Studio Ruins: narrating “unfinishedness”

Chris Dorsett

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Five years ago I gave a paper at the conference Art Schools: Inventions, Invective and Radical Possibilities (UCL, 2010). My topic was student studios as sites of panoptic scrutiny, as places without privacy (as in Bentham’s all-seeing disciplinary structure) or uninspected self-fashioning (as in Foucault’s institutionalised complicity). The thought had occurred to me as an improvisatory ‘riff’ on Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence (1973), a publication that offered theories of poetry in which ‘strong’ present-day creative acts were said to fix their originality through a tactical ruination of past poetic success. With its discussion of misprision and kenosis, this famously problematic essay offered some provocative ideas for describing the sense of ruination that all art school tutors know shapes and informs studio learning throughout an artist’s career. I wondered if the current reliance on completist narratives of audience reception in art education could ever capture the dispiriting loss of understanding and sense of emptying out that makes a studio practitioner, against all odds, try again. The May 2014 fire at GSA represents a special opportunity to take this topic to a further level of debate. Thus my current paper examines the possibility of narrating ruination through the actual unfinishedness of unfinished art. The material I will present explores states of stalled creativity that can only be experienced viscerally in the confusion of studio work. This instability will be discussed in relation to recent literature on industrial ruins (Edensor, 2005) and the mutability of museum environments (DeSilvey, 2006). The discussion will be built around a detailed account of installing and displaying the exhibition Jason Rhoades, Four Roads at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art (2015). Here an artist who could be celebrated for insightful studio chaos becomes, historically, an eloquent archivist of contemporary North American life and a telling example of the impossibility of narrating ‘unfinishedness’.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2015
EventMaterial Culture in Action: Practices of making, collecting and re-enacting art and design - The Glasgow School of Art
Duration: 8 Sept 2015 → …


ConferenceMaterial Culture in Action: Practices of making, collecting and re-enacting art and design
Period8/09/15 → …
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