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Alex Newton joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in September 2015 and the title of his thesis is ‘Liminality, the uncanny and the sublime: a practice-based exploration of thresholds of experience’.
I’ve lived in Oxford for almost 15 years so knew about Oxford Brookes, though I also did an MA in Contemporary Art here prior to beginning my research.
Studying here for my MA played a big part in my decision to conduct my research at Brookes. The School of Arts is a very friendly and intimate environment and I’d always found it to be an open and very supportive place.
I was and still am a secondary school art teacher.
Understanding the approach to research in art felt new and slightly strange initially, but I feel as though I settled in quickly. I’ve really benefited from discussions with my supervisors and the group seminars, which are vital in developing my work.
My research is concerned with investigating strategies of representing or embodying the liminal; an uncertain, transitional realm where several planes or existential states may be present. I have been working predominantly with the moving image, finding ways to create experiences that have a degree of ambiguity and that at some level disorientate and dislocate.
The driving force behind this inquiry is a desire to locate strangeness and uncertainty in experience, using Viktor Shklovsky’s technique of ‘ostranenie’ or ‘defamiliarisation’ as a starting point. Shklovsky posits that the purpose of art is to impede our perception of the familiar by making forms difficult to apprehend; I’m interested in exploring ways to provoke this disruption of experience.
These inquiries have since taken the form of digital recordings of the figure in strange horizonless landscapes in Iceland, the Lake District, the Peak District and also in the more comfortable surroundings of the photo studio in Brookes.
I’ve more recently been experimenting with the projection of these recorded moving images onto the surface of layered screens of tulle, which provide both a sculptural presence and the illusion of a virtual space. The intangible materiality of these digital projections certainly feels like a step into the liminal domain and then subsequently translating photographs of the projected figures into stilled intaglio prints has created new insights for me.
An interesting dialogue between the various grounds that support or mediate the image has emerged and the results of these experiments have raised several questions, specifically regarding the relationship between the dynamic and the static, the ephemeral and the permanent and the significance of the digital.
I love being in a position where I am lucky enough to have the space to indulge my curiosity and to explore my particular field of interest. It has at times been a challenge to manage what I’m doing around the demands of my teaching job, but it’s been such a pleasure to be able to have those two sides to my life that I make sure that there is always time.
The PhD art group has been a space that has allowed me to share my research with other students; it has been incredibly helpful and has provided me with a space to experience the exciting work that others are exploring and to reflect on various aspects of my own research. It is undoubtedly a learning process and being able to share work and to see how others are progressing is invaluable.
I haven’t had much time to think too far into the future. Since doing my MA at Brookes I’ve been back at university, albeit on a part-time basis, for around 4 years and I’ve loved learning in this environment again. I actually don’t really want to stop… though I suppose I may not say that in 3 years’ time.