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‘Sprite from “Mansions of Mist 1”’ 2021 © Uma Breakdown

Uma Breakdown
PhD Alumni

I am an artist, researcher, and writer — occasionally working under the name RL Dorey. I’ve written for platforms including Flat-Time House, Ma Bibliothèque, PaperWork, Res., Tate, and As a researcher I’ve presented at institutions including Baltic, Birkbeck College, Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, London Southbank University, Open School East, Queen Mary University, Reading University, The Royal Geographical Society, University of Edinburgh, University of Hertfordshire, University of Liverpool, and Whitechapel Gallery. This research has primarily been concerned with theorising horror, play, and art as a site of care and attendant politics of difference.

Since completing my PhD I’ve been working primarily with online platforms — with digital works for Arcade Campfa, auto:save, Corridor8, and The NewBridge Project. In collaboration with Una Hamilton Helle, Eltons Kūns, and Erik Martinson I produced the exhibition and role playing game “All Flesh is Grass” for Kim? Contemporary Art Centre, Riga — and as a 2020 fellow at FACT, Liverpool I created a videogame on trauma and interspecies solidarity, entitled “Animal Agency” featuring Newcastle based black metal band Penance Stare.

In 2021 I undertook digital residencies at Akademie Schloss Solitude and Wysing Arts (as part of the British Council funded Net//Work programme). With support from Shape Arts I am currently showing the AR artwork “Mansions of Mist 1” within the app exhibition “Unfolding Shrines”. Forthcoming projects include an article for the horror studies journal Revenant (focused on the Russian videogame Pathologic and Hélène Cixous’s theories of dying in literature), a digital game project for Wysing Arts Centre, and a presentation on ludics and art studio practice at Merged Futures in Northampton.

Thesis Title:
Becoming Ahuman: making it desirable to abandon certainty, including certainty of the self, and play in this chaotic situation

This research brings together resonating creative processes from feminist literature, game design, queer gender politics, post-structuralist philosophy, and horror cinema. It uses these to articulate an art practice which is unstable and generative both for the artist during the process of production, and again for the audience. The PhD output as combined thesis and practice consists of three books, each approaching the question, “How to negotiate art practice as involving processes which are unstable, affective, and resistant to structures?” Each book takes a different position regarding this question and in doing so reshapes it into a sub-question. The book “Ahuman Desire” explores the question “How to negotiate art practice as involving affects which are at some times indescribable, or overwhelming?” The book “Ahuman Use” explores the question “How to negotiate art practice as involving salvaged or stolen systems, which are always already breaking down?” The book “Unknown Lacuna” explores the question “How to negotiate art practice as involving unstable things which can only be seen through what they do?” Each engages the same question, but with a different emphasis. They are three different attempts and the obvious implication is that these are three of many more potentially attempts. I have undertaken an extensive literature review across fields which border on art practice. The three books bring together a vast matrix research sources and makes these visible and accessible as an act of care, in keeping with the feminist writing practices which underpin the work. I have developed original methodologies which are used in the different documents across the three books and include the use of speculative fiction, plagiarism, formalist writing strategies, drawing, performance, games, and screenplays as research. As well as using artworks as a site to examine the relationships between different theories of creative process. The rigour of the PhD Output exists not just in the scale of the sources processed and responded too, but in its infrastructural approach which departs from academic norms to resist a cataloguing or hierarchical envelope for the knowledges within.

The PhD Output addresses one of its returning processes of Excess through its form. It is large in scope and shifts responsibility to the reader to navigate this Excess. This demonstrates the affects of anxiety addressed in many of its documents, before the aforementioned attention to acts of care re-frame this disorder as generative. This mirrors the repeated conceptual and narrative refrain in many documents whereby the horror of the unknown is reorientated to become a creative and dynamic approach to knowledge which does not need to be fixed or enveloped. The PhD Output aims to support reader engagement based on their desire, rather than through an external economy that ascribes or denies a degree of value based on adherence to pre-existing parameters. This approach is a departure from the common structures of academic research, while still demonstrating critical judgment and original contributions to knowledge. The departure is necessary firstly because of the research questions above, and secondly the commonality of destabilisation in the source materials from feminist writing practices and philosophy, to collaborative games and horror media. Thirdly, the departure enables the specificity of the practice based PhD Output to not just describe processes but to enact them at the reader’s point of encounter with the research.

The primary findings of the research are. The potential for the form of Tabletop Role Playing Game Manuals to inform an art practice when combined with the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. The mutual illumination offered when combined with feminist writing practices or Écriture Féminine. The potential for Écriture Féminine to inform contemporary queer feminist art practices which incorporate the forms of video-games, as well recognising the event of audience encounter with such artworks as a creative one. The use of horror cinema as a means to articulate art practice concerned with affect. The potential of practice-based art research to produce new ways to produce and deliver original research in a dynamic rather than fixed structure.

This research is of value due to its relevance to contemporary practice. This relevance is evidenced by the recent attention to queer indie game design (‘Beyond the Console’, n.d.; Faber, 2019; Humphreys, n.d.; Thaddeus-Johns, 2019; Wallace, 2019), experimental feminist writing practices incorporating speculative fiction (Hedva, 2018; Hval, 2018; Jackson & Leslie, 2018; Waidner, 2019), the divisive concept of “elevated horror” (Carrol, 2019; Crump, 2019; Ehrlich, 2019; Gardner, 2019; Taylor, 2019), and the folding of these into art practice. The research include in-depth analyses of artworks by two artists who have relatively recently received a high international profile (Apexart, 2019; ‘Dark Continent: Semiramis Performance | Arts Council Collection’, n.d.; ‘Porpentine Charity Heartscape’, n.d.; Tate, n.d.) and have not yet been the subject of monographs or a large amount of academic study, particularity within the field of art. The relevance of this research is further supported by the recent publications and events in a overlapping fields (Brazil, 2019; Burrows & O’Sullivan, 2019; Editorial Staff, 2019; Fisher, 2018; ‘Flickering Monstrosities Hyperfiction Reading Group’, 2019; ‘ICA | I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker’, n.d.; Lewis, n.d.; Little, 2019; Pyrne, 2019; Shaw & Reeves-Evison, 2017).


Projected Award Date: 17/03/2020

Principal Supervisor: Allan Hughes

Second Supervisor: Kate Liston

Additional Supervisor or Advisor: Mark Rohtmaa-Jackson
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