Repositioning Neuroaesthetics Through Contemporary Art
Mckay, Sally Jean
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Neuroaesthetics has tended to privilege neuroscientific understandings of art, eliding centuries of art historical research on perception and culture. Instead, this dissertation extends neuroaesthetic research to examine the specific social, sensorial and perceptual processes occurring as artworks are encountered in exhibition contexts. How does neuroaesthetic perception operate in contemporary artworks? What modes of cognitive address are involved? How can neuroaesthetic engagement facilitate embodied knowledges? This dissertation first inquires into the neuroaesthetic literature in order to establish its neuroscientific foundations, and then advances a perceptual standpoint stemming from art and art history. Drawing from feminist theories of embodiment, I reposition neuroaesthetics to incorporate art historical inquiries into body and mind through direct engagement with art. I argue that such a revised neuroaesthic perception must take into account post-humanist troublings of nature/culture dichotomies. I also suggest that the paradigm for embodied perception that has emerged from both cognitive neuroscience and affect theory can expand neuroaesthetic understanding. My investigation has led me to first-hand experience as a research subject of neuroscience experiments, which show that current fMRI contexts in fact delimit the perception of art and inhibit possible neuroaesthetic significance. Instead, I undertake neuroaesthetic research in exhibition contexts where self-reflexive awareness facilitates insights into perception and cognition that are inaccessible within the epistemological conditions of neuroscience labs. The first case study examines how an installation by the FASTWÜRMS collective reveals cognitive processes of abduction by inviting navigation through an infinitely complex web of objects and images. Turning from association to visual cognition, I consider how Olafur Eliasson’s immersive light installations manipulate colour perception thereby facilitating critical awareness of techno-mediated environments. Third, my analysis of a conceptual work by Kristin Lucas explores how the performance of digital and legal technology invites embodied transformations. Finally, I examine how the affective tensions produced in a video by Omer Fast activate an awareness of intersubjective communication that corresponds with recent neuroscientific developments in mirror-neuron theory. By taking contemporary artworks as its focus, the dissertation extends neuroaesthetic inquiry to demonstrate contextual understandings of how the cognitive processes of art constitute physiological engagements between body, brain and world.