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Matrilineal performance-to-camera: exploring maternal aesthetics and the frame

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posted on 23.11.2018 by Myfanwyn E. Ryan
This practice-based PhD is located in the field of live art practice and looks at the relationship between the camera and artworks that are critical of phallocentrism. It proposes a radical address to maternal methodology, using a series of performance-to-camera works where the focus is on the matrilineal and mother-daughter relationships. It focuses on maternal theorising, which is prevalent in contemporary feminist theory, and the renascent maternal aesthetic that forms the subject matter of the performance and art-making reviewed here. I include collaborative practice with photographer, Alan Duncan, and my eldest daughter, Matilda. I argue that power imbalances and representational autonomy cannot be challenged effectively by performance-to-camera per se, however, when aligned with maternal aesthetics, in this instance, mother-daughter and matrilineal performance, the critique is re-invigorated because aesthetic distance and the latent influence of binary thought are not pre-supposed or engaged with uncritically. The first chapter locates the practice-based research within a context of feminist theory; artists Ana Mendieta and Jemima Stehli, and the philosophy of Luce Irigaray, underpin my subsequent performance interventions as inherently resistant to phallocentric objectification. The second chapter discusses how critiques are re-ignited, via Alison Stone, when mother-daughter relationships are explored in women s performance and how combining this with Derrida's Parergon acts on the distancing effect of the frame. The establishment of a maternal aesthetic is supported by primary interviews, presented as oral histories in the form of recordings, with artists Shirley Cameron, Evelyn Silver, Tracey Kershaw and Sam Rose. Finally, the third chapter considers maternal aesthetics, both as an art practice and a practice of care, to establish it as a radical approach that differs widely from traditional Western aesthetics. I draw on Jessica Benjamin's intersubjective theory to demonstrate a relational approach to the maternal, and I emphasise the role of play as having nurturing qualities and, simultaneously, as material within my practice. This research has been crucial to the burgeoning area of maternal aesthetics because it makes work visible that has previously been absent in mainstream art criticism and canonisation. Original artworks have been produced, that interrogate the relationship between Derrida, Irigaray, the frame and the maternal.


Loughborough University.



  • The Arts, English and Drama


  • Arts


© Myfanwyn Ryan

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.