Victorian College of the Arts - Theses
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A Naïve faith in images: indexicality, silence and fabrication in the construction of narrative
A Naive Faith in Images explores the veracity of photographic and pictorial documents presented as information in the public realm, that is in the media, public institutional archives and broadly in historical documents. The research examines the role that memory and narrative play within discourses of conflict and the construction of histories. Specifically, the project addresses how contemporary art establishes and negotiates relationships between philosophical aspects around the manipulation of images and socio-political imaginaries (the values, systems and symbols common to a particular social group) to construct new narratives. Thus, the exegesis is based on three structural streams of inquiry, that of image interpretation (W. J. T. Mitchell, Hans Belting, Jacques Ranciere, Susie Linfield, Vilem Flusser), image collection and archival practices (Georges Didi-Huberman, Hal Foster, Aby Warburg, Peter Osborne) and an expanded notion of painting (Isabelle Graw, Gerhard Richter). Two historical cases are provided to create a blueprint, used to scrutinise the structural streams of inquiry, as they posed specific problems in regard to the use of images and image interpretation. I was motivated by their geographical, political and ideological relevance. One instance is factual and delves into the investigation of the murder of Viviana Gallardo, a Costa Rican leftist militant and activist who was shot in prison and whose persona was exploited by the conservative right-wing ideology of the time. This case is of significance to the overall project, as it examines how images are used to manipulate discursive narratives. The study follows the ways in which the narrative of this recent event was constructed from a multiplicity of interpretations, such as that from Gallardo’s family, friends, ex-militants and the generally uninformed public. The second case manufactures the story of Svetoslav S., a fictional painter whose life and work explore the role of art history in the play between politics, identity and the indiscriminate use of images. In this research, the first case study is embedded in the notion of the image as an index, covering the complexities this assumption entails historically and the consequences it presents in a particular context (Costa Rica). The second case serves to question and bend the latter assumption by placing the character within a global narrative that has affected the western historical construct. It also explores the role of the artist as a manipulator of images, through the potentialities and contradictions underpinned by an extended notion of painting, as well as the different identities that can be created from the mix between fiction and factuality. Both cases show us phenomenological aspects of images—the platforms and contexts in which particular images have portrayed events and individuals; as well as highlighting the level of engagement audiences have when interacting with different versions of a single event and how these have an effect upon the understanding and creation of history. On an individual level, I was interested in how differently I interpret and manipulate particular images—those that have an impersonal relationship to me—my connection to them and my subsequent artistic response. In opposition to this, I will show the effect that other pictures with more personal and sensitive subject matter can produce and how this affects my relationship to them and the subjects that these represent. In one instance, I became an interpreter, in the other, a medium or mediator.
Inverted Landscapes: Photomedia and the More-than-Representational
The Anthropocene casts a long shadow over this project. "Inverted Landscapes: Photomedia and the More-than-Representational" is a response to the need, brought on by the climate crisis, to conceptualise nature differently. Composed of equal parts creative work and written exegesis, this practice-led PhD fractures the logic of pictorial and semiotic conventions of photomedia, forming inverted landscapes that contend with the material and political implications of visually representing the Anthropocene. Through undermining the material semblance and representational structures of photomedia depictions of nature, the imaging apparatus is exposed, bringing attention to how humans, non-human nature, and imaging technologies are entangled. The creative outcome comprises three artistic projects: "Ambient Pressure," "Surfacing," and "Echo," which were assembled as an exhibition, "Inverted Landscapes." "Ambient Pressure" critiques how photomedia are used to frame and fix nature into an abstraction. To undermine the seemingly transparent objectification that occurs through photographic practices, artworks were made by physically modifying film and prints, adding occlusions during the film scanning process, and extending these material gestures into moving image. "Surfacing" enabled more-than-human agencies of natural phenomena and photo-materials to make artworks. To highlight correspondences between the geo-chemical materials of photomedia and earth processes, photographic film and paper was directly exposed to high-salinity environments and geothermal activities. "Echo" explored the affordances of photomedia by scanning botanical forms within environmental conditions that were beyond the imaging threshold of the technology. The resulting digital 3D models carry with them aesthetic aberrations that demonstrate data’s fragility and instability, ruptures that expose the imaging apparatus. Elaborating on posthumanist and new materialist conceptions of matter and agency, the exegesis analyses the artworks presented in the exhibition "Inverted Landscapes." Media theory and ecocritical perspectives provide necessary context through which to understand the intensive correspondences between the Earth and imaging technologies. Using the writing and philosophical positions of Karen Barad, Jussi Parikka, and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, among others, the exegesis forms an argument for a more-than-representational approach to photomedia-based creative practice. This thesis proposes that unsettling representational constructs, enabling more-than-human agencies, and attending to the analogue and digital material of photomedia are generative processes for creative practice. Consequently, the material, political, and conceptual entanglements of nature and photomedia materialise through the artworks. By haptically manipulating conventional landscape imagery, enmeshing photo-materials with natural phenomena, and harnessing the limitations of digital 3D scans of flora, my research imagines new relationalities between nature, culture, and technology. I argue that the more-than-representational research used throughout this project contributes to a reconfiguring of how nature is conceptualised. The necessary perspective shift in contending with, and responding to, the climate crisis enlivens and shapes this project.
Investigating Mrs. Nolan: an exploration of G. C. Menotti's opera The Medium from a performer's perspective
The purpose of this study is to provide an insight into the preparation of a minor role for performance, specifically that of Mrs Nolan from Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera The Medium, whilst also hoping to demonstrate that small roles both benefit from and are deserving of thorough research. This study offers contextual information on the composer, with regard to his personal and musical influences, and an outline of the synopsis and background of the opera in question. It also investigates the social, cultural and musical climate in which The Medium was written with the intention of deepening understanding of Menotti’s compositional style, with specific regard to the musical and dramatic choices he made in order to create the character Mrs Nolan. With a view to understanding how Menotti creates and develops his characters, the score of The Medium is explored both musically and textually, with reference to the Russian actor and theatre director Constantin Stanislavski’s writings regarding character development and dramatisation, and conductor and author Donald Barra’s theories on musical analysis. In conclusion, the observations and discoveries from this investigation greatly influenced the dramatic choices made in preparations for the performance of the role of Mrs Nolan, whilst also supporting the argument that even minor operatic roles are deserving of and benefit from serious consideration and preparation. As a result of this study, the author was able to create a clear image of Mrs. Nolan’s physicality, her vocal tone and colour, as well as create justifications for her intentions, actions and her personal journey throughout this dramatic event. Reviews of the resulting performances of The Medium in June 2007 for Lyric Opera Melbourne at Chapel off Chapel Theatre have been included in the Appendix.
Heidegger's hesitations: Mise-en-scenes of unreliable narration
Modern Australian identity is impacted by historically romanticised images and narratives of the occident which in post-colonial Australia remain oddly familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. This research explores certain romanticised narratives as the question of their reliability becomes the catalyst for a collision between art, lived-experience, identity and representation. ‘Heidegger’s hesitations: Mise-en-scenes of unreliable narration’ examines this concern primarily through interrogating the effects of this collision. As a figure of substantial philosophical consequence whose ideas have significantly informed art theory, Heidegger and his Greek sojourn is pursued through the retracing as being experientially-unanalysed. If ‘retracing’ is the ‘way of the image’, what if anything, can be specifically recuperated from retracing philosopher Martin Heidegger’s 1962 sojourn across Greece that might inform art today? In the European Spring of 2017, the project of retracing followed Heidegger’s journey to Greece uncovering a series of points that provided the basis for a critique of his concept of aletheia. Tourism emerged as a practical method for exploring certain narratives. Metaphorically, tourism provided a useful image for the exploration of ideas. For the tourist, a dislocation occurs that characterises an un-belonging. It is this sense of un-belonging that is apparent in the many hesitations Heidegger recalls in his narrative account ‘Sojourns: The journey to Greece’. Both Heidegger’s sojourn and the retracing of it, are explored as mise en scenes of unreliable narration where the abjectness of each romanticisation is formed in the perceived authority of narrative imagery, asking why is it that certain narratives hold weight and are carried whilst others are jettisoned, dropped or simply forgotten?
Philosophies in Figurative Painting: A Study of the Language of Painting
Abstract This practice-led project will investigate particularities and philosophies held within the genre of figurative painting. That is, the fundamental issues of the language of painting. Why is painting so difficult to quantify as a language? This practice-led research seeks to address as its primary focus, a set of related arguments for quantifying painting as a language in and of itself. The main investigative issues are as follows: 1. Analyzing the property of the language of painting from the perspective of linguistics and semiotics; 2. Discussing the linguistic factors such as material, representation, expression and meaning in figurative painting from the perspective of analytical aesthetics and phenomenological aesthetics; 3. Through form and style, and in combination with practice, formalism, aesthetics and traditional Chinese painting theory to explore the physical media factors that constitute the language of painting embodied in particular artworks. The contribution to new knowledge involves: 1. establishing a field of practical, pure and non-referential language of painting that pertains to figurative painting and involves two levels—one is fundamental, relating to representation, realism and expression and providing a basis and scope for another level; the second one is physical, including material, form and other physical media. 2. based on questioning the existing defects in the analysis of the language of painting, putting forward how we can discuss painting itself effectively; and a feasible theoretical framework and discussion mode are given. In short, what is the language of painting and how it is formulated.
Miasmatic Performance: Carceral Atmospherics in the Theatre of Clean Break
In this practice-informed doctoral thesis, I investigate the aesthetics that allow Clean Break Theatre Company, who work with women in prison and women at risk in the United Kingdom, to plunge audiences into atmospheres of imprisonment, resilience and subversion at the theatre. Through an exploration of six plays made while I was a company member (2009-2015), I propose that concepts of prison and criminality in Clean Break’s theatre become porous, atmospheric events – miasmas, as I argue here – which both elicit, and simultaneously confound, a collective desire to attribute a clear function to prison in society. Instead of treating prison as a setting through which storylines of incarceration move, in these productions ‘prison’ becomes a carceral logic, organising the dramaturgical semantics, temporalities and atmospheres of the play, to signify the conditions of carceral society at large. I call this ‘miasmatic performance.’ Miasmatic performance, I suggest, conjures juridical atmospheres, policing atmospheres and contagious atmospheres within audiences at venues such as the Royal Court, Soho Theatre, or Almeida Theatre, the majority of whom do not have lived experience of the criminal justice system. Section One, ‘Miasmatic Aesthetics’, develops decomposition and secretion as two key aesthetics of miasmatic performance. Section Two, ‘Miasmatic Contagions’, theorises the capacity of the miasmatic performance register to simulate and critique concepts of ‘contagious crime’ and social contagion. Section Three, ‘Miasmatic Investigations’, explores activations of the carceral imaginary through casework at the theatre. A miasmatic register in these Clean Break productions becomes both hopeful, and encourages collective responsibility, as it provokes an affective experience of carceral power within audiences who are often only latently aware of their own participation in carceral society.
Witnessing Virtual Realities: Mediating perspectives through Novel Technology
The historical techniques of journalism were orientated around an ideology of disinterest where the educated democratic subject would be informed and “hear both sides” – but today with new algorithmic techniques of affect management (virtual reality, VR) and discovery (social media), any such disinterest is clearly not central to how journalistic knowledge is transmitted, if it ever was. Therefore, what are the techniques of visual mediation that are appropriate to these new conditions? By locating my research with this question, I aim to use it as a conceptual basis for making artwork that positions the viewer outside the sphere of contemporary journalism looking in. Works that heighten and reveal the fallacy and contradiction of contemporary journalism practices through novel technologies to spark a critical dialogue of it
An approach to using digital technology in scenic design for low budget performance
This practice-based research is an exploration of current, accessible, digital technology and the impact it is having on visual-based scenic design for live performance. This is examined through my freelance art and design practice, which includes areas such as, props, sculpture, set design/construction and model making. This project considers visual-based digital technology in the process of creating scenic design solutions for low budget performance productions of less than $20,000.00 in total production costs (excluding personnel costs), taking typical profit share productions as the template. It focuses on accessible projection hardware and interactive visual software. Drawing from a range of digital based theorists and performance practitioners, I review the current use of digital technology in providing visual scenic design solutions for performance. This includes examples of recent productions that use visual based digital solutions in performance. Cost effective, accessible options inspired by these examples are then investigated through my practice and discussed here. The staging of an exemplar low budget performance ‘Absolute Uncertainty’ (less than $12000 allocated costs, including in kind support and donations) is documented in the accompanying video files. This includes unedited video of a dress rehearsal (titled: Absolute Uncertainty 480p.m4v), and video samples of three rehearsals, two at the start of the rehearsal process (May 2017) and one toward the end of the rehearsal process (August 2017). These followed three months of preproduction and experimentation. The final outcome of this project is the development of an adaptable, lightweight, easily configurable projection system that may be used as the core element in scenic design for low budget performance productions. The processes involved in this are discussed and evaluated through the staging and presentation of Absolute Uncertainty, and two other performances I worked on prior to ‘Absolute Uncertainty’, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Latecomers, where I developed and experimented with concepts. The focus of this discussion is on the usefulness of digital projection in different environments, digital projection and other visual technologies ability to effectively create a performance environment and the quick adaptability of these technologies in the development and staging, including blocking for low budget production.
New Prayers For Old Feelings: Weaving the world back together
This studio-based project asks: how might embodied textile processes offer a spiritual counterpoint to a fragmented, anxious and inattentive state of being? How can a textile-based studio practice develop an ethos of care and attention towards the self, others, and the environment? My research responds to the experience of living in a digital ‘attention economy’, in which we are largely disconnected from spiritual frameworks and from the natural world. In seeking to rekindle an ethos of care, attention and interconnectedness, I investigate the material and spiritual possibilities of ancient hand-processes such as weaving, fibre and dye. Through these repetitive and labour-intensive practices, I examine the way that attention can be redirected and reconstituted as a form of prayer and devotion. I draw on the writing of eminent Bauhaus weaver Anni Albers, which advocates for a return to materiality, as well as Indigenous epistemologies of interconnection articulated by botanist and Potawatomi writer Robin Wall Kimmerer. The studio project encompasses several related bodies of work: an installation of knotted, braided and beaded fibres, a small-scale embroidery, two series of small tapestry weavings, and a site-specific installation produced in Kansas City, Missouri. Through these artworks I explore ways of acknowledging both anxiety and the sacred through textile practices that enact forms of wordless prayer, acknowledge history, record time and labour, are portable and thus present everywhere, and focus attention and care on the natural world. In creating and writing about these works, I seek to answer my research questions, and promote nurturing and healing new ways of being and making in the world. My research engages with a number of artists whose work intersects with repetition, craft, ecology and prayer. These include Chilean-born Cecilia Vicuna, whose thread-based installations intertwine prayer, language and the notion of the precarious; Polish-born, Chicago-based artist kg (Karolina Gnatowski), whose small-scale formal tapestries hold memory, identity and narrative; Perth-based Teelah George, who works with a laborious and prayer-like process of embroidery; American artist Liza Lou’s meticulous and transcendent bead-weavings; and the practice of Yindjibarndi Australian artist Katie West, whose work with plant-dyeing functions as a form of meditation, and a means of re-connecting, de-colonising, and Indigenising place. Woven through the thesis, these works articulate a range of approaches to materiality and process in response to uncertainties and the sacred.
Space is occurring
SPACE IS OCCURRING is a research project comprised of twelve public exhibitions spanning 2016-2019, including an examination exhibition presentation at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery from 5-16 December 2019, and a written dissertation. In this MFA, assessment is divided as: 75% creative practice and 25% written dissertation. The four-year research project has investigated attentiveness, and negotiations of attentiveness, within contexts that situate, exhibit, display, frame or present contemporary art. Professional opportunities to actualise exhibition works have been taken as resources for doing/thinking research. This set of exhibition works is understood as concurrent research and outcome: artistic decision-making systems, conceptual working questions and professional or ethical mitigations converge and overlap during this doing/thinking. The vocational context of exhibiting within existing visual arts institutions has been the main resource to apply and test research concerns. In addressing this methodology of doing/thinking in the dynamic in situ realm, the written dissertation proposes the concept of ‘infield’. The term ‘infield’, borrowed from its sporting context, is repurposed as means for understanding each specific exhibition context as a dynamic location that is always in an active state of play. The research draws from an engagement with Bulgarian/French philosopher Julia Kristeva’s theories of ‘semiotic chora’ and ‘in-progress time’. These concepts support an engagement with the time-space of exhibitions as happening in motion, continuously beginning anew. The relation and interrelation of temporal and spatial experience within systems for making and experiencing art is the focus for an investigation into the writings of theorists including Andre Lepecki, as well as the practices of contemporary artists who work across at least two of the following: sculpture, sound, choreography and/or film. Specific works from artists John Cage, Simone Forti, Marco Fusinato, Douglas Gordon, Robert Morris, Ute Muller, Steve Paxton, Geoff Robinson and Daniel von Sturmer are included in this investigation into artistic strategies within this field. Exhibition works are developed and refined as projects that operate as systems for the spatial and temporal conditions and materials of each exhibition context. Within works, sculptural and filmic means are orchestrated as fields of interactions, and interferences, scored within the spatial and temporal conditions of exhibition context. Fixity and stasis – taken as a lingering museological construct of gallery spaces – are approached as problems to be disrupted, made evident, or a combination thereof. Often specific spatiotemporal overlay procedures develop, which may then be transferred upon (and reinformed by) subsequent professional exhibition opportunities, for different institutions. The application and potential reapplication of exhibition work systems – for different exhibition outcomes at different times – has allowed for a comparative analysis of the manner in which these operate with and within the contingencies of each specific exhibition context.
Something's gotta give: Subjectivity and the everyday encounter, through the moving image
The break-up of my long-term relationship unintentionally guided my MFA project. Over the past two years I found myself in the position where I needed to respond to unexpected personal circumstances that caused trauma in my life. Without warning the intimate parameters that I had coexisted within became inaccessible to me. The state of dysfunction that ensued through this breakdown caused me to reconfigure my values as an artist and to find new ways of being productive. With the presence of immanent deadlines it was necessary for me to adapt the activities of my practice to align with my emotional circumstances. Through this reappraisal, I found that my artistic activities function in partnership with my personal life, and that to attempt to disentangle the two is essentially missing the point. The brokenness and dysfunction that began as setbacks, have intimately sewn together my work and life, and through this I inadvertently located the political concerns that orient my practice. The necessity of this bind has invested a new urgency in my work and raised the questions that form the pathway of this thesis. My research project stakes a claim for the value of subjectivity, through the vulnerability of the personal, and the artistic vitality of the historically repressed everyday environment. My video practice resonates through a feminist disposition, the subjective politics that underpins my work. Harnessing an evolving catalogue of lived experience I have gathered disparate sources, bringing them together in this thesis. My own personal experiences are used as primary figures in my work and it is through these subjects that my research has been shaped. I take a journey of questioning and reflection, with the company of artists and researchers who inspire my practice. I record fragments of my surroundings, daily minutiae, fleeting observations and temporal moments. Through structural filmic devices - the long take, fixed view and close-up magnifications - I hold these ephemeral encounters, repeatedly rewinding, pausing, and zooming in. I am interested in the subjective qualities that can be drawn out through filmic excavation. The outcome of my research project is a series of video recordings, projected at varying scales in the gallery. The images are pieces of my daily life and objects that were the focus of bored and empty stares while I lay in bed. Housed in the space of the gallery, these intimacies are brought into a field of public and private subjectivities, where they resonate through the embodiment of the viewer.
Ethics, Agency and Disruption: Toward a rights-based practice of working with children in contemporary performance
This thesis, comprising 50% written dissertation and 50% creative work, argues for a new ethical model of working with children and young people in contemporary performance. Through analysis of Youth Arts pedagogies, inclusive theatre practice, models of participation, the symbolic potential of the child in performance and the work of contemporary Australian practitioners making work with children for adult audiences, this thesis explores an innovative ‘rights-based’ model of contemporary performance practice relevant to working with children and young people. This model, framed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), challenges the idea of children as vulnerable and in need of protection and argues for the recognition of the child’s voice and champions the creativity of children in performance. The combined practical and written outcomes of this thesis offer a new, nuanced understanding of children as cultural agents, raising the prospect of a creative process that foregrounds deeper considerations of the strengths and capacities of children.