Art and conversion : an investigation of ritual, memory and healing in the process of making art

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Stellenbosch : University of Stellenbosch
This thesis investigates the concept of conversion which arose out of the process of making soap as medium for my body of sculptural works and signifying its material transformation with ‘cleaning’ and ‘conversion’ – terms encountered in research into chemical transformation (in alchemy) and further endorsed by my linking my sculptural forms, resembling fonts, to religious conversion. A line of theoretical research was thus traced into ritual as an embodied experience of recalling memory in the desire for redemption or healing. Contemporary South Africa art, it seemed, was also going through a conversion process. The movement, from the domination of apartheid to the profound change of the ‘new South Africa’, necessitated a sense of tolerance in response to the reawakening of the diversity of cultures, rituals and memories. Thus present debate surrounding the concerns of reconciliation and restitution requires a re-evaluation of the importance of memory – to forget, to renew or to uphold – in the desire for healing. This has re-awakened an appreciation of multi-cultural rituals and invoked new self-consciousness and a reformulation of identity. I was thus inspired to investigate transformation in terms of art theory, psychology and philosophy. By identifying Freud’s psychoanalytic concept of transference and of ‘working-through’ as a part of his ‘Theory of Conversion’, I arrived at this proposition: art initiates an awakening of self-consciousness. In arguing for the vitality of the mythopoetic imagination, as held within the unconscious, however, I claim that art, as an embodied process, draws from memory, and resonates within the context of a ritualised empathic interrelatedness of ourselves as humans in the environment. In attempting to understand the South African transformation, which resembles the spirit of Renaissance Humanism, I examined how historical shifts influence both inter-human and environment/human relationships. Operating largely in terms of the transference of power and belief, these moved, in an ever-recurring cycle, through sixteenth century Renaissance Humanism, which tolerated diverse religious convictions, to Cartesian reason and the quest for certainty, manifesting in religious and politically motivated wars. This revolution, I believe, has occurred again from the modern to the postmodern era. I believe, therefore, that art has a healing capacity. This flows from a metanoia – a turning around – effected in both artist and audience. Through this creative and aesthetic view of art, experienced in my practical making and substantiated in my theoretical research, art, I conclude, initiates inner conversion and thus healing.
Thesis (MA (VA)(Visual Arts))--University of Stellenbosch, 2006.
Dissertations -- Art, Theses -- Art, Dissertations -- Visual arts, Theses -- Visual arts, Conversion in art, Art and religion, Rites and ceremonies in art, Healing in art, Arts -- Therapeutic use, Memory in art