Monday, July 31, 2017

A Pictorial Piece About Visiting Old Friends

Kelli, whom I have not seen in 15 years (since graduating from Interlochen), happened to have a 14 hour layover in London! We met up and had tea at Foyles bookshop. What a pleasure! 
Jon, who lives in Switzerland and whom I have not seen in...4 years? Was also in London! We *also* met at Foyles bookshop and then we walked to a park and chatted. Lovely!
Here we are 10 years ago! Accidental photo recreation...
Visiting Uncle Peter always means something interesting, in this case it was a bag full of old currency and trying to decipher the pre-decimal system. (Spoiler, IT MAKES NO SENSE! It *almost* makes sense right up until half a crown or florins (I don't remember which) and then it stops utterly. Hmph.)

This set of coins is equal to a pound. It is very heavy. This is ludicrous. So jangly.
 "Lunch" with Peter lasted about 5 hours, which is exactly how it should be.
Hanna and I met up to talk about how she's *almost* a detective and how exciting that is! We encountered some performance art near London Bridge, and since I was there we obviously interacted with them. The woman in the middle is a clown playing a "blood bat" and collecting stories about blood. Once you contributed a story you were given a story back from someone who could donate blood to you- it was surprisingly affecting. 
Josh and I got ice cream. My ice cream was covered in AN ENTIRE GIANT CANDY FLOSS (COTTON CANDY) and then topped with popping candy. It was genuinely impossible to eat, so I made friends with the family of the little girl you can see just behind me and shared. They're on a one week holiday from Baltimore where the father is a surgeon. Josh and I suggested museums for them to visit (gunning hard for the Geffrye!) and it was lovely. Also, then I didn't have to eat that giant cloud.
In Bristol, Emma and I decided to make a happy little face on the massive bruise on my arm that I *think* I acquired from carrying my VERY HEAVY SUITCASE FULL OF BELLS around in. We have titled this piece "Casey admiring her happy pain cloud on her art bruise" (you don't have to think that's funny, I think it's funny enough for the both of us!)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Winchester Day, I totally stopped counting- this was a big weekend

Someone started describing Death & The Maiden as "summer camp for brainy goth girls" and that is Really Accurate.

Though levels of goth aesthetic varied widely, all of us had stories to tell about being weird in middle school (mine was about making felt hats and convincing stores to sell them when I was 11. It wasn't all death related weirdness.) We went down to Winchester Cathedral at one point to tour some of the monuments. The university and the cathedral are close enough to take a nice walk between, so we streamed down the hill and into town like a chatty, black clad river. Some folks with limited mobility took taxis, and when we arrived we found them by looking for "the other crowd of witchy women." I've never seen quite so much skeleton fashion as I have this weekend. I wore a lot of green.

Several presenters were freshly minted PhDs, and others have been professors for years already.  Every single paper that was presented was fascinating and displayed a deep, deep knowledge of their topic, most were also explicitly intersectionally feminist. I'll write soon about my two favorite presentations, but I need to process them a bit more before I post about them. In the mean time, know that there are multiple women in the world who are using bio archaeology to fight the patriarchy and that's pretty darn cool.

Everyone was kind and friendly. I had incredible conversations at every meal- though sometimes my words got away from me and I suddenly discovered I had explained my entire Master's degree piece of a table full of people asking me insightful questions about my art. I didn't mean to dominate the conversation, I just Really Care About The Topic!

There were so many conversations that began with, "how did you get interested in death?" and that can't help but end up as a vulnerable, caring conversation. There are several people I intend to keep in touch with, and at least one that I've already invited to stay with me in Seattle. (ps. Death Salon is in September, just about a month away- there is overlap in the organizers of Death & The Maiden and Death Salon - they've organized TWO conferences within a month and a half of each other! I really hope they get to have some sleep in October...)

Eough procrastinating- let's talk about Bells.

For Whom The Bell Toils is a collection of  (currently) 84 bells, all labeled with some type of work that occurs around the end of life. Participants are invited to ring the bells that resonate with their experience, and create new labels for types of work not yet honored by the piece. That's it. It's really simple.

I was nervous about For Whom The Bell Toils. I've been nervous about it. It's done and I'm still a little nervous about it. Here's the thing though, it is conceptually REALLY sound. (heh. puns.) I have reasons for things. A couple attending the conference helped me put the bells away and excitedly told me what they thought, interrupting each other to agree with more detail. They pointed out the piece's subtle feminism- none of the bells are gendered, and none of the work is *technically* gendered, though most of the work on the labels falls to women. So if you're a woman and you're ringing bell after bell after bell, it becomes clear how much you have done. And if you're a man who has not rung very many bells...well. That's something to think about, isn't it? Because as you read the labels you think about who, in your experience, did do the work- even if it wasn't something that you personally took care of.

Was that intentional? Yeah. Yeah it was. It's also why the labels are all hand written, because then they are a visual reminder of an individual's work.

Some people cried. Some people took the band of 16 water buffalo bridle bells labeled "mediated family conflict" and shook and shook and shook the whole thing. Some people read the labels with their hands behind their backs, lightly touching bells here and there. There are some videos on twitter if you search the hashtag #deathmaidenconf and I'll post some here soon.

The sound was beautiful, the concept is solid, the aesthetics...yeah, those could totally use some work. But this piece is ready to travel, and I'm going to be working on that next. So there we go. I'm really glad I came. 36.5lbs of bells and all.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Winchester Day 2, Part 2 or "What an incredible batch of people"

Look, it's a conference with Death and Feminism as its organizing principles, so I'm going to start with conference adjacent stuff first, because it's been a big day.

1. Dinner was delightful, I managed to sit at a table of mostly Americans who had done/are doing their advanced degrees in the UK. We all boisterously moaned about how utterly, impenetrably baffling the British higher education system is and how, when you get things wrong because no one ever told you what to do, they in turn are baffled because it's, "so obvious."

(I have quite a bit of residual anger about this...probably good to know about what for sorting through purposes.)

2. Did you know I'm Chatty? I'm So Chatty. Being So Chatty means that I had a lot of conversations that started with, "are you presenting?" (most people are) which then led to being asked the same in turn. Lots of people have no idea who I am, which is peachy, but what is astonishing is the people who DO know who I am. "Oh! You're For Whom The Bell Toils! I'm really looking forward to that! You have such a lovely website." (Golly!)

(It's just bells with labels on them! What if it's not very good or interesting and I've lugged 16.6kg/36.5lbs of metal halfway across the world for nothing????) (Breathing.)

3. There are some people who are obviously at a death conference- they're wearing beautifully knitted cardigans with skulls grinning from their backs, dresses covered in skeletons, top hats, petticoats, coffin earrings, etc. Then there's the rest of us, who run the gamut of aesthetics. I wore a black tank top and purple lipstick so I fit in just fine.

4. Very few things are as delightful as listening to people nerding out about very specific, technical topics and then discovering that they personally know each other's heroes and then watching stars burst out of their eyes.

5. I'm currently sitting in the lounge of the dormitory flat I'm staying in and the professor who co-organized this whole event is lovingly gossiping with pair of old, excellent friends. I'm *ABSOLUTELY* listening in and they're hilarious. Also, she just told me a harrowing story of being in Nepal with a bunch of students during the earthquake.

Winchester Day 2, Part 1 or "Casey gets slap happy"

I should apologise to the Winchester City of Commerce-- I think I somewhat misrepresented their offerings yesterday. I should have included mentions of their numerous wine shops, pottery shops, and the store that seemingly only sells very large wicker baskets. My bad.

You: Hi Casey! Have you been taking pictures in 'Jolly Ole England'? Haha.

Me: YES.

You: Oh! That certainly was emphatic! I bet there's a lot to take pictures of, huh? Lots of neat old buildings and picturesque scenery I imagine!


You: ...Um. Okay. Have you taken many pictures?

Me: ONE.



You: Casey, this is getting weird. You're being really weird. Can we please see the picture you took. Stop it.


You: Really just thrilled we had this conversation. Thank you.

A fun thing to do in Winchester is play that age old game, Medieval or Victorian Fan Art? 

REAL TALK: I love the Itchen.  I'm assuming the river is named because in the 1100s there was some virulent algae that prevented clothes from being comfortably washed in it. Currently it is clear, fast moving, and GLORIOUS. It's in a canal because apparently in 70AD they were like, "yo. This floods a lot. Let's make it a moat."

I have never so desperately wanted to dip my toes into a body of water before. But there are signs posted emphatically asking one not to do so in order to avoid a £50 fine. (Is it worth it to me to spend £50 to dip my toes in the Itchen? Stay tuned to find out!)

Here, I made you a video:

The Death & The Maiden Conference starts in 20 minutes. I'll probably have actual content soon.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Winchester Day 1, or "I think this town in inhabited entirely by teenagers"

The coach ride from London was very juddery, but fortunately only an hour and a half. I was dropped off in front of a festive building advertising a bake sale for charity, so *of course* I went in, since that is what one does. It was tricky to get into the sale due to the  three teenagers blocking the doorway. Once I  made it in, it was clear that the sale was being run very incompetently by those same teenagers. I bought a terrible piece of cake for 50p and allowed them to get back to what was clearly the main purpose of the day; flirting.

I walked through the town, dragging my bells behind me and admiring the sheer number of awkward teenage buskers, all singing earnestly with their eyes closed. The 20 minute or so walk to the university was charming- lots of stone and brick buildings housing bridal shops and charity shops that also have wedding dresses. Also chemists. Not much else other than those three types of shops. I ended up at one point behind a mother pushing a stroller and trying to guide her daughter who was practicing being blind and giggling maniacally. (Everyone needs a hobby.) See? Charming.

One of the things I had forgotten about the UK is that while there are abundant public maps informing you of where you are and where you might be headed- the street signs are next to impossible to find. So I got a little bit turned around, but eventually found a pathway next to a bunch of blackberry bushes. A teenager informed me that I was, indeed, headed in the correct direction.

After being pushed to the side of the path by a herd of probably around 50 teenagers (most of whom looking at their phones and not at all where they were going-- it felt like being in the wildebeest stampede in The Lion King), I found the local graveyard and happened again upon the mother and her daughter.

Alice is three, has several fidget spinners, likes Miraculous Ladybug (a joint Korean/French anime), calls her little brother "Ed", and is my new best friend. Her mother, Leanne, is a librarian at the University and made sure that I was in the correct place. So now I'm here! Fully 24 hours early to the conference and stashed neatly away in a tiny, claustrophobic dorm room that makes me feel grateful for the fact that I do not regularly reside in one of these any more.

I'm off now to go look at the actual location of the conference, try to sort out what time it actually is, and find some delicious food. Go team!