Shame and the aesthetics of intimacy : three contemporary artworks

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Copyright: Dreyfus, Ella
This research project explores contemporary visual arts that are located within a field I identify as the aesthetics of intimacy . Within this field I explore the emotional state of shame, including feelings about the body, and the capacity of art to build relationships between the artist, artwork and audience. This research project shows how affects can be foregrounded within contemporary artworks, to provide intimate, aesthetic encounters that impact on individuals and groups. The thesis specifically articulates an expansion of my art practice which led to the creation of new conceptual approaches to exploring the relationships between artists, subject/models and spectators. It also examines the way that art galleries, exhibition spaces or public places can provide a forum for intimate experiences for viewers Three bodies of artworks were created for this research project Weight and Sea, Scumbag and To see beyond what seems to be. The first artwork, Weight and Sea, is an interactive sculpture that invites audiences to shift in their traditional position from objective spectator to embodied subject by spontaneously performing within the work. This artwork is located in a public environment and reveals personal and private information about bodies, activating shame responses when confronted by a large audience. In the second artwork, Scumbag, the physical body is absent, yet its presence is conveyed by emotive language inserted into specific domestic sites, then photographed in order to confront shameful issues about domestic and familial traumas. In the final artwork, To see beyond what seems to be, the emphasis shifts to a more abstract representation of emotion, where shame is transformed and spectators encounter the possibility of new and transformative personal meanings. The first and second artworks identify different aspects of how private shame is disclosed in public spaces, whilst the third artwork moves towards a possible emotional and visual resolution for the viewer. These three works map significant shifts in my practice and the movement from conventional representational modes of seeing and representing the body, demonstrating the potential for difficult feelings to reside within the aesthetics of intimacy . The affect of shame is critically analysed from the perspective of how shame can be transformed from being a negative affect into a productive and creative force. I describe this creative force as a gateway to intimacy . My thesis is supported by key theorists on the aesthetics of shame , such as Tomkins, Sedgwick, Probyn and Munt and comparisons are drawn with the works of contemporary artists such as Bourgeois, Goldin, Spence, Emin and Moffatt, who are located within the field of intimacy by their critical explorations of subjectivity. This research project provides a new model for contemporary art practice through the exploration of shame and the experience of intimacy. The findings of this research have implications for artists as an exploration of how an aesthetic work and its environment, might embrace positive and negative affect as relational encounters for audiences. This knowledge permits levels of both increased subtlety and playfulness to emerge without compromising either the seriousness of emotions such as shame or the importance of intimacy.
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Dreyfus, Ella
Ely, Bonita
Bennett, Jill
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PhD Doctorate
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