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Title: Unpresentable landscapes and the art of the index
Authors: Smith, Matthew
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This practice-led PhD determines an aesthetic approach through which a sense of the ‘unpresentable’ may be exposed within camera-based representations of the industrial landscape. Through an interrogation of contemporary lens-based media, it proposes ways in which experiences problematic to representation – such as the sublime, the uncanny and the traumatic – might be revealed within photographic/filmic images of such landscapes. The culmination of the practical element of the project is a 25-minute narrative-based, single channel video piece entitled Re: Flamingo, which combines HDV and Super-8 footage with digital and traditional still photography. The narrative structure of the work is based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short story The Sandman (1816), which Freud cited in his essay The Uncanny (1919). Re: Flamingo is a semiautobiographical variation on that tale, consisting of an email conversation between the artist, his father and the fictional ‘Clara’. Through this correspondence, the piece reveals correlations between themes in The Sandman and Ridley Scott’s science fiction film Blade Runner (1982) (e.g. traumatic memory, a fascination with eyes/sight and each protagonist’s obsession with mechanized life). It reflects upon how the industrial landscape of Teesside – which inspired many of the visuals in Scott’s film – has been remembered in different photographic media by three generations of the artist's family. The practical submission is supported by a contextual written element, which consists of two parts. Part One is a theoretical review. Firstly it traces philosophical and aesthetic approaches to the sublime, its representation, its status as a subjective experience and its presence within the industrial landscape (Lyotard, Kant, Derrida, Nye). This is continued through an analysis of the related theories of the uncanny and the traumatic (Freud, Vidler, Luckhurst), their association with industrialization and relationship with lens-based media. The uncanny qualities of the photographic and cinematic image are examined alongside correlations of the indexical properties of such images with trauma (Mulvey, Barthes). Finally, an analysis of the camera image’s indexical status in the wake of digitization, and its consequent alignment with artforms such as painting (Gunning, Rodowick, Manovich), assesses its potential for expressing subjective experience. Part Two of the contextual element explores creative approaches to the themes outlined in Part One. Firstly, it examines Canadian artist Stan Douglas’s film piece Der Sandmann (1995), which exposes a sense of the uncanny in the landscape of pre- and post-reunification Germany. Secondly, it reflects upon Blade Runner’s significance to the practical element and its correlations with the Sandman narrative. The final section of Part Two details the development and formation of the studio research, documenting its distinctive approach to figuring a sense of the unpresentable within camera-based representations of the industrial landscape.
Description: PhD Thesis (Some images have been removed due to copyright issues. The thesis (and multimedia items accompanying it) can be viewed in full via the print copy at the University Library.)
Appears in Collections:School of Arts and Cultures

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