Incredulity in practice : sculptural investigations into faith and doubt
Farrugia, John Michael Joseph
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My research considers one way in which contemporary sculptural art practice might reinterpret sculpture and painting, primarily from Catholicism as represented in Italian and Spanish Renaissance and Baroque art. The themes that are explored include: faith and doubt, divinity and human nature, miracles and materials. How can sculptural practice delve into the nature of faith and doubt through materials and processes, interpretative strategies, and a consideration of contexts? Can any sense of faith or belief in the unphysical be evoked in audiences through this practice-led research? The research employs inductive means and methodologies that are fundamentally practice-led and iterative. Rather than starting with a problem-based enquiry, a careful analysis of existing artworks, primarily by the painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, was undertaken. This study has led to the production of creative work that in turn has initiated further questions and more sculptural objects. The production of sculptural artefacts creates a snowballing effect that is a self-reflective, investigative cycle. This method draws upon the sculptural process itself and takes into account external and contextual considerations. My studio-based investigations have given rise to the sculptural work. These case studies reinforce an understanding that methods that are primarily based on the assessment of haptic means relating to touch, sight and other sensory perceptions can contribute to knowledge in meaningful and unique ways. The iterative process used in this research has thematic and metaphoric parallels to the ways in which Catholic stories are retold, interpreted, and examined – narratives that have themselves been continuously readapted to suit changing contexts and intended audiences. Such narratives have been disseminated throughout the history of Christianity, and continue to be circulated in modern-day Christianity. In our post-enlightenment world, the core theme of incredulity, as imagined through art, is explored. To this end, and to make wider connections with this enquiry, philosophical writings regarding ideas of truth and subjectivity, particularly the work of Søren Kierkegaard, are investigated. The historical sculpture and painting referenced and utilised as source material are themselves reinterpretations of pre-existing narratives and stories. This research strives to explore and expose the correlative relationship that exists between understandings of past and present day contexts and employs an examination of both historical and contemporary art works and practitioners. Rather than perceiving this research project primarily in the context of other contemporary art practices, the main focus is on how European artists from the early 17th century wrestled with imagining and imaging these stories and, in that context, how the same narratives might be reinterpreted today. A selection of contemporary artists has been used throughout the research in order to help situate this work within a contemporary cultural context. The primary output from the research is a selection of three sculptural groupings, referred to as case studies, presented in chronological order, taken from the larger body of sculptural artefacts created over the course of the entire research project. The three selected case studies encapsulate the key findings and principle discoveries. The case studies are supplemented by photographs of installed site-specific work, as well as the contextual and critical analysis contained in this thesis.