Mike Cooter

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Mike Cooter's MPhil/PhD Art research project


The term ‘MacGuffin’ emerged in the late 1930s as a casually-applied and pointedly ill-defined appellation for a type of narratively-structured and socially-organising artefact described in film and literary works; ontologically curious entities that appear to exist in co-dependent relationships with the social configurations they are said to compose. This project deploys the MacGuffin across a number of disciplines that both structure and lay claim to speak of such an entity, engaging in an unconventional hunt where the quarry might be identified through its affordances, and in its pursuit.

The first chapter establishes the ontological territory, performing a regression from recent materialist philosophies to the productively allusive work instrumentalised in their construction. This reverse-engineering and excavation of co-fabricant objects within theoretical infrastructures suggests the MacGuffin functioning as a formally curious ontological lure. The chapter that follows examines objects embedded in explicitly narrativised frameworks, focusing on the relationship between ritual and technological artefacts and the structuring of narrative, traced through the career of Fritz Lang.

The third chapter addresses technical objects in formation, conflating the sociology of science, stop-motion animation and industrial film production to where the MacGuffin might be delineated as a structurally determinant but contextually agile conduit of relations. The essayistic ‘intertitles’ splicing each chapter map the MacGuffin’s contextual dexterity, focusing on specific motifs (paradigm construction, physical and theoretical architecture, cell animation and the production line, choreography and metaphor) that both suggest operational territory whilst drawing out further affordances of the MacGuffin itself. The final chapter considers the MacGuffin’s relationship to rendering and how its functionality as both attentional social binder and agitator is co-productive with its capacity to constructively evade rigid definition.

My work investigates the structural agency of objects, be they sculpture, cinematic props or other anthropological artefacts - objects co-opted or created to drive narratives, fictional or otherwise. Interdisciplinary research resolves into audio, film, text and installations that incorporate correspondence, interviews, loaned and re-fabricated artefacts and archival material.


  • John Chilve
  • Rachel Moore
  • Edgar Schmitz