Gabriel Orozco, Yielding Stone, 1993, plasticine
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Ways of Making: artistic techniques put to the test by deskilling in contemporary practice

November 2017 to October 2019

Leading institution: HEAD – Genève
Project leader: Ileana Parvu, Associate Professor, Visual arts, Art history and theory
Project applicant: Ileana Parvu
Project team: Valérie Mavridorakis, Jean-Marie Bolay, Bénédicte Le Pimpec
Funding: FNS

The project entitled Ways of Making: artistic techniques put to the test by deskilling in contemporary practice concerns itself with the question of what can be understood by “technique” in artworks which no longer employ techniques recognised as such or even reject the notion of technique as pertaining to a manual skill, a profession or the execution of work. It was in the avant-garde movements of the 1910s that this distancing from the specificity of technical means of production was first seen. This was referred to as “dematerialisation” in the 1960s and 1970s and more recently, “deskilling” is commonly used. The move away from techniques specifically linked to mediums – notably painting and sculpture – was considered to be to the detriment of the profession. Post deskilling, this project means to reflect on artistic technique from the point of its dissociation with any medium. 

The question of artistic technique is examined over a period from the 1980s to the present day, looking at how so-called “conceptual” art of the 1960s and 1970s would influence the decades that followed and co-exist alongside the “return” of genres from earlier eras, considered a feature of the 1980s. The project builds on a wider debate, both philosophical and anthropological, about how to get beyond the oppositions of practice vs. theory, skill vs. creativity, body vs. spirit. Instead the point of departure of the project is the hypothesis that technique – here understood as the making of a work – holds theoretical potential in and of itself. We will bring concrete examples – or evidence from a combination of 3 elements (works, interviews with artists, curators and assistants, and ways of making and/or teaching) – to this thinking on technique intended to go beyond the opposition between doing and thinking. The aim is to make a contribution to the study of the history and theory of artistic technique and to make data available to researchers from various fields of study.

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