released last month. Hopefully that means people will be curious to see, or re-see her astonishing debut, Ratcatcher. I was barely born when Local Hero was released (in 1983) so for me, seeing it on the big-screen will be good fun. What do you think? Any comments on the film choices – or my text – welcome! Wouldn’t any of these be a good way to spend a cold Winter Monday? I’ve added a few screenshots which I’m pretty sure come under “fair use policy“.

Dark Matters

The Gallery Entrance

The title of my post is that of a fantastic and pretty unique exhibition that I visited today at the University of Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery. Subtitle: Science Technology Art. Sadly I am unable to post any illustrative pictures of what I spent the day admiring due to copyright restrictions. Yes, even the shadows cast by some of the works are copyrighted!1 So you’ll either have to go and see for yourself (it runs until well into next year) or follow the various links embedded in this post and take it from me that many of the pieces on display are absolutely magical. In that “Is this real ?!” childhood sense of magical that so many of us only dimly remember as we grow up. Still, there is also plenty that it is more solemn and introspective if that sounds like too much fun. 😉

The exhibition is themed around the idea of what happens when mechanical and digital technologies intersect with and give new expression to the “darker” (both literal and metaphorical) regions of our creative imaginations: what we see or imagine in the shadows and in response to changing, shifting patterns of light. The reaction of Maxim Gorky (who knew a thing or two about terror) to one of the first exhibitions of the Lumière brothers’ cinematographic innovations: “Not life, but a shadow of life. It is terrible to see, this movement of shadows…” provides an introductory insight. Other literary connections are provided in the work of Idris Khan. Blown-up, layered digital images of printed texts, which somehow appear like majestic 3D photocopies – including Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida and Sigmund Freud’s The Uncanny – both merge and separate related elements of form, content, tone, and subtext. These look beautiful up close.

I call this one "Electric Footlights"

Snow Mirror by Daniel Rozin is the piece everyone wants to have a play with. The image of the viewer standing in between ‘projector’ and ‘screen’ is captured and transformed through a combination of computers, lights, and fabric, before being presented back to you slowly as if heralding the creation of a ghostly other “you”. To be more specific: a ghostly other you trapped in a snow blizzard. Kiss by R. Luke DuBois literally sparkles. For this he has visually analysed and mapped with bright points of connected light, specific regions of film depicting famous Hollywood kissing scenes, also tying them to an original, mathematically calculated, soundtrack. DuBois manages to draw your attention to the illusion/fantasy of cinematic emotion at the very same time as he takes it, manipulates it, and makes you feel it anew. Similarly, when I walked into the large room where Brass Art’s “Still Life No. 1” was sitting I was surprised to hear myself say out loud – “wow, this is amazing!” I can’t at all do justice to how magnificent the modern take of these 3 female artists (1 is from Glasgow) on a magic lantern or a Zoetrope (the Wheel of the Devil) is. Huge distorted shadows of the tiny little figurines and plastic shapes they have set up on a cylindrical table are cast dancing around the room. The figures on the table glow in bright white and yellow, appearing from a distance like crystal ornaments. This instantly took me back to the time when, as a kid, my imagination and my dreams started to develop together, spinning across the walls.

Shadows, inside

Light projected

I’m sorry for these rather hesitant and “wooly” descriptions of the works. I am not an expert in how exactly these effects were achieved. I discussed this a little with one of the lovely gallery staff while we stood inside Barnaby Hosking‘s brilliant “Black Flood”. The point is to immerse yourself in the feelings elicited by these works (to react to them emotionally, even viscerally, as Gorky did) rather than to try and unpick how exactly the material and lights are set up and installed. I tried; but in the end, experiencing rather than clinically analysing suits me (and them) best.

Apparently some visitors to the museum find Hosking’s wall-mounted “butterflies” (3 different types and colours of metal, showing light, dark, shade, and very much conveying the fleeting movements of thought) too cheerful or “twee” for an exhibition themed around darkness. This is a really strange point of view! As the Lumières and other craftsmen and women working with photographs and “phantoms” knew better than most, the darkness of cinema or art based on those techniques is not possible without the play of light. Equally, the lightness of a Hollywood “kiss” is best appreciated in the dark.

1I have added a few images that I thought they wouldn’t object to – some of the lights and shadows at the Whitworth that aren’t technically exhibits…