Media @ McGill

Isabelle Lynch: What is Reality, Anyway? Rethinking the Visible in Contemporary Art

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New media and the pervasiveness of screens in contemporary life have significantly transformed how we relate to, and interpret visual works of art. Skepticism towards the possibility of gaining access to truth and knowledge through vision has emerged from the insistent specticality of the visual world, where illusion and reality coexist and are, at times, indistinguishable. The ubiquitous image culture has significantly altered the creation and reception of visual objects and has dramatically altered how spectators can and should relate to the visual world. As new technologies have complexified our relationship to the world, many contemporary artists have utilized these technologies in order to destabilize perception, thereby heightening the viewer's awareness of the aesthetic experience and the politics of vision.

During my Master's studies, I intend on researching recent reconfigurations of perceptual experience in contemporary art practice (specifically installation and media arts) through the study of the phenomenological experience of artworks. The immersive installation works of contemporary artists such as Bruce Nauman, Dan Graham, Olafur Eliasson, Veronica Janssens, Yayoi Kusama, Carsten Holler, Susan Hiller, and Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller amongst others destabilize perception and question the pure visuality of the aesthetic experience by perturbing opticality and disrupting the dominance of vision as the means through which we know and understand the world.

My research will investigate how contemporary installation and media artists construct complex perceptual experiences which invite an active engagement on the part of the viewer, who is encouraged to take part in creating the work and reconsider how s/he interacts with, and perceives the world. Immersive works of art inspire the viewer's ability to relate to the world in a creative way as they invite the observer to critically reflect on the structures that construct his/her environment. I will explore the manner in which artworks that demand to be experienced by a mobile, sentient body are rooted in human experience and reflect our embodied experience of the world.The research methodologies I will engage with include psychoanalysis (specifically Jacques Lacan's notion of the screen, as discussed in "What is a Picture" (1964)), poststructuralism (especially poststructuralist revisions of the politics of vision), phenomenological studies of perception (including Maurice Merleau-Ponty's theory of embodied perception and Edmund Husserl's theory of presentness), neuroscientific studies of perception and the work of contemporary media theorists such as Jean Baudrillard, Guy Debord, Lev Manovich, Kaja Silverman and Paul Virilio who have studied and theorized our increasingly complex relationship to the visible world.