Studio Ruins: describing 'unfinishedness'

Chris Dorsett

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With creative practices things go wrong, work is ruined, and projects remain unfinished. Paradoxically, since failure is a matter of enhanced appreciation in the arts (e.g. Samuel Beckett’s ‘fail better’), neither ‘wrongness’, ‘ruination’ nor ‘unfinishedness’ means what it says. Building on the topographical encounters of fine art studio teaching, this article explores the intersection of ruined work, incomplete creativity and disarticulating sensations. While Jason Rhoades’ messy installation art in a public gallery can evoke (like a 2005 account of abandoned factories by Tim Edensor) a problematic romanticization of unfinished and ruined work, I argue that other less recognized forces are in play. In the privacy of art school studios, monitoring ‘health and safety’ procedures challenges all evocations of aesthetic spectacle and poetic vision. This amounts to an alternative topology of ruination that relates to Caitlin DeSilvey’s 2006 descriptions of agricultural decay. Because a creative struggle is more like daSilvey’s material confusion than Edensor’s romanticized disorder, my article considers four further theoretical ideas in order to place studio ruins at the service of practice-based research in art schools—the muddle of ‘mingled senses’; the complicit character of ‘criticality’; the ‘stupefying’ consequences of study, and the tactical defeat of ‘decreation’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalStudies in Material Thinking
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2017


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