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Beyond the Space of Painting and Poetry: Mallarmé and the Embodied Gesture

Beyond the Space of Painting and Poetry: Mallarmé and the Embodied Gesture

Date 2014 – 2018
Research Centre Art and Design Research Centre
Researcher M.B. O’Toole – Research Degree Student
Research Degree Project Beyond the Space of Painting and Poetry: Mallarmé and the Embodied Gesture

M.B O’Toole is a UK based artist, researcher, and associate lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University. In 2014 she was awarded the Vice Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship from Hallam to undertake practice-based research. The title of her thesis is Beyond the Space of Painting and Poetry: Mallarmé and the Embodied Gesture.

O’Toole’s Doctoral research explores relations between the textual space of Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard, (A throw of the Dice will never abolish Chance) and a transdisciplinary space – across painting, sculpture, video installation, performance, and more recently mathematics. The striking innovation of Mallarmé’s generative poem is its capacity for multiple and simultaneous readings, signified in a complicated weaving of word, image, and sound, presented as a constellation – a network of infinite possibilities. O’Toole’s thesis demonstrates how a transdisciplinary approach to research opens a new critical space for painting, exemplified in Mallarmé’s spatial poetics. O’Toole proposes a re-evaluation of the space of painting and poetry in order to show that Mallarmé should be considered as crucial to the understanding and critique of the relation between content and form. Her thesis demonstrates Mallarmé’s relevance to articulating the minimalist drive in painting through a re–appraisal of the structural and spatial organisation of the text, grid, blank page, and the subsequent sculptural turn that led to a re-negotiation of the space between the object and viewer.

Underpinning O’Toole’s approach is a re-evaluation of Mallarmé’s critical essays: ‘Crisis of Verse’ and ‘Music and Letters’, which she reads in conjunction with Un coup de Dés. In O’Toole’s research, the distinction between practice and theory, between academic writing, and writing as practice breaks down; her research conceived as a series of dialogues with Mallarmé, re-frame and re-articulate Un coup de Dés. This takes visual and textual forms woven together, establishing a direct relationship between literature and the plastic arts. O’Toole’s research makes a contribution to Mallarméan studies, to the current discourse of painting in an expanded field through a re-evaluation of the relation between the space of painting and poetry, and discourses that underpin spatial and temporal readings of the text. Her work demonstrates the importance of Mallarmé to trans-disciplinary research; that extant material from one field applied to another generates new forms embodied in this gesture.

O’Toole’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. Recent solo exhibitions include: Nothing Will Have Taken Place Other Than The Place, Sheffield Institute of the Arts, hosted by Persistence Works Gallery, Yorkshire Art Space, Sheffield, 2018. Variant Sail, Ex-Libris Gallery, Newcastle University 2016. Her recent painting has been exhibited in the Marmite Prize for Painting V, 2016, shown at Block 336, London, and Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda, Ireland. New painting was exhibited in Doppelganger – Duplication, Art House Lewisham, London, 2016, curated by Brigitte Jurack. 

In 2016 two new video works, Resurrecting I, and A Simple Insinuation, were exhibited at the SIA Gallery Sheffield in Testing Testing, a group show exploring dialogue as method in practice-based research, accompanied by a two part publication and symposium. O’Toole produced a series of artist books concurrent with her performative reading of Un coup de Dés, published by [G]host Editions, 2018. Further Artist books have been published by MA Bibliothèque, edited by Dr Sharon Kivland, shown in The London Art Book Fair, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2015, The International Contemporary Book Fair, Leeds, UK, 2015 and 2016. In 2013 O’Toole was short listed for 100 Painters of Tomorrow by Thames and Hudson. In 2011 she was short listed for the Marmite Prize for Painting, and the Creekside Open, London, selected by Phyllida Barlow. 

In 2011 O’Toole’s work was exhibited in Metal, Liverpool as a finalist of the Liverpool Art Prize. Her work is held in number of collections including: Arts Council England, and various private collections. Artist’s books are held in British Library, London, the Tate Gallery, Tate Library and Archive, London, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, and CdLA, St-Yrieix-la-Perche, Paris.


Testing Testing Website
Marmite Prize for Painting
Ex- Libris Gallery

Project Supervisors

Dr Sharon Kivland (Director of Studies)
Dr Harriet Tarlo (Supervisor)
Gary Simmonds (Supervisor)

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