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Maegan Harbridge

My research delves into the political nature of aesthetic experience, investigating the social and political implications of a material-based practice in an effort to further the debate regarding the social role of contemporary abstract painting.

In contrast to much creative and scholarly work since the1960’s, where formalist art has been dismissed as superficial and politically disengaged, my research-creation project works to redeem formalism (specifically abstract painting) as a practice of critical perception, or care/full looking, that decenters notions of human exception through reflection on the relational, rather than fixed, quality of form. This care/full looking, facilitated through abstract painting, is a practice of critical perception that augments a growing body of, eco aware, non-anthropocentric, scholarship in the critical posthumanities. To look with care is to trace the contingency of formal relationships, so that a more robust “ethico-onto-epistemology” emerges: One that displays the entanglement of matter as it materializes and “intra-acts” with other bodies (Barad and Kleinmann 2012, 77). The formal attributes of an abstract composition exist not as independent bodies, but inform as a compilation of relationships; the coming together of component parts; as the materialization of emerging matter.

Borrowing from posthuman thinkers Sylvia Wynter and Katherine McKittrick, my current line of questioning explores how a theory of the human, as narratively constituted, might disrupt normative conceptions and reproductions of Western constitutions of bodies and being. Through a lens of posthuman formalism I explore how humans, as sociogenic creatures, use narrative to create the conditions of their own exception and consequently their own demise; positioning fiction as the definitive formal aspect of the 6th Mass extinction event. In contrast to the formalism championed throughout modernism, posthuman formalism recasts narrative as the ultimate formal device in the history of Western expansion and its coming dissolution. Learning to see relationally, however, thinks with Wynter and McKittrick towards one aesthetic possibility in “how we might give humanness a different future” (McKittrick and Wynter 2015, 9).

My studio-based project is comprised of a series of formal experiments that use acrylic and latex emulsion on paper and canvas, with the latter used as masking fluid between the layers of the composition. Once a new layer has been added I remove the latex to expose the juxtapositions created between the two layers of paint. Colour, line, texture and shapes abut, each boundary informing another. This “push-pull” (Sillman 43) of pictorial space, a founding tenet of modernist abstraction, shows not a modernist reduction but a metaphysics of interconnectedness. These formalist compositions emphasize the interaction between each element as it informs a dynamic whole. The portfolio submitted with this application explores not only relationships and tensions within each composition, but juxtaposes different paintings to produce a variation of affects.  

Barad, Karen, & Adam Kleinmann. 2012. “Intra-actions.” Mousse 34: 76 – 81.
McKittrick, Katherine, and Sylvia Wynter. 2015. “Unparalleled Catastrophe For Our Species? Or, to Give Humanness a Different Future: Conversations.” In Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis, 9-89. Ed. Katherine McKittrick. North Carolina: Duke University Press.

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