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Title: The unpresentable : artistic biblioclasm and the sublime
Author: Vella, Raphael
ISNI:       0000 0001 3545 5214
Awarding Body: University of the Arts London
Current Institution: University of the Arts London
Date of Award: 2006
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This study investigates the destruction of books carried out by artists during the second half of the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first century. It proposes the term 'artistic biblioclasm' as a general category that groups these processes together, and distinguishes this category from works of art that also deal with the theme of the book but make use of other media (rather than real books). In my own practice, various biblioclastic processes are applied, documented and then discussed in the thesis. I analyse the aesthetic, political, religious and other implications of artistic biblioclasm in my work, with particular emphasis on the cultural (and Catholic) context in which the work was shown: the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Gozo. 'Part One' opens with a review of the literature related to the theoretical perspectives that inform the thesis. This is followed by the 'Practice Methodology', which identifies the methods used in my work and offers some preliminary reflections about the theoretical dimensions of these methods. 'Part Two' explores the historical background of artistic erasure in the twentieth century and develops a descriptive and contextual typology of biblioclastic practices, classifying them into four groups: book alterations, biblioclastic book-objects, formless books and dematerialised books. 'Part Three' advances Jean-François Lyotard's work about the sublime in aesthetics as a viable theoretical framework that firmly defines artistic biblioclasm as a postmodern (rather than modem) artistic phenomenon. This connection with Lyotard's work is made possible by comparing the formlessness of the sublime to the loss of the book's 'form' in biblioclastic processes and also by linking some relatively little-known essays by Lyotard that focus on biblioclasm or the book to other, better-known areas such as the sublime and postmodernism. 'Part Four' focuses on the political and religious dimensions of biblioclasm and the problem of representation. It distinguishes between politically repressive or fundamentalist forms of biblioclasm and artistic biblioclasm. Lyotard's notion of the 'unpresentable' - influenced by his reflections on Judaism and the Holocaust - is examined and linked to earlier discussions about the sublime and to the work of some artists described in 'Part Two'. Analogously, in my practice the Catholic idea of the book as an authoritative figure ('Magisterium') is elaborated and 'deconstructed' in the actual processes that make use of doctrinal texts. The research concludes by interpreting artistic biblioclasm as an attack on the closure of the book (with Jewish undertones) and a form of resistance to totalising political or religious forces. In my work, dogmatic interpretations of books and their 'truth' are related to the threatening possibility of violence in contemporary societies, and are ultimately shown to be self-destructive.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Christian studies ; Judaism ; Book Arts & Design