Fraser Stewart: How is Failure Used to Resist and How Often It Fails to Resist?

Advisor / tutor: Alena Alexandrova

Independent reviewer: Paula Caspao

Arnhem, June 2013


Failure as an act of resistance and how it often fails to resist, explores the use of failure in contemporary art practice. In the 20th and 21st century the function of an artist has transitioned in response the global and political systems and the audiences that these specific ideologies create. As the world becomes more dominated by the system of Post-Fordism, audiences look to consume the experience of art. This thesis explores this changing audience, how it has evolved and how it might develop in the future. It investigates artist that have used failure as a method to form a critical reflection on the domination of consumer culture in modern society. It attempts to reveal the interplay between institutions that uphold art, the viewer and the artist, through art practices, which use failure as their central theme.


Fraser Stewart articulates a set of significant issues around the politics and economies of failure and resistance in contemporary art practice – concerning both his own artistic work and the broader context of performance art he relates to. He has succeeded in situating his own artistic experience within the larger field of performance art history and contemporary practice, convoking a wide range of works both from the 20th and the 21st century, of which he gives the reader a satisfactory overview. To be noticed, this thesis positions itself in a politically relevant intermedial perspective: it exposes art's mixed economies and intrinsic socio-political existence; it looks at the artworks as inseparable both from their conditions of production – the supporting institutions and apparatuses that allow (or disavow) their existence and disclosure –, and from the audiences they engage and/or disengage. Clearly, the research and writing process of this thesis brought Stewart further in the understanding of his own work, namely allowing him to complexify his previous views (as he himself states, p.61) on the potentialities of failure as a tool to critically engage audiences. In that sense, he managed to make good use of research and theory, and this period of confrontation with theoretical thinking and writing will most probably have effects on his further artistic practice.PC