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Why bother? Uncertainty, awkwardness and bravado in the sculptural representation of youth

Jurack, Brigitte (2018) Why bother? Uncertainty, awkwardness and bravado in the sculptural representation of youth. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis comprises a study of contemporary sculptural practice employed by the researcher to represent youth, including within socially engaged contexts. ‘Youth’ is interpreted here as a developmental stage between the ages of 12-20 and the research focuses on the iconography of sculptural representation of youth from Ancient Greece to present day. While existing studies of figurative sculpture recognise affinities with Ancient Greece, none have so far noted recurring motifs within the representation of youth, such as their relationship with site and the way they instantiate, or even demand, a combined studio and community-based practice. Conversely, although studies of socially engaged art analyse the complex relationships between diverse stakeholders, they lack detailed insight into artists’ perspectives and practices in relation to specific local settings. This research seeks to address these gaps, supported by Aby Warburg’s findings that significant motifs permeate from Antiquity through to the present, and through the use of documentation and critical analysis of a large number of sculpture and relevant socially engaged practices in Merseyside. This is done in conjunction with the researcher’s own creative practice consisting of 15 sculptures, 30 statuettes, a collection of drawings, works produced by young people and the permanent public artwork representing youth, Just wait for me (2012-13) in Central Park, Wallasey. All the works address motifs of youth that reflect uncertainty, awkwardness and bravado. The result is to fuse three iconographic motifs with a new hybrid method for ‘local’ artists working with communities, particularly young people, a local and artist-led approach that remains under-considered in the context of global ‘curatorial-matchmaking’ of socially engaged practice. The documentation of and reflection upon the researcher’s own sculptural work references and discusses the implications and strategies involved when reflecting on aspects of representation within making and interpretation of sculpture. The combination of the researcher’s creative work and written text produces a thesis that demonstrates how key motifs, ur-experiences, the physical studio environment and the local community setting impact upon the sculptural representation of youth, culminating in a new locally engaged site-specific permanent sculpture. The outcomes, also contributions to knowledge, are: The portrayal of youth dating back to Ancient Greece is understood across three key motifs, namely the states of rehearsal, self-absorption and vulnerability. The uses of the double figure as a form of three-dimensional reflection enhances this sculptural representation of youth as uncertain, awkward and being in limbo. The knowledge of a ‘local’ artist from a different cultural background, enables the development of a new hybrid method for creating the socially-engaged site-specific permanent sculpture that regards all participation and engagement within a user-expert model. A new public sculpture embodying and celebrating notions of youth’s awkward presence and undetermined future has been added to the canon of public sculpture within Merseyside. The reflective and transparent methodology employed in the studio, community engagement, exhibitions and specific site aligns this form of art practice to an artistic position concerned with the desire to reclaim public space for the celebration of uncertainty, awkwardness and bravado.

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