Synthesis & Proposal Example - M504

PART A: Pre-proposal MFA process (reflection) paper (approx. 1500 words)

1. Write a concise description of your studio project.

I did not begin the first semester with a clear direction of where my studio work would take me, but instead, tried to allow myself to follow it, like a path with no ultimate destination in mind. My studio project began as an exploration of materials with the intention to challenge drawing to come off of the two-dimensional picture plane and/or to engage with diverse materials. I attempted to limit any mental censorship of the pieces, and hoped that through this structured play that something would begin to emerge either in the collective or in the individual pieces and their interaction. Through my research, I began to envision my creative process as a wandering: where I could work through obstacles, contemplate, encounter the unknown, make discoveries, and engage with my surroundings. The wandering itself became the purpose and the destination and the purpose. My meanderings from one piece to the next effectively drew a line demarcating my creative process.

The physical work from the first semester is mainly non-representational and made from a variety of materials and processes. In order to structure my experimentation, I often set instructions on how to create the pieces. The work was process-driven and reflected a more internal way of working. I began to pursue how two-dimensional and three-dimensional pieces communicated between themselves. Allowing the work to guide me through a cyclical process of making and observing felt at times to be directionless as I strived for a concrete path.

There is an evident shift in the work from the first to the second semester. Upon conferring with my studio advisor, I decided to set the work in various contexts to see how a narrative could be constructed. Work was placed, buried or positioned outdoors and then documented. It was here that I allowed myself to use my traditional drawing background for documentation, lured by the nostalgic quality of the images and feeling a great sense of purpose in its use as a medium. The drawn documentation of these sites raised multiple themes, namely: time, memory, loss, decay, the land(scape). I experimented with smaller projects initially and looked into how text coupled with the drawings could generate a narrative while leaving the pieces open to allow the viewer to draw their own conclusions. In the four locations where I buried carved plaster slabs, life in the ground continued as though the intervention had not occurred. With the slabs still underground, I documented the four sites again a few months later, wanting to draw attention to these seemingly banal locations in the garden by enlarging and fragmenting them in their documentation. By drawing attention to them on a larger scale, is the viewer encouraged to wonder if there isn’t more to the image than what meets the eye, creating their own narrative? How do technical elements of fragmenting, enlarging, and adding text, sculpture and video to the drawings alter their readings? The final stages of the project were in contextualizing the collection of work, my role changing from that of the artist to that of the curator.


2. How did the research impact upon your project and your working practice?

The research was a vital companion to the studio work, as was the studio work to the research. At the outset, it was unclear how the two would link together since my studio work was exploration-based and I had no set idea of where it would lead me. The research began immediately and a question needed to be formed before the work started, which for practice-based research was challenging given my openness to the work’s direction. My advisors were essential at this early stage to suggest points of departure. As I researched Eva Hesse and her organic working process, I also read a great deal about walking, mapping, what it is to be lost, as well as walking artists, Richard Hamilton and Hamish Fulton. The research was centered around the Process Artists of the 1960s, their relationship to process and materials, and the role of drawing in the process art movement. The metaphor of walking became central to understanding my own studio process as well as that of Hesse, but the relationship between my practice and research was very abstract.

A greater understanding of practice-based research came once the written work from the first semester was complete and my work began to take a more concrete direction. As my work evolved during the second semester, the studio began to dictate the direction of the research, which then fed back into the practice. The role, context and iconography of the landscape came to inform the work that I was making. The landscape exists not as untouched raw wilderness, but as a cultural construction set in a specific historical context. How landscapes are read and observed reflect upon the culture of the time. Time, itself, became an important component. I considered how the passage of time is demonstrated, and how passing time across the earth and within our minds can be related to the fragmentation and deconstruction of memory and landscape. Research that has informed my work this semester: Freud’s essay on the Mystic Writing Pad, Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory, Rebecca Solnit’s As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender and Art, Denis Cosgrove and Stephen Daniels edited book of essays The iconography of landscape, and Poussin’s painting “Et in Arcadia ego”.


3. What directions does your project suggest for further research?

From a technical perspective, the collection suggests how individual pieces of varying media respond and react to one another in a specific orientation, setting, and context, and how a desired reading and narrative can be achieved through the careful organization of a collection.

The artwork, through its layered documentation, introduces the idea of art about art itself. The element of time is central in the work, explored vis-à-vis the delicate and time-consuming rendering in the drawings themselves–an analogue method–and in the content that is addressed. The work questions the persistence of artwork over time; in these drawings, the artwork in the images is either buried and therefore unseen or ephemeral in nature, as the chalkboards. If artwork is intended to be the ever-lasting memento of what man leaves behind, then the artwork buried within the drawings suggests the opposite. The fragmentation and ultimate decomposition of the artwork in the images ritualizes and reflects mortality and our bodies return to the earth.

There is a layer of constructed narrative or fiction in this process, where the documentation begins to take on its own mystery. This fictitious and narrative element that runs through the documentation can be further explored.


PART B: Proposal outline(approx. 1500 words, include numbers and questions in your proposal)


01 – Title of project

Working title: Art in the Landscape; the Landscape as Art

02 – Name of student and any collaborators and their roles


03 – Advisors for studio and for research element (first, second, third choices). Explain your choices.

Studio advisors:

  1. Stewart Parker: Stewart was my first year studio advisor. We have a solid rapport that I have found invaluable. His knowledge of my first year work, his own engagement with drawing as well as other traditional and non-traditional media, and his knowledge of art history, make him an ideal choice for my studio advisor.
  2. Andrew Cooks: Andrew was my research advisor for the first year. He provided excellent support and knowledge not only for the research side of the project but also the studio side.
  3. Elly Clarke: I had the opportunity to meet Elly Clarke briefly at the pecha-kucha last summer. Her knowledge of curatorial studies would provide me with a wealth of information as to how to generate a specific reading of a multi-media collection.

Research advisors:

  1. Andrew Cooks: See above.
  2. Elly Clarke: As stated above, I believe that she could introduce a solid curatorial perspective to the way that I view, develop and discuss my work.
  3. Stewart Parker: See above.

04 – Description of proposed project or body of work – practical element

My intention for the practical element is a continuation of ideas established during my first year project. I will explore the theme of art about art set within the context of the landscape and the landscape itself as a cultural creation.

I will use the traditional medium of drawing in conjunction with other media such as text and textual documentation, photography, video, and sculpture. I will focus on the role of drawing as documentation and how narrative can be formed through multiple elements of imagery, text, communication between individual pieces and their placement to create desired and specific readings of the work. I will explore the documentation of constructed or fictional scenarios, playing upon the malleability of drawing and the veracity of documentation. In the initial stages of the project a narrative will be constructed and individual pieces will document varying elements of the story.

05 – Description of proposed project – written element

The written element will take the form of a project report. I will begin by looking at art historical references central to the landscape and man’s relationship to the landscape. The landscape is presented as a text to be read or a layer of symbols to be decoded. Erwin Panofsky distinguishes between iconography-the identification of conventional symbols-and iconology-the identification of symbolic values, which are layered in cultural mythology, memory, and philosophical, religious and historical context. Buried in this relationship between man and landscape is a sense of nostalgia or a longing for a lost and idyllic past such as Arcadia, which drove men to seek out ways to alter, and often destroy the existing land in order to recreate these artificial landscapes for their own pleasure. How is this relationship demonstrated throughout art history and how do contemporary artists address it?

As landscape is often viewed as a backdrop for human interactions and events, how is the scene of the landscape used by artists to generate desired narratives and commentaries? I will investigate works as varyied as Nicholas Poussin’s seventeenth century painting Et in Arcadia ego, where Arcadia is the backdrop for a deep contemplation of mortality, to Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta project, a transformation of four and half acres of farmland into a garden established around the ideas of poetry, and social and political commentary.

06 – Project results, e.g. documentation, performance, script, intervention, website, exhibition, book, journal

The format of the project will be an archive of drawings and other forms of documentation that follow a constructed narrative. Since the individual works within the collection will vary in media and size, and the positioning of the works is central to any reading of it, I intend to exhibit the resultant collection.

07 – Brief description of research method

As I have chosen to complete a project report, the research will be dictated by the studio practice. The research that is conducted will be recorded and how it in turn feeds back into the practical element will be documented. I will begin by investigating the texts included in the bibliography and the types of narratives and commentaries that exist within the framework of the landscape. After identifying my own narrative early in the first semester I will then be able to make decisions about approaching the appropriate documentation and the story that surrounds it. As the chosen backdrop for the narrative is the landscape, my research will focus on the varying iconologies that exist relating to the landscape, and how they might feed into the narrative.

08 – Initial bibliography for written element

Cosgrove, D. and Daniels, S. editors. (1988) The iconography of landscape. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Freud, S. (1925) ‘A note upon the “Mystic Writing Pad”’, from Freud, S in General Psychological Theory, Chapter XIII.

Kastner, J. editor. (2012) Nature: Documents of Contemporary Art. London: Whitechapel Gallery.

Merewether, C. editor. (2006) The Archive: Documents of Contemporary Art. London: Whitechapel Gallery.

Panofsky, E. (1955) Meaning in the Visual Arts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Roland, L. C., (July 2, 2012) ‘When you can’t see the city for the trees: A joint analysis of the Sonian Forest and urban reality’, Brussels Studies, Number 60.

Schama, S. (1995) Landscape and Memory. New York: Vintage Books.

Shepard, P. (1998) Coming Home to the Pleistocene. Washington, D.C.: Island Press

Solnit, R. (2001) As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Sonian Forest website:

Wadsworth Atheneum exhibition catalogue pdf (1991) Ian Hamilton Finlay/MATRIX 116. Hartford, Connecticut: Wadsworth Atheneum.

09 – Research question you pose?

How is the scene of the landscape, as a cultural construct, used to generate the artist’s desired narrative, and how is meaning constructed through the narrative?

10 – Intended audience


11 – Short statement on your current practice

Currently I use drawing, my primary medium, as a form of appropriation and documentation. I am interested in seeing how traditional drawing can be challenged through its association with alternative media such as textual documentation, texts, video, photography and sculpture. The organization and positioning of the works in a specific space-the curating of a body of work-has increasingly become a focal point of my interest and how my work might evolve.

12 – Formulate entire project in 2-3 meaningful sentences.

The landscape is a reflection of the cultural, historical, mythological, philosophical and religious values in which it is framed. I will explore how artists have used this cultural construction as a backdrop for narrative and commentary, and how the layers of meaning in the landscape feed into the narrative.

13 – Technical description and production process including medium, quantity, size or duration

Once the narrative is constructed the work will take on a variety of formats in order to create a multi-media archive. The pieces will consist mainly of drawings (such as graphite on paper or other surfaces), written texts (either taken from another source or self or collectively produced), and found and created three-dimensional pieces. I will explore the use of photography and video if they seem appropriate for the narrative.

14 – Connect past and future project

My first year project began with a complete exploration of materials and processes mainly based around drawing. As the year progressed, I began to investigate drawing as a mode of recording and documenting work that was set in the landscape. With this the themes of man’s relationship to landscape, art about art, the creation of a narrative through documentation, and others such as time, nostalgia, memory, and loss, arose. One semester is not enough to address any of these individual themes sufficiently let alone see how they can be interwoven through a body of work. This future project is a direct continuation of the previous one with a clearer and more purposeful direction at the outset.

15 – Connect studio and research project (if separate), explain how they inform each other.

The studio and research projects, while having separate final formats, will be deeply interwoven. As I have chosen to create a project report, the two elements feed into one another and inform the successive steps to be undertaken. The project report will record the development in both thought and practice, including more than solely written documentation of the steps taken. The blog process updates will be a vital part of demonstrating the process in all areas of the thesis and will help to support the creation of the project report.

16 – Brief description of conceptual motivation

There seems to be, in the minds of people, a great division between human beings and the environment. This disconnect between the realms of culture and nature is a falsehood, yet one that pervades a common mentality. From the way that the landscape itself has been altered by our existence to the way that people view and understand a landscape through specific cultural values, people and the land are profoundly interconnected. The term landscape itself connotes a backdrop for human existence, but not one that is necessarily included in the drama. The landscape is not merely a silent witness to human activities but a participant. The landscape, as a reflection of a society’s cultural values, is in a sense a form of art replete with its own iconology, to be read and contemplated. How then have artists resolved this understanding of the landscape in their work and how has it informed their narrative?

17 – Short description and abstract (50-100 word) of written element

As a project report the content of the written element will consider the development of the concepts, processes, materials, decision-making, and research investigations revolving around my studio practice. The research investigations will begin with a focus on landscape art, the landscape as art, and the role of the landscape in art history as a setting for narratives and commentaries.

18 – Proportion of written/practical element

The practical element will guide the project, and the written element will be fundamental to the development and process of the studio practice; however, given the importance of a process-based study, I intend for the project report to be equal in proportion to the practical element.

19 – Possible location for the project

I will focus on the Sonian Forest, my own surrounding landscape, as a point of departure for the documentation. The process and work will be undertaken both out of doors and in my studio. The final exhibition location is yet to be determined since it will be dependent upon the types of work and the various relationships created.

The complicated interconnectedness between man and nature is demonstrated in the history of the Sonian Forest. Today the forest consists of 70% beech trees which, due to their lack of diversity, makes the forest vulnerable to destruction. The government has taken great care to protect the forest and its existing wildlife, even generating animal crossings over and under large roadways that divide the forest. They have systematically divided the forest into zones where older trees are cleared to make room for new growth, and zones where nature is left to do all the work. The enchanting beech trees themselves were the result of an eighteenth century reforestation project by Austrian landscape architect, Joachim Zinner.

20 – Timeline for realization of project

August-September: Research possible narratives. Decide on one constructed narrative. The process and research will be documented for the written element throughout the entire project. Consider ways to approach the project report, for example in terms of modes of discourse and formats.

October-November: Research the most effective ways to structure the narrative in the landscape and begin initial drawings and documentation. Explore varying media to supplement the drawings. Make decisions on the structure of the project report. Research locations for the final exhibition.

December-January: Continue work on documentation drawings, text and other, while simultaneously building the project report. Decide upon a space for a final exhibition of the work.

February-April: Continue work on documentation drawings, text and other, as well as the project report. Map out how the pieces will be displayed in the final exhibition and explore how and why certain installations offer better readings of the work.

May: Finishing touches.

21 – Budget

Estimated cost of materials and framing: €1000