The Viral Sublime and the Bodily Experience of Oil Painting

Prof Doc Thesis

Morris, S. 2017. The Viral Sublime and the Bodily Experience of Oil Painting. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London Arts and Digital Industries
AuthorsMorris, S.
TypeProf Doc Thesis

The Viral Sublime exposes a symbiosis between oil paint(ing), virology, and contemporary concepts of the sublime. It explores how the sublime is portrayed by the dual identity of viruses as both malevolent and beneficial in regenerative medicine and genomic science. My painting embodies my imaginative relationship with being in the world knowing that my body is shared with an unwanted virus that has the potential to destroy or possibly save me. To convey my sense of being in a viral world, my painting takes the form of viral landscapes in which oil paint is treated as having some characteristics inherent to viruses, in the ways in which oil paint behaves on a substrate. In fostering these viral dimensions of oil paint in my paintings, an homologous relationship between oil paint and viruses is demonstrated. Meeting with scientists and managing the medical intervention necessary, virology and genomics have become sources of inspiration in relation to the regenerative potential of the sublime. The Viral Sublime is not designed to provide answers, but to question whether it is through the gaze of technology, medicine or science that postmodern ideas of the sublime continue to thrive.
Since Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, artists have conceived the sublime as a distinctive aesthetic category that is magnificent but overwhelming, awe-inspiring but terrifying, dangerous and life threatening (Burke, 1757). My lifelong experience of dealing with forces unseen to the naked eye has motivated the contextualisation of my practice within the art histories of invisible energies and virology. Drawing upon Burke and Immanuel Kant’s theories, and postmodern concepts of the sublime within contemporary art, the terrifying and overwhelming power of the contemporary sublime in the form of viruses is explored in my painting. As genomic medicine opens the doors to personalised medicine, one of many objectives is to expand the dialogue between science, medicine and art to initiate change in society’s perceptions of disease, particularly viruses. I propose the Viral Sublime as a new category and extension to knowledge within the canon of art history surrounding the concept of the sublime.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Publication dates
Print27 Apr 2017
Publication process dates
Deposited21 Sep 2017
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