Wednesday, 20 May 2015

"Reimagining the Gothic 2015" - Road trips, ruins and Regency heroines, or The lack of method behind the madness

Considering that the idea was mostly formed over a table in a Manchester Nando’s and a bench in a train station, Reimagining the Gothic was a surprising success, thanks entirely to those who participated, delivering wonderful papers and creative projects. And amidst these excellent projects- creative writing, the short films and the storytelling (accompanied by an adorable crocheted ghost bunny) - was my own ‘creative project.’

These two ‘projects’ of mine came about for two reasons, the first of which was a genuine desire to contribute to our event. After all, I was passionate enough about Reimagining the Gothic to be stupid enough to organize it. The second and perhaps most compelling reason, was complete and utter dread: what if nobody submits anything? What if we have a showcase with nothing to shows? Spurred on by this dread (honestly, even planning birthday parties gives me palpitations) I came up with ideas for two series’ of photos, which eventually became titled ‘The Gothic Heroines Survival Guide’ and ‘Reimagining Gothic Landscapes’.

The central idea behind Reimagining the Gothic had always been about considering the Gothic genre through new lenses, to explore if and how it had changed since its eighteenth century conception but also to consider what it is about the Gothic that continues to draw readers to it; to suggest that at its heart, despite its many evolutions and iterations, we still enjoy the Gothic for the same reasons we did in the eighteenth century. Now, if I was smarter, I could tell you that the idea between the Heroines set was to depict this continuing enjoyment. But I’m not, and it wasn't. Originally the idea had been to create a series of photos of a Catherine Morland-type wandering the streets of modern Sheffield, reading Creepypasta and discovering Goth fashion, intended to highlight the Gothics progression over the last two centuries (as well as a poor attempt at humour). 

You cannot compete with Blanche’s cuteness. Credit for both Blanche and the photo are Jennie Baileys, @WildWrites

But with a little (read: a lot of) help from fellow Sheffield Goth Mary, who suggested we add a in a modern heroine, it started to become something different. So, on a Wednesday morning I had expected to be quiet but turned out to be the one of the first days back after Easter and therefore teaming with people, I went out dressed like a lunatic in full Regency get up to take some photos. The things we do for out art, right? In the end the whole process was so ridiculous that we could barely hold a straight face long enough to take the photos, and I was convinced that we’d have barley anything useable.  But in fact it was the candid photos, captured between poses, which proved best. What came out was not what I intended, so I won’t take credit, that belongs to ancient Gods of the Gothic. But the idea the photos suggest- that were Catherine Morland reverse-Outlander'ed into the 21st century, she would still find a common ground in the Gothic. 

Shockingly, this is not a posed photo 

Heroines done with for the day, I set aside the bonnet and instead assumed the identity of the Gothic villain, kidnapping three unsuspecting innocents and whisking them a way to a village in the middle of nowhere and forcing them to climb a much steeper hill than I’d anticipated to a ruined castle where I forced them to take arty photos of the scenery in attempt to discover if our experiences of Gothic landscapes have changed in the last two hundred years. 

One of my victims was our newest Goth, Danny, who was definitely in no way coerced to become one of us. Being a creative writer he captured  the experience with such feeling to rival the best of Gothic heroine, I’m sure, so I’ve decided to leave you with his words instead of my own:

[Each of this is a snapshot, not a coherent narrative, mostly, so just pluck and pick whichever bare bones and poor form you think will best serve. D]

Gravitating towards graveyards, climbing ruined castles, baffling onlookers with bonnets, and capturing all with camera and a clinical Gothicist’s eye.

We strode into Blackwell’s and found that perfect niche instantly.  We settled in, and took photos of the barbarous Goths in their natural habitat; buried between pages of the grotesque and the perverse, and loving every damned minute.

Photos taken tongue-in-cheek, with irony but also with sincerity, and with happiness.

Goths on Tour! A car journey haunted by tales of the past.  Every lake was primed to turn into a sublime seascape in an instant; every village was a cult waiting to strike when we were fully within its heart; every mile passed, was a mile surpassed without that dreaded moment of the car engine failing, abandoning us in the middle of an unknown and treacherous path. 

The castle still drew us, drew them, drew everyone, to its core.  Though the hill was crippling, the climb a series of short bursts and long breaths, we all wanted to get to the summit.  Not just for the vista, that pastoral picture which placed you atop a tiny point survey the vast landscape before you – but for the castle.  The castle!

Bare stone and wrought metal, but what it inspired was a sudden flash of phrases, moments, and Gothic adventures.  

The Castle was a windy climb to a space where the past refused to be quiet.  Eroded stone spoke of eons passed: time would pass, but the stone would remain, although chipped away by the harsh seasons.  The village below changed, the visitors sifted through the landscape like raindrops, but the stones always remained. 

It was wonderful to watch those scenes long-kept in books rekindled and flickering from behind the Goth’s eyes. They stared at the ruins and saw these moments carved out in front of them.
But it was joy and excitement – here could be the spot where the giant helmet falls, and crushed the heir of Otranto; here, beneath these stones, a trapdoor could await to lead them to an endless maze of secret passages; here the body buried alive; here the cult revealed.

They looked at the stone and saw something which kindled smiles.  Blasted heaths. Secret passageways. Crumbling masonry ready to crush anything in its path.  Echoes of the past that spoke of violence.  And they smiled, and they laughed.  What I really believe is, they belonged
The day suitably cast grey shadows over the walls, and I saw those Goths around me smile, replaying scenes from across the Gothic with each new turn, each new nook and crevice. 

The wind stilled itself suddenly, and an eerie isolation crept across the courtyard.  A tree, with withered branches, called to me, to my eyes, which refused to remove their gaze from this spot.

In the silence I saw the branches form into an exploded diagram of a nervous system, almost as if the tree were alive and breathing like us.  From here my mind supplied the rest.  A lord, killed in pursuit of his lover, was buried by the very woman he adored.  She in turn mourned for him, and placed this tree over the place where his body lay freshly buried, before she again resumed her flight from the dangers she now faced alone. 

I turned, remarking this to the nearest Goth, who simply shrugged and smiled.  ‘You’ll be one of us, soon,’ she said, and walked off further into the ruins, waiting for me to follow.  

I have been slowly absorbed into a group who find intrigue among monsters and corpses.  They want to visit graveyards.  They enjoy excursions to ruins.  They smile at horror, and laugh at terror.  Most importantly, they do so over cake.  And now, I suppose, so do I.

Lauren Nixon and Danny Southward are both postgraduate researchers at the University of Sheffield studying Gothic Literature and Creative Writing, respectively. Both survived the now infamous aforementioned Gothic field-trip, though of course they still have nightmares about it.


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