• (Dis)connecting dots, (un)making meanings: how images occupy (and are occupied by) language

Robertson, Cole, 2024, Thesis, (Dis)connecting dots, (un)making meanings: how images occupy (and are occupied by) language PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This practice-led research takes as its subject embodied discovery and the photographic object - its media, language, encounters, and systems of meaning-making. The fundamental questions of my research are these: how does embodied logic shape photographic meaning-making, and how can image encounters manifest this logic?

Periodically throughout this work I switch between personal, analytic, and pseudonymic voices. This is both to employ the concepts at hand in a practical way, but also to provide a method for additional questioning of texts - thus linking metaphoric structures are shown to pervade different writing genres and systems of communication.

The first chapter deals with the closest and most immediate of physical encounters - that of touch and the embodied haptic. Taking as its catalyst my work touch piece, a series of photographic child nudes by famous photographers and reproduced on plain paper, photocopy-style, with heat-reactive thermochromic pigments, this section unpacks the implications of the primary embodied metaphors ‘intimacy is closeness’, ‘seeing is touching’, and ‘understanding is grasping’. Tracing the examples of these metaphors through texts by Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, WJT Mitchell, Marquard Smith, and Mark Paterson and visual works by Amber Hawk Swanson, Caravaggio, Jean-Léon Gérôme, and F. Holland Day, the conflation of physical proximity with emotional involvement ultimately manifests again in the touch piece work, implicating the viewer in an unsought, uncomfortable intimacy.

Progressively zooming out, the second chapter takes on many types and ramifications of networked images in the most expansive understanding of the term. It begins with my work Toward a unified field theory of photography, an analogue image map of assorted pictures I’ve aggregated wrapping the wall, floor, and ceiling and connected by colour-coded lines indicating formal, conceptual, or content-based connections. Exploring the primary embodied metaphor ‘similarity is closeness’, this part brings together folk theories of contamination, proximity, and relational thinking regarding photographic networks, systems, and sorting devices. Chapter II analyses the psychologically networked image via Isabella Stewart Gardner’s art collection and exhibition ethos, Lacanian optical device metaphors, and digital tagging systems, as well as the writing of Jean-François Lyotard, WJT Mitchell, Pierre Bourdieu, and Mieke Bal.

Moving out even farther (while simultaneously looping back to the immediate intimacy of the body) the third chapter deals with the spectre of timespace and death that grounds photography. Led by my works All This and Nothing More, a deep textural analysis of the surface patina of a Polaroid image of my late mother during the aftermath of cancer and the birth of her last child, and Cenotaphs, a series of Internet memes and clickbait detritus immortalised as bas-relief sculptures, this section engages works such as the 1954 George Cukor/Judy Garland film A Star is Born, Zeno’s Paradox of the Arrow, and Stan Douglas’s still and moving Monodramas. Tracing back the embodied metaphors ‘time is motion’, ‘change is motion’, and ‘states are locations’, this final chapter will wrangle with photography’s ineffable connection to the infinite and
encapsulation of human mortality.

Arguing for an expanded field of the photographic medium, this practice-led research forms the invisible and often unconscious ‘connective tissue’ that contributes to the image’s facility to create meaning spontaneously. The (dis)connections in the title refer to my own efforts to slow or frustrate this unconscious facilitation in order to bring it to light, offering new ways of understanding the stickiness of image objects and their attendant psychological and physical encounters.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W100 Fine Art
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Uncontrolled Keywords: Photography; embodied thought; metaphor; haptics; aggregation
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2024 15:10
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2024 15:10
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/5868
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