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Breaching borders : an investigation into painting the news

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Price, TJ ORCID: 0000-0001-5798-1688 2019 , 'Breaching borders : an investigation into painting the news', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

Breaching Borders investigates what happens when photographs of news events of global significance are used as the basis for painting. It asks: what can painting bring to the communication and comprehension of crisis situations that have already been visually represented in the news media? What happens in the translation from media image to paint on canvas? This research project identifies the inherent distancing effect of media imagery and explores ways in which painting can help to close the physical and psychological gap between us, as passive consumers, and the circumstances of others. It considers how painting can draw attention to the nature of our relationship with the subject matter of our daily news, and how it can engage us with global issues in a way that invites acknowledgement of our part in a shared world. The body of work developed for this research project offers viewers an opportunity to reconsider their relationship to issues associated with the global refugee crisis.
The project is situated in a field of art practice that addresses the representation of global crises and current affairs. It references two groups of artists: those who base paintings on images explicitly sourced from news media, such as Marlene Dumas, Gerhard Richter and Luc Tuymans; and those whose work reflects personal rather than mediated experiences of newsworthy issues, such as Richard Mosse, Alfredo Jaar and Ben Quilty. These artists’ various approaches to the representation of traumatic and contentious events are examined in conjunction with the ideas of art historian and cultural critic T. J. Demos, who calls for an affective artistic experience to help avoid objectification, and of Peter Geimer, who raises questions around the media-criticality of painting from photography. To add to this field, the project explores and identifies formal devices that encourage viewers to consider the subject matter in ways that extend beyond the mere recognition of events that have happened elsewhere. These devices operate to shift the viewer’s self-positioning in relation to the represented scene and, in doing so, invite them to engage with artist and subject matter as an active participant.
The practical research is founded on painting from photographs or video stills that represent issues associated with the global refugee crisis. The work explores themes associated with the subject matter of the photographs, including movement and constraint. Themes related to the ways in which we develop views on world events, such as distance, perspective, context and representation, have also been tested in the studio in conjunction with the theories of Martin Heidegger, David Levi Strauss and Jacques Rancière. Based on the concept that movement within painting is linked to potential, as proposed by Michel Foucault and Gottfried Boehm, the research identifies strategies that can enhance painting’s ability to suggest alternative interpretations of, and possibilities for, the events depicted. To suggest potential, as well as to reinforce the uncertainty and instability inherent in the situations portrayed, elements are repeated within and across works, contextual information is removed, viewpoints shift, and areas of white canvas and coloured ground are left exposed, fracturing the illusion of a complete or unified scene. The formal devices extend to the exhibition context, establishing a connection between the staging of art and the provisional nature of migration. These strategies are supported by Barbara Bolt’s notion of performativity, which posits that a painter interacts with all elements of the painting process in the form of a dynamic encounter, and Paul Crowther’s proposition that the work enables the formation of a space in which new meaning can be created.
The project reveals how painting can enable participation in significant world events. It argues that the artist’s experience of painting real situations, and the viewer’s engagement with painting through its materiality and staging, makes them both active participants in the issues being addressed. In giving potential to how a pictured event can continue to play out, the work offers a form of collaboration between artist and audience. The pictorial devices and treatment of the subject matter in the paintings that comprise this project’s thesis invite viewers to look beyond a surface view of events and contemplate more deeply their relationship to the underlying issues. By evoking movement, provisionality and potential, they demonstrate that painting has the power to include both artist and viewer, and alert them to their part in our shared humanity.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Price, TJ
Keywords: Painting, news, media, migration, issues, refugees
DOI / ID Number: 10.25959/100.00032716
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Copyright 2019 the author

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