Tag Archive for 'Out & About'

Dislocation and the Aftermath

The Art Exchange in Nottingham are showing two excellent exhibitions this weekend. The first is Fighting Walls – Street Art in Egypt and Iran, which explores how urban art is used to challenge the perceptions of the people of these authoritarian cities. “Tehran and Cairo are largely dominated by state ideological narratives,” though in recent years “a new generation of politically engaged graffiti artists have started a relentless battle for reclaiming ownership of the street.”

The images are striking and provoking, both in the context of the streets that they have been painted, but also in the context of the gallery space, where they are shown simply as photographic prints that are pasted to the concrete walls of the exhibition room, taking away that feeling of separation that normally accompanies art-works on a gallery wall.

[See image gallery at robwatsonmedia.net]

The second exhibition is the work of Jimmy Cauty, and consists of a full-size storage container that is fitted with peep-holes, enabling the visitor to find out what is inside. The Aftermath Dislocation Principle consists of a post-riot scene in which police officers in fluorescent jackets are the only remaining people. The views that the peep-holes give us are selective views of a model that represents an urban British cityscape in the midst of civil unrest and a violent meltdown.

The views that the peep-holes give us are selective views of a model that represents an urban British cityscape in the midst of civil unrest and a violent meltdown. The riot has moved on, and its effects are felt and recorded in the miniature scenes being played out.

It’s an interesting dynamic between the two sets of work. On the one hand, the street art depicts a series of  provocative interventions into a reality that  is defined in stone and concrete walls, while on the other hand, The Aftermath depicts only the traces of the riot and its signs, showing only the traces of the act and not the act itself.

Both works are literally fascinating as they test the viewer to accommodate the shifts and changes in perception that they represent. Jimmy Cauty gave a talk about the origins of the piece and how the process of collaboration has been incorporated into its production.

Both are invigorating, catch them when you can.

This Year’s Teaching So Far…

I’ve escaped from Leicester for a couple of days to take a break over the weekend and recharge my batteries. Rather like Superman when he stands in the suns glare, I will head towards the River Mersey and stand at the Pier Head and take in the spray of salt water, the cold wind whipping off the Irish Sea, and contemplate the slate grey sky that forms the backdrop to the Liverpool seafront.

I’ve been enjoying running my modules this year, and have settled into the themes with more confidence, as I’ve been able to develop them and add content that is more to my liking and my tastes. It’s a challenge to run three modules simultaneously, and to refresh the content as I go along. ‘It’s doing the working and the thinking that tires a fellow out!’ Now where did I hear that?

One of the things I’ve introduced to my first year social media module is getting the students to play cards for the first twenty minutes. It’s been useful for a couple of reasons. Firstly it means that the learners are able to sit and chat and get to know one another more easily, as the groups vary each week, and they often teach each other different games. Some students have played cards with their families and friends for years, while others are new to them. What I hope they are gaining from having a couple of short hands of either Pontoon, Rummy, Blackjack or Bullshit, is a sense of sociability and a sense of collaboration while engaging in something that is playful and distracting.

I always introduce a topic of suggested conversation related to the lectures I’ve delivered, and as we’ve been finding our way into thinking about media and the process of mediation through bands like The Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Roxy Music and The Art of Noise, then we’ve been discussing how art has often been closely associated with pop culture. So we’ve mentioned Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton, and Italian Futurists – anything that connects the world of popular music with the world of ideas, alternative ways of viewing the world. I’m hoping that by looking back on some music movements of the past, these students might be inspired to create something for themselves. I wonder if any of them will form a band, or write a manifesto?

Likewise, I’m developing an introductory module to Community Media, which is something that has emerged from the ongoing PhD work. It’s a bit like building the railway line as the train is moving down the tracks. There’s a lot of trying things out and looking for live wires that can be used as a contrasting example between mainstream media, and community media’s more DIY and alternative approach. The students have hit on the idea quite quickly that community media is about giving a platform and a space for people who would otherwise not have a voice to speak and be heard.

We are experimenting with a story about people cycling on the pavement, and looking at how mainstream media in Leicester have covered it, and how alternative and independent media might look at this as a story. We’ll write blogs about it, perhaps put a news article together based on what we find out, and record a podcast based on the ideas and responses that can be collected and found when we talk with our friends and neighbours.

I’ve also been developing the final year social media module, that has taken the excessive use of sugar in our diets as a campaign issue, and is looking at ways that social media might be used to change peoples attitudes to the processed foods that we over-consume as a society. Our efforts where given a good kick this week when Keith Vaz MP told Coca Cola that their Christmas lorry wasn’t welcome in Leicester. This is a story that has stirred up a lot of controversy and has generated loads of comments on social media, and is a great example of how embedded attitudes to a consumer product and brand can be difficult to shift and change.

We are only at the end of week five, and there is some considerable way to go with these modules, with lots of marking and assignments to come in. So I’m going to use the week six reading week as an opportunity to get some reading done myself, start some marking, and maybe get ahead in preparing some classes, while also seeing if I can work through some of my PhD chapters that need writing. So no rest then, but at least I’m not on the hamster wheel for a couple of days.

Selfie Help

I think I need some help to learn how to take selfies. I’m rubbish. My glasses are wonky, the light is reflecting in them, I can’t smile naturally, and getting the angle right is a pain. Who would have thought that taking selfies requires so much skill in self-presentation, camera work and photo-editing? Perhaps I can sign-up for a course?

A Big Chunk of Writing Coming-Up

Over this spring and summer I’m going to be spending a lot of time writing for my PhD. I’m hoping to have a good chunk of a working draft competed by September. So it’s going to be head-down to the grindstone and a lot of sitting in one place trying desperately not to prevaricate and to avoid distractions.

Writing like this is always something of an isolated process, with a lot of time spent away from friends and colleagues, actively ignoring emails and messages. I’m thinking about suspending my Facebook profile for the duration and leaving Twitter alone for a while – though I doubt I’ll be able to withdraw myself for that long.

The alternative is to set a target to ration my access to social media, developing a strategy to reward myself with micro-bursts of online activity. My main concern is my ability to stay away from online news sites. I can easily waste a couple of hours reading newspaper columnists and stories. And then there is Netflix and Amazon Prime. The world of online movies and TV is too easy to engage with, and before you know it you’ve watched the entire set of The West Wing or Star Trek The Next Generation – again!

The hardest part is going to be ignoring friends. The pleasure of meeting for a coffee and passing the time, scheming, plotting and reflecting is so much more pleasant than sitting in a room struggling to find words that match the data I’m supposed to be analysing. But it has to be done. My plan is to limit social interaction to Monday evenings and the excellent St Martins Coffee quiz, and Saturdays, which is a good day to get out of Leicester and go and look at some exhibitions, or go for a walk.

Any organisations that I’m supporting or volunteering for is going to have to be put on hold until at least September. So no getting involved with committees or management groups, no meeting sponsors or funding bodies, no plotting to set anything up. Not until I’ve completed a good version of my document at least.

Then there is life at De Montfort University. For some time I’m going to be away from the office, trying to balance my marking with my research work. My leave is going to be largely dedicated to working this year – though some family commitments are pencilled in as a balance to the weeks that I will be spending at my desk.

If you don’t hear from me in the coming weeks, and you find I’m more difficult to get hold of, please don’t get vexed. I’ll be putting my out-of-office message on, but I’ll keep an eye on my emails all the same, just in case. Though I’ll probably limit the time I take to read and reply to first thing each morning.

Wish me luck over the coming months. I’m gearing up to ploughing on with this and submitting before the year is out.