Semiotics of Groundlessness

Luke Jenner, Spring 2020


Navigating into the globalized twenty-first century, developing cultural shifts have created a sense of groundlessness for the emerging adult. A philosophical groundlessness. A foundational groundlessness. A developmental and social-relational groundlessness. Semiotics of Groundlessness is a series of anecdotes and research topics, presented as an interconnected constellation to frame these ongoing paradigm shifts of the transition to adulthood in the globalized culture of the twenty-first century.


Reflecting my own discursive practice as an artist and developmental focus as an educator, it is my intent that my research and exposition will be valuable insight for adult readers at the graduate academic level as well as useful framework for adolescent students in the emerging 21st century. The vignettes will expound on interconnected subjects including rites of passage, emerging adulthood, liminality, verticality, referential myths, and virtual horizons, each providing their own valences for their coordinates within the constellation.


Research and references for Semiotics of Groundlessness build on writings and works of Hito Steyerl’s In Free Fall, interweaving them with research of educational psychologist Jeffrey-Jensen Arnett, social anthropologist Victor Turner, as well as post-structuralist writings including Roland Barthes and N. Katherine Hayles. I will be referencing works by contemporary artists such as R. Luke Dubois and Christina Quarles in conjunction with art historical figures of the last two centuries as exemplars of artists working with and setting precedence for the model of groundlessness. Interspersed throughout these coordinates are anecdotal moments from a series of interviews with my former students, all presently between the ages of 18 and 22.


This site originated as a thesis paper in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Master of Fine Arts. Through the drawing of this constellation, my goal is to model a framework, or set of directives, for my own future artistic endeavors as I leave the MFA program at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In this model, I seek to map the respective coordinates of my own discursive practices and their woven connections within the larger skein.