IDSVA Dissertations are archived as electronic documents at the Maine State Library website. Click on the title of the dissertation to download the pdf.
IDSVA Dissertations are archived as electronic documents at the Maine State Library website. Click on the title of the dissertation (when available) to download the pdf.
Awarded to one graduate each year, The Ted Coons Dissertation Prize was established in 2015 to acknowledge outstanding IDSVA dissertations. It was made possible thanks to a generous donation by Dr. Ted Coons, Professor of Psychology, Cognition & Perception at the Center for Neural Science at NYU. Ted Coons is a pioneer in the field of neuroscience and a major contributor to early studies in neuroaesthetics.
Artwork as Network: A Reconceptualization of the Work of Art and its Exhibition
Director Dr. Philip Armstrong
As it reshapes the world we inhabit, the concept of the network has emerged as the dominant cultural paradigm across numerous fields and disciplines. Whether biological, social, political, global, communicational, or computational, networks are constituted by a decentered, distributed, multiplicitous, nonlinear system of nodes, plateaus, and edges that are endlessly interconnected and interdependent. Networks prioritize relationships between things over the things themselves, suggesting a reconfiguring of binary elements including: digital/tactile, virtual/material, private/public, and past/present. As networks rapidly change our world, it is logical to assume that contemporary artistic practices are impacted as well. In fact, works of art are uniquely situated to discover and reveal new ways of understanding social and cultural phenomena including that of the network.
Several questions arise: How do contemporary works of art relate to network culture? Alternately, how do networks redefine our understanding of specific works of art? How, in turn, are these works expanding our understanding of the network? As a way of focusing these questions, the dissertation addresses works by four contemporary artists: Franklin Evans, Simon Starling, Jenny Odell, and Pablo Helguera. Based on close art historical analysis, I argue that instead of depicting, illustrating or referring to networks as context, the works discussed are constituted or composed in and as networks. They are dynamic relational forms in which the work of art and the network are rendered indissociable from one another. I further claim, that components which were previously considered as existing outside of the work of art – the gallery, the studio, references to texts, histories, artworks, historic objects, other artists, place, and even public programs and participants – are now part of what constitutes the work, thus indicating a profound shift in perspective in what we consider the “work of art” and the ways in which it is addressed and interpreted.
Spiritual Capital: The Economic Core of the Global Art Market and its Origin in Church Financial Structures
Director Dr. Sigrid Hackenberg
Organized religion in the Western Hemisphere and the art world share more than just a shared history of collaboration. Their most significant bond is an economic narrative powered by spiritual capital which produces aura. I contend that religion, specifically Christianity, and the art world share an economy of spiritual capital delivered through aura. Aura in a work of art is not an inherent property of the work itself, but it is manufactured by the art economy which draws its influence from the early formation of the Christian Church. This system involves a number of qualifying factors which I will isolate and investigate through this dissertation. Specifically, both religious and art economies: acquire physical space; establish a structure of cooperative agents; use an exclusive language which produces a discourse of disavowal that denies active participation in a consumer driven economy; and deploy ceremonial symbols of power during ritual events. Additionally, the placement of money within this assembly of practices and practitioners will be presented as an original element inside the art world. The entwinement of the art market and the church’s growth as an international business will finally merge to create a construction of both physical and metaphysical value actualized through aura in spiritual capital. This dissertation offers a new reading of Benjamin's theory of "auratic perception" as identified in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. In coordination with such theorists as Deleuze and Guattari, Bordieu, Marx, Weber, Agamben, Baudrillard, Massumi, Bourriaud, and others, we can understand the historical trajectory and formation of spiritual capital as a part of the economy of art as we are liberated from the taboo of discussing money and its relationship to art and religion.
Dr. Jason Alan Hoelscher (recipient of the Ted Coons Dissertation Prize)
From Artworks to Artworlds: Information Efflorescence and Complex Systems Aesthetics
Director Dr. Brian Massumi
The contemporary role of information, as a driver and shaper of our technosocial era, is predicated increasingly on information’s usefulness for purging indeterminacy, streamlining situations, and circumscribing potentials. Are there alternate information modes that operate counter to this, predicated less on quantification, standardization and reification than on relational emergence and qualitative potentiation? In other words, whereas regulative information resolves indeterminacy and constrains difference, what about generative information that instead sustains indeterminacy and differentiation?
As I show here, just such open and indeterminate information is what we otherwise call art. Specifically, I argue that information in its aesthetic mode is a différance engine that resists equilibrial settling into answer and fact, and instead unfinalizably produces, rather than resolves, differentiation and indefinition. By not only considering art in terms of information but also information in terms of art, I describe here how both are surface effects of the same deep operations of difference and disparity. Put simply, information is to art as difference is to differencing, and as being is to becoming.
Defining art as a reciprocally differential feedback relation between an object of focus and its context, I articulate the above ideas by exploring the 1960s emergence of (and subsequent dissolution of) the artwork as object, which marked a shift from artworks that represent worlds to artworks situated as elements of the world. As I show, this ingression introduced complex perturbations into art’s traditional processes of actualization, catalyzing an efflorescence of such increasingly atmospheric and ambient information modes as entropic fields, theatrical space, artworld Umwelten, associated milieus, and adjacent possibility transspaces. By exploring how these aesthetic information processes operate, my goal is to reveal not only the differential and non-deterministic processes that underlie discourse formation and artistic progress, but also how information operates as an open and expansive generator of contexts and potentials, rather than as merely a regulator of situations and outcomes.
Philosophy of Power and the Mediation of Art:The Lasting Impressions of Artistic Intermediality from Seventeenth Century Persia to Present
Director Dr. Ali Anooshahr
This is a phenomenological study of patriarchy through the examination of its genealogy as it relates to/parallels with the creative process. I argue patriarchy, while a product of human creativity itself, has artificially elevated itself to prominence, and as such, has dominated and shaped subjectivities to its own end. It has done so by undermining individuality, necessary for establishing the foundation of a more democratic form of government in the region of the Middle East. In this democracy, a dynamic balance and equity is envisioned between the subject and community.
Therefore, this study is concerned with the power of imagination, in the broad sense, encompassing all creative endeavors that shape the subject. It focuses on the relationship between subjecthood, freedom and the infusion of Neoplatonic ideas with iterations of Islamic principles manifested in art and philosophy serving patriarchy. This study is predicated on the idea that the exploration of art and subjectivity can uncover the hidden, implicit power relations between humans and the creative process, and it relies upon the philosophy of power to establish a theory that aims to reach beyond what Foucault developed.
Further, it intends to highlight the issue of “gap” in general, and the gap in particular that existed between the major Islamic text/principles—a variation of the Platonic “gap”—and the ideas/actions that have unfolded to this day, but has never been questioned. The objective of this study is to create a space in which the Middle East and the West, each through its “other,” can recognize the importance of the process of the formation and preservation of individual within a collective subjectivity. Finally, this research through a new theory, aims to make more visible the current movements underscoring the individual subjectivity in the Middle East and work toward protecting and preserving individual rights.
Dialogic Dissensus: The Postmodern Sideshow
Director Dr. Simonetta Moro
In the United States, the sideshow occupies a marginal and often controversial space in popular culture. Despite a decline of the sideshow during the early twentieth century, its postmodern reinvention in 1980 has inspired a proliferation of the aesthetics of the sideshow within mass media and culture as a highly profitable commodity. The current existence of the sideshow as a thriving genre can sometimes be met with surprise, disbelief, or disgust because of the history of sideshow and existing codes of “normality.” Although there is pre-existing scholarship on Bakhtin and the sideshow, what is missing is an exploration of Bakhtin’s dialogism in relation to the art of the postmodern sideshow. This dissertation argues that the postmodern sideshow as an art form is an example of a reinvention of intersubjectivity through Bakhtin’s dialogic and still relevant for understanding contemporary aesthetics. Furthermore, I propose that the carnivalesque is an aspect of the dialogic because the carnivalesque renews hope for a better future which reverberates through unfinalizable time. Instead, I will propose an intertextual genealogy between philosophical thought and the first-hand voices of sideshow performers and related show people in the spirit of dialogism. However, I assert that the dialogic is nearly impossible without a dissensus because of precarization and our permanent cellular connection as a result of our technological progress, which did not exist at the height of postmodernism. This new tyranny of normality has depersonalized our time, dissolved our friendships and communities, our ability to communicate, and our social consciousness to empathize with others in a fundamental shift to our notions of exploitation. A revolution of the aesthetic regime through the maternal will create a new paradigm that reorganizes our senses, our social consciousness, and the conditions for possibility in the dialogic.
Aesthesis Universalis: Reconciling Aesthetic Philosophy and the Cartesian Paradigm
Director Dr. Don Wehrs
The Cartesian paradigm, in its modern existence, can be understood as comprised of four pillars—the founding principle of cogito ergo sum, dualism, a mechanistic worldview, and mathesis universalis. Each of these four pillars contributes to aesthetic philosophy in foundational ways that are largely unacknowledged. This error is owed to literal readings of Descartes’ works that neglect the operational intentions of his paradigm. When one approaches the Cartesian paradigm operationally, it is revealed that aesthetic philosophy owes a tremendous debt to Descartes’ works. Moreover, modern philosophers have dedicated substantial efforts to connecting subjective concepts such as mood and sensation to Descartes’ paradigm. These connections, which all rely on literal readings of the paradigm, are often tenuous and depend heavily on large extrapolation from small notations. However a broader reading of Descartes’ model of the soul reveals a unique niche for subjective expression which provides a distinct role for aesthetic considerations in his epistemology. Revelatory knowledge—knowledge of a nonscientific nature that reveals things as they are—need not be marginalized from mathesis universalis. What is more, it is revealed that aesthetic philosophy is one of the largest contributors to the overall project of mathesis universalis in modernity. This contribution is based on the act of poiesis—a form of knowledge-making that is grossly overlooked as an epistemological process. A series of paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby provide a case study of how revelatory knowledge can be integrated with, and inform, the Cartesian paradigm.
Concepts of modernity by Hans Blumenberg illuminate the need for understanding revelatory knowledge as integral to mathesis universalis by imaging the pillar as an evolving mechanism of human construction. In conclusion, a discussion of the parallels between aesthetics and other marginalized epistemic sources (women, artists, and fiction) reveal consonant efforts to reshape mathesis universalis as more inclusive of revelatory knowledge.
In Response to Heidegger’s Plea: Alētheia and the Open Space for Thinking and Freedom Through Art
Director Dr. Christopher Yates
This dissertation is a response to Martin Heidegger’s call to action asserted at the conclusion of his oft-cited essay, “The Question Concerning Technology,” in which he offers the realm of art as the mainspring for our emancipation from the grip of technological enframing. The following chapters investigate artists Martha Rosler, Christian Boltanski, Krzysztof Wodiczko and finally, collaborators Noor Mirza and Brad Butler, whose artworks offer a counterbalance to the erosion of the human capacity for thought as a particular feature of our Being, or Dasein, as proposed by Heidegger. Their shared characteristic lies in truth’s manifestation within artworks as happenings or events rather than a quest for fixed certainty or correspondence. Through their work, the artists catalyze a reckoning, compelling the viewer to question and reflect on his intersubjective ethical responsibility for the other. The common thread connecting them is a powerful shifting of thought — in a distinctly revelatory acting upon the viewer’s awareness. I will argue that, as technological aesthetic narratives are increasingly sophisticated and nuanced, politically conscious artists such as these become better able to harness their potential voices in deeply critical ways allowing the inter-subjective ethos of care to manifest and thrive in dialogic expressions of truth. Furthermore, they begin to formulate a way of considering and using technology that not only resists enframing by interrogating the very essence of our relationship with it, but also functions as a way of engaging with the question of Being itself (which encompasses Heidegger’s fundamental project). In the end, this dissertation will demonstrate that Being comes to itself in the site of exchange as his/her awareness of responsibility grows and thought is returned to its poetical dwelling. In these times of narrowed perspectives and technological addiction qua enframing, Heidegger’s call to action and the works responding to it must be brought to the fore and celebrated
Dr. Mary Anne Davis (recipient of the Ted Coons Dissertation Prize)
The Ambiguous Object: Toward An Econo-Aesthetic Through a History of Porcelain
Director Dr. Simonetta Moro
Toward an econo-aesthetic points to a much needed shift to recuperate, or at this point, to imagine a comprehensive approach to being in the world. As such, the artist contains the promise of a reconciliation of the lost connection linking aesthetics and economies. The relationship between art and money has ambiguous overtones increasingly inherent since the end of the renaissance. Porcelain contains clues to that ambiguity because of its tight relationship with both. The history of porcelain or ‘white gold’, so called since its advent in Europe during the 18th century, is the paradigmatic material for deconstructing what I consider a false schism between finance and aesthetics. In this dissertation, I argue that through a conflation of economics and aesthetics, using the history of porcelain as an art material, the role of the artist in community is more clearly identified as essential, in opposition to the marginalized position the artist currently employs in the west, especially the United States. I approach my argument through the history of porcelain in Europe and the US, and by linking that history to a history of economics I found a strong case for a hidden component of vitality through the expression of aesthetic materiality in the processes held within porcelain and economics. The marginalization of the artist is part of a hegemonic imperative seeking to repress the free expression and visionary potential of the creative spirit. Exercising the agency integral within aesthetic practice, in particular through the materiality of porcelain’s vernacular, the most basic characteristic of a free and vital condition contains the seeds of alternative futures leading out from a darkness born of an increasingly myopic view of the modern world.
Recuperating Mimêsis: Jackson Pollock and the Indigenous American Spirit
Director Dr. Christopher Yates
Jackson Pollock has long been heralded as the quintessential Modernist. His work marks the pinnacle of the Golden Age of Modernism and the culmination of a long experiment with modernist ideas elaborated by theorists such as Croce, Fry, Bell, Greenberg and others. Within the predominant concerns of Modernism (including intuition, imagination, and abstraction), Pollock is the paragon of the modernist solitary genius. However, this view of Pollock depends primarily on analysis of his drip paintings and disregards the development of processes inherent within them. This enframing critique of Pollock overlooks the presence of symbol, allegory, and ritual upon which Pollock’s work depends. It neglects to account for the fact that far from pure abstractions, Pollock’s work crosses the boundaries of abstraction in order to reinstitute mimêsis in art.
My analysis of Pollock’s work views his methodology as a recuperation of indigenous American aesthetics through mimêsis. I claim that through the forms, modes, and functions of mimêsis Pollock’s work transgresses modernity’s claims to pure form in favor of an inquiry into the forms and techniques of indigenous American aesthetics, thereby reintroducing notions of ritual and mythos in contemporary art.
Dr. Kathe Albrecht (recipient of the Ted Coons Dissertation Prize)
The Machine Anxieties Of Steampunk: Contemporary Philosophy, Neo-Victorian Aesthetics, And Futurism
Director Dr. Donald R. Wehr
This dissertation examines the steampunk movement as a significant contemporary expression of the human condition. Although its aesthetic inspiration comes from the Victorian past, as re-tooled, re-imagined, and re-energized for the twenty-first century, steampunk’s underlying interest is in a speculative view of the future and a concern for the contemporary individual’s struggle to retain autonomy in a de-centered, de-territorialized world. As such the steampunk movement participates in, and contributes to, an important ongoing philosophical and aesthetic dialog.
The project examines the motivations for steampunk’s visual inspiration in the Victorian. Technological and scientific advancements in that period greatly impacted societal traditions and the role of the individual within it. Economic, social, and political changes revolutionized daily life and the individual faced a new self-consciousness as she confronted, and adapted to, these significant changes. Today, similar technological advancements force new tensions between the individual and the world around her. Astounding developments in computing and artificial intelligence, and the concept of the cyborg and other hybrid beings challenge the contemporary individual’s sense of self. By looking to the past, steampunk seeks to recuperate the Victorian individual’s successful navigation of technological change. She does so in order to facilitate our own navigation of current waters.
The project traces the movement’s modest roots as a literary sub-genre of science fiction, explores its sources in the Victorian, and describes the movement’s rapid evolution to global phenomenon. Today steampunk is fully integrated into contemporary culture as an aesthetic observed in visual, decorative, and fashion arts, comic books, movies, and television. The project explores the current landscape of art and philosophy in order to position the steampunk movement within the larger scope of the contemporary scene. A triad of prevailing philosophical trends—postmodernism, transhumanism, and post-humanism, help to reveal steampunk’s involvement in the contemporary philosophical and aesthetic dialog.
Identity and eRACIAL: Representing the Other in a Screened World
Director Dr. Ellen Grabiner
The research that I am about to embark on focuses on the shift in expressions of gendered race in a screened world. This study is primarily centered on this mode of representation as it has been transformed through the evolution of image technology in film, television, and cyberspace. These three media platforms, in particular, are greatly influential on our cultural understanding of self-image, and the image of others. I will look closely at how depictions of gendered race have been authored in each medium, and the mental impact of these images on our individual and collective consciousness.
I will argue that race, although not an invention of mass media, derived its meaning in large part from the mythology of images. And mass media, film and TV most specifically, used images of race to invent narratives about collective identification. There is an inherent connection between the images we see and how we identify or are identified, and the screen has been highly successful at mediating this delicate relationship to both detrimental and productive ends. I will be examining gendered race, as a performance of the double. The double is a mental function and an appearance. It signifies the psychological equation of the self + the other - as well as the social condition of race consciousness.
The appearance of the racial double, in its earliest form in Hollywood film and television, was a corrosive image. It was designed to misrepresent, stigmatize and belittle. This was the case for the predominate image of blacks, which pointed back to the black body and reified the experience of racism and oppression within American culture. This is the image of the racial double that I reference throughout as the unproductive other because it is meant to draw sharp, impassable lines between white and black, or more theoretically the self and other. This traditional way of image identification comes from a colonial structure of white/European supremacy, from which the subjugated position of the racial other was founded.
In this dissertation, I make the claim for a productive other. This form of doubling acknowledges but is liberated from the old practices of racial individuation. The new form of the productive other accepts images as pure copies, without origin, that do not point back to a single, organic source. It is an appearance that embodies transcendence, and is constantly seeking to be in connection with others. I refer to the process of embodied transcendence as eRacial, and it is the method by which we obtain a new, tertiary experience with image-identification in cyberspace. The tertiary experience breaks out of old pathological binaries, recognizes the image as myth and therefore carries the potential for radical identification.
Survival and Change in Churchill’s Paintings
Director Dr. Michael Smith
During Winston Churchill’s long career he painted hundreds of landscapes which have been viewed as picturesque, a British genre popular to painters and landscape gardeners, mimicking nature. Artists sold flatwork, architectural designs, or led countryside tours; for the gentleman, painting was merely an aristocratic pastime. I will argue that analyzing Churchill’s bright palette used to saturate spatiality on canvas, often resembling military field mapping, uncovers considerations beyond a pastime.
Russian Constructivism permeated Britain’s art groups between the wars, acting as a backdrop to Churchill the painter, thus providing contextual contrast in the form of abstracted works to his representational landscapes. Applying a cultural Marxist methodology in the guise of Russian Constructivism to his art elucidates his unintentional responses to social and political change, along with his commitment to the survival of Britain, while allowing for aristocratic ideologies expected in Churchill’s aesthetics.
Overlooked contextual underpinnings such as Britain’s struggles with two World Wars while maintaining the Empire, are layered into Romantic and Modernist stylizations. Artists, primarily Cezanne with his determination to objectify Impressionistic light, appealed to Churchill who painted Britain’s place even when abroad.
I will argue that the category of amateur placed on deceased artists continues to be ill- defined. Insightful content found beneath Churchill’s paintings has been overlooked because he was deemed a gentleman painter during his life. Churchill’s aristocratic lineage, evident at Blenheim, left him the social status of amateur artist no matter how much talent he exuded or how many works he sold. Post World War II commercialism produced Kitsch which Churchill readily embraced, thus eroding his amateur status which contributed to increasing the value of his artwork.
Contextual analysis of Churchill’s landscapes through a Constructivist-cultural Marxist framework allows contemplation of his paintings not just as a gentleman’s pastime but also as troped imagery imbibed with social and political thought complimenting his writings and orations, leading to a better understanding of the man and his times.
Indefinite Openness: Thinking Love In Art
Director Dr. Sigrid Hackenberg
What happens when someone confronts a work of art—the inexplicable connection to something brought into the world by an artist? Might we call this moment love? If so, how does this love differ from other loves, like eros or philia? Love originating in the interconnectedness of viewer, artwork and artist resists conventional positions; art is in fact a philosophy of love in action.
I argue the primary action for love in art is thinking. Thinking about art is a manifestation of love when the viewer is overcome by wonder when contemplating a work of art. This love arises from a movement—yet something beyond the semblance of logical movement—that occurs in the viewer and artist. This conveyance offers the potential of a rupture, a burst that takes place in the between, a theoretical zero space of love. As a space of pure potential, the between allows for the connection necessary for thinking love, a love that asks unanswerable questions. Love in art offers indefinite openness because it initiates endless possibilities for what a subject can feel or know.
Love as I define it is not necessarily dependent on empathy, struggle, hierarchy or equivalence; it is not dogma, ideal or truth; it is neither rational nor irrational. It is not to be desperately sought and located; it is a matter of presence and duration. Love in art waivers between understanding and ignorance; it is embodied, immeasurable, generous, fleeting and erratic. It is a manner of thriving in the expansion of self. With this paper I stake a claim for the importance of love in contemporary aesthetic practice.
Anti-Establishing: Contemporary Graffiti's Contra-Community
Director Dr. Sigrid Hackenberg
There is no denying contemporary graffiti’s prevalence throughout the modern landscape. Hailed or disdained, the genre solidified its place in popular society through a manifold of discursive methods and ideologies. Now a global aesthetic, it compels a significant and wide range of assessments aimed at comprehending both the overarching heterogeneity that manifest throughout the counterculture as well as the larger socio-political impact made by the entirety of the genre. These analyses often establish their theories on the basis that contemporary graffiti originates as a statement of presence. Thus meaning that through a piece of graffiti, its author claims, “I am here.” This dissertation challenges that foundation, and rethinks the genre as a statement of absence that proclaims, “I was here.” Working from this provenance, I argue that absence constitutes contemporary graffiti’s ontology and underscores the entirety of the counterculture. Coupling this position with the genre’s continual diversification, this dissertation theorizes that contemporary graffiti is an anti-establishing. This means that as a socio-political aesthetic, it continually self-perpetuates its own self-negation and relies on both methodological and ideological differences so as to refute any attempts at totalization and subsequent unification originating from either within the counterculture or its surrounding discourses. Instead, the genre always places itself in-difference and a-part from itself and others thus cultivating relationships of contact without union with the various parties involved. Relying primarily on Jean-Luc Nancy’s radicalization of community, I demonstrate how these relationships are affirmations of his philosophy, as they constitute a community predicated on the exposition of finitude. From such an assignment, this dissertation expands what is commonly understood as contemporary graffiti practices and argues for the continued legitimization of the genre’s rebellious constitution despite its rampant appropriation by popular society.
The Locus of Thought: Place as a Focus for Thinking
Director Dr. Margot Kelly
Abstract: Place has been a central consideration in much philosophical discourse since at least the ancient Greeks. This dissertation will argue, however, that in certain instances in the history of thinking, place has played a significant and unique role, one beyond typical considerations.
In these specific intellectual projects, place is a method for situating and focusing the development of thought. This relationship with place produces a particular type of thought, one that ontologically fuses place and thinker together. I regard this merger as a topographical convergence of situated contemplation that creates a localized episteme, or in other words, “place-produced thought.” Within this reciprocal relationship between place, thinker, and thought, I argue that the agency of place plays a far more significant role than it is routinely ascribed.
Throughout this thesis, I also argue for the distinctive possibilities of indigenous knowledge. Much of this argument is built upon certain instances of thinking with/in place, in which the place itself asserts its agency and influence into the actual production of thought. My argument is constructed in a manner that illustrates how this relationship between thinker and place is much different than other approaches of creating a relationship with one’s surroundings. Finally, I have tried to elucidate the innovative and irruptive possibilities for place-produced thought—important sources of new identities, thoughts, boundaries, and modes of being. In an increasingly globalized and technological world, the potential value and efficacy of such thought needs to be considered.
Abstract: This study investigates the roles of wonder and a sensibility to “the numinous” in the work of Spanish-Mexican painter Remedios Varo and Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges, each of whom created fabulist narratives, visual and literary respectively. An investigation of wonder as a distinctly “disruptive” universal phenomenon and its accompanying “not-knowing” and “self-forgetting” qualities serve as an entryway for engaging, contemplating and depicting the infinitely shifting terrain that marks the invisibility of the numinous. Eastern approaches to understanding the variations and fluctuations of aesthetic consciousness might describe this theme as a “gateless gate.” Thus European and Asian thought are combined to support the argument that Varo and Borges’s irrealistic narratives challenge any immutable account of truth and reality in art. The proposal herein is that truth and reality are ultimately indefinable aspects of art. Grounding this study in a philosophico-phenomenological orientation by combining a methodology rooted in Edmund Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology with aesthetically oriented philosophical commentary by other thinkers allows the seemingly amorphous and paradoxical roles of subjectivity and spiritual consciousness in modern art and aesthetics to be more directly examined and understood. That the dynamic of the artist-philosopher fuels an impulse to make visible through art the invisibility of what Rudolf Otto called “the numinous” reflects how, as Remedios Varo asserted, art is made “as a way of communicating the incommunicable,” thus bringing meaning to what Borges describes as “the overwhelming disorder of the real world.” The seminal roles of subjectivity—the decentering of the subject, Husserlian transcendental subjectivity and intersubjectivity, and intertexual philosophical assessments of subjectivity— are all used to explore Borges’s literary and Varo’s visual storytelling and their respective searches for truth and reality.
Animals, Ethics, and Aesthetics: Expanding Lexicons
Director Dr. Lynette Hunter
This dissertation considers the ways in which artists working with living animals articulate the complex and paradoxical nature of human-animal relationships. The examples used are from signature moments in the more recent past, with an emphasis the interactions of contemporary European and American artists. Works considered include circus acts, natural history dioramas, and pieces by Bartabas, Joseph Beuys, Carolyn Carlson, Catherine Chalmers, Hubert Duprat, David Nita Little, Joanna Mendl Shaw, and David Wojnarowicz.
Various discursive and knowledge systems are at play in these works, and affect how the animals are treated and how they are represented. This project also challenges the cultural construction we call nature. Much effort has been put into avoiding the hazards of positivism, duality, and relativism. In spite of the inevitably limiting cultural and historical constraints, my aim is to generate some usable knowledge that informs how we understand the languages of art and philosophy and engage with systems of knowledge, especially as it concerns our ethical and aesthetic relationships with animals, including other humans.
Combining artistic and deconstructive practices within the theoretical framework of situated textualities reveals the richly complex yet tenuous nature of our relationships. The art works considered here express misunderstandings, tensions, connections, and the potential for transformation, sometimes simultaneously. Deconstruction is used as a prism to reveal a spectrum of insights, where what once seemed familiar now points toward the unknown, ignored, or overlooked. Situated textualities, which insists that a complex matrix of practices, materials, beings, and contexts must also be taken into account, offers openings for tacit and sensory ways of knowing, which both complement and resist the limits of rational analysis. My theoretical approach is influenced by the ideas of Mikhail Bakhtin, Matthew Calarco, Jacques Derrida, Donna Haraway, Lynette Hunter, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Jakob Von Uexküll and, of course, by the artists whose work is considered here.
Meditative Interactivity: The Power to Create the Self Through the Virtual
Director Dr. Christopher Johnson
Abstract: This dissertation examines philosophical modes of understanding subject formation within the realm of the virtual. I primarily base the evaluations within the concepts of misrecognition, alienation, and purposelessness found within the virtual world. I discuss the strength of the mirroring image while at play in the virtual game, which leads players to greater heights of understanding as to who they are and who they might become. Interactivity within the virtual, coupled with play and forms of meditative reflection, offer the player unique paths to finding freedom. Drawing primarily on the work of Jacques Lacan, G. W. F. Hegel, Martin Heidegger, and Friedrich Nietzsche, I demonstrate how creation within the virtual realm holds promise for an improved nature of becoming autonomous creators of one’s life content and surrounding communities. My analysis takes Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage by showing how the virtual uniquely provides choice beyond the self. Hegel’s concepts of self-consciousness, spirit, and mind are linked in the broader sense to the virtual space. Nietzsche’s views on self-creation and will to power are expounded upon within the ability to design one’s life. Heidegger’s views on technology and authenticity are considered in relation to the authentic inner self found when playing. I argue that the emerging genre of virtual play is not as much about a personal escape, but that of a spiritual journey. The power of becoming self-aware is understood in terms of its ability to enhance what one brings back to physical reality. The virtual experience does not deplete life’s tangibility. Rather, it has the ability to give one’s life new meaning, and imbue a stronger sense of self––a new impression of reality. It is my contention that virtual interactivity covertly activates the cognitive mode to return the player to a state of authenticity that was previously veiled.
Interactive Art and the Action of Behavioral Aesthetics in Embodied Philosophy
Director Dr. Paul Armstrong
Abstract: A new language to discuss and critique interactive artwork is emerging from the intersections of cybernetics, neuroscience, and embodied philosophy. This language includes both biological materialism and posthuman developments as part of an evolutionary trend in aesthetics. Interactive aesthetics has emerged from the historical discourse of a phenomenally situated subject. Adding a neuroscientific lens to our understanding of embodiment brings into further focus some of the detailed ways in which we deploy choices in our actions. This project challenges the traditional notion of neuroaesthetics as a reductionist methodology. As an alternative, neuroscientific findings can provide ways in which to understand the brain as a series of patterns of activity that provide introspection for full-body actions within the larger world. Using the frame of behavioral aesthetics, this project offers a critique that argues interactivity as a common language for the post-biological object to have voice approximate to that of the biological subject. This multidisciplinary investigation explores the ways in which interactive artworks are reinventing a place in contemporary practice that focuses our attention on how experience creates aesthetic purpose. Embodied aesthetics deploys the phenomenological affirmation that we are always present in thought and perception. We load cognitive work onto the environment and the environment offers us fresh stimuli. The environment is very much a part of a cognitive system and is able to impact the configuration of our cognitive function, often in unpredictable ways. Cognition is body-based and works in a distributed way across all systems to employ—to urge from the environment—an empathetic participation. A study of interactive artworks brings attention to this act of creative inhabitance.
Dr. Conny Bogaard (recipient of the Ted Coons Dissertation Prize)
Never an Alibi: The Dialogical Museum
Director Dr. Simonetta Moro
Abstract: Bakhtin’s concept of the dialogical has recently entered the museum world where it is sometimes understood as a communication tool between museums and visitors. While Bakhtin highlights the position of author and hero, it must be noted that the dialogical is not a dyadic but a triadic phenomenon, which is to say, it is through the plurality of autonomous voices, independent from the authorial discourse, that dialogue is actualized. This dissertation argues that Bakhtin’s dialogism can serve as a model for the contemporary museum as it seeks to give itself new relevance in the wake of Poststructuralism. It is specifically concerned with the contested issue of authority in the museum space. Instead of viewing authority as a form of power and control, the Bakhtinian perspective is predicated on an architectonics of co-authorship allowing a myriad of voices to interact simultaneously. That isn’t to say that every voice is the same or, no voices will be heard. Architectonics, which is the distinguishing feature of Bakhtin’s dialogism, is an exchange within the boundaries of ratio and proportion while at the same time being open to change. Bakhtin’s concept of authoring changes the way we experience museums as it rejects the centrality of voice, be it the institution’s, the collection’s or the visitor’s. Significantly, dialogism emphasizes the ethical call of signifying other identities and rendering them complete. Thus understood, dialogism anchors the museum as a place where intersubjectivity can be explored, experienced, and learned. A corollary claim is made for artist interventions in the museum space as a way to break through the institution’s hegemonic structure. Drawing from museums and artists as well as critical theory and philosophy (Bakhtin, Kristeva, Foucault, Rancière, Agamben, etc.) this dissertation seeks to redefine notions of authority, subjectivity, community, participation and experience in contemporary art and museum.
Abstract: This dissertation explores contemporary works of art and theory that utilize a discourse of openness that recognizes contingency through participation and dialogic engagement. I argue that the incorporation of the third highlights a dialogic encounter that functions as an attribute of an ethico-aesthetic predicated on a philosophy of care. In recent years, many artists have been investigating forms of participatory relationships in works that explore notions of performative, rather than contemplative, response. An ethico-aesthetics is more readily manifest in this sort of artwork than in other, more traditional forms, because the inclusion of the third often is a component of work that concertedly focuses on empathy, connection, and care. At the same time, there has been a philosophical shift from regarding ethics in the context of universal truth or objective judgment, to proposing an ethics of care grounded in a performative and embodied engagement—one that recognizes that “truth” is situational and contingent. Many philosophers and theorists have been addressing the notion of the impossibility of static truth in philosophy, literary and psychoanalytic theory. Indebted to theory by Martin Heidegger, Mikhail Bakhtin, Julia Kristeva, and Kelly Oliver, this dissertation places their work in a conversation with the visual arts to examine recent shifts in aesthetic discourse.
Forty Years of Change: How Genetic Technology Altered Gender Roles, Care-Giving, Family Structures, and the Artworld
Director Dr. Michael Stone-Richards
Abstract: In the span of the last forty years, genetic advancements have remapped humans’ understanding of the body, and the interaction between the self and the Other. This has helped to continually alter humans’ understanding of various sociocultural environments. Within this dissertation, four chapters are organized by decade to allow for an in-depth analysis of one genetic advancement per decade, the related changing nuclear family structure, gender roles, and care-giving, as well as reflecting upon how these advancements and changes are found in visual arts.
Each chapter is further structured through the use of Edmund Husserls’ concept of the life-world, Michel Foucault’s argument of the increasing presences of biopolitical power, and Günther Anders theories about technological agency. In each chapter, an emphasis is placed on the argument that these methods of analysis should be viewed as interconnected and relevant to the past and the present, as well as, to the future.
Dr. Emily Lauren Putnam (IDSVA Dissertation Prize)
Venice Biennale: Staging Nations
Director Dr. Shannon Rose Riley
Abstract: During the Biennale, Venice, with its unique urban topography and waterscape, functions as a staging ground for nations and other political and cultural groups. Unlike the crop of biennials that have recently exploded on the art scene, the Venice Biennale is the world’s longest running festival of its kind. Its origins coincide with both the crystallization of capitalism in the nineteenth century, the creation of a unified Italian nation, and major challenges to European colonialism. A distinctive characteristic of the Venice Biennale is its reliance on an exhibition setup modeled on the cultural display of modern, sovereign nations, which has persisted over time. In recent decades, neoliberalism has impacted the geopolitical layout and the inclusion of nations at the Venice Biennale as a site where gestures—artistic, curatorial, institutional, political, tourist, and urban—are involved in the production and exhibition of contemporary art. These gestures are some of the means by which nations are presented, enacted, modeled, behaved, revealed, contained, erased, and experienced. In this dissertation, I read such gestures within the context of select national pavilion exhibitions and what the Biennale calls “collateral events” from 1993 to the present through the lens of critical theory, visual studies, and performance studies in order to examine how such gestures enable and reveal material relations and the structuring of power in neoliberalism, where freedom is placed under erasure.
In/Art: An Inquiry into Cultural Framing for the Twenty-first Century
Director Dr. Denise Carvalho
Abstract: My goal is to investigate the role of culture in the formation of knowledge and its relation to politics of history. I depart from the specific historical accounts of nation building in Canada, striving to demonstrate some of the ways in which different lines of inquiry are skewed from entering the bulk of the epitome that guides political praxis and its function in culture and society. I also critically underline how governmental policies justify spending on arts’ grants, while dismissing specific cultural information and everyday practices that affect the underwriting of policies and the distribution of economic funds. For my research, I seek examples in the production of culture that sustain ideas if freedom, equality, and social justice, giving voice to minorities throughout history. I draw attention to the culture of Canada’s Aboriginal communities that interconnect current and universal relations of time and space through folklore and societal function, exemplified by art practices, documentary filmmaking, and story telling. This urges us to rethink the way we record, validate, and define knowledge, and how knowledge is transformed into political policies that sustain injustice in a government that claims itself just.
The Hospitality of Aesthetics
Director Dr. Shelton Waldrep
Abstract: Cultural exchanges, family life, and community engagement, both local and global in nature, are all sites wherein the ethic of hospitality is active, yet, the complexities of hospitality are not commonly understood in these venues of socialization. Therefore, I have approached this work with the intention of it serving as a primer on the ethic of hospitality; the first two chapters are particularly important in that regard, as they explicate the lexicon and practices of hospitality historically. The challenge for a contemporary ethic of hospitality is to move through the fearful notions motivating hospitality historically toward more conscious and realistic affirmative relations among humans and between humans and other sentient beings. In Chapter 3, I argue that the need for the present configuration of hospitality might be eliminated upon the dismantling of patriarchy and through a contemporary orientation to the concepts of peace and love. I explore alternatives to the dichotomy of self/other that encompass mutual rights, responsibilities, and opportunities vis-à-vis ontology and space. With this in mind, in Chapter 4, I consider what gifts a philosophy of physical geography has to offer the ethic of hospitality. No doubt the geography of home informs our psyches in foundational ways. How does art similarly mediate the liminal grounds of these external and internal territories? I begin Chapter 5 with a discussion of art that utilizes hospitality as an organizing feature. I then posit the ways in which art made from natural materials is uniquely orientated toward the ethic of hospitality and advance the notion that works of art that exemplify this connection can bring us to more nuanced articulations of hospitality and further, that art generally is hospitality embodied.
Dr. Christopher Lonegan (IDSVA Dissertation Prize)
The Anatomy of Spirit: Art, Philosophy, and Anatomical Illustration
Director Dr. George Smith
Abstract: The role of visual art in anatomical illustration answers a particular need for “descriptive” images to serve definite clinical and instructional applications. Beyond this clinical, pedagogical, and pragmatic need, I argue, the function of the visual arts in anatomical illustration is to represent of the human “spirit,” a concept beyond the descriptive capacities of anatomical science. By the term “spirit,” I mean the dialectical and ethical aspects of human Being, synthesized into a hybrid of the medical-material and the ethical-spiritual body through the “style” of artistic representations. Conceived in terms of nature and culture, science and art, the body in anatomical illustrations requires the work of the artist to be fully visible. The artist thematizes and concretizes our bodies as ethical and material entities, representing the “science of the body” as an awakening and recollection of the ethical chord between self and other.
In this dissertation, I argue that the body presented by anatomy is a culturally determined ideological construct, and not the embodiment of a disinterested, objective and universally scientific truth. Variations in the appearance of the body within anatomical science are due as much to changes in aesthetic and ethical contexts, the conceptions of human spirit abroad in a given period, as they are to “advances” in medical knowledge.
Videosthetic: The Relationship Between Video, Art, and Technology
Director Dr. George Smith
Abstract: The dissertation explores the intertwining of video art practices and the ontological implications around the central themes and questions posed, in part, by Martin Heidegger. The essay evaluates his respective approaches to technology and “becoming” in relation to a number of central questions including the rapid dissolving of the boundaries and distinctions between video and cinema. I look at video installations by Dan Graham as they allow for interaction between the mediation of the image and the immediacy of the physical experience of the viewer, and I look at important precedents for the role of bodily performance in relation to video art. In response, I demonstrate why a philosophy of video is necessary. Finally, I also investigate the new paradigms of video production and distribution as they contrast with traditional practices and video’s dialogic relations. In the context of this research I then suggest the paradigm shift of video as a democratized medium.
To Begin at the Beginning: Wittgenstein and the Problem of Metaphysics
Director Dr. George Smith
Abstract: This text is concerned with the exposition and interpretation of the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein in light of what is here called the “problem of metaphysics.” This problem is based on the claim that philosophers throughout history have approached metaphysics from one of two broadly flawed positions. Firstly, there are those who have tended towards the belief that various metaphysical suppositions are self-evidently true. Secondly, there are those who have attempted to deny the possibility of metaphysics altogether by an appeal to various “non-metaphysical” methodologies. The first of these assumptions is rejected based on the conclusion that any self-evident truth requires the universal assent of everyone, which prima facie has never happened. The second of these assumptions is likewise rejected for the reason that every methodology—anti- metaphysical or not—suggests a metaphysics. As this relates to Wittgenstein, it will be seen that we can read his philosophical development as simultaneously encompassing both of these disparate views. These problems are dissolved, however, in much of the work that Wittgenstein did in the last years of his life, especially in On Certainty. There he dismisses the possibility of absolute certainty while acknowledging that some concepts must be fixed in place in order for any description of the world to be possible at all. The question then arises: How do we decide between various possible modes of description? The answer, it will be suggested, is that every mode of description is predicated on an aesthetic predilection alone. This inclination can be given no further justification, nor can it be described. It simply admits that we are free to choose whatever metaphysical construct we see fit and that there is no reason to adopt one metaphysical supposition as opposed to another save our aesthetic proclivity for one thing and not another.