Archive for October 16th, 2012

16
Oct
12

Paper: ‘Traversing the unknown’ by Dr Marcus Bunyan, Faculty of Arts, The University of Melbourne presented at the ‘Travel Ideals’ international conference, July 2012

International conference: Travel Ideals: Engaging with Spaces of Mobility, Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne, 18th – 20th July 2012

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All cdv and cabinet cards © Joyce Evans collection, © Marcus Bunyan.

Installation photographs of the exhibition Traverse by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton, 10th March – 8th April 2012.

Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Keywords: refugees, asylum seekers, boat people, spaces of mobility, travel, early colonial photography, cartes de visite, cabinet cards, Second Fleet, John Dell, aborigine, Australia, white Australia, immigration, photography, early Australian photography, Foucault, non-place, Panopticon, inverted Panopticon, (in)visibility, visual parentheses, axis of visibility, symbolic capital, context of reason.

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Installation of Traverse by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton
Installation photographs by Marcus Bunyan © Kim Percy

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Traversing the unknown

Dr Marcus Bunyan July 2012

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What I am about to say, my musings if you like, are inspired by Kim Percy’s exhibition which took place at Stockroom gallery in Kyenton in March – April 2012. The work is the basis of my inquiry. The images that illustrate the paper are installation shots from the exhibition and Victorian cartes de visite, photographic portraits of an emerging nation taken from the 1850s – 1890s. Unlike the business cards of today (where identity is represented by the name of the business owner and the printer of the card remains anonymous), in cartes de visite the name of the people or place being photographed is usually unknown and the name of the photographer is (sometimes) recorded. In other words the inverse of contemporary practice. Another point to note is that most of the photographers were immigrants to this country. I use these cards to illustrate the point that the construction of national identity has always been multifarious and, in terms of the representation of identity, unknown and unknowable.

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I would like to take you on a journey, at first personal and then physical, metaphorical and maybe even philosophical. I want to asks questions of the world, questions about the journey we all take as human beings. I would like to tell you two personal things.

First, I have nearly drowned three times in my life. Once, aged 12 years, my mother dove into the swimming pool and pulled my out as I was going under for the third time. The second time was in Australia at Squeaky Beach on Wilsons Prom and the third up at Byron Bay. All three times there was shear blind panic as the water tried to consume me, as my feet scrabbled to touch the bottom, seeking any purchase, the minutest toe hold so that I could pull myself to safety, so that I could save myself. Panic. Fear. Nothingness.

Second, I still vividly remember being dumped by my parents at boarding school in England at the age of twelve years. I watched disconsolately as they drove away and promptly burst into tears, terrified of being alone in an alien environment, with a different accent than everyone else (having grown up on a rural farm) and being different from other boys (just discovering that I was gay). Those were horrible years, suffering from depression that crept up on me, isolated with few friends and struggling with my nascent sexuality. Thoughts of suicide and self-harm were constant companions. Fast forward, arriving in Australia in 1986, again with no friends, living in a foreign culture. Even though I was white I felt alienated, isolated, alone. I hated my first years in Australia. Now imagine being an asylum seeker arriving here.

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Anon
Untitled [Borough of Clunes Notice Strike ..rm Rate]
Nd
Cabinet card
Albumen print
16.5cm x 10.7cm
Blank verso
© Joyce Evans collection

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Anon
Mrs Dean, Dean & Co, Hay, Corn & Produce Merchants, Rea St, North Fitzroy
Nd
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
10.4cm x 6.3cm
Blank verso
© Joyce Evans collection

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National Photo Company
Untitled [Group of bricklayers holding their tools and a baby]
Nd
140 Queen Street,
Woollahra,
Sydney
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
10.4cm x 6.3cm
© Joyce Evans collection

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Imagine being an asylum seeker living in an (in)between space, living in a refugee camp over there. Marc Augé coined the phrase “non-place” to refer to places of transience that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as “places”.1 These camps are such places. Put yourself in that predicament, seeking a better life, seeking to escape persecution, war, prejudice and death, deliberately placing yourself and your family in a fragile boat, like a seed pod floating upon the waters, taking the dangerous journey to reach Australia. Imagine the emotional and intellectual turmoil that must surround such a decision, the decision to place your life in the hands of the ocean. Important decisions affecting the entire course of one’s life are rarely made without some form of mental distress.

Nurtured in water, some baptised in it, water is the life-blood of the world and the asylum seeker must trust to its benevolence. Marc Auge “argues that we are in transit through non-place for more and more of our time, as if between immense parentheses.”2 This is the journey that the asylum seeker takes over water, a journey through an interstitial space that has no beginning and no end caught between a set of parentheses [insert life here / or not]. And now let us move our line of sight. What about a visual parentheses?

Asylum seekers are almost invisible from Australia living over there. They are over the horizon, out of sight and out of mind. When they journey across the sea – an open ended journey passing through a liminal space, a forgotten space – they suddenly appear as if by magic washed up on the shore, unseen despite surveillance planes, ships and other forms of tracking and reconnaissance. Think, for example, of the sudden and surprising arrival of the boat SIEV-221 when it was washed onto the rocks of Christmas Island in December 2010. The invisible made visible caught in a non-place.

This (in)visibility can be evidenced in other ways. The specks of humanity waving from the deck of the Tampa, the asylum seekers being escorted from arriving boats, seen for a few brief seconds on the evening news and then disappearing from view, almost like being sucked into the depths of the sea. Here and not here; here and there. Halfway between nothingness and being: they walk between one state and another, forward and backward, backward and forward.

Displacement
Diaspora
Disruption

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There is much discussion in political circles in relation to the retrieval, processing and housing of detainees, that is, the control of the artefact within space (of Australia) and, consequently, the impact on the citizens of Australia and that of public sentiment. The axis of visibility3 that operates in relation to subject, object, and space is not interrogated as to the representations that are constructed. This is what I am interested in here.

The spectacle of the asylum seekers is despectacularised by and for the viewer. We remove ourselves from the emotion of these people, the presence of these images. They become ordinary as if seen from far away – glimpsed every so often as though viewing the world of another. They become Other. The movement of the ship, the movement of the sky, the movement of vision is a constant decentering through a push/pull with something else – some other order of the world. The journey into the unknown is a journey to submit to the ordering of another: the socially constructed system of classification: “refugee,” “asylum seeker.”

These vital, alive human beings come from one taxonomic system (of ordered death, persecution, injustice), become visible from a brief instance, and are then fed into another taxonomic system of order – that of the detention center. Through the journey and in the detention centers there is an effacement of specific religious, political or personal symbolic features as the refugees become part of a disciplinary system whereby they can be viewed as symbolic capital (both political and economic tools). This process of effacement and simultaneous self-negation, this neutralization of original context and content is hidden in the forgotten spaces, of the sea and of the processing centers.

And then the seekers are naturalized, becoming one with the body of Australia, as though they were unnatural before.

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Kim Percy
Pale Sea
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Where
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Rough Water
2012
Digital photograph

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Anon
Untitled
Nd
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
Blank verso
© Joyce Evans collection

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E. B. Pike
Untitled [Older man with moustache and parted beard]
Nd
Cartes de visite
6.3cm x 10.4cm
Verso of card
© Joyce Evans collection

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Artist & Photographer
Otto von Hartitzsch
Untitled [Man with quaffed hair and very thin tie]
1867 – 1883
Established 1867
127 Rundle Street
Adelaide
South Australia
Cartes de visite
6.3cm x 10.4cm
Verso of card
© Joyce Evans collection

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Kim Percy
Traverse
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Red Horizon No.1
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Red Horizon No.2
2012
Digital photograph

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Taking the metaphor of the horizon line further, I would argue that the detention centers are like that of an inverted Panopticon. The Panopticon is a type of institutional building, a prison, designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe all inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched.4 The guard sits in a central tower and can observe and inspect all prisoners on the outer 360 degree circle, while the prisoners cannot see the guard and can only presume he is there (an omnipresent God) and hence they behave. Let us invert this concept. Now the asylum seekers sit in the tower looking outwards, seeing the promised land but unable to touch it and the guards (prison officers, government, the Australian people) are all around but most are blind. They look inwards but cannot see / they look outwards and most go about their daily business. The perimeter fence of the detention center becomes the horizon line of the sea. Over the horizon is out of sight and out of mind.

This regime of acceptability, the common-sense world within which we all live and usually take for granted, this form of rationality has a historical specificity. Think convict for example: such branding appeared at a time of historic specificity. What we take to be rational, the bearer of truth, is rooted in domination and subjugation, and is constituted by the relationship of forces and powers. But, as Foucault observes “what counts as a rational act at one time will not so count at another time, and this is dependent on the context of reason that prevails.”5

Hence no more convicts, in the future one hopes no more refugees.

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Profesor Hawkins
Photographic
Artist
Untitled [Chinese women with handkerchief]
c.1858 – 1875
20, Queensbury St Et.
near Dight’s Mills,
Melbourne
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
© Joyce Evans collection

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“Truth in a Pleasing Form”
J. R. Tanner
Untitled [Two woman wearing elaborate hats]
1875
Photographer and Photo-Enameler
“Permanent Pictures in Carbon”
“Imperishable Portrais on Enamel”
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
© Joyce Evans collection

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What Kim’s eloquent, minimal, brooding installation does is hold our attention and ask certain questions of us as human beings. If photography is a mode of visually addressing a certain order in the world – be it horror, war, peace, human tragedy, public, private – and then destabilizing it, then Kim’s images destabilize the binary sea/sky through fragmentation and isolation. She redlines our experience and asks us to inhabit the non-space, the non-place of the gallery, allowing us to hover between boat and image, between sea and sky, between seeing and sky. Through her work she asks us to become more aware. She asks us to see things more clearly. Above all she asks us to have faith in the compassion of human beings. The asylum seekers have faith: faith to get into a fragile boat to venture upon the sea in search of a better life.

I will finish with a quote from Jeff Brown

“Sometimes we have to surrender to the not knowing. At other times, it is helpful to adventure outward and explore new possibilities. Like swashbucklers of the spirit, we bravely seek out any experience that might inform our path. When we are afraid of something, we live it fully and see what floats to the surface in the doing. We participate in our own revealing. We have faith in the shaping of what we cannot see.”6

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The seekers surrender to the not knowing and have faith in the shaping of what they cannot see. These risk takers are the strong ones that are going to make a difference in a new society by the very fact of their strength and determination to survive and live in a free society, for the very fact of the risks undertaken. This exhibition and this paper informs their path as it informs our path. Be aware of the doing, be bold and forthright in the being.

Dr Marcus Bunyan, July 2012

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Addendum – Australia from settlement to subjugation

The cartes de visite below is one of the most important cards that I have ever held.

Private John Dell (1763 – 1866) of the The New South Wales Corps. (Rum Corps.) “Renamed 1st /102nd Regiment of Foot” arrived on the ship Surprize of the Second Fleet on the 26 June 1790 (not, as stated in pencil on the verso of the card, in 1788). The Second Fleet has been regarded as being the three convict ships which arrived together at Sydney Cove in June 1790: these ships were the Surprize , Neptune, and Scarborough.

The Surprize weighed 400 tons, she was the smallest ship of the fleet, she proved an unsuitable vessel as for her size and she was a wet vessel even in clam waters. Sailing from England on January 19th 1790 with 254 male convicts. Her master was Nicholas Antis, formerly chief mate on the Lady Penrhyn in the First Fleet. The surgeon was William Waters. 36 convicts died on the voyage. Soldiers of the New South Wales Corps on board may have stayed. Some where convicts who later enlisted.

Private John Dell served in 102nd Foot Regiment. He was discharged aged 42 after 21 years 10 months of service. Covering dates give year of enlistment to year of discharge: 1789-1811. He enlisted on 3rd July 1789 and was discharged in May 1810. He married three times and had numerous children, dying in Tasmania on the 2nd March 1866. He was born on 5th of November 1763 so this would make him over the age of 87 when this photograph could have first been taken or, if later, between the age of 96 – 103. We can date this photograph from the time that W. Paul Dowling worked in Launceston (1851-1852 / 1859 – 1866).

We are looking at one of the first English migrants to ever settle in Australia during the invasion of the supposed terra nullius. This is an important photograph. The photographer obviously thought it was important to document the appearance of this person, present in the first two years of colonial settlement and later injured by an aborigine spear. For us, the photograph traverses the history of white Australia, from settlement to subjugation, from 1790 to 1866. One can only imagine the agony, the death and destruction that occurred during this man’s lifetime.

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THE LATE MR. JOHN DELL (From the Melbourne Spectator)

“The following reminiscences of the olden times were furnished to us by a gentleman who took them down as they fell from the lips of John Dell, the Greenwich pensioner, a few months before his, death, which happened at Launceston, in the early part of the present year: He was born, he said, at Reading, in Berkshire, on the 5th of November, 1763. He was one of a family of twenty four children. He remembered the excitement occasioned by the Gordon riots, and how the people gathered round the London coach which brought down the tidings of the tumult, incendiarism, and bloodshed. He was apprenticed with another Reading lad, to a veneer cutter in London; and as he and his fellow-apprentice were one day staring in at a shop window in Fleet-street, and observing to each other that there was nothing like that in Reading, they were accosted by a respectably dressed man, who said his wife was from Reading, and would so like to have a chat with them about the dear old place; would they go home to tea with him? They cheerfully assented; and were taken to a house in an obscure neighborhood, at the back of the Fleet Prison…”

“THE LATE MR. JOHN DELL,” in Launceston Examiner (Tas.: 1842 – 1899), 25 July 1866, p. 2. [Online] Cited 15 July, 2012 on the Trove website. nla.gov.au/nla.news-article36636642

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DEATH OF MR JOHN DELL

“It is with feelings of sincere regret that we record tbe death of Mr. John Dell, at the patriarchal age of 102 years and four months. He had been ailing but a very short time, and had the use of his faculties to the last hour of his life. He was reading as usual without the use of spectacles, and out of bed on Thursday night, but be breathed his last yesterday, at the residence of his son-in-law, Mr. William Brean, of Brisbane Street, and his remains are to be interred on Monday.

Mr. Dell was born at Reading, in Berkshire, in 1763, and arrived in New South Wales with the 102nd Regiment of Foot, in 1790, in the ship ‘Surprize,’ the first of the fleet which brought convicts to Botany Bay, and he was present in Sydney during the whole of the period of the government of Governor Phillip, and at the arrest of Governor Bligh, who it will beremembered by those who have read the early history of New South Wales, was arrested by Colonel Johnson, tbe Colonel of the regiment in which Dell served, the 102nd. This corps was raised specially for service in New South Wales, and Mr. Dell returned with in 1808, and on board the vessel in which Governor Bligh died on the passage to England. He was pensioned in 1815, and has been in ilie receipt of a pension for more than half a century.

He arrived in this colony in 1818, and was for some time Chief Constable of Launceston, but retired many years ago from office, to a large farm at Norfolk Plains. Mr. Dell was the owner of very valuable property in this colony, though be did not die wealthy, the Court House Square belonged to him at one time, and he fenced it in, but subsequently he returned it to the Government in exchange for a grant of six hundred and forty acres of land in the country. Mr. Dell was a temperate man but not a teetotaller. It is strange that throughout his eventful career, be never learned to smoke, but this may account for the steadiness of his nerves to the latest day of his long life. He had encountered great hardships in New South Wales, having been in the bush there for three day disabled by a spear wound inflicted by an aborigine. He was in a very exhausted state when discovered, but his iron constitution enabled him to rally, and he was soon in as sound a state of health as ever.

For some years past his sight keener and his hair of a darker colour than they had been twenty years previous. He was rather eccentric of late, but no one from his hale appearance would suppose him to be much above seventy years of age. His voice was a good strong firm bass without a quaver in it. Very few men have ever been blessed with such a long period of interrupted sound health as Mr Dell. He will be missed and his death lamented by a wide circle of relatives and friends.”

“DEATH OF MR JOHN DELL,” in The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tas. : 1835 – 1880) Saturday 3rd March 1866. [Online] Cited 15 July, 2012 on the Trove website. trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/72358170

See the Rootsweb website for more information on John Dell.

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W. Paul Dowling,
Photographer,
John Dell
1851-1852 / 1859 – 1866
Launceston,
Tasmania.
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
© Joyce Evans collection

John Dell
Born at Reading, Berkshire
5 Nov 1763
came out with his regiment (the 102nd) to Sydney in 1788
Nov 5th 1763

In pencil on verso

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W. Paul Dowling,
Photographer,
John Dell
1851-1852 / 1859 – 1866
Launceston,
Tasmania.
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
© Joyce Evans collection

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Endnotes

1. Augé, Marc (trans. John Howe). Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso, 1995.

2. Ibid.,

3. Hooper-Grenhill, Eilean. Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2000, p.7.

4. Anon. “Panopticon,” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 09/03/2012.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon

5. Hooper-Grenhill Op cit., p.8.

6. Brown, Jeff quoted on Stroud, Jeff. The reluctant blogger website. [Online] Cited 09/03/2012.
jeffstroud.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/884/

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Travel Ideals: Engaging with Spaces of Mobility conference website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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