Read Carl Kears’ prompt for the Medieval Comics project. This project to create comics of medieval stories is being led by King’s PhD Hana Videen in collaboration with comic book artist Karrie Fransman: ‘Satan’s messenger and his helm of invisibility | Medieval Comics‘.
The provocative works of the poet, performer and artist Caroline Bergvall have long intrigued and challenged medievalists – so when a handful of us CLAMS Anglo-Saxonists were invited to view a one-off performance of Bergvall’s newest work, Raga Dawn, we jumped at the chance.
‘Dawn’ by name, dawn by nature – the piece, to be performed at twelve locations on the old troubadour route from Morocco to southern Spain and through Europe in 2017, takes place outdoors at the rising of day. For us, that meant a 4am start, a big flask of coffee and a McDonald’s breakfast as we set out on a journey from South London and out towards Essex, our final destination being the landing platform at the Grade II listed Tilbury Cruise Terminal.
What’s the significance of Tilbury? Today it’s a working-class port town which never quite recovered from the devastating mass unemployment of the 1970s and 80s. But former centuries told quite a different story – the town’s position at the mouth of the Thames and its deep-water port meant it was historically an important location for trade and defence. Bede mentions in his Ecclesiastical History that St Cedd established a missionary church at ‘Tilaburg’ with the aim of converting the East Saxons to Christianity. It was here that Elizabeth I delivered her famous ‘heart and stomach of a king’ speech to assembled troops in advance of the anticipated invasion of the Spanish Armada. Here, too, the HMT Empire Windrush brought one of the first groups of West Indian immigrants to the UK after World War II.
Raga Dawn, performed by Bergvall and soprano Peyee Chen, was part of Estuary 16, the first biennial festival celebrating the cultural and historical importance of Tilbury and its neighbouring estuary towns of Gravesend, Canvey Island and Southend-on-Sea.
Via a spellbinding hour of layered spoken and sung voices in multiple languages, electronic sounds, yogic breathing and linguistic play, Bergvall’s work – performed under a blanket of shifting grey clouds – voices anxieties concerning forced human migration and issues of language, displacement and belonging. Performed as night turns to day, on the brink of the Essex marshlands, and exploring multilingualism and transnationalism via the use of minority languages (Punjabi and Romansch), Raga Dawn rejects the Anglocentric and instead gives centre-stage to all things liminal.
By looking to medieval lyric poetry for inspiration, Bergvall finds apt meeting points between east and west, the past and the present, and the spoken and written word. The history of troubadour love poetry reveals it to be transnational and nomadic, starting in the Middle East and moving across Spain and to Italy through the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. The form translates and transforms itself through various times and places, becoming a shared tradition which denies a standardised or hierarchical linguistic culture. There was certainly the feeling amongst the rapt audience that we are being reconnected – in Bergvall’s words – to time, place, and to each other. It was an enormously profound and unique experience.
When the performance finished we flocked back inside the ferry terminal to partake in a Sikh breakfast of bombay potatoes and chapatis, prepared by the Essex Cultural Diversity Project – a welcome way to warm up after our hour by the water but also, undoubtedly, an important part of the transnational community-building experience.
By then it was half past 8 in the morning and the day was far from over – Tilbury Cruise Terminal was abuzz with visitors enjoying sound, film and photography installations as well as talks, poetry readings and films that explored the region’s complex connections with its own history and the wider world.
Waterborne was a particular highlight – a poignant audio piece experienced on board a working Thames boat, the Avante. French and Mottershead’s work is part of a wider project – Afterlife – in which the listener hears a detailed description of the decay of the human body in a variety of environments – woodland, water, in a museum and at home. Looking out across the Thames and hearing a visceral description of tissues and bones dissolving in the water over centuries, one expects to feel chilled but is instead strangely soothed by the deeply humanising shared experience that transgresses periodisation.
Also on display was Chloe Dewe Mathews newest project Thames Log. The photographer has spent five years documenting rituals, both habitual and ceremonial, enacted along the banks of the Thames. Surprising and moving moments come to light in this exhibition, including pentecostal baptism and the scattering of human ashes. We were especially intrigued by the way that Dewe Mathews displayed metadata about the photograph alongside the image itself, recording these watery rituals both quantitatively and visually.
The estuary was an unexpected but fitting location for thinking through our relationships with history, the environment and each other, and a (very) long but enjoyable and enriching day was had by all.
Beth Whalley is a PhD Candidate in the English and Geography Departments at King’s College London. Funded by the Rick Trainor Scholarship and the Canal and Rivers Trust, Beth’s research explores the semiotics of water across times and places.
Charlotte Rudman, PhD Candidate, English Department
I’d heard whisperings about Leeds since my days as an undergrad. Despite my growing interest in medieval studies I had always thought that IMC with its “experience the medieval day” was just a step too far. But now as a second year PhD student, I realise how wrong I was.
Giving a paper as part of a panel was both a fantastic and affirming experience, both in terms of the presentation skills and critical engagement with the audience.
But for me, Leeds was mainly an opportunity to hear about research different from my own, broadening my scope, sparking new ideas and re-visiting areas I don’t get the chance to explore in my PhD but am nonetheless interested in. Highlights included; discussions on the disfigured body and the wilderness; the binary perception of witches; textual movement vs physical movement concerning objects; an insight into Scandinavian medieval relationships through the exchange of ‘runic sticks’; and I was very nearly persuaded to play video games after one intriguing presentation emphasising the love of space(s).
Beyond the varied programme, Leeds was great because I was there with fellow CLAMS members past and present. If you’re a medievalist, it’s something you should experience at least once. And of course there’s a disco. Which was everything I imagined and more. Who doesn’t want to see highly intelligent, awesome academics sing impromptu karaoke with a live band?
Organised by recently-minted Dr Hana Videen, see this call for artists to reimagine the medieval, and bring super-humans of the Middle Ages to the classroom!
UPDATE! Hana is now collaborting with artist Karrie Fransman to create new comics from medieval stories:
And, appropriately, over on the Old English Wordhord, you can learn the Old English for ‘a hug’.
Please hug considerately!
The Old English Wordhord is a brilliant blog maintained by (the now newly Dr!) Hana Videen. See how the Wordhord came to be over on her site!
In autumn 2013 over pints at their local a group of postgrads from King’s College London pondered what they could do to engage the wider community of Finsbury Park in an exhibit on Old English in a single room of a small art gallery…
Read more: About | Old English Wordhord
Several students, teachers, and CLAMS recent alumni will be speaking at the Leeds International Medieval Congress @IMC_Leeds this year, and we’re very excited now that the programme has been released!
Here’s where you can catch CLAMS in action this summer:
S202 – Monday 4 July 2016, 14:15-15:45
Channelling the Sublunary Experience: Change in Medieval Thought and Fiction, II
Sophia Wilson, ‘Petrifying Transformations in the Middle English Methamorphose‘.
S302 – Monday 4 July 2016, 16.30-18.00
Homilies in Anglo-Saxon England, I: Preaching and Teaching in Anglo-Saxon Homilies
Rebecca Hardie, ‘Learning to Teach the Vercelli Book’.
S1202 – Wednesday 6 July, 14.15-15.45
Blood, Sex, and Murder: The Lives and Deaths of Martyrs in Medieval England
Dr Hana Videen and Kath Maude (PhD CLAMS, teacher at Swansea).
S1219 – Wednesday 6 July, 14.15-15.45
A Feast for the Senses: Taste, Sound, and Smell in Medieval Dream Visions
Charlotte Knight and Charlotte Rudman.
S1406 – Wednesday 6 July, 19:00 – 20:00
The Limits of the Human: A Round Table Discussion
Participants include Françoise Hazel Marie Le Saux (University of Reading), Elly R. Truitt (Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania), and Sophia Wilson (King’s College London).
S1503 – Thursday 7 July, 09.00-10.30
Medieval Modern: The Use of the Medieval in Modern and Contemporary Arts
Fran Allfrey, Francesca Brooks, Tom Chivers (Poet and publisher @Penned in the Margins).
Dr Hana Videen will also be moderating S1023, Feasting, Power and Identity in Germanic Literature, and S1533, Writing Women’s Letters, I: Nobility and National Identity, organised by Kath Maude.
Kath has also organised and will be chairing S1633, Writing Women’s Letters, II: Epistolarity and Genre, and has organised S1733, Writing Women’s Letters, III: Intimacy and Agency in the Cloister.
Dr James Paz (PhD CLAMS, teacher at Manchester) will feature on S602, Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Wisdom, I: Mind and Movement.
Professor Clare Lees will be speaking as part of S802, Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Wisdom, III: Medievalist and Comparative Approaches.
Fourth year English Department/ CLAMS PhD student Gabriela Cavalheiro reflects on the personal stories that run alongside her scholarly research for The Still Point Journal. Their submissions for Issue 2 are open until 21 February, and their blog accepts submissions all year round – take a look here.
I don’t quite remember the first time I thought about my ‘career’; neither do I remember a pivotal moment when I realised what I wanted to ‘be’. The only thing I remember is that I always had a huge desire to talk. Yet I do recall one peculiar moment at school, when we built our own ‘medieval feud maquette’. I loved building that feud. I loved building the cardboard castle and the incredible water mill, flowing with blue jelly. I also remember the first time I ventured into my mom’s wardrobe, in the late 1990s, where I captured a golden rope watch and a blue silk Indian scarf she’d owned since the late 1980s. I loved finding those objects. I loved wearing them (still do!) and loved the idea that they were my heirlooms.
There it is: I’ve…
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