Notes for Crit

Updated: Jan 26

29/01/2021 - 14:30



Throughout the MA I have been exploring ideas of biography and autobiography and looking at the subsequent intersect between the two, also considering the fictional aspect when employing biographical material in contemporary artwork.


  1. To continue with the investigation of biographical- and evaluate my re-engagement with autobiographical- material, attempting to push boundaries and enhance this intersection within my practice.

  2. To explore the link between mental health and art from an autobiographical and biographical perspective.

  3. To explore a more research based and explorative approach within my practice.

  4. To continue the project ’Insects and Parrots’ which was postponed in year one, by engaging in planning and pre-production.


  1. To experiment more freely with the use of written text, beginning with the poetry of Edward James that explores the biographical/autobiographical intersection.

  2. To re-evaluate my previous autobiographical writing and attempt new works, with a view to incorporating my own words in my practice.

  3. To engage in structured pre-production by creating a storyboard, choreographing the performances and planning studio time.

  4. To experiment using previously filmed footage but incorporating new texts.


  1. Having previously attempted to move away from the autobiographical and engage with biographical material, I discovered that the work based on Nijinsky nevertheless contains my own stories. This has led to a purposeful re-engagement with autobiographical material, particularly from a mental health perspective.

  2. I intend to become more exploratory and less controlled in my processes, attempting to discover new directions and break boundaries.

Mapping the field and sources - framing the work

  1. I will engage in further reading on Edward James: The Heart of the World, A Surrealist Life, Swans Reflecting Elephants, also looking at documentaries regarding his life.

  2. I am write a blog documenting my relationship with Edward James, looking at how his autobiographical material intersects mine.

  3. I will be looking further at artists such as Bill Viola: The Joining of the Spiritual to the Aesthetic, Embodying Emotion on Video, Expanding visions of Life and Memory. Also investigate further the works of Isaac Julien.

  4. I will research the ideas of mental illness and its relationship with the arts, beginning with the Sky Arts documentary Art & Mind and researching some of the interviewees: Siri Husvedt - Writer and Schola, José Ferreira - Writer and Professor, ESAD, Jamie Ruers - Art Historian, Freud Museum.

  5. I aim to develop my own writings through the seminars and writing assignments and exploring further the technique, introduced in the writing task, of ‘Stream of Consciousness’.


Edward James 1907 - 1984

Swans Reflecting Elephants - My Early Years

In the first lockdown, with plenty of time on my hands, and having had more than enough of watching television, I turned to reading.

The first book I came across, that grabbed my attention was, Swans Reflecting Elephants, lent to me by Lord St. Germans just after the time I met Edward James - always a mistake to lend books!

I remember partially reading it several years ago and, with my current interest in biographical material, I decided to give it another go.

I found I couldn't put it down, it brought back fond memories of the time that I knew Edward James.

I decided to research further into the life of Edward James and ordered more books.

Edward James - A Surrealist Life - By John Lowe

During the 1930s Edward James set up his own publishing company, The James Press and published several volumes of his own poetry and his novel, The Gardener Who Saw God. He also published John Betjeman's first collection of verse.

Discovering this, I was interested in reading his poetry so I ordered another book...

The Heart And The World - A selection of the poems of Edward James

Whist reading Edward James' poetry, I came across a piece entitled, Le sacred du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), relating to the ballet and orchestral concert work by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. There was also a poem entitled, To the thumb of Igor Stravinsky.

This brought to life an interesting connection to a previous biographical interest of mine, Vaslav Nijinsky. Nijinsky having danced and choreographed, Le sacred du Printemps for the Ballet Russes in Paris.

Edward James invested a huge sum of money in the Paris ballet, becoming involved with 'Les Ballets 1933', a ballet company founded by George Balanchine and Boris Kochno, both of whom had worked previously with the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev.

It appears that Edward James' involvement with the Paris ballet took place only a few years after the death of Sergei Diaghilev in 1929. Diaghilev founded the legendary Ballet Russes in 1909, the stage which propelled Vaslav Nijinsky's rise to fame.

Continuing with the theme of biography and autobiography, and the intersect between the two, I am now looking at the poetry of Edward James and considering whether I might experiment with using some of his text in the way I have previously with Nijinsky's text from his diary.

I have chosen three poems to begin working with and I amnow in the process of having them recorded.

Young evening

There’s the moon in my coffee

I saw it last night -

a crescent of silver

encasing the light -

and under the flowerpots

a sheen of damp

dragging the silence

of the yellow lamp,

There are tears at the window,

and lies in the street

And calumny passing

On whispering feet.

But eyes of star jasmine

here speak, cool and shiny,

up the climbing house

the words of dead Heine

to the live wood-louse.

And the lamp on the warm sill

recalls the truth

that for a few more years still

you still have your youth.

The heart of love

I want to go home to the heart of love;

tired of this outer chill,

I need to find

the cave that is kind,

the gold in the sleep of the hill.

I want to touch you on the mouth of love,

feel your longing flow into mine.

But I meet instead

a shake of the head

and gall in the taste of the wine.

I want that the windows through which you look

at times so gentle at me

be opened wide

to my breaking tide

till I flow into them as the sea.

To the thumb of Igor Stravinsky

Move, mint your will, good wizard! Once again,

magnetic rod, gnome of the mines of sleep,

dig more wild silver from the cunning, deep,

harmonious intestines of that brain -

that mind whose cunning roots are fed by rain

of platinum spears. They plunge and cause to leap

the vivid jets of song, which seldom weep

because their roots have delved beyond all pain.

Kind mathematic uncle, Merlin thumb,

enchant me with the rhythms of your waves!

Time, as a trapped djinn from a dark lamp come,

himself must rear to serve you like a snake.

For you with flutes have tamed cruel Time to make

a magic world among your willing slaves.

Lie still my heart

Lie still my heart, and you sweet youth lie low!

It is so good to smooth the dread away

that, from the passing some of each gone day,

you might of changed - and prove it is not so.

Through shadowy slats, mottled with sun, I know

how the noon sun shines deep into the bay

and, as his light bathes sand and wave and spray,

my ardour washes you beneath its flow.

The weariness, the distance and that dread

of losing what I loved more than I knew,

melts and resolves in summer’s tender bed.

You are my summer and my sleep is you.

I, like the sun himself, caress the sea.

You are my ocean; yet you drown in me.

Meeting Edward James 1982

Edward James was famous as a patron of the arts, notably of the Surrealists; however, it was as a poet that he wished to be remembered. He once remarked that after his death a ‘flood of [his] poetry would burst upon an astonished world’. Indeed the extent of his writing was only discovered after his death in 1984, when trunks and suitcases containing papers also yielded up many poems, some scrawled on bits of paper, others in letters to friends.

‘His wealth was a sad barrier to his recognition as a poet’ says Professor Levi.

James, E. (1987) The Heart and the Word. London: George Weidenfeld & Nicolson LTD.

In thew summer of 1982 I was fortunate enough to meet Edward James, when he came to visit the village of Saint Germans in south east Cornwall, to attend the 'Elephant Fayre', a festival hosted by Peregrine Eliot, The Earl of Saint Germans.

Edward played a major role in my leaving Cornwall, and heading out into the world. He once said to me, "you need to leave this place".

Looking back I've often wondered if this was because he recognised that I was gay, and that a small village in Cornwall was not a healthy environment for me.

I told Edward about my plans to leave Cornwall, and how I had had to postpone my plans due to the premature death of my father.

Edward inquired as to where I would like to live. I said I was planning to move to London. He then asked the good friend he was with, Desmond Guinness, if he could help me with accommodation in London. Desmond kindly offered me the use an apartment in the Kings Road - an offer I never took up.

I mentioned to Edward that I was considering a move to Los Angeles. He gave me a contact there to get in touch with, Paul Rucha, saying that I should mention Edward's name and Mr. Rucha would look after me. At this Edward's traveling companion, said that Edward should not have suggested me staying with Mr. Rucha as he was a homosexual. Edward looked to me, with a slight grin, and said that he thought I would be fine.

I replied that, Yes, I would be fine.

Edward said that I would become bored of Los Angeles in a matter of weeks, and that I should then call him in Mexico. He would send his private plane to collect me and bring me to his home in Mexico. This felt kind of surreal in itself, as I had hardly left the confines of Cornwall, other that the odd family holiday abroad and a few trips to London.

To this day,I have kept the Elephant Fayre ticket, with the information he wrote for me.

Edward and I kept in touch. He gave me his contact numbers at West Dean, his house in England, and his apartment at the Paris Ritz.

We would have occasional telephone conversations, at which I would tell him about my new life in London and how happy I was there, and how I was not looking to move on at that time.

My life progressed and our contact diminished, then one day I heard that Edward James had passed away.

Ive often thought what might have been, had I taken Edward up on his very kind offer, and I had moved on from London and traveled to his home in Mexico. I have no regrets in life, for any of the things I've done, but they do say it's often the things you don't do that you are lightly to end up regretting. Looking at the footage and photography of Las Pozas, as beautiful and tranquil as it looks, I fear that in my early twenties, after escaping the very rural confines of Cornwall, it might have very rapidly become my idea of absolute hell!

To be continued...

Carl Gustav Jung (1875 - 1961)

In my current research, I am looking into the realms of the human psyche and neurosis in relation to the artist and the artistic process. This research has led me to Carl Gustav Jung.

I began reading about Jung and his work several years ago, and discovered I still had two of his books I am now revisiting.

Memories, Dreams, Reflections and Synchronicity, with the recent addition of The Red Book and The Portable Jung.

Within my research I came across this article by Andy Dilks.

Carl Jung and the Artistic Impulse: Madness in the Creative Spirit

The article opens with this statement,

A brief look at some historical examples of artistic geniuses and it is tempting to believe that there is something approaching madness in the creative spirit.

Dilks begins by giving some historical examples of madness in the artistic genius - of course this is where Van Gogh plays a leading role! He continues by questioning,

What is it that leads us to create art? Is there a psychological drive at work, a subconscious force which simmers away beneath the surface before emerging in an explosion of creativity? Is there an innermost essence to this process, something which embodies our propensity to express ourselves through art?

This is something that I have been considering for some time and I am interested in exploring further.

Dilks goes on to say,

A brief look at some historical examples of artistic geniuses and it is tempting to believe that there is something approaching madness in the creative spirit; that art is intrinsically bound with insanity, great works of art functioning as a cathartic mechanism – something which both purges and purifies the spirit – without which the artist would be confined to the asylum.

This leads me to consider artists such as Edvard Munch - who had a mental breakdown and who's father suffered from depression and his sister was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Francisco de Goya - who showed signs of mental disorder. Then Mark Rothko who took his own life.

Of particular interest was this section about Jung's beliefs.

Jung believed that art itself had no inherent meaning, suggesting that perhaps it is like nature – something that simply “is”. But the creative process was something distinct, and Jung posited that works of art could be seen to arise out of much the same psychological conditions as a neurosis. Like all neuroses these conscious contents have an unconscious background which in their artistic manifestation often go beyond the individual and into something deeper and more broadly reflective of humankind. Jung offered the analogy that “personal causes have as much or as little to do with a work of art as the soil with the plant that springs from it.”True art is something “supra-personal”, a force which has “escaped from the limitations of the personal and has soared beyond the personal concerns of its creator.”

Jung concedes that not all art originates in this manner – art can derive from a deliberate process of conscious, careful consideration geared towards a specific expression in which the artist is at one with the creative process. But for Jung, fascination lay in the artist who obeyed alien impulses where the work appears to impose itself on the author; an external force wielding the artist like a marionette. This is the creative impulse, acting upon the conscious mind from a subconscious level – it guides the artist in a way which they cannot understand, regardless of the conviction they may have that it has originated within themselves.

For great artists, this impulse can be all-consuming. As Jung rightly observes, “The biographies of great artists make it abundantly clear that the creative urge is often so imperious that it battens onto their humanity and yokes everything to the service of the work, even at the cost of ordinary health and human happiness”. The biographies of the likes of Beethoven, Marcel Proust and many others are a testament to the creative process as “a living thing implanted in the human psyche.”

This has got me wondering about the artistic process and what drives and feeds it.

The article concludes with...

In this sense, contemporary art cannot truly be measured alongside art from the past – it resides in a different era, inspired by and reflecting the spirit of the times. If shamanic cave art can be seen to represent the emergence of a new type of consciousness in humanity intimately tied to the birth of spirituality, art today can be viewed as a coalescence of all that has come since and is yet to come. Or, as Jung expressed it: “All art intuitively apprehends coming changes in the collective unconsciousness.”

Im not sure that I understand where I am heading with this investigation. I feel as if I am looking for a thread, something to latch on to. Something to assist in making sense of my practice and what drives me to make work. I feel all I can do is try and dig deeper into the research and hope that at some time in the future I will make sense of it all.

Understanding the Collective Unconsciousness

In this article Lisa Fritscher discusses the Collective Unconsciousness and begins by stating,

The collective unconscious is a concept originally defined by psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Sometimes referred to as the "objective psyche," it refers to the idea that a segment of the deepest unconscious mind is genetically inherited and is not shaped by personal experience.

This is I believe is where Jung disagrees with Freud. Freud believed that the unconscious was the product of personal experience.

Looking at these examples of text I extracted from 'The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky' in my project 'Insects and Parrots' - a work in progress, I question if this is the writings of a man who is insane or maybe just more in touch with the collective unconscious.

  • I am feeling in the flesh and not intellect in the flesh'

  • 'I represented the beast well and therefore the public understand me'

  • 'I am an unthinking philosopher, I am a philosopher with feeling'

  • 'I want to cry but I cannot, because my soul aches too much'

  • 'My sickness is that of the soul not of the mind'

  • 'I do not think and therefore will not lose my head'

  • 'My soul is sick… I am incurable'

I'm now considering whether it might be plausible, when looking back at this statement from Andy Dilks' article - Carl Jung and the Artistic Impulse: Madness in the Creative Spirit, if it invites questions as to whether alien impulses were experienced by Nijinsky in his work.

'But for Jung, fascination lay in the artist who obeyed alien impulses where the work appears to impose itself on the author; an external force wielding the artist like a marionette.'

Also, could this possibly have played a part in Nijinsky's demise.

Fritscher goes on to say,

According to Jung, the collective unconscious is made up of a collection of knowledge and imagery that every person is born with and is shared by all human beings due to ancestral experience. Though humans may not know what thoughts and images are in their collective unconscious, it is thought that in moments of crisis the psyche can tap into the collective unconscious.

This investigation is relatively new and I feel I am only just beginning to scratch the surface. I have no idea at present where it might lead but I am really enjoying the process. Hopefully this will be on going as I am looking forward to digging deeper.

My intention throughout this period of the MA was to 'loosen up' within my practice and explore, it now feels as though this might be something that I am achieving.

This interview with Jung I really enjoyed. I feel it gives an insight into the character of the man.

Face To Face - Carl Gustav Jung (1959)

In this interview Jung is discussing his work, and as of yet I have not had chance to view it all, so I will continue with this later.

Interview with Dr Carl Jung 1958

In this film 'Interview with Dr Carl Jung 1958, Jung discusses the Persona and the Ego, and questions,

'Is the persona of the artist forced upon him?'

To be continued...

Working with the first poem by Edward James

The heart of love

I want to go home to the heart of love;

tired of this outer chill,

I need to find

the cave that is kind,

the gold in the sleep of the hill.

I want to touch you on the mouth of love,

feel your longing flow into mine.

But I meet instead

a shake of the head

and gall in the taste of the wine.

I want that the windows through which you look

at times so gentle at me

be opened wide

to my breaking tide

till I flow into them as the sea.

In these three examples of the recorded poem by Edward James, I have attached the poem to three different piece of film. Unable to make anything new at present, I have used films I made previously. This is just an example to see the effect on the written word when attached to the moving images.

Film and Poetry Recordings

I have been considering whether or not to attempt using text that I have written myself. Having not yet written anything current that I would be happy to share, I looked back through old writings and decided to give this piece, that I wrote sometime in the 1980s, an airing.

Again, just to give an example of the text with a moving image, I have used on old piece of film that I made a few years ago.


So soft a touch I cannot bear.

Your presence surrounds me.

My emotions spilling over the edge of this nightmare onto the coldness of your awakening, like lava into the sea.

Followed shortly by the strained untruth of another smile, repetition passes by, again dragging all it carries, unduly mine to suffer once more.

Happiness passing me by in moments of uncomfortable distaste.

Satisfaction never really understood.

An ending brings only disappointment.

Now, colourful tears I shed with no remorse.

Left plentiful in sorrow, I hard swallow my past and smile again in the face of my destiny.

Freedom my only wish, and death my only chance to return to the place before my birth.

I go willingly, led by time, shackled only by belief.

Then, and only then, will I be free to sleep without guilt, my final wish come true.


In collaboration with Zanna


I don't really have any specific questions to ask at present, any feedback would be appreciated.


Barnstone, W. (1970) The Poems of St. John of the Cross. United States: Indiana Press.

Bernier, R R, (2014) The Unspeakable Art Of Bill Viola. United States: Pickwick Publications.

Bishop, C.(2005) Installation Art. Millbank, London: Tate Publishing.

Bishop, C. (2006) Participation. London: Co-published with Whitechapel Art Gallery.

Gane, L. (2005) Introducing Nietzsche. USA: Totem Books.

Harrod, T. (2018) Craft. London: Co-published with Whitechapel Art Gallery.

Hanhardt, JG. (2015) Bill Viola. London: Thames & Hudson.

James, E. (1987) The Heart and the Word. London: George Weidenfeld & Nicolson LTD.

James, E. Swans Reflecting Elephants - My Early Years. London: George Weidenfeld & Nicolson LTD.

Jung, C.G. (1983) Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Great Britain: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd.

Jung, C.G. (1955) Synchronicity - An Acausal Connecting Principle. Great Britain: Cox & Wyman Ltd.

Jung, C.G. (2009) The Red Book - Liber Novus.Great Britain: W. W. Norton & Co. Ltd.

Jung, C.G. (1971) The Portable Jung.USA: Viking Press Inc.

Kris, E. & Kurz, O. (1979) Legend, Myth, and Magic in the Image of the Artist. USA: Yale University.

Lowe, J. Edward James - A Surrealist Life. London: William Collins & Co LTD.

31 views0 comments