Withholding ‘us’: images in the space of appearance

PhD Fine Art, Royal College of Art, London, UK (2020)

This artistic research project proposes to conceive the space between art and politics as a recuperated and reinvented ‘space of appearance’. To do so, it re-turns (to) a vital overturning of Platonic contemplation (‘vita contemplativa’) by human action (‘vita activa’) that is at the heart of political theorist Hannah Arendt’s proposal for a public-political ‘space of appearance’.

By placing images in which the ghosts of a ‘democratic subject’ are withheld (as ‘those who are no longer or not yet present’) into Arendt’s space of speech and action, the project revises her rhetorical gesture of overturning with its own, and revivifies contemplation as a form of action in which ‘we’ can be encountered as radically opaque, inchoate and incommensurable and, at the same time, as new figures of political identity in process.

Utilising a ‘democratic’ methodology, the research is realised as practice in the thesis/written component and as two key visual projects: The Regent’s Street and The Triumph of Crowds. Responding to, and incorporating, images that include Paul Fusco’s 1968 photographic series RFK Funeral Train, Gustave Courbet’s 1850 painting The Burial at Ornans and Nicolas Poussin’s painting The Triumph of David (1631), the work brings civic, ethical and spectral imaginaries to bear on certain figures of the demos.

By remobilising these images as contemporary forms of heterogenous and relational artwork, the research proposes art as an affective space of political pre-enactment situated between art practice, political theory, philosophy, writing, performance and activism.