The absent figure: an analysis of the relationship between artist, material, viewer and artwork

Allen, D (2019) The absent figure: an analysis of the relationship between artist, material, viewer and artwork. PhD thesis, Bath Spa University.


This practice-based research project investigates relationships between artist and material, audience and artwork, through the production and exhibition of figurative ceramics. The research begins with a framing of how we view and respond to figurative artwork. Through analysing the 'conversation' between viewer, artwork and artist, I establish a critical context with its roots in the phenomenological theories of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Jean Baudrillard. This becomes the foundation for an assessment of the reception of artworks produced during the project. The primary aims of the research are: 1. To determine the potential for establishing a greater engagement between viewer and artwork through exploration of relationships between audience, artwork and artist. 2. To determine whether an emotive dynamic between audience and artwork might be enhanced by removing the figure. Can objects be 'charged' with a sense of absence? These aims are addressed through five case studies, in which I test the proposition that for a prolonged interaction to take place between viewer and artwork the former should not be confronted with a complex discourse between artist and artwork, but rather be actively involved in a three-way conversation. Methods that influence the relative importance of the voices of viewer, artwork and artist are established and these are assessed in the context of recent critical research, both within and beyond the field of ceramics. The research recognises the role played by emotion in extending dialogue between the viewer and artwork and proposes a series of mechanisms to increase the viewer's emotional engagement. The role of childhood memory in shaping how we respond to objects is explored, as well as the potential of the behavioural characteristics of a material to establish emotion through gesture. Further strategies for weakening the artist's voice emerged through the research process. The value of the play between exhibition site and artwork is explored, as is that of time-based media in enabling the viewer to transgress back and forth through time in order to engage more deeply and on a personal level.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)

PhD by Practice, artists, artworks, audience engagement, figurative art, ceramics, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean Baudrillard, memory, exhibition location, time-based media, case studies

Divisions: Bath School of Art, Film and Media
Date Deposited: 04 Oct 2021 16:04
Last Modified: 19 Feb 2024 19:06
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