Best thesis explores time in contemporary art

04 April 2017
Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers

Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers' doctoral thesis on the aesthetics of time in contemporary art has been awarded a Vice-Chancellor's Prize for Best Doctoral Thesis.

Each year, this prize is awarded to the five most exceptional theses successfully examined right across the University.

In her thesis, Kate undertook a comprehensive exploration of the multiple times and durations of contemporary art and developed an alternative theoretical framework for considering the time of aesthetics.

Kate argues that time has become a central feature of contemporary art practices.

"Since the late 1950s art has engaged wonderfully diverse media and modalities that allow us to experience time in remarkably different ways."

She broke new ground in the emerging field of time studies by drawing upon Henri Bergson's and Gilles Deleuze's philosophies of becoming, the relative timescales of Albert Einstein's physics, the immanent durations of philosophical phenomenology, and the more recent 'speculative realism' of the philosopher Quentin Meillassoux.

One example of this is her exploration of immersive installation works through Einsteinian physics, including the recent work of German artist Hito Steyerl.

Another example is the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson's use of large chunks of ancient Icelandic ice that are placed in urban settings and are given to melt over several hours, or in temperature-controlled galleries where they retain their form, as a way to address environmental concerns and engage with time frames that are difficult to comprehend.

Kate was supervised by Dr Greg Minissale, and says that he was wonderful in feeding her ambitions to expand the thesis as far as it went.

"It started as a phenomenological investigation of time, but went well beyond that. Greg helped to develop the topic, and gave constant feedback."

Greg said that the prize is "a marvellous acknowledgement of Kate’s scholarship."

"The thesis has already had quite an impact on the distinguished external examiners from McGill and Glasgow Universities, and it promises to fill a gap in the current research by suggesting that the topic of time is best understood through an interdisciplinary approach."

"It’s quite a special thing to be chosen from over 300 PhD theses for the VC’s Prize, and in an arts and humanities faculty that is 25th in the world rankings."

"I am so happy for Kate!"

Kate is currently preparing her doctoral research for publication, thanks to a Dame Joan Metge Post-Doctoral Research Award from the Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust.


Beyond the Clock: The Aesthetics of Time in Contemporary Art