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Concretizing God - Fetishism and the Social Construction of Objects

Carney, J. M. T. (2020) Concretizing God - Fetishism and the Social Construction of Objects. Masters by Research thesis (MA), Metropolitan University for the degree of Masters of Arts (by Research).


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This thesis investigates the agency of objects within the context of contemporary art discourse by viewing them through the lens of fetishism. The fetish has been widely used to describe a material object that possesses some concentrated force or power beyond its materiality - a power that is somehow inordinate, misplaced or inflated (Graeber, 2005: 434). This power is mediated and maintained socially, dependent upon particular beliefs and activated the moment it is interacted with. In this sense, by viewing objects as agential, fetishism constitutes a social theory of objects, and furthermore a condition wherein objects are capable of becoming autonomous social entities in their own right. The research is positioned within the contextual field of socially engaged art practice, with particular emphasis to Relational Aesthetics by Nicolas Bourriaud (Bourriaud, 2002: 112), which was written in relation to the growing prevalence of socially engaged practice as he saw it emerging in the 1990s (Ibid). However, an optical contemplation of objects as an inherently social activity is negated from Bourriaud’s writing (Bishop, 2005: 62). The research has found that fetishism provides a useful means with which to understand both the social and participatory implications of objects within the context of contemporary art. I have investigated these capacities using a practiceled methodology, wherein my art practice has developed alongside my engagement with the literature, which I have used in tandem in order to further my understanding of fetishism and its relationship to contemporary art discourse. I have subsequently produced three sculptures and one public intervention which have been photographically documented, as well as autoethnographic responses of my own mental process of creating them. The research has subsequently identified and explored three crucial topics on the fetishistic capacities of objects within this context; their death, their life and the illusion they create.

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