Michelle Atherton

Repository of Irrational Gestures (RIGS)


Output: Exhibition

The Repository of Irrational Gestures proposes and tests the notion that moving image work and sonic composition can critically investigate and illuminate the turbulent but permeable boundaries that differentiate between ‘rational’ and ‘irrational’ actions, thinking and/or behaviours.

Many analysts, looking back to mass movements and motivations in the 1930s and relating those to now, have identified irrational attitudes within the rise of so-called populisms and accompanying discourses, including the post-truth rhetoric of fake news (Pankja, Mouffe, Franke, Davies, Laurent). Here, irrationality is characterised as fuelled by emotions and sentiment rather than logical, evidenced debate. The question still arises, however, as to who decides what is ‘irrational’? And how do they decide? Exploring this paradigm is the aim of RIGs.

This artwork is the result of addressing the following questions:

(Q.1) What kind of narrative form can be used to critically engage dominant manifestations of ‘irrationality’, including the boundaries between rational and irrational conceptualisations?

(Q.2) How can a multi-perspective approach to gathering material offer insights into this question?

(Q.3) What kind of repository or archiving practice can emerge from these research problematics?

The research questions were investigated through iterative practice methodologies involving compilations of short sequences of video clips, fragments of texts, diagrams, stills, field recordings, music, dialogue etc., all drawn from a broad range of sources including invited contributions from other artists and academics. The samples were montaged to create a dislocated narrative; disrupting expectations of connection both in thought and feeling.

To date this work has been exhibited at KunstRaum, Linz, Austria 2018; SporKlübü, Berlin, Germany 2019; Viborg Kunsthal, Denmark 2019. It has also been presented in the form of a performance lecture at Digital Ecologies II: Fiction Machines Conference at Bath Spa University 2019 and is forthcoming at the Freud Museum 2021/2 (postponed from 2020 due to Covid-19).

Research Output

This collection of images displays the outputs from this project. Find out more details in the full case study below.

Research Method

The research undertaken for RIG’s identified a denigration, under the term irrationality, of opinions and behaviours that are not sanctioned or often allowed by the dominant discourse (Pankra, Franke).
In researching the boundary between rationality and irrationality, we may be able to agree that the irrational describes those actions, thinking and behaviours that appear to be more illogical than other alternatives, but it is not clear by whose standards we are to judge behaviour as rational or irrational. The project draws on recent social and cultural debates around the rise of affect i.e. sites of public emotion (Laurent), in particular anger (Pankra), and popularism (Mouffe) along with manifestations such as Brexit, Trump and ‘fake’ news.

Key Methodologies:

Full Project Output

REF '21

To learn more about the output, methods and dissemination of this work, explore the full project submission.