Jo Thomas

Presencing Place: an Enquiry into the Knowing and Shaping of Place Through Expanded Art Practices

Throughout my work I am seeking to engage with place, to uncover the potential of place through expanded arts practices as a means of better inhabiting and engaging with the world we live in.

There is an emphasis on ‘connective practice’, ‘presencing’, and the everyday reciprocal relationship between people and place through artistic forms and processes, that offers a special focus on ways of being in place and the role of sensing in becoming more sensitive to each other and the world we inhabit.

This research continues work with place initiated during my Masters in Contemporary Art and Music at Oxford Brookes in 2006. In rising water, an earlier project, I located sources of wells and springs across Oxford. These sources were mapped and marked with copper leaf.

In soft boundary a long cushion was placed on a wall in the town centre beneath a Norwegian Maple tree. This small action emerged from watching the tree and the life surrounding it in the town centre of Reading for over 18 months. During this time I gained intimate knowledge of the relationships between people and this place and the life witnessed by the tree.

In hereabouts x (Whitley Arts Festival Major Commission 2010) I worked with people in place through walking the urban edges of water meadows, industrial estates and along local streets. This project expanded everyday possibilities of being in the place through recovering pathways, witnessing sunsets and viewfinders with local residents.

Marc Auge tells us in ‘Non-places: An introduction to the Anthropology of Supermodernity’ we are often lost gliding from place to place, where phenomena of sameness, commonality without distinctiveness (airports, motorways)’ This effectively anaesthetizes contemporary society. This research will offer understanding of expanded arts practises that enable shifts from the ‘non-place’ to the re-discovery of the particular in everyday places, amplifying and enhancing ways of knowing and sensing through presencing place.

The work is informed by the strong correspondences for Heidegger between ‘presencing’, ‘nothingness’ and ‘being’ that are also found in the Taoist tradition. This in turn relates to Otto Scharmer’s ‘Theory U’ and ways of working with apparent nothingness that enables a coming into being understood as ‘presencing’, which in Scharmer’s view ‘operates from a future space of possibility’.

I am in the process of developing a body of creative methods and strategies for presencing in our everyday environment, embodied in a series of artworks that confirm the interconnectedness of our lives with the natural world.

Insistent threads in the work include:

  • Imagination in Bureaucracy
  • Being a tuning fork
  • Kinwork
  • Illumination
  • Individuals as organs of perception


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