Kim Schonewille: Art Abjection: The Borders Between Art and the Viewer and Art as a Trap

Advisor/tutor: Alena Alexandrova
Independent reviewer: Kristiina Koskentola
Arnhem, June 2014


This thesis focuses on the response of abjection and sublime within the experience of the viewer, who is being trapped by artworks. I use the term response as a symptom of relationships and dialogs between the artwork and the viewer, where I refer to the impact of images as bodily and mental reactions. In this situation I am interested in the role of an artwork as an individual being. Works and artists I discuss are Berlinde de Bruyckere, Robert Gober, Mike Kelley and Kiki Smith. These artists all work with certain elements of, and have various approaches towards, abjection. I theorize the notion of abjection with the contrasting experience of sublime to create a better understanding of their contrast and overlaps. Besides this I argue how the viewer can protect him or herself from the impact of an artwork and how to avoid being captured by Art's power in order to maintain authority and autonomy over the self. My aim of this thesis is to stimulate discussion and not to deliver answers.


In her thesis Kim Schonewille is concerned with the impact, which the aesthetic experience of the abject has on the viewer, focusing on the physical and psychological mechanisms from inside to outside.
While referring shortly to her own practice, she interestingly positions herself as the viewer rather than as an artist. She is interested in the artwork in the role of individual being, but besides the abrupt and rather ungrounded reference to Deleuze this significant positioning is shattered through out the writing and remains indeterminate. Kim's enjoyably and highly personal writing is articulated but her use terminology is unclear at times. The thesis would benefit from more research and references on these terms and how they have functioned in art practice and the literature on which they might draw.

Generally the thesis is well structured and demonstrates critical awareness and engagement in informed framework of theory. She situates the abjection and the sublime in their historical contexts, juxtaposes these two fluid processes with each other and in relation to individual artists' practices reflecting insightfully on their personal history, and moves on to sets of psychophysical analyses.

Kim sets out several interesting avenues of inquiry. But she could have explored them further than the, at times illusive, short statements and questions and demonstrate more independent thinking in order to establish even more fertile grounds for further discussion, which she claims to be the aim of the thesis. The questions, posed by the author to herself in the end, such as why does she feel the need to take control of art in the first place, are valid. Why indeed would one, the viewer, the author of the work or any agency claiming such authority, try to control or contain the productive forces of art and what do such acts entail? KK