Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Art History’s ‘Wriggle and Chiffon’ Fashion Movement

When I worked in Trafalgar Square in London, I loved to visit the National Portrait Gallery. In the 1990s I remember working my way through its floors. I did one floor per week. It was a walk through history in terms of portraiture. At the time my favourite portrait was Giovanni Boldini’s Gertrude Elizabeth (née Blood), Lady Colin Campbell (1894) (below). She was an art critic, journalist and socialite and had a troubled marriage, plus much scandal surrounding her (mostly of a misogynist nature, it seems). I like this portrait as I think there is something defiant in her gaze.

This short post is a quick look at the way the chiffon is represented in these paintings and the effect I think it has on the subject of the painting: the women in these portraits. It is a style coined by Walter Richard Sickert: ‘wriggle and chiffon’.


Boldini was also known as ‘the master of swish’ which clearly lends itself to the movement in the chiffon, the ‘wriggle’ side of it clearly making reference to the female body that resides within it, although I am guessing that Sickert isn’t using this term in a positive way at all. There is something of an ‘illustration’ style to Boldini’s portrait, which makes it somehow familiar to us. You might expect to see this in a magazine rather than on the wall of a stately home.


While the above image is from many years later (late 1930s), and is a design illustration rather than an oil painting, you can get a bit of a flavour of what I mean. In Boldini's painting the dress is a pretty important component of the image. One might say that is the subject of the painting. However, I see the dress rather more as a vehicle to help represent the subject of the painting (Lady Colin Campbell, herself).

Also, of the ‘wriggle and chiffon’ moment is John Singer Sargent. Below is his portrait Lady Speyer (1907). He was also put under scrutiny by critics, with Roger Fry stating that it was a surprise that his work had been “confused with that of an artist”.


I think these critics, in their disregard of this moment in the representation of women’s dress in portraiture, have missed the point entirely. The painterly way the brushstrokes free the chiffon - indeed its ‘wriggle’ when it comes to life when being worn by the subject of the portrait – is what gives life to the image and the wearer of the dress!

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fashion!: 'What academics put on their office doors (and why)'


I read this article in Times Higher Education magazine - 'What academics put on their office doors (and why)':

"Lecturers who fancy themselves as creative types adorn their doors, any available pinboards and wall space with exhibition posters, their own artwork and a studio-standard black and white image of themselves. Or the very, very important scholars, who advertise their books, provide copies of their journal articles in a special door-pocket, and may find a moustache has been drawn on their impressive visage glowering full-size from a finely framed photo” 

...and I have created my first door notice (above) for when I start at the Manchester Fashion Institute on Monday 18th June!

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Merlin Coverley’s ‘Psychogeography’ – Revised & Updated Edition


I have been reading Merlin Coverley’s revised edition of Psychogeography, first published in 2006. This new edition, with a lovely green cover (2018), has an updated information, a new preface and appendix, and a much updated ‘Psychogeography Today’ section, which also includes Nick Papadimitriou’s Deep Topography.

When I first got into psychogeography in 2009, this was ‘the bible’ of psychogeography and I think it still is. It was my first psychogeography book, followed swiftly by Will Self’s Psychogeography (2007). I always recommend Coverley’s books to my students as an intro to the subject (now alongside Walking Inside Out, of course, however that wasn’t available till 2015).

I think Coverley’s revised edition signals the current popularity of psychogeography, its latest phase, its contemporary resurgence, its newest incarnation/interpretation... Maybe this new edition also acknowledges the ‘New Psychogeography’ that I mooted in Walking Inside Out. Either way, I’ve really enjoyed revisiting it and would highly recommend it to anyone as an intro to the subject, or as a top-up if you haven’t read the original for a few years, like myself...

Saturday, 4 August 2018

A Visit to Alexandra Park


It transpires that my local park, Alexandra Park in Manchester, is only about 10 mins walk from my house, so I trotted off there today to check it out.


This lovely lodge (designed by Alfred Darbyshire) is gothic-inspired, as you can see, and this Victorian park is known as 'The People's Park'. There were lots of people about - playing table tennis, walking their dogs, watching cricket, visiting the car boot sale, and just moseying on down in the sun - so it was true to its name!


There was a big flagpole (not pictured as it was a bit boring) and this drinking fountain, which I got a quick snap of when the young woman wasn't looking.


One of the most exciting things was seeing these lovely terrapins(?) which some young girls had spotted on the log. They were telling me that there was a spot around the corner of the pond where lots of them often hang out. They seemed to know a lot about them and I was pleased to see their enthusiasm about the natural world. This is the best photo I could get on my phone, as I had to zoom in quite a bit. The two on the right were smaller than the other one, and I wondered if they were the babies of the larger one. The one on the far right lifted his leg up from time to time - maybe he was trying to get good sun coverage, or perhaps the wood was too hot for his tiny feet.


I spent a nice couple of hours there and will definitely go back. The car boot sale wasn't too good, however I think they have gone downhill since their heyday in the 1980s. There was so much 'tat' there. Some of the stuff was being sold for way more than you would pay in a charity shop and a lot of it was only worthy of landfill.

I had a coffee in the cafe (the old pavilion) and watched the cricket for a while, then wandered back home to the existential degu...


Wednesday, 18 July 2018

'Concrete, Crows and Calluses' - Alternative Covers


I was putting some images into frames for my desk in my new office at work the other day and, while I was looking for the digital cover of Concrete, Crows and Calluses to frame, I came across a number of different covers I had experimented with when working on the cover design. So, I've loaded them up below as I think they are interesting.

While the one I finally settled on is probably more 'aesthetically pleasing' it doesn't have the psychogeographical grittiness of the three that I rejected. However, the one I chose did actually become a talking point as it's an interesting derelict building in Armley, Leeds (that I call The Water Shed) which was also painted by Judy Tucker. Anyway, here are the images. The last is the final one, but the other 3 - probably more edgy, or at least more quotidien - were also considered. In a way, I actually now prefer the first two for their suburban ordinariness..








Friday, 8 June 2018

'Gudbuy T'Leeds': A Teeny Tiny Psychogeographical Goodbye to the University of Leeds

This is a very short film of my last wander on campus, saying goodbye to some of the places there. The title of the blog is a nod to Slade's 1972 single 'Gudbuy T'Jane', for those of you who can remember it. My trip was aided by Rob from Engineering, who you will briefly see in the film.

I'm off to the Manchester Fashion Institute at MMU now!

Click here for the film: Gudbuy T'Leeds




Saturday, 26 May 2018

Freud’s Kettle Logic


Sigmund Freud uses his ‘kettle logic’ in his discussion in The Interpretation of Dream [1899], as part of his analysis of Irma’s Injection Dream. I remember studying this dream as an undergraduate in my ‘Reading Freud Reading’ module. It’s a fascinating dream, not least because it is Freud’s own dream and involves Freud and is friend and colleague Otto Rank, as well as Irma, of course.

Before I go onto the kettle logic aspect of the dream (which appears in the chapter ‘The Method of Dream Interpretation’), I will post the full dream in order to get to the kettle section, which is near the end. Irma was originally Rank’s patient, but was referred to Freud by Rank. This is Freud's dream:

A large hall—numerous guests, whom we were receiving—among them was Irma. I at once took her on one side, as though to answer her letter and to reproach her for not having accepted my ‘solution’ yet. I said to her: ‘If you still get pains, it’s really only your fault.’ She replied: ‘If you only knew what pains I’ve got now in my throat and stomach and abdomen—it’s choking me’—I was alarmed and looked at her. She looked pale and puffy. I thought to myself that after all I must be missing some organic trouble. I took her to the window and looked down her throat, and she showed signs of recalcitrance, like women with artificial dentures. I thought to myself that there was really no need for her to do that.—She then opened her mouth properly and on the right I found a big white1 patch; at another place I saw extensive whitish grey scabs upon some remarkable curly structures which were evidently modelled on the turbinal bones of the nose.—I at once called in Dr. M., and he repeated the examination and confirmed it. . . . Dr. M. looked quite different from usual; he was very pale, he walked with a limp and his chin was clean-shaven. . . . My friend Otto was now standing beside her as well, and my friend Leopold was percussing her through her bodice and saying: ‘She has a dull area low down on the left.’ He also indicated that a portion of the skin on the left shoulder was infiltrated. (I noticed this, just as he did, in spite of her dress.) . . . M. said: ‘There’s no doubt it’s an infection, but no matter; dysentery will supervene and the toxin will be eliminated.’ . . . We were directly aware, too, of the origin of her infection. Not long before, when she was feeling unwell, my friend Otto had given her an injection of a preparation of propyl, propyls . . . propionic acid . . . trimethylamin (and I saw before me the formula for this printed in heavy type). . . . Injections of that sort ought not to be made so thoughtlessly. . . . And probably the syringe had not been clean.

I won’t go into the analysis here (it’s not a long analysis and is really interesting, so I would recommend it), except to say I did always wondered why Freud ‘missed a trick’ on occasions in his analysis of his own dream (although he somewhat covers himself for that in the conclusion to his analysis – see below). I remember asking my undergraduate lecturer why Freud didn’t question the dynamics of his own relationship with Rank more, in regard to how it was played out in the dream, which I thought might have reflected some degree of competition between the two of them (however, since Rank deferred to Freud here in referring Irma, maybe Freud saw no competition, perhaps seeing himself as the superior of the two). Interestingly, Freud does acknowledge the competition between Rank and another psychoanalyst that he mentions in the dream analysis, Leopold. I also thought that the injection itself was an Oedipal symbol (given in the mouth of Irma by Rank), which Freud also seemed to overlook in this regard, analysing it in relation to another friend of his who took cocaine via injection and also reproaching Rank, later, for giving injections too readily.


So, onto the kettle logic...

In his summary, Freud acknowledges the contradictions in his dream, which he says “unite in acquitting me” and “do not agree with one another”. Providing his kettle logic analogy, he attempts to explain how these contradictions work when one is defending oneself, but also contradicting oneself at the same time, putting into question what the reality of the situation really is. In regard to the dream story (the latent aspect of the dream), Freud believes that contradictory dream elements often appear simultaneously:

The whole plea—for the dream was nothing else—reminded one vividly of the defence put forward by the man who was charged by one of his neighbours with having given him back a borrowed kettle in a damaged condition. The defendant asserted first, that he had given it back undamaged; secondly, that the kettle had a hole in it when he borrowed it; and thirdly, that he had never borrowed a kettle from his neighbour at all.

I think we can probably all recount examples of others (maybe even ourselves) in an argument, ‘grasping at straws’ in order to acquit themselves and throwing out contradictions at every turn. In this regard I see it as an overdetermination inasmuch as multiple elements all point to one cause, which never appears in the contradictory list of defences. And for our kettle ‘thief’, the returned/damaged/never-borrowed kettle all point towards one cause, a stolen kettle!