works                     text  




[ Backstage ]


Yun-Ling Chen, Not Really Really (17-SS-20),
Ricotta Cheese, Wooden Tray and Toilet Tissue, 20x14x14 cm, 2017

In order to consistently question these habitual and restrictive material and conceptual combinations, it is important to also interrogate the binding that occurs in academic writing. Academic writing, in its traditional form, maintains strict formatting in order to produce effective arguments and well referenced studies that can be measured. However, when a thing has been constructed along the parameters of an existing form it can become restrictive either physically and/or virtually. A predetermined format is the rule for the ‘use of use’, which not only binds the academic writer but also the reader into an existing logic system. However, we should spend more time rethinking the narrative and restrictive format that has been maintained or habitually used in a specific form.

As I am writing a thesis, it seems relevant to explore academic writing in relation to binding: texts are often bound in book form, which is negatively constrained to hold things together. A book usually relies on a classic form typically composed of many pages bound together and protected by a cover. Undoubtedly, the content in a book has been broken down to pieces/pages and this can be played with to a certain extent but readers habitually encounter this broken form and it becomes familiar and easy to navigate. However, the chronology of the book often remains intact, which also tends to repeat the formula of progress or book as an end-product. On the other hand, a virtual book offers a different experience to that of reading a physical book and with it a set of opportunities that can be glitched. As the virtual books are unbound their navigation is different and the writer/reader can approach it in a non-linear manner. The reader can be responsive and active in their decisions, they can scroll up and down to read the different sections, they can interrupt one narrative with another and build a network across sections.

In response to the above, as part of my Practice-based PhD submission I will be sending out an invitation to the examiners (readers), to invite them to participate within this submission activity. This thesis is the invitation to participate, which intends to invite readers to start their journey into the network of my research and practice. I present each chapter as having a different landscape and, depending on the way you navigate the thesis, there are possibilities to generate new paths through the glitches that occur across the network of my submission. By encountering the landscapes, either one after the other (in the formal submission) or as jointed (as in the website submission), it is a journey of collecting encountered landscapes that you experience and interpret to forge alternative plural paths. I treat this thesis like a starting pistol which alerts the interpreters (readers/viewers) that the process of co-interpreting (or co-researching) has begun. Therefore, this thesis has an important duty of switching on the participants’ awareness that they are to include themselves within the process of interpretation. Barthes states that, ‘The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination.’[1] Therefore, it is important for the reader to understand their role in this intersubjective exchange across research and practice, as well as providing a plurivocal as opposed to univocal landscape of interpretations.

Alerting yourselves, the examiners, to your participation in the process of interpretation/articulation, also triggers a consciousness of your past/present experiences and that these will be brought to and inform your interpretation of my submitted work. For instance, your first action (if the examiner) on receiving this thesis in your inbox, presumably is to open it. This then leads to the physical process of reading the thesis, possibly taking notes (sipping from a cup of tea or coffee?), re-negotiating the examination date, considering transport options for the VIVA and subsequently (Covid restrictions permitting) travelling to the University of Reading, and encountering the artwork for the first time.

This hopefully activates your sense of embodiment and encourages you to interpret the material encountered in my submission through your own sensory faculties and experiences. You are also my audience, reader and viewer and are a part of the interpretative network of my writing and artwork. All the experience you have encountered prior to and after receiving this thesis as an invitation to participate, will overlap, interact and supplement other experiences within the network. In this network, our supplement relation will make the layers more and more rich but also inseparable, as one defines the other and so forth. Therefore, it is an additive process but one that is complex because it produces links or relations between interpretations, which require each other for their production.

In the examination, I will also install an exhibition to present my physical artistic practice, but it must be understood that within this submission context the thesis is also part of the network with the artwork. In interacting with the artwork, you - the examiner as reader - will become examiner as viewer, which brings the process of viewing and reading onto the same plane. On receiving this thesis as an invitation, you will be aware that the thesis is not the end-product but is built in relation to a physical practice that is staged elsewhere. This thesis acts as a continuous protagonist within my practice, as it is a supplement to the artwork, exhibition, Viva and myself. I treat this thesis as a supplement to my practice, in the notion of Derrida’s supplement which is referred to in the chapter, Naming. Derrida uses the relationship between speech and writing to highlight the function of a supplement:

Languages are made to be spoken, writing serves only as a supplement to speech…
Speech represents thought by conventional signs, and writing represents the same with regard to speech.
Thus, the art of writing is nothing but a mediated representation of thought.[2]

The supplement is additive and can refer to a void within the narrative that the supplement attempts to fill. In this sense, the supplement can come from the outside and enter a system that did not think it was missing anything but which benefits from this addition (glitches). The supplement can also be understood as combining oppositional gestures because it is additive rather than subtractive. I understand the supplement within the viewing of art to be that of oppositional interpretations that add to the narrative of the work. One cannot be all, only all can be one. In the Not Really Really series, the supplement relation between artist and artwork can be seen as the combining of the master and servant relation because the artwork is governed by the score I (the artist) have given it but then I (the artist) have to maintain the artwork. Therefore, we (the artist and artwork in Not Really Really series) are both masters and slaves, as well as supplementing each other in the staging of the work.

Through deploying this theory of supplements within my practice, we (text, speech, artwork, viewer and examiner) are building up an actor-network, each actor acting as a supplement to the other. By including you (examiner/reader) within this network and speaking to you directly in this thesis, I am inviting you to participate in this supplement relationship. This network of supplements leads to more supplements, it is a process that is additive and constructs a range of plural interpretations. It posits itself in contrast to practices that try to enforce a universal approach to understanding, which limits interpretation. All the supplements and actors are connected and indispensable. Grant highlights the potentiality held within the activating of process over end-product:

To stop the working process and evaluate its products is to destroy the faith that forms the foundation of the artist’s labor. The final product will never be as satisfying, as filled with power and potential, as the process of its making. Products, even great works of art, belong to the world of finite things; they have limits and deficiencies. Process, by contrast, is infinite.[3]

Yun-Ling Chen, Not Really Really (07-SS-18),
Wood, screw, plastic bag, rubber band, water and peach and air, 14x23x15 cm, 2017

Grant argues that a final product (end-product) only represents an easily consumable result which does not have much potential as it has already been circumscribed in the work. In contrast, what makes an artwork fascinating is the power of the production process behind it. However, the production process is usually treated as a trade secret and hidden away to the public, as marketing only focuses on promoting the fantasy end-product. Without exposing the making/maintaining process, we are only informed blindly through the habit of using the end-product in front of us. My practice aims to inject the existence process into the reader/viewer’s habitual pattern of interpreting, this provides the viewer with extra paths for interacting with objects. Unbinding the bonds of habituated experience, supports us in being able to rethink each independent actor's (human and non-human) possibilities. For instance, Ricotta cheese can be confused with plaster filler and a peach suspended in water can be misread as a goldfish. This produces a glitch in the effect of the materials, as we can interpret them as fake or take them as fact and vice versa. Interpretations of the work are not distilled but opened to the viewer.


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