Mosaic as an experimental system in contemporary fine art practice and criticism

  • Marcelo José de Melo

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis examines the conventional definition of mosaic and argues against the dominant narrative that subordinates it to painting. It asserts the specific character and general applicability of mosaic as a paradigm for image-construction, presenting the necessity for rethinking mosaic, in terms of both practice and theory, as a constituent presence affecting consideration of certain practices within contemporary art.

More specifically, this thesis argues that the principles of mosaic art, characterised by compositions made through the use of partible serialised units derived from an additive method of construction that is pertinent to art and technology, inform a fluid paradigmatic art category that can be traced back to antiquity and experienced through actual environments, such as in architecture, and in the virtual environments of recent digital technologies. This category is identified in the research as the mosaical and presents a formal set of concerns that provide a new analytical framework for particular debates on sculpture and installation art that is also relevant to art education and digital aesthetics.

The methodological approach used here combines qualitative research that draws on art-historical literature, with visual evidence extracted from artworks through the analysis of formal compositional elements. Philosophically, the study uses a Deleuzian rhizomatic approach to undermine specific art-historical hierarchies. It is also influenced by Laura Marks’ concept of enfolding-unfolding aesthetics, underpinned by an understanding of how historical clues and visual evidence inform a historical horizon constituted of folds. Furthermore, it relies on a space for experimentation that bridges the divide between art and science, in keeping with Hans-Jörg Rheinberger’s concepts of graphematic and representational spaces.

This practice-based PhD advances mosaic as an experimental system, conceptually and experientially, embracing the historicity of mosaic as well as its phenomenological ramifications. It proposes a new aesthetic formalism for the digital age by tracing a particular way of structuring the visual where mosaic principles enable the passage from the actual built environment to the image-based virtual environment of digital technologies. Through modernist experiments with the grid, in combination with the use of elemental units of composition, this thesis argues that the ancient tessera has evolved into the contemporary voxel.
Date of AwardJul 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorTerry Perk (Supervisor)

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