Liveliness: Can sympoietic painting save forms of life?

Madeleine Kelly (Sydney College of the Arts, The University of Sydney)
2020 Conference

The view that images have a life of their own is a well-known vitalist projection (Hans Belting, WJT Mitchell). I extend the trope of the living painting to a systemic order of aliveness, one that emphasises painting’s becoming within a vital open system through Beth Dempster’s (2000) concept of sympoiesis. With that in mind I ask: ‘How might the metaphor of the poietic work extend to that of the living planet?’ My conceptualisation of sympoietic painting makes a case for the saving of image life and planetary life by entwining the affective and sensible. I explore how vital formations that arise by way of webs and affinities fit into a sympoietic system of understanding artistic creation and are a powerful form of nonhuman address.

Throughout the paper, I describe works from my Open Studio shown at the Queensland Art Gallery (10 October 2020 – 31 January 2021). The project presented a replication of my studio, expanded paintings and a curated exhibition of works from the institution’s collection, and hosted socially engaged events. Together they provided insight into my creative practice through structural and elective affinities. By working with affinities, I make affinelike formations that are enlivened through different painterly processes. In this paper I show how affinities are fundamental to sympoietic painting, and by evoking transformation and liveliness remind us that many species also form a fabric, one now contingent on a key human thread. I argue that affinities create bonds and relations that connect us to the sensing world and, by extension, sensible solutions.


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About the author

Madeleine Kelly, a contemporary artist, is senior lecturer at Sydney College of the Arts, The University of Sydney. Kelly’s practice-led research is based on human entanglements with animals/plants/energy. Her research and writing focus on metaphor and inter-iconic visual ‘languages’ that suggest the contingency of knowledge. Kelly makes works that are speculative — considering painting as a complex modality. Kelly has been invited to exhibit in both public and private galleries nationally and internationally and her works have entered many public collections in Australia. Recent projects include, ‘Madeleine Kelly: Open Studio’ at the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, and the ‘Birds and Language’ conference and exhibition. She is represented by one of Australia’s premier contemporary art dealers, Milani Gallery, Brisbane, QLD.