Soft Feelings: Exploring the Potential of Material Expression in Ceramic Objects

French, Emelia
Redmond, Monique
Braddock, Chris
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This practice-led PhD explores the potential of earth and body, material and gesture, in ceramic objects. The methodology, a soft approach, supports the material expression of clay; impressible, changeable, and unruly. Positioning the relationship between artist and material as the focus of its inquiry, Soft Feelings speculatively asks how the artist can befriend clay, sustaining its waywardness rather than working it into submission. Drawing upon Céline Condorelli’s thoughts on support and friendship, as well as the principles of process philosophy (as defined by Erin Manning and Brian Massumi), the project reflexively develops a methodology that aids the artist to work in feeling with materials. Developing a material intimacy that accumulates through the doing, I aim to become susceptible enough that the clay invites responsivity conducted by its materiality. Objects form irregularly, in ways my subjective perception may not anticipate. They embody familiar structures, such as squares, coils, rolls and slabs, but do so loosely; slouching, cracking, flopping, leaning, and sagging. The thesis asks questions about the potentiality of the material object. Following Henri Bergson’s idea of the open whole, Soft Feelings aims to expand the capacity with which interiorities (subjective) can commune with their exterior (objective), tending towards closeness without closure. Enfolding artists that work with a variety of materials, including Peter Hawkesby, Philip Guston, Kate Newby, Gabriel Orozco, Ryder Jones, and Lucy Meyle, the thesis considers the value of those methodologically working otherwise, to realise new possibilities for object expression. Using the formal conventions of sculpture and painting, as well as ordering principles and basic logics of installation, the ceramic objects attempt to muddy up systems of aesthetic classification and soften objecthood by exceeding objective reason. Clay readily embodies the marks of its relational processes. Emphasising material entanglements in the ways described by Karen Barad, clay is already sympathetic towards the closing of objective distance. Soft Feelings questions the capacity of ceramic artworks to evoke both the specificity and generality of the present, feeling what it is to be here now; as impressions and expressions of earth and body.

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