Object of study (English)

An introduction to the subject of the thesis

Less is more and more…

From representation to abstraction and from the materiality of the object to the fluidity of experience, the trajectory of the artistic object from the beginning of the 20th century up until today has subjected it into a constant questioning of its material substance and an incessant expansion of its communicative means. As contemporary artists realize their work through time-specific –hence fleeting- actions, temporary installations and intangible bytes and pixels, the question of the immaterial rises as a challenging enigma that poses a new question to every answer attempt: Can we talk about immateriality and visuality within the same discourse? Can the immaterial be linked to the intellect and the corporeal at the same time? How can we experience it with the body?

A thorough answer to these questions –along with others that come up during research- would require words and images that need to be sought in philosophy and contemporary art respectively. These tools will help address the main subject of this thesis: how the “escape” from the confines of matter has encouraged a different way of relating to the art object and how, within this newly established relationship between visual culture and the spectator, new paths of understanding the Self and the world are introduced.

My main goal in this thesis is to deepen our understanding of the role of the immaterial within artistic endeavours and to show how it encourages a more open approach to the work of art, which involves perceiving it through the entire body. In order to reach it, I focus on theories that create a basis of understanding and subsequently relate them to the work of artists who deal with breath in regard to the immaterial and the body.

In order to foment a deeper understanding of these phenomena, the analysis is formed by three main threads, that are interwoven among each other and with other secondary threads of thought throughout the development of this thesis.

The first thread covers the inquiry of the immaterial and the evolution of its understanding from the sphere of the conceptual in the art of the 1970s to the contemporary digital world, building primarily on Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and Don Ihde post-phenomenological assertions, while keeping in mind Nicholas Bourriaud’s focus on postproduction. This theoretical analysis is completed with artists who work with software-based interactive art with an almost non-existent material aspect, which requires participation through the entire body –mainly breath.

The second thread engages with the relation of breath to philosophical thought and artistic practice, starting with a theoretical analysis that passes through Greek and Indian philosophy and reaches contemporary thinking. This builds a substratum that helps understand artists who work with breath as a prime material or source of inspiration, especially focusing on video and installation art.

The third thread views respiration through the prism of performative action; for this matter, it builds a theoretical structure that includes the relation of breath to voice and speech and its role in performance and actor training, with a particular emphasis on Antonin Artaud’s thinking. Subsequently, the intermediary space between theatre and performance art will come into focus, as well as artists who work with performance art.

In regard to the artists presented in this website and the thesis, an open approach is maintained. Coming from different parts of the world, most of them are internationally acclaimed artists who have had a significant impact in visual arts, without however excluding from the analysis younger artists, who are currently opening up their way in the contemporary art scene. Hence, we aim to create an invisible thread that starts from the late 1960s and not only reaches contemporary artistic production, but also has the potential to project the artistic developments of the near future. The artists presented here cede an extensive margin of initiative to the public, that often becomes the co-creator of the artwork. Within this context, art spaces, which nowadays expand from museums to the internet, become an environment where one can find new experiences that alter one’s sense of the corporeal, enhance one’s sociability and add to one’s self-cultivation and modes of understanding.

Breaking through protective glasses and disregarding signs, art reaches the public beyond the rigid spaces of museums and above the traditional modes of perception, in the core of everyday life.

Christina Grammatikopoulou