Constellation this year has been quite a step up from the previous two years. Initially, the prospect of no longer attending lectures was quite daunting, it almost felt as though my time as a student had ended. However, as I became more involved in my research, I began to realise the progress that I had made in my ability to handle information as a result of the previous two years of Constellation and Subject lectures. It became apparent to me that although such progress is often so gradual that it is unnoticeable, approaching a task such as writing a dissertation really highlights how much has been learnt in such a small period of time, not only in terms of content and information, but also skills and application. I could never have even thought of writing such an extensive and in-depth piece of writing if it hadn’t have been for the preparatory two years. That being said, I was still quite overwhelmed initially by the thought of undertaking such a long piece of writing, having never really written anything longer than 3,000 words.
The process of choosing a dissertation topic was probably one of the most difficult tasks of this whole module, but it was while making this decision that I was really able to draw on all of the information I had gathered over my time as a student in CSAD. In particular, the ‘After Modernism’ lectures that I attended in my first year had sparked a keen interest in postmodern art and I had become particularly interested in the way that the transformations in art were so closely related to the transformations in society and philosophies. I think this has been one of the most striking things that I have learnt in my time here, that there are no rigid boundaries between subject areas – that all subjects are codependent on each other, and to learn more about your own area of interest means to expand your understanding of areas that do not immediately strike you as related. I have learnt this within each module and each year of my study here, particularly within the first term of the first year as we attended such a broad range of Constellation lectures not necessarily related to our specific subject area.
My interest in the relationship between transformations art and the conditions of society became a starting point for my dissertation module. The first Constellation assignment that we had been set under the title ‘Controversy’ also began to influence my dissertation proposal. I had explored the Andres Serrano piece ‘Piss Christ’, but with such a short essay had been unable to investigate it to the extent that I had wanted to. I decided that I would like to explore this image further, and this led me to consider specifically the position of religious art in an age of postmodernity. I was interested in how the conversations occurring within the wider context were affecting the way in which such subject matter was being dealt with. Particularly drawing on my heightened interest in how visual and material culture is both influenced by and influences the wider conversations that are taking place within society. I was also curious to consider why responses against images are so strong and emotional and have become quite interested in challenging the initial reactions people have to images. This has actually encouraged me to also consider my response to things outside of the specifics of my research and writing, particularly given the turbulent political climate, I have begun to realise that sometimes emotional outcries are not always helpful, as they seem to resist careful analysis and fair-mindedness.
This interest in the role of the image and its power as a reflection upon the conditions of society has also begun to emerge within my Subject work as I began more specifically to consider the influence that the digital age has had on our relationship with the world around us. Although in my Constellation module I was more focused on religious themes and iconography, I found that a number of key debates began to connect with one another. I became particularly intrigued by the advancement of digital technologies and how they have created a sort of ‘hyperreality’ in which talk of metaphysics seems to have become redundant, and instead our navigation of the world and understanding of it begins to largely take place in what is visible to us. Baudrillard’s writings ‘Simulacra and Simulation’ (1981) and ‘The Ecstasy of Communication’ have very much been influential in both my Subject and Constellation work. What is also quite interesting is how I find myself relating to these debates, I can not say that I altogether agree with the philosophical position that we find ourselves in, in contemporary society, but neither do I feel confident or competent enough to offer a particularly valid critique. I think I am quite content at the moment in the position of an observer, in both my Subject and Constellation work, I am quite enjoying the process of allowing observations to lead me down paths of research and argument that I probably wouldn’t have thought to consider otherwise.
This growing academic interest in the interplay between the image and its associated philosophies, particularly surrounding the religious image has really encouraged me to consider further academic study in this area. I have found the dissertation a really beneficial element in this, as it has encouraged me to consider my own voice and contributions in the wider academic conversation. I do feel slightly inept in this task, as I am beginning to conclude that the more that I am learning, the more I realise I don’t know – which is somewhat humbling. It seems like the knowledge that is out there is infinite and I’m only dancing around the edges. This is daunting, but at the same time encourages me to take on the task of broadening my understanding, and in some small way endeavour to make sense of even an ounce of the information that I am coming across. Although I have found the process of writing the dissertation quite challenging at times, often feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of finding an argument (and trying to make it novel) in the midst of the mass of information, I have also thoroughly enjoyed it, and it has encouraged me to consider whether this is something that perhaps I could continue to do following the end of my undergraduate. I don’t feel like finishing this dissertation has concluded my research, but that it has opened up so many new strands of information that I would really love to continue to explore further.