Untitled: A Collaboration Between James Fisher and Mircea Teleaga

The following was written in collaboration by James Fisher and Mircea Teleagă after a couple of meetings and many emails. James is a PhD student in the Department of History at King’s College London. Mircea is an MA student in Painting at the Slade School of Fine Art. You can find Mircea’s work here: http://mirceateleaga.com/en 

I am playing a game of response. I have always been playing it but I was not always aware. Each response is always concrete and particular. Each one is a deliberate provocation. So I respond again.

Oil on Canvas by Mircea Teleagă.
Oil on Canvas by Mircea Teleagă.

It’s a game of chess with myself where I try to catch myself out. I try to think ahead of myself; I try to think against myself. But perhaps if I don’t think at all I might surprise myself and make something. The trick is to completely trust myself. I leave the room and leave myself to act in my place. I trust that when I come back I will be pleased with what I see. I trust that I will have new eyes to see it.

Or I train my limbs to know their way in the dark. I only need to be brave enough to turn the lights off, or wait for the night. I do something first, then discover what I have done when the light returns. It is then that I realise how similar the darkness and the details are. In this game the blind man is king.

The details are essential. They say this thing is not the same as that thing. They induce complexity and sensitise us to difference. They build the steep slope of Sisyphus upon a smooth well-lit highway. They mock all my own categories. They humiliate my attempts to theorise. They say it is an insult to claim the mind needs categories to understand. They are anarchic. They infest and destroy categories like bacteria eating away at a large mammal. They remind us that when the mind grasps anything through a category, it kills it. Like nailing butterflies to wood. Labels are anathema. Panta rhei (everything flows).

Oil on Canvas by Mircea Teleagă.
Oil on Canvas by Mircea Teleagă.

So I aim to be an organ of digestion, where these details multiply and mutate. I become a filter that is always being filtered, perpetually undergoing change according to what does or does not come in. Everything I have ever done, seen, heard, felt, or tasted. Every experience, direct or vicarious. All of it enters and is transformed. Even if it is completely rejected, the act of rejection alters me. These are all my footnotes.

I do not make things. I simply leave deposits, a by-product of my own cultivation. These deposits mirror me. They build upon themselves like weather, developing from within and every part shifting with every other. They spiral like a wild rock formation, growing without erasure; becoming a monument to itself.

Oil on Canvas by Mircea Teleagă.
Oil on Canvas by Mircea Teleagă.

I do not ask why. This simply happens because it is embedded within me. I see the deposits as an extension of my self. I am not interested in the reason they exist, any more than the reason my self exists. I am only interested in the effect they have. Purpose over reason.

I am not playing this game alone. My game is part of a larger set of games. I filter the deposits of others and they filter mine. We are all sculpting the same bit of clay.

Oil on Canvas by Mircea Teleagă.
Oil on Canvas by Mircea Teleagă.

I do not ask how it started. I just respond again.

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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Out of the mind and onto the page: a critical examination of personal thought in the literary public sphere. 

Private faces in public places
Are wiser and nicer
Than public faces in private places
W.H. Auden
(1932)

I dislike the sound of the title already. Does it make me sound unappealing to the core? Have I become a Creative Writing cliché? I ask myself these questions for I live in an era of extreme self-awareness. The birth of the selfie, the Tinder pandemic, and the superficial allure of counterculture all lead me to realise that today’s society cares so much about the surface. Our stock stereotypes rely on the assumption that our physical appearance represents our internal ideal; businesswomen wear cruel heels and suits because they are sharp, serious, and driven, whereas artists wear smocks and spectacles because they are a diverse band of individuals (ahem). People use their exterior as a way of expressing their interior, but only the interior they desire everybody else to see. I used to find comfort in the idea that words could be free from this culture of shallow scrutiny, as they require a semantic understanding before they can be judged, and had hoped they would therefore survive as the most honest portrait of life. 

Unfortunately, however, I now realise even the sanctity of writing is not immune to social pressure. Continue reading

‘Omit Needless Things’

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When I was fifteen years old, I was tired of waiting around for my Dad to find the right weekend. During Spring half term, I rolled up my sleeves, tore down the pages of the NME that adorned my walls, and painted my earnestly floral bedroom chalk white. The gig tickets and photos that were plastered everywhere were carefully tucked away in scrapbooks and wood drawers, and I arranged my clothes into colour order, and band t-shirts into order of preference, with AFI first. AFI were always first. Though this was procrastination at its purest (which I’ve never really grown out of), as I inhaled the fresh air through my curtains, I knew I could handle my looming GCSEs from this place of newfound clutter-free serenity. And I did.

Ten years later, I’ve been somewhat seduced by the minimalist movement again. There’s something about all those white, peaceful, Scandinavian Instagram feeds that has really captured my imagination; those tiny squares on my phone somehow conveying that glorious sense of space. While so many of us may fall in love with the minimalist aesthetic, however, it can be a little hard to live it. Who are we, if nothing else, without our stuff?

For a PhD student, one might argue that the constant budgeting and moving from overpriced London bedroom to overpriced London bedroom prepares us for the minimalist lifestyle rather beautifully.  One doesn’t, however, tend to factor in the inextricable clutter of the Arts & Humanities researcher: books. Though my books have recently undergone a 3am colour-ordering session to fit in with my rejuvenated bedroom, they are still everywhere, and will likely remain so. I leave a paper trail wherever I go; so far, not so minimal. But minimalism isn’t merely an aesthetic; it’s an approach, and an approach us new researchers might benefit from.

In William Strunk Jr.’s classic treatise on minimalism, The Elements of Style, he offers young writers his golden rule: ‘Omit needless words’. This is not that all sentences are short and mundane, but that ‘every word tell’; we all apply this rule in our feverish editing of essays that have found themselves miles past the word count. But perhaps we might swap ‘words’ for ‘things’, and widen the realm of possibility for this principle, taking the unnecessary clutter out of our lives and away from our research. If we keep what is necessary to our work and our happiness, and omit those drains on our energy that are not, surely our research can only improve. Minimalism, to the PhD student, isn’t only a neat, tidy and white workspace; it’s learning to say no to seven conferences and three undergraduate classes. It’s identifying where your time needs to be spent, uncurling those shoulders from eight hours of solid work to have a look around you. It’s also having a good clear-out, seeing what you can sell on eBay to bump up that funding packet, because every little helps.

Minimalism is not having or doing as little as possible; it’s knowing that everything you have or do counts. So I’m striking a couple of things off of my ever-growing ‘to do’ list, paring back on my aims for the week to focus on my writing and give myself space to breathe. Time to dream and sit quietly with a hot drink fall under the category of ‘necessary’ to me; the dangerous glorification of ‘busy’ is everywhere, especially in this strange world of academia. By omitting what is needless, our work can become clearer and more purposeful, and our sense of wellbeing might even defy all the horror-stories of PhDs past.

I’m keeping my books, though. They will remain necessary in their white bookcases, bathed in natural light and the perfect Instagram filter.

Sinéad Kennedy Krebs is a first year PhD student in the Department of English at King’s College London. Her research examines the cultural legacies of the Great War in Ireland. Follow her @sineadkk, or head to sageolympia.blogspot.com

What We Talk About When We Talk About Death

Sarah Boulton Correspondence with JM

Correspondence between Sarah Boulton and James Morland

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 onthe blog and photographs from the evening are on our Facebook page

I am the supposed translator of conversations spanning centuries,
Witnessing poets combatting poets:

A first century exclamation responded to from an eighteenth-century graveyard:

[…] death to us, and deaths anxiety,
Is less than nothing, is a less could be.
For then our Atoms, which in order lay,
Are scatter’d from their heap, and puff’d away,
And never can return into their place,
When once the pause of Life has left an empty space. [Lucretius]

………………

If death were nothing, and nought after death,
If when men died, at once they ceas’d to be,
Returning to the barren womb of nothing,
Whence first they sprung!  Then might the debauchee
Untrembling mouth the Heavens; then might the drunkard
Reel over his full bowl, and when ‘tis drain’d
Fill up another to the brim, and laugh
At the poor bugbear Death [Blair]

I decode this ‘death-talk’:
This is a language game congregating around nothing,
Writing on the timeless and unresolvable.

In attempts to make something, I separate my clauses with the trusty colon:
Conning myself into thinking I have some sort of order:

DEATH-TALK: PHILOSOPHICAL DISCUSSIONS

THE DARKNESS OF THE GRAVE: NIGHT AND THE SENSES IN THE GRAVEYARD

SHUDDERING ON THE BRINK: THE EXTREMES OF NOTHING

But thinking of this nothing, it is me, not the poet, who shudders on the brink:

Procrastination is the thief of time;
Year after year it steals, till all are fled,
And to the mercies of a moment leaves
The vast concerns of an eternal scene. [Young]

The poets mock my academic practice,
Instead of leading to a solution, they taunt me, as together:

We sigh; and while
We sigh, we sink; and are what we deplored;
Lamenting, or Lamented all our Lot! [Young]

all the magnanimity of Thought
Resolves; and re-resolves; then dies the same [Young]

This is my death song:
To write of death is the thief of life,
Hours spent writing nothing about ‘nothing’.

My writing is about the poetry and emulates its futile ambitions;
The poets’ straining to see around the corner to their own death mimics my academic composition,
Our words are like the first century atoms that caused this whole project to arise:
An endless cycle of regeneration, a stream of chance encounters where some hit and many miss.

In writing on a nocturne darkness where men ‘see not all clear’ [Vaughan],
I instead quote the camera obscura, as a ‘darkened room’,
Referring to the stanza, as a ‘capacious dwelling, a receptacle’.
Returning to semantics to interpret a physical something from their poetic nothingness.

In thinking of death, then, we must relate it to something. It becomes images and myth:

The knell, the shroud, the mattock, and the grave;
The deep damp vault, the darkness, and the worm;
These are the bugbears of a winter’s eve,
The terrors of the living, not the dead.
Imagination’s fool, and error’s wretch,
Man makes a death, which nature never made;
Then on the point of his own fancy falls;
And feels a thousand deaths, in fearing one. [Young]

So in talking about death, I must document this cycle of centuries:
death has become something from a sublime sense of nothing through the fool and error of an imagination. It should instead be seen as nothing by the dissolution of something:

Therefore death is nothing to us, it matters not one jot, since the nature of the mind is understood to be mortal.  [Lucretius]

When I talk about death I resolve, and re-resolve about the vast concerns of something and nothing.

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‘Spiderboy’ videowork by Sarah Boulton installed at FAT RELIC, photo by Giulia Legora

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James reading his piece at the Creative Exchange, photo by Giulia Legora

James Morland is a first year PhD student in the English department at KCL, researching the changing interactions with Lucretius and Epicurean philosophy in eighteenth-century poetry. After spending a year in art school, James has spent the past few years studying English literature, though constantly tries to find ways to tie together the academic and visually creative sides of his thinking. Follow him @jameswmorland

Sarah Boulton is a student at the Slade. She is currently working with [including]: diamond doves, relationships, verbs, internal parts, live editing, light videos, friends and words (talking). http://saraboulton.tumblr.com/

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. 

A Guide for New PhD Students

ian-book

Start the video.

Here is how to begin. Fill a fresh notepad with calming notes to yourself such as “how the hell do I even start this thing” and “this might all be a terrible mistake”.

This is the grey, sinister building that you will only ever enter late and panicked and sweating. Use your time in the lift efficiently by regretting your complete inability to manage basic aspects of day-to-day life.

Here is how to forget your purpose with unsettling frequency and stutter around in a mute stupor for weeks on end. Always remember to take sensible breaks while you stutter around in a mute stupor for weeks on end.

Here is how to structure the formless shadow of your half-remembered thoughts into a clear and achievable chapter outline, indicating the anticipated word count for each reckless and inexplicable tangent.

Here is how to feign interest in your own best ideas long enough to write them down.

Here is how to optimise the ergonomics of your desk to help you maintain control during unscheduled emotional convulsions provoked by some insignificant thing that may or may not have recently occurred.

This is a chart developed by experts to help you organise your throbbing obsession into regular study blocks. This is how to forget about the individualised chart you made after devoting what everyone would agree to be an unhealthy level of attention on the column widths. You’ll quickly learn how to stare incomprehensibly at the chart every now and then during the feverish midnight hours.

Here is how to keep your spirits up and persevere in exploring all the available options with an impressive pragmatism as your shitty laptop slips indifferently into some kind of electric coma.

Here is a little bench on a nameless road that you can sit at for almost two hours until lunchtime is definitely, undeniably over but you don’t have the slightest clue of what to do when you go back or even where to go.

Here is how to avoid ever discussing the three-and-a-half hours you spent colouring in the elaborate detail of your mind-map’s inappropriate and miserable centrepiece.

Here is a great place to relax and ache quietly with self-doubt in an atmosphere of academic excellence.

We hope you found this useful.


James Fisher is a PhD candidate at Kings College London. Follow @JamDanFish

Call for Submissions: Aesthesis

 

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Aesthesis invites LAHP-funded doctoral candidates to submit artworks that creatively reinterpret their PhD thesis in a non-textual form.

 Submissions can take any form that can be displayed in a gallery space – be it painting, sculpture, digital image, photograph, film, recorded theatre or dance performance, sound recording, installation, &c. Entries should be accompanied by a short description (200-300 words) on the author’s research, and how the artwork reinterprets or relates to it. The artwork could be related to the content or methodology of the PhD, or related ideas and practices more broadly construed.

 Submitted projects will be showcased in an exhibition at the end of the summer term 2015. A panel of judges will award prizes (for example Tate membership and National Art Pass) to the winning entry and runners up.

 The project aims to explore the ways that the complexity of doctoral theses can be captured in forms that are not straightforwardly textual. We hope to encourage LAHP students to think about their projects in radically different ways, consider their ideas in a fresh light, and explore how to capture the minds of a non-specialist public, as well as create beautiful artworks.

 If you’re interested in taking part or have any questions, please get in touch:

aesthesis.lahp@gmail.com.

Deadline for submissions is 15 May 2015.

Sound Series #1

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What can you hear at this very moment? As you continue to read concentrate not on my words but on the sounds around you. Can you hear the clattering of cutlery, the clink of glasses or the tapping of a computer keyboard? Is there a clamour of voices, indistinct and murmuring? Or does one voice drift into focus craving dominance on your ear?

Are you listening?

As you focus, your ear will switch between volumes and pitches, between natural and artificial sound: you are identifying your very own soundscape. As I sit mulling over what should be written down, my own soundscape has become internalised. Fading in and out of recognition depending on my own focus. Cars rumble past my house and my single glazed windows shake with the force. Keys clatter, footsteps thud the stairs as life goes on below my room. Builders are drilling the ground outside.

Are you still listening?

As you focus on digesting my soundscape in your imagination, your mind will have inevitably tuned out the murmuring din happening around you. But you are not perceiving silence. The noise has not stopped but remained, buzzing away in the background. What can you hear now?

Are you listening?

Charlotte Rudman is a first year PhD student in the Department of English at King’s College London whose research focuses on sound and sound representations in Medieval dream vision poetry.  Follow her @charrud

The Still Point at Fat Relic: Creative Exchange between artists and researchers

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The Still Point presents an evening of creative exchange between artists and researchers at Fat Relic. Join us on Monday the 27th April for an exhibition of visual work and live readings over drinks.

Over the course of a month artists from the Slade School of Art and Central Saint Martins, and PhD Researchers from UCL, King’s College London and the Bartlett, have been working collaboratively in a series of partnerships. The aim of the creative exchange has been to encourage PhD students to engage with their research in creative and experimental ways, whilst also giving the artists a chance to develop their practice reciprocally by investigating new ideas and alternative ways of seeing.

The event on the 27th April will showcase the results of these collaborations. The event hopes to tease out the similarities between the kinds of rich thinking and exploration we do as researchers and as visual artists, and to interrogate the very notions of ‘art writing’ and of ‘academic style,’ by blurring the boundaries and bending the rules.

Work and readings from Mircea Teleaga and James Fisher, Maud Craigie and Polly Mitchell, Maxima Smith and Penny Newell, Sarah Boulton and James Morland, Dala Nasser and Laura Silva.

For more details see our Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/921737127878443/permalink/921749897877166/

Or view the listing on Art Rabbit: https://www.artrabbit.com/events/the-still-point-journal-creative-exchange

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