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The ordinary everyday: exploiting sensations of uncertainty and instability to underpin an aesthetic language in abstract sculpture and installation artworks, informed by direct experiences of the daily life

posted on 2023-05-26, 14:58 authored by Steven CarsonSteven Carson

Everyday life is full of uncertainty, drudgery, tension and instability. It is a seemingly endless series of repetitive routines, minutiae and boredom, yet despite the intensity of these sensations much of this takes place within the realm of unnoticed ordinary existence, as the background noise within daily life. This research aims to establish an aesthetic of uncertainty and instability through which, manifestations of the unseen, unnoticed, and unexpected experiences of ordinary life can be visualised within abstract sculpture and installation strategies. The visual aesthetic and concepts for artworks have been developed through studio based exploration primarily concentrated on activating emotive sensations embedded in commonplace materials and straightforward fabrication processes. Using the exploratory process of tinkering, approximately 35 distinct studio experiments have been used to test the tolerances and expressive properties of a range of ordinary materials.

Critical reflection on the outcomes of the studio experimentation has focussed the use of a narrow range of materials such as sign writer’s vinyl, adhesive tape, palette wrap, recycled plastic, salvaged cardboard, metal, and found objects. Experimentation has also helped to identify the potential of processes such as skinning, binding, crushing and crumpling, and presentation strategies of suspension, repetition of similar forms, the use of movement, propping and stacking to suggest tension and ambiguity. The use of clashing vibrant colours and reflective surfaces can enhance the destabilising effect of the forms and serve to activate affective prompts. These qualities comprise the aesthetic language of uncertainty and instability, and have guided the development of the final forms for presentation as outcomes of the research.

The project has been contextualised in relation to artists whose practices exploit the properties of everyday materials, and emphasise certain performative actions within their making process as expressive strategies. Artists examined include Clay Ketter, who through his Sheetrock works, explores abstraction with mundane construction materials such as plaster board, and Jim Lambie whose use of colourful adhesive vinyl in installation works such as Zobop!, 1999 creates a destabilizing, immersive environment. The work of Phyllida Barlow, who deploys ordinary materials including concrete, plaster and wood to produce imposing and uncomfortable large scale installations, and John Bock whose performance and video works reference autobiographical experience and express a sense of hysteria and absurdity, have also been investigated to inform the context for the research. Theoretical investigations framing the research include writings by Ben Highmore who discusses the significance of the everyday, the mundane and the ordinary, Jane Bennett and Eric Shouse whose works discuss sensation embedded in ordinary materials and the dynamic of affect, Tim Ingold and John Seely Brown in relation to making and tinkering, and Kirk Varnedoe who offers perspectives on abstraction.

It is usually not until unexpected encounters and interruptions puncture the repetitious humdrum that we are prompted to feel the presence of a more expansive range of emotions – those fleeting moments of joy and pleasure, disappointment, happiness, and anxiety for example. Pursuing this core premise, the research examines how it is possible to create tension through the evocation of conflicting sensations, or the experience of uncertainty.

Through physical action and performed gestures in the making process in combination with ordinary materials that offer properties such as softness, malleability, tensile strength, and low levels of resistance it is possible to use abstract form to activate a range of sensations experienced in ordinary life. Furthermore through the use of vibrant and fluorescent colour, patterned and highly detailed reflective surfaces, it is possible to create the effect of allure that shifts and gives way to feelings of uncertainty and instability as artworks reveal their potential to collapse, fall or move within the space of an installation. Finally the research has affirmed the capacity for abstract sculpture and installation artworks to articulate direct experiences of contemporary everyday life as emotive resonances whilst resisting literal or autobiographical narratives.





School of Creative Arts and Media


University of Tasmania

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