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A present bond: A theory of enchantment in contemporary art

Resource type
Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Author: Kong, Yani
This dissertation studies artworks made against the backdrop of emergency. I begin with Max Weber's (1946) proposition that the modern world is disenchanted, meaning humans experience separation from nature, objects, and each other as they become rationally oriented. I turn to the fine arts for strategies that build relations and meaning in this state, understanding that certain artworks model methods to uncover what is often concealed in our mastered world. If the world is disenchanted, how may we redistribute the mastery that has been afforded to human bodies across all bodies in the cosmos? I define enchantment as an ethics of interconnection enacted through a practice of engagement between bodies participating within a world that is shared. I develop a reception aesthetics for encountering art of the twenty-first century, a period increasingly characterized by crisis, by drawing from Baruch Spinoza's Ethics (1677). My methodology is informed by Spinoza's definition of the material body as any entity with the capacity to affect and be affected. As bodies encounter one another, they gain and lose momentum, their capacities increase or diminish. A Spinozan aesthetic analysis asks: What does the work of art do to me? Does it increase or diminish my capacities, and in what ways?My aim is to explore what remains potential amid surging global tensions by focussing on artworks that explore the nature of crisis based on what is materially available rather than pursue freedoms lost, or freedoms not yet gained. Resisting the temptation to despair, this thesis seeks what the present condition makes possible through a study of contemporary art. Chapter One outlines my methodology for an aesthetics of enchantment in contemporary art, treating the encounter between the viewer and the work of art as an activated zone where subjectivity emerges in relation as opposed to remaining singular. The next three chapters explore modes of attachment that occur between bodies through acts of imagination (Chapter Two); through the philosophical concept of pneuma, termed by the Stoics as the breath of life, exploring air as an enchanted medium in art (Chapter Three); and by decentering our human perspective (Chapter Four).
195 pages.
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Copyright is held by the author(s).
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: U., Marks, Laura
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