Doctor of Philosophy
School of the Arts, English and Media
This thesis focuses on the processes and outcomes of my participatory performance project Ignoramus Anonymous. The project takes the form of support group meetings for ignorance. Between 2013 and 2019, meetings were held across artworld and everyday settings. Ignoramus Anonymous was partly inspired by the “intellectual adventure” of French schoolteacher Joseph Jacotot, who in 1818 undertook an exploration of pedagogy by attempting to teach what he himself did not know. He concluded that all people were equally intelligent and referred to his philosophical methodology, centred on the removal of explication, as “intellectual emancipation”. My thesis extends this exploration of pedagogy through a creative arts practice-based research methodology. It asks: ‘What might result from a collective turn towards ignorance?’ And: ‘How might such a turn be instigated through contemporary art practice?’
These questions form the starting point for my thesis. They have been explored by placing this exegetical document and the processes of Ignoramus Anonymous into a feedback loop with one another. Taking further inspiration from Jacotot, I have thought of this as an intellectual adventure in ignorance. The aim of this adventure has been to tease out and articulate new knowledge produced by the narrative of the adventure itself, including the value of reveling in ignorance with strangers, and how the aesthetic experience of Ignoramus Anonymous can persist beyond the end of each support group meeting, emanating into the world beyond the artwork.
Throughout this exegesis, I argue that Ignoramus Anonymous involves the creation of a context, produced through an art practice that comprises the re-framing of social forms as play spaces for participants. This discussion is supported by experiences and testimonies of support group participants, and through critical engagement with key ideas, including French philosopher Jacques Rancière’s analysis of emancipation within what he terms the “aesthetic regime of art”, and American philosopher John Dewey’s call for the reintegration of art with the processes of everyday life.
There are three significant contributions made through this thesis. The first is the production of a body of work that demonstrates how ignorance can support transformative relations between participants in socially engaged art. The second is a demonstration of how this turn towards ignorance can be achieved through using “play frames” within the artwork. Finally, by reflecting on the production of ‘art’ that is simultaneously ‘not-art’, this thesis contributes to broader philosophical debates around intellectual emancipation and the politics at play between art and life.
Whittaker, Malcolm, An Intellectual Adventure in Ignorance, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, School of the Arts, English and Media, University of Wollongong, 2019. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses1/857
Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.