CAITLIN ROWLEY
composer

The deep sea of ignorance

Three weeks ago I started my PhD. I knew that there’d come a point when I felt adrift on a sea of ignorance, but frankly I hadn’t expected it to happen quite so soon! I think all research projects go through this stage. You start out, full of eagerness and anticipation, reading everything in sight, you start to develop some ideas and then – BAM – confusion and disorientation. And somehow I’ve reached this point within a mere three weeks of part-time study.

To be perfectly clear, I actually don’t mind this. This sea of ignorance thing is just fine by me – I usually find that it’s a moment where so many possibilities have opened up that it’s hard to pick a direction and while it’s a bit daunting, it’s also very exciting. Especially given that I’ve got the time to pursue these different directions, which is something I need to keep reminding myself of. In previous research projects, time limitations have meant that while I’ve enjoyed the research process, there’s also been an underlying sense of panic that I might not get through everything I want to. I’ll probably still not get through everything I want to, but at this point I have the time to explore these different avenues and decide whether to pursue them further.

So while I don’t have any particular topic to talk about today, I think it might be useful to drivel on a bit about all the different things that are rattling round in my brain at the moment:

  • Having discovered that when I talk about art, the terms I use are actually music terms, I’m investigating the art-meanings of words like ‘gesture’ and ‘space’ which is actually kind of blowing my mind and making me look at all the things I do in a whole new way
  • I’m reading Allan Kaprow’s Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life, which is fascinating and one of the best-written books I’ve read in a long, long time. Beautiful use of language + interesting content = reading-nirvana
  • I’m carrying on with reading Anselm Kiefer’s Notebooks, Vol. 1, which I’m enjoying but not finding it as enlightening as I’d expected to. I’ve also read a number of interviews with him and while I’m finding much in there that reinforces my existing interests, I’m not really seeing anything that’s opening up new paths in the way that the Richard Long research did at every turn. Possibly it’s just that I’ve matured as an artist since first looking at Long, possibly it’s just that what I have from Kiefer isn’t connecting as well with my thinking, but at the moment it’s looking like the Kiefer aspect of the original project1. may be dissolving away to be a sideline rather than the project’s focus
  • Most of what I’m currently looking at is art-based, which feels a little unbalanced but is also clearly the deep-sea trench of ignorance for me right now. It’s catch-up time, really. So I’m attempting to redress this imbalance by developing ideas for the cello piece further and thinking about some fixed-media stuff I could work on in the interim. For a while I’ve had this idea to include visual & audio elements from the composition process within the finished work, so I’ve been working through some ideas on how to do this – how to deal with the circularity of the concept and also how I feel about the necessarily artificial nature of presenting my creative process in this way, given that it’s not possible to display the entirety of what goes into a piece, and what role the curating of the process will play. Also how to draw links between this material and the material which results from the process so that the relationship between them is strong and it’s not just a piece with some background stuff layered over it.
  • In relation to that, thinking about ways of documenting my process: photographs, having a permanent setup to video myself working, video up close and centred on the work, video that considers the space in which I work too (this one goes back to point 1 and considering how artists define ‘space’), recording sounds, drawing diagrams, perhaps? I suspect I’m going to need to be a lot more structured about how I record work on a daily basis if I’m going to go through with this. I also suspect I’m going to need to buy a simply massive external hard-drive to store all this stuff… Possibly a new scanner too, given that mine seems to be refusing to scan anything.
  • Reading really is very time-consuming, isn’t it? I’m not a particularly slow reader, but to read something, really understand it, and then contemplate how it may or may not apply to one’s creative work really takes a frustratingly long time. I never noticed this before. Possibly this has something to do with everything I read and every conversation adding another 15 items to my want-to-read pile…

1. return The title of my proposal is “Questioning the division of ‘public’ and ‘private’ creative spaces through an interdisciplinary approach to composition derived from a performative interpretation of visual art processes” where Kiefer was to be the ‘visual art processes’ part that I was going to be performatively interpreting.

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