• Ambivalent surfaces: An encounter with Rococo paintings

Palmberger-Suesse, Clara, 2024, Thesis, Ambivalent surfaces: An encounter with Rococo paintings MPhil thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This project sets out from an encounter with a series of rococo paintings by Francois Boucher's and my unexpected fascination with them that I try to understand. I presume it is the mimetic texture of a fabric and the shimmer of the paint itself that prompts me to the strange difference between them. In the sensual absorption, on the other hand, paint becomes its own presentation. This in turn raises questions about the painting surface. The surface carries judgement, that is intertwined with the judgement about the rococo. With formalism as the dominant art criticism of modernity, I discuss the concept of the painting surface as predicated on a split between material and image, connected to the distinctions of form and idea, presentation and representation.

My key research question thus concerns the role of the surface. The surface is not understood as an isolated picture plane but rather as one of passages and relationships. The play between substance, subject and surface constitutes a network of meaning. The relevance to my practice is explored through the figures of the stain and the splotch, plastic surfaces, and movement on the surface. The research method is developed as an exchange between three main component strands of writing. The poetic serves as a generative, intuitive interface, the art historical and aesthetic a sober grounding for observation, attentions, and factual encounters, and the philosophical arena provides the structure for speculation and projection. There is in turn no privileging of one over the other but rather a series of passages and circulations that provide connections. This triangulation serves to articulate other structural conjunctions such as the relationship between affects, percepts, and concepts, and the structure of spacing within the project of the studio, gallery, and library, which all serve as a play of triangles within triangles.

Boucher's paintings evoke ambivalent affects in me. I partially feel repulsion towards their representations and simultaneous attraction to the way they are painted and the effects of their materiality. An object of research that puts me in a place of uncertainty allows for an exploration that is open to experiment, experience, and surprise as is the process in the studio. Ambivalence, as the suspension of judgment, opens up a space for me to move within and inhabit different positions. I thus consider a politics of ambivalence and pose the question of its capability as a method or even as an aim.

The key references this thesis is built around are Boucher's paintings as much as the recent discussion by Ewa Lajer-Burcharth that investigates Boucher's artistic individuation through the materiality of his work. This provided me with perspectives that in turn entered the act of looking to forge connections with my practice. Rococo spatiality evokes a floating movement. Another key reference is Timothy Morton's argument for an (im-)possible ecology sensibility within consumerism that connects ambivalence and floating in speculating about the potential of ambivalence to question our categorical dualist thinking of subject and object at the expense of the latter.

What this project proposes is therefore a way of looking that opens out another way of encountering art history that is usually governed by the authority of iconography that in turn relies on representation as the dominant system of signification. With this, it is also an exploration of how looking differently can be a method to painting. The contribution of rococo to practice is a notion of the in-betweenness of the surface of painting that de-centres the subject and opens out to a subject/object encounter in the experience of ambivalence. The starting point of this research was a state of ambivalence the object of research put me or I put the object in. From this moment of suspended judgment, ambivalence finds its expression in the a-signifying movements of floating and drifting. This gives rise to the exploration of contradiction, the production of dialectics and the liberation of uncertainty.

Qualification Name: MPhil
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W100 Fine Art
Creative Arts and Design > W900 Others in Creative Arts and Design
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Funders: DAAD Germany
Uncontrolled Keywords: Paintng; Surface; Ambivalence; Rococo; Encounter
Date Deposited: 03 Jul 2024 13:21
Last Modified: 03 Jul 2024 13:21
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/5880
Edit Item (login required) Edit Item (login required)