Derrida

Research - A Note on Post-structuralism by Ally McGinn

Post-structuralism is a term I've come across in the last few years of research, yet it is one that's eluded my attempts to retain it. In an attempt to assimilate this knowledge I wanted to write a short post about this term.

Associated, but not inextricably linked, to postmodernism, post-structuralism is hard to define, another similarity to postmodernism.

At heart, post-structuralism is the focus shift from creator to audience and external meaning.

It's basic tenets are;

  • That the notion of the individual is, at heart, false. The reader is an amalgamation of external sources and influences that form an interpretation of ‘reality’ based on their perspective.

  • That the author, or artist's, the intention is irrelevant in comparison to the interpretation of the reader, the viewer.

  • And therefore, due to the perspective reliant nature of interpretation. The use of a variety of sources is vital to the ‘truth’ of a subject

Many of the theorists I have been researching are post-structuralists, including Derrida, Barthes and Foucault. I can now say I am working from a post-structuralist ideology.

This brief note covers a wider range of subjects and theorists, and should, in fact, be on my mind maps.

Research - Meaning by Ally McGinn

Meaning in art

Dewey posited that art is a way of understanding human culture, primarily the culture in which it was created. Heidegger agrees that the study of art, and the making of it, can be a form of understanding human history and progress.

The reason is a simple one, or at least it can be. To understand a piece of art we need to understand it's context, which includes information about the world at the time of making.

When combined with the artist's intentions, the reality of the work, it's place in the wider art world and it's place in the world ‘outside’ of art, it forms a language of art, in particular that piece.

The language of art is not a literal one. It is complicated and open to interpretation. Understanding the language of art aids in the interpretation of it.

Interpretation is a difficult word, one Derrida didn't use; because, Derrida believed, it presupposes a ‘pure’ or ‘real’ interpretation, where one doesn't exist.

Interpretation is dependent on perspective, and therefore is subjective. Meaning is subjective.

This can be seen in the study of semiotics, the meaning attributed to something often reaches a consensus at the basic level but each sign can contain potentially infinite signifiers, it simply depends on who is processing the sign - and more importantly who they are, how they think, what they know, and what they have experienced.

It is the combination of these factors that determines the interpretation of a sign. There are of course limits to each, but when considered as a whole the possibilities are numerous.

Semiology is the study of signs, and anything can be a sign, if seen in the ‘right’ ways.

Therefore meaning is, while limited in specifics, open in its possibilities.

--

If we take it to be true that art is a form of language, then it must be true that it communicates.

The language through which art communicates is specialised, there is an ‘Artworld’, as defined by Arthur Danto, in which this art language is the native tongue.

It is a skill. One that, like many others, can be improved upon over time. At first we may need explanations to help us open our eyes to the possible meanings of an artwork, but as we learn more about the artworks and when we actively ‘look’ for the signs (or possibly ‘words’ in this analogy) the language becomes easier to see.

Semiology is a useful lens through which we can explore the language of art.

---

The artist and the interpreter don't have to agree on the meaning, and often don't.

The important thing here to remember is that there is no pure meaning, we are fallible creatures and meaning is applied by humans to the reality we find, or the ideas we explore. Meaning is fallible.

In ‘The Intentional Fallacy’ by Wimsatt and Beardsley, the authors argue that the artist's meaning is irrelevant. Once the artwork is seen it the meaning given to it during it's creation no longer matters, it is what it is, and what it is will be interpreted by others.

I feel that there is a lot of evidence, at least anecdotal, that suggests that the artists cannot be seen as totally irrelevant after creation. For the very reasons seen above, to study art we need to know it's context, which includes the artists intentions. Whether or not the audience agrees is far more open. Artists also guide meaning, both during creation and after. (although in the case of after it can feel a defensive task - until a consensus is reached on the artist's status of course. Few would disagree with the artist's intentions when written on the wall of the RA for example)

--

When the artist and the interpreter do disagree, it is worth remembering that interpretation is a lens. It explores at least one facet of an artwork, and rarely sees them all.

A ‘good’ interpretation could be argued to be one that explores many facets, including some of itself.

Christine Freeland describes it in this way - “A good interpretation must be grounded in reasons and evidence, and should provide a rich, complex, and illuminating way to comprehend a work of art. Sometimes an interpretation can even transform an experience of art from repugnance to appreciation and understanding.”

And so we come to the importance of meaning, or the benefits of it.

Art is an immensely broad subject, given a three letter word to describe it. No two artworks are the same, and when they appear to be they are only highlighting that very issue. The interpretation of art aids in our understanding of what it does.

These ‘things’ (artworks) do something. They exist and they have a function. That function is physical and  cerebral, and meaning is central to the cerebral process.

Whether we ‘like’ and artwork or not, ignoring the meaning in favour of our initial personal opinion misses something important about the artwork and the role of art in human society; to make us think.

Note - here the word ‘think’ is defined to include the act of actively seeing, reacting or otherwise interacting with the artwork. After all there is always an element of thinking involved.

Reflection

Writing this post has highlighted for me that we each have a methodology when we look at art. We can be said to be trying to understand that methodology, and potentially broaden it, when we open our minds to art and explore works for more than their initial ‘like’ or ‘dislike’.

As a practicing artist it is also interesting to note that meaning can become clear to an artist as well as the viewer. I've known many artists who have ‘suddenly realised’ their work is about an interest they had years previously or a personal issue they didn't realise they were working through in the studio.

Meaning isn't always intended, at least consciously.

Meaning is, to quote a phrase coined by popular culture but no less appropriate, bigger on the inside.

Next post - I'd like to explore more about why we create art, and the purposes of the activity itself.

Bibliography

Danto, A C. (1964) ‘The Artworld’. The Journal of Philosophy, Volume (61): Pages 571-584.

Derrida, J. (1978) The truth in painting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dewey, J. (2005) Art as Experience. New York: Berkley publishing group.

Freeland, C. (2002) But is it Art?. New York: Oxford University Press.

Jasper Johns: Something Resembling Truth (2017) [Exhibition]. Royal Academy, London. 23 September - 10 December 2017.

Marriner, R. (2002) ‘Derrida and the Parergon’. In: Smith, P and Wilde, C. eds. A companion to art theory. Blackwell: 349-359.

Marriner, R (2012) ‘Reframing the picture, recasting the object’. In: Heywood, I and Sandywell, B. eds. (2012) The handbook of visual culture. London: Berg.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2010) ‘Heidegger’s Aesthetics’ [Online] Stanford University. Avaliable from: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heidegger-aesthetics/. [Accessed - 13/10/17].

Wimsatt, W K and Beardsley M C. (1946) ‘The Intentional Fallacy’. The Sewanee Review, Volume, (54): Page 468-488. [Online] Available from: http://libarch.nmu.org.ua/bitstream/handle/GenofondUA/26575/eebec50474beb95720cbb1e0b96892f5.pdf?sequence=1 [Accessed 17.09.2016].

Research - Semiotics part 2 by Ally McGinn

When last posting i was exploring Barthes and Semiotics. This is a subject i'm continuing to find fascinating, and have made copious notes on.


For the sake of some self-imposed limitations i'm going to keep this as a short text with some of the most interesting things i have found.

----

Barthes makes an important distinction when considering the word ‘natural’ (which could be swapped for ‘normal’) that it is a reflection of those making the rules as opposed to a true reflection of a quantitative average.

To Barthes the fact that we do certain things (including, but not limited to: eating, sleeping, reproduction, language, etc) is natural, but the way we do them, and the ways we are taught (either consciously or subconsciously) to do them is a form of semiotics. In that, they have meaning to our society, and with the correct signs and information those meanings can be deciphered BUT those nuances differ from place to place.

Could it then be said that the natural parts of human nature are those that are universal?  Or is it closer to the truth to say that the natural parts are the activities, and the study of meaning is something slightly different?

-----

Barthes and Saussure agree that the words we use (as in the sounds made when we say them or the shapes formed when we write them) are relatively arbitrary. Their only meaning comes from a collaborative agreement, made long before most of us were born.

Changing the word or sound doesn't change the meaning, or the thing itself.

Interestingly a case in response to this would seem to be art itself. The artist can claim an object as ‘Art’ and change what it is, or at least our understanding of it. The object doesn't change through the nomination, our perception of it does. (But that shift in perception is reliant on an element of trust from the viewer for the artist, and a belief in historical canon and the value of Art. - as it always is, it is not as simple as changing the name, the perspective shift requires a far more complex negotiation than that)

If the words we use are largely arbitrary then they become once more a tool in our understanding and experience of our world. We use the structure of language to apply structure to a world that we are only beginning to understand.

These structures can be seen in every element of our lives as humans. Even time.

The addition of leap seconds are an interesting example. Days are getting minutely longer all the time, but the increase is subject to various physical factors and is hard to predict, so a consensus is reached by academic leaders in the field and we occasionally have an extra second added to our calendars - often causing chaos in our computer systems.

The structure we have applied to time on Earth is utterly ignored by the physical reality of the planet.

----

There can be no definitive meaning attached to an object or sign, because those meanings are changeable.

---

Barthes wrote and theorised about far more than the subject of semiotics. In ‘The Death of the Author’ a text exploring ideas around originality (among a few others) Barthes posits that originality is a clouded subject because of the interrelation between the internal and the external (to use Derrida’s dual explanation - which certainly fits here) meaning, that it is difficult to create something when there is so much already out there. We are not isolated beings living with no contextual, cultural, social or other intellectual input. We are sponges, from the moment we begin to process information, we store that information.

The other important point in this text is that meaning doesn't so much originate in the author but in the audience. Again, similar in ways to Derrida's theories.

Barthes stresses that meaning is generated in a form that he talks about as intertextuality.  When you read or watch something the meaning taken from it are to do with things we perceives to exist between the thing you are experiencing and other things you have experienced in the past.

-------

This is a shorter post than i am used to writing, but i believe it shows a few examples of the areas of interest that i’ve found while reading Barthes writings, and writings about him.The subject of semiotics is far deeper than i have even began to cover here, and a primarily linguistic exploration, however the importance of semiotics in visual culture (of which art is firmly entrenched) cannot be denied.
Semiotics might have been conceived in a literary form but it has impact in any and all areas we want it to, it is after all the study of meaning and humans are very good at applying meaning to anything.

Semiotics could be expanded to be - the study of anything that has a ‘subject’, because once we have labelled that ‘subject’ it has a form of a sign. The label itself is a sign.

Coming soon - Writing these short summaries is encouraging more research on the idea of art as an organising structure and its function in the role of human existence. Research, at least in the very near future, will move towards this arena.

Bibliography

Barthes, R. (1977) Image, Music, Text. St Ives: Fontana Press.

Barthes, R. ‘Death of the Author’, in Leitch, V.B. et al. (ed.) The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism: (2010) USA: Norton, pp. 1322-1326.

Barthes, Roland (1957) Mythologies.

Barthes, Roland ([1964] 1967). Elements of Semiology (trans. Annette Lavers & Colin Smith). London: Jonathan Cape.

Culler, J (2001) Barthes: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Derrida, J. (1978) The truth in painting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Research - Derrida and the frame. by Ally McGinn

Ally McGinn (2016-17)  Painting Installation.  Mixed media. Size varies.

Ally McGinn (2016-17) Painting Installation. Mixed media. Size varies.

This blog has been primarily involved with the theory of research and defining my place in the wider context.

Now we get some actual content.

Choosing an order automatically adds a hierarchy, so I will disclose now - this subject was chosen to discuss first because we were given a lecture today by the amazing Robin Marriner, who features heavily in the bibliography for this post, about visual culture and the way we read images.
Robin's work in the realm of visual culture has been extremely influential to me over the last three years, and it was through him that I discovered the theories of Derrida, and their relation to the way we see artwork.

With no further ado, a brief overview of Derrida’s ‘parergon’ and it's implications for the reading and understanding of art, and how that information might be explored in the studio.

------

Jacques Derrida was a philosopher commonly known for coining and developing our current understanding of the word ‘deconstruction’. An extremely prolific theorist Derrida wrote about many topics; however, the focus here is on a term coined by Derrida to explore the frame in art.

Drawing from Immanuel Kant’s theories Derrida wrote ‘The Truth in Painting’, in which he coined the term ‘parergon’, to explain why when looking at the work the frame is part of the wall, and yet when looking at the wall it is part of the work. Refused by each to be considered as part of themselves the frame exists between the two, as a separate entity.

Derrida said about the parergon, “Neither work (ergon) nor outside the work (hors d’oeuvre), neither inside nor outside, neither above nor below, it disconcerts any opposition but does not remain indeterminate and it gives rise to the work.”

The function of the parergon, then, is to create a framework that contextualises (and re-contextualises) what is being framed.

The parergon is both a literal framing or placement and a metaphysical concept that denotes context, both of which can be understood and used by the artist and the viewer.

Our metaphysical understanding of the frame can be taken as our understanding (or exploration) of meaning. We all interpret visual culture (any aspect of our culture perceived visually), based on our own knowledge or understanding. In Derridian theory, the meaning of the work is not intrinsic to the work, at least not completely.  

There are certain signs that exist in any work of art. However those signs are subjective, they can be interpreted.

Interpretation is a word that Derrida never used because it implies that there is a pure, or real, meaning to be found in each artwork.  There is no right answer in art, and there can be no single ‘real’ meaning, only varying readings, what we see and say to be there doesn’t exist without what we bring to it – a framework. That framework comes from things that are both external and internal to the work, and more importantly, the links between the two.

External to the work, in terms of the wider context, we find any other information that is not contained within the edges of the artwork. Because the existence of the artwork is so dependent on this information it follows that what we believe or define as external is, in fact, an integral part of the artwork.  Following this, we can see that no art can ever be autonomous.  The internal involves the invocation of the external and the external involves the reading of the internal.  Both exist, and it is only without either that true autonomous art could exist.

The moment you take something as ‘Art’ it is contained within the metaphysical frame of art context, connecting it to things outside of itself. The interior meaning (placed by the artist, object or material) and the exterior meaning (eg; wider context, the nature of art and the viewers perspective) are vital to the reading of artworks as ‘Art’. To see ‘Art’ we need the theory and the knowledge. It is only in the acknowledgement of the exterior that an artwork can be seen as more than a physical object, but as ‘Art’.

--

From this overview of the ‘parergon’ we can see some of the initial implications of this theory, and how it might impact the studio work.

Firstly, the exteriority of meaning is part of the foundation for the nomination of found objects as art. It is only through the frame of ‘Art’ can anything be ‘Art’.

Physically the frame is something involved heavily in painting, especially if the stretcher is considered a sort of proto-frame. In sculpture, the plinth can be seen as the primary frame, although only for certain sized works. With digital artworks, the edge of the screen visibly replicates the frame of the painting……..In all forms of art a frame is seen, even if (for example, with installation art) the frame is the gallery itself.

Conceptually this theory shows the importance of the viewer and their subjective view of the work. Once the artwork has been nominated and experienced the artist's intentions become balanced with the viewer's subjective understanding of it (where the argument of the most important is hotly contested - further reading - ‘The Intentional Fallacy’ Wimsatt and Beardsley)

Simply put - All artworks are surrounded by frames, both physical and conceptual, and those frames direct the meaning and understanding of the work.
-------- 

Next post - more research! 

-------

Bibliography

De Duve, T. (1998) Kant after Duchamp. Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Derrida, J. (1978) The truth in painting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Heywood, I and Sandywell, B. eds. (2012) The handbook of visual culture. London: Berg.

Kant, I. (2007) Critique of Judgement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marriner, R. (2002) ‘Derrida and the Parergon’. In: Smith, P and Wilde, C. eds. A companion to art theory. Blackwell: 349-359.

Marriner, R. (2015) Making and the Contemporary. Bath Spa University. October-December 2015.

Marriner, R (2017) Meanings in Visual Culture. Research Methodologies module. Bath Spa University. 17th October 2017.

Wimsatt, W K and Beardsley M C. (1946) ‘The Intentional Fallacy’. The Sewanee Review, Volume, (54): Page 468-488. [Online] Available from: http://libarch.nmu.org.ua/bitstream/handle/GenofondUA/26575/eebec50474beb95720cbb1e0b96892f5.pdf?sequence=1 [Accessed 17.09.2016].

Research Methodologies - Exploring methods by Ally McGinn

I have a few books on research on hold in the library, the MA cohort at Bath Spa is keen and the wait might be a few weeks. In the interim I've found a few great sources of information online and I'm going to attempt to use some of the methods introduced on Tuesday to explore a few ideas.

Research Methodologies - methods

Before getting into the meat of what I’m going to research, I thought it might be a good idea to have a firmer grasp of the how.

'-ology' means there has been a debate or study. So in Methodology there has been a discussion and study about the methods themselves. Decisions made. Arguments defended. (How you completed the study.) These decisions add up to your approach – the outcome of your methodology or your methodological considerations.

A research methodology is the combination of methods, perspectives, and understandings around the way we research (the study of the methods/research itself). Understanding the variety of methods that form a methodology can help to formulate questions and direct research into new directions. (The other elements of my methodology, including the theoretical perspective, will be explored in the next post)

Different approaches can form different results, especially when the methodology isn’t understood. There are things that can affect the results of research we are doing that are assumed to be true or false. Those assumptions can refute the data/information if not explored and accounted for.  Exploring the methodology can allow an understanding of those assumptions and an incorporation of them into the research.

FullSizeRender.jpg

A research method is a tool or structure used to explore the research. They are usually explainable (to an extent) and I struggled to find an exhaustive list of them, as their inclusion can be as subjective as their processes. Roughly put; it is the way the research happens.

Data gathering, and the forms it takes.

------

Three methods have struck me as being interesting for my own research at this stage (although I may end up using others later) and I have arguably been using these in some form in my research to date, albeit unknowingly and in an incomplete sense.

  • Haptic (primarily involving touch, and the physical interaction with the subject) in hindsight I can say that this is a common research method in the studio, which is a place for the haptic.
  • Objectivism (Seeing the reality of the object in its component parts, and understanding the object to take it further) this logical approach seems like something I would enjoy and echoes the Derridian theory of deconstruction, which I use as a source of inspiration when none is readily available.
  • and, Semiotic (concerning the relationship between image and meaning. Communication through recognised signs and symbols) which I've always found as interesting as language - both are agreed upon constructs that we use in daily life, often without being consciously aware of it.

As an exercise I’m going to use these three methods to understand how we might explore different elements of research.

In this case;

  • a well known artwork (Duchamp’s Fountain),
  • a piece of my own work,
  • a theory (Derrida’s parergon),

There are far more topics, subjects and ‘things’ that could be explored like this, but this is a short exercise to help me understand the terms and the, potential, practical uses of them.

---

Before continuing to the exploration, I’m going to solidify my understanding of a few words and terms. Ones that might come up again.

Epistemological vs ontological

Not methods in themselves these words are more concerned with the theoretical perspective and understanding the type of questions being asked.

Epistemology is the way we know things, about the understanding of knowledge and the methods of finding it, primarily useful to understand the biases and perspectives when researching. The –ology of knowledge.

Ontology is about the reality of the thing being studied, relating to the question “what is it?” and personally most often in my life this is a practical research method.

Note – Epistemology comes from the Greek for ‘knowledge’ and ontology from the Greek for ‘being’ or ‘to be’.

Plato saw a difference between ‘episteme’ (knowledge worth knowing) and ‘doxa’ (everyday knowledge).  Interestingly when thinking about the entemology of these words I found myself interested in the balance between the two. If we take the everyday knowledge as implicit knowledge, or knowledge that goes without saying, then an argument can be made that my studio practice is an exploration of the doxa of artistic practice. If those assumptions can be taken as true then it is arguable that once we focus on doxa it becomes episteme. Many artists take this approach in a practical sense, using the everyday to explore deeper ideas.

Qualitative vs quantitative

These terms are associated with the nature of the research being done. In the most simplistic terms the distinction is set upon the balance between tacit (qualitative) and explicit (quantitative) data.

The two overlap in many ways and we can make them overlap in more by directing primary research. The suitability of each is related to the aims and objectives of the research, as well as the availability of data.

Semiotics

A dense subject, and one I cannot profess at this stage to completely understand, but for the purpose of this exploration, semiotics, as used here, can be described in the following way.

Semiotics gained popularity towards the late 1960’s and two key figures are Roland Barthes (particularly his collected essays Mythologies, which I am planning to discuss in a separate post) and Ferdinand de Saussure (generally considered a pioneer of linguistics and semiotics itself). A study of tacit and explicit signs experienced in daily life with other humans. These signs can be the obvious functional signs found in our lives, but are more commonly the subconscious and more subjective interpretation of information found around us. The location of these signs is seemingly only limited to where a researcher might look.

“semiology aims to take in any system of signs, whatever their substance and limits; images, gestures, musical sounds, objects, and the complex associations of all of these, which form the content of ritual, convention or public entertainment: these constitute, if not languages, at least systems of signification” Barthes (1967) pg. 9

The sign can be dissected into two parts, as defined by Saussure, the ‘signifier’ and the ‘signified’.  The signifier is the form of the sign (often the physical form of it), and the signified is the concept we understand it to represent.

The sign is the combination, and relationship between the two. A single signifier can have different meanings, when seen in different locations, which is a simple example of how this complicated subject becomes much more so in practice. By definition semiotics is subjective, an interpretive method.

Umberto Eco has taken it to it’s most basic “semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign” which could arguably be anything.

-----

The Exploration

The following exploration is short in places, and longer in others. It is far from complete but instead served as a chance for me to attempt to unpick these ideas and see what they might look like. These are subjective interpretations, based on my knowledge, perspective and research.

I found that the objectivist method, involving treating the subject objectively, listing its details and understanding its parts to know it further, most accurately described the subject, so those are listed first to understand the reality of what we are looking at.

Ally McGinn (2016)  Even babies lie.  Acrylic, oil and ink on canvas, 144 x 99 x 3 cm

Ally McGinn (2016) Even babies lie. Acrylic, oil and ink on canvas, 144 x 99 x 3 cm

A piece of my work - Even Babies Lie (2017)

Objectivist - This piece is part of a larger series of works called the ‘Working Surfaces’ series. Canvases are placed in functional studio or workshop spaces and left to record the evidence of making and process. The resulting paintings are then stretched, functional canvas, nominated as art.  This piece spent nearly three months covering the worktop in the paint workshop at Sion Hill. Other than myself and the paint technician the purpose and eventual use of this canvas as art was unknown.

They are intentionally misleading, pretending to be something they are not, but in the act of pretending they become it anyway; Art.

They can be said to simultaneously reject and celebrate the artists’ ego, and therefore the artist themselves. The division of labor and deskilling question the value of these as artworks.

The titles of these works are taken from an element on the surface on them, a further dissociation from the artist.

They objectify time. A record of a period in an artist’s studio, containing a variety of signatures, they are naturally narrative and unintentionally expressive objects.

As an object this piece is 144 x 99 x 3cm’s in size, the canvas is not totally taught on the stretcher (a result of stretching something used functionally is sometimes a loosening of the weave) and is made of canvas, pen, acrylic and oil paint, primers and other substances used in the creation or experimentation of art.

Haptic - in the first sense the haptic experience of this work is rooted in the texture of the surface. With no change from functional worktop to stretched canvas the surface is covered in dust, paint, glue and pen marks. The piece looks rough and real.

Semiotic - there are a few obvious symbols on the surface of the piece. Including the titular graffiti, a sketch of a design and other numbers and words. The graffiti is obvious as such due to the time taken to write it (which we can see evidence in the depth and width of the pen marks). Fainter notes indicate working through an idea, a rough note taken quickly to visually understand it. Including the diagrams these are marks of explanation, a communication of an idea that is paused for a moment in this surface.
Other visual signs are condensed in the bottom right corner of the piece, paint and other substances that show the edges of other works created on top of them. The marks, the right angles and jagged brushstrokes, are a sign that we can interpret to show where work once sat, because these marks are incidental they are all signs of other activity, and can be read semiotically.

In this case the methods show very different elements of the work.

Marcel Duchamp (1917, replica 1964)  Fountain.  Porcelain. 36 x 48 x 61 cm.

Marcel Duchamp (1917, replica 1964) Fountain. Porcelain. 36 x 48 x 61 cm.

A well known artwork - Marcel Duchamp, Fountain (1917)

Objectivist - looking at this piece objectively is relatively easy. The purpose of this work is to encourage these questions.

Created 100 years ago the piece was Duchamp’s first readymade - A series of everyday objects, transformed into art through nomination, readymades are defined not by their aesthetic qualities but their conceptual ideology. Characterised by their lack of interaction from the artist these objects inspired challenge.  The challenge was implicit, although not necessarily totally intentional.  

This piece was a shop bought urinal, with a single interaction from the artist, the name ‘R Mutt’ and the year roughly drawn on the side.

Objectively the object is mostly, unchanged, but through the nomination of it as art, and the subsequent change in perspective, the perceptions and purpose was forever altered.  

Haptic - I saw this piece at the Tate Modern earlier this year. The haptic experience in this case has similar observations to the objectivist method. When looking at the work I was struck by the reality of it. The curves of the porcelain and the weight of it cannot be conveyed through an image. (although the weight was obviously based on a visual examination and intuitive feeling) Given that the object is arguably the point of Duchamp's readymades this piece shows the importance of the haptic method of examination.

Semiotic - The biggest sign of this piece is the fact that it is a urinal. We read the shape, material and cultural understanding of the object and read it as something we would normally find in a men’s bathroom. Again I find that this method perfectly describes the ideology of the work. It is in reading the ordinary object as art that we understand the work.

The semiotic meaning of the writing is far more debatable. Duchamp was known for misleading information, but is quoted as saying himself that it was a humorous allude to the makers of the urinal, a newspaper cartoon and a play on the idea of poverty.

Each of the approaches in this case yield similar results, possibly due to the simplicity of the object and idea. Each however shows a different element of the whole.

A theory - Derrida’s Parergon

Objectivist - Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher best known for his theories on deconstruction. In his 1978 text, The Truth in Painting he discussed the frame, coining the term parergon, to explain why when looking at the work the frame is part of the wall, and yet when looking at the wall it is part of the work.  Refused by each to be considered as part of themselves the frame exists between the two, as a separate entity.

Derrida said about the parergon, “neither inside nor outside, neither above nor below, it disconcerts any opposition but does not remain indeterminate and it gives rise to the work.” The function of the parergon, then, is to create a framework that contextualises (and re-contextualises) what is being framed. The parergon is both a literal framing or placement and a metaphysical concept that denotes context.

Haptic - this is the main reason I wanted to undertake this exploration. To understand, or at least articulate, how we might explore a theoretical concept, haptically.  Upon reflection, and quite a few deleted paragraphs I can only conclude that the exploration of this concept haptically is what I am exploring in my studio practice. Haptic research as practice.

Semiotic - The semiotic reading of this theory seems to relate to our understanding of the purpose of a frame. We have a way of reading something in a frame, and there are artists who have taken this often subconscious reading to their advantage.
A frame can be seen as an instruction to look through the lens of art.

Exploring a theory certainly seems to be simplest when done with a quantitative method, like the objectivist interpretation here, at least verbally.

This section has taken the longest to write, while being quite short, but has had the most impact on me. My contextual research to date, including my dissertation from last year, has been similar to this, a deductive objective exploration of theories and artists, which has then been combined with an intuitive haptic method of research in my studio practice.

------

At the end of this post I've solidified my understanding of the purpose and potential uses of three methods, and I can see the benefit of looking through different methods, to get a more solid grounding about the chosen subject. For future research I plan to use the three used here to research in a similar way, or at least to ask myself “How would I describe or explore this objectively, haptically, and semiotically?” noting the different answers from the different methods.

In the next post - I'm planning to attempt to unpick my theoretical perspective, understand the paradigm and answer a few questions about my own research methodology at the beginning of this exploration.

--------------

Selected Bibliography

Barthes, Roland (1957) Mythologies

Barthes, Roland ([1964] 1967). Elements of Semiology (trans. Annette Lavers & Colin Smith). London: Jonathan Cape

Camfield, W A. (1987) ‘Marcel Duchamp's Fountain: Its History and Aesthetics in the Context of 1917.’ Dada/Surrealism (16): 64-94.

Chandler, Daniel (2004) Semiotics: The Basics. London: Routledge

David James (2015) David James: How to get clear about method, methodology, epistemology and ontology, once and for all [online video] Avaliable from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b83ZfBoQ_Kw&t=999s [Accessed 6th October 2017]

Derrida, J. (1978) The truth in painting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Whiting, M (2017) Research Methodologies. MA program. Bath. 3rd October 2017

Saussure, Ferdinand de ([1916] 1983): Course in General Linguistics (trans. Roy Harris). London: Duckworth. Page 67

Tate (January, 2017) Fountain, Marcel Duchamp [Exhibition visit] London: Tate Britain.

Tate (undated) Marcel Duchamp: Fountain, 1917 [Online] Tate. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-fountain-t07573 [Accessed 07.10.17].

Tompkins, C. (2013) Marcel Duchamp: The afternoon interviews. Brooklyn: Badlands Unlimited.