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Intra-active Boundaries: An investigation into the dynamic interrelationship between the human body and the environment using painterly media

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posted on 2023-05-27, 08:00 authored by Woo, C
Intra-active boundaries: An investigation into the dynamic interrelationship between the human body and the environment using painterly media. To acknowledge 'I am this body'...is not to lock up awareness within the density of a closed and bounded object, for as we shall see, the boundaries of a living body are open and indeterminate; more like membranes than barriers, they define a surface of metamorphosis and exchange. David Abram, 1996, The Spell of the Sensuous, Vintage Books, New York, p.46. The MFA research addresses the problem of how to aesthetically visualize the interconnection between the human body and the environment through a series of experimental paintings and mixed media. Traditional pictorial approaches, grounded in art world conventions and Cartesian philosophy, tend to portray the human body and landscape as static spaces disconnected from each other. As such, they focus on the representation of discrete spaces/objects rather than the experience of the processes involved between them. There is a vast gap between these traditional concepts and the contemporary redefinition of the nexus between the human and non-human environment suggested by recent philosophical re-conceptualisations of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari and Michel Serres. This interconnected space was foreshadowed in the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, who proposed that the perception of reality emerges through the interaction of the body within the world, rather than as the exchange between static objects in a world of empty space, as formulated by Rene Descartes. This redefinition portrays the relationship of the human self and the non-human world as inextricably one. As Deleuze and Guattari state, there is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other‚ÄövÑvp. More significantly Serres, in his ecological philosophy, directs us to the materiality of the human and the natural as intra-active, defining each other through their mutual interactions, both occupying the same biospheric terrain, the biological sphere that makes life possible on the planet. The experimental paintings at the heart of the MFA research investigate the way in which we can re-experience human and environmental phenomena, such as bodies and landscapes, in a way that questions conventional assumptions of their separateness. In order to do so, the research first examines the development of landscape art in the West as a reflection of changing human and environmental relations, through the work of selected artists, including JMW Turner and Olafur Eliasson, who have sought to respond to this changing dynamic by exploring the human form as part of an environment implicit with the human body. The research also examines the work of other artists, such as Juul Kraijer and Berlinde de Bruyckere, whose work involves the integration of aspects of the non-human within the human, predicated on an intention to explore the human condition as opposed to the relationship of the human with the natural world. The research tests the hypothesis, foreshadowed in recent philosophy, that an aesthetic reformulation of the figure/landscape is needed to better understand the human/environmental interrelationship, via a series of experimental paintings where aspects of the body are fused with aspects of the environment to create an integrated spatial concept that makes visible their interconnection. Framed within an ecological aesthetic that explores the network of relations between human and environmental processes, the research undertakes this interconnection in three ways: 1. Using common intercellular processes ‚Äö- where the intrinsic properties of the raw materials, and their physical interactions used within the painterly techniques, are analogous to the mutual biological processes of interchange between the body and the environment; the forms exist in an ambiguous space inside or outside the body. 2. Integrating sites of the body with geographic sites ‚Äö- fusing specific organs within the body, such as parts of the eye, heart and lungs, with geophysical sites, such as salt lakes, geological strata, plant communities, such that they can be read as one or the other, or both, simultaneously. 3. Creating a terrain that fuses the human and the non-human ‚Äö- amalgamating features of the human and non-human to visualize a new form of topography that embodies a reciprocal biospheric space, a new mutual terrain that cannot be interpreted as separate entities. These reformulations of processes, forms and imagery, use an integrated spatial concept that embodies an immersive mode of experience. It is immersive in the sense that it prompts recognition of reality as an enveloping interaction occurring between the inside and the outside of the body, between the haptic self and the dynamic exterior world. What this encourages is an aesthetic position where the human self is no longer considered separate from the outside world but rather entangled within it, and vice versa. In this way both are intra-active with each other, defining each other through their interactions.

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