Studio 5: Imperfect Theories

Studio brief

Things can lead to theories. They can point to a way of seeing art, architecture, or objects, that is more significant than the thing itself. Certainly in the twentieth century the notion that art and architecture speak for themselves was overtaken by the idea that theory did the talking. Today, theory is often regarded as an autonomous discipline or even as a form of practice: artists, architects, designers, make things with theory in mind. They are theory-conscious.

We will look at theories that are ‘imperfect theories’, either because they have materialised, thus losing their theoretical purity or absoluteness, or because they are seen as paradigms where theory is latent, not explicit.

You can look, critically, into any work that can be seen as theory or that presents an interesting relationship with theory; eg conceptual works, hybrids, replicas, utopian buildings, architecture without function, manifestos, etc, as well as more conventional works and the theoretical ideals they represent. Another possible route is to examine what theory meant in a different era, how it was practiced, or how it transformed over time.

Summer preparation

Over the summer you can

  • have a first look at the readings, films and websites mentioned below
  • visit some exhibitions for inspiration
  • identify two to three potential topics; identify the theoretical qualities in each of these topics and write a short paragraph for each, which describes them — how do these ideas transcend the objects/artefacts and point towards something bigger?

Outline the first seven weeks of study and reading list

  1. Ephemeral: We visit this year’s Serpentine Pavilion, by José Selgas and Lucía Cano, we read the poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (1917) by Wallace Stevens, and we discuss your topics.
  2. Originality: We watch F For Fake (1975) by Orson Welles and look at the Wikipedia entries ‘Originality’ and ‘No original research’. We discuss tradition, originality and referencing in the work of art (and in dissertations!)
  3. Thesis: We read the essay Against Interpretation (1966) by Susan Sontag and the poem/manifesto Architecture Must Blaze (1980) by Coop Himmelb(l)au. We discuss where/how you position yourself with your dissertation.

    Due: advanced outline and bibliography/literature review.

  4. Representation: We visit the V&A, we discuss changing contexts, the effect of time on artifacts, museum culture and exhibition culture.
  5. Medium: We look at Museum Photographs (1993) by Thomas Struth and read T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land (1922). We discuss the medium of your chosen subject of study and how it relates to the medium of dissertation.
  6. Consciousness: We watch Museum Hours (2012) by Jem Cohen, we read On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth (1823) by Thomas De Quincey, and we discuss the myth of Pygmalion.
Studio 5: Imperfect Theories


Tutors Ektoras Arkomanis

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