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.
My project explores the nexus of temporality and ontology intersecting with the work of art and the viewer. I focus on theatricality from Michael Fried’s 1967 essay, “Art and Objecthood,” which asserts the superiority of the “instantaneousness” of modernist art over the “duration” engendered by minimalism's objecthood, i.e., its strident physicality.
I trace the genealogy of Fried’s theory of theatricality through its partial subsumption under what he calls the problematic of beholding. Both address the idea that the work of art “acknowledges” the viewer’s presence. I argue that, despite its flaws, Fried’s initial theory in “Art and Objecthood,” with its synergistic (and antagonistic)approach, has kernels of a robust explication of the relation of the viewer to the work of art that his later iterations lack because he attenuates temporality and ontology. In Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before (2008), Fried returns to a vehement opposition to the theatricality of minimalism; however, his objections are eroded by his changing positions, as he has already established that certain aspects of theatricality are acceptable, inspired especially by contemporary photography and the paintings of Manet.
As a corrective, poet and theorist Octavio Paz provides us with models of the temporal and ontological tensions inherent in modernist art. Paz approaches these issues through the lens of modernism’s self-critique,from the Romantic poets’ clash of linear versus primordial time, to Duchamp’s questioning of the art object. Fried attempts to find a stable reading of a work of art through the separation of the temporal from the ontological, as in his analysis of Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe. Through Paz, I propose an approach that celebrates these tensions without entirely abandoning Fried’s original conception of theatricality, furthering the dialogue regarding temporality and ontology and their intersection with the work of art and the viewer.
This dissertation establishes the concept of what I have named “removed closeness” as a means through which to develop a deeper understanding of, and dismantle ethereal discussions around, dance forms of the African Diaspora. I assert that removed closeness empowers the Black Tap Dancing Body to cross boundaries of geography, space, and time, enabling it to serve as a vehicle for catharsis, provide access to the sublime, and secure the future of Tap Dance as it maintains the link between tradition and innovation. Part One unpacks the concept of removed closeness and discusses catharsis, the sublime,and how removed closeness allows access to both. Additionally, African religion is discussed to clarify how African and western philosophical ideas can be bridged via the analysis of removed closeness and its manifestation in dance. Part Two delves into the history of Tap Dance, providing further context of the art form and how it became what we see today. Connections are drawn between the Black American movement systems involved in the creation of Tap Dance and the African movement systems that provided the initial groundwork. Part Three provides an earnest attempt to determine the future of the Black Tap Dancing Body. The philosophy of Afrofuturism is unpacked, along with its intersection with removed closeness– both place emphasis on the importance of maintaining a connection to tradition and using that connection to move forward, grow, andevolve. The first purpose of this research is to find a different way to understand the Black Dancing Body and investigate the experience of its past, present, andfuture. The second purpose is to give words to an experience and provide another discursive entry point for those most impacted by this query: Black Dancing Bodies that are performing Black Dance forms while navigating white dominated spaces.
An investigation of the art of Tara Donovan, Liza Lou, Dave Cole, and Wolfgang Laib precipitated an articulation of a unique concept, the domestic sublime. The use of non-traditional art materials employed by each artist is one of the unifying characteristics that makes their work illustrations of the domestic sublime. Each artist presents work that is familiar yet uncomfortable, comforting yet disturbing, and lastly, finite yet immeasurable. The combination of repetitive labor, vast quantities of physical materials, and forms that present the unknown reveal characteristics of the domestic sublime.
Tracing the concept of the sublime from its origins to today allows for its evolution from a transcendental experience to a tangible, material manifestation in contemporary discourse. Key figures in this argument include Immanuel Kant, Jean-François Lyotard, and Jacques Derrida. Domesticity commonly refers to any labor, activity or material related to, in or around the home and has numerous social, historical, and philosophical contexts. Situated in notion of modernity, the domestic’s foundation is comprised of layers of discourse that include the politics of labor, economic implications, boundaries, technology, and identity. Contributing philosophers to the domestic include Gaston Bachelard, Witold Rybczynski, Simone de Beauvoir, Kathleen M. Kirby, Henri Lefebvre, and Martin Heidegger.
Characteristics from both the domestic and the sublime meld to a framework that supports the paradoxes and complexities inherent in both notions, while simultaneously revealing the overlapping notions that inextricably create the domestic sublime. The artwork that illustrates the notion of the domestic sublime combines domestic materials, labor, and space with the uncanny relationships inherent in the sublime such attraction and repulsion, interior and exterior, and comfort and terror.
This research addresses the constraints of creative practice as it exists within the realm of mainstream capitalist culture and the possibilities for creative practice when practiced through a lens of anarchism. Drawing from Silvia Federici’s historical analysis of Marxist enclosures, and Gregory Sholette’s argument of art as a form of enclosure, this research advocates for an expansion of what is considered creative practice. The Dominant Art World Structures indicate institutional organization, a relationship with the cultivation of capital, and a hierarchical construction, making space for the conversations, practices, and people that have been allocated to this realm of mainstream contemporary art practice. In my research, I explore the potential for a creative commons, that allows for inclusion of voices that would traditionally be excluded from the Dominant Art World Structures. I engage with practices that often lie outside of the Dominant Art World, that may not even be commonly identified as art. The research also includes examples of creative practitioners whose practices are not acknowledged. Sources include punk zines, small town newspapers, posters from events that were not otherwise documented, and interviews with community members. This research advocates for a foundation of anarchic perspective that grounds itself on consciousness as stemming from the relational of being part of the other, of being a participant of the collective.
The first half of the dissertation examines what capitalism, consumption, and commodification has created in relation to art, leaving a realm filled with competition with the eventual outcome being the monetization of people and relationships themselves. The second half of the dissertation begins to construct a perspective of what creative practice could be, when coming from a consciousness that employs anarchic sensibilities. These chapters identify characteristics of the creative commons and explore practices that demonstrate these characteristics, including collaboration or collective action without claim to authorship, skill sharing, and what it means to build from the ground up.
The commonalities that plants, shamans and artists share may not be evident at first glance, nevertheless, if we search for uncomfortable entanglements and difficult questions, we may find that for centuries the voice with which plants speak has been the Amazonian yachag and the chamana or healer. Furthermore, who has invariably accompanied different plateaus along humanity’s convoluted becomings, has been what I have called the artist in trance. This artist is a concoction born from Walter Benjamin’s notion of ecstatic trance and Nietzche’s tragic artist. In this research I have investigated the being of plants or plant ontology and how they may be others who we may learn from in order to relate to Earth in a better way. The artist-yachag or artist philosopher as we may call her, is the one who bridges disparate conocimientos or knowledge, those of plants and those of shamans and translates them into our own words and worlds. What for? To learn to inhabit this planet in a softermood, in a weak mood as Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala would say, stemming from other visions and other perspectives. The interconnectivity that plants generate, as well as the idea of them being a world in themselves allied with the yachag or shaman and the artist, may lead humanity towards the understanding of a world to come. Applyingand expanding the notion first posited by Levi-Strauss and then contested by Viveiros de Castro that the relation between nature and culture is one of“metonymic contiguity rather than metaphoric resemblance”, I argue that the same kind of contiguity exists between plants,the Amazonian yachag and the artist in trance. The trope ofmetonymic contiguity serves to connect in a continuum these three entities one after the other in a nature-culture effervescent symbiosis.
Hip-Hop’s female artivists illustrate a completely functional, more efficient existence within the cooperative grayish conjunction and areas of womanism, rather than perform the individualistic either:or binary standard to negotiate an “acceptable” societal role. These performatives address the vital presence of intersectionality in womanism and the fluidity of gender identity, which challenges the status quo of American feminism and its prioritizing of gender inequality over other social injustices. Utilizing the principles of womanism as a philosophical thought with Hip-Hop culture, Black women fuse a comprehensive, more credible, and inclusive platform for future generations to expand the understanding of Blackness and gender performance. By garnering a better knowledge of their existence through Indigenous African spirituality, Black women reclaim ownership of their bodies from western European standards to challenge Christianity’s meaning of martyrdom to engage intersectionality through a discourse of American capitalism while upending the white supremacy’s either:or binary. As an oasis initiative, Hip Hop music elicits the good, the bad, and the ugliness of everything American to hone in on the development of the female voices and their indentation on the culture to establish American Christianity as a diplomatic and subjugated premise to objectify Black women through the mimicry of constructed systems. The chapters of this project will address the distinction of pro-autonomy versus the unification of culture and community to critique the white normative systematic constructs that alters the understanding of race, time, polyculturalism, and space concerning the Black Being.
Contemporary aesthetic philosophy engages the notion of aesthetic experience from two conflicting lenses; on one hand are those who support a connection between the aesthetic and political while the other favors a more pragmatic position. An area of aesthetic engagement not yet explored inhabits an intermediary between these opposing poles, a modality of aesthetic experience I term, the aesthetic of repose. This dissertation traces the evolution of ideas regarding aesthetic experience through a survey of several philosophers whose varied perspectives form the foundation for my inquiry. Beginning with an exploration of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgement, proceeding through Friedrich Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, and progressing to John Dewey’s Art as Experience, my aim is first, to situate their individual aesthetic philosophies within the context of 21st century aesthetic experience. Despite their differing viewpoints, these thinkers share in common; 1) the importance of sense and sensation to valuable aesthetic experience and 2) a desire to find value and meaning in aesthetic experience for overcoming the ills of humanity and advancing culture.
Secondly, this dissertation examines a polarity of ideas that challenge the notion of authentic aesthetic experience in our times. Similar to their predecessors, contemporary aesthetic philosophers desire to make aesthetic experience a portal for humanity’s recuperation. There are thinkers such as Jacques Ranciére and Santiago Zabala, who advance an aesthetics of action; others, like Richard Shusterman and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht advocate for an aesthetics of presence. The aesthetic of repose rests uniquely between action and presence, as an area of slumber, where neither action nor presence is necessary. Rather, the idea is to remain in repose, linger there, where repositioning occurs naturally, as though without perception. One emerges from this seemingly imperceptible experience, having done nothing save moving through it, yet being forever changed by it.
This dissertation proposes a new approach to soil remediation that I term becoming soil. Becoming soil seeks to help reclaim soil’s aesthetic dimensions, dimensions where soil is dynamic and alive. I argue that soil remediation is an artistic, creative, and collaborative practice that goes well beyond a romantic attempt to recover a lost fertile ground. Instead, it invites the senses to become invested in the continuous processes that keep soil alive. Furthermore, the dissertation reveals the hidden aesthetic underpinning of soil depletion, a crucial environmental problem, while offering creative means to resist the massive and adverse impact that humans have on soil. To this end, the subject of Becoming Soil is examined through five operational questions: a) What is Value? b) What Hides? c) What Remains? d) What Resurfaces? and e) What is Recovered? That correspond to the five artworks by artists Claire Pentecost’s Soil-Erg (2012), Frances Whitehead’s SLOW Clean-up (2008-10), Mel Chin’s Revival Field (1991—ongoing), Jea Rhim Lee’s Infinity Burial Project (2009—ongoing), and Wormfarm Institute creative initiatives on art and agriculture, Fermentation Fest (2010—ongoing). I answer these questions in the light of contemporary ecological theory; more precisely, eco criticism and eco materialism, than like fermentation, are methods of transformation (a giving and and taking in reciprocity) that benefit both the aesthetic and scientific aspects of soil remediation. These methods make tangible transdisciplinary collaborations possible. Illuminate the impact of humans on soil, becoming soil reveals the possibilities for new artistic, scientific, economic, social, and political engagements that are soil centric. Moreover, becoming soil amplifies the aesthetic dimensions of soil remediation, helping to restore the sensual experiences of eating nutritious food, standing on solid ground, and the enigmatic return to the soil in death.
This paper examines public art and the role of contemporary artists in context of their relational experience in communities effected by environmental injustice. As a Michigan resident or as an out-of-state guest invited into an urban neighborhood, each of the twelve artists in this study participates within community through a unique cultural lens. Informed by historical and sociopolitical complexities, the public art bears witness for artists that care about the effects of a city’s water crisis, harm resulting from breached oil pipelines, generational loss of Indigenous traditions, and the inability to breathe unconditionally within certain neighborhood Zip Codes. Engaging in public art in the emerging role of ‘caretaker,’ the artist addresses evolving social narratives in such a way that the aesthetic form through its visual dialogue, becomes a catalyst
Current discourse on public art and environmental injustice regards a broad range of social contexts whereby the art performs a certain aesthetic or practical function relevant to location, however, the figure of the artist is rarely discussed. This paper focuses on the figure of the artist.
In posing the question, How does public art bear witness for the artist in the role of caretaker?, I argue that the artwork reveals the role of caretaker through the artist’s 1) aesthetic practice, 2) gentleness in form, and 3) particular elucidation that personifies ‘caretaker’ as assessed through aspects of Witness, Testimony, Shelter, and Call, whereby the four categories become markers within the art for attributing the artist’s relational experience within community. The public art fosters consideration for the viewer to gain new insight through aesthetic form that bears witness for the artist as caretaker and to reflect on one’s own role in an environmentally just community.
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?