Artist's novel: the novel as a medium in the visual arts
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Embargo end date04/07/2020
Maroto Fernandez, David
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Enquiring into the conditions under which it is possible to begin to write, Roland Barthes (2010) associates the desire to write with the formation of a fantasy: ‘Me producing a “literary object,” that is to say, writing it (here, as always, the fantasy erases the difficulties, the failures). … It could be a poem, a play, a novel (note that I’m saying: fantasy of a poem, fantasy of a novel)’ (p. 10, italics in the original). Since the mid-1990s there has been a proliferation of visual artists who create novels as part of their art projects. They do so not with the ambition to write a literary work, but in order to address artistic issues by means of novelistic devices, favouring a sort of art predicated on process and subjectivity, introducing notions such as fiction, imagination, narrative, and identification. In this sense, it is possible to speak of a new medium in the visual arts. This thesis is structured in two parts: the essay, A New Medium, is a theoretical approach to four key case studies that examines the different ways in which artists use the artist’s novel. The interview is a prime research method; extensive conversations with artists, curators, and editors are instrumental in unravelling the aspirations that the artist’s novel is called on to fulfil, whilst critically contrasting them with its actual existence in the world. In the second, practice-led part of the thesis, writing becomes methodological – it is writing as research, blurring the boundaries between style and content, theory and fiction, art practice and research. The Fantasy of the Novel is a narrative account of the creative process of an artist’s novel, from the initial fantasy to the final publication. By accompanying its trajectory, the research engages with informal aspects that are usually not visible to the public, namely intersubjective relationships and events that, although not formally measurable, decisively affect the art project’s end result. Why do artists write novels? What does the artist’s novel do to the visual arts? How should it be experienced? This thesis aims to elucidate the pressing questions posed by the emergence of a new artistic medium. The intention is not to set in stone a definition of what the artist’s novel is, but to situate it in the field of the visual arts, sparking a much-needed discussion about a practice that has been long ignored by the main critical strands in the art world.