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. 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 "imperfect theories" – theories which have materialised, thus losing their theoretical purity or absoluteness, or examples of artefacts in which 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, artefacts that allude to Utopias, function-less architecture, manifestos, etc, as well as more conventional works and the theoretical ideals they represent.

Summer preparation

Over the summer you can:

  • enrol in the British Library
  • 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 of the first seven weeks of study and reading list

  1. Introduction
  2. 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.
  3. 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!)
  4. 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.

  5. Representation: We visit the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), we discuss changing contexts, the effect of time on artifacts, museum culture and exhibition culture.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
Fresco in Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.


Tutors Ektoras Arkomanis

Dissertation Studios