A vocabulary of water: how water in contemporary art materialises the conditions of contemporaneity
AffiliationSchool of Culture and Communication
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2015 Dr. Tessa Elisabeth Fluence
This thesis provides an in-depth analysis of how water in three contemporary artworks provides an affective vocabulary that gives material expression to the forces and dynamics that shape our current era. It argues water is not simply a medium or metaphor; in the artworks, it articulates and is symptomatic of the conditions of contemporaneity. Focusing on the dynamics of time, placemaking and identity, it argues water in the artworks makes present our era’s fluid, multiple, precarious, contingent, complex, disorientating, immersive and overwhelming nature. This dissertation uses Terry Smith’s theory of contemporaneity as a lens through which to identify the dynamics and forces of this era. By focusing on water in three artworks, it amplifies and extends his work to consider how the particular vocabulary of water materialises these forces. This is demonstrated through three case studies of exemplary artworks in different mediums, made between 2000 and 2004, by Zhu Ming, Roni Horn and Bill Viola. Drawing on Mieke Bal’s approach of conceptual travelling, I do a close reading of each artwork, orchestrating a conversation between the work, the concept of water and the theory of contemporaneity. Focusing on the role of water in each work, I argue water provides a potent comment on the conditions of contemporaneity, offering a new ontology that is appropriate to, and symptomatic of, today’s complex conditions. Each case study demonstrates several ways in which water captures something of the contemporary condition. Water in Zhu Ming’s Bubble Series (2000-04) materialises the ubiquitous and precarious conditions of contemporaneity. Roni Horn’s Another Water (The River Thames, for example) (2000) uses water to materialise a new kind of identity that is androgynous, in motion and contingent. Water in Bill Viola’s Five Angels for the Millennium (2001), materialises the sublimely immersive and disorientating experience of the contemporary condition. As such, water acts as a vocabulary in contemporary art that exemplifies, articulates and is symptomatic of the dynamics of our current epoch. In its varied and nuanced manifestations, water unlocks the conditions of contemporaneity; it offers an ontology of the present.
Keywordswater; contemporaneity; contemporary art; Terry Smith; Zhu Ming; Roni Horn; Bill Viola; Mieke Bal; travelling concepts
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