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Playing Puck: A study of performative action in the shaping of a 'Legend Landscape'

Irving, Robert P.


Robert P. Irving


This thesis engages, through visual practice and written analysis, with the British tradition of ‘thin’ places that act as thresholds between everyday circumstantial reality and the otherworldly. It does so by focusing on the complex of prehistoric monuments that make up the Avebury ritual landscape because these have become a crucible of contemporary cultural significance and a site of mystical tourism concerned with allegedly paranormal phenomena. I argue that these circumstances produce a range of responses, often broadly religious or aesthetic, which involve ritualistic, artistic, and, above all, performed activity, where legends are re/enacted into being and presented as fact. My contention is that this activity not only revitalises and extends the legend as a form of cultural mediation but also stimulates a shared ‘sense of place’ that helps to enrich an existing narrative world. In this self-reinforcing cycle, memory, imagination, and artfulness together contribute to the shaping of ‘legend landscapes’ as sites of pilgrimage where otherworldly events are said to have occurred and spiritual presences (and absences) still dwell.

The study is undertaken from the ‘insider’ perspective of a practitioner fully immersed in these processes. Following a statement of aims and objectives, and the theories and methodologies that underpin my approach to art practice (Chapter 1), I will describe the historical background to my subject (Chapter 2) before discussing how Avebury’s landscape is perceived today in the context of legend (Chapter 3), and the subtle collusion involved in reciprocal processes of ritual engagement through legend telling by action (Chapter 4).

Overall, the argument proposes that concealment or anonymity is an essential tool of this creative practice, acting as a methodological principle that aligns the practitioner with the mythical figure of the Trickster. Thus the artist is presented here as an ‘operator of meaning,’ rather than as a sole ‘creator,’ encouraging a plurality of interpretations – a view that is consistent with my representation of the collusive nature of artistic activity. The thesis discloses a number of hitherto unknown, obscured, or otherwise unrecognized aspects of the legend landscape and of artistic activity within it. The original contributions to knowledge presented in this study are likely to be relevant to the theory and practice of art and cultural history, and the wider contemporary arts community.

Thesis Type Thesis
Keywords Irving, crop circles, hoax, hoaxing, ostension, proto-ostension, myth, legend, myth and legend, ley lines, earth mysteries, earth energy, New Age, ritual, performance, performativity, Schechner, circlemakers, circle-makers
Public URL
Award Date Jun 6, 2014

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