Change and Embodiment

This text was written as part of The Still Point’s ‘Creative Exchange’ which paired artists, from the Slade, with PhD researchers, from UCL and King’s College London, for an exhibition of visual art work and live readings at FAT RELIC. More details can be found on the blog and photographs from the evening are on our Facebook page

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‘Different Kinds of Sameness’, by Dala Nasser

The defiance in Dala’s work, of conventional conceptions of painting, is clear. The inherently altering nature of her work is perhaps not so. Working with liquid latex, resin and pigments, her materials interact both with each other and with the external environment, namely oxygen, to change form and appearance over time. Her work therefore offers the viewer temporally distinct experiences. The experience her work elicits has an added dimension as it is not only the viewer’s subjective temporality that contributes to her aesthetic experience, here the painting itself has a lifespan, a contingent yet fluid development.

My work involves the attempt to add an emotional dimension to theoretical reasoning, a defiance against the false dichotomy between reason and emotion, against most concepts of ‘pure reason’. Science is often thought as a paradigm case of theoretical reasoning. Scientific inquiry is as temporally dependent as Dala’s art works. Changing conceptual paradigms alter how we observe the objects of our inquiry. Time allows the evolution of a completely distinct artwork within the same spatial boundaries. In science, temporal distinction underpins different experiences of the same natural world.

Human sciences, as opposed to experimental sciences, are meant to be characterized by reflexivity, here meaning that the object of study is also the subject conducting the study itself. I am sceptical of how helpful the notion of reflexivity can be in distinguishing human from empirical sciences. Once the nature of our inquiry is accepted as inherently embodied, socially and biologically, room for the powerful role of emotions in abstract thinking, begins to be made.

The products of Dala’s process are pieces that possess intricate physicality. We long to explore her work tactually. This desire is triggered by our emotional responses to the work as emotions are the seat of motivation and preparation for action. The embodied nature of the subject is therefore crucial to the aesthetic experience elicited by the artwork. I take a similar experience to be involved in instances where scientists undergo aesthetic experiences regarding scientific theories or theorems. This experience is inherently emotional, embodied and physical. Detached appreciation is therefore a possibly gendered anachronism or false dogma.

We need to take seriously the question of what role such aesthetic experiences can play in scientific inquiry. This aesthetic, emotional experience motivates the generation of both action and beliefs. Allowing beliefs based on emotions to prove relevant in abstract thinking, as opposed to being vestigial epiphenomena. There is a rationality to emotions that cannot be detached from our nature as embodied, biological beings. Emotions are a way of perceiving, that is crucial to both art and science.

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Photo by Giulia Legora http://giulialegora.com/@Giulyfeels

Laura Silva is in the first year of her PhD at UCL, her research explores the philosophy of emotion. Dala Nasser is currently undergoing her undergraduate studies at UCL’s Slade School of Fine Arts.

The texts from our Creative Exchange will continue to be published on the blog over the coming months. 

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The Secret Autobiography of my PhD #2

Do I contradict myself?bookcase Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

Right now, I do not feel romantic about my PhD. My research does not feel like mining for buried riches or hunting lost promises, but rather like sweatily digging the foundations for a small house that I hope to build some day. (Maybe a bungalow.)

In the first 6 months of working on my PhD I have changed my topic many times. I have written thousands of words that I will most likely not use. I have read books I will probably never need.

I have changed my mind. I have run into walls. I have tripped over my feet. If my PhD is an autobiography, it is proof that I am a work in progress. And that, I slowly realise, is ok.

Ellen Pilsworth is in the first year of her PhD at UCL. She is studying how ideas about social class play out in German public newspapers and folksongs in the period 1750–1810. Follow her on twitter @ellen8989

The Secret Autobiography of my PhD #1

fran

The other week my flatmate stumbled into my bedroom and surveyed the chaos. “Your room is filled with so much paper” she said as she looked in wonder from the books arranged anarchically across the shelves and puzzled together on the desk, to the gatherings of bills and letters, the postcards pinned to the walls, the mind-maps and the folders of work popping with paper-weights. I feel like my life is an increasingly unruly paper trail: paper breeds paper it seems, every book ends with a Borgesian bibliography which propels you towards an infinite library of more books. But my relationship with texts and with stories began before collections of material papers, before bindings. It began with my mother’s voice.

When I was a baby my mother nicknamed me ‘Frantic Fran;’ I seemed to run on an endless supply of hyperactive energy. I didn’t want to sleep and neither did I want my parents to either, so my mother was required to tell me endless stories. Some of these came from books but the stories I remember best of all, the ones I must have requested a hundred times or more, were the autobiographical stories my mother told of her own life. The unrecorded fable and folklore of the anarchic childhood of her and her siblings, the love story of how she and my father came to meet, the adventure stories about her work in Hong Kong as a designer, and eventually, I suppose, her semi-fictionalised accounts of her first child, Frantic Fran. It is in tribute to my mother then that I’m returning to the oral, seeking out the poem as a work of voice and sound, for it is with voice that my love of literature began.

But my project isn’t just about the oral, it is also about the vernacular and a hunt for the peculiarly local and particular languages which help us to recall and preserve our past. This brings me to my own voice and the rootless limbo which my lack of a mappable accent seems to leave me in. I can’t help longing for a voice which might place me.

I grew up with my parents’ Black Country idioms. If the skies were dark and brooding then they’d say, ‘It’s a bit black over Bill’s Mother’s’, and if you’d taken the long way round to get somewhere, they’d say you’d ‘been all around the Wrekin.’ The Wrekin being a large hill with its own Midland’s folklore and oral history and with a name, as I’ve just discovered, which is first mentioned in an Anglo-Saxon charter in 885 (it turns out that my lost vernacular is Old English after all). It took me a long time to realise just how obsessively local these idioms were and that they had no meaning in the topography of my daily life in Hertfordshire, beyond my family. Like the inflections I gave to bath or laugh or grass or even basketball (which had the other children at school in giggles) I soon realised I had no local and linguistic claim to them. I became too self-conscious of my distance to keep them alive in my own speech.

Over the years my accent has erased all traces of geography, place, and locality, it has erased even its heritage.  I have been influenced by my father’s own attempts to neutralise his accent for his work, by the accents of other children at school and the people I grew up with, and by the bland accent-less hinterland of my university days in Cambridge – where everyone’s accent has been provided by their education rather than their hometown. I have lost my vernacular identity.

There is a recording of my lost voice, a recording that is probably lost now too: a redundant cassette tape hidden away somewhere. I’m telling a story, one I had made up, about the rose princess – my accent is in flux, torn between the Black Country trill of my mother’s and the North-London spread of my Hertfordshire displacement. With the long, drawn-out vowels of my hybrid accent, the ‘Rose Princess’ could quite easily be mistaken for a ‘Rogue Princess’, a heroine fallen from grace. In my PhD I’m listening for the voices of irrecoverable recordings, I’m searching for voices from the past. It is with these buried memories and longings that I sit down to do my research and tune my ear to the sounds of Anglo-Saxon vernacular poetry and the resurrection of those sounds in the work of a modern poet – a poet who is also a displaced Welshman and a Celt living, uneasily, with the voice of an Edwardian Cockney.

Francesca Brooks, @frangipancesca

Francesca is in the first year of her PhD at King’s College London, her research looks at ideas of textuality, aurality and oral poetics in Old English manuscripts and the printed poetry of David Jones.

Our editor has been a little cheeky with her words here in order to give you an idea of the brief, but if you’d like to send us ‘The Secret Autobiography’ of your PhD please send 100 words to blog@thestillpointjournal.com along with a short sentence about your research.