La Trobe
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Mosaic: Classical Principles and The Act of Making in Contemporary Works

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posted on 2023-01-19, 11:13 authored by Helen Bodycomb
Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce, La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia.

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This practice-led research project seeks to clarify and defend the conventions of mosaic as an art form, and assert how thinking through mosaic can augment contemporary practice. Founded in practice, the thesis explores mosaic principles established during classical antiquity and their application through the acts of thinking and making in contemporary works. Mosaic is simultaneously a process and a phenomenon which uses composite parts to create a single whole. Each single part possesses its own inherent material history and agency. I develop two central threads to explore these process-based and material elements, using the ancient Greek (Aristotelian) concepts of theoria, poiesis and praxis together with new materialist thinking. Linking these not as competing theories but as complementary modes offers a means to affirm both the maker and material agency manifested through the act of making. My methodology includes a survey of classical mosaic principles in order to define traditional paradigms and then to argue for their agential integration of process and material. This history is then contextualised by reference to how mosaic was developed by modernist artists, and the legacy of these practices in the work of contemporary artists. These histories reveal how, from Greco-Roman antiquity through to Modernism, power and privilege become intrinsic to the art form, and furthermore how mosaic’s reliance on the repetition of motifs mirror the fragmented material realities that characterise contemporaneity. The historical and theoretical research has been in dialogue with studio experimentation that affirms the relevance of mosaic principles in their ability to address and shed light on current concerns about the agency of matter and the significance of the act of making in contemporary art. My concluding exhibition works extend mosaic beyond the convention of the materially ‘permanent’ artefact to explore the art form more as a temporal process.


Center or Department

College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce. School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Thesis type

  • Ph. D.

Awarding institution

La Trobe University

Year Awarded


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This thesis contains third party copyright material which has been reproduced here with permission. Any further use requires permission of the copyright owner. The thesis author retains all proprietary rights (such as copyright and patent rights) over all other content of this thesis, and has granted La Trobe University permission to reproduce and communicate this version of the thesis. The author has declared that any third party copyright material contained within the thesis made available here is reproduced and communicated with permission. If you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact us with the details.

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