Up Close with Distance: The Unstable Space in Contemporary Painting
Embargoed until: 2019-02-14
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The way we experience space has a direct relationship to the way we perceive it, as evidenced by the ways that space has been represented in painting throughout history. My research is concerned with the representation of space in contemporary painting. Contemporary experiences of space through new media screens offer painters a unique challenge that requires them to think about representing space in new ways. My research focuses on the role of the window in painting, a device that has confirmed painters’ preoccupation with representing space on a two-dimensional plane. I provide an historical overview that establishes the window as an important spatial and metaphorical concern within painting. I draw a connection between the window and Plato’s cave as a frame of representation. In the context of this research, ‘space’ refers to a painterly space which includes both illusory space and actual physical/material space. Whereas Gilles Deleuze defines these different kinds of space as either ‘haptic’ or ‘optic space’, I use the term ‘unstable space’ to describe that which occurs when both ‘haptic’ and ‘optic space’ coexist on a picture plane. In considering Plato’s cave as a window or frame of representation, I recognise the demarcation of key spatial and representational concepts related to the window in painting. As with Plato’s cave, the window demarcates binary opposites that have structured much subsequent thinking about art, such as interiority/exteriority, nature/culture, illusion/reality. Through Plato’s theories, I specifically draw attention to the dualist structure of his belief system that posits tensions between interior and exterior, reality and illusion, nature and culture. I establish the term ‘unstable space’ through examining the theories of Deleuze and Jacques Derrida that deconstruct Plato’s writing. Their theories offer a means by which to construct new meanings within the space of painting, as they emphasise the instability of the binaries afforded by Plato’s philosophy and instead suggest the possibilities of multiplicity. The contemporary ‘windows’ of media screens significantly shift the metaphor of the singular window to the multiplicity of windows within windows. This multiplicity reflects the way we currently experience space and the effect this has on the thinking of space in contemporary painting practice. In this way, painting’s material dimension and illusory space can be explored not in terms of binary oppositions but as complementaries. Having traced the development of the window as an important representational device in painting, I propose that the window can be used as a mechanism to explore the ‘unstable space’ through painting. This space operates between spatial and representational theory. Through the analysis of specific works of art by contemporary artists chosen as exemplars in the field of painting, I argue that the unstable space can be created solely in the medium of paint. My research extends understandings of space as represented within the limits of a two-dimensional surface. The representation of space within my painting practice results from my reimagining of the window as an unstable space, my exploring of the perception and representation of ambiguous space, and my engaging with pictorial illusion through abstraction. Explicitly, the studio research found that the screen or window was able to act as a metaphor for the body and as such effectively articulate the experience of interiority and exteriority, surface and figure, ground and distance.
Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Doctor of Visual Arts (DVA)
Queensland College of Art
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