Master of Arts Research

Re-inscription: abstraction and the transmission of the art-historical image in contemporary art practice

Master of Arts (by Research) Summary, University of RMIT, 1996-99

This research looked at: the dialogue of historical images with contemporary art practice (painting and installation), the transformative role of mechanical reproduction technologies (form and content), the physical context in which art is read (museum, gallery space) through the production of discrete objects (paintings and installation), and the interaction of figuration and abstraction to generate new readings.

The isolation of specific art-historical models involved looking at anamorphic art, the fold, the grid, the study of optics and the manipulation of light. I selected images from the seventeenth century Dutch painter Vermeer(1632-1675), and the Flemish painters Stosskopf (1597-1657) and Jan van Eyck (1390-1441). The Renaissance and Baroque periods in European history reflected the fields of inquiry and sensibilities with which I wished to work.

Employing colour laser photocopy and digital manipulation I synthesized these images to generate new images, engaging with contemporary forms and ideas to re-inscribe historical references. Mechanical reproduction technologies and their relationship with painting, as part of the extended field of painting, have become increasingly influential. My contemporary references included the German artist Gerhard Richter (b. 1932), and his engagement with representational photography and abstract painting. His work refers both to tradition and the avant-garde, producing multiple representations of reality. My research has involved experimentation with alternative photographic processes including pin-hole photography as both critique and engagement with historical and contemporary image production.

The idea of complementarity, which was of interest to the Danish physicist Niels Bohr also stimulated my thinking. This idea, in simple terms, resonated with my interest in the way in which different fields of inquiry such as art and science, may share some overlapping insights. This involved ideas about the relationship between figuration and abstraction, the role of subjectivity and the way in which images and objects are continually re-negotiated in different spaces. The idea of complementarity arose out of twentieth century quantum theory, and an understanding of the paradox of wave/particle duality to describe the idea that different states may exist within one. Bohr maintained that although the wave and particle behaviour of light seems mutually exclusive, both are necessary for a full understanding of its properties.

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