Week 5, 23-27 March 2020
Updated: Jun 10
Setting up a workspace at home to make more wooden stools, completing Fine Arts Research Seminar assignment and planning for early mid-semester break.
1. WORKSPACE AT HOME With Covid-19 level 4 lockdown now in place throughout the country, I set up a workspace at home to make more stools using the pōhutukawa wood. The wooden stools got me thinking about St Alban's church building closing after the Kaikoura earthquake and what this meant to its parishioners? I wondered if the removal of the pōhutukawa trees would also impact the parish? Would they miss their presence?
How do changes in our environment affect our relationships? These environments form, and influence, the space between us - a space that seems especially important now given the need to enforce social distancing and self-isolation in the face of Covid-19. What happens when the environment that our relationships operate in is disrupted and disturbed?
So I made wooden stools! In the making I felt one day people might sit on them and talk to each other. This gladdened my heart. I think they will be a gift for the parishioners.
2. SITE SPECIFIC ARTISTS
I've gradually realised my artwork this year will be site specific installation art. This will allow flexibility to accommodate ongoing interruptions that may result from Covid-19.
Three site specific artworks/artists that appeal to me are described below - New Zealand artists Chris Booth and Andrew Thomas, and a Japanese installation by teamLab called Borderless World. Each work illustrates a sensitivity to nature and community.
(i) CHRIS BOOTH - Tranekaer-Vader 1998
All photos are from Chris Booth's website http://www.chrisbooth.co.nz/works/
Chris's works are grand and imposing installations that respond not only to the landscape but also the sky. They mark the site and there's wonderful movement in the sculptures and an appropriateness and sensitivity to 'space and place' through selection of materials and reference to cultural heritage and geological formation. Chris has done many installations in New Zealand and around the world. He collaborates with local indigenous groups to create environmental sculpture that is in harmony with "land, nature, spirit and community".
Tranekaer-Vader, (image above) created in Denmark 1998, is one of my favourite artworks (Transkaer is the Danish village name and Vader means father). The two structures acknowledge the ancient Viking graves and farm structures nearby in Tranekær municipality on the island of Langeland. Two large boulders, with central holes drilled through, are suspended high above the ground. Each is supported by a central pole and rests upon stacks of horizontal or vertical wood chopped from trees nearby. The scale, choice of materials and a construction that enables the gravity-defying balancing act, holds the viewer in a state of uncomfortable fascination. How long can the wood support the boulders and what will happen to the sculpture over time? Chris explains on his website - "As the wood decays, the boulders will descend slowly to the ground. One day, when all the wood has rotted, two boulders with beautifully sculptured holes will remain."
(ii) ANDREW THOMAS - Lightwing 2018
Lightwing is a 6m-high, 10m-wide steel structure weighing 20 tonnes, sited on a busy roundabout in the industrial area of Seaview, Lower Hutt.
Twenty curving metal pieces emerge out of the ground, reminiscent of the wing of the kotuku that feed in the Hutt river nearby and the undulating hills of the Hutt Valley.
Andrew Thomas, a Wellington production designer, proposed the sculpture in response to a brief outline - "to create a sculpture that would identify and acknowledge the area's past, present and future, taking into account its industrial industry and natural environment". Lightwing was constructed by a local Seaview manufacturer and celebrates the skill and contribution of the manufacturing community to the Hutt Valley.
It's a sculpture I drive passed nearly everyday on my way to the city and as we travel around the roundabout I enjoy viewing the sculpture's changing form and reference to the surrounding landscape. It is an artwork that uplifts both physically and emotionally and transforms the urban manufacturing site.
(iii) teamLAB - Borderless World, Tokyo 2020
Borderless World is an interactive light installation created by teamLab that immerses the participant within the work itself by responding and changing to the viewer's movements. While not a site specific work, its physicality creates an experience that explores phenomenology by confusing the participant's boundary between body, mind, time and senses. A friend visited this exhibition while in Tokyo and said it was the most extraordinary art experience she has ever encountered.
In keeping with Japanese tradition, some of the displays change with the seasons e.g. cherry blossum, plum blossum. When we visited Japan during February/March 2020 we did a free guided tour through Kyoto and learnt the Japanese year is divided into 24 seasons (sekki), which are further divided into 72 kō consisting of 5 days each. This said so much to me about the Japanese people's sensitivity to their surroundings and the depth of their relationship with nature. The guide took us to the Kungyokudo incense store, operating since 1575, that has created an incense for each of the 72 kō. Truly wonderful.
The images above are from https://borderless.teamlab.art/#theme1
3. FINE ARTS RESEARCH ASSIGNMENT Outline : You will examine and engage with relevant texts and methods as they relate to fine arts practices
Literature review and annotated bibliography : This essay explores the contemporary theory of New Materialism in relation to the artmaking
practice. New Materialism asserts matter is active and alive, which contrasts directly with the constructivist notion of matter as inert and passive. Tim Ingold describes New Materialism as “bringing things to life through creative entanglements” that occur as materials flux and flow (Ingold 1). This participatory process between human and non-human things recognises that vibrancy and agency exist within all things.
Vibrant matter and distributive agency are the fundamental principles of New Materialism.
American art teacher Emily Hood, and Amelia Kraehe (Assistant Professor, College of Visual Arts and Design, University of North Texas) describe vibrant matter, as “each object has a presence – a being” (Hood and Kraehe 33). The term was proposed by Jane Bennett in 2010 and holds that all things (eg. plants, animals, rocks and air) have a sense of being and an interconnectedness with other things. Hood and Kraehe define distributive agency as “thing-power…the shared energies that move us when we are in co-creative relationships with the non-human presences in the world” (Hood and Kraehe 33).
The concepts of vibrant matter and distributive agency articulate the core of my art practice as a sculptor and printmaker. While my art holds a formalist aesthetic, driven by an ontology that states form itself holds the meaning, it is important to me to respect and understand the materials I engage with. Each material requires a different process and response and this understanding of how to interact allows the creative voice to become visible in the material I work with. In the past, I have engaged with a variety of materials (wax, metal, glass, clay, paper, inks and paint) but most recently I have been drawn to discarded materials and detritus (e.g. cicada shells, pōhutukawa stamen and bunny tail flowers) which hold low status and a seasonal, environmental and ecological narrative.
These materials are reused and recycled to create things that will eventually decompose.
Hood and Kraehe suggest the concepts of vibrant matter and distributive agency provide
opportunities for artists and educators to rethink the artmaking process. They state, “new
materialism goes beyond traditional inquiry methods in art education. It calls for contemplative speculation grounded in a relational ethics toward the materiality of all things” (Hood and Kraehe 35). They suggest it requires students to have an awareness of and receptivity to “the sensation of their own interchange with materials as they explore, experiment, and create” and state “getting lost is to be curious, caught up, and entangled, not with the idea of art but with the material work of art” (Hood and Kraehe 36).
This idea of entangling with the material work of art resonates within me, as I feel my practice is an exploration of process and materiality within a contemplative inquiry. However, reconciling this exploration within the context of formalism, which I am also drawn to, is more problematic for me.
Tim Ingold (British anthropologist and Chair of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen) provides some insight into this dilemma by offering a completely different perspective on form and materials in his paper Bringing Things to Life: Creative Entanglements in a World of Materials (2010).
Ingold develops the idea of entanglement, stating “a focus on life-processes requires us to attend not to materiality as such but to the fluxes and flows of materials” (Ingold 2). First, he argues our understanding of an object as discrete and finite is flawed because all form engages in leakage “forever discharging through the surfaces that form temporarily around them” (given my love of form, this was a thunderbolt!) (Ingold 3). Second, he states there are no objects only things, and “a thing is a ‘going on’… a place where several goings on become entwined” in “a continuous trajectory of becoming“ as materials flux and flow (Ingold 4-10). He suggests “in a world without objects we are invited to participate” in this meshwork of things thinging, “where boundaries are sustained only thanks to the flow of materials across them” (Ingold 5, 11).
Ingold disagrees with Hood and Kraehe’s notion of distributive agency, suggesting “things move and grow because they are alive, not because they have agency” (Ingold 7). He argues things cannot be captured and contained because they are not objects, and agrees with Deleuze (a renowned French philosopher) and Guattari (a French psychoanalyst) who state “when we encounter matter, ‘it is matter in movement, in flux, in variation’” (Ingold 7).
By focusing on following the flux and flow of material processes of formation to bring things to Life, Ingold asserts a new creation ontology, haecceity, to replace Aristotle’s hylomorphic model of creation (i.e. creation occurring when form and matter are brought together). However, Jonathan Basile, a doctoral student of Comparative Literature at Emory University, challenges how novel this theory of New Materialism is, given its underlying concept of matter as free and lively is merely in opposition to the constructivist assertion that matter is inert and passive. He argues this reversal of reasoning does not “deconstruct underlying concepts” nor create something truly novel (Basile 1).
Perhaps the best answer to Basile’s criticism that New Materialism offers nothing novel, is to
appreciate contemporary artists who employ its ideas in their practice. Amelia Jones, an American Art Theorist, does this in her article Material Traces: Performativity, Artistic “Work,” and New Concepts of Agency, 2015. She describes the work of four artists, Heather Cassils, Paul Donald, Juliana Cerqueira Leite and Mark Igloliorte, who share a common approach of engaging with the flux and flow of material processes, in a performative manner, to bring things to Life and “produce new spaces of meaning” (Jones 21).
Cassil’s work, Becoming an Image 2013, is a 20 minute performative work involving the artist (wearing boxing gloves) bashing a 2,000lb slab of clay which results in both the artist and clay being “marked by the material traces of artistic labor” (Jones 20). In Untitled (Studs) 2013, Donald has carved small organic forms into one end of 20 studs of pine (2x4’s used in the building industry) and the residual marks of his labour animate the vibrant matter of the wood. Cerqueira Leite’s work, the climb is also the fall, 2011, is a large dramatic sculptural work suspended from the ceiling that seems to rise and fall simultaneously. Using a variety of materials to mold her body, she has imprinted her
artistic labour in the work, and viewers “are literally impressed in turn by these marks of having been made, evocative of creative effort” (Jones 24). In all these works, the “interrelations among thought, action, and materiality for the artist as well as subsequent experiencers” are apparent (Jones 29).
Karen Barad, noted American physicist, epistemologist and feminist, describes performativity as a performance art that focuses on intra-active participation between materials and “challenges the representationalist belief in the power of words to represent pre-existing things” (Barad 802). In her article, Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter (2003), Barad argues New Materialism offers a posthumanist theory to challenge the social constructivist ontological of humans as the prime subject who exert their will on inert, passive matter. By rethinking the agency and vitality of all materiality, and the indefinite nature of boundaries and flattening of hierarchies, Barad challenges humanity’s anthropocentric social construct to diffract and become more inclusive of feminist and queer theories.
Jones, however, disputes the belief that New Materialism places us beyond human (posthuman), proposing instead that the artist’s labour with materialities, and the imprints made visible, activate a greater connectedness and relationship with matter.
Ramya Ravisankar, an Indian-American artist, summarises the contribution of New Materialism to artmaking practice and philosophical inquiry in his dissertation, Artmaking as Entanglement: Expanded notions of artmaking through new materialism (2020). He describes New Materialism as a departure from “reflexive accounts that privilege the artist and researcher as the prime subject”, and instead “embraces a diffractive methodology ... (that offers) insights on the role of matter, material, and materiality … (so that)… the very notion of what constitutes materiality in artmaking is in flux.” (Ravisankar 2). Engaging the diffractive method in the artmaking practice was first proposed by Barad and is borrowed from the scientific idea of light waves that bend around an object, or through an aperture, throwing light into the geometrical shadow of the object i.e. diffraction creates a secondary source, to light what is hidden in darkness and place shadows in areas of light.
Ravisankar describes diffraction as “a mapping of interference, not of replication, reflection or reproduction” and articulates how he uses the diffractive methodology in his own art practice, likening it to two rocks, dropped into still water, which create patterns of complex matrices thanks to the continuous rippling and interference of waves. He states, “doing this with information and ‘data’ received through the Artmaking/Research process is challenging. In this study, shifting my approach from reflection to diffraction allows me to produce and attend to the differences enabled by reading insights through one another” (Ravisankar 23). He states, “I can read the ‘data’ attained through entanglement and intra-action with material through new materialist theories to allow for insights, interferences, and differences to emerge” (Ravisankar 23). This methodology embraces uncertainty and chaos and abandons neat and tidy!
Not only has the diffractive method enabled novel practices in artmaking but it has also created opportunities to rethink and apply different strategies to many areas of contemporary social practice and cognitive inquiries. Thomson and Linnell’s 2020 essay, Enchanted Encounters with the Liveliness of Matter and Art Forcing Thought, describes approaches for supporting people encountering death through artmaking that focuses on materiality and creates space for new thoughts to emerge.
Stubbe’s 2020 inquiry, Material Practice as a Form of Critique, investigates alternate methods to critique established modes of cognitive forms of knowledge through the process of making, and Alexandra Effe employs new analytical tools and methods in cognitive literary studies as evidenced in her 2020 article, Postcolonial Criticism and Cognitive Literary Studies: A New Formalist Approach to Antije Krog’s Country of My Skull.
The concepts of vibrant matter and distributive agency embedded in New Materialism, and Barad’s diffractive methodology, have enabled new ways of thinking and understanding to be applied to artmaking practices and philosophical inquires and go some way to discredit Basile’s assertion that New Materiality offers nothing novel. The idea of Entanglement, described by many of the authors referenced in this literature review, challenges the constructivist ontology of active subjects exerting their will upon inert material
objects. Instead, New Materialism attempts to describe a creative process where materiality is in a state of flux which we, the artists, are invited to participate in.
Amelia Jones. Material Traces: Performativity, Artistic “Work,” and New Concepts of Agency. Vol. 59, no. 4, 2015, pp. 18–35. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edspmu&AN=edspmu.S1531471515400037&site=eds-live&scope=site.
By investigating contemporary performative artworks, Jones challenges the belief new
materialism places us beyond human (posthuman), proposing instead that the artist’s labour with materialities, and the imprints made visible, activate a greater connectedness and relationship with matter.
Effe, Alexandra. “Postcolonial Criticism and Cognitive Literary Studies: A New Formalist Approach to Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 56, no. 1, Feb. 2020, pp. 97–109. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/17449855.2019.1702084.
Effe analyses Krog’s political poem, Country of My Skull, through a cognitive-formalist
scientific approach, to understand how the formal, aesthetic dimensions of postcolonial
literature act as agents for social transformation by unlocking patterns of thought and
feelings in the reader. Critical issues of the ethics of empathy and truth are discussed.
Garber, Elizabeth. “Objects and New Materialisms: A Journey across Making and Living with Objects.” Studies in Art Education: A Journal of Issues and Research in Art Education, vol. 60, no. 1, Jan. 2019, pp. 7–21. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1209955&site=edslive&scope=site.
Garber shares how new materialism has transformed her art practice, created new
knowledge systems based on an awareness of all matter possessing animacy, and altered
her way of living.
Harari, Yuval Noah. “Human History Will End When Men Become Gods.” NPQ: New Perspectives Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 4, Oct. 2019, pp. 6–13. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/npqu.12223.
In this interview, Harari expands on his idea that the underlying ideology of humanity is
changing from one of humanism into dataism, which will herald the evolution of a new God
like species i.e. artificial intelligence.
Hood, Emily and Amelia M. Kraehe. “Creative Matter: New Materialism in Art Education Research, Teaching, and Learning.” Art Education, vol. 70, no. 2, Mar. 2017, pp. 32–38. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00043125.2017.1274196.
Hood and Kraehe investigate how using the principles of “thing-power” and “distributive
agency”, embedded in new materialism, can redefine art education practice as a research
Ingold, Tim. “Bringing Things to Life: Creative Entanglements in a World of Materials.” Realities, Working Paper #15, 2010/07/20.
Ingold challenges Aristotle’s hylomorphic model of creation (i.e. creation occuring when
form and matter are brought together) by arguing form is not a discrete, finite object but
rather a leaking thing that meshes and entangles with other leaking things. He describes a
new creation ontology, haecceity, that focuses on processes of formation to bring things to
Life by following the fluxes and flows of material.
Jonathan Basile. Life/Force: Novelty and New Materialism in Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter. Vol. 48, no. 2, 2019, pp. 3–22. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edspmu&AN=edspmu.S1527209519200061&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Basile challenges how novel the theory of New Materialism is, given its underlying concept
of matter as free and lively is merely in opposition to constructivism’s assertion that matter
is inert and passive.
Karen Barad. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.” Signs, vol. 28, no. 3, 2003, p. 801. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1086/345321.
Barad argues performativity, which focuses on intra-active participation between materials,
offers a posthumanist theory to challenge the social constructivist ontological of matter as
inert and passive. By rethinking the agency and vitality of all materiality, and the indefinite
nature of boundaries, Barad challenges humanity’s anthropocentric social construct to
diffract and become more inclusive of feminist and queer theories.
Ratto, Matt. “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life.” Information Society, vol. 27, no. 4, July 2011, pp. 252–260. EBSCOhost,
Ratto provides a summary of experiments designed to illustrate the importance of
connecting lived experience, through the process of making, to conceptual knowledge in
order to reconnect society and technology.
Ravisankar, Ramya. "Artmaking as Entanglement: Expanded notions of artmaking through new materialism." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Ohio State University, 2019. OhioLINK
Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 01 Mar 2020.
Ravisankar proposes new materiality offers an opportunity to reconceptualise the role of
matter, material, and materiality in artmaking practices and philosophical inquiries. He
suggests the notion of flux is at the heart of materiality, and the artmaking process.
Stubbe, J. “Material Practice as a Form of Critique.” Interaction Design and Architecture(S), vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 30–46. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edselc&AN=edselc.2-52.085010693225&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 1 Mar. 2020.
Stubbe discusses how the process of “making” and haptic engagement with physical
materials offers an opportunity to critique established modes of cognitive forms of
Thomson, Jody, and Sheridan Linnell. “Enchanted Encounters with the Liveliness of Matter and Art Forcing Thought.” Emotion, Space and Society, vol. 35, May 2020. EBSCOhost,
Using the theory of new materialism and the liveliness of matter, Thompson and Linnell re
examine the value of performative artmaking for those encountering death, and how it
might change thought in unexpected ways.
Suzy, I enjoyed reading your well-written and insightful literature review. You engage with a variety of challenging texts without being overwhelmed by them, which is a good thing! Discussion of writers like Bennett and Barad are well placed, but it’s also equally important to bring in readings which examine creative practice more specifically like the work of Amelia Jones, so that’s great. You summarize concisely and acknowledge the telling differences between some of your chosen thinkers. You might find it interesting to consider other writers on the notion of the posthuman such as Rosi Braidotti, but also ecological writers such as Rebecca Solnit, Bill McKibben, and the late Geoff Park. Your bibliography is clearly laid out and well selected. I look forward to seeing where your research leads! Ngā mihi, Martin