Affect Transmission through Mechanical Artworks

In: Learning to See: The Meanings, Modes and Methods of Visual Literacy

This paper investigates how mechanical works of art in contemporary galleries can assist in transferring and translating notions of affect, or instantaneous emotional impulses, based on the viewers’ visual literacy levels with regard to specific mechanical parts. In practice, the examination entails associating affective symbols with mechanical forms and functions of exhibited sculptures. During a practice-based study, still mechanical sculptures were exhibited in UK galleries, in an attempt to establish the presence of affective transfer between the works and the viewers. The analysis of data collected from more than 400 participants (using validated psychometric tests, internationally reliable PANAS and I-PANAS-SF scales of affect measure, CCTV recordings and participant observation) reveals that the success of this impulsive transference depends on a number of factors, including the viewers’ visual familiarity with the mechanical parts, properties and functions employed in the sculptures. Parallel case studies on artwork by Francis Picabia have revealed the mechanism’s potential to portray human traits and conditions. Additional studies have exposed the particular characteristics of viewers’ visual thinking processes and emotional responses to specific mechanical parts and mechanical installations, as well as the relation of these responses to their ability to assign meaning to the artwork. The theory forwarded here has been informed by the writings of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari on affect and the encountered sign, whilst emphasis was also placed on recent writings by Jill Bennett and Simon O’Sullivan in terms of rhizomatic connectivity. Through this interdisciplinary study, the research undertakes a novel methodological approach, informed and guided by affective notions, as it attempts to shed light on an affective dynamic between the artwork and the spectator’s sensory and emotional perception.

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