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Alex Hughes:
S h i m m e r
11 June 2019
BxNU Experimental Studio | BALTIC 39

S h i m m e r celebrates the culmination of Alexandra Hughes’ practice-based PhD research:

Wilding Photographs - Exploring the Turbulent and Affective Qualities of the Material Phenomenon of Photography

Hughes’ doctoral project operated through an exhibition-based practice that brought the photographic image together with sculptural material and performative gesture to explore an embodied encounter with photographic objects. The research challenged both the identity of photographic images as ubiquitous, immaterial representations made manifest by digital technologies, as well as the predilection of photographic theory to evolve critical discourse away from the turbulent and affective qualities of the material phenomenon of photography.  

Hughes defines the term ‘Wilding’, as a methodology of action situated in physical, material-led processes that are embodied and bodily-led, tactile and disruptive.

‘Wilding’ is also a term that defines Hughes’ conceptual strategy to disrupt the conventions of the photographic medium. This strategy consists of exposing audiences to the results of the wilding methodology, through installations and public exhibitions. This opens a situation for new subjectivities that surpass the notion of photographs as singular representations, and a common approach to photography under pinned by binary oppositional thinking – in particular, image and material. In bringing these together to examine the photographic object, the research called into question ontologies and cultural assumptions on the medium.  

Through interrogative processes that returned the photograph to a physical condition and mutable image in a turbulent and shifting relationship with matter, the research explored the construction of installations as situations for embodied encounters, accounting for the artist-researcher, across-disciplinary network and audience engagement, all of which served to de-stabilise and re-create worlds, facilitating the examination of the boundaries of representation, material and imagination. The main question that the research sought to address was:

What are the potential effects on material, body and meaning, when simultaneously engaging with photography’s haptic, spatial and temporal dimensions?

In seeing to answer this question, the research widened critical reflection on the material encounter of photography in the social and cultural sensorium. The visceral and psychological enquiry of the project drew on key texts relating to photography’s expanded field (Baker 2005) as well as the ‘experiential turn’ (von Hantelmann 2014) and the contemporary and feminine sublime (Morley 2010; Freeman 1995). It also considered theory on ‘New Materialism’ in cultural geography, anthropology and contemporary feminism(Bachelard 1942; Anderson & Wylie 2006; Neimanis 2012; Ishii 2012) and the embodied encounter through the critical sphere of phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty1945; Dufrenne1973) and ‘situated cognition’ (Brown, Collins& Duguid 1989)


Alexandra Hughes

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