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Materializing practices: The work of art as productive materiality

Bolt, Barbara (2001) Materializing practices: The work of art as productive materiality. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis presents a critique of enlightenment notions of representation and rehearses an alternative model of visual practice, one grounded in the performative principle of methexis. Methexis is an act of concurrent actual production that allows for a veritable production, as opposed to representation. I argue that, in the material practice of art, the making is performative, the labour of making is productive and this productive materiality is the work of art.

The impetus to postulate the operation of a non-representational principle, in the work of art, stems from a sustained critique of representation. What is at issue is not so much representation as representationalism. Representational ism is a mode of thought that prescribes all that is thought. Man’s ability to set the world before himself and in relation to himself, establishes the fundamental structure of representationalism. It is a relationship where, whatever is, is figured as an object or resource for use by man-as-subject (subiectum). Representationalism orders the world and frames what can be thought. It is this will to fixity and mastery by man-as-subject, that has become the central focus of the critique of representation in contemporary times.

This will to fixity and mastery could be seen to characterize art practice. The assumption that art is a representational practice is rarely questioned. In this thesis, however, this is precisely the assumption that I set out to challenge. Working with Martin Heidegger's understanding of “handlability”, I propose that the “work of art” can be understood performatively, as one form of concemful dealings with things in the world. In this conception, the world is no longer set before and at the disposal of man for his use; but rather art emerges through our practical dealings with things.

In arguing that art practice is an emergent practice rather than a representational one, I turn to an examination of the productions, manifestations and showings of Indigenous Australian culture. Paul Carter argues that these cultural productions operate according to a performative principle rather than a representational principle. He activates the term methexis to account for a performativity that involves acts of concurrent actual production. The performativity of methexis involves a productive materiality. Thus, I propose that the productive materiality of methexis. enables us to begin the task of developing a theory of practice, as opposed to representation. I demonstrate, via performativity and methexis, that what is unconcealed through the work of art, is that the productive materiality of the performative act produces ontological effects.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): McHoul, Alec
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