World-making and un-doing: looking at minor cultural forms through moving image practice
World-making and Un-doing: Looking at minor cultural forms through moving image practice, examines how contemporary artistic practice - particularly artists’ moving image - can function as a unique and productive site within which to explore the ‘world-making’ capacity of certain objects. These include photographic postcards and woven tourist items; ‘minor’ cultural objects which combine aspects of representation, technology, memorialisation, and militarism in material form. This PhD takes the concept of ‘world-making’ to be broadly understood as attempts to “imagine, shape, revise, control, and articulate the dimensions of the world” to master it, through the employment of current theories of modernity. World-making, in this sense, is bound-up with acts of observation, measuring, naming, and re-naming: and with the technologies which enable these processes of mastery, such as photography. World-making is also connected to practices that inform and dictate how (modern) people engage with the world, such as tourism and the military: large-scale industries with global reach. In this practice-based research, “un-doing” has been considered as a strategy, act, or approach that dismantles or disassembles human-made constructs. Whether in relation to a physical object or a concept, the process of un-doing is intended to stop such constructs from functioning in the manner intended by their makers, and to reveal their constituting elements. My research draws on theories concerning the ontology of the photograph (Roland Barthes) and of photography (Susan Sontag); the use of the ‘still’ photograph in moving image practice (Raymond Bellour, Volker Patenburg); its relationship to the employment of suture (Jacques-Alain Miller) and forms of collage. In exploring minor forms of representation in relation to militarism (Teresia Teaiwa), in addition to the photographic postcard, this project is informed by the historic and contemporary deployment of textiles (Julia Bryan-Wilson, Elizabeth Barber). My thesis considers the work of filmmakers who explicitly use the photograph in their films (Jean-Luc Goddard, Harun Farocki), artists working across analogue and digital photography (Simon Starling and Moyra Davey), and practices of undoing (William Pope.L) and puts their work into critical dialogue with my own. Each chapter of the thesis anchors and informs the three main artworks which I have produced as practice-based research: Mean Time (2020) is a nine-minute film with sound that considers photography as a product of looking at, and thinking about, the world, prefigured on separating or shuttering it – thus questioning the (modern) apprehension of the world as divisible. Mean Time suggests that minor forms of photography, such as the postcard, have the potential to access undertheorized and overlooked connections, related to our understanding of historic or global events. The film uses the postcard to reflect on the observer and the camera in motion, mobilised across time zones and other invisible ‘world-making’ lines. The solo exhibition Parataxis (2021) comprises two works; a digital collage, manifest as a limited-edition hand-pulled printed textile titled, Revolution is a Living Language, and, Looking and Being Overlooked, a silent 20-minute looped video. These works are the result of a commission (from Centre for Research Collections; University of Edinburgh, and the A.G. Leventis Foundation; Greece) to explore the temporal overlap of the Greek Revolution of 1821 with Enlightenment discourse in Edinburgh. Parataxis foregrounds female experiences and contributions relative to the exhibition themes by bringing particular ‘overlooked’ figures, symbols, and structures into assembly, in an attempt to conceptually and physically undo dominant narratives and images. Apparent Time (2022) is an 11-minute film with sound, formed from a handful of photographs, footage of the un-doing of a piece of woven fabric, and the erasure of a tattoo. Whereas Mean Time uses an array of mass-produced photographic postcards, as visual interdictions and allusions to movements, through acts of travel and scanning, Apparent Time focuses attention on static or fixed positions to enable telescopic views of time and events. The film’s central subject is a photograph titled, 'Photo 9 - Boat on spot where Elugelab once stood, now a crater, 1972’ taken in Enewetak Atoll, in the Marshal Islands, 20 years after the nuclear device ‘Mike’ was detonated there, completely vaporising the island of Elugelab.