Revisioning modern sculpture’s strange inner lives through contemporary studio practice, I use activities and idioms associated with the craft of the modern sculptor to animate the canon, re-addressing its vitalist legacies in new ways.
This practice-based enquiry negotiates intersections between modern sculpture’s vitality (approached through Herbert Read’s book chapter The Vital Image in Modern Sculpture: a Concise History, Thames and Hudson, 1964) and more recent theories of vitalism that are often called ‘vital materialism’. Where Read’s Vital Image is a survey of the way that sculptors penetrate the unconscious to retrieve plastic images or archetypes, vital materialist forces need to be revealed by other diverse mechanisms. This study is a sculptural investigation into some of these mechanisms. This research reconsiders Herbert Read’s Vital Image as a form of residual culture. As proposed by the critic Raymond Williams, this part of a culture is no longer expressed in the present, although it remains active within cultural processes. The research asks how The Vital Image’s residual qualities might inform a new, vital materialist re-modelling of modern sculptural vitality? It investigates this question through a construct I call ‘matter fiction’. The matter fiction draws on Simon O’Sullivan and David Burrows 2019 work Fictioning, whilst extending their theories further in the direction of material instantiation. Supported by original insights into Read’s work and case studies into the work of contemporary sculptors Rebecca Warren and Phyllida Barlow, sculptural vitalism is re-conceived as immanent to the histories, theories, materials and activities that help bring a sculpture to ‘life’. This research explores ideas of ‘life’ in sculpture in relation to both an object’s vital forces and a subject’s vital images. It re-situates ideas of sculptural vitality to the specific activities and operations in studio practice that join artistic subjects and sculptural objects together in remodelling ideas of force and image.
Awarded Date: 19/12/2020
Principal Supervisor: Professor Rona Lee
Second Supervisor: Dr. Charles Danby