Wednesday, 31 December 2008

on procrastination...

well its that time of year again, new years eve - the time of year for self improvement campaigns, unfeasible strategies for giving up, cutting back, making progress - general all round reflection and self evaluation...

it’s a funny time of year all in all; ordinary day to day business suspended and shrouded in a misty haze whilst the annual audit and account keeping cranks into gear, a universal totting up of the great balance sheet in the sky, when everything takes on a hazy ‘matter of life and death’ quality. newspapers are littered with reviews of the year, best and worst lists - tv programmes, films, books, music, whats hot and whats not and all kinds of tedious predictions for the year ahead. even for those of us not naturally self reflective, this universal peer pressure can prove overwhelming. one way or another, it seems to bring out the list maker in us all.

this year in particular with recession biting, high street chains falling by the wayside, doom and gloom forecast for the next twelve months, there is much talk of pulling in our belts, reappraising our lifestyles and failsafe resolutions for facing the future. for me this cosmic book keeping has coincided with a natural conclusion to certain projects and activities, a tying up of loose or untidy ends that cant help but raise the knotty problem of what next? for a natural procrastinator like me, a tortoise rather than a hare, this brings with it more than a touch of unease. i hate working out what to do next. in fact ive never really got round to it, never really planned my life, never really had a set of ambitions or goals to mark my progression against. ive never had one of those interviews where they apparently ask what you think you’ll be doing in 5 years time (that clearly in itself demonstrates my woeful inadequacy and lack of ambition…) which is just as well as i simply don’t know.

now don’t mistake this for an indication that im some kind of groovy free spirit, a devil may care, spur of the moment, don’t tie me down man i want to be free type…heaven forbid. i perversely pride myself on how uptight and repressed i am. no, im simply one of life’s dawdlers, a plodder, more stamina than inspiration. so it is with immense trepidation that i find myself facing the new year with a notebook and pen planning my next move.

my recent open house at apartment was in reality a sort of goodbye party for the end of a whole year in residency. i cant stay there forever clutching their apron strings like an overgrown baby, tempting as it is and welcoming though hilary and paul are. time to grow up and leave home….

goodbye 2008, ill miss you, you've been good to me. and ive only just got you sorted out, too! so, with fear and trembling, here's to another year. just what does a 147 year old spinster do with her future? watch this space as i sink or swim with my burden of half baked ideas and belated ambitions for 2009.

as for you dear reader, much love, peace, goodwill and best of luck whatever your dreams or flights of fancy might be for the coming year!

xx epn

Sunday, 28 December 2008

the return of the familiar essay

the belle vue is enjoyable for its passion and enthusiasm and for someone like myself its format: essays, yes good old fashioned essays, not short stories, not poetry, not critical texts in the academic style but personal essays, conversational writings of a type that seem thin on the ground nowadays. writing, like any other creative medium, is no stranger to the vagaries of fashion and movements of the day. where once there was the salon and the bluestocking circle there is now the creative writing course and the live mike night, whilst the explosion of collaborative blogs is surely just a variation on the serial newspaper ‘cliffhangers’ of dickens and conan doyle; the frequency with which manchester blog award winners have secured mainstream publishing deals bearing ample testimony to this.

but what of those of us who fall outside of this literary zeitgeist? as someone who is not a writer but uses the written word to communicate somewhat miscellaneous observations and ruminations it is easy to become intimidated by the cultural benchmark or yardstick. my intention is not so bold or brave as the novel or the poem but simply a desire to articulate a curiosity about the world, initiate a dialogue or conversation in order to understand more about these strange and often bewildering times.

the publication of the belle vue pamphlet coincided with a little book that i have recently been dipping into. at large and at small is anne fadimans 'confessions of a literary hedonist' and the heart of this little treasure is the familiar essay ‘the perfect balance between personal anecdote and intellectual curiosity’ – whose heyday was the 19th century. like the belle vue it presumes and recreates a conversation with just one reader, you, the two of you sitting side by side in front of a crackling fire, favourite tipple in hand and an evening of cosy conversation to look forward to. the interest of the familiar essayist was always presbyopic (at large) but its focus myopic (at small):

his viewpoint was subjective, his frame of reference concrete, his style digressive, his eccentricities conspicuous and his laughter usually at his own expense.

to this i have to confess a rush of recognition and affection, my occasional revelations being invariably the result of an exchange of ideas in the flesh rather than the result of solitary isolation in the garret. this natural loquaciousness, a tendency which has always plagued me as a frailty or fault, could in fact legitimately be interpreted as part of a noble tradition or literary form! as usual for a chronic anachronism like myself i find i am merely a century overdue. like fadiman my inclination is to embrace and celebrate this predilection rather than dismiss and constrain it like a recalcitrant child. as she notes rather sadly the preference nowadays leans either to the (very) critical or the (very) personal with the old familiar essay sadly neglected.

intriguingly she adds that this form had tended to be very much the preserve of the gentleman – so its adoption by a female and a bluestocking at that is perhaps timely, its absurd inappropriateness just the ticket!

so i hereby reclaim the familiar essay for our own times and shall endeavour from this day forward to do it justice and revive it for a new era….

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

manchester confidential give belle vue a plug

it appears i'm not the only one singing the praises of the splendid belle vue magazine - phil griffin waxes lyrical about it in manchester confidential, linking its literary form to a venerable tradition of independently published ephemera, starting he explains with:

'Seventeenth century London coffee houses produced quires and quires of the stuff. Rants mainly, and one-legged proclamations that brook no argument. Belle Vue is an authentic folksy thing, like dominoes and pickled eggs'.

fine praise from a great online publication that i always forget to follow which either aptly illustrates how woefully inept i am or that there is still a real need for the tangibility and immediacy of a local cultural magazine that tackles the great and the small, the everyday and the extraordinary happenings in our city. without it we remain condemned to a plethora of quite dismal coverage from men and the metro (apologies to both for any offence caused)...

how better than to finish this little post in the reviews own closing words:

Two quid buys your copy of Belle Vue in Cask, Briton’s Protection and Corner House. All of which, you will notice, are licensed premises. It is a good thing that will get better. Good, because it is heart felt and honestly expressed by people who love this city.

go on buy it, read it, pass it on to friends, contribute to it.
manchester deserves it!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

belle vue fanzine issue 1 hits the streets

hot off the press for christmas!
including a little contribution called the sleeping giant from yours truly, made more palatable and visually appealing by gorgeous illustrations from sam gieben...

belle vue fanzine is a brilliant new publication which has just this week hit the streets of manchester. its the inaugural issue of an occasional and potentially regular series of guides to everyday vernacular manchester - a celebration of the city's nooks and crannies and idiosyncrasies beloved by so many of us yet neglected by the mainstream press that covers the city.

i got my mits on a copy of this pocket sized venus today in cornerhouse bookshop, nestled unobtrusively amongst the other local offerings. like them its lovingly created with a diy, hand-made aesthetic including a healthy sprinkling of pen and ink drawings and line illustrations, its cover a detailed and evocative view through the enormous voyeurs paradise that is cornerhouse cafe. unlike the others, it isnt dedicated to short stories, poetry or haiku. it isnt the product of a writers collective, the brainchild and springboard for this years crop of notables from manchester university's ma in creative writing, or the cunning marketing ploy of a corporate development agency.

no, this is the squinty eyed bastard offspring of a latterday band of vagabonds, modern pirates every one of em, a loose collective, anti-collective even, of bar flies, couriers, graphic designers, graffiti artists, and the odd architect or two. its a miracle that this crime of passion, this long talked of antidote to the cool, slick, commercially savvy magazine such as flux or rant, ever made it to print. but this motley crew of upstarts, ne'er-do-wells and romantics dreamed it, mulled on it and midwifed it through gestation and the result is a thing of genuine beauty and a joy to read.

included in its pages are homages to favourite haunts and hangouts, mentions of bugbears, paeans to lost youth and times past, plus lip smacking lists of tasty caffs beloved by those kings of the road, the bicycle courier. in fact places to eat and drink or even - gasp in disbelief - enjoy a fag without standing on the roadside - feature heavily and not one of them involves a nero, eat, wetherspoons or other corporate chain. nor are they that other extreme, the exclusive gourmet eatery. and there are long overdue glimpses outside the city centre and the usual southerly based alternatives - the north of the city as far as blackley and moston gets at least two mentions. last but not least there's a 'running feature of discontent', the curmudgeonly entitled Hell is a City section, with an open invitation to send in your own contribution!

available in all good city centre independent cinemas/gallery bookshop - and in their own words 'proper boozers' across the city!

celebrate independent manchester and buy one pronto....if you cant find a copy or want to join their mailing list, offer suggestions, encouragement or improvements do contact belle vue at

you might even spot them in the koffee pot or sandbar or cask, plotting and brewing up issue number 2...

Sunday, 21 December 2008

the medium is the message

or how i became confused with the unassuming clark kent…

intrigued? not half as much as my own consternation at being the object of such close scrutiny!

last week i fell victim to my very own lois lane, in the form of a review of Life of a Bluestocking in the metro's arts section, my so-called ‘mysterious’ identity the centre of an unlikely expose...!
it all started on tuesday with a flurry of phone calls between apartment, my mild mannered assistant miss ward and an intrepid journalist.

our hardnosed reporter rang to enquire about the event curious to know more about this ‘self styled’ spinster and shocked at her unusual longevity. 146 is quite old i grant you, but i come from a long line of valiant decrepitudes, with great aunt queenie still gamely quaffing gin from her hip flask at way past 9o…the men i fear didn’t fare so well age wise, but greatgrandpa jonty managed to pack many an adventure into his short 27 years, juggler and acrobat with pt barnums travelling museum and menagerie, until that lethal tumble whilst performing his world famous sword swallowing trick….

anyway, the inquisitive hack was sent links to my diary, posted the apartment press release, and dispatched sufficient photo footage of the first night to furnish all their writerly requirements but still the phone would ring and the same question rear its antiquated head. could miss niblock actually be real, or just a pseudonym for someone younger, perhaps she is completely imaginary? the readers deserved to know the TRUTH…

a bizarre and surreal experience, to find myself thus dissected and digested, discussed and deconstructed like a flight of fancy or an unlikely specimen. not a real person at all but an event or a conceptual artwork. it seems i have spent so long amongst the artists and their artworks that i’ve eventually blended in and become one myself. it’s a funny feeling of déjà vu, and perhaps that was my fate long ago in the museum stores – i simply got subsumed into the artefactiness of my surroundings, was classified, preserved and forgotten.

we reiterated the facts – miss niblock is quite real, a quirk of fate, a miracle, a quaint survivor from another era, coping as best she can in these peculiar times. the calls continued – they had unearthed the shadowy assistant miss ward who had discovered me lurking in the depths of the museum. what was her story then? where did she fit into this suspicious tale?

finally we revealed an indisputable truth, a suitable resolution for the reader, and offered it up to our lois. but it seems journalism doesn’t like this interpretation, preferring to issue a more prosaic version where unfeasibly robust bluestockings dont roam the earth, encouraging female escape, learning and adventure, inspiring new generations to carry on in their sensibly clad footsteps.

to this i duly retort -

dear lois,

today might have been the start of a beautiful relationship. together we could have righted wrongs and saved the city. the world simply doesn’t need a maureen ward, a well meaning but unremarkable and unexciting clark kent. no, what times like these really need is a fabulous creation, a daring and indefatigable flaneuse, adventurer and intrepid explorer of worlds old and new, an irrepressible, fabulous miss euphemia pubert niblock…

Friday, 19 December 2008

a walk through brunswick, heart of the city...

…being a geographical and metaphorical ramble into the life and times of Miss Niblock, tracing her emergence from the bowels of the Manchester Museum to her new life in Apartment, unearthing along the way the forgotten histories and topographies that connect brunswick to the cultural and academic institutions dominating this invisible moated kingdom...

last thursday was the second part of the activities planned to mark the end of my tenure as writer in residence at Apartment, an informal at home with afternoon tea and tour of the gallery, followed by a shortish spot of twilight flaneurie from brunswick to the manchester museum, ending with a well earned hot chocolate and chat in the cafe. thank you to sarah, morag, gavin, julie, aaran, maureen and hilary for being patient and honoured guests and for making it happen. i had a lot of fun showing you around apartment and the neighbourhood of brunswick that its a part of, and i hope that you did too. impromptu conversation and encounter is at the heart of apartment's curatorial remit and once again this proved to be the most fruitful element of the afternoon, and something that is hard to recreate here. i shall be watching the new plans for the proposed MMU supercampus with great interest and some trepidation, as its effects ripple into adjoining neighbourhoods. let's keep each other updated!

for those of you who missed it and might wish to relive the experience from the cosiness of your screens, here are some images from the tea and tour and a transcript of the route we took. as we discovered on our walk, appearances can be deceptive, and there's more to our forgotten kingdom than some patchy looking houses on the way to piccadilly or oxford road. life in brunswick is thriving and full of surprises! just sorry it was so cold...

brunswick: here be dragons - an introduction:

Sometimes referred to as Chorlton on Medlock, it is the bottom end of the larger district of Ardwick, a distinct and physically separate neighbourhood nestled in between the Mancunian Way, Ardwick Green’s faded Georgian grandeur and Upper Brook St’s campus redevelopments, a veritable Bermuda Triangle. Historically infamous for its slum housing, it was also home to numerous theatres, cinemas and even an ice rink. (taken from the Ardwick Local History Project 2006) The Ardwick community and history is one bound up with the changing fortunes of the city, its ambitious plans in the post war era, namely the 1945 City of Manchester Plan, and the economic decline endemic across the country from the 1970’s onwards. Much of the original community has been dispersed during successive regeneration schemes with many local shops, factories and recreational facilities lost over the last 30 years and piecemeal improvements hacked on haphazardly ever since. Whilst other large scale regeneration schemes have been dominating the headlines for the last few years Ardwick has lagged behind with Brunswick becoming virtually forgotten in the latest vision of the city's future.

At the heart of Brunswick is the Mancunian Way – constructed in the early 60’s – proud winner of the concrete awards in 1968! This elevated superhighway was to be the first of a new inner city network that would solve the city’s traffic problems. Typically the money ran out and one of the slip roads literally ‘runs out’ in mid air, a frozen testament to a failed utopian moment. The University Precinct centre is another example of this attempt to create an elevated city in the sky resulting in a similar abrupt end at the RNCM, where the super street in the sky should have continued across Oxford Rd. Sadly the new extensions to the Music school have erased all evidence of this and to my mind we are a little the poorer for having this quirk, this imperfection removed.

Crucially these failed utopian experiments are at the very heart of this little kingdom. The Mancunian way, a brutalist ‘60’s concrete flyover fundamental to the flow of the city, its urban ebb and tide, is a incessant / protective presence in Brunswick life; built on the ruins of old Chorlton on Medlock, it destroyed the neighbourhood that was, and created the present incarnation – a hinterland and quiet backwater that’s home to a largely settled community, in the main the first residents of the brand new 70's estate of maisonettes and its towering trio of Silkin, Lockton, and Lamport Court, now a network of extended families, friends and neighbours spread around the streets, squares and maisonettes, from the flyover up to the Ardwick Apollo.

Like most social housing the council long ago deemed this little enclave ‘hard to let’ territory, and over the last decade it has welcomed a small community of writers, musicians and artists moved around by the regenerations of nearby Hulme and Moss Side, the ever diminishing Northern Quarter estate, as well as the rise of the over priced private sector. Brunswick has lately become something of a creative hot-spot bursting with lo-fly magazines, micro recording companies, djs, a rash of new music and a gaggle of artists from the nearby Art school fermenting and incubating in the towers tiny flats. All this plus the thriving skater community who gather most evenings and weekends under the Mancunian Way itself, seemingly oblivious to the roar of the traffic rocketing above and around them 24/7.


Leave Lockton Close and cross over Grosvenor St down the little alleyway past the Salvation Army and Wai Yin elderly centre which on sunny afternoons is usually chock a block with people happily weeding and planting in their community garden, or simply sitting around in deck chairs taking tea and enjoying a chat.

Enter Gartside Gardens, filled with unexpected delights – first light sees the park busy with dads and sons starting the day with tai chi, alongside joggers, dog walkers and assorted martial artists as the day progresses; afternoon sees mums and toddlers dawdling in the mini playground before ambling home for tea; for nature lovers there's always the random sightings of the local flock of brightly plumed parrots to look forward to, as well as for the eagle eyed a fierce and imperious falcon swooping and circling for likely prey! evenings see the local basketball teams come out for practice and whilst night time can seem less salubrious, as is true of much of the city, the lucky few are often rewarded with a close encounter of the urban fox kind! Point out my favourite guerrilla garden at the edge of the park and the newish solar lamplights, which i haven’t yet seen elsewhere.

Walk along Kincardine Rd passing our own urban ruin, protracted demolition exposing the fragile skeleton of this former church and mosque, its shattered rose window still casting shards of multi-coloured light across the park. Opposite are newish halls of residence on the left, a continuation of the long relationship with the so-called knowledge quarter or university district. Manchester has the largest urban higher education precinct in Europe and Chorlton on Medlock is the see of the majority of the institutions, bounded by Manchester University, MMU and the former UMIST. The City of Manchester Plan of 1945 envisaged expanding the educational centre from the site of the University on Oxford Rd and integrating it into a new road system. Existing poor quality housing was to be cleared and academic, cultural and residential areas promoted. In the event clearances didn’t happen until the 60’s and 70’s and the idea of giving the site cohesion by closing off Oxford Rd never came off. A plan for a student village was commissioned in 1962 but by the next year that had already been superseded by another joint venture to create a development plan for a whole education precinct, incorporating the RNCM and the hospital. Produced in 1967 it proposed a campus on the scale of Berkeley in California and several buildings constructed in the next few years incorporated the vertical segregating of pedestrians and traffic by including linking upper walkways.

Carry on and cross Brunswick Street. Here we are walking deep into the social and radical heart of Manchester; a mere stones throw from the grandiose City Centre and its endless self publicising to the rear and the bustling university district to the right. Cross the road and straight ahead to the upper edge of the estate, exposing layer upon layer of regeneration, from the city of Manchester 1945 plan, through fort Ardwick of 70’s to new houses of 80’s and the current PPI scheme bordering Plymouth Grove at the top. Notice the echo of a church and its forlorn overgrown cemetery fronting Upper Brook St, a significant address for Manchester’s radical history and HQ for chartists, Peterloo Massacre, the Suffrage Movement: eg, the original committee for the promotion of women’s suffrage met in 1865 in Rev Stendhal’s home on Upper Brook St.

Pass the open ground that divides Brunswick to the edge of Plymouth Grove – the new Grove Village. The latest incarnation for the way forward for Brunswick, will it see similar transformation or will it be doomed to be forgotten or abandoned like so many schemes before it? Notice the boarded up Plymouth pub, a silent sentinel to the faded architectural history of the area and its lovely turret and clock tower. Let’s hope it survives…

Cross over to Elizabeth Gaskell House, open 1st Sunday of every month to the public, the home of Elizabeth Gaskell, born 29 September 1810 – 12 November 1865. Whilst she is best known for her biography of Charlotte Bronte, her novels including Cranford and North and South are the stuff of BBC drama, offering a detailed portrait of the lives of many strata of society, including the very poor. Her father was a Unitarian minister in Failsworth but resigned his orders on conscientious grounds and moved to London, leaving Elizabeth with an aunt in Cheshire. She married William Gaskell, a minister at Cross St chapel and set up home in Plymouth Grove in 1850, living there until her death 15 years later, becoming open house to assorted literary greats, religious dissenters and social reformers such as Dickens, Ruskin, Beecher Stowe, Charlotte Bronte and Charles Halle, who lived close by.

Walk to end of the street emerging at Upper Brook St, opposite the hospital and proceed to The Pankhurst Centre, Nelson Street, open Mon to Thursdays as a drop in and resource centre for women and as a historical centre. Men are welcome to the exhibition and library and on 1st Sunday Open Days. This was the home of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Sylvia, Christabel and Adela who founded the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) in Manchester in October 1903. At this time Manchester already had an established women’s suffrage movement, the Manchester Women’s Suffrage Committee, but the Pankhurst's group had more political and militant ambitions, causing regular disturbances in Manchester and disrupting speeches made by Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey. After the uproar this created, the campaign moved to London to concentrate on lobbying parliament directly, burning down churches and MPs homes, smashing all the windows in Oxford Street and even bombing Birmingham Station. By 1914 over 1,000 suffragettes were either in prison or in very poor health but the start of the First World War was a turning point with an unlikely truce between the government and movement. By 1918 women over 30 gained the right to vote in parliamentary elections, though it was to be another 10 years before women in Britain were granted complete equality with men and were allowed to vote at the age of 21.

Walk to the end of Nelson St, emerging at Oxford Rd, an unlikely umbilical chord to Brunswick, the fortunes of one always dependent on the city’s plans for the other. This is the flip side to Brunswick, a temple to orthodoxy, classification and taxonomy, stuffed to bursting with architectural landmarks, historic buildings, grand ideas and inventions past and present. It could be said that Oxford Rd marks the symbolic division between the histories of radical, social Manchester from civic, institutional Manchester. But in truth that's too simplistic a version - radicalism and conservatism exist hand in hand, and no-where is this more clearly demonstrated than Brunswick and the university. Like Brunswick, this is home to a transient community, its streets and buildings a palimpsest of civic and individual aspirations. It is a complicated place, at once the stern face of Victorian ambition and pride, home to the liberal and radicalising ideas of the city's history of social reform, and a symbolic container and producer of knowledge, culture and economic success, but it's a district which cannot be separated from the little known and forgotten sibling on the other side of the road.

For us, this is the home stretch, the path leading us from what might be seen as the dark heart of the cultural quarter to its dreaming spires of the Owens campus, a mix of grand Victorian quadrangle and 1960's planning, its holy grail that magnificent Waterhouse temple to learning, classification and order, the Manchester Museum. En route we pass a host of fascinating buildings including the grade 1 listed Holy Name Church, founded by Jesuits between 1869 and 1871 and designed by Joseph Aloysius Hanson, with its tower added in 1928, in memory of its famous rector, Father Bernard Vaughan. Kro bar nestles regally in one half of 325 Oxford Rd, a grade 11 listed regency survival from 1813, somewhat ironically occupying the former home of the Manchester Temperance Society, and still owned by them until 1997. Curiously it then became an Okasional Cafe, a typically 90's phenomena which squatted empty buildings and reopened them as makeshift, illegal cafes for tea and friendly subversion. The appeal and the concept was simple - take a disused space somewhere with a fair number of passers-by and open it to the public, offering them tea and anarchy. Where are they now? Answers welcome....

Continue along road to the Manchester museum, Brunswick just visible at the junction of the imposing Waterhouse buildings. The origins of the Manchester Museum lie in the collection of the Manchester manufacturer and collector John Leigh Philips (1761-1814). After his death, a small group of wealthy men banded together to buy his 'cabinet', and in 1821 they set up the Manchester Natural History Society, with grand premises on Peter St, where it continued to attract the bequests and collections of various cotton kings and the vast collections of the Manchester Geological Society in 1850. The museum was transferred in 1868 to Owens College, which later became the University of Manchester. The College asked famous architect Alfred Waterhouse to design a museum building, which was opened to the public in 1890. Waterhouse also designed Manchester's Town Hall and the Natural History Museum in London. Now known as the 'Manchester Museum', the collections were used by many people, from Owens College professors to schoolchildren. Many more objects were donated and the Museum was extended in 1912-1913 and again in 1927. These new buildings, designed by Waterhouse's son and grandson, displayed new ethnographic and Egyptology collections. They were funded largely by Jesse Haworth, a local textile merchant and keen Egyptologist. During the First World War, many local schools were used as military hospitals. In cooperation with the local education authorities, the Manchester Museum gave classes to the displaced school children. This system, which continued for 80 years, was one of the first of its kind in the country.

Today, the Museum is open virtually 365 days of the year, and is still updating and refurbishing – the latest plans include revamped Egyptian galleries and the Manchester Gallery, due to open next year, which aims to explore the connections between the people of Manchester, the city's history and the Museum's collection.

EP Niblock's links to the museum are by now well told, but suffice to say, the cafe is the perfect place to end our little walk through both her and the city's history.


Monday, 8 December 2008

'Life of a Bluestocking' now showing at Apartment

Preview ~ 6-9pm
Thursday December 4th 2008
Afternoon tea and guided tour of Brunswick ~ 3-5pm Thursday December 11th 2008
subsequently view by appointment

last thursday was a celebration of the splendid time and help i've had as writer in residence at apartment, the gallery - cum - art-space - cum ideas laboratory based in the heart of brunswick that has lately become my home and constant inspiration. it was attended by plenty of friends, fellow flaneurs and loitererers and a great time seemed to be had by all. thank you if you were able to make it and i hope it was a fun and festive evening for you.

'Life of a Bluestocking' consists of a detailed time-line of my 146 years, whilst a 'Reading Room' is dedicated to a series of texts from my diary. 'Scenes from a Life' accompanies the texts - a slideshow of snapshots from the journey of my life and times, a journey echoing our changing gaze from the grand to the vernacular.

visitors and groups are more than welcome to informal private views, by appointment. we'd love to see you and show you round with a cuppa and some cake...for more information go to apartment's blog, and to make an appointment to see the show please e-mail apartment or call on 07870 244 153.

below is a transcript of the text that my faithful assistant Maureen Ward wrote for the preview night. perhaps it will help bring something of the spirit of the show to you -

“The flaneur, though grounded in everyday life is an analytical form, a narrative device, an attitude towards knowledge and its social context. It is an image of movement through the social space of modernity. The flaneur is a multilayered palimpsest that allows us to move from real products of modernity to a critical appreciation of the state of modernity and its erosion into the past.”
Charles Jencks.

The flaneur is a stroller, a loiterer, someone who ambles through a city without apparent purpose but is secretly attuned to the history of the place and in covert search of adventure and knowledge. The flaneur has stalked the literature, art movements and philosophies of the 20th century, an intellectual chameleon, adapting perfectly to his times and surroundings, an archetype that to successive generations of artists, urbanists and writers is the metaphor for the century, the poster boy for modernity. More than anything he is inevitably a male figure, an intellectual voyeur always distanced from the crowd that he is so keen to observe.

However for cultural theorists such as Jencks the flaneur is essentially an analytical device or contrivance to explore the project of modernity itself and its legacy in the emerging 21st century. Euphemia P Niblock is a response to this contrivance - a playful embodiment of the history of the flaneur and the modernist gaze - whilst her Diary of a Bluestocking is an experiment in examining this critical discourse in the context of what might be termed the current post post-modern turn. Life of a Bluestocking charts Modernisms own journey - her disappearance at the height of the period (its optimism untested and universal narrative unchallenged) and re-appearance as the 21st century tracing a route through the intervening years, our own century.

Spinster and bluestocking, Niblock is also something of an outsider, an emancipated transgressor in polite Edwardian society, recalling the unsung role of the female intellectual, adventurer and agent in the birth of the modernist period; a mischievous subversion of the Victorian upper class male. On first inspection an unlikely anachronism and almost comic figure, Niblock is in reality an ongoing research project, a call to arms for the forgotten legacy of the polymath and amateur enthusiast in our prevailing predilection for the specialist and the professional; a more 'curious' gaze than the convention of the dandified flaneur.

Life of a Bluestocking is not only a celebration of Niblock’s tenure as writer in residence at Apartment but a gentle interrogation of the recent historic or ‘museological’ turn in the contemporary art scene and the ‘Mark Dion’ effect in archaeological and natural history museums across the globe, typified by the successful Alchemy programmes at the Manchester Museum, and an interesting response to the ubiquity of the ‘cabinet of curiosity’ in the Gallery.

The history of Apartment is one that knowingly straddles the peripheries and cut and thrust of knowledge production and critical discourse, a space that reflects an ongoing conversation on the intersections of art, urban and cultural studies on social relations and everyday life. It is surely no coincidence that Apartment has embraced the opportunity to comment on the prevailing trend of sending the artist into the museum by bringing the museologist into the art space, inviting a historian and archaeologist to explore and examine the role of the artist in the documenting of an ‘archaeology of now’, our defining quotidian moment.

there is also tea and a tour taking place this thursday, from 3 - 5pm - do come along!

places are limited so please book so we can make enough tea!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Life of a Bluestocking

you might have noticed that the good people of Apartment, my intellectual home and heart of the brunswick set, are holding an end of residency party and retrospective of sorts for me at the gallery tonight. it marks the end of a whirlwind year for me (bear in mind 'whirlwind' is quite possibly ever so slightly slower for a lady of my years than of yours, so do make allowances!) and i shall miss it and all the friends i have made along the way.

looking around apartment today as the cosy flat becomes transformed into a gallery, a gallery that is describing and deconstructing the story of my life and times, i am suddenly acutely aware of the enormity of the last 150 years, my small part in it, and its sometimes terrible legacy still being played out today. as i sift through the archives and snapshots of my youth and listen to the reaction of my young friends i see only a cartoon not a real figure, and as i gaze upon the my old correspondence and pictures of friends long departed i feel hardly solid, a mere shadow, a relic, a curiosity or novelty for amusement or entertainment. i have become a voyeur on my own life and am temporarily confused - am i still real? or a mere cypher for my times?

inevitably there are a hundred and one last minute things still to do and as hilary and paul bustle about making things happen, calm and confident in their world and their place in it, i am once again grateful to my gorgeous brunswick set for taking me to their busom as i try to make sense of my survival, my existence and the new role i might play in this strange new century

i do hope you can pop along for sherry and a chat tonight, or for afternoon tea next thursday...all welcome, see you there.