Reposition the Canon, an Arts Based Exploration into Post-Structuralist Theory and Art Historical Biases


“Reposition the Canon, an Arts Based Exploration in Post-Structuralist Theory and Art Historical Biases” Mark O’Connell@2015 no reproduction without permission

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The visual narrative of this piece is based on the concept of knitting an unbroken narrative with a beginning, a logical progression towards an ending. Which in my opinion has been part of the process of constructing a cohesive modern art history. I have knitted a swatch to represent this historical progressive process, and then built a sculpture around this threaded construction.

Then I took my interlinked thread and created a container. This represents the history of art as repository of ideas, hopes, aspirations and desires for a cohesive unbroken narrative. Filled with small illustrations of various iconic artworks, each linked by an unbroken thread. They must be read in order, because each has its assigned place within the hierarchy of the story.

The purpose of the piece is to explore the hermeneutics of the art historical narrative as well as its rationale for the positioning of specific pieces, and the reasons for their inclusion in the first place.

The sculpture functions as a druid’s pouch of art historical treasures, or a child’s game. The art pieces can be rearranged to suit the fancy of the viewer. New art histories are written through juxtaposition. Artworks are buried or unearthed within my little game, just as canonical art pieces are dismissed or reclaimed within the modern art historical narrative; either due to fashion, or the sub-textual message of the historian’s bias.

Ultimately, within my sculpture and the art-historical dialogue, there is always enough rope left over to…





Reposition the Canon, Post-Structuralist Theory and Art Historical Biases (The Essay)

“So if we accept the idea that not trying to define art is a legitimate conception, then the Readymade can be seen as a sort of irony, or an attempt at showing the futility of trying to define art, because here it is, a thing that I call art. I din’t even make it by myself; as we know, art means to make, to hand make, to make by hand. It’s a hand made product of man, and ther instead of making, I take it ready made, even though it was made in a factory. But it is not made by hand, so it’s a form of denying the possibility of defining art.”

Marcel Duchamp Ephemerides, 1959


A 2004 survey commissioned by the sponsor of the Turner prize, selected “Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp as the most influential piece of modern art of the 20th Century. Those surveyed were 500 leading British art professionals ranging from artists to critics, curators and dealers. The selection of this particular object is significant in many different ways. First, the artwork is not a Picasso, who up until this time was unilaterally identified as the key figure of modernism, and previously identified as the chief innovator-artist of the 20th Century. This survey also re-positions Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” which up until this point had been the default choice of critics and historians as the most pivotal piece of 20th Century modern art. The choice of “Fountain” is significant in that it represents a re-prioritizing of what constitutes a pivotal art piece, and it also is a reflection of a radical change in critical attitudes and theory. The previous art historical model being a linear narrative that centred on artist as innovator/creative genius. Within the art history dialogue that allowed for the selection of “Fountain”, the focus is more on context and meaning in an artwork; specifically in relation to larger themes in society and also decoding meanings in a piece that may or may not have been intended by the artist. In this essay I seek a specific analysis of the creation and exposition of the art object “Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp, and also to use the historical analysis of this object as evidence of the evolution of discourse within an art historical context.

(Full Paper upon request)



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@Mark O’Connell 2017, all rights reserved, no reproduction without authorization

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