Narratives of departure : a body of art and literary work accompanied by a theoretical enquiry into the process and methodology of their production.
Spencer, Faye Julia.
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This research undertaking comprises the dual submission of closely related practical and theoretical research. The thesis represents the theoretical component of a practice-based PhD research project. The practical component of the project is made up of original creative work drawn from three bodies of practice across the creative spheres of painting, creative writing and printmaking. My Office Politics Series, comprises an extended immersion in paintings and drawings that utilise dogs and canine behaviour as metaphors for the workplace specifically, and the present social climate more broadly. The second project, The Indian Yellow Project began in creative writing, and consists of both printmaking and creative writing. The story unfolding within the writing is one of familial loss and efforts at recovery. Through writing I was enabled to create visual imbrications on this theme in printmaking. The prints themselves and the images contained therein reference the story outlined in the novella but also serve to act independently of it. The third project, the Wish List Project began as a series of paintings by a single creator (myself) but over time transformed into a multiple participant print-based collaboration for a public space. A significant part of my research comprises a detailed enquiry into the manner in which each of the three projects engages with notions of departure and dislocation in various forms. In my thesis I consider the dialogue that each project establishes internally in relation to the theme of departure as well as the form that this dialogue assumed across all three projects, including the novella. I reflect on how this exploration of departure relates to the humanising functions that I believe art fulfils: catharsis, cohesion and community. In my thesis I refer to writing from a wide range of contemporary theorists. These include ideas on signification, visuality and narrative proposed by Mikhail Bakhtin, Roland Barthes, Hélène Cixous and Julia Kristeva, insofar as these relate to my philosophy and experience regarding the function and potential of creative practice. Also contributing to this research are Bakhtin’s notion of dialogism (1981, 1984) and what he terms the “eternal” (1984:202) mobility of signs. In my Indian Yellow Project specifically I consider numerous ways in which the text and images can be read. The cathartic function and the ‘call to’ or motive for writing (and other creative acts) form a central question in the thesis, and ideas proposed by Cixous on the relationship of writing to death and to catharsis are of particular relevance to this research enquiry. The reading and creative investigation for the project span philosophical, narrative, thematic and material (medium-related) concerns. I also reflect on the important role metaphor and story-telling play in each project; and I consider their use as mechanisms for dialogue. Through my practice I discover, as Hannah Arendt (1995:105) suggests, that in story-telling we make sense of experiences, we uncover meaning without cancelling out or defining it in a narrow ambit. Through my enquiry into each of the three projects I consider ways in which creative practice offers the creators, and those who view, read or interact with the works, opportunities to, as Cixous suggests, say the unsayable (1993:53). My thesis and my practice are driven by the conviction that art is a valuable site for healing and for dialogue which “avows the unavowable” (53). While the first of my projects analysed in this thesis specifically references ideas about power relations and feelings of disempowerment, on the whole the traumas I reflect on in these three bodies of practice are personal in nature. Nevertheless, I believe that their implications for creative practices as tools for catharsis and communication of the “unsayable” are particularly relevant to a society such as South Africa where there remains so much scope for repair. As a person involved in arts education I believe it is important to draw attention to my conviction that creative practice offers opportunities for dialogue and repair, and my engagement with this thesis is an effort to emphasise this conviction.