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.
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.
In this study, I will show how the categories of linear time and horizontal space in the United States and cyclical time and vertical space in Mexico persist into the 20th century and are revealed in the public mural art of Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera. Incorporating the thinking of Mikhail Bakhtin, Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Arnheim, I will demonstrate that the murals articulate the origin stories of each nation by drawing on the chronotopes (time-space) utilized by each artist to serve as the formal structures of national memorials.
I will argue that in the United States a national identity and collective memorare associated with a linear sense of time in which the past is insignificanand the present is simply a necessary step towards the future while a horizontal concept of space prevails in which the axis mundi expands and tilts outward andis best associated with the ideas of manifest destiny, constant change, progress, freedom and open space.
In contrast, we find in Mexico a national identity where collective story and memorare associated instead with a cyclical sense of time in which the past, presenand future are constantly linked and concurrent, and a vertical concept ospace around which one centers identity that lessens the distance between diverspeoples physically as well as culturally.
Building on the work of Paul Ricoeur, Raymond Williams, Erika Doss, Yi Fu Tuan and Hannah Arendt, Iwill further show that the way we perceive these representations expressed in the chronotopes of Benton and Rivera continue to define contemporary public art up through the 21st century, shaping conscious or unconscious attempts to represent and memorialize a national understanding of “we” in both countries.
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.
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.
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.
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.