A Day at the Archives, Ep. 2: National Portrait Gallery

Last Thursday, I was able to make an appointment to visit the National Portrait Gallery’s Heinz Archive on Orange Street off of Trafalgar Square. I was visiting NPG 59/1/93 and 32/178/1–3, all of which constitute the institutions preservation of material relating to their ‘Mapplethorpe Portrait’ – the first solo Mapplethorpe exhibition in the UK and the only in his lifetime – open from 25 March to 19 June 1988.

This includes a proof copy of the original poster that lined the escalators of the Tube, images taken of the exhibition space, a notebook of news clippings bursting at its spiral and correspondences between those in charge of logistics namely Robin Gibson (NPG Curator, 20th Century Department) and Alexandra Knaust (Representative of Mapplethopre’s New York Studio).

Close but no cigar!

 

These resources, which I do not have the right to publish online, will be invaluable to our project and specifically how to understand Mapplethorpe’s popular reception this cultural moment.

 

 

A Day at the Archives, ep. I: Tate Britain

I am now a Tate Britain Archive Reader!

One of the areas we identified as needing greater support was Mapplethorpe’s immediate reception. I was a bit overwhelmed by the many routes that my archival research could take and I realised I had to narrow my scope if I wanted to have a productive and efficient time in the archives. My goal was to find primary material that related directly to how Mapplethorpe’s exhibitions were received in London in terms of the homosexual content.

The item I was most excited to examine was the Institute of Contemporary Arts’ catalogue from Mapplethorpe’s first solo exhibition in the UK from 1983. In addition to providing high-quality reproductions of the selected photographs displayed in the exhibition, it was prefaced with an essay by Alan Hollinghurst. This to me was an invaluable source as it can help us to observe how Mapplethorpe was interpreted by Hollinghurst as an emerging homosexual Londoner artist and what values he takes away from Mapplethorpe.

‘There is nothing here of the hungry fascination and mastered revulsion of Diane Arbus’s photographs of the bizarre. Mapplethrope’s pictures are, with all naturalness, an account of a world in which he was himself involved; they gain their éclat from his instinct for what, purely in terms of subject-matter, was both personally important to him and rivetingly new in the world of photography. A picture such as Bobby and Larry Kissing is important not only for itself but as perhaps the first time such a subject had been photographed.’

from Alan Hollinghurst, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1970–1983 (London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1983)  p. 14.

Hollinghurst goes on the write, among others, The Swimming Pool Library (1988) and The Line of Beauty (2004) which deal extensively with homosexuality and privilege – themes which he comments on in the 1983 exhibition catalogue. What conclusions we will draw from this is a question we are still fleshing out, but I think this primary resource will prove to be a very useful and insightful document for us.

Interview questions for Focus Groups

We have arranged two Focus Groups of 6 people. Each Focus Group will be comprised of two people who cycle daily, two people who take the bus daily and two people who take the tube daily.

Focus Group #1 will take place on Friday 1st March from 2.30 to 4pm. Focus Group #2 will take place on Tuesday 5th March from 9.30 to 11am.

The following questions will serve to guide the conversation of our Focus Groups. We have incorporated a drawing activity at the beginning of the session which we hope will dynamise the sessions and get the conversation flowing. For part of our final project, we will curate the participants’ drawings into a zine.

ON LONDON AND MODE OF MOVEMENT

  1. What is your usual mode of moving in London?
  2. Do you feel like you know London? What do you know about London?
  3. Could you get from place X to place Y without consulting a map of any kind?
  4. Do you use apps such as CityMapper or Google Maps? When? Where?
  5. Please draw London on your plastic sheet.
  6. Has your answer to question number 2 changed? How?
  7. What are your usual fluxes of movement in London?
  8. Would you describe your speed through London as fast/slow/other? Why?
  9. Which one of your five senses is most stimulated when using your mode of movement. Why?
  10. When you’re moving through London, what are three things you notice about the urban space surrounding you?
  11. Consider your mode of movement as your sole point of interaction with London. How does it shape your interaction with the city?

ON PEOPLE AND COMMUNITIES

  1. Does your mode of movement afford good/bad/other access to the urban space of London? Why?
  2. Agree/Disagree/Expand the following statement. My mode of movement is a privileged one.
  3. For yourself, what disadvantages are there to your mode of movement?
  4. For others, what disadvantages are there to your mode of movement?
  5. What is your interaction with people who use the same mode of movement as you?
  6. What feelings do your fellow movers evoke?
  7. Does these feelings change when your fellow movers are tourists or people who don’t live in London?
  8. Do you feel that London is a hospitable city to non-Londoners? How do you think this contributes to the concept of us/them?
  9. Does this influence your feeling of belonging to London? If so, how?

ON SPACE/PLACE

  1. How long have you lived in London?
  2. Do you have an emotional attachment with London? Why?
  3. Do certain places hold stronger emotional attachments than others? Why?
  4. What role do you think your preferred mode of movement has in the establishment of emotional attachments?
  5. [We explain Space/Place dichotomy] Do you think of London as a space/place? Perhaps as a combination of the two? Are certain parts space and certain parts place?
  6. Does your mode of movement have a role in the space/place transformation?
  7. Please tick the statements which you feel are true based on your experiences of London and main mode of movement. Expanding your answer is encouraged.
  • Experiences in London:
    • I feel attached to this place
    • I feel proud of this place
    • This place is important to me
    • This place holds personal meaning to me
    • From my experiences I have an overall positive impression of this place
    • From my experiences I have an overall negative impression of this place
  • Main mode of movement:
    • When I am using mode of movement I feel comfortable and happy
    • There is a good atmosphere within this space
    • I have had good experiences in this mode of movement
    • I have had bad experiences in this mode of movement
    • When I am in this space I have felt and secure
    • When I am in this space I have felt threatened/in danger
    • I feel dependent on this form of movement

ON UNCERTAINTY

  1. Define “uncertainty”.
  2. Define “uncertainty in urban space”.
  3. What about London do you find uncertain? Why?
  4. Is uncertainty in London a positive/negative/other thing?
  5. Does uncertainty have a role in the space/place transformation? For example, does a space feel more uncertain than a space?
  6. Does London feel like a manageable urban space to you? Does moving in London feel like a manageable task to you? Why?
  7. How free is your movement in London? Do you follow pre-established routes? Does this hinder your knowledge of other parts of the city?
  8. Do you think your mode of movement makes it easy for you to explore undiscovered parts of London?

Office Hours with George Legg

I attended Dr George Legg’s office hours this morning to discuss a productive slant for our project. As the leader of our First Year core Liberal Arts module “Lives of London” he had a wealth of suggestions to give me that will shape our research.

Psychogeography and general theoretical approaches

  • Guy Debord and the situationists. their thing is literally about finding uncertainty in the city, perfect for us! They coined the term “psychogeography”, meaning “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”
  • Merlin Coverley, Psychogeography (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2007). An explanation of the origins and contemporary significance of psychogeography.
  • Tim Cresswell, Place — a short introduction. On how different people personalise different places.
  • Yi-Fu Tuan, Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perceptions, Attitudes, and Values. Affective bond between people and place, examining environmental perceptions and values at different levels: the species, the group, and the individual. This book searches for environment in the city, suburb, countryside, and wilderness from a dialectical perspective, distinguishes different types of environmental experience, and describes their character.
  • Joe Kerr and Andrew Gibson, London From Punk to Blair — two chapters, “End of the Line” and “Secret City, Psychogeography and the End of London”.
  • Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space. Another canonical French work on space.

Moving in London.

  • Simeon Koole, ‘How We Came to Mind the Gap: Time, Tactility and the Tube’, Twentieth Century British History 27(4)(2016), 524-554. This will provide a good theoretical apparatus for us to expand on, and perhaps apply to the other modes of movement we’ve been talking about.
  • Jon Day, Cyclogeography: Journeys of a London Bicycle Courier. A memoir combined with literary criticism on experiencing the city by bike.
  • Richard Bramwell, UK Hip-Hop, Grime and the City: The Aesthetics and Ethics of London’s Rap Scenes — chapter ‘On the Bus my Oyster Card Goes Ding De Diing De Ding Ding — Transforming the Space of London’s Public Transport’

Transport and the boundaries of the city.

  • Iain Sinclair — Orbital. Not a super radical theoretical reading, but rather reflection on the M25 being the boundary of London.

Some things to consider when narrowing down our project.

  • Possession of the city through transport.
  • On one hand, transports role in defining the city, and on the other, transport mediating our interaction with the city.
  • South London having subpar rail connections compared to other parts of London.
  • The fact that the perimeters of London are much more racially diverse than the centre.
  • Could take into account gendered fluxes of movement.
  • The Tube, Alistair Pegg, TV show 2012 (can be accessed via Boxer Broadcast using k-number). Thinking about the tube, its different speeds and moods (overnight, rush hour), the jobs it creates (maintenance, fluffers).
  • The cycle superhighway, its routes, its interaction with other routes of transport.
  • An experiment: take a certain bus route, mapping the different people getting on and off at each station. Could do this for each mode of transport?
  • A team trip to the TFL museum?
  • A zine sounds like an exciting and creative idea!

This was a very productive meeting, I’m excited for us to read up on some of these topics and finalise an original and productive slant for our project. A couple of team-members will be meeting Dr Sophie Blackburn on Friday to discuss further possibilities.

Note: Today Katie submitted a Minimal Ethical Risk Form for our project.

Tuesday 5th February

Today’s three-part session.

10am-11am – meeting with the four group members.

After realising that our project needed not be directly linked to each of our majors, we realised that  we needed to think fast about a research project that inspired us and addressed the theme of uncertainty. We are leaving behind our research so far, which had focussed on the links between the testimonies of migrants motivated by climate change and the characteristics of tragedy as laid out by Aristotle, and have a completely new approach.

Our conversation today revolved around uncertainty. Urban space emerged as a point of interest for us. After discussing and then dismissing several potential subthemes of urban space (such as sex-work or the presence of religious buildings in work-focussed central London) our discussion edged towards an analysis of movement within urban space. I explained the argument of an essay I wrote last year for the “Space, Power Agency” module, on how the gendered design of cities influences the movements of its inhabitants to a capitalist end. In order to not address the exact same topic, we came up with a tentative framework, broadly “How do different navigations of urban space shape our perceptions of that space?” London, we agreed, is the ideal urban space for us to conduct this research on, especially as fieldwork is essential to this approach and this city is at our doorsteps.

The structuring variables of our research, then, are movement, London and uncertainty. With this in mind, we briefly discussed planes of movement in London, either differing in direction (vertical, horizontal and diagonal) or in depth/altitude (underground, overground, above ground). Our discussion then turned to the mode of movement as a more productive framework for a project of this nature, which might otherwise remain too conceptual. A more specific questions addressing the above concepts, then, would be: “How does an individual’s usual means of movement in London change/shape their conceptualisation of this city?”

11am-12pm – some quick research. Our official meeting slot ended here, with Stephanie heading to a lecture and Constance, Katie and I staying on to do some preliminary research before the four of us attended Conor’s office hours to pitch this idea to him. One first article we found, which proved very motivating for our research, was one Janet Vertesi’s paper ‘The London Underground Map and Users’ Representation of Urban Space.’ This paper aims to “explore the effects of iconic , abstract representations of complex objects on our interaction with those objects through an ethnographic study of the use of the London Underground Map to tame and enflame the city of London.” Vertesi explains that her approach is interdisciplinary, a “fruitful crossover between Science Studies, Urban Studies, and Human-Computer Interaction.” Vertesi has one methodological approach that is very appealing to us. She asks her interviewees to draw a map of London and observes that the tube map almost always prevails in one way or another. One draws an x/y grid-like axis of the Northern and Central lines and build on the map from there. Another conceptualises London as “lots of little centres stuck together,” drawing “round, open circles, scattered about the page, including little sketches of what one might do or see above ground at any given place.” Another situated the stops of the Northern line on the paper but did not link them up with a continuous line, implying that although their knowledge of London hinged on these stations they had an ambiguous conceptualisation of the interactions between these different localities.

 

Building on Vertesi’s idea, our group is interested in exploring how people who use different modes of transport understand London. The different means of transport we will look at are on foot, by bike, by bus and by tube. As there are four of us, we may each conduct the interviews for one means. We want our final project to reflect the uncertainty surrounding London that is entailed by the multiplicity of perceptions of this city. An uncertain experience of London. 

12pm-1pm – office hours with Conor Heaney.

After pitching our idea to Conor, he suggested we address several issues:

  1. What exactly do we mean by uncertainty in regard to London — is uncertainty the same as non-knowledge or is it something else? Yes, something else. There is no unambiguous experiential map of London.
  2. What, then, is the relationship between the map and the territory? Alfred Korzybski’s Science and Sanity, 1933: “A map is not the territory.” Constance mentioned René Magritte’s surrealist artwork Ceci nest pas one pipe.
  3. Do we want to do qualitative or quantitative research? Qualitative, doing in-depth interviews with people who use different modes of transport and building their perception of London.
  4. What is our theoretical framework? What are we trying to test or figure out an explanation for? Stephanie and I are arranging to meet this week with George Legg who conducted our “Lives of London” module in First Year, while Katie and Constance will meet with Geography fellow Sophie Blackburn in her office hours. This is to find an original theoretical slant for our research — we have established an observational and methodological base but are yet to verbalise exactly what it is that we want to find out. For example, are we looking for a Feminist Marxist analysis of movement in urban space? Do we want to focus on accessibility? How it affects mental health?
        • Movement in commuting or in leisure time? Probably work/studying, as leisure time is a definite privilege and it not enjoyed by the vast majority of the population. 
        • Side note on inclusivity. Our project is about movement. We need to make sure our project is not ableist — or at least to some degree address physical disability and movement in urban space.
  1. What are our initial hypotheses? What do we think we will find out? Very rudimentary and TBC.
        • Pedestrians
        • Cyclists: aware of back routes and quieter roads, more intuitive approach. Aware of potentially dangerous crossroads/roundabouts/corners. 
        • Bus-ers
        • Tube-ers very knowledgeable of their particular commute. Mole-like popping up with schematised and simplified knowledge of the above ground. Perhaps skewed sense of proximity/distance between places 
  1. What methods will we use? Interviews are definite. Reading research on this kind of project (like Vertesi’s) will help us establish more methods. Katie, as a Geography major, can help with the specific fieldwork needed for this kind of research. Conor suggests consulting Alan Bryman’s Social Research Methods to help us on this.
        • If conducting interviews, remember to fill out the ethical research form before the 8th February.
  1. What form will we give our research? There is a possibility for our research to be presented in zine format. Although nothing is settled on this front and our time limitations may prevent this, it would be interesting to have a physical, creative testimony of our research. Especially if it includes our interviewees drawings or London (perhaps each captioned with a salient remark they made on their particular perception of the city). Could be titled “Uncertain Perceptions of London — Case Studies in Movement and Urban Space”. Just a thought.
  2. What is our timeline? By next week we will have met with Sophie and George. We want to have established an angle from which to approach the project by our next meeting with Conor on the 12th February. By the end of February we want to have curated our interview questions and collected our data. This will include interviewing approximately 10 people. In March we will analyse our data and shape our research project (zine as a possibility — if not, essay or power point? Would be good to discuss ideas for original formats) and draw our conclusions (qualitative).
  3. Some concerns:
        • How do we stop people? Cyclists are main concern here.
        • Who do we interview, who will want to talk to us about this? ie probably not bankers in central London
        • Should we restrict our pool of people further? Perhaps we could do only one example of each mode of transport? But by doing that would we be reducing the effectiveness of our research?
        • Exactly how in-depth a project is expected of us? 
  1. Some suggested readings:
        • Keith Jacobs, ‘Subjectivity and the Transformation of Urban Spatial Experience’, Housing Theory and Society, Vol 19, 2002.
        • Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity, 1933.
        • Alan Bryman, Social Research Methods.
        • Darko Radović, ‘Measuring the non-measurable: On mapping subjectivities in urban research,’ City, Culture and Society, Volume 7, Issue 1, March 2016.
        • Adalberto Agiurre, ‘Urban Space’, in Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, ed. by George Ritzer, (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007).
        • Possibly Henri Lefebvre and Walter Benjamin as Marxist analyses of urban space?
          • Lefebvre, Henri, The Production of Space, trans. by Donald Nicholson-Smith, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1991).
        • Pile, Steve, The Body and the City: Psychoanalysis, Space and Subjectivity, (Oxford: Routledge, 1996).
        • Bulley, Dan, ‘Conducting Strangers: Hospitality and Governmentality in the Global City’ [full access here: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057%2F9781137290007_10]
        • Bulley, Dan, and Lisle, Debbie, ‘Welcoming the World: Governing Hospitality in London’s 2012 Olympic Bid”

We’re very motivated to move forward with this project, let’s see how our interdisciplinary skills are put to the test!