As Lipman Writer in Residence I am researching and writing about innovative contemporary art made using clay.
I am interested in clay as a liminal material – one that challenges boundaries both physical and hierarchical – and that in this way may be thought about in terms of the notion of informe or formlessness developed by Rosalind Krauss and Yves-Alain Bois, following Georges Bataille, in 1996. In their introduction to this concept, Bois and Krauss emphasise that formlessness is an operation and not a form – it is ‘a term allowing one to operate a declassification, in the double sense of lowering and of taxonomic disorder’ – a means by which for example a humble material like clay might, by entering the high art arena, threaten the very terms by which high art is defined. This subversive movement – the type of slippage that begins with a shift like the rotation from vertical to horizontal in Marcel Duchamp’s reframing of a urinal as a fountain, or Carl Andre’s tipping of Brancusi’s Endless Column to the floor to redefine a new horizontal sculptural field – has the potential to create the kind of seismic shudderings and cracks in the boundaries between cultural forms that open into new ways of thinking about art. The slippage towards horizontality and Bataille’s notion of base materialism which might be symbolised by uses of clay in fine art is not the only means by which the material might relate to formlessness; its potential for relating to the operations of ‘pulse’ and ‘entropy’ qualify it equally for being thought about in this way.
My own practice is currently exploring the potential of clay to receive the imprint of a gesture and what status the resulting object might have; it engages with Marcel Duchamp’s notion of the infrathin in relation to the imprint and positive and negative casting, examined particularly through looking at Etant donnés and the erotic objects. For Duchamp, ‘the warmth of a seat that has just been left is infrathin’ as is the smell of the smoke exhaled by the beloved. For me, this infinitesimal or virtual space between a body and a material is embodied in the imprint, the record of a contact between two bodies that creates a third that perfectly inhabits the in-between space of both formlessness and the infrathin.
My primary research takes Marcel Duchamp’s enigmatic last work Étant donnés (1946-66) – and its satellite erotic objects, Not a Shoe 1950, Female Fig Leaf 1951, Dart Object 1951 and Wedge of Chastity 1952 – as its starting point. I employ Duchamp’s concept of the infrathin to investigate and erode the boundaries between positive and negative, the eye and the hand, the visual and the tactile. Engaging with a range of disciplines (art-history, feminist philosophy, psychoanalysis and gender studies) I examine subjectivity in relation to eroticism and the gaze, with particular focus on the notion of woman as an exotic ‘other’, the concept of fetishism and the relationships between autobiography, psychoanalysis and art. My current PhD research focuses on representations of the female nude in art, investigating the possibility of a language – visual and textual, though also symbolic, metaphoric, analytical and poetic – derived from the female body, more specifically from the vagina. Seeking to rethink the oppositional dualisms on which Western thought is based – such as masculine versus feminine, mind versus body, form versus matter, self versus other, outside versus inside, thought versus feeling, conscious versus unconscious and logic versus irrationality – I propose the vagina as a model for plurality, multiplicity and the articulation of a shifting self founded on movement in-between, through and around enfolded space.