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Title: Alchemical catoptrics : light, matter and methodologies of transformation in moving image practice
Author: Ashrowan, Richard
ISNI:       0000 0004 7228 7186
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2016
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The transformation of matter and the reflection of light are at the heart of filmmaking and moving image practice, exemplified by Stan Brakhage’s assertion that “matter is still light. Light held in a bind.” Catoptrics is the use of optical devices, mirrors, crystals and lenses in the processes of focussing and directing light. Alchemy has a two thousand year history, commonly misunderstood as a form erroneous proto-chemistry in which people sought the Philosopher’s Stone to transmute base metals into gold. Alchemical catoptrics is the place where the disciplines of alchemy and catoptrics meet, encompassing an enquiry into the fundamental properties of matter and the possibilities for its transformation, bound up in range of pre-scientific belief systems and philosophies of light, matter and cosmogenesis. In conventional media histories, the historical antecedents of moving image practice are usually explored through the evolution of visual media technologies. Such an approach only deals with the superficial tools of moving image practice, binding itself up in the machinery of spectacle, while remaining silent on the deeper questions of humankind’s imaginative relationship with luminous matter. The practice of alchemical catoptrics was an experimental exploration of this relationship; between light, the phenomenal world, the deep structure of substance, imagination, belief and meaning. The current study offers a fresh historical perspective on what it means to experiment with the substance of light in a transformative, luminous, meaning-making capacity. It uncovers a language of transformation that speaks to the author's own practice, while offering new insights into the experimental methodologies, motives and practices of other moving image artists. The research discusses the 13th century light philosophy of Robert Grosseteste and its referencing by Stan Brakhage and Hollis Frampton, leading into an exploration of the methodologies of historical alchemical catoptrics, citing original document translations prepared for the purpose of the thesis. Using the examples of Man Ray (1890–1976) and Patrick Bokanowski (1943-present), the research then shows how alchemical catoptrical thinking can inform our interpretation of the practices of these two moving image artists. The thesis concludes with an examination of the alchemical-catoptrical ideas and methods used for the production of two of my recent film works: Speculum (2011-2014) and Catoptrica (2011-2013).
Supervisor: Milne, Louise ; Biggs, Simon ; Ravetto-Biagioli, Kristine Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: alchemy ; light ; experimental film ; artists' film ; art