Chance procedures in the production of experimental drawings

  • Michael Halpin

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research tests the influence of chance in a series of experimental drawings, created using ink frozen in ice, and used engine oil with or without the addition of ink. The experiments are underpinned by CS Peirce’s theory that there are two forms of chance: absolute chance, which includes anticipated elements, and ordinary chance in which there are no expectations and where nothing is anticipated. The relationship between chance and intentionality is examined.

The organic images are created using a combination of both artistic and measured processes, by the random placement of ink/ice blocks, and used engine oil with and without ink, on cartridge paper. The corporeality of the images is determined by the impact of gravity, vibration and fluidity of the liquid on the materials and surroundings. Materiality and process are tried and evaluated when the liquids spread across the paper. Absolute and ordinary chance are not interchangeable or fixed, but exist as fluid elements influenced by time. The unpredictable results from controlled production demonstrate intentionality, randomness and failure.

Chance and intentionality confirm something abstract through a noesic process, as the perception of an object rather than the object itself. The horizon reveals differences between real and perceived images and is tested using Husserl and Merleau-Ponty’s ideas of phenomenological reduction.

A further idea of chance draws on John Cage’s practice of I Ching by asking questions, using hexagrams to determine actions and developing chance beyond the unexpected random events, observed in Peirce’s ‘ordinary chance’. Similarities and differences in the works evidenced in the practice and those of Cage are tested and compared in relationship to the project. Cage’s musical ideas are translated into the visual works of the research practice with specific reference to experimentation, tonality, space and time and their use in the experimental drawings.

Relationships between chance, intentionality and unpredictability, plus the unification of theory and practice, are developed and used. Its usefulness to other artists and their studies together with future developments for the research identified. Both absolute and ordinary chance in the process, present in creating work, demonstrate how chance can commence as one form and cross over into the other. In terms of contribution to knowledge, a defining feature of the experimental drawings is this crossing over from ordinary to absolute and back to ordinary chance to produce unpredictable random images. It identifies the influences of chance and intentionality in the programme, which is found in experimental art practice over the generations, and yet is not widely researched.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorN. Hamlyn (Supervisor)

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