Monash University
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Dwelling within the shape of things

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posted on 2017-03-01, 03:32 authored by Cooper, Philip John
In conceiving and making the forms we move amongst and the spaces we inhabit, we give definition to ourselves. In a broad cultural context we define and are defined by our environments through both invention and an inherited attitude to material, shape, form, colour and texture. The making of our physical environments draw on systems of perception, fabrication, language, knowledge and sense of place, providing us with an image of our world. It’s the contention of this research, that through these significant experiences we explore our sense of self, through our response and negotiation of these spaces and the things which inhabit them. Our relationship with form, forms our relationship with ourselves, who we are, where we are. My project builds on a phenomenological enquiry into our experiences of things and reflections on that experience. This interaction between experience, imagination and interpretation forms the methodology of my research. Supported by the insights of the phenomenologists Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Paul Ricoeur I explore the work of a range of contemporary artists manifesting a similar sensitivity to their experience of things; Anthony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Anselm Kiefer, Tony Cragg, Bill Viola, Giuseppe Penone and Martin Puryear. I observe these artists giving form to their core stories, influences and concerns. For some these forms document a very personal story, referencing the human body. For others the forms derive from another cultural awareness, rippling out beyond the figure, relating to cultural tradition, built form or landscape. The way forms are experienced opens a dialogue between our sense of things as central or peripheral, sacred or profane. The interconnection of these terms, these experiences, is fleshed out through the deeply incarnate interpretation Merleau- Ponty brings to our experience of things. Looking historically through the insights of David Freedberg and looking theologically through the contemporary eyes of Mark C. Taylor, the impact of this interconnection brings us to a more intimate engagement with our experience of things as both sacred and profane. There is a correlation between these artists, historians, philosophers and theologians findings and the translation of the word wisdom in old Saxon as “dwelling within the shape of things”. This intimate engagement with things is central to informing my research in developing this new body of work. That things seem to fit, make sense, provide ways of seeing, opening us to the mutuality of touching and being touched and so comprehending life, is perhaps the experience of wisdom. We live as physical beings amongst other physical forms within a place. I ask myself what is wisdom, how does it look, what does it feel like to the touch. Critical to this research is a reflection on our desire, need and the ways with which we reflect on our experience, or in Ricoeur’s terms, tell stories as a means of interpretation. I am particularly intrigued by the ways which forms begin to incarnate stories and stories appear to resonate within forms. Identity moves from a concept seeking completion, to a dynamic, intimate relationship between ourselves, place, and the things which make that place. The centre is defined by the emanating ripples it generates. The sacred merges with the profane. All this we gather through a sensitivity to the phenomena we experience as beings in the world, being in the world, becoming wise; opening ourselves to Ricoeur’s, “poetics of the possible”.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Euan Heng

Additional supervisor 1

Leslie Eastman

Additional supervisor 2

Daniel Wollmering

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Fine Art


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture