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.
This project began as an inquiry into the archive of the California Institute of the Arts’ (CalArts) Post Studio Program, whose only relic is a course description written by its founder, artist John Baldessari. An equally important component of this early inquiry was the discovery of Jean-François Lyotard’s palimpsestic text, Pacific Wall, whose frontispiece, “Five Car Stud,” was first publicly displayed at documenta V by artist Edward Kienholz. These two materials led toward a novel articulation of how post studio artistic methodologies – embodied by both Baldessari and Kienholz – intervened in the master narratives of modernism. I argue that the absence of a formal archive of post studio allows for such an intervention. The paucity of materials written on post studio led me to original sources within archives (including the San Francisco Art Institute, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and the Getty Research Institute), lending agency to each artist’s voice.
By engaging the missing archive of post studio through ventriloquizing its lack, this project deconstructs the normative apparatus of modernism and deromanticizes the sacred space of an artist’s studio. Scholarship generally has understood post studio practice as a methodology eschewing the studio as a space for generating art, its reliance on the political economy of the art market, and its spatialization of sovereign subjectivity. A site of resistance, with aesthetic implications, post studio offers a narrative of its own that defies the artistic conventions of modernism; including, importantly, the authorial legacies, master narratives, and the cult of originalism to which modernism was heavily invested.
Informed by French poststructuralism and its debates over postmodernity, I reclaim, posthumously, Craig Owens’s theories on power and representation alongside allegory and appropriation as the key methodologies of post studio artistic practice. These methodologies challenge postmodernity through a heretofore undocumented intervention into modernism.
This study engages with Merleau-Ponty’s supposition, from Phenomenology of Perception, that exposing time underneath the subject and relinking it to all the contradictions of time, body, world, thing, and human other allows awareness to come into its fullness. I argue that rationales of thought associated with cultural violence and its images of the social world—both mental and tangible—link back to the ontological of time underneath each human being, where the conditions of language alter both consciousnesses and meanings behind the phenomenal dimensions of violence, appearance, being, and image. These alterations accompany violence into its reimaging, where an inaudible consciousness awaits each spectator.
My focus here is phenomenological, but not in the strict Husserlian sense. Rather, I take other discourses and their methodologies to the borders of this centering. Through an intertextual latitude of subsets, I define the meaning of a critical phenomenology of violence through its paradoxical sense, interrogating past and current thinkers across a wide spectrum within a Merleau-Pontian and Arendtian arch. I contend that dangers in the paradox of thinking partner with moral and perceptual thinking and that the phenomenon of imagination in the aesthetic of violence pairs with human will and the Kristevian abject; that Lévinas’s ontology merges with perception, when language creates loss of being; that Lacan’s reduction of the Freudian drive and its gazes couples with Merleau-Pontian desire and his radical, ontological look at psychoanalysis. Finally, the Nancian ontic text-image signals Arendtian insight on deceptive metaphors that expose facets in the blow of violence.
By the end, this study demonstrates that phenomena stay within their operations, but the power of the human will alternately recognizes or negates the authenticity behind the phenomenon of violence, while events remain actively, quietly at work in cyclical patterns of desires and perversions, placing the human being in the flux of endangerment and risk from an array of social images.
Although much has been written on the phenomena and aesthetics of the sublime, especially over the past thirty-five years, I argue that a further interrogation is needed. This is because the Indo-Tibetan Yogācāra-Madhyamaka philosophy of ‘emptiness’ (Skt: śūnyatā) more precisely and elegantly elucidates what is happening in the mind when we experience the sublime. Therefore, I assert that a thorough interrogation of the Yogācāra-Madhyamaka notion of ‘emptiness’ (śūnyatā) will clarify our (mis)understandings of the aesthetic and phenomenological concepts of the sublime.
I address several epistemological and ontological problems inherent in understanding the sublime, as has been widely postulated both in and outside the work of art. While employing a method of dialectic in this project, my critique of ancient, modern, and postmodern theses of sublimity postulate new insights into concepts of the sublime. I demonstrate that the theses of the sublime are burdened by several not-insignificant epistemological and ontological problems, which reveal both incoherences and contradictions. Finally, I argue that to promote a coherent theory of the sublime is, in the end, absurd, by virtue of the fact that sublimity can be neither a coherently understood object of experience, nor anything short of an epistemological contradiction. I propose in response what I call the empty-sublime, and then turn to twentieth-century American artists Robert Rauschenberg and Agnes Martin, and the contemporary German artist Wolfgang Laib, whom I argue are examples of its authentic aesthetic praxis.
Literary critics and art theorists celebrate the work of Virginia Woolf and the activities of London’s Bloomsbury Group as emblematic of the early achievements made in modernist art and aesthetics. This dissertation argues that their creative activities exceeded modernist ideologies and practices of unity, purity, and autonomy; they instead embody the distinct postmodernist traits of hybridity, discord, and fragmentation. This project relocates Woolf’s literary work and the culture of the Bloomsbury Group within a posthumanistic theater; modernism was a performative cloak for their radical personal beliefs and endeavors. In their private lives, the Bloomsberries’ feminism, queer subculture, atheism, pacifism, and mixing of social classes reveal them – as individuals and as an intimate group – to be highly performative, heterogeneous, and post-human.I assert that Woolf’s novels describe the Bloomsberries’ radical social values and behaviors via the genre of fiction. The genre safeguarded the novels’ contents for public consumption on the premise that fiction is not confined to facts and real people or events. Woolf’s stories offered unutterable truths about herself, the group, and quotidian urban life. This postmodern re-reading of Woolf’s novels, Mrs. Dalloway, To The Lighthouse, Orlando, The Waves, and her essay, A Room of One’s Own, repositions Woolf’s lyric prose as contributing to discourse on the post-human condition and with contemporary feminist and queer theory. Yoking the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari, Butler, Haraway, Braidotti, Bryant, Bergson, and others, I assert that Woolf’s stories occupy a threshold between fiction and post-human philosophy, because her characters exceed being in the world and instead participate in a scheme of becoming-with the world. Woolf’s scheme for intersubjective consciousness is a rhizomatic relation of encounters, machines, and multispecies alliances that permeate the post-human body and psyche. We find, in her century-old artistic vision, a schema for today’s post-human storytelling in the Anthropocene.
The aim of this study is to examine shifts in the discourse of aesthetic representation in Western fashion. I argue that the democratization of Western fashion has radically transformed the way subjectivity is produced and community is organized. Through these changes, fashion has reformulated the possibilities for ways of being in the world and the ways communities are constituted. The democratizing moments I discuss over the span of modern fashion’s history are critical embodiments of the possibilities that dress opens up for sociocultural, sexual, and political emancipation. In other words, these aesthetic discourses of fashion have been and continue to be critical to the history of freedom.Focusing on three critical instances in the history of fashion from the eighteenth century to the present day, this project examines the fashions and work of Queen Marie Antoinette, the designer Coco Chanel, and the photographer Bill Cunningham. I trace the way fashion has constructed the immortal body of royalty, the aristocrat, the urban bourgeois, the working person, and every-body, extended into the limitless virtual body. I also trace authorship in fashion, moving from the invisible artisan behind the royal body to the genius couture designer, to machine-produced mass reproduction and now to infinite virtual reproduction. I show how fashion has constituted gender and sexuality, from elevating the royal body into a holy vessel meant to continue the divine right to fashioning the earthly working body of flesh, blood, sex, and pleasure. Each of these transformations through fashion has helped to represent and recreate subjectivity in its many iterations throughout history. This project explores the ways contemporary fashion has become democratized and democracy has been an effect of fashion.
This dissertation traces the phenomenon we call the sublime as it relates to the lived experience. Not fully understood, this mystery, much like human existence, obscures any possible telos. The experience of the sublime shifts our perspective and focuses our attention on our being. The wonderings inspired by the experience of the sublime stimulates and directs our ontological viewpoint and our existential potentials.
This examination intends to reveal the necessity of sublime experiences in realizing our humanity and in plotting a course for a more just future. Tracing the genealogy of the sublime through foundational thinkers like Longinus, Burke, and Kant will establish the early interpretations of the experience. Examining the sublime through the shifting attitudes of Hegel, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Lacan will display a sense of uncertainty which unseated the sublime as integral to being human. Leaning upon thinkers like Rorty, Rescher, Deleuze, Guattari, and Kendall Walton, this works attempts to recover the sense of wonder inherent in experiences of the sublime. This exploration will examine the uncertain nature of the sublime and how it can be accessed in the contemporary world.
Contemporary cinema facilitates accessing the sublime in the modern world. Via our imaginations, we can, through engaging with creative and well-crafted stories, experience the sublime connections to our authentic being. Contemporary ideologies mediate interpretive associations of the sublime and create a cul-de-sac for the meanings of the experience and stifle the possibilities of the sublime. This exploration intends to reify the reflections on the sublime and re-establish the significance of the experience as part of humanities ongoing evolution.
This dissertation argues that intimacy has the capacity to operate as a radical disruption of ideological constructs, and therefore possesses political agency. Furthermore, contemporary art that employs radical intimacy may be deployed as ideological-political activism. Grounded in the psychoanalytic-poststructuralist theories of Julia Kristeva, particularly her research on abjection, intimacy and revolt, the project examines intimacy as an ambivalence of subjectivity and borders, inside and outside. The project explores the practices of several contemporary artists, namely: Leigh Ledare, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Ellen Jong, Joseph Maida and Lorraine O’Grady. Beginning with Freud’s erotic and unconscious-oriented discourse, and continuing into Lacan’s split subjectivity and desire, the theoretical arc follows Kristeva’s poetics into a discourse of ambivalence between subject and object. Engaging Althusser’s theories on interpellation of subjectivity and ideology, I situate radical intimacy in contemporary art practice as a rejection of oppressive ideological constructs, particularly, subjectivity itself. Kristeva’s notion of revolt as a return to the individual’s singular truth supports a philosophy of intimacy grounded in speech and the perpetual questioning of identity, and a radical reconsideration of subjectivity. The project concludes with an introduction to object-oriented feminism, a new school of feminist praxis, grounded in the limits of subjectivity, and the radical ontology of objecthood. This final step situates radical intimacy in contemporary art within the political arena of activist practices, demonstrating the ways that abjection, revolt and the dissolution of categories catalyzed by intimate practice, effect an ontological shift from subjectivity to objecthood. Thus, radical intimacy disrupts the modern hegemony of subjectivity, suggesting a new language for the contemporary philosophical era that equalizes the ontological status of humans and non-human entities, inviting new modes of ecological thinking.
My research is concerned with investigating how we can come to understand embodiment as consciousness through choreography, performativity, and performance. Further and more deeply, how the “knowing body” (Merleau-Ponty) enables liberation through an ontological embodiment. I contend that a black liberational spirituality, as an ontological embodiment, is revealed through the phenomenological aesthetics of the black concert dance/performance tradition. Here, I explore the works of eight African American dance/performance artists who convey, lucidly, this subject matter and who are firmly positioned within the black concert dance/performance tradition: Katherine Dunham (“Shango”), Pearl Primus (“Fanga” and “Hard Time Blues”), Eleo Pomare (“Blues for the Jungle”), Reggie Wilson (“Introduction”), Preach R Sun (“CHRYSALIS (Cry Solace)”), Jawole Willa Jo Zollar (“Batty Moves”), and Orlando Zane Hunter, Jr. and Ricarrdo Valentine (“how to survive a plague”). A main point of departure for my subject is an articulation of Haitian Vodou spirit possession (a sublime embodiment) as a perceptual means for the recontextualization of the beautiful. The choreographic and performance work of the eight artists lead the way along with my inquiry. Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Edmund Husserl, and Frantz Fanon offer phenomenological guideposts, while still other thinkers provide necessary grounding in areas specifically focused on temporality, spatiality, gender and spirituality. Three points that guide my investigation of this subject matter are all shared between the artists: (1) the works testify to the power of black embodiment through performativity and aesthetics; (2) the works recognize the interplay between the sacred and the secular domains; and (3) the works maintain a legibility of an inherent spirituality functioning as an animating, illuminating, and vital creative force both conscious and ancestral. The artists signal the viability of an embodied aesthetic of black subjectivity, and their works are infused with an urgency of spirit and a radicalism that demands recognition. It is through their works that the revelation of liberation through the secular ritual act of dance/performance may be encountered. It is, first, the centering of the black body that envisages the discourse from a place of agency rather than alterity. The ultimate goal is to decenter race as a governing principle in determining the beautiful in these works in order to turn our attention to a more equitable place of discovery that contests racial privileging, difference as equal.
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.
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.