Link to my PhD thesis. Completed in 2013.
Throughout the history of art the role of the artist has been compared to the role of the shaman. This is because the artist’s role has always been one of mediator, transformer and most prominently visionary. The role of both the artist and shaman has always been to stand between two worlds: that of the visible and the invisible. The viewers, or the community in the case of the shaman, entrust the artist to go forth into the realm of the invisible and return with a gift: the invisible transformed into the visible. Traditionally, many artists associated with shamanism such as Joseph Beuys, Max Ernst, Leonora Carrington and later Matthew Barney, have been leaders, idealists, heroes of mythic proportions, artists who return with this gift: a vision or sight to follow. But a different breed of artist associated with shamanism also exists: an ambivalent artist-shaman, a shifty and unreliable character of dubious motivations, who appears to offer the viewer a vision or sight and then throws it back in their face, makes them decide. This is the role that Hany Armanious, John Bock, Carla Cescon, Marcus Coates, Mikala Dwyer, Steinar Haga Kristensen, Jonathan Meese, Paul Thek, Justene Williams and myself have taken. And we take it so as to return to the viewer the very power that is invested in the artist, that of creating a vision: what Rex Butler refers to in relation to Hany Armanious as the “gift of sight.” (Butler 2000). These artists and myself offer the “gift of sight” by reflecting the act of perception and by engaging the viewer in the same process that the artist goes through. The way we do this is by setting up complex, multi-positional, process-based systems that are highly informed and engaging but do not lead to an end position. Because the artist does not presume to idealise this end position, the result is inevitably confusing, slippery, uncertain, and ambivalent, as if the artist has no position or avoids commitment. This thesis sets out to investigate this ambivalent position taken by the artist-shaman and to show how and why it is taken. It does this in two ways. Firstly it provides a studio component as a practical example of the practice of an artist-shaman who offers the “gift of sight.” Secondly, the written dissertation provides a theory and understanding of the artist-shaman who offers the “gift of sight.” This may then be applied to the practical component, offering a historical and philosophical context with which to frame it.