The paradox of uncertainty

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

University if Cape Town

This work represents my engagement with uncertainty, as I have defined and contained it. As an artist, my research strategy has been to work with uncertainty in a felt sense, using my hands as a way to access a different sort of thinking. To this end, I have allowed, created, sustained and magnified the presence of uncertainty in my studio, as a focused, experiential study within the practice of making art. Uncertainty might be understood in many ways, so I will begin with the common definition as that which is ‘not able to be relied on; not known or definite’ (OED, 2016). Psychology professor Michael Smithson characterises the Western perception of uncertainty as a predominantly negative anticipation of what cannot be known (Bammer and Smithson, 2008: 18).Such a perception of uncertainty as a threat, may encourage the use of control as a means to contain the unknown. Smithson’s description reflects the prevailing attitude of my upbringing and this project represents the exploration of a different paradigm. The Paradox of Uncertainty alludes to the coexistence of two apparently opposing views of uncertainty, which I have sought to integrate through my art practice. My interest in uncertainty originates in years of effort to overcome anxiety, which I understand as the physiological manifestation of a fearful relationship with uncertainty that results in a habitual psychological struggle to out-plan the future. In contrast with the prevailing medical conception of anxiety as a form of mentalillness, philosopher Martin Heidegger considers anxiety to be an ‘irreducible, existential state of being[...] aris[ing] from the self-reflexive awareness of our own“potentiality-for-being”’ (Gordon, 2013: 106). The existential psychologist, Rollo May (1977: 38) offers a functional link between uncertainty and anxiety, noting that ‘whenever possibility is visualised by an individual, anxiety is potentially present in the same experience.’ Developing May’s concept of anxiety as a normal part of lived experience, psychologist Kerry Gordon (2013: 107) expands on the relationship between anxiety and creativity, saying: Creativity, authenticity, uncertainty, anxiety—these cannot be separated. To live a creative existence means to live with uncertainty. To live an authentic existence means to live with anxiety.