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Title: Sites of action : an investigation of performance painting and spectatorship
Author: Hawkins, Kate
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2013
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This practice-based research sets out to explore modes of address and spectatorship in relation to contemporary painting. Taking as its point of departure Michael Fried’s Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot (1980), I question whether painting can be performative without becoming theatrical and what this means for spectatorship specifically. Throughout, I aim to establish the contemporary conditions required for painting to firstly be sincere (non-theatrical) and secondly to ‘activate’ the spectator (as well as itself) and thus become ‘performative’. In this way something gets done (J.L.Austin) as opposed to just being described and a reality is changed. I have undertaken detailed research into ‘theatricality’ and ‘performativity’ as concepts, the latter possessing the potential to give power to the artwork and viewer simultaneously, thus enabling both the artwork and spectator to be at once ‘activated’. This sits in opposition to traditionally passive object/subject models of spectatorship. I utilise ideas of ‘action’ throughout the process of my research. The action-reflection spiral constitutes a large part of my method and I also intend for it to be transparent in the outcome of the research i.e the artworks and their consequent agency. Chapter one focuses on theatricality with particular emphasis on Michael Fried’s book Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot (1980), which is used to scaffold the structure of my argument. I break down his argument into three key terms: ‘absorption’, ‘theatricality’ and ‘tableau’ and discuss them in relation to the paintings, collages and assemblages in my 2011 show titled My Brother is a Hairy Man. Chapter Two involves a discussion of my second 2012 exhibition titled, The King of Hearts Has No Moustache, in relation to performativity (Dorothea von Hantlemann) and networks (David Joselit) within gallery contexts. I unpack this discussion of performativity through the individual discussion of the two exhibition spaces (the front room and back room). In Chapter Three I focus predominantly on spectatorship’s potential for performativity with particular focus on Alfred Gell’s anthropological theory of art. I consider this theory of social agency in relation to my 2013 exhibition Escape The Esplanade which addressed the dichotomy between the spectacle and the spectator, reversing the traditional roles in the process. Through a renegotiation and expansion of the term tableau I conclude a framework was put in place from which the spectator could be ‘absorbed’ and activated in larger exhibition environments. In addition, networked displays of painting, engendered collective sociability and many-to-one (as opposed to one-to-one) performatives, as was demonstrated by the installation of the back room of the second exhibition. This more ‘plural’ performativity ultimately resulted in more ‘activated’ spectators. Finally through an inversion of traditional modes of address in Escape the Esplanade the spectator simultaneously became the spectacle and the artworks spectators. In this way painting, and spectatorship became performative whilst evading theatricality.
Supervisor: Gillett, John Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: ND Painting