Materials of the Foreshore
: Explicit Ambiguity as a Methodology for Place-Based Arts Research

  • Katie Hart Potapoff

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Waiting to be discovered is a wildness which is smaller, darker, more complex and interesting, not a place to stride over but a force requiring constant negotiation. - Kathleen Jamie1

Through a series of iterative material and place-based encounters, this thesis offers a methodology of Explicit Ambiguity, which, when engaged in the creation and dissemination of arts research, provides an intimate and attentive viewpoint through which to consider sited practice. The foreshore, which lies between high and low tide, acts as a geographical location for research and an analogy for this practice research journey. To be ambiguous is not to be ambivalent nor vague; in the context of practice research, it is the speculative nature of ambiguity that is central to this exploration. There is an extreme care in this form of intentional ambiguity; it is not performed as a provocation but as an invitation.

The exegesis seeks to flatten the hierarchies between text and images to make the separations perceived between research and practice indivisible. Elements of image, poetry, and reflective response are interwoven throughout a series of volumes which focus on entwined research methods: modes of gathering in situ, iterative acts of making in the studio, and the responsieve nature of reflexive praxis.2 The space between the volumes is punctuated with case studies focused on specific examples of sited practice, which explore different interpretations of a foreshore, with moments of respite through material encounters held within pockets of gathered and composed material. Additionally, a video that documents a Constellation-as-Practice, a method developed out of this project of both research and dissemination, provides further evidence of this methodology in action.

As an evocation of Jamie’s complex force embedded within a wildness, this methodology embraces the ambiguous nature of material encounters. These encounters inform multi-iterative responses that counteract the perils of the singular perspective or interpretation of place-based arts responses.3

1 Kathleen Jamie, 'A Lone Enraptured Male', London Review of Books, 6 March 2008,
2 As defined in detritus | glossary terms of this thesis, ‘responsieve’ refers to a deeper reflective and reflexive practice that responds to the research with a sense that something will always be sifted out or through any perceived ‘perspective’ or ‘sieve.’ The implication of the addition of ‘sieve’ is that there is something that can never be wholly known; an acknowledgement of ambiguity is always present.
3 Ursula K. Le Guin, The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction (London: Ignota, 2019), 34.
Date of Award2024
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMary Modeen (Supervisor) & Heather Yeung (Supervisor)

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