The promise of meaning in instantiations of the modern political mural
Thesis DisciplineArt Theory
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This research project undertakes a critical evaluation of the signifying and ideological values articulated in two contrasting instances of politically motivated mural art created in circumstances where the production of that public mural painting has figured prominently as a manifestation or outcome of revolutionary change. Re-establishing the value and expressive possibilities of politically motivated art produced outside the standard conditions of the art market is as valid at the beginning of the twenty first century as it was during the European past from the Enlightenment to Communism, especially if we consider the aesthetics of Western art and its progress with regard-or disregard-to the immediacy of art that articulates a political idea. The universal accessibility of heterogeneous cultural products which is guaranteed by the globalization of contemporary information markets has replaced the universal and homogeneous political projects of the European past with a dominating discourse that identifies art with the art market and remains blind to art produced and distributed by any mechanism other than the market to the point that the balance of power between economy and politics in art has become distorted. Against this background I propose that the critical and affirmative potential of art demonstrates itself more powerfully and productively in the context of politics than in the context of the market.
In no other visual art form are those questions of what is to be represented, for whom, why, and for what purpose so clearly played out as in the public mural in the context of revolutionary transformation. Yet every interpretation, whether using proper or metaphorical strategies, that attempts to give form to the mural in order to reveal its meaning, will fail in that ambition. Notwithstanding this failure, the mural persistently presents as exemplary of these instantiations. Hence-and this provides the paradox-the mural will be exposed as those determinations that fail to show its essential meaning since there is none a priori. And since the question of essence no longer has any intrinsic meaning with regard to it, the mural is tied to structural rules that expose not the mural but the fate of their interpretations. It then is reasonable to relinquish the possibility of discussing the mural proper, every interpretation thereby composing layers upon layers of determinations that make the mural nothing other than the sum or process of what has been subjectively inscribed upon it. I propose that the mural is hence to be understood as that which 'mural-izes '-a verb-that is, to be understood as something that is ascribed to the mural as agent. Emerging from this possibility are the performance elements of provisionality and indeterminacy. A model of intermedial performance analysis, however, is not my concern-rather it is to focus the discourse about it in a larger context. That context cannot be fully explored without consideration of the imperative of rehearsal. To say that 'the final performance was perfected in the rehearsal' is to say that rehearsal anticipates the end result and that the end result is a repeat or rehearsal of the practice that was anticipated earlier. The performativity and indeterminacy that I argue is a mode of rehearsal in which the completed sign is unable to materialize-thereby allowing, for the viewer, an initiation into the process of engagement with the author's intention.