Dissection can be considered a process of calculated dividing and a form of meticulous dismantling. As a method of analysis, it remains inextricably linked to explorations of the human body and the investigations staged to uncover its hidden depths. This research examines historical cultures of dissection and their relationship to contemporary art practice. It proposes that such a culture is characterised by an inherent cutting spectacle; one that remains grounded within a complex and pre-existing visual culture that has dissected, divided and dismantled the body and its image.
Into theatre, Under the Knife: Cultures of Dissection and Contemporary Art Practice is the outcome of a practice-led research project comprising this written thesis and a diverse body of work that spans sculpture, assemblage, installation and painting. Across the development of both the textual and creative work, cutting has been employed as a methodology for the research, and forms a significant basis for the material and conceptual inquiry of the study. Over the course of this thesis historical source material, theoretical propositions and the work of contemporary artists are gradually and methodically dissected for examination. The paper that has then developed as a result of this process-led research proposes a series of significant intersections, and a framework of ‘cuttings and cross-cuttings’ to consider art practice as a form of anatomical enquiry. In suggesting these points of connection, and by intentionally traversing the historical and contemporary, new ground is proposed to consider a culture of dissection within contemporary art through an analyses of the seminal practitioners who maintain and continue to enact their own distinct practice of cutting.
Whether undertaken as a light incision to permeate a surface, or a dramatic slash that severs, this research will attempt to reveal that cutting is a significant yet under-recognised gesture being used by contemporary artists. Much like the surgeon or anatomist who performs incisions in theatre, artists too inflict cutting gestures with strategic and decisive intent. The cutting gesture that embodies both dual creative and destructive possibilities acts also as a sign of authorship, a signature of authenticity from one who wields the knife.