Monday, 5 January 2009

Rewind 2 – Writing

Ok, it took me some time to arrive back home, but now it’s week 1 of the new year and what better things to do than to look back… not?
I think there may be three posts to this
  • Rewind 2: writing
  • Rewind 3: blogging
  • Rewind 4: Art, art, art… not that either of the above are NOT art, but it’s painting, sketches, drawings and projects I finally want to talk about.
  • (Rewind 1 was my Hogmanay flight above the clouds, here – in case you wonder about the missing first)

Found Papers Project Book #1.3
Found Papers Project Book #1.3
Mixed media collage 6.4x8.9cm

I want to start with the writing, partly because it provides so many overlaps with a lot of other things I’ve been doing; it also provides the actual tool for the post on blogging; and lastly the medium through which I’ve found I communicate (by blogging) most of my art.

Ok, I’ve written a lot over the past year. A lot in here (in fact 170 posts; that many, many words and almost a post every other day over the year).

But: I have written quite a few other things too over the past year. Most notably, 2008 has finally been the year that my PhD came out in print. Do you want to have a look at it? It’s over here:

Gesa Helms 2008 Towards Safe City Centre? Remaking the Spaces of an Old-industrial City. Ashgate: Aldershot, see publisher's site here

It took five years to get it published. And that’s already a first observation with regards to the blog. While here, I write, I publish and it’s there – for better or worse, but still with plenty possibility to edit – academic writing takes a long time.

This is to a good part due to a long process of peer refereeing, comments, revisions and hopefully final acceptance. But just as well, a piece several times revised can still get rejected and you start again. For academic writing, at least in the UK, there is a clear preference for such peer-refereed journal articles over single-authored books, edited collections or book chapters. So, once my articles were rejected, I postponed further and further the book publication, and suddenly five years were gone.

Most of my writing to date has been very clearly for academic outlets, with all the limitations (see above for time; but more crucially for a limited audience, it is e.g. considered successful if 5+ others quote your article over the ensuing years). But this autumn I co-authored a short piece on the Glasgow Gorbals with a colleague of mine in Berlin for the Berlin Tenants Association publication (Gesa Helms & Jens Sambale 2008 Rückbau in der Finanzkrise? ME189, see full text here). It’s shorter, much more immediate than other pieces I’ve done, it’s in German (which I don’t write in often as I tend to have forgotten about German grammar, or at least claim to) and it was published within a couple of weeks after we agreed on the final version.

These two pieces do have a lot to do with this blog. Why?

If anyone at the age of 16 would have told me I would earn my money with a job consisting of writing and public speaking I would have screamed at them. Writing wasn’t for me, and public speaking even less so. Moving to the UK and learning to write a piece of 100,000 words changed that. It changed that also because I could learn a writing style where I could ‘explain’ any of my favourite idiosyncracies with foreignness: I am not from here; and that hid issues notably to do with class and education.

In this sense, the blog over the past 18 months has more and more become a playground to experiment not only with art but with writing too. Have you noticed?

Most obviously, it’s the posting of little ditties and word plays. I have been writing these for a long time [and am in fact still looking for a suitable outlet for cringey, love-sick poetry by 14 years old school kids; any advice welcome].

When I was sorting through my sketchbooks yesterday, I came across this one. It was a drawing/observing/writing experience which was new, exciting and rather sublime; and I’m glad that that moment didn’t remain singular but has become a more and more frequent occurrence as the year progressed.

Mist. Graphite in Moleskine, 10x8cm


Into the mist. Out of
Nowhere it descended
The woods, branches
A lonely leaf
Silently it calls. Haziness
The world blurs to take
Notice. Lazily
Then - as it lifts
A spot of cobalt above
Trees in the distance
The world didn't stop
After all

Like most of the other stuff in here, it is pretty much about exploration: stuff I passed by 10 or 20 years ago, didn’t consider it to be ‘for me’ – poetry belonged very much in that category; it wasn’t that I couldn’t appreciate it, but it was tied up with habitus and status that wasn’t mine and so I discarded it. Here the last year, its encounters, discussions and experiences have opened up plenty of possibilities - be it about writing in a more open, associative manner without regarding it as not rigorous, or be it writing in German, or, or, or...

And with the blog also a medium where they are easily explored. How? That’s for the next post.


Casey Klahn said...

Stunning collage, and beautiful sketch with Mist poetry.

Your blog is more and more enjoyable to read all of the time.

Gesa said...

This made me smile, Casey, as I already said. The collage is part of my lingering Found Papers Project, and posting them here is a reminder to self that it needs/wants/urges for some attention.