Monash University
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The enigma of the visible : subjective phenomenologies of a perceptual studio research project

posted on 2016-11-29, 05:17 authored by Miller, Lynn
The research for this project is embodied in a series of paintings, drawings, sculptures/installations and photographs which are reproduced in the Appendix, a selection of around 260 works executed in the period of the research from 2000–09. The exegesis, which accompanies the research, documents some of the process, thinking and speculative cultural background of the visual work. The writing is loosely structured around the bodies of work; but because the preoccupations of each work tend to overlap and interlock, there is necessarily a degree of weaving and interpenetrating thematic material. In the first chapter, ‘Themes and method of the visual project—looking back in the context of the origin of the research’, I contemplate the simple beginnings in my fascination with water and speculate on the miraculous phenomenon of visual sensation and its relationship to the content and motivation in my work. With reference to history I probe the rapture, which has pushed me, often compulsively, in the directions that I took. Simultaneously I seek relevance in artists, which let me be open and experimental in my process using materials disparate to my main medium of paint. In the second chapter, ‘The fugitive zone of perceptual experience—gaps and enigmas’, I describe and engage with the conundrums of nailing down the very different aspects of experience and cognition or the attempt at knowing what it is one has visually experienced. Words are at best a second hand kind of surmise or illustration, yet paradoxically necessary to exploring the differences between conception, perception and innovative synthesis (which seeks to respond to both in an amicable manner of process and method). The challenge is recognized at all times: to stop the process through a kind of conceptualizing or to remain in a dance between the two, which becomes a method in itself. In the third chapter, ‘The agency of metaphor by making-subjective and inextricable’, I broach the complicated question of art making. I discuss the evocative nature of subject matter and making subjective representational art. Sifting what attracts and inspires, I demonstrate how I allowed and encouraged myself to go iv outside the general form of my practice using materials as metaphor and paradigm for that which was pushing me to discover. The studio practice involves huge amounts of time, which are not necessarily guaranteed to be productive. In allowing these risks, the researcher needs to trust a practice, which I further discuss in the next chapter. In the fourth chapter, ‘Curiosity in the process—adventure in living it’, I consider the moment to moment surprise and new directions which I feel enrich the life of the artist even if the elements are ultimately left behind as a representation of that person. I seek to identify the cause and effect relationship between the proactive nature of studio research and the subsequent aesthetic experiences of the outcome. In the fifth chapter, under the title of ‘Iridescence, association and closure—an obsessional dance with experience’, I contemplate a kind of iridescence that happens in the mind as I either contemplate the difference between subject and object or engage in a studio contemplation process, which has me traversing in search of paradigms and metaphors for observed phenomena. I find that the closer I get to something, the more mysterious and elusive and abstract existing phenomena seem. It is finally in the painting itself that the test or evidence is fed back to me as I traverse the artistic processes that arise from seeing. In the sixth chapter, ‘Toward a language of perception—contemplating the introversion of understanding experience’, I examine further the role of perception in drawing and seek to find ways to talk about it and the relationship between movement and stasis, energy and expression, the constant flux between the appearance and existence of reality and the actuality of it. I examine cultural memory and the history of ideas, which pervades and even pollutes (perhaps nobly) while putting pressure on the work. The nature and structure of appearance are examined, where phenomena come together to make form, the foundation of imagery, where light reflects on something and changes the colour of that thing. With the seventh chapter, ‘Closeness to experience—or is it just enigmatic?’ I allow myself various conjectures concerning the phenomenology of imagination. I devote special attention to imagination as it is renewed in experience through subjective, developmental manipulation of ideas and materials and the ultimate meaning and significance assigned to them. In the eighth chapter, ‘The role of the provisional’, I seek to describe the territory that informed me and my research, along with examples of work from a broad v spectrum of other artists. These are represented in two - and three-dimensional meanderings, interwoven with speculation on the visual phenomena of seeing with all its mystery and at least unified by historical context. I show their expression of theme and variation in different modes with similar concerns. I include in this the synthesis of studio research from 2000-03 culminating in the sculpture Intersect, 2003. Notions on working outside or having the work informed by out-of-doors experience are returned to in the following chapter. In the ninth chapter, The conceptual en plein air’, I attempt to make the case that when working en plein air one quickly realizes that there is a constant challenge to habitual thinking which rests in conceptual processes. I find that perceptual experience fully engaged with, has the potential of renewal, which can have a motivational focus. I explore the dialog between what we see as reality and appearance within the artistic process, thus clarifying the thinking of a representational artist who seeks to avoid a contrived style of expression. Finally, in the ‘Conclusion’, I sum up the case, especially with regard to the mood of the project as a whole, and look to see how these experiences have informed my final exhibition and the appendix enclosed as Volume II. Ideas are still being generated as I write for new works, for which I have to credit the research process, which I now appreciate with new transparency. The exegesis is structured in response to a synthesis of reading and studio research. It is a demonstration of the breadth of ideas, which the research context encouraged. This thesis presents a visual view of my studio process and the thoughts that arise as a consequence of reading and especially the awareness that arose while engaging in the process of making the work. Throughout, questions of method are tackled, given that all works in their origin and commencement are established in experiences very different to lexical processes: they are first perceptual and then related to aspects of feeling as it ignites thought and the subsequent actions of making the work, even though these processes may be unhappily conditioned by conceptual notions and the milieu that they exist in. Knowing which ideas remain pure in the phenomenological sense of original perception in the individual, and which are inevitably touched by cultural notions, is helpful in formulating new projects.


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Principal supervisor

Robert Nelson

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Fine Art


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture

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