Resisting Narrative: Artistic research, narrativity and the constraints of academia

  • João Pedro Ferreira Dias Leal

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This practice-led research consists of film and photographic-based work that is
responsive to the personal journey of undertaking a PhD. The artistic practice
reflects the pathways and journeys undertaken as both a researcher and
teacher and the struggle with the structural constraints of academic research
and the need to maintain the freedoms of artistic practice. The research takes its
cue from the notion of artistic research as “unfinished thinking” (Borgdorff,
2012, p. 143)— and the inevitable collisions and conflicts arising from this in
terms of the demands of academia.

Theories of narrative are central to the explorative processes of the artistic
Is narrative inevitable to all artistic works or can art resist and counter narrative
structures? Does an artist’s working process necessarily involve a narrative?
And does the process of undertaking art as academic research mean it is harder
to avoid narrative and the demand for intelligibility and coherence?
Art practice is traditionally averse to regulations and very prone to non-narrative.

This practice-led research explores the tensions arising when art practice is
put into a highly regulated research environment, one that is constructed as a
well-structured traditional narrative. This does not mean the results from the
practice have to become academic, in the sense that they can be understood and
replicable. On the contrary, they should remain as artworks, coherent in terms
of the artist’s concerns and aims. But at the same time, within academia, they
have to be configured as research.

Through a series of distinctive but related artworks (video, photography and installation), all exhibited in specific response to a space that functions as a museum to another artist and teacher, the author explores the tensions between
his working process as an artist and the process of PhD research.

The practice is contextualized by an engagement with narrative theory and an
examination of a number of artworks that can be seen to resist sense and meaning. The case studies include works by Gabriel Orozco, John Cage, João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva and Tacita Dean. While all can be seen to resist narrative, the thesis will also explore how narrative is unavoidable.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of South Wales
SupervisorMark Durden (Supervisor) & Lisa Barnard (Supervisor)

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