About my research

I’m currently writing a simple and accessible summary of how I do my research… until I have finished that… here is the abstract of my PhD Thesis (submitted August 2018)  🙂

Containing and Holding: A Psychosocial Approach to Curating Digital Art About Mental Distress

This thesis proposes an experimental approach to curating digital art about mental distress. The approach originates out of examining audience responses to two exhibitions of digital art that I have curated on this topic and discerning that audiences require particular forms of care to support their encounter with the complex dialogues about mental distress that are presented. Out of this process I evolve a psychosocial approach to curatorial practice.

Psychosocial studies is an emergent field of enquiry that differs from clinical paradigms because it understands the mind and society as fundamentally entwined — allowing for interpretation of the mental health impacts of technology as a product of cultural and economic conditions. Object relations psychoanalysis is one of the theoretical linchpins of the psychosocial field and is used within my research as a means of theorising and designing curatorial care for audiences encountering digital art that deals with mental distress.

This process hinges upon the application of an innovative psychosocial audience research method called the visual matrix which was devised by Professor Lynn Froggett (in collaboration with curator-producers Michael Prior and Claire Doherty) to capture complex emotive responses to aesthetic experience. Over the course of the study, the theoretical grounding of the visual matrix in object relations psychoanalysis has unfolded not just as an influence on my evaluative methodology, but as a discursive tool that shapes my entire approach to curatorial knowledge. The methods proposed fill a knowledge gap in the curatorial field, where little attention has been given to methods and practices of curatorial care for audiences encountering artwork that deals with psychological distress.  

The study is based on two iterative case studies—an international group exhibition and a solo show—allowing for exploration of the research questions across two different curatorial modalities. Case study one,Group Therapy: Mental Distress in a Digital Age, features 13 international artists and explores the relationship between personal wellbeing and the technological systems that structure contemporary culture. The concept of containment is borrowed from object relations psychoanalysis and is used to curate an exhibition environment that supports audiences in their psychological processing of experiences of being anxious and overwhelmed that arise in the exhibition. Case study two, Are We All Addicts Now? is a solo exhibition by Katriona Beales shown at Furtherfield, London, which explores the emerging diagnostic territory of internet addiction. In this case study, the concept of holding is borrowed from object relations psychoanalysis to theorise ways of supporting audiences through the shifting subjective states that they experience in response to artworks that deal with the habit-forming nature of digital interfaces.

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