School of Art - Theses
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Reframing the representation of women in contemporary China with feminism
Reframe the Representation of Women in Contemporary Chinese Art with Feminism investigates the representations of women from the Cultural Revolution to today. Through a practice-led thesis, the research shows how women are formed through social, cultural, and political ideologies of “ideal female beauty,” and reframes the representation of women in contemporary Chinese art from a feminist perspective through my practice of making and writing about female representations in art. The representation of “ideal female beauty” that are investigated in this research include the propaganda posters during the Cultural Revolution, Chinese neo-classical paintings in the contemporary Chinese market, as well as the social media, selfie culture, and advertising in Chinese popular culture. The different representations of women developed over time reflect the patriarchal aesthetics of women in traditional Chinese Confucianism, the influence of traditional European nude genre painting on representations of woman, Chinese Communist Party’s political ideologies on gender, and consumerism under globalization. As one of the feminist debates around the diversities of nations, culture, and society, I found Chinese conception of feminism as “feminine-ism” has affected theorizing feminist art in Chinese art criticism. This research re-theorizes Chinese feminist art through case studies of contemporary Chinese feminist artists. To reframe the representation of women in contemporary Chinese art, this research includes a feminist criticism of the patriarchal aesthetics of female representation in the contemporary Chinese art market. It also includes a feminist analysis of some Chinese women artists who represent different female forms by using their bodies in their art and the first generation of Chinese feminist artists rather than “feminine-ism artists” that include me to reframe the representation of women by feminism. The study of the representation of women complements my own paintings, photographs, videos, and a short film in which I present the effects of the “invisible ideologies” that shape the dominant idea of “ideal female beauty” through representations of non-therapeutic cosmetic surgery showing how the invisible ideology becomes visible in women’s bodies through cosmetic surgery. I use the female images in my art to challenge patriarchal aesthetics of female beauty, to resist the cycle of producing the representation of women as beautiful objects, and to refuse the stereotypes of women’s art as feminine essence reinforced by Chinese feminine-ism and certain contemporary Chinese art criticism.
The anxiety of the relation: the image as prosthetic perception
This project is concerned with an investigation of the image, and the technical apparatus through which it is produced, as a prosthesis. I develop a thinking of the prosthetic function of the image through a concentrated reading of the writings of Samuel Beckett, in whose work prostheses figure in various guises. My reading of Beckett is developed from his early critical writings on painting and literature, in which he explicitly questions the relationship between the artwork and the world it presumes to capture. This critique is connected to developments in Beckett’s prose work which come to demonstrate a prosthetic logic; which I elaborate here in relation to the use of this term in the work of Jacques Derrida. The image as prosthesis enacts a problematisation of relations implicit in the production and viewing of images: between the body and the world, the eye and the camera, phenomenal experience and its mediation in memory, photography or writing. The creative component of my research takes cues from Beckett’s work, yet seeks to explore how this prosthetic function can operate through different imaging apparatuses, including photography, video, drawing, and installation. This work is motivated by the acceleration of image technologies in the context of everyday life, and their disorienting and alienating effects. In taking cues from Beckett, I explore the way in which an artwork can reveal the prosthetic dimension of perception, and question the conventional positing of subjective experience in the production and viewing of images.
Sculpture as activating object
The practice-led project Sculpture as Activating Object, which has developed over three years, 2015-2018, investigates how a sculptural object activates a process of transformation through play. Sculpture activating describes how the process itself becomes the artwork. Through the investigation of three artwork case studies produced for this project, this thesis examines the different outcomes generated by the art objects and speculates that sculpture as activating object is a new category within the field of contemporary action-sculpture.
Poetic narrative: new visions of documentary photography
The research focuses on narratological possibilities in the so-called photographic series within documentary photography. Instead of causal, plot-based links, it considers other interrelations between images, invoking a linking principle outside canonical narrative forms. The research ultimately investigates a poetic logic, of which the photographic series is an articulation, distinct from apparent rationality, as a way by which the world, or worlds are exposed beyond mere recording, using questions constellated around notions of national identity as an example of this methodology.
Supercharged paintings move towards light and space
This project considers certain connections between the so-called art world and global social mobility. Is the ubiquity of some universal aesthetic frameworks implicitly promoting the ever-expanding cultural class to become even more seduced by the forces of late-capitalism? The thesis, which comprises a dissertation presented in conjunction with a studio-based investigation, is centred around three distinct, but inter-related templates for display: the generic living room TV wall unit; the painted canvas; and the gallery. I consider how each format conditions our reception of cultural information by influencing our sense of individuality, whilst as the same time signalling our inclusion in a unified non-culturally specific world view that is rooted in western modernism. Significantly, these three selected display arenas all convey a sense of universality—not necessarily through specific content, but rather through their inherent structures. I argue that these successful systems of display potentially mask otherwise visible signs of power through implicit democratic ideologies disseminated via inspirational design trends. Considered together, I demonstrate that all three offer insights into the underlying function of international systems of cultural exchange. A substantial part of this research considers the homogenising effect of Internet image-searching, especially in relation to notions of class and sophistication at a time characterised by a global democratisation of desire and appreciation for ‘good’ design principles. The artworks I have produced in conjunction with this dissertation are designed to critically engage and antagonise the already fuzzy intersection of art, architecture and design. Accordingly, I have sought to produce works that are less distinguished by traditional art-making decisions but rather emphasise compositions, materials, and principles associated within modernist and minimalist infused trends in design and architecture. This strategy seeks to recode the sublime grandeur of late-formalist abstract paintings as a kind-of banal realism perhaps more associated with marketing and pop consumerism. The physical creation of individual artworks has taken place in accordance with two predominate modes of production. Firstly, and in reference to painting, wall mounted sculptural relief works incorporating materials such as Formica composite wood panelling, plywood, hardwood, acrylic paint, enamel paint, glass, vinyl flooring, composite stone samples, imitation plants, real-plants, pots, fluorescent lights, and found objects, were produced. The second mode of production is in the digital realm, and includes digital photographic montages (combining online images with my own photography), video (using online content and making interventions within it) and creating audio tracks (to accompany the video works). Considered together, these modes of production are used as tools to psychologically position the viewer in a space in which materials, surfaces and compositions, might trigger considerations of social mobility, our relationships to design, and finally, notions of personal intimacy and memory that are activated through smart-screen technologies.
Fabricated country: re-imagining landscape
Faced with fundamental redrawing of human relationships to the global and local environment, a shift in ways of viewing landscape has precipitated. Broad awareness of biodiversity collapse, urbanization, global warming and the advent of genetic engineering and advances in biological technology has inverted many notions and definitions about the word nature. This, underlined by a revisited pre-colonial historical narrative, particularly across Australia, sustains landscape and nature as urgent topics that need to be dealt with and re-viewed. This practice-led research project investigates the intersections of ecological and cultural environments and how this interrelation can be expounded through the act of painting. The investigation is based largely within a local context of Australian visual art and regional terrains, employing a methodology located at the intersection of postcolonial and post-digital frameworks. Within these frameworks the project interrogates and re-interprets actual and combined landscapes. The project elucidates a contemporary re-imagining of landscape enacted through painting. The final research outcomes are composed of a written dissertation and installation of drawings, painting and spatial work. The work comprising the installation is a direct manifestation of the practice-led research. It is expanded upon in the exegesis section of the dissertation. This set of creative works form part of the argument attending to the central question of my thesis. Combining post-digital and established modes of production, this work seeks to open up a layered space, a visual methodology for re-viewing landscape.
Installing and unsettling imaginaries: rehearsing the social within the self
The practice-led research outlined here explores ways of bringing attention to the mutual contingency of the self and the social through self-portraiture, culminating in a large multichannel projection and sound installation titled How to Deal with Difference (2018). In this thesis I discuss some of the formative influences on this work from various threads of social theory and contemporary installation practice. What we recognise as ourselves is deeply embedded in the social institutions we exist within. Drawing on Cornelius Castoriadis and others, I will use the term 'imaginary' as an articulation of the social constructions that both form and are formed by the individual. I also refer to the artworks created through this research as 'imaginaries', and through their installation have attempted to unsettle the solidity of various perceptions of the self, and the social. My studio practice is situated through analysis of related works by prominent contemporary artists, noting some of the similarities and differences to the approach I have taken. Works by William Kentridge, Camille Henrot, Pipliotti Rist and Lisa Reihana are discussed in some detail, my purpose here being both to acknowledge their influence and to articulate something of what is distinctive in the work I have created. Partly inspired by Judith Butler's account of performative identity and self-poesis, I filmed myself performing many varying and contradictory 'selves', in an exploration of my own relationality and self-formation. In imagining, performing and arranging these characters, I drew from social imaginaries I am implicitly involved in. By digitally compiling the footage, I composited myself into plural existence to disrupt the sense of singular coherence, although it is obvious that all characters are performed by me. I have positioned the performances as 'rehearsals' – they are not polished or complete, but iterative and partial. By trying on characters I do not think of as me, I seek to explore, through rehearsal, the social within myself. The result is an agonistic portrait of my own socially situated self, which is intended to allow multiple modes of engagement and space for self-reflection.
Objects on the edge of awareness: reframing peripheral objects in a sculptural field
This research considers the potential of peripheral objects in a process-driven sculptural and spatial practice. The peripheral object is something that goes largely unconsidered, but whose necessity to the centre, and whose lack of stability give it incredible potential. The peripheral object forms a relation between states, sites and objects, and this research posits that it lends those things that it links identity and structure. Here peripheral objects are drawn from architecture and construction sites and are elements that support, facilitate and frame, such as scaffolding, architectural surfaces and apertures. Linking peripheral objects to Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction of The Parergon and Céline Condorelli’s Support Structures, peripheral objects are established as inherently supportive, as the connector between, as always in-relation-to another, and as intimate, touching the objects that they surround. I speculate that peripheral objects, as things that often go unnoticed, or that appear to be incomplete, are not perceived as objects. This notion is discussed through the perceptual functions within the apprehension of Michael Fried’s concept of objecthood. The qualities that are essential to the object are established in reference to Robert Morris’ series of essays Notes of Sculpture Parts 1-4. The notion of the contact-boundary brings the operations of the surface into focus, and I link this to sculptural and material potential to express objecthood. The intimacy of touch and its implications in a sculptural practice are drawn out in a discussion of casting processes and performance in the work of Isa Genzken and Bruce Nauman. The outcomes of this research are a written dissertation and an installation of sculptural artworks. Through investigations into casting and re-engineering peripheral objects, my process-driven practice has discovered the functions, necessity and potential within them. This research brings focus to what is often considered outside our view and bodily experience. This work enacts the edges of spaces and forms; it does not bring them to the centre but sees the edge.
The Bosnian case: art, history and memory
The Bosnian Case: Art, History and Memory concerns the representation of historic and traumatogenic events in art through the specific case of the war in Bosnia 1992-1995. The research investigates an aftermath articulated through the Freudian concept of Nachträglichkeit, rebounding on the nature of representation in the art as always in the space of an "afterness". The ability to represent an originary traumatic scenario has been questioned in the theoretics surrounding this concept. Through The Bosnian Case and its art historical precedents, the research challenges this line of thinking, identifying, including through fieldwork in Bosnia in 2016, the continuation of the war in a war of images.
Final room: encountering the body through absence
When I look at images of pain, my mind enters a nexus of complicated reactions. When met with images depicting bodily injuries, deformities, disease and open lacerations, my eyes wince - as if apprehending the amount of visual information travelling through my eye and into my brain and then into my body is too much. In the absence of implied physical danger to myself as the viewer, my mind plays out a psychological dread enabled by proprioception. Parts of my body that normally lie dormant of pain are suddenly awakened through empathy and metamorphoses, gauging how that pain might feel. These concepts are juxtaposed with an altogether different scenario, that of an emptied gallery space. When a viewer is faced with a bare room their desires are challenged. In place of objects and stimuli, my rooms ask that the viewer’s interaction with the work become the impetus of the work itself, activating the work. In this research project I wanted to bring two of the following two subjects together: I wanted to reconcile the situation of the viewer encountering a bare room inside a gallery. The characters here are the viewer and the empty space. The viewer brings their body in its physical and mental state. The bare room brings the semblance of a void, or a manufactured emptiness by means of a lack of objects or materials. This paper investigates the relationship between interior space and the body, seen through a lens of absence and loss. These installations pose a void that removes the art object as the primary focus, shifting the focus to the viewer. My art process incorporates a reductive approach, focusing on the minimal forces that space can exert upon the body to negotiate absence or loss. This paper documents this development through a series of three installation works primarily concerned with bare rooms, while exploring the deactivation of desire and mechanisms that can trigger proprioception. The final outcome of my research project was an immersive installation in a seemingly bare room. In this instance, the material gesture was contained to the locus of the walls. Hundreds of 23-gauge hypodermic needles were pinned into the walls like spines from a cactus. The needle tips were only visible from the wall when standing close within two metres from the wall.
Miranda Must Go: Rethinking the generative capacities of critique, discomfort and dissensus in socially engaged and site responsive art
This PhD research is situated within the expanded field of public and socially engaged art. Such art practices employ participation, dialogue, community engagement and site- responsive activities to stimulate reflection and action on the present social order. This study is concerned with examining the strategies and methods that socially engaged artists employ when responding to conflict and tension encountered in the social field. Prominent advocates in this field, such as Grant Kester, have championed a socially engaged art that ameliorates social conflict by producing consensus-building, collaborative engagements and concrete social outcomes—such as an increase in community cooperation and cohesion. Attending this argument is a belief that contemporary artists should move beyond a detached, superior position of critiquing or problematising the social in their work and instead engage communities in constructive dialogue that seeks to formulate actual solutions to society’s problems. Against this view, this research explores socially engaged art’s capacity to stimulate trouble and critical reflection, contributing to social change by providing spaces to collectively confront and debate divisive problems that are overlooked and have no straightforward resolutions. Informed by theory and artistic strategies concerned with critique and disagreement’s generative capacity to stimulate bad affects and foment dissensus, this study draws on theorists such as Claire Bishop, Sara Ahmed and Jacques Rancière in order to rethink what a valuable artistic engagement with the social could constitute. Specifically, if we are to accept that deeply entrenched antagonisms and conflicts are irreducible social facts that should not be smoothed over, suspended or elided, how should a socially engaged artist negotiate tensions and divisions encountered in the social field? Furthermore—and as recent theorists such as Ahmed have contended—if vocal disagreement, refusal and discomfort are a transformative resource for a politics of social justice, how should the practical effects of critique, negation and troubling affects in socially engaged art be conceptualised? This study is significant as it contributes to socially engaged art discourse by reappraising the transformative effects and political importance of critical methods, examining how such approaches might be mobilised in the expanded field of socially engaged and public art. It does so primarily through a discussion of practice-led artistic research undertaken at Hanging Rock in Victoria, Australia, that culminated in the major artistic output of this research. The subsequent work produced, Miranda Must Go, was a conceptual campaign that made a decisive critique of the habitual, unthinking associations with a white vanishing myth at the iconic location. The work did not seek to reconcile tensions at Hanging Rock, but instead sought to productively animate them: enlarging what could be thought and felt about the site and provoking a collective review of the stories told there.
Private experiences in public spaces: "Technologies of the self" within video-based confessional art and its relationship to subjectivity
This practice-led research project examines the notion and prevalence of our contemporary confessing society and its impact on, and relationship to, the visual arts. More specifically, it examines a contemporary confessional art practice that utilises video-based performance. The research examines how Michel Foucault’s philosophical notions of the self can be appropriated and mobilised in a contemporary confessional video art practice. The research also discusses how Foucault extended his philosophical approach to subjectivity and truth through the examination of how the human subject fits into certain ‘truth games’ in scientific practices of control. These preoccupied Foucault’s later work regarding the technologies of the self. By turning to antiquity, Foucault demonstrates how the discourse surrounding Greco- Roman rituals of technologies of the self – and their relation to ‘truth games’ – could be conceived as a potential practice of self-formation for the subject, rather than a purely coercive practice. Through an extension of Foucault’s reworking of power, my research frames contemporary confessional discourse as a less coercive and regulatory practice, by establishing a dialogue between technologies of the self and a contemporary confessional video art practice. As the boundaries between private and public space become increasingly problematised in our confessional society (for example, on Instagram, the blogosphere and Facebook), my research posits that contemporary confessional video art gives voice to displaced subjectivities that challenge coercive mechanisms of heteronormative public spaces to present a more complex politics of self.