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Title: Towards a paracontextual practice* : (*with footnotes to Parallel of life and art)
Authors: Mason, Ashley
Issue Date: 2019
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This thesis concerns the question of the site for spatial practice. Drawing on Carol Burns’ and Andrea Kahn’s notions of ‘cleared’, ‘constructed’ and ‘overlooked’ sites within architecture, it proposes that a site is a construct of an array of contextual traces beyond perceptible boundaries, opening up to other sites, and asks how might phenomena not immediately present be acknowledged, in order to develop a practice for analysing the ‘empty’ site? The thesis turns toward forms of spatial writing as developed by Jane Rendell and others, and to Gérard Genette’s literary theory of paratext — which explores the marginal elements of a literary composition, including footnotes — to develop a new practice that is paracontextual. Whilst artists and writers have acknowledged and interrogated these phenomena within their own works, this thesis asks: what potential is offered by an interdisciplinary translation of these methods to spatial practice (practices between art and architecture)? Paratextuality is explored here as a spatial phenomenon in relation to the Independent Group’s exhibition Parallel of Life and Art (ICA, London, 1953). The exhibition’s ‘Editors’ (including photographer Nigel Henderson and architects Alison and Peter Smithson) gathered figures from numerous publications (including National Geographic Magazine, Journal of Iron and Steel Industry, and Life Magazine) as a spatialisation of sources, but the images were mounted without wall labels — each source credited only within a supplementary (paratextual) catalogue. It was in the process of studying the installation photographs that I discovered two figures had disappeared from the gallery walls. By coincidence, these images were both of sites, and of voids: the excavation site for a skyscraper, and a meteor crater. The thesis is structured in two parts. A detailed study builds on the work of critics, writers and artists such as Robert Smithson, Sophie Calle, Emma Cocker, and Marlene Creates to propose possible paracontextual practices that extend beyond the literary limitations of Genette’s paratextual phenomena. A paracontextual practice is developed in response to the empty sites of the missing figures of the Parallel of Life and Art exhibition. The missing images provide an ‘empty’ site from which a fictional exhibition, Craters, and an accompanying catalogue are represented through a series of textual–spatial explorations, which extend from these images to the bomb–sites of post–war London beyond the original Parallel of Life and Art gallery, and to the Smithsons’ own theories in relation to holes within the city. On the one hand, the thesis presents a new paratextual interpretation of the Parallel of Life and Art exhibition, but on the other, as paracontextual practice the textual–spatial explorations of the Craters exhibition and catalogue are offered as a model that could be developed to account for the para– phenomena — the supplements, the sources, the craters — of other ‘empty’ sites.
Description: PhD Thesis (images have been removed from E-version for copyright- request print to see images)
Appears in Collections:School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape

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