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 is charged with the illumination and application of Jacques Ranciere’s theory of the distribution of the sensible and regimes of art in the examination of the historical posturing of black masculinity and what I propose as the new slavery inherent in mass incarceration. Paramount to this survey is the retrospection of the dialectic work of Kara Walker who is said to have desecrated black testament of freedom while contriving white desire. Contrary to this I argue Walker as artist-philosopher and her work as having the potential for the emancipation of the black man. Dissentient in nature Walker draws a comparison to the revolutionary comportment of Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner in the legislation of violence lodged against the archetypes of the master/slave narrative of history in her indispensable commission for the souls of black men. The distribution of the sensible is understood as the configuration of the sensible world as an ethical ought in the cartography of the Platonian republic as “living speech.” The silhouette participates in this discourse as the concatenation of knowledge and the soul vis-a-vis Plato. In this partitioning lies the birth of the Other as colonized thought. Knowledge as an epistemological grid shapes the discourse and terrain governing the black man as Other assigning him historically as an inferior product. The psychological predisposition of the black man as inferior is performed in history and recapitulated through the representative regime ad infinitum. The problem is the question concerning history as immutable law. How has law and legislation failed the black man in his procuration of freedom? I argue that the emancipation of the black man will be accomplished through an aesthetic education in his return to the primal scene of history as history. What comportment does genius have in this most critical excavation? How does art as knowledge participate in this intervention? Art is no abstract concept of community but its substratum taking form. How is form imperious to the fashioning of black masculinity, or at that Heidegger’s nothing?
This dissertation establishes a new philosophical framework to understand, evaluate,and champion a category of art practice appearing in the world that I call “place-as-medium.”I will argue that place-as-medium reshapes horizons of knowledge by the way it changes the way we think as the activity of “thinking through place.” Chapter one sets up place-as-medium as an art practice that goes beyond metaphysical thinking in the artworks of Alfredo Jaar. Chapter two demonstrates how Jaaruses place-as-medium as an artistic strategy that gathers things together and brings them into appearance spatially through art forms-as-thinking gestures,defining “boundaries of place.” Chapter three considers dOCUMENTA (13), an expansive international exhibition organized by artistic director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev in 2012 as a thinking-artistic-praxis. The central investigation is the exhibition’s play with spatial, temporal, and historical dimensions of art as ways to reconfigure conditions of place. Chapter four looks at the function of hospitality in three art projects that occurred around the Occupy movement in 2012, which use the aesthetic form of the tent. Chapter five looks at the topic of authorship in place-as-medium, leading to the conclusion that place-as-medium presents new opportunities for art to enact shared authorship of place.
My dissertation focuses on the artist collective as a potential model to contribute to the reshaping of contemporary society. Through exploration of Michel Bahktin’s ‘polyphonic’, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s ‘rhizome’, Emmanuel Levinas’ theories of alterity, Edouard Glissant’s ‘relational aesthetics’, (among others) this project will explore how the contemporary artist collective engages autonomous subjectivity with others in the artist collective model by shifting ‘the group’ from a problematic modality into a multiplicitous mode of ‘being-with’ one another in collective space. In study of artist’s working in collaboration in history alongside contemporary artist collectives, this project argues that the artist collective considers the question of autonomy within collectivity through an assemblage of voices working together in relation to one another through practices that include: self governance, the question of authorship in relation to the multiplicity, and the engagement of outside participants with the created artwork. In so doing, the collective creates a community based on exchange with one another; one that engages the multiplicity of ideas and validates all forms of existence via communal making. Through comparative study of artist collectives based in contemporary society within the limits of the American, European, and Asian continents, this dissertation explores how creative collaboration occurs within collective practices. I will utilize a comparative-inductive approach through the intertextualization of contemporary artist collectives and thinkers. This project is an important contribution to the existing conversation surrounding the artist collective, because of the necessity to situate ‘collectivity’ through creative-collaborative endeavors as a practice in which we are all engaged, and in an attempt to re-configure oppressive societal apparatuses under which humanity exists, through creative collaboration of all others.
Noise is sound that is loud, confusing, chaotic, unwanted, disturbing, and even dangerous. From this, many have concluded that noise is negative, as it can produce discomfort and terror. But, if noise is never considered beyond this, it continues to be a threat. Therefore,I argue, if we engage with noise aesthetically, we are likely to transcend our habitual aversion to it and experience it as a profound and nuanced phenomenon.
This requires filtering to gain greater levels of appreciation. Methods such as deep and deliberate listening, as well as engagement with psychological and phenomenological responses to noise, are employed to deconstruct works by Luigi Russolo, John Cage, Alison Knowles,Annea Lockwood, Alyce Santoro, and Sunn O))). To more fully realize the power of aesthetic noise, I approach these artists’ works through the philosophical filters of Edmund Burke, Martin Heidegger, Jacque Derrida, and Julia Kristeva.Their theoretical structures have been traditionally applied to literature, the visual arts, and even to music, but rarely if ever to noise.
In order to discern how philosophical filtering may enrich one’s experience of aesthetic noise, I listened to the aforementioned works through the filters of Burke’s beautiful and sublime; Heidegger’s interpretation of the four causes; Derrida’s premise of the parergon; and Kristeva’s theories on abjection and purification.
This investigation will demonstratethat noise is exceedingly multifaceted and multilayered, so no one philosophical approach would be adequate to elucidate its intricacies. However,by engaging multiple philosophical filters in concert, the value of aesthetic noise will be amplified, thus allowing the listener to better appreciate noise and its possibilities.
This research emerges from my deep curiosity about the Buddhist concept of emptiness (śūnyatā) and the ways in which select artworks can express some manner of voidness. How can artworks embody and explore emptiness, pointing beyond image and language? My study begins with Ad Reinhardt’s enigmatic Abstract Painting (1963) and the black void in art. My analysis of Reinhardt’s work draws primarily from the writings of Nāgārjuna and Heidegger. Nāgārjuna’s understanding of emptiness suggests a complete deconstruction of all possible entities, leaving “no-thing” in its wake. In Chapter Three I turn to a different account of emptiness as presented in the Tibetan Buddhist traditions of Dzogchen, or Great Perfection. With Agnes Martin’s The Islands I-XII (1979) asmy focus, I engage the Dzogchen idea of “other emptiness” (shentong) as distinct from the emptiness of self. In Chapter Four Itransition to an exploration of the emptiness of bodily perception in James Turrell’s installation Aten Reign (2013).This site-specific artwork is an impermanent, non-material work that is simultaneously indeterminate and incorporeal yet existent and perceivable, andhere I draw on the phenomenological philosophy of Merleau-Ponty. The fourth artwork that I explore in Chapter Five is The Century with Mushroom Clouds:Project for the 20th Century (1996) by Cai Guo-Qiang. With Cai’s art the focus shifts from conceptual arguments for emptiness (as one finds in the ideas of Nāgārjuna, Heidegger, and Dölpopa) and the phenomenal experience of emptiness (as one finds in the phenomenological philosophy of Merleau-Ponty) to a performative gesture that embodies the ephemeral, empty nature of reality as presented in East Asian traditions. I argue these four art-voids enable an aesthetic exploration of the experience and understanding of emptiness through reflective encounters with singular works of art.
Confederate sculptures are not mundane objects that decorate the landscape in communities across the United States, but are ideological structures to white supremacy. When the words monument and memorial are used interchangeably and weaponized, the sculptures are trapped on a hermeneutic circle that escalates racial conflict to abuse. By twisting circular interpretation to form an apeiron, represented as an infinity symbol,rigidity can be opened to accept a multiplicity of truths.
This project begins by untangling the words monument and memorial to demonstrate abuses of power and memory. By stripping away the language, the sculptures and the work they perform in public to uphold white supremacist ideology is revealed. Exposing them removes their power and neutralizes the grounds for discourse where dialogical sculptures can then be inserted.
The inclusion of dialogical public art that moves Confederate aesthetics to an apeiron engages conflict transformation that expresses the fluidity of history, memory, and consciousness. Recontextualizing public art not only indicates a cultural paradigm shift, but has the power to form a new public that accepts a multiplicity of truths. Public art that aids in the formation of a new public holds the promise of helping the collective development of a new level of consciousness, compassion, empathy, and care that is extended to others.
At the present two foremost studies, the Annenberg Report and CARD analyze the inclusion or exclusion of underrepresented communities in film and television in US American media, both conclude there is an epidemic of representation, which includes the invisibility and misrepresentation of characters and the narratives that surround them. This epidemic of representation has further the displacement of mothers in U.S. Media. In relation to this latter point, Alison Stone and EtiWade provide insight on maternal subjectivity and the gaze of the mother. bell hooks questions parental roles and challenges Laura Mulvey’s male gaze theory and feminist critique with her oppositional gaze and a critical lens of feminist theory, by including the voice and experiences of women who had been placed in the margins, while Gwendolyn Foster examines possible tools to decolonize the gaze. From such starting points, this project focuses on how the culture of film has created a Gaze Economy that influences economic structures in the United States of America, from the labor market to the political economies that shape our view of others and our subjectivity, specifically of the mother, from an object to a subject. I define gaze economy as the constant flux of exchange between the one who sees and the one who is being seeing. Such models are hegemonic constructions which lead to perceptions of the judgment of others, the self by others, and the self by the self. In addition, the project introduces the concept of (m)other as the mothers who are grouped outside of the dominant maternal discourse, but whom should be considered as belonging within. Furthermore, this project presents the genealogy of(m)others and explores how the narratives, the representations, the misrepresentations and the absent representations of some characters of mothers, expand the culture of (m)others by furthering their conditions as an ostracized group. The main line of inquiry is whether films influence the societal judgment of others, particularly of ALL mothers? If so, how and who places such judgment? Is it the mother upon herself or a mother upon another mother? The findings of this project contribute to the film and media theory critique of the representation of mothers and the epidemic of invisibility of underrepresented groups. Furthermore, at the present, the project has deconstructed the narratives, performances, and characterizations of mothers in a leading role in the top 25 films from 2000 to 2019 in the United States of America to propose an extension of the feminist critique of such.
This dissertation examines how the immersive aesthetic experience engages sense and reason in interpretation of ontological questions. This examination is important, as it reveals how thinking contextually develops through the practice of nuance and lingering.This research demonstrates that the ontological task of aesthetics distinguishes art from entertainment. I argue that the immersive aesthetic experience avoids superficiality by addressing; embodiment, intertextuality, and the sublime.Embodiment relates to the abundance of sense data characteristic of immersives aesthetic experiences. Spaces, light, smells, environments that elicit physical response. Presented with, and as, ambiguous signs that appear to make ontological reference. Physical response stimulates interpretation, an interpretation that is intertextual. Understanding intertextuality can better facilitate operating in a complex and contextual world. These experiences require focus, becoming conscious of. The sublime, understood as an intense experience of aesthetic understanding, is integral to the description of immersive aesthetic experience developed in this study. When aesthetic understanding is of an ontological nature, occurs unexpectedly, briefly, and intensely, it is called sublime, and reveals the nature of singularity. This intense experience may act as an enticement to engage sense and reason, freely and with more frequency.
The dialogue developed in this research aims to to understand what immersives aesthetic experiences share in common and addresses four important questions.What kind of being does the ontological content of each work address? What is the formal approach to the work? How does the work physically engage sense? And what is revealed? The guiding voices that this dialogue depends on include; Julia Kristeva, Roland Barthes, Jean Luc Nancy, Martin Heidegger, Henri Bergson and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. I argue Yayoi Kusama, Anish Kapoor, Olafur Eliasson and Damien Hirst offer examples of the type of work that encourages nuance and lingering, and reveals presence. Ultimately resulting in understanding that being responds to, and is responsible for, theworld.
Stephens through decolonizing the I, problematizes its universality throughout Western philosophy and aesthetics. She argues for bringing the messiness of the body to philosophical discussions through EmDisEmbodiment, an existential,phenomenological, and psychoanalytic method of not only embodiment or disembodiment but a relation between embodiment and disembodiment. An EmDisEmbodied I appreciates statements from another’s universal at odds with one's own realizing both the deconstructive and reconstructive potentials of identity formation. Shebelieves this approach will enrich philosophical conversations concerning the I and its relationship to others. She further argues that the conversation between aesthetics and philosophy can do exactly this. Taking an intersectional approach, she draws connections amongst what she refers to as Irigaray's fluidI, Fanon’s Universal-Particular I, and Jean Luc Nancy’s Absolute-Fragmented I.She sees the understanding of the nuances of the Universal-Particular questioning body that is reconstructing itself with a keen self-realization that it will never be complete; the Absolute-Fragmented relational body with frayed edges tying and untying knots; and the fluid body that thinks in terms of proximities and dualities; as key to expanding the conversation surrounding the various isms. Looking at ideas from these theorists, along with Lewis Gordon, Jacques Derrida, and Gayatri Spivak in conversation with the work of various artists she shows how the intercourse between conceptions of art, philosophy and “the I”get to the very needed connections amongst the universal, its drives, emotions,embodiment, disembodiment and her term EmDisEmbodiment.In turn she suggests a new understanding of the form vs. content, abstraction vs. figuration contemporary art debates. An understanding that does not set up a dichotomy that hierarchizes but instead complicates the divisions between form/content, figuration/abstraction, the body/the formless, and the universalI/the particular I. She concludes by looking at Nancy's “wandering labor of sense” as it relates to Édouard Glissant's errantry.
Recent aesthetic theories have neglected ambiance as an experiential thought while emphasizing aura and atmosphere as affective states; feelings grounded in Hermann Schmitz’s New Phenomenology. Existing literature, particularly the works of Tonino Griffero and Gernot Böhme, have muddied this debate and caused confusion by equating ambiance with aura, atmosphere, and Stimmung, or mood. This dissertation delineates ambiance and characterizes its existential structure and materialism as it presents itself to a historical subject through sculptures situated in the landscape of Africana political, social, cultural, and ecological life. Ambiance is like an embosphere, an experiential thing that is internal, subjective, and individual; it is neither objective like aura nor collective like atmosphere. In explicating “sculpted ambiance” as an alternative methodology vis-à-vis historicism, this dissertation critiques contemporary forms of representation while applying Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception, i.e., intentionality, to space. This research fills a gap in aesthetics left by a lack of focus on non-architectural visual art. It does this by episodically discussing ambiance as a momentary process of mise-en-scène (staging) experiences—looking, listening, and touching art, triggering audience’s affective registers. The research also builds on Böhme’s and Griffero’s identity of affective state which they characterize as “between place,” “something more,” and “excess effect.” Enveloping history, culture, and ecosystem, sculpture—as an artform and a shared monument—temporally and spatially mediates accounts of society. My main argument is that when we are allured by objects and conditions, we rely on perceptions and processes that are spatially and temporally mediated. Ambiance is part of a spatial hierarchy in the human ecosystem, a process that is epistemic and ontological. As imaginary elemental things, ambiances determine individual moods, attitudes, ways of thinking, and topologies constituting life in society.