UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Parallel processing : conceptual art in the age of revolt Narusevicius, Vytas


This dissertation investigates Conceptual artists and their practices ranging from John Latham in 1966 to Hans Haacke in the early 1970s, with a particular focus on the link with educational institutions, student protest movements, and a desire for autonomy found in all three. It is through an analysis of the relationship between Conceptual art and the various notions of autonomy that result in a different way of understanding Conceptual art. Instead of perceiving Conceptual art as merely reflecting the social context of an administered society, or conversely of artist-intellectuals critiquing institutions, I highlight that often these two modes existed simultaneously to create a sense of being bound and free at the same time. The neutrality and distance of early Conceptual works from the more politically engaged protest movements is reassessed as a radical disengagement that operated as a model for artist and viewer to self-question their presuppositions of existing norms through a set of relations with the work. In effect, working as a cultural site of radical possibility that offered an alternative to the world in its current form, and simultaneously heightening the awareness of the provisional nature of any given viewpoint. Likewise, I analyze how later Conceptual works that negatively highlighted the extent that social and institutional systems supported the status quo, while important at the time, may have unintentionally set contemporary art on a path towards functionalization that ironically has led to less autonomy rather than more autonomy. The philosophical approach I have taken using Theodor Adorno’s theories has allowed for not only uncovering the desire for autonomy, but how this desire helped explain the very contradictions within artistic practices that were attempting to navigate uncharted waters. The quest for autonomy highlights Conceptual artists re-imagining themselves as intellectually engaged artists through which their do-it-yourself approach to education produced truly new forms of art instead of just recreating past traditions. The contradictions detailed in these practices highlight what was both resisted and subsumed by social and economic circumstances, as well as the potential and pitfalls.

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