PhD exhibition: Sculpture as Activating Object

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The inflatable island sculpture installation view
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The Slingshot installation view Melbourne
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Installation views PhD exhibition: Sculpture as Activating Object, Artspace, Victorian School of Art, University of Melbourne, May, 2018. All images: Søren Dahlgaard.

Access to the full PhD thesis
Sculpture as Activating Object

Abstract
The practice-led project Sculpture as Activating Object, which has developed over three years, 2015-2018, investigates how a sculptural object activates a process of transformation through play. Sculpture activating describes how the process itself becomes the artwork. Through the investigation of three artwork case studies produced for this project, this thesis examines the different outcomes generated by the art objects and speculates that sculpture as activating object is a new category within the field of contemporary action-sculpture.

Keywords
sculpture; action-sculpture; socially engaged art; environmental art; land art; process; collaboration; iterations; audience participation

Research Outcome
Søren Dahlgaard identified Sculpture as Activating Object as a new category within the field of contemporary action-sculpture. Through three case studies, the thesis found that the entire process constitutes the artwork, including the sculptural object, performative action, documentation, experience of playing well together and collaborative effort of the audience.

Supervisors
Prof Barbara Bolt and Dr Simone Slee, faculty of VCA and MCM, University of Melbourne.

Extended Abstract
This thesis includes the artworks produced for the Sculpture as Activating Object
exhibition at the Artspace Gallery, VCA in May 2018, and the written dissertation.
Three bodies of artworks were produced for the project and have been used as the
case studies within the written dissertation. They are: The Inflatable Island
Fuppidhoo (2015-ongoing), The Slingshot Planting Technique (2016) and The Gnome Painting Technique (2015-2018). The artworks comprise sculpture, installation, photography, video, drawing, actions, playing well and social experiences.

The thesis establishes the contextual framework for land art and environmental art,
action-sculpture and socially engaged art within contemporary art. All three case
studies are framed within a nexus of these genres in art with the addition of play as a method to complete new iterations of artworks. The activating sculpture-object plays the leading role in all three of the case studies where it activates a series of collaborations with the forces of nature, various materials and people. The iterations occur through an invitation to collaborate and play within a framework of generosity, slapstick aesthetics and familiar objects. The notion of the inherent qualities of playing well during the process of making new iterations is furthermore established, in accordance with games scholar Bernard De Koven’s concept of the ‘well-played game’ and play theorist Johan Huizinga’s concept of ‘the magic circle of play’.

The activating sculpture, this research proposes, extend notions of a more nuanced
understanding of action-sculpture and socially engaged art. The methodology of
completing the work in a series of iterations, through a framework of playing well,
represents an opportunity to consider a more diverse understanding of authorship in collaborative practices. The concept of the activating sculpture is not encompassed by existing frameworks in action-sculpture or socially engaged art.

Søren Dahlgaard, Doctor of Philosophy, 2019.