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Filming Locations

The venues used for some of the Leeds Film Festival’s screenings this year were just about as memorable as the films themselves. For those of you who didn’t make it along (tomorrow is the final day), here are some photos of the grand Baroque-stylings of Leeds Town Hall, described by Architecture Today as “the epitome of northern civic bombast” and, slightly further out of town, the hidden gem that is the Hyde Park Picture House, built in 1908 as a hotel, converted to a cinema in 1914, and saved from closure by Leeds City Council who have lovingly maintained it since 1989. It’s Grade II listed, lit by gas, and still has a piano and organ. What more could you ask for? Ultra-comfy seats, a bar and a balcony? Well, you’re in luck because it has those too.

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Oh! The films we went to see? Jean-Pierre Melville’s muted and entrancing classic “policier“, Le Cercle Rouge, which has one of the best casts of any French crime movie you care to name (Alain Deloin AND Yves Montand!) and one of the most masterful jewel heist scenes since Rififi. The second film was also understated but was perhaps more inconsequential than existential. A low-budget Romanian drama from 2001, Marfa si banii (Stuff and Dough as in, goods and money) was directed by Cristi Puiu, who you might know better for The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005). Combining elements of road-movie, chase-movie, and social realist critique, three twenty-somethings take a trip to Bucharest with what a family ‘friend’ has told them is “medicine”, hoping the promised $2,000 might get them quickly and easily out of aimless and difficult lifestyles. Of course, it’s not so straightforward. Both films remind us in very different ways that a life of crime can be more trouble than it’s worth. Melville suggests that nonetheless, it can be done carefully, with honour, and with style. The thief can be a hero of sorts or at least, a gentleman even if he is ultimately doomed. For Puiu’s less well-heeled protagonists, there is only naiveté, disagreement and exploitation. All of which makes for very good cinema!

Transformed Realities

This Thursday, our Digital Transformers Symposium finally took place and I am delighted to report that it was a huge success! Nineteen speakers presented diverse work from multiple Arts and Humanities subjects, sharing ideas and findings with one essential common theme – the ways in which digital technologies are transforming things – be they individuals, societies, or the ways in which we experience and understand. The day kicked off with a keynote speech by Dr. Jim Mussell, who took as his example the serial publications of Charles Dickens in Victorian magazine Household Words. This might seem an odd place to start – even if we are talking about digitised versions. After all, aren’t electronic versions just surrogates for higher quality originals? Dr. Mussell convinced us otherwise. By making use of digital tools for bibliographic analysis which at first glance seem utterly alien to the contexts of the works they are used to study, we may in fact find ourselves closer to the “truth” of a printed piece and its place in history. Magazines and books are objects. They are not the essence of a work but are “records of a set of cultural practices” – whether those practices involve binding and ink or binary and hyperlinks. By thinking about how digital versions of texts relate to their non-digital forebears, we might better appreciate that our interpretation of the past is always just that: an interpretation, within an imposed artificially linear narrative. Instead of being treated as deficient, inauthentic and lacking, new interfaces to old texts should be valued as enhancements – as transformative.

Panel 1 DTN

Ioanna Zouli presents her paper on “video practices and the dynamics of telepresence”.

The day proceeded with four themed panels – Participation and Community Engagement; Methodological Challenges; Shifting Structures of Communication, and Audio-Visual Experiences. Two play sessions were also on offer – Introducing the geographic dimension to your research: GIS for the Humanities (led by Dr. Paty Murrieta Flores) and Meaning and meaning-making: a social semiotic multimodal approach to contemporary issues in research (led by Professor Gunther Kress). All of our paper presenters were young early career researchers, from around the UK and beyond. For me, one of the best parts of the symposium was the sense of community that seemed to emerge once the sessions got underway. Even when discussing work far removed from their own, the audience were supportive and enthusiastic. This may be one of the key positives of digital media within the academy – particularly for young researchers. Whether you are a cultural theorist, a linguist, or an information scientist, a realignment of disciplinary boundaries creates opportunities to identify shared and new perspectives, enhanced by engagements with digital tech. Dr. Patricia Murrieta Flores explored with us how Geographic Information Systems, initially designed for engineers, scientists and planners, have become fruitful and fascinating tools for archaeologists and historians, who use them to identify and model patterns and trends of the earth, its artefacts, its people and their geo-politics, across space and time.

Dr Patricia Murrieta Flores gave us a hands-on introduction to GIS in the Humanities

Dr Patricia Murrieta Flores gave us a hands-on introduction to GIS in the Humanities

The day concluded with a stimulating and lively debate on the perils and potentials of Open Access Publishing as it relates to the Humanities and to Universities more generally. It is difficult to know at present whether the “Gold” or the “Green” route to Open Access publishing will prevail; most likely institutions will use some mixture of the two, with both becoming competitors in an increasingly uneven and costly publishing ecosystem based around entrenched and outmoded (?) notions of prestige and value. Those who can afford it will be driven towards Gold, with Green and its laudable aims of equity and freedom being pushed into the role of second-best.

Open Access Panel

A spirited panel of experts led a debate on the potential costs and benefits of Open Access

Our expert panel (Drs. Cathy Urquhart, Paul Kirby, Alma Swan and Stephen Pinfield) hinted now and then at positive transformative potentials stemming from OA – Alma Swan in particular sees OA as a welcome tonic to old-fashioned models – but overall it seemed a rather gloomy picture, dictated as ever by economics and elitist notions of bettering one’s peers. Many academics wish to see a culture of openness, experimentation and sharing, with contributions valued for their merit. The harsh realities of convention and money make that something of a pipe dream. There will be limited budgets to pay article processing fees hence managers will be forced to ask which articles represent the best financial “return on investment”, too busy and pressurised to judge them on anything other than proxy criteria of quality that do not consider the intellectual value of a work in its own right. Well, that’s the doomsday scenario. However naively, I very much hope that freer forms of communication will emerge to combat that!

We will be uploading slides, videos and other materials to the official Digital Transformers website over the coming month, so please do check there for more details on the excellent papers and presentations that were given by the members of our nascent ERC network. :-)

A New Network Emerges

After months of hard work and planning, we have finally finalised the schedule for our Digital Transformers Symposium, happening on Thursday the 23rd of May, at MMU. Working in academia – and in particular on a PhD – it’s easy to get caught up in stress and uncertainty of various kinds. So it really is great to be able to pour energy into a community-based event like this, which everyone seems to be looking forward to. All of the workshops and papers sound amazing and Jo and myself really couldn’t be more pleased at the quality and scope of submissions.

There aren’t any places left for the Symposium now (we only have room for 40): but tickets are still available for our Open Access Debate which opens to a wider audience later in the day. Hope to see some of you there! 🙂

A Serpentine Spring

Emerging, before even the turn of last century, from a handful of immigrant families and some traditional money-making laundrettes, Manchester’s Chinatown has grown to become the third largest in Europe. A half square-mile filled primarily with restaurants, supermarkets, herbalists and accountants, its growth was driven by a population explosion that began in 1984. In 1987, the erection of a beautiful Ming Dynasty Chinese arch (or Paifang) marked the fact that Chinatown and its community were most proudly and definitely here to stay.

Sometime every February then (the exact date changes according to the moon and the sun), various surrounding roads are closed off, everything becomes a great deal more colourful, and celebrations marking the start of the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year begin. Food stalls, traditional music, a Dragon and Lion dance, and a 12 minute firework display were among this year’s festivities. The weather wasn’t exactly friendly, meaning that the crowds were a little smaller than hoped – but everybody who made it seemed to be having a great time, particularly the children buying paper dragons and sweets and waving long streamers around in the cold air while the stall holders gleefully shouted out half price promotions or cooked up delicious smelling food.

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According to the Chinese Zodiac, this year is the year of the Snake, the meaning of which varies by gender. According to Mary Bai at CITS:

People born in the year of the Snake often have a good temper and a skill at communicating but say little. They possess gracious morality and great wisdom. They are usually financially secure and do not have to worry about money. They are determined to accomplish their goals [and] hate to fail. Although they look calm on the surface, they are intense and passionate. They have a rich source of inspiration and understand themselves well. They are people of great perception. Women under the sign of the snake do well in housework but are irritable.

Two Oh One Three

It’s hard to believe that a whole year has passed since I was last back home in Scotland to celebrate the festive season. 2012 was certainly a very busy and exciting year for me, and 2013 is going to be even busier. Year 2 of my Phd gets properly underway, Jo B. and I have a Symposium to organise, and of course, I am still trying my best to get seasons lined up for TRAUMA (which starts again on Jan 14th). Otherwise, who knows what the New Year will hold? I am probably going to slow down on blog entries here for a while but watch this space and I will try to keep you fairly well posted!

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As well as a lovely few days in Oban with my boyfriend – luckily we managed to see the sights and visit a stunning 13th century castle despite the torrential rain – and lots of good food and relaxation with family, Christmas time meant…presents! Thanks to Jen, Dad, and Mum for my amazing new DSLR-quality camera. I have been frustrated for a while now at not being able to get shots that live up to what I compose in my mind’s eye. The old camera just wasn’t a high enough spec. So, forgive me for showing off a few “artistic” (and other) snaps from the new one! I hope that all the followers of my wee blog got presents that made them equally happy! 🙂

Fresh Eyes and Fresh Air

Having a friend from Sweden staying with me, I ended up busier than ever over the Easter Break; we did so much that it felt more like a month than just 10 days! We looked around Manchester’s clothes shops, vintage shops, restaurants, and bars. We drank at the Cornerhouse, the Port Street Beer House, Odd, and the Soup Kitchen…I’ve probably forgotten a few others. Come to think of it, that’s probably why we didn’t get much time for visiting museums and galleries. Oops. Guess that will have to happen on another trip. But Easter/Spring Break isn’t all about time off when you’re doing a PhD (when is?), so we also spent time writing, discussing methodologies, musing about new and social media, and working on our literature reviews. Including on the coach North: how’s that for dedication? 😉

Being in Manchester, I’d forgotten how much more space Glasgow has; how much greener it is; and how much more striking the monumental architecture. Being with someone who had never seen the place before, the city suddenly seemed new and different to me as well. The Glasgow bus tour (aimed firmly at tourists) takes nearly 2 hours to go full circuit. Passing through George Square, Glasgow Green, St Andrews Square, Kelvin Park and the Riverside, the city reveals itself as multi-faceted and highly diverse. The scenery, the buildings, the sense of a distinct and designated purpose – i.e. the businesses and activities in a certain sector – change quite markedly as you weave your way through them. At the same time there is a consistency of spirit, some sort of commonalities in the population, that make it hang together. It’s always hard to beat the vibrancy and beauty of the West End. Of course, being in Scotland, we crammed in a range of great food and drink – everything from Japanese noodles and Saki to fish and chips and Irn Bru (the latter during a family daytrip to the coast). Later on, we found ourselves chilling out with cocktails at The Hillhead Book Club, then moving on to the Nice N Sleazy’s Open Stage night, full as always of excellent acoustic guitarists.

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Today, I’m back to thinking about work. Hopefully my next post will be about pilot data gathering exercises and my interviews with academics. Those start on Monday, the first being with two of the guys from MIRIAD and I’m really looking forward to getting started after an excellently hectic wee holiday! I’ll also be moving soon to Chorlton, one of Manchester’s most popular suburbs…so watch this space for updates although I can’t promise I’ll be blogging as much as usual!

A Lovely Couple

They do say that Edinburgh can bring out your romantic side. At last night’s Trauma screening (many tears were shed by the audience for David Lynch’s Elephant Man) we were cheered up to discover that, during their Christmas break, Helen and Chris got engaged to be married. Heartfelt congratulations to them both…it’s clear they are very happy. 🙂

Love is in the air...

As an aside: maybe next season’s Trauma could include some appropriately themed films to mark the occasion? There have certainly been a lot of movie brides over the years; with films, heroines  – and dresses – covering almost every genre, emotion, and style. Whether scarydeadly, fantastical, philosophical, comical, politically symbolic, or both ambitious and romantic, cinematic brides usually don’t have an easy time of it. But there’s no doubt that Helen and Chris will have a perfect day out in the real world.