Leeds Beckett University
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Thinking-through traces: A practice-led diffractive reading of the smartphone through the Eastern Orthodox icon

Version 2 2024-07-16, 10:54
Version 1 2024-02-29, 14:46
posted on 2024-02-29, 14:46 authored by Zara WorthZara Worth
This practice-led PhD investigates how the smartphone might be read through the Eastern Orthodox icon to offer insights into contemporary experience of the online world and the smartphone. The scope of this research project is limited to consideration of the compositional framing forms and iconography of Eastern Orthodox icons and smartphones and does not extend to exploration of optical and digital technologies utilised by contemporary smartphones. The practice-based portfolio includes: three separate installations (Linz, Newcastle, and York); documentation of two live performances; and an augmented reality (AR) artwork. This research project delineates ‘thinking-through traces’ as a practice-led derivation of Karen Barad’s agential realist diffractive methodology where understandings from different disciplines are brought into conversation to provoke dynamic relationality between subjects. Evocative of the Derridean trace and the method of tracing used within the methodology, ‘thinking-through traces’ uses drawing to draw out differences and entanglements between subjects from different fields. Through installation, drawing, and performance the research identifies compositional framing forms as markers of visual, symbolic, and metaphoric convergence between the smartphone and the Eastern Orthodox icon. This insight was informed by Barad, Barbara Bolt, and John Berger’s understandings of how the nature of subjects emerges through material-discursive practices. By tangling together framing forms from icons and smartphones, the compositions of pictorial and sculptural elements of my installations and AR artworks manifest the relationality between subjects that this research project proposes. The two performances demonstrate how my installations might be understood as apparatuses for diffractive thinking: open to intra-actions with other subjects whose intuitive engagements with the works echo the performative world-making imperative that links the icon and the smartphone. This research project also explores the potential of the homonym in creative practice. This thesis describes how the combination of homonymic word play and artworks constitutes material-discursive assemblages, with these assemblages offering diffraction apparatuses for creative critical practice. Finally, this research project asserts the continuing relevance of the Eastern Orthodox icon to secular contemporary culture. Through material-discursive investigation into the significance of their framing forms I offer insight into the icon and smartphone’s respective functions within performative onto-epistemologies. Positing that the icon and smartphone’s frames might be understood as marks (or traces) that make present the presence of an absent transcendental realm, be it digital or divine.


Qualification name

  • PhD

Awarding Institution

Leeds Beckett University

Completion Date


Qualification level

  • Doctoral


  • eng


Leeds Beckett University

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