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.
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?
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.