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Justin Coombes

PhD Work

‘Ekphrasis’ is the verbal description of visual works of art, for example, Homer's description of Achilles' shield in 'The Iliad'. This mode of writing appears a great deal in art history and theory, and increasingly, in art itself. The practice component of my PhD consists of artworks that explore the image-text relationship, usually through photography. My thesis, Photography, Memory and Ekphrasis looks at a number of artworks from the 1950s to the present day that also employ the photography-ekphrasis relationship.

I use ekphrasis in my installation, ‘Plea’. Four photographs in light boxes show cormorants roosting in trees on a small island in the middle of a lake. Mysterious, human figures stand on either side of the water. The poem projected onto the gallery wall envoices the male figure: he entreats the other to stop enslaving the birds, and using other forms of sorcery, and engage in a more earthly, everyday form of love with him. Cormorants have been used in Western mythology to symbolise both Christianity - their silhouette is cross-shaped when they spread their wings - and evil: in Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, Satan takes the form of a cormorant before becoming a snake. They could also stand as a metaphor in this piece for the strange slippage created between word and image. The work evokes Jungian individuation and the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind.

Info

  • Justin Coombes profile image
  • PhD

    School

    School of Fine Art

    Programme

    Photography, 2008–2013

  • ‘Ekphrasis’ is the verbal description of visual works of art, for example, Homer's description of Achilles' shield in 'The Iliad'. This mode of writing appears a great deal in art history and theory, and increasingly, in art itself. The practice component of my PhD consists of artworks that explore the image-text relationship, usually through photography. My thesis, Photography, Memory and Ekphrasis looks at a number of artworks from the 1950s to the present day that also employ the photography-ekphrasis relationship.

    I use ekphrasis in my installation, ‘Plea’. Four photographs in light boxes show cormorants roosting in trees on a small island in the middle of a lake. Mysterious, human figures stand on either side of the water. The poem projected onto the gallery wall envoices the male figure: he entreats the other to stop enslaving the birds, and using other forms of sorcery, and engage in a more earthly, everyday form of love with him. Cormorants have been used in Western mythology to symbolise both Christianity - their silhouette is cross-shaped when they spread their wings - and evil: in Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, Satan takes the form of a cormorant before becoming a snake. They could also stand as a metaphor in this piece for the strange slippage created between word and image. The work evokes Jungian individuation and the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind.

  • Degrees

  • BA (Hons), Fine Art, The Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford, 1999; MA, Image and Communication: Photography and Electronic Graphics, Goldsmiths' College, University of London, 2002
  • Experience

  • Lecturer in studio practice in fine art, The Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford, Oxford, 2010–present; Tutor in photography and contextual studies, School of Media, Photography and Broadcast, West Kent College, Tonbridge, 2005–8; Tutor in photography and graphic design, School of Architecture & Construction, University of Greenwich, London, 2009–11; Lecturer in studio practice in fine art, University for the Creative Arts, Canterbury, 2013–present
  • Exhibitions

  • This is London, Shizaru Gallery, London, 2012; Halcyon Song, Paradise Row, London, 2012; Moments of Reprieve, Paradise Row, London, 2012; Yesterday I Told You the Truth, NOMA Gallery, Miami Projects Art Fair, Miami, FL, 2012
  • Awards

  • Winner, Fine Art Photography, Flash Forward Photography Award, Magenta Publishing, Canada, 2009; Shortlisted, Deutsche Bank Award, 2010; Winner, Doctoral Award, Arts and Humanities Research Council, 2011
  • Conferences

  • ‘After Art After Philosophy’,, Alexander Düttmann, Susan Morris, Esther Teichmann, ExCitation, Royal College of Art, London, 2010; 'Louder than Bombs’, Yen-Ting Cho, Glenn Adamson, The Edge of our Thinking, Royal College of Art, London, 2011; ‘Tear Jam for Margate’, Amelia Whitelaw, Suhee Kim, Words To Be Spoken Aloud (spoken word event), Turner Contemporary, 2013; ‘Word Spells’, Eleanor Rees, David Tolley, Brian Catling, Words Writ on Water (spoken word event), English Literature Department, University of Oxford , 2013
  • Publications

  • The Sight of Kingfishers, Justin Coombes, Modern Art, Oxford, 2011; Hokkaido Postcard, Artist’s book, Justin Coombes, Recollected, 2012; Halcyon Song, Artist's book, Justin Coombes, Recollected, 2012; 'Secondary Targets', War Primer 2, B. Brecht, A. Broomberg, O. Chanarin, MAPP Editions Ltd., 2013