Trompe l’oeil, aporia, illusionism – art has many terms alluding to the ambiguities of representation. But paradox, the uncanny gesture self-consciously exploring contradictory propositions, is often less explicitly identified as a mode of intervention in the making, viewing, and research of material culture and architecture. The term paradox, combining the Greek prefix para (“contrary to”) and doxa (“opinion”) points to a statement, situation, or thing composed of opposing elements that appear incommensurate but are just as true or viable as accepted reality. The 2023 Graduate Symposium of the Department of Art at the University of Virginia seeks to explore paradox as praxis and a mode of critical intervention to consider its broader contribution within our fields.
Paradox entails a performative self-contradiction that simultaneously surprises and appeals to an audience’s understanding of its terms. Irrespective of tone, genre, or moment of intervention, paradox’s effectiveness hinges on the extent to which audiences are persuaded, surprised, or left speculating about meanings thought to be understood. Paradox plays with expectations and explores the limits of conventions, logic, and truth through subtle twists and turns of terms considered acceptable in isolation. Paradox, susceptible to the predictability and conventionality of any device, demands novel techniques and unexpected modes of enactment to sustain its tension between understanding and astonishment. For its turning on performance and skill, paradox is an apposite tool for interpreting the self-contradictory in making, interpreting, and experiencing art.