Saturday, September 26, 2009

Death and dying programmes on BBC

There are two TV programmes about death and dying from a cultural perspective on BBC2 and BBC4 next week, produced in conjunction with the Open University. The programmes are apparently available to an international audience for a week after transmission via BBC iPlayer online. Here's the blurb:

Richard Wilson: Two Feet in the Grave
Tuesday 29 September, 10:35-11:35pm, BBC ONE (England), 11.15pm-00.15am (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)

Richard Wilson sets out to uncover just what happens to our bodies when we die and the very different ways people deal with death and grief. Richard meets some of the army of people whose jobs bring them into daily contact with dead people, including pathologists, mortuary technicians, embalmers, and crematorium operatives. He explores the role of memorial photography through history with Professor Glennys Howarth and considers new rituals like roadside memorials and ‘ghostbikes’, as well as grave reclamation and garden burial.

The Art of Dying
Wednesday 30 September, 9:00-10:00pm, BBC FOUR

Art historian Dan Cruickshank confronts the unavoidable issue of his own certain death. Reliving his own family losses, he explores how death has been dealt with through the ages: from the epic depiction of "Doom" paintings that show the day of judgement to the fashion for death masks and death bed paintings; from the art of the obituary writer to the incredible wartime memorial of Kathe Kollwitz; from the medieval tomb of an archbishop of Canterbury to his own death mask. Along the way he reflects on his own obituary and meets art historian and contemplative, Sister Wendy to quiz her on the helpfulness of art in the face of death; painter Maggi Hambling who portrayed her deceased mother; and Jamie McCartney who took a plaster cast of his own dead father.

* Further details on the Open University website.
* Image by Jansku in London of Banksy's Ozone's Angel, in memorium to a dead graffiti artist.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why oh why...?

I'm in corrections hell this weekend, having left my amendments and reformatting the darned thesis to the last possible block of time available. Why oh why haven't I changed and learned from my submission experience to NOT leave things to the last minute??????

Maybe a leopard can't change its spots, but surely one can modify one's carefully honed procrastination techniques a little, to reduce the inevitable stress a bit???? It's not as if there's a special procrastination gene that makes me biologically inclined to put things off.... or is there? Maybe it's the academic equivalent of bungee jumping, though the prospect of an impending deadline doesn't really get my adrenaline going in a terribly positive way. PhD deadline as daredevil bookish equivalent of extreme sport? Or possibly not.

I watched a small child having a tantrum in the supermarket checkout queue the other day, screaming till his little red, shiny, tear-stained face was all contorted with hysterical anguish, though he was just sitting in his buggy and there was no obvious reason for his sudden and very short-lived outburst. "Mummy mummy mummy, I don't want to....!!!!" he moaned. I thought yeah, I know how you feel mate, try doing a PhD.

I haven't had a tantrum btw, or enlisted my mum's help either. I've just holed myself up for a few days in self-imposed isolation to get my work finished. I'd better get on with it then, and stop reading my spam, watching youtube, playing music, cleaning the bathroom, making cups of tea, reading my horoscope, wondering what's happening with our jobs, thinking about firework night.... oh, there are so many things to do when you've got things to do.

And before I finally logout, here's a pic of Joan Collins circa 1958 with a nice leopard print backdrop. She's always very glamorous, whatever the decade.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Death in Dulwich

I went to the Dulwich Picture Gallery yesterday, not expecting too much as I'm not usually mad about old masters' paintings, but I was pleasantly surprised.

They've got The Judde Memorial (above), which I've seen before in books about the art of death, so it was really good to see the original. It's a 16th century memento mori painting, allowing the viewer to reflect on one's mortality through the use of a variety of typical symbols of death in use by artists at that time. The video by the director of the gallery on their website is a good overview of what's in the painting.

There is a small mausoleum built into the gallery, to house the remains of three of the founders. It was apparently bombed during the last world war and rebuilt as accurately as possible, but some of the features are slightly curious. The hefty, solid-looking pillars look like dark stone, but are made of wood, which you can tell if you tap them. The stained glass seemed a bit odd, as it was a couple of panels of small bright orange glass rectangles. I thought it looked a bit '60's and slightly incongruous alongside the 'stone' pillars, eternal serpents and the casket-shaped receptacles with human remains inside. I'll have to find out more about it.

I was impressed by the labels for the Best of British exhibits. I think it's the first time I've actually found labels memorable - I usually look at the work, read the label, look again at the work and move on. These labels included short quotes or anecdotes about the people in the portraits from writers who were around at the same time, such as Samuel Pepys (diarist) and Fanny Burney (novelist). It seemed to make the portraits come to life more for me by using snippets about someone being thought a blockhead for not getting his hair cut, or being embarrassingly vulgar in polite company, or knowing that the artist had been kind in his portrayal by not painting an old woman toothless, as she was in reality by then, and including unreal curly youthful hair. It gave a sense of the person in the portrait, knowing what others thought of them at that time, whether it was flattering or not. These quotes of text enhanced the portraits by not being just little strings of dry facts about the painting or the artist which for a non- afficionado can be rather dull sometimes.

Apologies to the label writer for not remembering better examples more accurately. I didn't realise I'd still be thinking about labels the next day, but it was an unexpectedly interesting visit, albeit short because of my dad's new knees being tired. I can't think why I've never been there before.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

I think I'm back...

I think I'm probably back with the blogging, though I was wondering whether to call it a day as it's been a long time now and I hadn't really felt like writing...

A mini-summary of the last few months: did a conference, got sick, went into hospital a couple of times, got sick again when I came out but am ok now I think, got my corrections for the PhD, have had a rest from academic stuff, apart from going to work in the hotbed of intrigue that is Higher Education. I think I'll have my dinner now and attempt to think of something interesting to write about, as I don't really want to clutter up the blogosphere with my inane drivel... so see you later, I expect.