February: Revised RD1

Chris Hamer, MRes Revised RD1 Statement, February 2015


How can the depiction of ruination on an East Manchester street explore the boundaries between human and non-human agency?



At the core of this research is the role of human and non-human agency in the act of studio-based painting. This will be informed by my experiences of ruination on Crescent Road in Levenshulme, and by two contingent practices inspired by Dada and Surrealist theory that resonate with current new materialist theories of agency. It will result in a body of twelve paintings; six produced with reference to automatism and six produced using other chance strategies.


These practices will endeavour to explore the interaction of matter as articulated by Murdoch (in Edensor, 2005) who explains that, “ . . . ruins are heterogeneously co-produced by humans and non-humans” and by Bennett’s (2009) proposition of the world as “an interfolding network of humanity and non-humanity.” These networks, or assemblages, are present in the abundant sites of ruination surrounding my home studio, in my experiences of them, and in the act of depiction. I will focus on the space under and around the arch of the railway bridge on Crescent Road. In order to explore the processual emergence of the paintingsand thereby draw parallels with the in situ transformations outside of the studio- I will produce photographic records of ruination in action as a form of readymade, in order to test the link between the studio work and the in situ recordings.


Jane Bennett (2009) explains that “[T]his material vitality is me, it predates me, it exceeds me, it postdates me.” In order to explore this blurring of these ‘boundaries’ within my own practice, I will firstly produce paintings created by my fingers, hands, arms and brushes. This practice will be informed by the use automatism by the artists André Masson and Jean Arp, and by Edensor’s description of the powerful experience of the haptic at sites of ruination (forthcoming). In this practice, I will explore how the flux within material processes of ruination, as articulated by new materialist theories, has a precedent in the Surrealists’ use of automatic processes. I will investigate if there is a homology between particles in ruination, and subsequent production of pattern on the canvas, or is it rather, as André Breton (in Maclaglan, 2014) would have it, that this is a chance process informed, and interpreted by, the unconscious.



Secondly, I will produce a series of paintings in which chance (the non-human agency of material processes) is of prime importance. This series will refer to both surrealist theories of chance in Maclagan (2014) and Lejeune (2012), and to recent reappraisals of the role of non-human material processes in new materialist theories. For Liza McCosh (2012), authorship of painting is a “co-emergent activity” instead of a “mastering of the medium”. In investigating this claim, I will consider Marcel Duchamp’s use of dust and will add different material impurities gathered in the sites of ruination on Crescent Road (such as oil, traffic film, dried weeds, stone and brick dust etc.) in order to produce forms of paint that will behave in unpredictable ways. Denis Lejeune’s (2012) description of dada and surrealist theories of chance will assist in this exploration, and give further context to the use of chance in the work of Jean Arp and Marcel Duchamp. Objects and matter gathered in the sites will also be dropped onto the canvas with reference to Arp’s and Duchamp’s use of gravity as a key force that will question the extent to which my ‘first person’ agency is necessary.  





To seek to answer how the depiction of ruination can explore the boundaries between human and non-human agency.












  • This project will result in a body of work (produced throughout the 2 years) dealing with the questions above. This will be completed through:


  1. in situ photographic records of ruination on Crescent Road


  1. studio practice (where I will experiment with different acrylic painting mediums and different means of recording sensations experienced in chosen sites of ruination, such as photography and writing) along with regular updating of direct (primary) and informed (secondary) observations and reflections in journals, sketchbooks and blog in the form of:


  1. automatic drawing and painting


  1. chance/ material processes


  1. writing about these encounters with paint and ruination??



  • Library-based research will be carried out in order to inform the reflective responses to my practice, and the practice of painting itself, in order to:


  1. consider the relevance of automatism to the painting practice’s engagement with ruination.
  2. consider the relevance of chance procedures to the painting practice’s engagement with ruination.


  • evaluate of the role of human and non-human agencies in the historical use of automatic and chance procedures within Modernist painting practice and theory


  1. locate the research practice in a specific methodology


  • Produce a monthly piece of writing (1,000 words) heading towards the thesis


  • I will build in quarterly reflexive analysis to assess progress towards aims and objectives


  • A thesis of between 10,000-13,000 words, which will address the key issues raised above.


  • The project will culminate in an exhibition of a collection of 12 paintings edited from a larger body of work carried out throughout the two years, along with a statement that will situate the paintings in the field of research undertaken.




Key thinkers:

I will use Denis Lejeune’s (2012) “The Radical Use of Chance in 20th Century Art” and David Maclaglan’s (2014) “Line Let Loose: Scribbling, Doodling and Automatic Drawing” in order to locate my use of chance and automatism in a historical and theoretical context. Tim Edensor’s (2005) “Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality” and his “Incipient Ruination: Materiality, Destructive Agencies and Repair” (forthcoming) both comment on human/non-human causes of ruination and will frame my responses to the area around my home studio. Jane Bennett’s (2010) “Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things” will offer current theories on the agency of matter: and its ramifications in terms of my painting practice, further reinforced by Liza McCosh’s “The Sublime Process and Mediation” (in Barret, E and Bolt, B eds. (2012) “Carnal Knowledge towards a ‘New Materialism’ through the Arts”) in relation to the co-emergent nature of agency in the practice of painting.

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