The mobility of facts

Norfolk, Rupert (2020) The mobility of facts. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis investigates the reductive abstraction of the digital and the physical immediacy of the sculptural, commonly perceived as an antagonistic relationship. Through a practical dialogue between virtual and tangible media I ask: what can digital technology tell us about the nature of sculpture as a contemporary art form? My practical experiments adapted a flexible methodology of digitising found objects through 3D scanning, digital modelling and CAD drawing; transforming them via a mix of contemporary software; and then reconstituting them as physical objects through 3D printing, analogue casting and hand tooling. This approach allowed the characteristics of tangible materials and processes to feedback against the affordances and constraints of digital operations. The research demonstrates that this feedback occurs in ways that are generative rather than antagonistic. By strategically deploying digital media to develop autonomous sculpture, I reconnect haptic perception with critical reflection upon that experience driven by analyses of current understandings of how digital mediation works. The first part of the written component involves a theoretical enquiry into the means applied to production. Drawing upon recent art historical, anthropological and philosophical arguments, I question tropes of digital immateriality, computational thinking, and the ‘fixed facticity’ of sculpture. The second part provides an account of new insights brought to light by the struggle to realise these artworks in physical matter and arrive at a cogent understanding of what is made present as a consequence of digital mediation in the finished works. My research shows how digital technology can emphasise rather than undermine what is particular to sculpture. It emerges that sculpture must rely on a tension between its tangible form and abstract mediation if it is to suspend reification. On the other hand, these sculptures problematize the tendency of digital technologies to efface aspects of their very real materiality. They could be seen as paradigmatic of our contradictory relations to objects in a world where the limits of what we think of as reality have become less clear. This research proposes that it is the sensuousness of the embodied encounter that makes the abstract anomalies of digital operations so incongruous. By calling attention to themselves as made things – digital artifices – the artworks produced in this research generate moments of ambivalence that oscillate between presentation and representation, cognition and recognition, when consciousness might take itself as its object. As concrete abstractions, they encapsulate how digital mediation alters the material fabric of the world.

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