Final Year Reflection (PDP)

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.

Second Year Constellation – A Reflection

It seems difficult to believe that our final constellation assessment for second year is here so soon. I felt quite daunted initially at the prospect of proposing my dissertation at this stage in second year, I have always thought that ‘dissertation’ meant the end of the degree was drawing near. But having begun to consider, discuss and propose my chosen topic at this stage in second year, I have found that starting in the second term of second year has proved helpful in allowing me time to really dig into to my chosen area of research. I am actually looking forward to dedicating time over the summer to continue to investigate my chosen topic, I am particularly preoccupied with the wanting to delve deep into the issues that my dissertation will address.

This being said, what I have found challenging when writing the proposal for the dissertation is exactly this preoccupation of wanting to delve deep. I considered so many different directions to my chosen research area, that I became quite distracted by them all. Although this may not necessarily have been a bad thing, it did make deciding on a specific title quite difficult. For a long time I was unable to decide how exactly I should take on the topic, which resulted in quite extensive rambling (on my part) during my initial tutorials!! It is also worth noting, that I am expecting that the dissertation title and plan may undergo a fair few changes when I eventually do come to the task of writing it.

Upon approaching the more formal task of a proposal, I continued to find it difficult to pinpoint the exact direction that I wanted to take in my dissertation, and did struggle to actually commit to the proposal and make a start. I was continuously became intent on reading that ‘one more extra book’ before I began. I can see now how this was perhaps not the most helpful approach, as I found that actually sitting down to write the proposal was a pretty good way of forming my otherwise scattered thoughts. A plan of action slowly began to reveal itself as I began to organise and link up the different things that I had read in a more formatted way. This was however, the first proposal I have ever written, and so I was a bit apprehensive of how to approach it. I attended a CSAD workshop on how to write a dissertation proposal – and this has proved extremely helpful!

The initial act of choosing a research area however, was not as challenging as choosing the exact title and focus of the research itself. The research area that I chose followed on from my interests in Post-modernity and meaning, something I am attempting to explore in my second year subject work. I did want to branch out slightly from this and examine something quite personal to my own experience of being an art student, the relationship between Christianity and contemporary art – with particular consideration as to how Postmodernism has affected this relationship. As a Christian myself, I have been interested in the dialogue between the Christian faith and contemporary art, how this exchange can often be seen to exist in quite a controversial way, with neither side seeming to always understand the other.

Something that I have begun to find whilst approaching research is how the Constellation module is all beginning to link up. I find myself referring back to lectures that I have had during first year, and early second year. It really does feel like all of the things that I have been taught throughout my time in University are slowly beginning to link up into a more holistic understanding of the subject area that I am interested in exploring. Attending ‘After Modernism’ lectures in first year, and ‘Puzzling Out Contemporary Art’ lectures in second year have benefited me so much now that I am coming to write my proposal. I have really been able to draw from the different ideas, theories and artists discussed during these lectures. I have found myself also building upon some of the essays that I completed during first and second year, particularly my first ever essay at university. Within my ‘baby cage’ essay, I addressed the work Piss Christ, 1989 by Andres Serrano, and discussed how the issue of meaning impacts the way that such a piece of work is received. This is a fundamental idea that I intend to build upon in my dissertation.

Overall, I have found the task of proposing my dissertation exciting (I’m not sure if exciting is perhaps the acceptable word), but approaching the dissertation it has really encouraged me to take a position of ownership within my writing and research. I am really starting to bring together my personal interests and concerns, my areas of research and the knowledge that I have gained from my time at university. I hope that this connection continues to strengthen as I enter into 3rd year and begin to write the dissertation itself.

Constellation PDP

This term has gone so quickly, it seems that it was only last week I was attending my first constellation lecture. I feel that constellation has been a real benefit alongside my practical modules, allowing me to engage thoroughly with many areas of art and design.

The large lectures during the first time were initially intimidating, the first time that I had been taught alongside so many other people.  It was, however, interesting to attend lectures on such a range of different topics, that otherwise I would never have endeavored to look into myself, for example Cath Davies’ lecture ‘Smells like teens spirit’ and Alexandros Kontogeorgakopoulos’ lecture on sound – understanding the depths that art can engage with technology was definitely insightful. The importance of cross-disciplinary practise is something that has been actively encouraged throughout the constellation module, and has motivated me to explore the use of art  to engage with endless other subject areas. I can now recognise that art does not need to be restricted to within a traditional art context, but can extend to robotics, science, popular culture, sound and multiple other areas. I found the study skills session to also be particularly beneficial, and from them my interest has been turned especially towards themes such as philosophy and phenomenology.

The baby cage essay was also a really beneficial challenge. What I found most difficult was the restriction of the word count, being someone who tends to ramble on a bit, I was forced to condense information into a concise essay. This helped me to concentrate on determining what information was necessary to formulate an argument, and to dismiss anything that did not directly help to answer the essay question. This was a good skill to learn.

The second term allowed us to opt for a specific set of lectures surrounding a specific topic. Having become interested in learning about art history and various art movements, I decided to put my name down for Jon Clarkson’s ‘After Modernism’ lectures. These have been incredibly beneficial in helping me to understand the evolution of art within the modernist era. Having not previously understood the depth in which art engaged with world developments, it was fascinating to see how artists and art theorists responded to the cultural, philosophical and technological developments of the 20th century. During 2nd term, we also had the opportunity to visit the Tate Modern and Tate Britain in London – looking at the minimalist collection there. It was interesting to consider the difference between looking at reproductions of these pieces in photographs, and the actual pieces within a gallery context. I think the most significant difference is the effect of the material on the way that the art piece is viewed. We were also taken to the National Museum of Wales, after discussing ‘The gallery and institutional critique’, this was so interesting – I’ve been to the museum many times before but never engaged with it so thoroughly. It was particularly interesting to hear about the architecture and symbols used in the building, I’d never really considered the relevance of the actual building style and its echoing of Greek architecture.

The exhaustive questioning of the role of art within a changing world was fascinating to reflect upon. It enabled me to consider how I could now relate my own art practise to realities within contemporary society. I feel that I have really benefited from all of the sessions throughout constellation, learning to thoroughly investigate new areas of art & design and ideas that I had never considered before.

After Modernism, Week 7 – The Gallery and Institutional Critique

During this lecture we explored the development of the environment of the Gallery, and its importance to the way that we interact with artworks.

This was a topic that I had very little knowledge of, and found it really interesting to learn the relevance of the development of art institutions.

We examined the following:

  • Gallery Architecture

– As a result of enlightenment thinking, there was a strong acknowledgement that artworks should be collected and be available to the public

– The gallery architecture consequently was inspired by Greek architectural language

  • The Princely Collection – The evolution of the gallery interior

– The public owned gallery space moved away from class based collection that meant art was exclusive only to a few, and towards an environment that was open to all

– Some galleries, such as the National Portrait Gallery, are reminiscent of the princely way of displaying

  • Artists Looking at Traditional Gallery Space

– Karen Korr, a photographer that examines interactions with the gallery space

Her work explores how a viewer relates to work within an art institution. In this particular photograph – ‘pleasures of imagination’, Korr manages to capture the fantasy of viewers being alone in the gallery, being able to imagine that they themselves own the collection.

  • Institutional Critique

– Examining the art gallery as a preserver of art

Daniel Buren questions this with ‘Works in situ’ 1969

His work remains partly in the gallery, but extends to the outside.

I really like this work and feel it to be an incredibly strong reaction to the idea of preservation within a gallery space. With it, he questions how art work wants to be treated. A gallery’s role has become to protect artworks from damage and destruction, but Buren questions whether this is how it should be treated – if it wants to be passively viewed or whether its relevance is lost when it is not interacted with.

  • Cabinets of Curiosities

Another format that art objects have been displayed in, a more accessible way than Princely collections

  • The Spectacular Museum

A new type of museum, one that is so extravagantly designed that the art itself must change so that it can compete with the architecture. An example of this being the Guggenheim in New York

  • Mega Art

Art made in response to the change in gallery architecture, work that is scaled up, for example Jim Dine, Three Red Spanish Venuses, 1997

  • The Museum Without Walls

The influence of photography and print in the way that we are now able to relate to artworks.

Artwork in the past had to be visited by the people that wished to view it, however now we live in an age where artwork can come to the people. A simple google search will allow anyone to access many images of artworks, but this begins to prompt the question, What is an image?

Is an artwork lost in a reproduction? Are we even viewing the artwork?

The context of meaning is also often lost through this process, and the circulation of imagery removes much of its uniqueness and holiness.

After Modernism, Week 6 – Conceptualism

This weeks lecture was on Conceptual art, and the discussion surrounded the question whether art was primarily with the object or with the idea – beginning by looking at Damien Hirst’s piece ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’, 1991.

We discussed whether the relevance of the art is in the object itself or the idea lying behind it. If it is the importance is placed primarily on the actual object itself then it raises issues such as the artists absence from the piece and the ready made nature of the shark, in short – the artist had little to do in the actual materialisation of the object. However, the relevance of the artist is clear if an emphasis is put on the concept lying behind the piece.

Duchamp

Duchamp could be seen to be the father of conceptual art – with his piece ‘fountain’, 1917 examining, in response to the lack of democracy that Duchamp witnessed whilst participating alongside an American art board, the very nature of what art should be

Kosuth

We looked at the theories of Kosuth, examining the differences between his definition of art in comparison with Greenberg’s.

Kosuth argues that art should:

  •  have nothing to do with aesthetics
  • look internally, addressing itself (mirroring Kant philosophy)
  • not look like formalist art, which he argues serves no purpose other than decoration
  • investigate the concept of art, most objects are aesthetically pleasing – it does not make them art – without concept art is pointless

“All art (after Duchamp) is conceptual (in nature) because art only exists conceptually” – Kosuth

London Trip

I unfortunately missed last weeks lecture on minimalism, but was able to see some of the pieces that were discussed whilst on the trip to London. We first visited Tate Modern and then Tate Britain, exploring the difference between viewing a piece within a gallery space compared to looking at a photograph of it. The seminar we had was focused on the minimalist pieces in the Tate Modern, and it was really interesting to see these pieces close up – exploring the smaller details that can’t be reproduced through photographs, and being able to move around the pieces.

The two pieces that stood out to me the most were:

Donald Judd, Untitled

In this piece the red enamel base is reflected from sides – creating a new colour property for the inside of the copper box. I find it to be a really enticing piece, the reflective qualities of the copper changes our perception of the size of the inside of the box. The colour glows out of the box, with the inside looking larger than the outside – as though the inside isn’t limited by the walls of the box.

Richard Serra, Trip Hammer

This piece stood out to me as a comment on faith and trust, especially within a professional, institutional context. This large piece towers intimidatingly above those viewing it, a lot of trust is put on the balance and propping of these two sheets against one another and then against the wall. In my mind, whilst viewing it, the fact that we were in a gallery somehow put my mind at ease – for example the knowledge of the importance of health and safety in an institution such as the Tate, allows a sense of trust in the stability of an assemblage that would otherwise be something to be weary of.

After Modernism, Week 3 – Fluxus

This lecture was introduced with a video by Wolf Vostell – Sun in your head, of an untuned television set showing a flickering image. This video is frustrating and difficult to focus on, not one image lasts long enough for your brain to fully figure out what is happening – what it does draw attention to is the artificiality of the television, it alerts us to the fact that it is not real life but a materialisation of it.

Fluxus was an avant-garde movement with the intention to create an art that flowed out of life, an anti-art. A manifesto for fluxus put forward by Maciunas can be seen below.

George Maciunas, Fluxus Manifesto, 1963

The important elements of Fluxus outlined here are to fuse, to purge and to flood. The fragmentation of the text (from a dictionary) also demonstrates the fragmentation of definition that Fluxus wishes to achieve.

Origins of Fluxus:

1. Dada

  • Irrationality
  • Performance
  • Chance – chance takes the artist out of the art, for example Jean Arp, Collage with Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance, 1916-17, anyone can do it if it is down to chance and coincidence – there is no decision making or placement.

  • Iconoclasm

2. Art vs Life

The position that artists working within the Fluxus movement took to art was that it should be a part of life, not a specialised activity separated from the process of living. To achieve this they took two stances – abandoning traditional forms of art and revolutionizing  everyday life – then creating art in order to reflect this.

3. John Cage

  • Chance
  • Scores
  • Experimentalism

Cage engages with music as an art form, exploring the above three concepts through instruments.

Dick Higgins 

Contrary to Greenbergs views that art should be restricted and follow rules, Higgins calls for a stripping away of rules, stripping art to its simplest form. To Higgins, important elements in the evolution of the movement of Fluxus are – collage, combination, environment, happening, event and concentration.

Features of Fluxus according to Higgins:

  • Internationalism – it was not to be limited to one specific place, but was an international movement
  • Anti-art and Iconoclasm – The issue with anti-art is that it may only exist within an art context.
  • Intermedia
  • Concentration/simplicity – the action of getting out is more important than what you are getting out into
  • Art and life
  • Activation of audience
  • Games, Jokes, Playing
  • Ephemerality and invisibility
  • Specificity

Other important elements of Fluxus that Higgins doesn’t address:

a.) Mysticism

b.) Music

c.) Meaningless

d.) Boredom

e.) Politics