Archive for the 'video' Category

02
Nov
18

Text: Marcus Bunyan. ‘Death and the image’ 2018

November 2018

 

This text was written in 2017 for a special issue of the international magazine Text on the subject ‘Writing Trauma’. While the text was accepted, the peer-reviewers wanted heavy revisions, including reordering the piece and editing out my personal stories. At the time, I was going into hospital for an operation on my hand and such revisions were impossible to undertake.

Now, over a year later, I have reread the text… and I have amended and extended it, but otherwise I am going to leave it as I wrote it in the first place. I like the way I write and I like my personal stories. While it is a long read the writing addresses an important subject with, I hope, some interesting insights along the way.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 8,137

Download Death and the image (4.3Mb pdf)

 

 

Abstract

This text investigates how the act of photography visually writes trauma. Through an analysis of the context of images of death by artists such as Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, and Walker Evans the paper ponders how the camera captures human beings ante-mortem, at the death point, post-mortem and vita ad mortem.

It seeks to understand that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present. How does the act and performance of photography depict the trauma of death, this double death (for the photograph is a memento mori and/or the person in the photograph may already know that they are going to die).

“The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal” the pronouncement of the perfect paradox (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.”

Keywords

Trauma, photography, death, art, memento mori, war, execution, memory, victim, representation, Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, Walker Evans, ante-mortem, point of death, death point, post-mortem, punctum, empathy, vita ad mortem, life after death.

 

 

Death and the image

 

 

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“Photography, because it stops the flow of life, is always flirting with death…”

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John Berger1

 

“On the most fundamental level there are transitions from continuous to discontinuous or from discontinuous to continuous. We are discontinuous beings, individuals who perish in isolation in the midst of an incomprehensible adventure, but we yearn for our lost continuity. We find the state of affairs that binds us to our random and ephemeral individuality hard to bear. Along with our tormenting desire that this evanescent thing should last, there stands our obsession with a primal continuity linking us with everything that is.”

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Georges Bataille2

 

 

German Gen. Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution

 

“German General Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade. The General was convicted and sentenced to death by an American military tribunal. Aversa, Italy.” Blomgren, December 1, 1945. 111-SC-225295. National Archives Identifier: 531326

 

 

Trial and Execution of General Anton Dostler

The still photograph (above) can be seen being taken by the flash from a still camera that occurs at 5.16 secs in the YouTube film. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

 

 

1

One of life’s recurrent themes is mortality. As Bataille notes, we are discontinuous beings: we live, we breathe, and we die. Photography’s recurrent theme is also mortality. In a ghostly evocation, the medium possesses an odour of death that sticks in the throat. So how then does photography visually write the trauma of death – over time, through space, in different contexts, with multiple narratives and different points of view?

As a first point of reference, we need to define trauma. Trauma can be an injury to living tissue; a disordered psychic or behavioural state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury; an emotional upset and an agent, force or mechanism that causes all or any of these conditions.3 Atkinson and Richardson note that the work of theorists such as Nicolas Abraham, Maria Torok, Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, Dominick LaCapra, and Cathy Caruth in broad terms view trauma,

“… as the delayed manifestation of a psychic wound sustained during an experience that has happened too quickly to allow registration and processing of the event at the time of its occurrence. To study trauma in literary or cultural terms, then, is to be concerned with the tension between what is known and what is not known, and with the impact and dynamics of the woundedness and machinations of trauma – not only its purely physical instantiation, but in all its reverberations. This is what brings the study of trauma to the uncertainty of truth, the impossibility of bearing absolute witness to catastrophe, the multiplicity of historical narratives.”4

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Constitutive of trauma and its affects is the “piercing of the psychic shield” which protects a fragile subjectivity leaving in its wake shattered individuals, communities and even whole nations.5 Further, Michalinos Zembylas citing Kaplan (2005) notes that “an important distinction that needs to be made here is one’s positioning and context of encountering trauma,”6 between being a primary or secondary witness. Personally, I believe that a testimony (a formal written or spoken statement that something is true) in the first instance… becomes a testament (something that serves as a sign or evidence of a specified fact) in the second.

When looking death in the face, we can state that death is a trauma not only for the physical body and the psyche of the person involved (the direct trauma victim), but also for the witness of the event, be they a primary witness – one who actually witnesses the traumatic event – or a secondary witness, a person “who has no personal connection to the victim but may encounter trauma through other sources such as the media and oral or written accounts of a catastrophe.”7

These secondary encounters can never be the actual experience of trauma but, acting through language (be it oral, written or visual), they may embody sensations that stimulate feelings and thoughts in the secondary observer. A social construction of a testament may produce an empathetic engagement in viewers as “secondary witnesses.”8 Through an understanding of spectatorship, experience, aesthetic effects, narrative strategies and temporal shifts in the polyvocal nature of language we can begin to understand how the affect of secondary traumatisation – on memory, history and the body – can break down the subject-object dichotomy, can break down the realist norms of representation to produce “a mode of cognition involving sensuous, somatic and tactile forms of perception.”9 Here language (the photograph in this case, reinforced by the title of the photograph) stands in for that which is absent, but it is not in opposition to an intensity of feeling. The language of the photograph can intensify the affect of the image, especially if the photograph becomes transcendent, embodied, in the vitality and “aliveness” of the viewer.10

This mimetic experience “promotes a critical and self-reflexive empathy” and knowledge in the secondary witness that LaCapra observes is a “virtual, not vicarious, experience … in which emotional response comes with respect for the other and the realization that the experience of the other is not one’s own.”11 Essentially, this is a social concept, a social construction of reality, a matrix-like view of the world that draws on relational and contextual dimensions for understanding trauma. This concept requires careful consideration of issues related to history, culture, race, gender, ideology, beliefs, agency and power.

“From a social constructionist and narrative perspective, people reconstruct their selves through the stories they tell about their past and the meaning they ascribe to the present in anticipation of the future. They shape their stories through active and creative interpretation of their lives and are in turn shaped by these stories. However, the self is not only a product of narratives. People are purposeful and moral beings, having the power and agency to change scripts, discourses and ideologies…”12

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Here we can ask, what are the machinations of the image in the affective dynamics of photographs of trauma and how are they situated in a certain relation to trauma? What do photographs actually do that give rise to a way of thinking and feeling about trauma?

Although no representation can fully describe the first hand experience of trauma because of the partial nature of language – its gaps, elisions and impossibilities of speech13 – it is because of these very gaps that new spaces of interpretation can open up. Rather than just representing the perceived reality of trauma (this happened, at this time, in this location – an ordering of reality), images have the unique ability to transcend their indexical relationship to the real, pointing and touching (as if with the index finger) to the relationality of trauma as it touches human emotion. With its ability to police and regulate it subject, the implicit violence of photography is a predatory means of taking possession of both its victim (the subject) and its viewer.

Anna Gibbs has stated that we live, “in a more or less continuous state of mediatized emergency and traumatic aftermath, desensitized by the onslaught of images … to the affect we ought to feel.”14 I strongly disagree. I would argue that the traumatic numbing15 and supposed “death of experience”16 allegedly present in the world of image circulation, translation, and accumulation only occurs if the witness lets it be so.

Personally, I believe that something in the image is transferred to the witness pre-cognition – intuitively, imaginatively – which can then be interpreted cognitively and relationally with regard to history and memory, art and culture, politics and experience through an orthogonal movement through time and space. As viewers and interpreters, we are not fixed at a particular point in time and space, nor do we observe from one particular point of view. Our existential engagement provides a space to close the gap between affect and enunciation.

“Facts can vibrate; they can give of colors, sounds, smells, images. To talk of these facts with no recognition of this is to lack any awareness of the act of enunciation, of the gaps between language and experience and the unpredictable ways that sparks can break out of language, leap across the gap and ignite the tinderbox of traumatic memory.”17

 

2

Surfing Pinterest (a photo sharing website) recently, I absentmindedly clicked on an abstract image of three hanging black shapes from the pantheon of image tiles that presented itself to me. Up popped this horrific image of three Afro-Americans who had been lynched in the Southern United States in the 1920s. I was shocked and dismayed. I had such a strong emotional reaction to the image. But more than that, my feelings and memories of the bigotry that I had faced as a young gay man growing up in the 1970s swelled in my consciousness. This story is a example of how exposure to an image can bring to the surface unresolved aspects of being ‘Other’, of being different, and being persecuted for that difference. I thought about the lives of these people that had led them to that point, their families, their histories and the terror that they must have experienced on that day. You cannot begin to understand that, but you can have empathy and anger against the systems of racism and bigotry that exist in the world.

Then the cognitive part of my brain linked the image to a report I had only just seen a few days before on lynching, which told of the thousands of Afro-Americans who had been killed between 1882 and 1968.18 Mentally, I then linked this to a Facebook posting which put forward the analogy that the current killing of Afro-Americans by police in the United States was akin to a contemporary and publicly endorsed and enforced form of lynching. Finally, in my head I heard Billie Holiday singing that famous song Strange Fruit, “a dark and profound song about the lynching of African Americans in the Southern United States during the Jim Crow Era, “strange fruit,” as they hang from trees, rotting in the sun, blowing in the wind, and becoming food for crows upon being burned.”19 I watched the video of Billie Holiday singing this song on YouTube.20 Every time I think of this image I have these associations of animate thought intrinsic to the original experience,21 where the micro and macro conditions of production work to “embody and register trauma,”22 a communicable language of sensation and affect, time and time again.

 

 

Billie Holiday – Strange fruit

 

 

These chains of affect, the nexus between affect / feeling / emotion / cognition, are a form of synaesthesia where facts, emotions, feelings, memories, sounds and images vibrate against each other as an active and continuous engagement of the self with the world in which one lives. In a human being who is un/consciously aware, these real and mediated experiences may encourage a sensory intensification that elicits thought and empathic vision in the materiality of embodied experience, something (the punctum?) that takes us out of our selves into a higher register of being.

As part of this system of impressions, of an instantaneous, affective response triggered by an image,23 photographs force us to engage visually and involuntarily. “Impressions that force us to look, encounters which force us to interpret, expressions which force us to think.”24 Encounters which force us to comprehend. The conjunction of affect and critical awareness “constitute the basis of an empathy grounded … on a feeling for another that entails an encounter with something irreducible and different, often inaccessible.”25 This combination of affective and intellectual operations – about forcing oneself to look (and that process of looking/surrendering) but never forgetting your ‘point of view’, your memory, history and identity, is when empathy becomes that process of surrender, “but also the catch that transforms your perception.”26 How is this “catch” enunciated in photographs? I now want to look at a few images that explicate these phenomena.

 

Ante-mortem: present but absent

3

With the invention of photography in the late 1830s, the photograph as memento mori allows the spectator to observe death not at first hand, but through the representation of the image “taken from life.” Photographs provide a verification of reality through their apparent verisimilitude, while being woven into narratives – oral, textual, intertextual, spatial and temporal – that frame the event in multiple ways.

“Photographs … have come to stand in for reality … despite the fact that it is relatively easy to manipulate their meaning. As a result of their ability to project reality, images, and particularly those that depict death and destruction, are seen as potentially powerful pieces of documentary evidence…”27

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Photographs are embedded in “a context of the cultural circumstances at the time, and therefore exist rarely in isolation or without meaning”28 and can be seen as having a denotative level (what they physically represent) and a connotative level (the meanings attached to that representation).29 Photography quickly changed how death was displayed because it introduced a “reality” and immediacy of representation that was democratic, personal and everyday.30

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Lewis Paine
26th April 1865
Albumen silver print from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

An example of the personal, everyday and documentary nature of photography can be seen in the photograph taken by Alexander Gardner in April 1865. This portrait is of Lewis Thornton Powell (aka Lewis Payne or Paine) who was one of the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln which occurred the same month. The photograph has a background of dark metal, and was taken on one of the ironclads U.S.S. Montauk or Saugus, where the conspirators were for a time confined. The reality is Paine was executed in July 1865 just eight short weeks after this photograph was taken, so in effect (and in the affect on us of this knowledge), he is (already) a dead man walking. This is a double death – that death buried in the very act of taking any photograph, La petite mort or “the little death,” an idiom and euphemism for the orgasm of the photographic time freeze; and the fact that we know that he was going to die, those short weeks later.

The photograph forms the central panel of a three-panel Renaissance-like altarpiece, the form in which the three photographs are usually displayed. The left and right hand photographs were taken within minutes of each other, with the camera in the same position, whereas in the centre photograph the camera has been lowered to show more of the body, and the image has been cropped at the top. In the central plate the figure of Paine has been raised up in the frame – almost prematurely brought back to life by his placement. The centre image is the only one where Paine stares directly at the camera. He surveys the viewer with a gaze I find enigmatic.

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Three photographs of Lewis Paine
26th April, 1865
Albumen silver prints from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

This is a very modern face, a very contemporary face. His hair is similar to Justin Beiber’s. Who brushed his hair across for this picture, and would it normally be this long, or has it just been ignored because of his fate? He still has good muscle tone – has he been exercising in his ironclad cell? And finally, his clothing – are they navy issue, as his top appears to have been given to him, perhaps the coarse, navy blue wool of the Northern states. If we were to place this image within the metaphysical school of photography which peaked with Paul Caponigro and Minor White we could say: Hovering above his head, has his spirit already begun to leave his body?

One reading of his gaze is that he is interested in what the photographer is doing – almost the gaze of an apprentice wanting to apply these skills in the future. Given his fate is he insane because of his interest? Another reading could be that he is looking out to the future in the hope of finding that he will be judged in another way. And another is the immediacy of his gaze – it is a gaze that is happening now!

The other thing that I find mysterious is the distance of the photographer from the subject. Was it fear or the presence of the guards that stopped Gardner getting any closer, or are there deck fittings we cannot see that prevented his approach. Imagine being Paine, having a photographer point a damn great view camera at you, documenting your countenance for prosperity. What was going on in Paine’s mind – what is his perspective on this performance by the photographer? And what brought Paine to this place?

Michel Foucault calls the methods and techniques by which human beings constitute themselves, “technologies of the self.” Foucault argued that we as subjects are perpetually engaged in processes whereby we define and produce our own ethical self-understanding. According to Foucault, technologies of the self are the forms of knowledge and strategies that “permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of immortality.”31 As we look into his eyes he knows that we know he is going to die, has already died but the intensity of that knowledge is brought into present time. In this instant, what Paine emanates is a form of i-mortality.

Roland Barthes in his seminal work Camera Lucida observes in Section 39:

“He is dead and he is going to die… The photograph is handsome, as is the boy: that is the studium. But the punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: this will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose, the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence.”32

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This is Barthes anterior future, a moment where truth is interpreted in the mind of the photographer, not out there but in here (your head and your heart), where past, present and future coalesce into a single point in time: his death and our death connected through his gaze, and the knowledge of our joint discontinuity. In this moment in time, what we are doing is making a list about the human condition when we talk about something that is remarkable. Language can never fully describe the human condition, much as it may try… and this is why this photograph is remarkable, because it is ineffable, unknowable. The photograph inhabits you; it haunts you like few others, because it is a memoriam to a young man and his present death. Here he is present but absent at one and the same time.

As such, this is an image as triple death – the death of the photograph (past time / memento mori / remembrance of death), the death of the person in the photograph and also a third death, the knowledge that Paine is going to die. Death, like life, can be cyclical. This is the catch that transforms your perception, in Barthes terms the punctum of the image, in which the wounding, personally touching detail (past pose, future death) establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.

“The punctum (a Latin word derived from the Greek word for trauma [my emphasis]) … inspires an intensely private meaning, one that is suddenly, unexpectedly recognized and consequently remembered (it “shoots out of [the photograph] like an arrow and pierces me”); it ‘escapes’ language (like Lacan’s real); it is not easily communicable through/with language. The punctum is ‘historical’ as an experience of the irrefutable indexicality of the photograph (its contingency upon a referent). The punctum is a detail or “partial object” that attracts and holds the viewer’s (the Spectator’s) gaze; it pricks or wounds the observer.”33

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This trauma, prick or wound that lifts the viewer out of themselves, out of their everyday existence, “points to those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognizable symbolic system. This kind of meaning is unique to the response of the individual viewer of the image.”34 This punctum also accounts for the importance of emotion and subjectivity in interacting with photographs; memory of that photograph displaces it from its moment of origin.35 Photography enacts the trauma of death even while being enacted upon.

Now we can read Eduardo Cadava’s comments on Walter Benjamin’s analysis of the photograph:

“As Benjamin suggests … the photograph, like the souvenir, is the corpse of an experience. A photograph therefore speaks as death, as the trace of what passes into history. I, the photograph, the spaced out limit between life and death, I, the photograph, am death. Yet, speaking as death, the photograph can be neither death nor itself. At once dead and alive, it opens the possibility of our being in time.”36

 

4

Photography then, can be seen as death taken away from itself.

Through the oscillation between studium (historical, social or cultural meanings extracted via semiotic analysis) and punctum (those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognisable symbolic system) the traumatic photograph of death, death’s afterimage, transcends the initial shock inducing signifier leading to a more extended form of engagement that addresses the duration of trauma in memory – through the images elisions, slippages, and conceptual, political and historical complexities. Our negotiation with imaging and imagining, therefore, takes place within ever-expanding contexts of meaning – some relating to the past and some to the present – which impact future interpretations.

I believe that these negotiations are, firstly, linked to what Deleuze calls the encountered sign, a “sign that is felt, rather than recognized, or perceived through cognition.”37 A feeling that is a catalyst for critical enquiry or deep thought. “For Deleuze, affect or emotion is a more effective trigger for profound thought because of the way in which it grasps us, forcing us to engage involuntarily…”38 Secondly, I believe that these negotiations are linked to what Barthes calls the images “third meaning.”

“In Barthes’ view, the image’s third meaning compels viewers after they encounter and deplete both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions. Barthes argued that the third meaning is difficult to locate, because it is not situated structurally or in a certain place of the image. It is similarly difficult to describe, because it involves what he called the image’s obtuseness, its accent or anaphoric side.”39

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Again, we have this idea of the catch, accent, or punctum that grasps us and takes us out of ourselves, that modulates the images “voice” (which is how the image takes on an already provided meaning upon its initial appearance), a voice which then also “helps us to understand both the image’s third meaning and the role of contingency in visual memory.”40

 

Death point

5

 

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“Ah, wretched as I am … to dwell not among the living, not among the dead.”

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Sophocles, ‘Antigone’41

 

 

Commentators such as Barbie Zelizer observe that images, especially about-to-die images, easily “reduce complex issues and circumstances to memorable but simplistic visual frames.”42 The image,

“… depicts for its onlookers a moment in an event’s unfolding to which they attend while knowing where that unfolding leads. This means that visual work often involves catching the sequencing of events or issues midstream, strategically freezing it at its potentially strongest moment of meaningful representation.”43

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Other writers such as Susan Sontag note that these images have the potential to stir public emotions, simply because they freeze a moment in time and can be looked at again and again… but at the same time the repeated viewing of images of atrocity can have a numbing effect.44 The pain and fear evidenced in the photograph as seen in the victim’s eyes (for example in the photograph of the shooting of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy), expands the literal / informational side and its symbolic dimensions (chivalry, love, devotion, hope – Camelot!) into a Barthes’ third space. While Kennedy is a victim twice over (the victim of the assassin and the camera) in a guttural interpretation of the image he is to remain a victim for eternity in the contingency of the future, as long as we continue to look at this photograph.

For me, this is sad and painful photograph. I remember the day it happened. I was ten years old at the time. It’s one of those events that you will remember for the rest of your life – where you were, who you were with – like the moon landings or 9/11. I was in a car outside a small newsagent when the news came on the radio. Robert F. Kennedy had been shot: first aural, then visual on the black and white TV that night, then textual in the newspapers and then visual again with this photograph, then associative. The pain of the loss of those heady days of hope lessens not.

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938) 'LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING' June 5, 1968

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938)
LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy Lies Gravely Wounded on the floor at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after midnight today, moments after he was shot during a celebration of his victory in yesterday’s California primary election
June 5, 1968
Gelatin silver print
17.2 x 21.1 cm (6 3/4 x 8 5/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2010

 

While photographs of the actual moment of death are rare I have been able to find around ten images that capture this vital moment, a freezing of reality at the point of death, the death point: that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present.

However, I would argue that in the contextual language of the photograph, there is no singular death point. I would propose the idea of an extended period of time and space embedded in the spatio-temporal matrix of the image, so that there is no single point, no singular resolution to the traumatic moment of death – either for the person involved, nor the witness or viewer.

Setting aside the concept that the image could have been staged, in Robert Capa’s famous photograph Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936 (below), there is something about this image where space or some basic element is being democratised at the moment of death – or maybe in the choice to struggle with death. In an ontological sense of becoming, perhaps it is this that becomes the pure representation of time. In contrapunto, there is an anonymous image of a German soldier at the point of death on the steppes of Russia that is totally unknown. Why has one become famous and the other not?

Has it to do with the fame of the photographer, the pose of the person, or the agency of photography itself, where one photograph regarding the pain of others is too damning a legacy and of too plain a purpose to bare contemplating, while the other – with its masked face, outflung arm and falling, quasi-religious nature – has become possibly the most famous of war photographs through its proliferation in newspapers and magazines.

Whatever the merits of each image, these death point photographs are noteworthy for what is not said: the violence that is being perpetrated on the victim every time a person looks, and looks again, at the photograph. The writing of trauma by photography never ends, is always and forever infinite.

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954) 'Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936' 1936

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954)
Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936
1936
Gelatin silver print
Photograph by Robert Capa © Cornell Capa / Magnum

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front' c. 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front
c. 1942
akg-images / Interfoto AKG138118

Caption: A German soldier pays the ultimate price of war. German casualties were less than those of the Red Army, but the steady attrition suffered by the Wehrmacht began to undermine its effectiveness.46

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942
1942
Rare Historical Photos website 2013

Caption: A Soviet spy laughs at his executioner in a picture taken in Rukajärvi, in East Karelia, in November 1942. It has been thought within the Finnish Defence Forces that the decision to withhold pictures of the fate of Russian POWs and spies may also have been prompted by concerns that pro-Soviet elements in Finnish society could have used the images for propaganda purposes. This picture was declassified by the Ministry of Defense of Finland in 2006, with the description: Unknown Soviet intelligence officer before being shot, Finland, 1942.

It’s a pretty amazing picture. To capture the last few moments of life. He knows he will die in a few seconds, in a forest in the snow. And there he will bleed out and be forgotten. His life, his experience, has come to an end. What else could he do but smile? That smile was his final defiance. Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.47

 

 

6

Here we might ask, is it possible, through the use of encountered signs, “voice”, punctum, catch or accent, to extend the unreal time of death?

Personally, I believe it is and I would argue for a sense of a Buddhist “no-time”. A transcendent time embedded into the fabric of the image. In Walker Evans’ terms an “unconscious phenomenon” that culminates in amazing accidents of composition, where things constantly rub up against each other “in the desire to create a type of friction that tests the boundaries of representation.”48 An example of this spatio-temporal dimensionality, third meaning or Thirdspace, can be seen in the interplay between the still image and film footage of the execution of German General Anton Dostler by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade December 1, 1945. By examining the film we see a flash of light at 5.16 secs, which is the still photograph at the top of this text being taken by the flash of a camera. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

The fluidity of Barthes’ third meaning, where the image’s obtuseness compels viewers, has obvious links to Edward Soja’s conceptualisation of “Thirdspace”, which emerged from the spatial trialectics established by Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space and Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia. Soja defines Thirdspace as, “an-Other way of understanding and acting to change the spatiality of human life, a distinct mode of critical spatial awareness that is appropriate to the new scope and significance being brought about in the rebalanced trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality.”49 In this amorphous space, “everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history.”50

A further example of the presence of a third meaning in a still photograph can be seen in the image by an unknown photographer Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans (1944, below). Caught like a rabbit in headlights, the flash illuminates the collaborator kneeling, bound, and masked but it is not quick enough to freeze the explosion of wood, the dynamic breaking of the rope or the slight movement of the hands. The body seems to float on a bed of leaves. The cheap, dirty shoes and striped trousers leading up to the material that covers the victim’s face. Is that his hair, or a hat or another hood over his head? Although we know the what, why, and where of the photograph – an encounter with both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions – the placing of the image, its accent and obtuseness is much more difficult to understand. The photograph and its protagonist seem to exist beyond time and space, the anonymous man surrounded by a death bed of leaves, bursting the bonds that wrapped him and held him tight. Like the mystery of Man Ray’s L’Enigme d’Isidore Ducasse (1920), the photograph has disturbed the trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality, destroying the imploring label, “Do not disturb.”

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944'

 

Unknown photographer
Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944
1944
Silver gelatin photograph
U.S. Army Signal Corps
National Archives Identifier (NAID)

 

 

Post-mortem: absent but present

7

 

Letherolfsvile Oct 29 AD 1859

This is the likeness of Catherine Christ

When I am dead and in my grave

And when my bones are rotten

Remember me

When this you see

Or I shall be forgotten

The grass is green The rose is red

here is my name when I am dead 51

 

 

This short poem written on a piece of paper hidden underneath an image in a daguerreotype case implores us to remember the person – a plea to the future to remember them – through a composite narrative of portrait and text. Through the creative addition of text, the language of photographs can be supplemented which adds to the functionality of the photograph as an effective memory object.52 But what if the scene of the text (the photograph) contains an absence, no depiction of the person who has died? What happens to the writing of trauma in images of the dead then?

If we acknowledge that a photograph of a person always prefigures its subjects passing then what we are doing “in reality” is deferring the death of an/other onto the foreseen death of ourselves. In this process, we must remember that every photograph is a construct, a performative act by the photographer. What the photographer chooses to record is an act of will, whether ethical or not. Photographers have the presence of mind to attend to a certain manufacture of history. When viewing this instant narrative the viewer must acknowledge a loss of a sense of time:

“This lost sense could manifest as reliving a traumatic episode as if it is taking place in the present … In the context of trauma… a loss of sense of time deprives one of the ability of remembering and telling one’s narrative in a chronological order.”53

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941) 'Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia' 1972

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941)
Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia
1972
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Emmet and Edith Gowin
© Edith and Emmet Gowin and courtesy of Pace MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

One way that artist’s upset this chronological order is by playing with the fragmentary nature of time, space and memory – of present absence/absent presence. In Emmet Gowin’s accidentally double-exposed negative, Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia, 1972 (above), the photograph combines “a funerary image of his wife’s grandmother, Rennie Booher, with the surface of a Neolithic monumental stone he had photographed in England a few days earlier.” Floating through eternity, encased in ancient rock that nourishes her spirit, Gowin’s photograph acts as a kind of testament of absent but present, neither here not there. This loss of sense of space and time can be deeply disturbing (like trauma) as it questions one’s physical presence in the world, but it can also have a transcendental dimension as both time and space are inextricably bound to the very specific conditions of the material world. Photographs like the one of Booher have the potential to draw together what would otherwise seem to be incompatible. To form what Jacob Bronowsi calls a “hidden likeness”, one that transcends time and space, one that is reactivated with every looking.

“The poem or the discovery exists in two moments of vision: the moment of appreciation as much as that of creation; for the appreciator must see the movement, wake to the echo which was started in the creation of the work. In the moment of appreciation we live again the moment when the creator saw and held the hidden likeness. When a simile takes us aback and persuades us together, when we find a juxtaposition in a picture both odd and intriguing, when a theory is at once fresh and convincing, we do not merely nod over someone else’s work. We re-enact the creative act, and we ourselves make the discovery again…”54

.
An important fact about the nature of trauma is the compulsion of the human psyche to repeat traumatic events over and over again. The reproducibility of photographs and the ability to look at them again and again – their machine-like repeatability, their citationality or iterability to use Derrida’s signature term – feeds into this repetitive “death instinct” (Thanatos). However, Bronowsi’s “hidden likeness” (also the name of one of Emmet Gowin’s exhibitions and a form of punctum) is perhaps a liminal moment, one that may upset the death instinct. These liminal moments may occupy a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. By disrupting the threshold – between life and death, between past, present and future time – they are requisite of the ghost (the soul) in the machine (the camera).

As Derrida observes, building on the work of Barthes,

“It belongs to it without belonging to it and is unlocatable in it; it never inscribes itself in the homogenous objectivity of the framed space but instead inhabits, or rather haunts it: “it is the addition [supplement]: it is what I add to the photograph and what is none the less already there.” … Neither life nor death, it is the haunting of the one by the other … Ghosts: the concept of the other in the same, the punctum in the studium, the dead other alive in me.”57

 

8

In this scenario, perhaps the act of writing trauma through death in the image becomes the true act of learning, and the interpretation of that act becomes an act of creation rather than one of rote memorialisation. These are images that require contemplation, time, analysis, and sensation, where the subject of the photograph is transformed “from somebody merely seen to someone really felt,” which is, as Batchen says, “an emotional exchange transacted in the heart.”58

This emotional exchange can take many forms. It can be triggered when the dead body is only metaphorically represented in the image, when the physicality of death has been transmuted. For example, photographs such as Walker Evan’s Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama (1936, below), or the documentary image Place where the corpse was found (1901-8, below) by the French photographer Alphonse Bertillon, propose a re-imaging and re-imagining of the life of the person. They do so through an un/ambiguous photographic context, that is, through the marking of place in the photograph. In the latter case, this marking of a life is represented by two pieces of wood lying on the ground and two pieces of wood propped at 45 degrees against the wall. As though this is all that is left of the existence of Mademoiselle Mercier in a street (Rue de l’Yvette) that still exists in Paris to this day. A photograph of pieces of wood and an empty space.

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Child's grave, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Silver gelatin print
7 3/8 x 9 7/16″ (18.7 x 23.9 cm)
© 2016 Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914) 'Place where the corpse was found' 1st November 1902

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Place where the corpse was found
1st November 1902
From Album of Paris Crime Scenes
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 24.3 x 31 cm (9 9/16 x 12 3/16 in.)
Page: 23 x 29 cm (9 1/16 x 11 7/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2001

 

 

Other photographs picture the place of death nearly a century later in order to commemorate the traumatic death of “deserters” at the hands of a firing squad during the First World War. These are some of the most traumatic photographs of death I have seen, for they require me to imagine the mise en scène that was enacted at dawn almost 100 years ago, in the very place where these photographs were later “shot” at dawn.

The artist, Chloe Dewe Mathews, realised that “I was placing my tripod around the same spot where the firing squad had stood and looking directly at the place where the victim was placed.” It was, she says, “a solitary and sombre undertaking,” an undertaking (with that name’s etymological link to the word undertaker) which the viewer is invited to partake of, a re-imaging of those traumatic events that requires an active imagining, and thinking, in the neo-spectator. It is this duration of trauma in cultural memory which calls for an active negotiation in ways of seeing, a re-negotiation which can produce an empathic vision that “changes the terms of our engagement” with the image.

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews. 'Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais' 2013

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews (b. 1982)
Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais
2013
Eleven British soldiers were executed here between 1915-18
From the series Shot at Dawn
© Chloe Dewe Mathews

 

 

Vita ad mortem: life after death

9

 

.
“… the life of spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself.”

.
George Wilhelm Frederich Hegel61

 

 

The absence/presence contained within all photographs speaks to the ultimate affect: that of la petite mort – the “little death” – the sensation of orgasm as likened to death, a short period of melancholy or transcendence as a result of the expenditure of the “life force.” While Barthes metaphorically used the concept to describe the feeling one should get when experiencing any great literature, it can also be used when some undesired thing has happened to a person and has affected them so much that “a part of them dies inside.”

A photograph can also contain this melancholy transcendence, a catastrophe that has already occurred.

“Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe… This punctum, more or less blurred beneath the abundance and the disparity of contemporary photographs, is vividly legible in historical photographs: there is always a defeat of Time in them: that is dead and that is going to die… At the limit, there is no need to represent a body [in photographs] in order for me to experience this vertigo of time defeated.”63

.
Barthes’ concept of an extended punctum may be useful here, when he states, “I now know that there exists another punctum (another ‘stigmatum’) than the ‘detail’. This new punctum, which is no longer of form but of intensity, is Time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme (‘that-has-been’), its pure representation.”64

Here Barthes is proposing a punctum of intensity; a punctum as lacerating “detail”; and/or “the vertigo of time defeated.” This “temporal hallucination” embedded and embodied in the photograph – the temporality of the “will-have-been”, they are dead (today), they are already dead (yesterday), Barthes’ anterior future – represents a symbolically mediated subject bound up in three extases of time (past, present, and future).65

The subject becomes lost in the language of the photograph, the intersection of Lacan’s the Imaginary (in which the human subject creates fantasy images of both himself and his ideal object of desire), the Symbolic (the social world of linguistic communication and inter-subjective relations), and the Real (defined as what escapes the Symbolic, the Real can be neither spoken nor written, it is impossible, but is ceaselessly writing itself). These concepts serve to situate subjectivity within a system of perception and a dialogue with the external world.

According to Lori Wike, the experience of punctum and the structure of iterability can be aligned to Lacan’s concept of the death drive (or death instinct) present in the Symbolic order, in which the signifier “materializes the agency of death.”66 This may account for the role of the photographic punctum as trauma, in which the punctum opens up “a kind of subtle beyond” where “a blind field is created (is divined)…”67 As Barthes notes, “Photography is a kind of primitive theater, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead.”68 Further, we can say that, “unlike the symbolic, which is constituted in terms of oppositions such as “presence” and “absence”, there is no absence in the real,” for the real is undifferentiated, “it is without fissure.”

“The symbolic introduces “a cut in the real,” in the process of signification: “it is the world of words that creates the world of things.” Thus the real emerges as that which is outside language: “it is that which resists symbolization absolutely.” The real is impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality.”69

.
The “mark” of photography is eviscerated in the intensity of the real, a traumatic loss of time that confronts us with our own mortality and the knowledge that we will not be remembered. This is where images of death can take us once the initial affective connection is established – to a noumenal space where in the play of representation, the point of origin becomes ungraspable (Lacan’s différance).70

“In French, différance simultaneously contains within its neo-graphism the activities of differing and deferring, a distancing acted out temporally as well as spatially.”71 Where the moment (the time freeze of the shutter) turns in, on and around its own fulcrum, where there is always difference at the point of origin. For all of its instantaneous nature, in photography there is always a perverse moment of displacement and deferral. In its history, “a perverse complicity of continuity and resemblance with its supposed opposite, discontinuity and difference”72 … the latter only existing in a reciprocal relationship to the former.

The circle is closing and we return to where we started.

 

10

Human beings in their longing for lost continuity are mirrored by their photographs which transition from continuous to discontinuous and back again. While we yearn for our lost continuity, we must acknowledge that death is an unedited event, one that we cannot look back on. There is no following event to blank out that moment… and the dead are always dying. But what images of death in photography do is this: they allow us to approach the noumenal, that state of being of which we can have knowledge of, but can never know. We can approach, touch, feel, analyse, and have empathy for traumatic events in the representation of an unknowable reality. The photograph has the ability to go beyond the symbolic, to approach the impossible, the real.

The photograph may proffer a ‘releasement toward things’,73 a coexistence between a conscious and unconscious way of perceiving which sustains the mystery of the object confusing the distinction between real time and sensual time, between inside and outside, input and output becoming neither here nor there. As Martin Jolly notes, citing John Thompson, “… images of death can be seen a form of “mediated, non-reciprocal intimacy, stretched across time and space” in which we are increasingly unconstrained by our location or our time.”74 Further, John Thompson observes, “While lived experience remains fundamental, it is increasingly supplemented by, and in some respects displaced by, mediated experience, which assumes a greater and greater role in the project of self-formation.”75

In the sense that the photograph becomes la petite mort, the little death, it embodies our desire for the soul to become eternal in the form of this mediated experience… the displacement of the soul via the ghost in the machine, the soul remembered throughout time in the traumatic trace of the photograph. Death in the language of photography is always postponed and deferred: into the physicality of the photograph; into cultural memory; into the gaze (of the photographer, the camera and the viewer); and into the body of the observer. Here, a relationship exists between an impossible reality (an encounter with an “outside” which is unknowable) and a floating referent in an image that is both formative and transformative. And in that relationship, as Donna Haraway observes, “Relationship is multiform, at stake, unfinished, consequential.”76

The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal”77 the pronouncement of the perfect paradox78 (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.

© Dr Marcus Bunyan 2018

Word count: 8,137

 

 

Addendum

“Empirically acknowledged as tragic, the photographic print was really just that when, at the turn of the century, it became the instrument of the three great authorities over life and death (the law, the army, medicine). This is when it demonstrated its power to reveal the unfolding of a destiny from the word go. As deus ex machina [god from the machine or, providential intervention], it was to become just as ruthless for the criminal, the soldier or the invalid, the conjunction between the immediate and the fatal only becoming more solid, inevitably, with the progress of representation.”

Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, p. 43.

 

“Written with her trademark flair and force, Sontag’s book [On Photography] inaugurated a wave of criticism, much of it influenced by Foucaultian theory, that underscored the instrumentality and implicit violence of photography, its ability to police and regulate it subjects, especially those lacking social and political power: the poor, presumed “deviants” or “criminals,” and workers. As Sontag herself acknowledged, however, photography is not only a predatory means of taking possession, but also a mode of conferring value; it can potentially be put to counter-hegemonic uses, used to see and frame in ways that affirm and legitimate, rather than strictly contain and control, the presence of culturally disenfranchised persons.”

Entin, Joseph. “Milton Rogovin’s Approach: Photography, Class, and the Aesthetics of Making Space (2008),” on the ASX website July 12, 2010 [Online] Cited 27/10/2018

 

“The submissions attest to our insatiable hunger for images of suffering. “Sight can be turned off; we have lids on our eyes,” says Sontag5. But sometimes we  just can’t resist taking a look. Since its inception photojournalism has traded in images of human suffering. If one of its motivations for representing tragedy has been to change the world then it has been unsuccessful. Instead the profession has turned us into voyeurs, passively consuming these images, sharing in the moment without feeling implicated or responsible for what we are seeing. Roland Barthes summed up the analgesic effect of looking at images of horror when he wrote “someone has shuddered for us; reflected for us, judged for us; the photographer has left us nothing – except a simple right of intellectual acquiescence.”6 Put another way, we look at events in photographs and feel relieved that they’re not happening anywhere near us. …

In the final analysis we were choosing between a French landscape, a dead guerrilla, an HIV positive mother and an American soldier. A strange task. Rather predictably the majority vote went to Tim Hetherington’s soldier. Yet comparing so many diverse images and ultimately declaring one of them a winner feels meaningless. Do we even need to be producing these images any more? Do we need to be looking at them? We have enough of an image archive within our heads to be able to conjure up a representation of any manner of pleasure or horror. Does the photographic image even have a role to play any more? Video footage, downloaded from the internet, conveys the sounds and textures of war like photographs never could. High Definition video cameras create high-resolution images twenty-four photographs a second, eliminating the need to click the shutter. But since we do still demand illustrations to our news then there is a chance to make images that challenge our preconceptions, rather than regurgitate old clichés.”

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin. “Unconcerned but not indifferent,” on the FOTO8 website 04 Mar 2008 [Online] Cited 20/11/2018

 

5. Susan Sontag, Regarding The Pain of Others (Penguin, London, 2003) p. 105

6. Roland Barthes, The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies (New York, Hill and Wang, 1979) p. 71. quoted in John Taylor, Body Horror: photojournalism, catastrophe and war (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1988) p. 17

 

Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne) '[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]' c. 1863

 

Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne)
[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]
c. 1863
Albumen print from collodion glass negative
17.9 x 24.2 cm (7 1/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)' 1934

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)
1934
Silver gelatin print

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)' 1939, printed c. 1970s

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)
1939, printed c. 1970s
Silver gelatin print

 

 

One of my early heroes in photography was Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Many Mexican photographs tell such stories based on the mythology of the country: there are elements of the absurd, surrealism, macabre, revolution, political and socio-economic issues, also of death, violence, beauty, youth, sexuality and religion to name but a few – a search for national identity that is balanced in the photographs of Bravo by a sense of inner peace and redemption. This potent mix of issues and emotions is what makes Mexican photography so powerful and substantive. In the “presence” (or present, the awareness of the here and now) of Mexican photography there is a definite calligraphy of the body in space in most of the work. This handwriting is idiosyncratic and emotive; it draws the viewer into an intimate narrative embrace. Two famous photographs by Bravo illustrate some of these themes (Apollonian/Dionysian; utopian/dystopian). When placed together they seem to have a strange attraction one to the other.

 

Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942

 

Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942

 

 

References

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’, in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 1-21

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson (eds) 2013 Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Barthes, Roland 1981 Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography New York: Hill and Wang

Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press

Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography paperback 1999 Massachusetts: MIT Press

Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press

Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International

Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography

Bronowski, Jacob 1958 Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row

Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd.

Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 84-114

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, 110-111

Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller, 1972 in English

Edwards, Janis L. 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Communication Quarterly vol. 60 issue 5, 681-197

Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’ in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 16-49

Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 129-147

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 125-142

Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan

Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederich 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row

Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter

Jolly, Martyn 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’, in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 71-87

Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ in GENDERS no. 7 Spring, 22-31

Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter” in Yale French Studies no. 48 French Freud: Structural Studies in Psychoanalysis Yale University Press, 39-72

Martin, Luther H and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) 1988 Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press

Maxwell, Anne and Josephine Croci (eds) 2015 Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing

O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website

Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change Annandale NSW: Pluto Press Australia, 78-97

Randell, Karen and Sean Redmond (eds) 2008 The war body on screen, New York: Continuum

Rastas, David and Maria Schlachter 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art

Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town

Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 80-103

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Staines, Deborah (ed) 2007 Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website

Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press

Virilio, Paul 1994 The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster

Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, 1-28

Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

Zembylas, Michalinos 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education New York: Palgrave Macmillan

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International, 122

[2] Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company, 15

[3] Anonymous 2016 Definition of Trauma by Mirriam-Webster, at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trauma (accessed 8 November 2016)

[4] Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 5

[5] Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 82

[6] Michalinos Zembylas 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 4

[7] Ibid., 4

[8] Rutherford Op. cit., 87

[9] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 49, 93

[10] Rutherford Op. cit., 94

[11] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 9

[12] Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town, at https://open.uct.ac.za/handle/11427/10884 (accessed 8 November 2016)

[13] Rutherford Op. cit., 85

[14] Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

[15] “Perhaps rather than numbness, what we actually feel is our own helplessness or impotence, and the shame of helplessness, which robs us of agency. Helplessness is what Tomkins calls an affect complex, and within it distress is the dominant affect, although there may be admixtures in it of fear, anger and shame… Helplessness immobilises, and this is what induces the shame which, as a reduction of interest, makes us lower our gaze and look away.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 139-140

[16] “To suffer is one thing; another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more – and more. Images transfix. Images anaesthetize…”

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 20

“Are we making too much of images? Are we lured by our own voyeurism and iconophilia, numbed as we are by the democracy of the spectacle? Or, on the contrary, do images open the eyes of our conscience? In other words do images merely entertain and anaesthetize us or do they shame us and awake our conscience?”

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) in L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/265181/pdf (accessed 8 November 2016)

[17] Rutherford Op. cit., 89

[18] Anonymous 2016 ‘Lynching in the United States’, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching_in_the_United_States (accessed 11 November 2016)

[19] Anonymous 2016 ‘Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday’, at http://genius.com/Billie-holiday-strange-fruit-lyrics (accessed 11 November 2016)

[20] ‘Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit’, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnlTHvJBeP0 (accessed 11 November 2016)

[21] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 55, 95

[22] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 4 quoted in Rutherford, 95

[23] Ibid., 11

[24] Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller (1972 in English) 7, in Bennett 161

[25] Bennett Op. cit., 10

[26] Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change 94-95, in Bennett, 10

[27] Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 55

[28] Ibid., 56

[29] Ibid., 56

[30] Randell, Karen and Redmond, Sean (eds) 2008 The war body on screen New York: Continuum, cited in Hanusch, 30

[31] Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’, in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 18

[32] Barthes, Roland 1980 La Chambre Claire (Camera Lucida) (1981 in English) New York: Hill and Wang Section 39, 94

[33] Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter at http://csmt.uchicago.edu/annotations/barthescamera.htm (accessed 12 November 2016)

[34] Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website 12 March, at https://educationmuseum.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/roland-barthes-studium-and-punctum/ (accessed 11 November 2016)

[35] “For memory is always in a state of ruin; to remember something is already to have ruined it, to have displaced it from its moment of origin. Memory is caught in a conundrum – the passing of time that makes memory possible and necessary is also what makes memory fade and die.”

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 78

[36] Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 110 in Batchen 172

[37] Bennett Op. cit., 7

[38] Ibid., 7

[39] Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory, at http://www.sas.upenn.edu/folklore/center/ConferenceArchive/voiceover/voice_of_the_visual.html (accessed 13 November 2016)

[40] Ibid.,

[41] Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone, lines 850-52 Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd., 91

[42] Edwards, Janis L 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Taylor Francis Online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01463373.2012.725000 (accessed 13 November 2016)

[43] Zelizer Op. cit.,

[44] Sontag Op. cit., 18 cited in F Hanusch 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 105

[45] See ‘Robert Capa: The Falling Soldier’, The Met website, at http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/283315 (accessed 13 November 2016)

[46] Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster, 23

[47] Anonymous photographer 2013 ‘Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942’, Rare Historical Photos website 29 December, at http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/russian-spy-laughing-execution-finland-1942/ (accessed 13 November 2016)

[48] Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography October 7, 5 at https://www.academia.edu/29201498/Damaged_Ruin_and_Decay_in_Walker_Evans_Photographs (accessed 13 November 2016)

[49] Soja, Edward W. 1996 Thirdspace Malden (Mass.): Blackwell, 57

[50] Ibid., 57

[51] Batchen Op. cit., 47

[52] Ibid., 48

[53] Rastas, David 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art, at http://www.davidrastas.com/kunstglaube/madness&mysticism/essays.html (accessed 19 November 2016)

[54] Bronowski, Jacob 1958, Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row, 31

[55] Anonymous 2015. ‘Hidden Likeness: Photographer Emmet Gowin at the Morgan’, The Morgan Library & Museum website May 22 through September 20, 2015 https://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/emmet-gowin (accessed 08 May 2018)

[56] See Turner, Victor 1966 The Ritual Process: Structure and Antistructure Chicago: Aldine. For a definition of liminality see Anonymous ‘Liminality’, Wikipedia website https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liminality (accessed 08 May 2018)

[57] Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (paperback 1999) Massachusetts: MIT Press, 194

[58] Batchen Forget Me Not, 94

[59] O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website 29 June, at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jun/29/chloe-dewe-mathews-shot-at-dawn-moving-photographic-memorial-first-world-war (accessed 25 November 2016)

[60] Bennett 2005 Empathic Vision 69

[61] Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederich 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 10

[62] Anonymous 2016 ‘La petite mort’ Wikipedia website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_petite_mort (accessed 25 November 2016)

[63] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[64] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[65] See Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ in In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, at http://www.rochester.edu/in_visible_culture/issue3/wike.htm#BackFromNote10 (accessed 25 November 2016)

[66] Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter’’ in Yale French Studies, no. 48, 53 quoted in Wike 2000

[67] Barthes Camera Lucida, 57-58 quoted in Wike 2000

[68] Barthes Camera Lucida, 31-32 quoted in Wike 2000

[69] Anonymous 2016, ‘The Real’, Wikipedia website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Real (accessed 25 November 2016)

[70] “Derrida sees differences as elemental oppositions working in all languages, systems of distinct signs, and codes, where terms don’t have absolute meanings but instead draw meaning from reciprocal determination with other terms… Différance is the systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences, of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other… the a of différance also recalls that spacing is temporization, the detour and postponement by means of which intuition, perception, consummation – in a word, the relationship to the present, the reference to a present reality, to a being – are always deferred.”

Anonymous 2016 ‘Différance’ at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Différance (accessed 25 November 2016

[71] Batchen Burning with Desire 179. Information on photography and differance 178-179.

[72] Batchen Burning with Desire 186

[73] “We stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery… Releasement towards things and openness to the mystery belong together. They grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way…”

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row, 55-56

[74] Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press, 208 quoted in M Jolly 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’ in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 84

[75] Thompson 233 quoted in Jolly 2015

[76] Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 122, at https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed 26 November 2016)

[77] Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ GENDERS no 7 Spring, 26

[78] You are dead but also alive, the dissolution of the distinction between objective and subjective realities, “the image is an interface connecting inner and outer, past and future, affect and cognition.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect And The Images From Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

 

 

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19
Oct
18

Exhibition: ‘Black Light: Secret traditions in art since the 1950s’ at Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona

La llum negra. Tradicions secretes en l’art des dels anys cinquanta

Exhibition dates: 16th May – 21st October 2018

Curator: Enrique Juncosa

Artists: Carlos Amorales / Kenneth Anger / Antony Balch / Jordan Belson / Wallace Berman / Forrest Bess / Joseph Beuys / William S. Burroughs / Marjorie Cameron / Francesco Clemente / Bruce Conner / Aleister Crowley / René Daumal / Gino de Dominicis / Louise Despont / Nicolás Echevarría / Robert Frank / João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva / Brion Gysin / Jonathan Hammer / Frieda Harris / Derek Jarman / Jess / Alejandro Jodorowsky / Joan Jonas / Carl Gustav Jung / Matías Krahn / Wolfgang Laib / LeonKa / Goshka Macuga / Agnes Martin / Chris Martin / Henri Michaux / Grant Morrison / Tania Mouraud / Barnett Newman / Joan Ponç / Genesis P-Orridge / Sun Ra / Harry Smith / Rudolf Steiner / Philip Taaffe / Antoni Tàpies / Fred Tomaselli / Suzanne Treister / Vaccaro – Brookner / Ulla von Brandenburg / Terry Winters / Zush

 

 

 

Leon Ka – La llum negra – Mural

The mural at the entrance of the exhibition Black Light created by the artist Leon Ka, represents some of the symbols of ocultism, magic, and the mysticism of spirituality.

 

 

I love these eclectic exhibitions on unusual topics. Having studied a little Georges Gurdjieff, Carl Jung, Robert Johnson, Joseph Campbell and Carlos Castaneda to name just a few, I immersed myself in their spiritual, psychedelic and counterculture world. I had scarification done on my arm in 1992 which was one of the most spiritual rights of passage I have ever experienced in my life (see photograph below).

To be different, to explore that difference in art, is to violate the taboo of control – of adherence to the norm – that emotion which controls how we think, feel, act and create. As Georges Bataille observes,

“”The taboo is there in order to be violated.” This proposition is not the wager it looks like at first but an accurate statement of an inevitable connection between conflicting emotions. When a negative emotion has the upper hand we must obey the taboo. When a positive emotion is in the ascendant we violate it. Such a violation will not deny or suppress the contrary emotion, but justify it and arouse it.”1

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An “understanding of the text [writing, art, music, etc.] as ‘social space’,” say Barthes, “activates a broad intertextuality and a productive plurality of meanings and signifying/interpretive gestures that escape the reduction of knowledge to fixed, monological re-presentations, or presences.” What he is saying here is that there is no singular unity… for unity is variable and relative. Further, according to Kurt Thumlert (citing Lentricchia, 1998), “a transgressive textuality can also become a mode of agential resistance capable of fragmenting and releasing the subject, and thereby producing a zone of invisibility where knowledge/power is no longer able ‘find its target’.”2

In other words, transgression of the taboo allows the artist (in this case) to release himself from the logic of control and where power cannot get its hooks into him. In order to do this during the production of art, the artist must understand that representations are presentations which entail,

“the use of the codes and conventions of the available cultural forms of presentation. Such forms restrict and shape what can be said by and/or about any aspect of reality in a given place in a given society at a given time, but if that seems like a limitation on saying, it is also what makes saying possible at all. Cultural forms set the wider terms of limitation and possibility for the (re)presentation of particularities and we have to understand how the latter are caught in the former in order to understand why such-and-such gets (re)presented in the way it does. Without understanding the way images function in terms of, say, narrative, genre or spectacle, we don’t really understand why they turn out the way they do.”3

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The exhibition Black Light investigates how artists subvert these codes and conventions of representation and violate their taboo through emotions (whether positive or negative) present in the creative process. This transgressive spirit allows far seeing artists to become the seers of their day, playing with the dis/order of time, space and cultural (re)presentation. As a form of alchemy, all art partakes of this investigation into the past, present and future of life, our discontinuous existence as creatures who live and die, and the world that surrounds us, both physically and spiritually.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. Bataille, Georges. Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo. New York: Walker and Company, 1962, pp. 64-65.
  2. Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 10/08/2006 No longer available.
  3. Dyer, Richard. The Matter of Images: Essays on Representations. London: Routledge, 1993, pp. 2-3.

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Marcus (after scarification)' 1992

 

Marcus Bunyan (b. 1958)
Marcus (after scarification)
1992
Gelatin silver print
© Marcus Bunyan

 

 

 

Black Light. Discover the occult side of contemporary art

The occult, spirituality, psychedelia and esotericism come to the CCCB with the exhibition Black Light. An unusual look at the art of the past 50 years that has been strongly influenced by secret traditions.

 

 

Joan Jonas
Reanimation (extract)

 

 

Henri Michaux (24 May 1899-19 October 1984)

 

 

Henri Michaux (French, 24 May 1899-19 October 1984) was a highly idiosyncratic Belgian-born poet, writer, and painter who wrote in French. He later took French citizenship. Michaux is best known for his esoteric books written in a highly accessible style. His body of work includes poetry, travelogues, and art criticism. Michaux travelled widely, tried his hand at several careers, and experimented with psychedelic drugs, especially LSD and mescaline, which resulted in two of his most intriguing works, Miserable Miracle and The Major Ordeals of the Mind and the Countless Minor Ones.

 

 

Kenneth Anger
Lucifer Rising (Original track by Acqua Lazúli)
1972-80

 

 

For more information about this film please see the Lucifer Rising Wikipedia entry

Kenneth Anger (born Kenneth Wilbur Anglemyer; February 3, 1927) is an American underground experimental filmmaker, actor and author. Working exclusively in short films, he has produced almost forty works since 1937, nine of which have been grouped together as the “Magick Lantern Cycle”. His films variously merge surrealism with homoeroticism and the occult, and have been described as containing “elements of erotica, documentary, psychodrama, and spectacle”. Anger himself has been described as “one of America’s first openly gay filmmakers, and certainly the first whose work addressed homosexuality in an undisguised, self-implicating manner”, and his “role in rendering gay culture visible within American cinema, commercial or otherwise, is impossible to overestimate”, with several being released prior to the legalisation of homosexuality in the United States. He has also focused upon occult themes in many of his films, being fascinated by the English gnostic mage and poet Aleister Crowley, and is an adherent of Thelema, the religion Crowley founded. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Barnett Newman (1905-1970) 'Untitled' 1946

 

Barnett Newman (1905-1970)
Untitled
1946
Oil on canvas
76.5 x 61.1 cm
© IVAM, Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Generalitat Valenciana

 

Antoni Tàpies. 'Book covers' 1987

 

Antoni Tàpies
Book covers
1987
Paintings on old book covers
60 x 78.5 cm
Private collection, Barcelona
© Heirs of Antoni Tàpies / Vegap, Madrid

 

Leon Ka. 'Creatio: Lux, Crux' 2015

 

Leon Ka
Creatio: Lux, Crux
2015
Door of the cultural association Magia Roja, Barcelona

 

 

Black light is about the influence that various secret traditions have had on contemporary art from the nineteen-fifties to the present day. It presents some 350 works by such artists as Antoni Tàpies, Agnes Martin, Henri Michaux, Joseph Beuys, Ulla von Brandenburg, William S. Burroughs, Joan Jonas, Jordan Belson, Goshka Macuga, Kenneth Anger, Rudolf Steiner, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Francesco Clemente and Zush.

Black light brings together, in more or less chronological order, paintings, drawings, audiovisuals, sculptures, photographs, installations, books, music, engravings and documents by artists largely from North America, where secret traditions have historically enjoyed greater acceptance. There are works by creators who are considered fundamental to the history of art, such as Antoni Tàpies, Barnett Newman and Agnes Martin, alongside less-known figures of the counterculture of the sixties and seventies. The show also presents young artists to reflect the renewed interest in these traditions.

The work of all of them goes to show the relevance and continuity of these habitually overlooked trends, in many cases regarding art as a possible means to a higher cognitive level, as an instrument of connection with a more profound reality, or as a form of knowledge in itself. These ideas are contrary, for example, to a purely formalistic understanding of abstraction. Specifically, the exhibition also explores the influence of esoteric ideas on areas of popular culture, such as comics, jazz, cinema and alternative rock.

 

Henri Michaux. 'Untitled' 1983

 

Henri Michaux
Untitled
1983
Oil on linen paper
24 x 33 cm
© Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co. Photography: Fabrice Gibert

 

Marjorie Cameron. 'West Angel' Nd

 

Marjorie Cameron (American, 1922-1995)
West Angel
Nd
Graphite, ink and gold paint on paper
60.3 x 93.3 cm
© Courtesy Nicole Klagsbrun and Cameron Parsons Foundation

 

 

Marjorie Cameron Parsons Kimmel (April 23, 1922-June 24, 1995), who professionally used the mononym Cameron, was an American artist, poet, actress, and occultist. A follower of Thelema, the new religious movement established by the English occultist Aleister Crowley, she was married to rocket pioneer and fellow Thelemite Jack Parsons.

Read her entry on the Wikipedia website

 

Aleister Crowley. 'Snow-Peak beyond Foothills, Libra I8 September-October' 1934

 

Aleister Crowley
Snow-Peak beyond Foothills, Libra I8 September-October
1934
Pen and wash on paper
45 x 50 cm
© Ordo Templi Orientis

 

Unknown photographer. 'Aleister Crowley as Magus, Liber ABA' 1912

 

Unknown photographer
Aleister Crowley as Magus, Liber ABA
1912
Originally published in The Equinox volume 1, issue 10 (1913)

 

Wolfgang Laib. 'Passageway' 2013

 

Wolfgang Laib (Germany, b. 1950)
Passageway
2013
Brass ships, rice, wood and steel
6 3/4 x 99 x 12 inches
© Wolfgang Laib

 

 

Wolfgang Laib (born 25 March 1950 in Metzingen) is a German artist, predominantly known as a sculptor. He lives and works in a small village in southern Germany, maintaining studios in New York and South India.

His work has been exhibited worldwide in many of the most important galleries and museums. He represented Germany in the 1982 Venice Biennale and was included with his works in the Documenta 7 in 1982 and then in the Documenta 8 in 1987. In 2015 he received the Praemium Imperiale for sculpture in Tokyo, Japan.

He became worldknown for his “Milkstones”, a pure geometry of white marble made complete with milk, as well as his vibrant installations of pollen. In 2013 The Museum of Modern Art in New York City presented his largest pollen piece – 7 m x 8 m – in the central atrium of the museum.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Brion Gysin. 'Dreamachine' 1960-1976

 

Brion Gysin (British, 1916-1986)
Dreamachine
1960-1976
Cylinder. Painted and cut hard paper, Altuglas, electric bulb and motor
120.5 cm x 29.5 cm
© Galerie de France. Paris, Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle

 

 

Brion Gysin (19 January 1916-13 July 1986) was a painter, writer, sound poet, and performance artist born in Taplow, Buckinghamshire.

He is best known for his discovery of the cut-up technique, used by his friend, the novelist William S. Burroughs. With the engineer Ian Sommerville he invented the Dreamachine, a flicker device designed as an art object to be viewed with the eyes closed. It was in painting and drawing, however, that Gysin devoted his greatest efforts, creating calligraphic works inspired by the cursive Japanese “grass” script and Arabic script. Burroughs later stated that “Brion Gysin was the only man I ever respected.” …

The Dreamachine (or Dream Machine) is a stroboscopic flicker device that produces visual stimuli. Artist Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs’ “systems adviser” Ian Sommerville created the Dreamachine after reading William Grey Walter’ book, The Living Brain.

In its original form, a Dreamachine is made from a cylinder with slits cut in the sides. The cylinder is placed on a record turntable and rotated at 78 or 45 revolutions per minute. A light bulb is suspended in the centre of the cylinder and the rotation speed allows the light to come out from the holes at a constant frequency of between 8 and 13 pulses per second. This frequency range corresponds to alpha waves, electrical oscillations normally present in the human brain while relaxing. In 1996, the Los Angeles Times deemed the Dreamachine “the most interesting object” in Burroughs’ major visual retrospective Ports of Entry at LACMA. The Dreamachine is the subject of the National Film Board of Canada 2008 feature documentary film FLicKeR by Nik Sheehan.

A Dreamachine is “viewed” with the eyes closed: the pulsating light stimulates the optic nerve and thus alters the brain’s electrical oscillations. Users experience increasingly bright, complex patterns of colour behind their closed eyelids (a similar effect may be experienced when travelling as a passenger in a car or bus; close your eyes as the vehicle passes through flickering shadows cast by roadside trees, or under a close-set line of streetlights or tunnel striplights). The patterns become shapes and symbols, swirling around, until the user feels surrounded by colours. It is claimed that by using a Dreamachine one may enter a hypnagogic state. This experience may sometimes be quite intense, but to escape from it, one needs only to open one’s eyes. The Dreamachine may be dangerous for persons with photosensitive epilepsy or other nervous disorders. It is thought that one out of 10,000 adults will experience a seizure while viewing the device; about twice as many children will have a similar ill effect.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

An approach without prejudice to art and esoteric beliefs

Esoteric traditions can be traced back to the very origins of civilisation, having served at different times to structure philosophical, linguistic, scientific or spiritual ideas. Despite their importance for the development of twentieth-century art, they tend to be ignored or disparaged these days due to the dominance of rationalistic thinking and the difficulty of talking about these subjects in clear, direct language.

In recent years, however, many artists have taken a renewed interest in subjects such as alchemy, secret societies, theosophy and anthroposophy, the esoteric strands in major religions, oriental philosophies, magic, psychedelia and drug-use, universal symbols and myths, the Fourth Way formulated by the Armenian mystic Georges Gurdjieff, etc., generating an interest in these fields that had not existed since the counterculture of the sixties and seventies.

According to the writer Enrique Juncosa, curator of this exhibition, this interest “may be due to the fact that we are, once again, living in a restless and unsatisfied world, worried about new colonial wars, fundamentalist terrorism, serious ecological crisis and nationalist populism, just as in the sixties and seventies people feared an imminent and devastating nuclear catastrophe. Furthermore, much of today’s mainstream art is actually rather boring due to its complete lack of mystery and negation of any kind of poetisation or interpretation of our experience of it.”

For the essayist Gary Lachman, author of the text “Occultism in Art. A Brief Introduction for the Uninitiated” in the exhibition catalogue, “in recent years, the art world seems to have become aware of the importance of occultism […]. Admitting the influence of Hermeticism on the Renaissance, or of theosophy on early abstract art, to mention just two examples, helps to re-situate occult forces as an undeniable part of human experience and rescue them from the marginal position to which they had been exiled for a few centuries.”

 

Terry Winters. 'Bubble Diagram' 2005

 

Terry Winters (American, b. 1949)
Bubble Diagram
2005
Oil on linen
215.9 x 279.4 cm
© Mattew Marks Gallery

 

 

Terry Winters (born 1949, Brooklyn, NY) is an American painter, draughtsman, and printmaker whose nuanced approach to the process of painting has addressed evolving concepts of spatiality and expanded the concerns of abstract art. His attention to the process of painting and investigations into systems and spatial fields explores both non-narrative abstraction and the physicality of modernism. In Winters’ work, abstract processes give way to forms with real word agency that recall mathematical concepts and cybernetics, as well as natural and scientific worlds.

 

Fred Tomaselli. 'Untitled [Datura Leaves]' 1999

 

Fred Tomaselli (American, b. 1956)
Untitled [Datura Leaves]
1999
Leaves, pills, acrylic and resin on wood panel
182.88 x 137.16 cm
© Collection Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman NY, Courtesy the FLAG Art Foundation

 

 

Fred Tomaselli (born in Santa Monica, California, in 1956) is an American artist. He is best known for his highly detailed paintings on wood panels, combining an array of unorthodox materials suspended in a thick layer of clear, epoxy resin.

Tomaselli’s paintings include medicinal herbs, prescription pills and hallucinogenic plants alongside images cut from books and magazines: flowers, birds, butterflies, arms, legs and noses, which are combined into dazzling patterns that spread over the surface of the painting like a beautiful virus or growth. He uses an explosion of colour and combines it with a basis in art history. His style usually involves collage, painting, and/or glazing. He seals the collages in resin after gluing them down and going over them with different varnishes.

“I want people to get lost in the work. I want to seduce people into it and I want people to escape inside the world of the work. In that way the work is pre-Modernist. I throw all of my obsessions and loves into the work, and I try not to be too embarrassed about any of it. I love nature, I love gardening, I love watching birds, and all of that gets into the work. I just try to be true to who I am and make the work I want to see. I don’t have a radical agenda.”

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Tomaselli sees his paintings and their compendium of data as windows into a surreal, hallucinatory universe. “It is my ultimate aim”, he says, “to seduce and transport the viewer in to space of these pictures while simultaneously revealing the mechanics of that seduction.” Tomaselli has also incorporated allegorical figures into his work – in Untitled (Expulsion) (2000), for example, he borrows the Adam and Eve figures from Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (1426-27), and in Field Guides (2003) he creates his own version of the grim reaper. His figures are described anatomically so that their organs and veins are exposed in the manner of a scientific drawing. He writes that his “inquiry into utopia/dystopia – framed by artifice but motivated by the desire for the real – has turned out to be the primary subject of my work”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Philip Taaffe. 'Rose Triangle' 2008

 

Philip Taaffe (American, b. 1955)
Rose Triangle
2008
Mixed media on canvas
178 x 178 cm
© Collection Raymond Foye, New York

 

 

About the exhibition

In the fifties, US filmmakers Harry Smith and Jordan Belson made animated films that were precursors of the psychedelia and counterculture of the following two decades. Also at this time, painters associated with abstract expressionism in the US (such as Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt and Agnes Martin) and European Informalists, such as the Catalans associated with Dau al Set (including Antoni Tàpies and Joan Ponç), became interested in the writings of Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, oriental philosophies, the great myths and primitive shamanic rites. The cult US filmmaker Kenneth Anger made films that are still considered radical, influenced by the ideas of the well-known English occultist Aleister Crowley, who was also influential in the world of rock. And Forrest Bess, a self-taught, isolated artist, an unusual figure in the American art of the last century, painted symbolic, visionary images of the universal collective subconscious.

In the sixties and seventies, the emergence of counterculture and the hippy movement was accompanied by an upsurge in interest in esoteric matters and alternative spirituality. US writer William S. Burroughs and French artist and writer Brion Gysin, both interested in occultism and mysticism, developed the cut-up method to write texts using collage, actions which, like the origin of art itself, they considered magic. The American musician Sun Ra, one of the jazz world’s most idiosyncratic figures (he claims he was born on Saturn), set up the secret society Thmei Research in Chicago, and was interested in the writings of Armenian philosopher and master mystic Georges Gurdjieff, and the Ukrainian Madame Blavatsky, creator of the esoteric current known as theosophy. Sun Ra’s compositions, with a big band that performed in strange colourful clothing, were highly radical, embracing improvisation and chaos. In Europe, the German artist Joseph Beuys was inspired by the writings and activities of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, as a model to explain his ideas. Beuys called for a return to spirituality and defended art as a vehicle for healing and social change. The French artist Tania Mouraud, interested in introspection and philosophy, with a strong analytical vein, creates installations that are spaces for meditation, and the Catalan artist Zush, in Ibiza, discovers psychedelia and draws fantastic beings connected by vibrant energies.

The eighties and nineties saw the consolidation of a large number of artists who saw artistic practice as something that can facilitate a higher cognitive level. Several American abstract painters, like Terry Winters, Philip Taaffe and Fred Tomaselli, became interested in spiritual themes. Winters, for example, who took scientific images as his inspiration, based a large series of paintings on knot theory, a mathematical concept that might be seen as an emblem of the hermetic. Taaffe, meanwhile, used ornamental forms from different cultures, combining them in complex configurations of an ecstatic nature, and Tomaselli produced compositions using all kinds of drugs in a reference to psychedelia. In Europe, the German sculptor Wolfgang Laib, interested in Zen Buddhism and Taoism, creates sculptures and installations with symbolic images, like stairs and boats, suggesting ascension, travel and inner transformation, while the Italian Gino de Dominicis, who claimed to believe in extra-terrestrials and was obsessed by Sumerian culture and mythology, creates invisible sculptures. The paintings by Italian Francesco Clemente, a representative of the Transavanguardia movement, feature images of an apparently hermetic nature, creating a singular narrative of spiritual symbolism. The Chilean-French artist Alejandro Jodorowsky explores esoteric ideas in his extraordinary films of great visual imagination and also creates highly celebrated comics. In the nineties, several alternative rock bands such as Psychic TV (led by the English musician, poet and artist Genesis P-Orridge) were also interested in occultism and magic.

 

The origin of the title “Black Light”

The title “Black light” refers to a concept of Sufism, the esoteric branch of Islam that teaches a path of connection with divinity leading via inner vision and mystic experience. Sufism, which regards reality as light in differing degrees of intensity, speaks of a whole system of inner visions of colours that mark the spiritual progress of initiates until they become “men and women of light”. The intention is to achieve a state of supra-consciousness that is announced symbolically by this black light.

Press release from the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona website

 

Chris Martin. 'If You Don't See It Ask For It' 2016

 

Chris Martin
If You Don’t See It Ask For It
2016
Acrylic and glitter on canvas
195.6 x 152.4 x 4.4 cm
© Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Photography: Brian Forrest

 

Genesis P-Orridge. 'Burns Forever Thee Light' 1986

 

Genesis P-Orridge (British, b. 1950)
Burns Forever Thee Light
1986
Hair, Indian corn, wax, saliva, semen, blood, acrylic paint, flourescent tape, pages from Man Myth & Magic, Polaroids, c-prints, paint pen
20 x 25 inches
© Courtesy of the artist and INVISIBLE-EXPORTS

 

 

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (born Neil Andrew Megson; 22 February 1950) is an English singer-songwriter, musician, poet, performance artist, and occultist. After rising to notability as the founder of the COUM Transmissions artistic collective and then fronting the industrial band Throbbing Gristle, P-Orridge was a founding member of Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth occult group, and fronted the experimental band Psychic TV. P-Orridge identifies as third gender.[a]

Born in Manchester, P-Orridge developed an early interest in art, occultism, and the avant-garde while at Solihull School. After dropping out of studies at the University of Hull, he moved into a counter-cultural commune in London and adopted Genesis P-Orridge as a nom-de-guerre. On returning to Hull, P-Orridge founded COUM Transmissions with Cosey Fanni Tutti, and in 1973 he relocated to London. COUM’s confrontational performance work, dealing with such subjects as sex work, pornography, serial killers, and occultism, represented a concerted attempt to challenge societal norms and attracted the attention of the national press. COUM’s 1976 Prostitution show at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts was particularly vilified by tabloids, gaining them the moniker of the “wreckers of civilization.” P-Orridge’s band, Throbbing Gristle, grew out of COUM, and were active from 1975 to 1981 as pioneers in the industrial music genre. In 1981, P-Orridge co-founded Psychic TV, an experimental band that from 1988 onward came under the increasing influence of acid house.

In 1981, P-Orridge co-founded Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, an informal occult order influenced by chaos magic and experimental music. P-Orridge was often seen as the group’s leader, but rejected that position, and left the group in 1991. Amid the Satanic ritual abuse hysteria, a 1992 Channel 4 documentary accused P-Orridge of sexually abusing children, resulting in a police investigation. P-Orridge was subsequently cleared and Channel 4 retracted their allegation. P-Orridge left the United Kingdom as a result of the incident and settled in New York City. There, P-Orridge married Jacqueline Mary Breyer, later known as Lady Jaye, in 1995, and together they embarked on the Pandrogeny Project, an attempt to unite as a “pandrogyne”, or single entity, through the use of surgical body modification to physically resemble one another. P-Orridge continued with this project of body modification after Lady Jaye’s 2007 death. Although involved in reunions of both Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV in the 2000s, P-Orridge retired from music to focus on other artistic mediums in 2009. P-Orridge is credited on over 200 releases.

A controversial figure with an anti-establishment stance, P-Orridge has been heavily criticised by the British press and politicians. P-Orridge has been cited as an icon within the avant-garde art scene, accrued a cult following, and been given the moniker of the “Godperson of Industrial Music”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Harry Smith. 'Untitled, October 19, 1951' 1951

 

Harry Smith
Untitled, October 19, 1951
1951
Ink, watercolour, and tempera on paper
86.36 x 69.85 cm
Collection Raymond Foye, New York

 

Agnes Martin. 'Untitled, No. 7' 1997

 

Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
Untitled, No. 7
1997
Acrylic and graphite on canvas
152.4 x 152.4 cm
Collection “la Caixa”. Art Contemporani
© Vegap

 

 

Agnes Bernice Martin (March 22, 1912-December 16, 2004), born in Canada, was an American abstract painter. Her work has been defined as an “essay in discretion on inward-ness and silence”. Although she is often considered or referred to as a minimalist, Martin considered herself an abstract expressionist. She was awarded a National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1998. …

Martin praised Mark Rothko for having “reached zero so that nothing could stand in the way of truth”. Following his example Martin also pared down to the most reductive elements to encourage a perception of perfection and to emphasise transcendent reality. Her signature style was defined by an emphasis upon line, grids, and fields of extremely subtle colour. Particularly in her breakthrough years of the early 1960s, she created 6 × 6 foot square canvases that were covered in dense, minute and softly delineated graphite grids. In the 1966 exhibition Systemic Painting at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Martin’s grids were therefore celebrated as examples of Minimalist art and were hung among works by artists including Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman, and Donald Judd. While minimalist in form, however, these paintings were quite different in spirit from those of her other minimalist counterparts, retaining small flaws and unmistakable traces of the artist’s hand; she shied away from intellectualism, favouring the personal and spiritual. Her paintings, statements, and influential writings often reflected an interest in Eastern philosophy, especially Taoist. Because of her work’s added spiritual dimension, which became more and more dominant after 1967, she preferred to be classified as an abstract expressionist.

Martin worked only in black, white, and brown before moving to New Mexico. The last painting before she abandoned her career, and left New York in 1967, Trumpet, marked a departure in that the single rectangle evolved into an overall grid of rectangles. In this painting the rectangles were drawn in pencil over uneven washes of gray translucent paint. In 1973, she returned to art making, and produced a portfolio of 30 serigraphs, On a Clear Day. During her time in Taos, she introduced light pastel washes to her grids, colours that shimmered in the changing light. Later, Martin reduced the scale of her signature 72 × 72 square paintings to 60 × 60 inches and shifted her work to use bands of ethereal colour. Another departure was a modification, if not a refinement, of the grid structure, which Martin has used since the late 1950s. In Untitled No. 4 (1994), for example, one viewed the gentle striations of pencil line and primary colour washes of diluted acrylic paint blended with gesso. The lines, which encompassed this painting, were not measured by a ruler, but rather intuitively marked by the artist. In the 1990s, symmetry would often give way to varying widths of horizontal bands.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Matías Krahn Uribe. 'Panamor' 2016

 

Matías Krahn Uribe (b. Santiago de Chile, 1972)
Panamor
2016
Canvas and cotton
225 x 225 cm
© Matías Krahn Uribe

 

 

Matías Krahn (b. Santiago de Chile, 1972) Catalan painter born in Chile who lives and works in Barcelona.

His colourful works are a reflection of the world that surrounds him, of a concrete circumstance and environment, but also of the most intimate and subjective. Interested in the balance between the exterior and the interior, it orders the space and the figures it contains. His work, influenced by surrealism, is the mirror of the psyche and the unconscious that expresses itself in infinite forms and tonalities.

 

Francesco Clemente. 'Tarot cards: the High Priestess' 2009-2011

 

Francesco Clemente (Italy, b. 1952)
Tarot cards: the High Priestess
2009-2011
Water colour, gouache, ink, colour pencil
48.2 x 25.4 cm
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Francesco Clemente (born 23 March 1952) is an Italian contemporary artist. He has lived at various times in Italy, in India, and in New York City. Some of his work is influenced by the traditional art and culture of India. He has worked in various artistic media including drawing, fresco, graphics, mosaic, oils and sculpture. He was among the principal figures in the Italian Transavanguardia movement of the 1980s, which was characterised by a rejection of Formalism and conceptual art and a return to figurative art and Symbolism.

 

 

Black Light – Secret traditions in art since the 1950s: occultism, magic, esotericism and mysticism

This exhibition analyses the influence that different secret traditions have had on art since the 1950s and today. These are traditions that can be traced back to the very origins of civilisation and that have served at various times to structure philosophical, linguistic, scientific and spiritual ideas.

Despite the importance that these ideas had for the development of 20th century art – being fundamental in the work of key figures of modernity such as Piet Mondrian, Vasili Kandinski, Arnold Schönberg, William Butler Yeats and Fernando Pessoa – it is a tradition that has often been ignored in our time because of the dominant influence of rationalist orthodox thoughts, which are often ignored in our times.

Today, however, many contemporary artists re-explore these themes and are interested in issues as diverse as alchemy, secret societies, theosophy and anthroposophy; the esoteric currents of the great religions; oriental philosophies and magic; psychedelia and the ingestion of drugs; universal symbols and myths; the so-called fourth way of the Armenian mystic Georges Gurdjieff, etc., and, in so doing, generate a renewed interest in these issues that did not exist since the years of counterculture in the 1970s. Authors such as Mircea Eliade, historian of religions and novelist; Carl Gustav Jung, psychologist; Henry Corbin, specialist in Sufism, the esoteric current of Islam; Gershom Scholem, specialist in Kabbalah, the esoteric current of Judaism; and Rudolf Steiner, the founding philosopher of anthroposophy, have now found numerous new readers.

The exhibition will present, more or less chronologically, paintings, drawings, films, sculptures, photographs, installations, books, music and documents by artists as varied as Harry Smith, Jordan Belson, Barnett Newman, Agnes Martin, Ad Reinhardt, Antoni Tàpies, Joan Ponç, Henri Michaux, René Daumal, Forrest Bess, Kenneth Anger, Alejandro Jodor. The work of all of them demonstrates the relevance and continuity of these usually ignored traditions, and in many cases understands art as a possible way to reach a higher cognitive level or as a form of knowledge in itself.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue with texts by specialists such as Cristina Ricupero, Gary Lachman, Erik Davies and Enrique Juncosa. The proposal will also investigate and reveal occult traditions and their current context in the cultural production of our country.

Text from the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona website

 

Irrationality from rationality

Vincenç Villatoro, director of the CCCB, has justified the presence of this exhibition in a centre that defends rational culture, alluding to the fact that much of the artistic production can not be understood without its connection to non-rationalistic traditions: mystical, esoteric, hermetic … and points out that although in the second half of the twentieth century the hegemonic thought was the scientist, there was a sensitive part of society that came to other traditions, especially to give meaning to its life. Villatoro warns the visitor that the exhibition La llum negra is not an encyclopedia on hidden traditions, but neither is it intended to be a defence, nor a refutation. But the exhibition points out that for many creators, art is a way to access a deeper reality, which is difficult to access in other ways. Thus, secret tradition and art are complemented.

Gustau Nerín

 

Forrest Bess. 'Homage to Ryder' 1951

 

Forrest Bess (1911-1977)
Homage to Ryder
1951
Oil on canvas
20.8 × 30.5 cm
© Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Gift of Mary and Earle Ludgin Collection

 

 

Forrest Bess (October 5, 1911-November 10, 1977) was an American painter and eccentric visionary. He was discovered and promoted by the art dealer Betty Parsons. Throughout his career, Bess admired the work of Albert Pinkham Ryder and Arthur Dove, but the best of his paintings stand alone as truly original works of art. …

He worked as a commercial fisherman, but painted in his spare time. He experienced visions or dreams, which he set down in his paintings. It was during this time he began to exhibit his works, earning one-person shows at museums in San Antonio and Houston. During his most creative period, 1949 through 1967, Betty Parsons arranged six solo exhibitions at her New York City gallery.

Bess was never comfortable for very long around other people, although he hosted frequent visitors to his home and studio at Chinquapin: artists, reporters, and some patrons made the trip to the spit of land on which Bess’s shack stood. He did forge lasting relationships with a few friends and neighbors, and maintained years-long friendships and correspondence with Meyer Schapiro and with Betty Parsons. But ultimately Bess preferred solitude, and his prolific activities as an artist, highlighted by limited notoriety and success, alternated with longs spells of loneliness, depression, and an ever-increasing obsession with his own anatomical manifesto.

In the 1950s, he also began a lifelong correspondence with art professor and author Meyer Schapiro and sexologist John Money. In these and other letters (which were donated to the Smithsonian Archives of American Art), Bess makes it clear that his paintings were only part of a grander theory, based on alchemy, the philosophy of Carl Jung, and the rituals of Australian aborigines, which proposed that becoming a hermaphrodite was the key to immortality. He was never able to win any converts to his theories or validation from the many doctors and psychologists with whom he corresponded. In his own home town of Bay City, he was considered something of a small-town eccentric.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rudolf Steiner. 'Untitled (Blackboard drawing from a lecture held by Rudolf Steiner on 20. 03. 1920)'

 

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)
Untitled (Blackboard drawing from a lecture held by Rudolf Steiner on 20. 03. 1920)
1920
Chalk on paper
87 x 124 cm
Rudolf Steiner Archiv, Dornach

 

 

Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (27 (or 25) February 1861-30 March 1925) was an Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect and esotericist. Steiner gained initial recognition at the end of the nineteenth century as a literary critic and published philosophical works including The Philosophy of Freedom. At the beginning of the twentieth century he founded an esoteric spiritual movement, anthroposophy, with roots in German idealist philosophy and theosophy; other influences include Goethean science and Rosicrucianism.

In the first, more philosophically oriented phase of this movement, Steiner attempted to find a synthesis between science and spirituality. His philosophical work of these years, which he termed “spiritual science”, sought to apply the clarity of thinking characteristic of Western philosophy to spiritual questions, differentiating this approach from what he considered to be vaguer approaches to mysticism. In a second phase, beginning around 1907, he began working collaboratively in a variety of artistic media, including drama, the movement arts (developing a new artistic form, eurythmy) and architecture, culminating in the building of the Goetheanum, a cultural centre to house all the arts. In the third phase of his work, beginning after World War I, Steiner worked to establish various practical endeavours, including Waldorf education, biodynamic agriculture, and anthroposophical medicine.

Steiner advocated a form of ethical individualism, to which he later brought a more explicitly spiritual approach. He based his epistemology on Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s world view, in which “Thinking… is no more and no less an organ of perception than the eye or ear. Just as the eye perceives colours and the ear sounds, so thinking perceives ideas.” A consistent thread that runs from his earliest philosophical phase through his later spiritual orientation is the goal of demonstrating that there are no essential limits to human knowledge.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

The blackboard drawings are the instructions of a new design language that the artist wants to develop. Steiner believes in the development of a supersensible consciousness, a big change for the future of humanity. He gives many lectures in which he details his research on the concept of transmission and its influence on the social. Whether true or not, artists such as Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky and others are interested in the complex graphics of Steiner and his research. Mondrian will even write: “Art is a way of development of mankind.” (Text from the Culture Box website translated from French)

 

Adaptive image from the exhibition 'Black light'

Adaptive image from the exhibition 'Black light'

 

Adaptive images from the exhibition Black Light: Secret traditions in art since the 1950s at the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona

 

 

Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona
Montalegre, 5 – 08001 Barcelona
Phone: 93 306 41 00

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 11.00 – 20.00

Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona website

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15
Jun
18

Exhibition: ‘Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861’ at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne Part 1

Exhibition dates: 15th March – 15th July 2018

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Colony: Frontier Wars (15 March – 2 September 2018) which presents a powerful response to colonisation through a range of historical and contemporary works by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists dating from pre-contact times to present day.

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers should be aware that this posting contains images and names of people who may have since passed away.

 

 

Installation view of the entrance to the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the entrance to the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the entrance to the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the entrance to the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne featuring 19th century Aboriginal shields from the NGV Collection
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

This is an ambitious double exhibition from the National Gallery of Victoria: historical with a contemporary response. I didn’t have time to take installation photographs of the contemporary exhibition on Level 3 during the media call, concentrating instead on Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861, the historical exhibition on the ground floor of NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne.

A review, along with the installation photographs of the many early photographs present in the exhibition, will be presented in Part 2 of the posting.

Suffice to say that his exhibition should not be missed by any Australian.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All installation photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria.

 

 

Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia 1788-1872

Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia 1788-1872 from The Centre for 21st Century Humanities, The University of Newcastle

 

Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia 1788-1872 from The Centre for 21st Century Humanities, The University of Newcastle

 

Unknown. 'Broad shield' (early 19th century-mid 19th century) 

 

Unknown
Broad shield (early 19th century-mid 19th century)
earth pigments on wood, cane, pipeclay
91.3 x 19.5 x 9.5 cm irreg.
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 2011

 

 

Shields

Aboriginal people have occupied the Australian continent for more than 65,000 years. The arrival and settlement of Europeans, from 1788, affected them profoundly. This proud massing of nineteenth-century shields at the entrance to this exhibition serves as both a reminder of the resilience of Aboriginal people in the face of colonisation, and a representation of the first chapter in Australian art.

The painted and incised designs on the shields are signifiers of the identities and places of these artists whose names, language groups and precise locations were not recorded by European collectors.

There are two kinds of shields traditional to south-east Australia. The first type is narrow and fashioned from a single piece of hardwood, designed to block the forceful blows of clubs, usually in individual combat, and is called a parrying shield. The second is broad and thin with a convex outer face and concave under-surface, and is fashioned from the outer bark or cambium. It is known as a broad or spear shield. This type of shield deflects sharply barbed spears thrown in general fights and also has a ceremonial purpose. These precious cultural objects are of inestimable value to Aboriginal people today. (Text from the NGV website)

 

Melchisédec Thévenot (cartographer, French c. 1620-1692) New Holland, revealed 1644: Terra Australis, discovered 1644 (Hollandia Nova detecta 1644: Terre Australe decouverte l'an 1644)

 

Melchisédec Thévenot (cartographer, French c. 1620-1692)
New Holland, revealed 1644: Terra Australis, discovered 1644 (Hollandia Nova detecta 1644: Terre Australe decouverte l’an 1644)
1644
Ink on paper
50.0 x 37.0 cm
Published in De l’imprimerie de Iaqves Langlois, 1663
National Library of Australia, Canberra
Photo: National Library of Australia

 

 

Included in Melchisédec Thévenot’s travel account of 1663, this is the first published large-scale map of Australia. It shows how much of the continent’s coastline was known to Europeans 100 years before James Cook’s Pacific voyages, which would substantially complete European cartographic knowledge about both Australia and New Zealand. Thévenot’s map was published when French colonial aspirations were expanding and it divides the continent along the 135-degree meridian, which marked the western limit of Spain’s imperial claim in the South Pacific. Designating the eastern, undescribed expanse in French (‘Terre Australe’), the map signals French interest in the land east of New Holland. (Exhibition text)

 

 

European exploration before 1770

The notion that James Cook ‘discovered’ Australia denies the presence of Aboriginal people for 65,000 years and overlooks other European and regional visitors to the Australian coast. The existence of a great southern land, Terra Australis, had long exercised Europeans’ imaginings about the world and began to take a more realistic shape on maps in the early seventeenth century because of maritime exploration. The earliest documented European contact was that of Willem Janszoon and his crew aboard the Dutch ship Duyken, which landed on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula in 1606.

Subsequently, a number of navigators on Dutch and English ships charted the west coast of the continent. Dutch explorer and trader Abel Tasman mapped the west and southern coasts of Van Diemen’s Land in 1642. Two years later, on his second voyage, he reached the north and west coast of Australia, which he named New Holland. The British privateer William Dampier reached the west coast in 1688, and trade between Aboriginal people and the Makassans (from modern-day Indonesia) is documented from around 1720. The Dutch charts of the western coast of Australia were known to the British for more than a century before Cook set sail on his first Pacific voyage. (Text from the NGV website)

 

Unknown 'Beardman jug, from the wreck site of Vergulde Draeck' before 1656

 

Unknown
Beardman jug, from the wreck site of Vergulde Draeck
before 1656
Earthenware Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney
Transferred from Australian Netherlands Committee on Old Dutch Shipwrecks, 1991
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Thirty years after the Batavia was wrecked off the Australian west coast, the VOC ship Vergulde Draeck was destroyed on a reef 100 kilometres north of current-day Perth. More than 300 years later, in 1963, the submerged wreck was discovered by fisherman, and a large quantity of gold and silver bullion and German beardman or bellarmine jugs retrieved from within. The latter name is popularly associated with late sixteenth- to early seventeenth-century cardinal Robert Bellarmine, an opponent of Protestantism who was known for his fierce anti-alcohol stance. These potbellied, anthropomorphic jugs were certainly intended to ridicule him; they were regularly used to store wine. (Exhibition text)

 

Unknown 'Beardman jug, from the wreck site of Vergulde Draeck' before 1656

 

Unknown
Beardman jug, from the wreck site of Vergulde Draeck
before 1656
Earthenware Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney
Transferred from Australian Netherlands Committee on Old Dutch Shipwrecks, 1991
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Isaac Gilsemans (cartographer) 'Coastal profiles of Van Diemen's Land, 4-5 December 1642'

 

Isaac Gilsemans (cartographer)
Coastal profiles of Van Diemen’s Land, 4-5 December 1642
1642
Bound into Extract from the Journal of the Skipper Commander Abel Janssen Tasman kept by himself in discovering the unknown Southland 1642-43, compiled c. 1643-47
Pen and ink
23.5 x 37.6 cm
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Acquired from Martinus Nijhoff, 1926

 

Victor Victorszoon (draughtsman) Johannes van Keulen II. 'Amsterdam Island, St Paul Island, Black swans near Rottnest Island' c. 1724-26

 

Victor Victorszoon (draughtsman)
Johannes van Keulen II
Amsterdam Island, St Paul Island, Black swans near Rottnest Island
c. 1724-26
Plate from Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien (The Old and New East Indies) by François Valentijn, vol. 3, part 2, published by Johannes von Braam and Gerard Onder de Linden, Dordrect and Amsterdam, 1724–26
Engraving
30.4 x 18.5 cm (plate), 34.7 x 22.1 cm (sheet)
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
J.C. Earl Bequest Fund 2011

 

William Ellis. 'View of Adventure Bay, Van Diemen's Land, New Holland' 1777

 

William Ellis (England 1751 – Belgium 1785, Australia 1777)
View of Adventure Bay, Van Diemen’s Land, New Holland
1777
Watercolour and brush and ink
20.0 x 47.3 cm
National Library of Australia, Canberra

 

 

William Ellis served as surgeon’s mate on Cook’s Third Voyage and doubled his duties as unofficial natural history draughtsman, producing numerous sketches and watercolours. In these two watercolours he documents the Discovery and the Resolution harboured in the calm waters of Adventure Bay on Bruny Island, and the distinctive geological features of Fluted Cape at the southern end of the bay. (Exhibition text)

 

William Bradley. 'Botany Bay. Sirius & Convoy going in: Supply & Agents Division in the Bay. 21 Janry 1788'

 

William Bradley (England c. 1757 – France 1833, Australia 1788-91)
Botany Bay. Sirius & Convoy going in: Supply & Agents Division in the Bay. 21 Janry 1788
opposite p. 56 in his A Voyage to New South Wales 1786-92, compiled 1802
Watercolour and pen and ink
19.0 x 24.3 cm (sheet)
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

 

 

William Bradley sailed with the First Fleet as first lieutenant on board HMS Sirius and remained in the colony until 1792. Like many officers he kept a journal, illustrating key events. This work shows the First Fleet’s second contingent of ships sailing in to Botany Bay to join the advance party already anchored there. Signed and dated 21 January 1788, this and other Bradley images are significant eyewitness accounts of history in the making. Bradley compiled this journal after 1802, and may have made copies of earlier drawings. (Exhibition text)

 

 

Landing and settlement at Sydney Cove 1788

Although Botany Bay had been chosen as the site for the establishment of the new penal colony, within days of arriving in January 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip relocated the First Fleet north to Sydney Cove in Port Jackson. Here the ships could be safely anchored and a freshwater stream provided a crucial water supply around which the first rudimentary settlement of tents, huts and the governor’s residence was established. The early years were extremely difficult and the colony faced starvation as the crops failed due to the lack of skilled farmers, unfamiliar climate and poor soil. But as farming pushed into more arable lands during the 1790s, settlement expanded and new townships were laid out, competing for resources with the Aboriginal inhabitants and dispossessing them of their lands.

No official artists accompanied the First Fleet and the colony’s earliest works of art were drawings made by officers trained in draughtsmanship and convicts with artistic skills. These drawings largely comprised ethnographic records of local people, natural history images of flora and fauna, charts and coastal views of the harbour’s topography. By the early years of the nineteenth century views of Sydney emphasised its growth, as urban development symbolised for the colonists the progress of Empire. (Text from the NGV website)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with in the bottom image at right, Sketch and description of the settlement at Sydney Cove, Port Jackson in the County of Cumberland 1788; and second right top, View of the entrance into Port Jackson taken from a boat lying under the North Head c. 1790
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Francis Fowkes (draughtsman) Samuel John Neele (etcher) 'Sketch and description of the settlement at Sydney Cove Port Jackson in the County of Cumberland' 1788

 

Francis Fowkes (draughtsman)
Samuel John Neele (etcher)
Sketch and description of the settlement at Sydney Cove Port Jackson in the County of Cumberland
1788
Hand-coloured etching and engraving published by R. Cribb, London, 24 July 1789
19.6 x 31.7 cm (image), 26.8 x 38.7 cm (sheet)
National Library of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Dated 16 April 1788, this extremely rare map (there are only three known copies) was drawn by former navy midshipman and convict, Francis Fowkes, some three months after the First Fleet arrived in New South Wales. Published in London in July 1789, it presents a schematised view of the infant settlement with buildings, tents, sawpits, workshops, storehouses, quarries and gardens identified in the key. The eleven ships of the First Fleet are shown at anchor and the Governor’s ‘mansion’ is clearly identified on the eastern side of the cove. (Exhibition text)

 

Port Jackson Painter. 'View of the entrance into Port Jackson taken from a boat lying under the North Head' c. 1790

 

Port Jackson Painter
View of the entrance into Port Jackson taken from a boat lying under the North Head
c. 1790
Watercolour
11.7 x 24.2 cm
Rex Nan Kivell Collection: National Library of Australia and National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with at left lower, George Tobin’s Native Hut (or Wigwam) of Adventure Bay, Van Diemans [Diemen’s] Land 1792 folio 16 in his Sketches on H.M.S. Providence; including some sketches from later voyages on Thetis and Princess Charlotte album 1791-1831 watercolour. State Library of New South Wales, Sydney Acquired from Truslove and Hanson, in 1915 – in the image below at bottom left.
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with at bottom centre, Sarah Stone’s Shells 1781
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Sarah Stone. 'Shells' 1781

 

Sarah Stone
Shells
1781
Watercolour over black pencil
43.0 x 58.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2016

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with at left, View of the town of Sydney in the colony of New South Wales c. 1799; and second left of the row of four, Juan Ravenet’s Convicts in New Holland (Convictos en la Nueva Olanda) and English in New Holland (Ingleses en la Nueva Olanda) 1789-94 (see below)
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown artist. 'View of the town of Sydney in the colony of New South Wales' c. 1799

 

Unknown artist (England)
Thomas Watling (after)
View of the town of Sydney in the colony of New South Wales
c. 1799
Oil on canvas
65.0 x 133.0 cm
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Gift of M.J.M. Carter AO through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation in recognition of the abilities of James Bennett to promote public awareness and appreciation of Asian art and culture 2015
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

Transportation to New South Wales

The favourable accounts of New South Wales by James Cook and Joseph Banks were influential in the government’s selection of Botany Bay as the site for a new penal colony. Britain’s loss of the American colonies in 1783 ended convict transportation across the Atlantic and increased the pressure for new solutions to the rising rates of crime and incarceration experienced in late eighteenth-century Britain. The founding of a penal settlement in New South Wales was perceived not only as providing a solution to domestic, social and political problems but also as holding the key to territorial expansion in the South Pacific and the promotion of imperial trade.

The lengthy preparation for the First Fleet raised huge public interest. For most people at that time it was a journey of unimaginable length to a place as remote and unknown as the moon. The eleven ships comprising the First Fleet left Portsmouth in May 1787 with more than 1300 men, women and children on board. Although most were British, there were also African, American and French convicts. After a voyage of eight months the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay in January 1788. (Text from the NGV website)

 

Unknown. 'Transported for sedition' 1793 (installation view)

 

Unknown
Transported for sedition (installation view)
1793
Woodcut on linen
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

This printed linen handkerchief shows five men popularly known as the ‘Scottish martyrs’. In 1794 they were sentenced to transportation to New South Wales for terms of up to fourteen years for the crime of sedition – inciting rebellion against the government of Britain. When published, or printed on paper, images such as this were also considered seditious and censored. Printed handkerchiefs, however, were not subjected to the same sanctions. They had the added advantage of being easily concealed and, when safe to do so, were displayed to show the owner’s political affiliation. (Exhibition text)

 

Juan Ravenet. 'Convicts in New Holland (Convictos en la Nueva Olanda)' 1789-94

 

Juan Ravenet (Italy 1766 – Spain c. 1821)
Convicts in New Holland (Convictos en la Nueva Olanda)
1789-94
From an album of drawings made on the Spanish Scientific Expedition to Australia and the Pacific in the ships Descubierta and Atrevida under the command of Alessandro Malaspina, 1789-94
Brush and ink and wash
19.5 x 12.5 cm
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Juan Ravenet. 'English in New Holland (Ingleses en la Nueva Olanda)' 1789-94

 

Juan Ravenet (Italy 1766 – Spain c. 1821)
English in New Holland (Ingleses en la Nueva Olanda)
1789-94
From an album of drawings made on the Spanish Scientific Expedition to Australia and the Pacific in the ships Descubierta and Atrevida under the command of Alessandro Malaspina, 1789-94
Brush and ink and wash
19.5 x 12.5 cm
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

 

 

Extremely few realistic depictions of convicts in Australia are known. These rare portraits, showing garments worn by male and female convicts and by officials, were painted by one of two artists on board the Spanish expedition (1789-94), led by Alessandro Malaspina, that visited Sydney in 1793. A major scientific expedition, like Cook’s and La Pérouse’s, the visit also had political implications, as Sydney formed a strategic British base in the Pacific that could threaten Spanish interests in the Americas and Philippines. (Exhibition text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with at left, Half-length portrait of Gna-na-gna-na c. 1790
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Port Jackson Painter. 'Half-length portrait of Gna-na-gna-na' c. 1790

 

Port Jackson Painter
Half-length portrait of Gna-na-gna-na
c. 1790
Gouache
29.4 x 24.0 cm
National Library of Australia, Canberra
Rex Nan Kivell Collection

 

 

Indigenous representation

In the early years of settlement there was little contact with the Eora, the Traditional Owners of the area around Sydney Cove, who actively avoided the new arrivals, but as the colony grew, communication, and occasionally friendships, developed. The English had little understanding of the deep relationship between the Eora and their lands, and their careful management of resources, which were soon overstretched by the colonists. Famine and introduced diseases also devastated numerous communities. As the nineteenth century progressed, traditional life along the east coast of Australia was irrevocably changed.

Early images of Aboriginal people reflect the curiosity of the early colonists. Studies of the material culture of Indigenous people, and attempts to record everyday activities ranging from ceremonial gatherings to fishing and hunting, reveal the Europeans’ desire to understand Aboriginal people and culture through ethnographic documentation. Importantly, a number of these portraits include the names of the people depicted – they are not generic representations. The European artists who made these images were fascinated by the appearance of the individuals they encountered, sometimes producing finely detailed drawings and watercolours showing the particulars of hairstyles, ornamentation and scarification. (Text from the NGV website)

 

Piron and Copia. 'Natives of Cape Diemen fishing (Pêche des sauvages du Cap de Diemen)' 1800

 

Jean Piron (draughtsman, Belgium 1767/1771 – south-east Asia after 1795)
Jacques Louis Copia (engraver, Germany 1764-99)
Natives of Cape Diemen fishing (Pêche des sauvages du Cap de Diemen)
1800
Plate 4 from the Atlas pour servir à relation du Voyage à la Recherche de La Pérouse (Atlas of the voyage in search of La Pérouse), by J-J. H. de Labillardière, published by Chez Dabo, Paris 1817
Etching and engraving
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2017

 

 

Jean Piron was an artist trained in the Neoclassical tradition who accompanied the expedition led by Admiral Joseph-Antoine Raymond Bruni D’Entrecasteaux during 1791-94. His drawings from this expedition are the earliest surviving visual observations of the Aboriginal people of Tasmania by French explorers. Prints, engraved after his death, show Piron’s idealised vision of Tasmanian Aboriginal people living in tranquil harmony with their surroundings. However, apart from the spear-throwing man and the accurately depicted fibre and kelp baskets, there is little to indicate Tasmania in the classicised representation of the landscape and its people. (Exhibition text)

 

Samuel John Neele (etcher, England 1758-1825) 'Pimbloy [Pemuluwuy], native of New Holland in a canoe of that country' 1804

 

Unknown artist (draughtsman, active in England early 19th century)
Samuel John Neele (etcher, England 1758-1825)
Pimbloy [Pemuluwuy], native of New Holland in a canoe of that country
1804
Following p. 170 in The Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery in his Majesty’s vessel the Lady Nelson by James Grant, published by Thomas Egerton, London, 1803
Etching
Special Collections, Deakin University, Melbourne

 

 

Pemuluwuy was an important man and warrior of the Eora nation. In December 1790 he gained notoriety after spearing, and killing, Governor Phillip’s gamekeeper. He then went on to lead raids on many of the settlements in the Sydney area, including Parramatta. David Collins, the lieutenant-governor, acknowledged that he was ‘a most active enemy’; however, he also noted that Pemuluwuy’s attacks were precipitated by the vicious ‘misconduct’ of the colonisers. In 1801 Governor King issued a proclamation that Indigenous people could be shot on sight, and placed a bounty on Pemuluwuy. He was murdered by a settler in 1802 and his body was subsequently desecrated. (Exhibition text)

 

John Heaviside Clark (draughtsman Scotland 1770-1863, England 1801-32) Matthew Dubourg (engraver active in England 1786-1838) 'Climbing trees' 1813 (installation view)

 

John Heaviside Clark (draughtsman Scotland 1770-1863, England 1801-32)
Matthew Dubourg (engraver active in England 1786-1838)
Climbing trees (installation view)
Plate 4 from Field Sports &c. &c. of the Native Inhabitants of New South Wales, published by Edward Orme, London
1813
Hand-coloured aquatint
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gurnett-Smith Bequest, 1999
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Field Sports &c. &c. of the Native Inhabitants of New South Wales was the first publication to focus on the representation of Indigenous Australian life. The set of ten colour aquatints was part of a much larger series called Foreign Field Sports, which depicted sporting and hunting pursuits from around the world. These prints contain accurate details, such as the spearthrower, however, the plants and animals are inaccurate and were clearly unfamiliar to the London artists who made them, neither of whom came to Australia. (Exhibition text)

 

John Heaviside Clark (draughtsman Scotland 1770-1863, England 1801-32) Matthew Dubourg (engraver active in England 1786-1838) 'Warriors of New S. Wales' 1813 (installation view)

 

John Heaviside Clark (draughtsman Scotland 1770-1863, England 1801-32)
Matthew Dubourg (engraver active in England 1786-1838)
Warriors of New S. Wales (installation view)
Plate 6 from Field Sports &c. &c. of the Native Inhabitants of New South Wales, published by Edward Orme, London
1813
Hand-coloured aquatint
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gurnett-Smith Bequest, 1999
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The Flinders and Baudin expeditions

Between 1801 and 1804, skilled British navigator Matthew Flinders and his crew aboard the Investigator circumnavigated Australia, funded by the Royal Society and its president Sir Joseph Banks. Their directive was to chart the final stretch of southern coastline that remained unknown on European maps, and learn more about the continent’s extraordinary natural history. A similar French expedition led by Nicolas Baudin on the Géographe and the Naturaliste had already commenced (1800-04). Sent by the Marine Ministry and Napoleon Bonaparte, the expedition sought to map and explore the unfamiliar land and its inhabitants; however, the British feared that it was a reconnaissance mission with a view to founding a French base in New Holland or Van Diemen’s Land.

The most dazzling record of both voyages’ scientific achievement was produced by the artists on board. Travelling with Baudin on the Géographe was Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, who delineated thousands of animal specimens, and Nicolas-Martin Petit, who represented the Aboriginal people encountered on the voyage. Their drawings were the basis for the engravings published in the official account of the expedition, Voyage of Discovery to the Southern Lands (1807–11). Aboard the Investigator was the mature natural history artist Ferdinand Bauer and the talented young landscape painter William Westall. (Text from the NGV website)

 

New Holland: New South Wales. View of the southern part of the town of Sydney

 

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (draughtsman, France 1778-1846)
Victor Pillement (engraver, France 1767-1814)
Marie-Alexandre Duparc (engraver, active in France 18th century – 19th century)
New Holland: New South Wales. View of the southern part of the town of Sydney (Nouvelle-Hollande: Nouvelle Galles du Sud. Vue de la partie meridionale de la Ville de Sydney)
Plate 38 from Voyage de Découvertes aux Terres Australes (Voyage of Discovery to the Southern Lands) atlas, by François Peron and Louis de Freycinet, published by L’Imprimerie Impèriale, Paris, 1807-16
Etching and engraving
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through the NGV Foundation by John Baird, Member, 2005

 

 

Following their lengthy voyage and exploration of the south-east coastline of Australia, the Géographe and Naturaliste struggled into Port Jackson in June 1802. The French crew remained there for five months to recover and repair their ships. The surveying and scientific parties continued with their work, to some British suspicion, and Charles-Alexandre Lesueur drew scenes of Sydney and its surrounds, as well as exquisite natural history records. Taken from their camp on Bennelong Point (where the Sydney Opera House now stands) this view looks across Sydney Cove to where The Rocks and the southern end of the Harbour Bridge are now. (Exhibition text)

 

Ferdinand Bauer (Austria 1760-1826, England 1787-1801, 1805-14, Australia 1801-05) 'Gymea Lily' 1806-13, published 1813 (installation view)

 

Ferdinand Bauer (Austria 1760-1826, England 1787-1801, 1805-14, Australia 1801-05)
Gymea Lily (installation view)
1806-13, published 1813
Plate 13 from Illustrationes florae Novae Hollandiae, sive icones generum quae in Prodromo Novae Hollandiae et insulae van Diemen decripsit Robertus Brown, published London 1813
Colour engraving with hand-colouring
36.2 x 24.3 cm irreg. (image) 39.0 x 25.2 cm (plate) 51.0 x 34.0 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 2004
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Ferdinand Bauer. 'Banksia coccinea' 1806-13

 

Ferdinand Bauer (Austria 1760-1826, England 1787-1801, 1805-14, Australia 1801-05)
Banksia coccinea
1806-13, published 1813
Plate 3 from Illustrationes florae Novae Hollandiae, sive icones generum quae in Prodromo Novae Hollandiae et insulae van Diemen decripsit Robertus Brown, published London 1813
Colour engraving with hand-colouring
36.2 x 24.3 cm irreg. (image) 39.0 x 25.2 cm (plate) 51.0 x 34.0 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 2004

 

 

Austrian-born Ferdinand Bauer is recognised as one of the most accomplished natural history artists who did much of his art while travelling, both in the Mediterranean and then as an official artist on Matthew Flinders’ circumnavigation of Australia (1801-03). Working closely with botanist Robert Brown, Bauer produced over 2000 drawings and watercolours, and continued with his meticulous work upon his return to London. This engraving exemplifies his skill: it is engraved, printed in colour and then carefully handpainted, all by Bauer himself. Regrettably his intended botanical publication ran to only fifteen plates. (Exhibition text)

 

Barthélemy Roger. 'Y-erran-gou-la-ga' 1824

 

Barthélemy Roger (engraver, France 1767-1841)
Nicolas-Martin Petit (after) (draughtsman, France 1777-1804)
Y-erran-gou-la-ga, a native of the environs of Port Jackson (Y-erran-gou-la-ga, suavage des environs du port Jackson)
1824
Plate 24 in the Voyage de Découvertes aux Terres Australes (Voyage of Discovery to the Southern Lands) atlas
Arthus Bertrand, Paris, 1824, 2nd edition
Hand-coloured engraving, etching and stipple engraving printed in black and brown ink
31.5 x 24.1 cm (plate) 36.5 x 27.6 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Joe White Bequest, 2010

 

William Westall. 'Chasm Island, native cave painting' 1803

 

William Westall (England 1781-1850, Australia 1801-03)
Chasm Island, native cave painting
1803
Watercolour
26.7 x 36.6 cm
National Library of Australia, Canberra

 

William Westall. 'A view of King George's Sound' 1802

 

William Westall (England 1781-1850, Australia 1801-03)
A view of King George’s Sound
1802
Watercolour and pen and brown ink
27.9 x 42.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1978

 

 

William Westall was one of two artists who accompanied Matthew Flinders on the Investigator as it circumnavigated Australia between 1801 and 1803. This highly finished watercolour of King George’s Sound in south-western Australia is not a topographical study, but a romantic vision of a vast, silent and forbidding land. Two generic Aboriginal people figures are included in the foreground in the guise of the noble savage. Their classicised robes and the lack of a European presence, particularly the explorers encountering them, shows Westall casting the scene in an Arcadian period prior to British encounter. (Exhibition text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne featuring the Bowman flag 1806 Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Mary Bowman (attributed to) (active in Australia early 19th century)
Bowman flag
1806
Oil on silk
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by John Bowman’s great grandchildren to Richmond Superior Public School, 1905; transferred to the Mitchell Library by the Dept. of Public Instruction, 1916

 

 

Made to commemorate Lord Nelson’s naval victory at Trafalgar, this remarkable flag was flown at Scottish free settler John Bowman’s farm in 1806. The first Australian-made flag, it features the earliest recorded image of a kangaroo and emu supporting a shield, one hundred years prior to the implementation of the current coat of arms. According to family members, the Bowman flag was made from the silk of Honor Bowman’s wedding dress and sewn by her daughter Mary Bowman; however, more recent analysis suggests the design was most likely commissioned from a professional sign painter. (Exhibition text)

 

John Lewin (England 1770 - Australia 1819, Australia from 1800) 'Koala and young' 1803

 

John Lewin (England 1770 – Australia 1819, Australia from 1800)
Koala and young (installation view)
1803
Watercolour and gouache
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Purchased from a descendant of Governor King, 1983
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Surprisingly, koalas were not captured by colonists until 1803, although their existence had been known of for several years, and they were described as cullawine or colo, the names used by Aboriginal hunters. In August 1803 a female and two joeys were taken to Sydney, where they were reported in the recently founded Sydney Gazette. After one joey died, the mother and surviving joey were painted, proficiently by the Sydney-based artist John Lewin, and exquisitely by expedition artist Ferdinand Bauer. Bauer was unable to complete his watercolour in time to be sent on a departing ship, and thus Lewin’s was the first visual record of this animal to reach England. (Exhibition text)

 

John Lewin. 'The gigantic lyllie of New South Wales' 1810

 

John Lewin (England 1770 – Australia 1819, Australia from 1800)
The gigantic lyllie of New South Wales
1810
Watercolour
54.1x 43.6 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Purchased 1968

 

 

Natural history

In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the world was being studied and described by Europeans on a scale never seen before. Exploration in the Pacific revealed unanticipated communities and environments and the vast quantities of material brought back – objects, artefacts, specimens, maps, records, descriptions – were regarded with awe and astonishment. Enlightenment ambitions to understand the world through empirical observation led to intense scientific scrutiny, as people sought to comprehend and to classify this exciting, bemusing abundance. In this period, visual imagery became increasingly important, far exceeding a written description and surpassing dried or dead specimens in its ability to depict form, texture, colour, oddity and beauty.

From the time of the British landing in 1770, the people of Britain and Europe were astounded by what they saw in the colony. Captain (later Governor) John Hunter wrote ‘it would require the pencil of an able limner [artist] to give a stranger an idea of [the colourful birds], for it is impossible by words to describe them’. John Lewin was the first professional artist to arrive in New South Wales. Trained in natural history illustration and printmaking, Lewin promptly began drawing and making etchings of local moths and birds perched on Australian plants. (Text from the NGV website)

 

Unknown. 'The kanguroo, an animal found on the coast of New Holland' 1773

 

George Stubbs after (England 1724-1806)
Unknown (etcher active in England 1770s)
The kanguroo, an animal found on the coast of New Holland
1773
Plate in An Account of the Voyages undertaken … for making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere by John Hawkesworth, printed for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, London, 1773
Etching
Rare Books Collection, State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Of all the ‘discoveries’ made in Australia by the crew of the Endeavour, one completely unexpected creature captured European imaginations; an animal, Cook wrote, like a greyhound except that ‘it jump’d like a Hare or Deer’. Several of these were caught in northern Queensland where they were called gangurru by the local Guugu Yimithirr. In London, Banks commissioned leading animal painter George Stubbs to paint the kangaroo, although he had only skins, skulls and sketches by Parkinson as his guide. This painting was reproduced in the official account of the voyage, published in 1773, two years after the Endeavour returned home. (Exhibition text)

 

Installation views of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with at second right top in the bottom image, James Sowerby’s Embothrium speciosissimum (now Telopea speciosissima) 1793
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

James Sowerby. 'Embothrium speciosissimum (now Telopea speciosissima)' 1793

 

James Sowerby (England 1757 – France 1822)
Embothrium speciosissimum (now Telopea speciosissima)
1793
Plate 7 from A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland, part 2, by James Edward Smith, published by James Sowerby, London 1793
Hand-coloured etching and gum arabic
23.6 x 16.0 cm (image and plate), 30.0 x 23.2 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Joe White Bequest, 2015

 

 

A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland by the preeminent English botanist James Edward Smith was the first book dedicated to the study of Australia’s flora. The publication was illustrated by one of England’s leading botanical artists, James Sowerby, who was working from drawings made by John White, surgeon-general of New South Wales, as well as from dried specimens. The detailed illustrations and use of proper Latin names in Smith and Sowerby’s publication follows the authors’ intention to publish a scientific book that also reached a lay audience. (Exhibition text)

 

Richard Browne (illustrator) 'Insects' 1813

 

Richard Browne (illustrator, Ireland 1776 – Australia 1824, Australia from 1811)
Insects
1813
Page 52 in Select Specimens from Nature of the Birds Animals &c &c of New South Wales collected and arranged by Thomas Skottowe 1813
Watercolour
18.7 x 30.0 cm (page)
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Bequeathed by D.S. Mitchell, 1907

 

 

Convicts with artistic talent were often put to work by their overseers. This was the case for convict Richard Browne who was assigned to Newcastle commandant Thomas Skottowe. Browne hand-painted the illustrations in Skottowe’s 1813 book, Select Specimens from Nature. Upon his release, Browne returned to Sydney, where he continued to paint stylised images of emus, lyrebirds and other animals. He also made portraits of Awabakal and Eora individuals, with the intention of selling these drawings to the developing local market, or as souvenirs to people aboard visiting ships. (Exhibition text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with in the bottom image at right, John Lewin’s Fish catch and Dawes Point, Sydney Harbour c. 1813; and second right, John Lewin’s Platypus 1810
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

John Lewin
Fish catch and Dawes Point, Sydney Harbour (detail)
c. 1813
Oil on canvas
86.5 x 113.0 cm
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Gift of the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation and South Australian Brewing Holdings Limited 1989
Given to mark the occasion of the Company’s 1988 Centenary
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

John Lewin. 'Fish catch and Dawes Point, Sydney Harbour' c. 1813 

 

John Lewin (England 1770 – Australia 1819, Australia from 1800)
Fish catch and Dawes Point, Sydney Harbour
c. 1813
Oil on canvas
86.5 x 113.0 cm
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Gift of the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation and South Australian Brewing Holdings Limited 1989
Given to mark the occasion of the Company’s 1988 Centenary

 

 

In 1812, John Lewin wrote to a friend that he had two oil paintings underway, one of which is believed to be this unusual composition of a haul of fish caught in Sydney Harbour set against the background of Dawes Point (now The Rocks, Sydney). It is thus the earliest oil painting known to have been produced in Australia. Pictured in the composition are various identifiable fish varieties, including a crimson squirrelfish, estuary perch, rainbow wrasse, sea mullet and hammerhead shark, later named the Zygaena lewini (now Sphyrna lewini) after the artist. (Exhibition text)

 

John Lewin (England 1770 - Australia 1819, Australia from 1800) 'Platypus' 1810

 

John Lewin (England 1770 – Australia 1819, Australia from 1800)
Platypus
1810
Watercolour and gouache
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Bequeathed to the Trustees of the National Art Gallery of N.S.W. by Helen Banning; transferred to the Mitchell Library 1913
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Sydney Bird Painter. 'Black Swan' c. 1790

 

Sydney Bird Painter
Black Swan
c. 1790
Watercolour and ink
48.1 x 29.2 cm
Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth

 

 

Images of the black swan, as well as living birds and skins, were sent back to a fascinated Europe. One depiction became the pose de rigueur – a swan afloat, shown in profile like a heraldic symbol, with wings raised to show the white flight feathers. Like the Stubbs kangaroo, this black swan appeared in numerous forms. This beautiful watercolour was painted by an unidentified artist, possibly a member of the First Fleet, whose hand has also been identified in a volume of watercolours depicting birds held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney. Two or three artists made these drawings, and they are now collectively referred to as the Sydney Bird Painter. (Exhibition text)

 

Peter Brown. 'Blue-bellied parrot' 1776

 

Peter Brown (active in England 1758-99)
Blue-bellied parrot
1776
Plate VII in New Illustrations of Zoology: Containing Fifty Coloured Plates of New, Curious, and Non-Descript Birds, with a Few Quadrupeds, Reptiles and Insects, published by B. White, London 1776
Hand coloured etching
19.0 x 24.6 cm (image and plate), 24.0 x 30.5 cm (sheet)
Special Collections, Deakin University, Melbourne

 

 

It is unusual to know about an individual bird but this rainbow lorikeet (as it is now known) was captured at Botany Bay by Tupaia, the skilled Polynesian navigator and arioi (priest) who joined the Endeavour in Tahiti. The bird was taken back alive to London, and presented by Joseph Banks to the wealthy collector Marmaduke Tunstall. A watercolour of it was painted in 1772, and this print was published in 1776, carefully hand-coloured to show the bird’s distinctive plumage. (Exhibition text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with at centre, Joseph Lycett’s Inner view of Newcastle c. 1818
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Joseph Lycett. 'Inner view of Newcastle' c. 1818

 

Joseph Lycett (England c. 1775-1828, Australia 1814-22)
Inner view of Newcastle
c. 1818
Oil on canvas
59.6 x 90.0 cm
Newcastle Art Gallery, Newcastle
Purchased with assistance from the National Art Collections Fund, London UK 1961

 

 

Forger Joseph Lycett was sent to the secondary penal settlement in Newcastle in 1815 after reoffending. His artistic skills soon attracted the patronage of Commandant Captain James Wallis, and under his direction he produced several paintings and drawings for etchings of birds and the landscape, as well as keenly observed watercolours of the local Awabakal people. This view shows the unmistakable profile of Newcastle’s Nobby’s Island, a site which is, according to the Awabakal people, the home of a giant kangaroo that was banished from its kin. The crashing of his great tail against the ground is said to be the cause of earthquakes and tremors in the area. (Exhibition text)

 

 

Newcastle 1804

A penal settlement was established in Newcastle in 1804 as a place of secondary punishment for convicts. The area was rich in natural resources, including timber in the hinterland, large deposits of coal in the cliffs at the entrance to the harbour and shell middens for lime burning. Reoffenders sent to Newcastle experienced gruelling physical labour extracting these materials and desertion occurred frequently.

Yet, from this brutal setting, a rich body of work was born which represents the first local art movement by settlers within the Australian colonies. Over a decade, two commandants overseeing the settlement, Lieutenant Thomas Skottowe (1811-18) and Captain James Wallis (1816-22), both of whom were appointed by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, used convicts with artistic skills on a range of projects and capital works programs. They set artists to work documenting the Newcastle region and the local flora and fauna in drawings, paintings and prints. Others interacted with the local Awabakal people and produced important visual documents recording specific individuals and their way of life. Convicted forger Joseph Lycett was sent to Newcastle in 1815, and was the most significant artist involved in these projects, executing a group of major oil paintings, numerous watercolours, and drawings for subsequent etchings. (Text from the NGV website)

 

James Wallis (Ireland c. 1785 - England 1858, Australia 1814-19) 'View of Awabakal Aboriginal people, with beach and river inlet, and distant Aboriginal group in background' c. 1818 (installation view)

 

James Wallis (Ireland c. 1785 – England 1858, Australia 1814-19)
View of Awabakal Aboriginal people, with beach and river inlet, and distant Aboriginal group in background (installation view)
c. 1818
in his Album of original drawings by Captain James Wallis and Joseph Lycett, bound with An Historical Account of the Colony of New South Wales by James Wallis, published by R. Ackerman, London, 1821 (c. 1817–21)
Watercolour and collaged watercolour
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Purchased 2011
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

This image is one of a number of watercolours painted by Captain James Wallis that were bound into his personal copy of this publication. This naive image shows Awabakal people from the Newcastle region, whose figures have been cut out and collaged over the coastal scene behind. This presents a harmonious relationship between the Awabakal, colonisers and the military. Such a suggestion is at odds with earlier events of April 1816 when Wallis, under the direction of Governor Macquarie, led an armed regiment against Dharawal and Gandangara people south of Sydney, in what is now acknowledged as the first officially sanctioned massacre of Indigenous people in Australia. (Exhibition text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne showing the Dixson collector’s chest c. 1818-20
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

'Dixson collector's chest' c. 1818-20

 

William Temple (cabinetmaker)
Patrick Riley (cabinetmaker)
John Webster (cabinetmaker)
Joseph Lycett (attributed to) (decorator)
James Wallis (after)
William Westall (after)
Dixson collector’s chest
c. 1818-20
Australian Rose Mahogany (Dysoxylum fraserianum), Red Cedar (Toona ciliata), brass, oil, natural history specimens
56.0 x 71.3 x 46.5 cm (closed)
Dixson Galleries, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir William Dixson, 1937

 

 

The Dixson collector’s chest

The Dixson collector’s chest, c. 1818-20, and its close relation, the Macquarie collector’s chest, c. 1818, are rare examples of colonial ‘cabinets of curiosity’ and among the most fascinating and complex objects of the colonial period. The Macquarie collector’s chest was commissioned and likely designed by Captain James Wallis, commandant of Newcastle, to present to Governor Lachlan Macquarie. It is debated whether the Dixson collector’s chest, on display here, was produced as its prototype or subsequently as a second version.

Crafted by expert convict cabinet-makers from local Australian timbers, the cabinet opens to reveal painted panels by convict artist Joseph Lycett. Several show the Newcastle region, while others are painted after views by exploration artist William Westall. The drawers contain shells and originally would have also held other natural history specimens including birds, insects, coral and seaweed, tagged and arranged fastidiously by shape, colour and/or type. It is believed these specimens were collected with the assistance of the local Awabakal people, as Wallis had an amicable relationship with their kinsman Burigon.

Both of these chests were only discovered in the twentieth century; the example owned by Macquarie was found in a Scottish castle in the late 1970s, while the Dixson collector’s chest was acquired by Sir William Dixson, benefactor of the State Library of New South Wales, from a London dealer in 1937. (Text from the NGV website)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with in foreground, showing Dress uniform worn by Sir Edward Deas Thomson, Colonial Secretary of New South Wales 1832-42; and in the background, Augustus Earle’s Captain John Piper c. 1826 and Mary Ann Piper and her children c. 1826
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

In the three years he spent in the colonies, Augustus Earle established himself as one of its leading artists, specialising in portraiture. He was commissioned to produce several portraits of prominent officials including surveyor George Evans, also on display; the departing governor, Sir Thomas Brisbane; and this pair of canvases depicting Captain John Piper and his family. Dressed in a uniform of his own design, Piper is portrayed as a man at the height of his power. The accompanying portrait of Mary Ann with four of their thirteen children depicts the family at home. Her gentility is emphasised by her fashionable dress, banishing all trace of her origins as the daughter of First Fleet convicts. (Exhibition text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne showing Dress uniform worn by Sir Edward Deas Thomson, Colonial Secretary of New South Wales (detail) 1832-42
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown, England / Australia (maker)
Firmin & Sons, London (button maker England est. 1677)
Dress uniform worn by Sir Edward Deas Thomson, Colonial Secretary of New South Wales
1832-42
Wool, silver brocade (appliqué), metal (buttons)
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney Purchased 1966

 

 

Worn by Sir Edward Deas Thomson, Colonial Secretary of New South Wales between 1837 and 1856, this dress coat and trousers formed part of Thomson’s official livery. Loosely based on the Windsor uniform, introduced by King George III, the outfit’s striking red collar and cuffs with oak leaf and acorn hand embroidery impart splendour. In the nascent colony, uniforms were a way to differentiate status, easing anxieties about social mobility and instilling discipline and obedience. (Exhibition text)

 

Augustus Earle (England 1793-1838, Brazil 1820-24, Australia 1825-28) 'Wentworth Falls' c. 1830 (installation view)

 

Augustus Earle (England 1793-1838, Brazil 1820-24, Australia 1825-28)
Wentworth Falls
c. 1830
Oil on canvas
Rex Nan Kivell Collection: National Library of Australia and National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The intrepid artist and adventurer Augustus Earle arrived in Australia in January 1825 at a time when the economic and social hierarchies of the new colony were still in flux. An accidental émigré, rescued from the tiny island of Tristan da Cunha, where he had been marooned, Earle’s enterprising nature and versatile talents saw him build up a rich visual record of the colonial encounter for local and international audiences. These large oils were produced in England, several years after his return from the colony, and are among the first to evoke the scale and grandeur of the Australian wilderness. (Exhibition text)

 

Augustus Earle (England 1793-1838, Brazil 1820-24, Australia 1825-28) 'A bivouac of travellers in Australia in a cabbage-tree forest, day break' c. 1838

 

Augustus Earle (England 1793-1838, Brazil 1820-24, Australia 1825-28)
A bivouac of travellers in Australia in a cabbage-tree forest, day break (see installation photograph below at left)
c. 1838
Oil on canvas
118.0 x 82.0 cm
Rex Nan Kivell Collection: National Library of Australia and National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with at bottom centre, Augustus Earle’s Portrait of Bungaree, a native of New South Wales c. 1826
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Bungaree, or Boongaree, (1775 – 24 November 1830) was an Aboriginal Australian from the Kuringgai people of the Broken Bay area, who was known as an explorer, entertainer, and Aboriginal community leader. He is significant in that he was the first person to be recorded in print as an Australian.

By the end of his life, he had become a familiar sight in colonial Sydney, dressed in a succession of military and naval uniforms that had been given to him. His distinctive outfits and notoriety within colonial society, as well as his gift for humour and mimicry, especially his impressions of past and present governors, made him a popular subject for portrait painters.

Bungaree first came to prominence in 1798, when he accompanied Matthew Flinders on a coastal survey as an interpreter, guide and negotiator with local indigenous groups. He later accompanied Flinders on his circumnavigation of Australia between 1801 and 1803 in the Investigator. Flinders was the cartographer of the first complete map of Australia, filling in the gaps from previous cartographic expeditions, and was the most prominent advocate for naming the continent “Australia”. Flinders noted that Bungaree was “a worthy and brave fellow” who, on multiple occasions, saved the expedition. Bungaree continued his association with exploratory voyages when he accompanied Phillip Parker King to north-western Australia in 1817 in the Mermaid.

In 1815, Governor Lachlan Macquarie dubbed Bungaree “Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe” and presented him with 15 acres (61,000 m2) of land on George’s Head. He also received a breastplate inscribed “BOONGAREE – Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe – 1815”. Bungaree was also known by the titles “King of Port Jackson” and “King of the Blacks”. Bungaree spent the rest of his life ceremonially welcoming visitors to Australia, educating people about Aboriginal culture (especially boomerang throwing), and soliciting tribute, especially from ships visiting Sydney. In 1828, he and his clan moved to the Governor’s Domain, and were given rations, with Bungaree described as ‘in the last stages of human infirmity’. He died at Garden Island on 24 November 1830 and was buried in Rose Bay. Obituaries of him were carried in the Sydney Gazette and The Australian.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Augustus Earle. 'Portrait of Bungaree, a native of New South Wales' c. 1826

 

Augustus Earle (England 1793-1838, Brazil 1820-24, Australia 1825-28)
Portrait of Bungaree, a native of New South Wales
c. 1826
Oil on canvas
68.5 x 50.5 cm
Rex Nan Kivell Collection: National Library of Australia and National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Sydney 1810s-50s

The 1810s through to the 1850s was an era of expansion for the colonists who had settled in New South Wales and a time of continuing dispossession for Aboriginal people. Transportation ended in 1840, but convict labour continued to be assigned to assist with building roads and clearing land for pastoralists. The settler population grew and continued to occupy land further inland, north and south of Sydney. Emigration commissioners in London, and advocates within the colony, worked to encourage the arrival of free settlers, particularly women.

Throughout this period Sydney was the local centre of political power, and social and cultural sophistication. Artistic patronage was fostered. This is reflected in the proliferation of images in which nature and civilisation are pleasantly unified; the newly tamed wilderness placed against views of newly constructed Georgian buildings, demonstrating the colony’s ability to create order and flourish. Portraits were also in demand, and not only reflected the material success of prominent families but were commissioned by the expanding middle class. A print industry was established and expanded as the demand for locally produced prints increased. Images of colonial subjects, including portraits of Aboriginal people, account for a significant proportion of the art market at this time. (Text from the NGV website)

 

Edward Charles Close (Bengal (Bangladesh) 1790 - Australia 1866, Australia from 1817) 'The costume of the Australasians' c. 1817

 

Edward Charles Close (Bengal (Bangladesh) 1790 – Australia 1866, Australia from 1817)
The costume of the Australasians
c. 1817
In his New South Wales Sketchbook: Sea Voyage, Sydney, Illawarra, Newcastle, Morpeth c. 1817-40
Watercolour
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Purchased 2009

 

Installation views of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne featuring Elizabeth Macquarie, Governor Lachlan Macquarie and Lachlan Macquarie junior
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown artist
Elizabeth Macquarie
c. 1819
Watercolour on ivory
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by F. W. Lawson, 1928

Unknown artist
Governor Lachlan Macquarie
c. 1819
Watercolour on ivory
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Miss M. Bather Moore and Mr T. C. Bather Moore, 1965

Unknown artist
Lachlan Macquarie junior
c. 1817-18
Watercolour on ivory State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Miss M. Bather Moore and Mr T. C. Bather Moore, 1965

 

 

Portrait miniatures were produced in England from the sixteenth century, with the first example on ivory painted in 1707. They remained a popular form of portraiture, as they were both intimate and easy to carry, until photography gradually took over all but the high end of the market. In Australia miniatures were similarly popular with the more affluent colonists. Lachlan Macquarie was the governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821. This suite of miniatures, painted in Australia by a skilled but now unknown artist, show Macquarie, his wife Elizabeth and their young son. They were presented to Captain John Cliffe Watts, Macquarie’s aide-de-camp, as a gift and memento of friendship, prior to Cliffe’s return to England in April 1819. (Exhibition text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne showing Henry Gritten’s oil on canvas Hobart, Tasmania 1856 National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1975
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Hobart’s Mount Wellington was a landmark of such majestic beauty that for many it rivalled the magnificent natural harbour of Sydney. The site naturally attracted the pen and brush of many colonial artists including John Glover, Knud Bull and Eugene von Guérard. Henry Gritten, who lived in Hobart from 1856 until at least 1858, painted it many times, and it is almost as common in his oeuvre as his views of Melbourne from the Botanic Gardens of the 1860s. Most artists painted the view from the same vantage point adopted by Gritten, looking across the Derwent River towards the settlement nestled at the foot of the rising mountain. (Exhibition text)

 

 

Van Diemen’s Land 1803

In 1803, 160 years after the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman named and charted Van Diemen’s Land, the British laid claim to the island by relocating convicts and officers from New South Wales to forestall any incursion by the French. Convict transports continued to arrive intermittently in Van Diemen’s Land, mostly bringing prisoners from Britain and Ireland, until 1856, by which time more than 72,000 convicts had been sent there. There were several penal settlements established in Van Diemen’s Land, the most notorious of which were at Macquarie Harbour and Port Arthur.

In 1804, a year after the arrival of the first transports of convicts, Hobart Town was founded on the banks of the Derwent River and it quickly became an important southern trading port.

Over the next twenty years the settlement developed into a cultured, albeit provincial, Georgian township. Local sandstone was widely used to build fine buildings, including places of worship and civic and commercial buildings, and in turn the cultural life of the colony developed. In 1822 fifty-eight per cent of the population of Van Diemen’s Land were convicts, and consequently the majority of artists and artisans came from their ranks. (Text from the NGV website)

 

Unknown, Tasmania. 'Waistcoat' mid 19th century (installation view)

 

Unknown, Tasmania
Waistcoat (installation view)
Mid 19th century
Wool, cotton, bone
Collection of Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, Hobart
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne showing Unknown, Tasmania 'Jacket' mid 19th century

 

Unknown, Tasmania
Jacket (installation view)
Mid 19th century
Wool, linen, cotton, bone
Collection of Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, Hobart
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne showing Unknown, Tasmania Jacket and Indoor cap mid 19th century, wool, linen, cotton, bone
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown
Tasmania Jacket
Mid 19th century
Wool, linen, cotton, bone
Collection of Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, Hobart

Unknown, Tasmania
Indoor cap
Mid 19th century
Wool
Collection of Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, Hobart

 

 

All convicts transported to Australia were issued with a set of clothing designed to differentiate between them and to facilitate identification should they attempt to escape. Although most convicts wore what became known as ‘slops’ in plain greys, dark browns and blues – like this jacket – the lowest class of convicts, particularly those with life sentences, were made to wear yellow. Colloquial terms soon emerged to describe these uniforms: a partly coloured black and buff uniform that demarcated reoffenders became known as a ‘magpie’, while the yellow-suited convicts were called ‘canaries’. (Exhibition text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne showing Lion’s head, Book-shaped puzzle box, Bell and Fork mid 19th century
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown, Tasmania
Lion’s head
Mid 19th century
Iron
Collection of Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, Port Arthur

Unknown, Tasmania
Book-shaped puzzle box
Mid 19th century wood
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston Beattie Collection

Unknown, Tasmania
Bell
Mid 19th century
Wood, brass, iron, bronze
Collection of Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, Hobart

Unknown, Tasmania
Fork
Mid 19th century
Wood
Collection of Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, Port Arthur

 

 

NGV Australia will host two complementary exhibitions that explore Australia’s complex colonial history and the art that emerged during and in response to this period. Presented concurrently, these two ambitious and large-scale exhibitions, Colony: Australia 1770-1861 and Colony: Frontier Wars, offer differing perspectives on the colonisation of Australia.

Featuring an unprecedented assemblage of loans from major public institutions around Australia, Colony: Australia 1770-1861 is the most comprehensive survey of Australian colonial art to date. The exhibition explores the rich diversity of art, craft and design produced between 1770, the arrival of Lieutenant James Cook and the Endeavour, and 1861, the year the NGV was established.

The counterpoint to Colony: Australia 1770-1861, Colony: Frontier Wars presents a powerful response to colonisation through a range of historical and contemporary works by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists dating from pre-contact times to present day. From nineteenth-century drawings by esteemed Wurundjeri artist and leader, William Barak, to the iridescent LED light boxes of Jonathan Jones, this exhibition reveals how Aboriginal people have responded to the arrival of Europeans with art that is diverse, powerful and compelling.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV said: ‘Cook’s landing marks the beginning of a history that still has repercussions today. This two-part exhibition presents different perspectives of a shared history with unprecedented depth and scope, featuring a breadth of works never-before-seen in Victoria. In order to realise this ambitious project, we have drawn upon the expertise and scholarship of many individuals from both within and outside the NGV. We are extremely grateful to the Aboriginal Elders and advisory groups who have offered their guidance, expertise and support,’ said Ellwood.

Joy Murphy-Wandin, Senior Wurundjeri Elder, said: ‘I am overwhelmed at the magnitude and integrity of this display: such work and vision is a credit to the curatorial team. The NGV is to be congratulated for providing a visual truth that will enable the public to see, and hopefully understand, First Peoples’ heartache, pain and anger. Colony: Australia 1770-1861 / Frontier Wars is a must see for all if we are to realise and action true reconciliation.’

Charting key moments of history, life and culture in the colonies, Colony: Australia 1770-1861 includes over 600 diverse and significant works, including examples of historical Aboriginal cultural objects, early watercolours, illustrated books, drawings, prints, paintings, sculpture and photographs, to a selection of furniture, fashion, textiles, decorative arts, and even taxidermy specimens.

Highlights from the exhibition include a wondrous ‘cabinet of curiosities’ showcasing the earliest European images of Australian flowers and animals, including the first Western image of a kangaroo and illustrations by the talented young water colourist Sarah Stone. Examples of early colonial cabinetmaking also feature, including the convict made and decorated Dixson chest containing shells and natural history specimens, as well as a rarely seen panorama of Melbourne in 1841 will also be on display.

Following the development of Western art and culture, the exhibition includes early drawings and paintings by convict artists such as convicted forgers Thomas Watling and Joseph Lycett; the first oil painting produced in the colonies by professional artist John Lewin; work by the earliest professional female artists, Mary Morton Allport, Martha Berkeley and Theresa Walker; landscapes by John Glover and Eugene von Guérard; photographs by the first professional photographer in Australia, George Goodman, and a set of Douglas Kilburn’s silver-plated daguerreotypes, which are the earliest extant photographs of Indigenous peoples.

Colony: Frontier Wars attests to the resilience of culture and Community, and addresses difficult aspects of Australia’s shared history, including dispossession and the stolen generation, through the works of Julie Gough, Brook Andrew, Maree Clarke, Ricky Maynard, Marlene Gilson, Julie Dowling, S. T. Gill, J. W. Lindt, Gordon Bennett, Arthur Boyd, Tommy McRae, Christian Thompson, and many more.

Giving presence to the countless makers whose identities have been lost as a consequence of colonialism, Colony: Frontier Wars also includes a collection of anonymous photographic portraits and historical cultural objects, including shields, clubs, spear throwers and spears, by makers whose names, language groups and Countries were not recorded at the time of collection. Challenging global museum conventions, the exhibition will credit the subjects and makers of these cultural objects as ‘once known’ rather than ‘unknown’.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne showing William Francis Emery’s (active in Australia c. 1850-65) oil on canvas View of Ipswich from Limestone Hill c. 1861 Ipswich Art Gallery Collection, Ipswich
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne featuring 19th century earthenware and stoneware
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Left

Andreas Fritsch (Germany 1808 – Australia 1896, Australia from 1849)
Teapot
c. 1850
Earthenware
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of W. G. Tuck, 1972

Middle

Andreas Fritsch (Germany 1808 – Australia 1896, Australia from 1849)
Coffee pot
c. 1850
Earthenware
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of W. G. Tuck, 1972

Right

Trewenack, Magill, South Australia (pottery 1853-1928)
John Henry Trewenack (potter England 1853 – Australia 1883, Australia from 1849)
Lidded storage jar
c. 1855
Stoneware
National Museum of Australian Pottery, Holbrook, New South Wales

 

 

This sharply waisted coffee pot, with its flat lid and nipped-in knob, is of a traditional German type. Fritsch arrived in Melbourne from Schwarzenbek in northern Germany in 1849, accompanied by his wife and four children. He showed eight earthenware objects (which may have included this coffee pot and teapot) at the Victoria Industrial Society exhibition in Melbourne in 1851. The Argus commented on 30 January that Fritsch’s exhibits, which earned him a large silver medal, ‘shewed [sic] how little necessity there is for Victoria being dependent in this article on any other portion of the globe’.

 

Edward Robert Mickleburgh (England 1814 - late 19th century, Australia from c. 1841-1870s) 'The barque Terror commencing after Sperm Whales' 1840s (installation view)

 

Edward Robert Mickleburgh (England 1814 – late 19th century, Australia from c. 1841-1870s)
The barque Terror commencing after Sperm Whales (installation view)
1840s
Panbone and pigment
Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney
Purchased, 2004
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne showing Panoramic view of King George’s Sound, part of the colony of Swan River 1834
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Lieutenant Robert Dale (draughtsman England 1810-53, Australia 1829-33)
Robert Havell junior (engraver England 1793-1878, United States 1839-78)
Panoramic view of King George’s Sound, part of the colony of Swan River
1834
Engraving, colour aquatint and watercolour on 3 joined sheets
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1958

 

 

This lengthy and detailed print shows the distinctive coastline viewed from the rocky summit of Mount Clarence, with the recently established government farm at Strawberry Hill and what later became Albany below. Drawn by surveyor Lieutenant Robert Dale and translated into print by Robert Havell in London, it depicts Nyungar and European figures in friendly contact, surrounded by native vegetation and animals. The spectacular view may have enticed prospective investors or settlers, promoting an idyllic vision with its abundance of fertile land and peaceful relations with the Traditional Owners. (Exhibition text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne showing at bottom, John Glover’s oil on canvas The Island of Madeira 1831-39 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

John Glover (England 1767 - Australia 1849, Australia from 1831) 'Moulting Lagoon and Great Oyster Bay, from Pine Hill' c. 1838 (installation view)

 

John Glover (England 1767 – Australia 1849, Australia from 1831)
Moulting Lagoon and Great Oyster Bay, from Pine Hill (installation view)
c. 1838
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with assistance of an anonymous donor and the M. G. Chapman Bequest, 2011
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

John Glover. 'View of Mills Plains, Van Diemen's Land' 1833

 

John Glover (England 1767 – Australia 1849, Australia from 1831)
View of Mills Plains, Van Diemen’s Land
1833
Oil on canvas
76.2 x 114.6 cm
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Morgan Thomas Bequest Fund 1951

 

 

John Glover was a mature and well-established artist by the time he immigrated to Van Diemen’s Land in 1831. He had enjoyed a long and mostly successful career as a painter in England and had exhibited at London’s Royal Academy on several occasions. He took to the bright light and colour of Van Diemen’s Land easily, depicting the distinctive terrain and vegetation with unerring naturalism and the selective, idealising eye of the picturesque painter. He established a farm named Patterdale in Deddington, outside of Launceston, with his sons. The property and surrounding Mills Plains countryside often feature as a subject in his paintings. (Exhibition text)

 

 

Van Diemen’s Land 1820s-50s

The increased arrival of free settlers from the 1820s onwards saw the colony of Van Diemen’s Land evolve from a brutal penal settlement into an economically sound and vibrant cultural centre. With its pleasant climate, few droughts and floods, and open grassland, which seemed pre-prepared for aspiring pastoralists, Van Diemen’s Land became the preferred destination for immigrants. By 1830, almost a third of the arrivals to Australia settled in the south, and the small island experienced economic prosperity.

Colonial society was increasingly able to support a vibrant artistic community, composed of amateurs and professionals, free settlers, highly skilled convicts and emancipists who found patronage despite their unsavoury backgrounds. In August 1837 the colony asserted its cultural superiority when Hobart hosted the first exhibition of art to be held in Australia, under the patronage of Lieutenant-Governor John Franklin and his wife, Jane. The Franklins had arrived in Hobart earlier that year, and during their tenure (1837-43) enthusiastically fostered the development of intellectual life, regarding the visual arts as an outward signifier of culture in the colony. The Vandemonian art, decorative arts and design produced from the 1830s to the early 1850s are among the most sophisticated and diverse of the colonial era. (Text from the NGV website)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with at left, John Glover’s The River Nile, Van Diemen’s Land, from Mr Glover’s farm 1837; at centre, Hamilton Inn Sofa c. 1825; and in cabinet Necklace late 19th century
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

John Glover (England 1767 - Australia 1849, Australia from 1831) 'The River Nile, Van Diemen's Land, from Mr Glover's farm' 1837

 

John Glover (England 1767 – Australia 1849, Australia from 1831)
The River Nile, Van Diemen’s Land, from Mr Glover’s farm
1837
Oil on canvas
76.4 x 114.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1956

 

 

John Glover’s colonial landscapes can be divided into two groups: pastoral scenes of the land surrounding his own property, and pre-contact Aboriginal Arcadias. Although the Aboriginal figures are at times generic, they are shown as active participants in the landscape. Such scenes were, however, entirely imagined, as Glover encountered very few Tasmanian Aboriginal people while in the colony. Glover had not experienced the conflict or witnessed the violence between Tasmanian Aboriginal resistance fighters and white settlers during the 1820s. By the time of his arrival in 1831, the Tasmanian Aboriginal survivors had been forced to leave Country and relocate to Flinders Island.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with at front left, Necklace late 19th century
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown (Tasmanian Aboriginal active late 19th century)
Necklace
Late 19th century
Maireener shells (Phasianotrochus sp.)
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart

 

 

Shell necklace-making represents the most significant cultural tradition of Tasmanian Aboriginal women, one of few customary practices that has continued without interruption from long before British colonisation of Van Diemen’s Land in 1803. This necklace is strung from the rarest and most highly prized of shells, the maireneer (Phasianotrochus sp.). Seasonally gathered directly from the sea, maireneer shells are painstakingly processed to remove the outer brown casing and reveal their pearlescent lustre before being pierced and strung. Eighteenth-century French explorers remarked on the iridescent beauty of maireneer shell necklaces, and the esteem in which they were held by their skilled makers. (Exhibition text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne showing Thomas Bock’s paintings John Robertson 1850 (top left); Mrs William Robertson mid 1830s (bottom left); Jessie Robertson 1850 (top right); and Captain William Robertson 1830s (bottom right) all oil on canvas, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide Mrs Mary Overton Gift Fund 1996
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Sentenced to transportation for fourteen years, Thomas Bock arrived in Hobart in 1824. He was already successful as an engraver in Birmingham so was put to work by government officials, engraving bank notes for the Bank of Van Diemen’s Land, stationery and illustrations for locally printed publications. Following his pardon, he was kept busy with painting commissions. His elegant and flattering portraits, executed in the grand Georgian manner fashionable in England, were greatly prized by colonists. In addition to painting these likenesses, Bock is believed to have photographed Captain Robertson, his wife and their son William junior in the early 1850s. (Exhibition text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with at centre, Hamilton Inn Sofa c. 1825
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown, (Tasmania)
Hamilton Inn Sofa
c. 1825
Red Cedar (Toona ciliata), Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus sp.), pearwood, Mahogany, metal (steel and brass fittings), horsehair, wool, cotton
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Purchased for the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery by Federal Group with the assistance of the Art Foundation of Tasmania, 2005

 

 

This sofa is believed to be one of the earliest pieces of Tasmanian-made furniture. It is characteristically austere and reflects the Greek Revival taste popular in Britain during the Regency period, relying on the discipline of its refined line and silhouette for effect with ornamentation restricted to geometric motifs. Significantly, it has only been subject to repairs to stabilise the upholstery and framework, meaning it is in near original condition, rare for colonial furniture of this type. Usually, upholstery of this age has been replaced multiple times due to daily wear and tear and changing tastes in home furnishings. (Exhibition text)

 

Little is known of the sofa’s provenance before the late 19th century, when it entered the Sonners family of Hamilton – residents of the original Hamilton Inn from 1912 until the 1990s. Its earliest confirmed owner was Albert Sonners (1860 – 1935). The sofa’s maker, their client and the circumstances of production – including the date of manufacture – remain the subject of ongoing research.

However, it appears likely that the sofa was made during the 1820s, when wealthy colonists started to build large houses of the kind implied by the scale of the Hamilton Inn sofa. The sofa’s ambitious design would have been the height of fashion in the first decade of the 19th century, and is typical of the then fashionable, Greek-revival style. Pattern books became increasingly important as sources of ideas and promulgators of fashions from the late eighteenth century.

Thomas Hope’s (1769-1831) Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, published in 1807, was the first to promote the Greek-revival style and may have indirectly influenced the design of the Hamilton Inn sofa. The double-ended sofa – with scrolled arms and ‘sabre’ legs – displays an aesthetic that is restrained and geometric, consisting of shaped and relieved panels, reeding and tablets of decorative veneers.

The apparent simplicity emphasises the sofa’s elegant, curved and sweeping profile. Structural components made in Tasmanian hardwoods are disguised by either the upholstery or by cedar panels that also serve to disguise the attaching points for the upholstery. Ultimately, the design and scale of the sofa records the rapid transmission of British fashions to the new island colony, as well as the early presence of highly skilled furniture makers in Tasmania.

Text from the ABC Radio Hobart website

 

In November 2005, an unrestored red cedar couch discovered in a Tasmanian shed came up for auction in Hobart. The owner of the couch only wanted to make enough money to mend a fence. Instead, the couch sold at a drama-fuelled auction for more than $310,000.

At the auction, the couch was initially knocked down for $48,000 but a bidder protested and the auctioneer was forced to reopen the bidding. When the new round of bidding finally ceased, the sale was one of the highest prices ever paid for a piece of Australian furniture.

The couch was purchased by the Federal Group, a local Tasmanian hospitality and tourism group, with the assistance of the Art Foundation of Tasmania. It donated it to Hobart’s Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. …

When the gallery received the couch it faced a dilemma. The timber finish and upholstery were in poor condition and there was discussion over whether it should be restored or left untouched. After much consultation with experts, it was decided to improve the appearance without compromising the historical significance.

“It has the original upholstery, which is very unusual for this age,” says Hughes. “The finish and the wood are also pretty much original. So this makes it an extremely rare historical document, as well as a fantastic object.

“It has survived with more information than almost any other piece of colonial furniture. It has much to tell us about craftsmanship, materials and design in the early years of the Australian colonies.”

Text from The Australian website

 

Mary Morton Allport (England 1806 - Australia 1895, Australia from 1830) 'John Glover' c. 1832

 

Mary Morton Allport (England 1806 – Australia 1895, Australia from 1830)
John Glover
c. 1832
Watercolour on ivory, Huon Pine veneer, gilt
11.8 x 9.3 cm
Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Hobart

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Frederick Woodhouse Senior (England 1820 – Australia 1909, Australia from 1858)
Owner, trainer, horse and jockey (installation view)
1858
Oil on canvas
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Elder Bequest Fund 1980
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation views of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with at bottom right, Benjamin Duterrau’s (England 1761 – Australia 1851, Australia from 1832) oil on canvas Tasmanian Aboriginal 1837; and Thomas Bock’s Woureddy [Wurati]: Native of Bruné Island, Van Diemen’s Land c. 1837 third from left, botttom
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Tasmanian Aboriginal People

Between the establishment of the settlement of Hobart in 1804 and the early 1820s the British government granted to settlers just over 100,000 acres of land already occupied by Tasmanian Aboriginal people. By the beginning of the 1830s more than fourteen times this acreage had been taken over by Europeans. During these decades, Tasmanian Aboriginal communities were ravaged by introduced diseases and famine as their hunting grounds disappeared, and were involved in violent clashes with the settler population. These conflicts escalated during the 1820s and came to be known as the Black War.

In 1830, George Augustus Robinson was engaged in the so-called Friendly Mission, which sought to make peaceful contact with the Tasmanian Aboriginal people remaining on Country. With the assistance of groups of Aboriginal individuals, he persuaded those still living freely on the land to relocate to the Wybalenna settlement on Flinders Island. By 1835, many of the Tasmanian Aboriginal population lived permanently on Flinders Island, waiting to return to Country as they had been promised. Their numbers dwindled rapidly and in 1847 the remaining forty-seven individuals were forced to move to a former penal settlement at Oyster Cove, until the site was closed in 1874. Their traditions have lived on through Tasmanian Aboriginal people living outside of the official Wybalenna settlement in other coloniser and fishing communities. (Text from the NGV website)

 

Benjamin Duterrau (England 1761 - Australia 1851, Australia from 1832) 'Tasmanian Aboriginal' 1837

 

Benjamin Duterrau (England 1761 – Australia 1851, Australia from 1832)
Tasmanian Aboriginal
1837
Oil on canvas on composition board
National Library of Australia, Canberra
Presented by Mrs A. M. Barker 1936
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Benjamin Duterrau arrived in Van Diemen’s Land at the age of sixty-five as a free settler. He had planned to take up the position of drawing and music master at Ellinthrop Hall in Hobart, a fashionable school for ladies; however, this post was instead taken up by Henry Mundy. He lectured often on the importance of the fine arts in the developing colony after his arrival. Working predominantly in portraiture and occasionally in landscape, he is best known for producing the first Australian history paintings, which recorded the so-called ‘conciliation’ between Chief Protector of the Aborigines George Augustus Robinson and the Tasmanian Aboriginal people. (Exhibition text)

 

Thomas Bock (England 1790 - Australia 1855, Australia from 1824) 'Woureddy [Wurati]: Native of Bruné Island, Van Diemen's Land' c. 1837

 

Thomas Bock (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
Woureddy [Wurati]: Native of Bruné Island, Van Diemen’s Land
c. 1837
From the album Sketches in New South Wales and Tasmania by John Thompson, 1827–32
watercolour
28.3 x 21.0 cm
Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Bequeathed by Sir William Dixson, 1952

 

 

Between 1830 and 1834 Thomas Bock completed several watercolour portraits of Tasmanian Aboriginal people, many of whom were associated with George Augustus Robinson’s so-called ‘friendly mission’. Commissioned by Robinson himself, these sensitively rendered images were so admired for their accuracy that Bock was asked to make several duplicate copies by patrons Lady Jane Franklin and Reverend Henry Dowling. This group derives from one of these subsequent sets. The subject, Wurati of Bruny Island, was the husband of Trukanini and accompanied Robinson throughout Van Diemen’s Land in the early 1830s, and through Port Phillip between 1839 and 1842. He died just prior to returning to Flinders Island in 1842. (Exhibition text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne showing Ludwig Becker’s Aborigines of Tasmania 1852
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Ludwig Becker (Germany 1808 - Australia 1861, Australia from 1851) 'Aborigines of Tasmania: Woannadie, young woman' 1852

 

Ludwig Becker (Germany 1808 – Australia 1861, Australia from 1851)
Aborigines of Tasmania: Woannadie, young woman
1852
Watercolour
Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased 1960

 

Ludwig Becker (Germany 1808 - Australia 1861, Australia from 1851) 'Aborigines of Tasmania: Naplomata, grandmother' 1852

 

Ludwig Becker (Germany 1808 – Australia 1861, Australia from 1851)
Aborigines of Tasmania: Naplomata, grandmother
1852
Watercolour
Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased 1960

 

 

Ludwig Becker arrived in Launceston in 1851 and remained in Van Diemen’s Land for a year before relocating to Melbourne. During this time he produced small but poignant portraits of Tasmanian Aboriginal women living at Oyster Cove, south of Hobart. In 1847, the survivors of Wybalenna had returned to the mainland. Of the some 200 who were removed to Bass Strait, only forty-seven returned. By the time of Becker’s visit, close to a third of their population had died, and by the end of the decade approximately twelve people remained. (Exhibition text)

 

Douglas T. Kilburn. 'No title (Group of Koori men)' c. 1847

 

Douglas T. Kilburn
No title (Group of Koori men)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype; leather, wood, velvet, brass
7.5 x 6.5 cm (image) 9.2 x 7.9 x 1.7 cm (case) (closed)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1983

 

Douglas T. Kilburn. 'No title (Group of Koori men)' c. 1847 (detail)

 

Douglas T. Kilburn
No title (Group of Koori men) (detail)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype; leather, wood, velvet, brass
7.5 x 6.5 cm (image) 9.2 x 7.9 x 1.7 cm (case) (closed)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1983

 

 

As a way of attracting attention to his newly opened business Douglas Kilburn took at least eight daguerreotypes of Aboriginal people in the lands of the Kulin nation. As a result of the nineteenth-century belief that the Aboriginal people were doomed to annihilation, Kilburn intended the images as ethnographic studies rather than individual portraits; nevertheless, his unnamed sitters project a proud and dignified presence. His photographs were popular with local artists such as Eugene von Guérard and John Skinner Prout, who copied them, and they also reached an international audience when they were used as the basis for wood engravings in William Westgarth’s Australia Felix in 1848, Nordisk Penning-Magazin in 1849 and the Illustrated London News in 1850. (Exhibition text)

 

 

The Port Phillip District

In 1835, Melbourne was established on the Country of the Kulin nation on the northern bank of Birrarung, the ‘river of mists and shadows’. Contact between Indigenous peoples and European explorers and raiding groups of sealers had begun prior to the arrival of hopeful colonists from Van Diemen’s Land. They were soon followed by John Pascoe Fawkner and John Batman, each leading separate parties of settlers keen to secure acreage on the fertile lands found in what was soon to be known as the Port Phillip District.

In the early years Melbourne went through a period of rapid development, quickly becoming a progressive provincial town. In 1839 a visitor noted: ‘When I was here three years ago there were but two houses of any note whatever … Now I find a town occupying an area of nearly a mile square, on which are some hundreds of houses, and many of them spacious and well-built edifices’. In tandem with the settlement of Melbourne, pastoral expansion devastated Aboriginal communities already severely affected by disease. Dispossessed of their traditional lands and forced from Country and the food sources that had long sustained them, the remaining populations faced starvation. (Text from the NGV website)

 

Unknown (New South Wales / Victorian Aboriginal active 19th century) 'Club' 19th century (installation view)

 

Unknown (New South Wales / Victorian Aboriginal active 19th century)
Club
19th century
Wood
Koorie Heritage Trust, Melbourne
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Douglas T. Kilburn. 'No title (Group of Koori women)' 1847

 

Douglas T. Kilburn
No title (Group of Koori women)
1847
Daguerreotype; glass, brass, gold
6.6 x 5.4 cm (image)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1999

 

Douglas T. Kilburn. 'No title (Group of Koori women)' 1847 (detail)

 

Douglas T. Kilburn
No title (Group of Koori women) (detail)
1847
Daguerreotype; glass, brass, gold
6.6 x 5.4 cm (image)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1999

 

Henry Gritten (England 1818 - Australia 1873, Australia from 1853) 'Melbourne from the south bank of the Yarra' 1856

 

Henry Gritten (England 1818 – Australia 1873, Australia from 1853)
Melbourne from the south bank of the Yarra
1856
Watercolour over traces of pencil
(25.6 x 35.8) (image)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of John H. Connell, 1914

 

Ludwig Becker (Germany 1808 - Australia 1861, Australia from 1851) 'Melbourne from across the Yarra' 1854

 

Ludwig Becker (Germany 1808 – Australia 1861, Australia from 1851)
Melbourne from across the Yarra
1854
Tempera and watercolour on gesso on cardboard
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
V. K. Burmeister Bequest Fund and South Australian Government Grant 1990

 

Robert Dowling (England 1827-86, Australia 1834-57, 1884-86) 'Jane Sceales with daughters, Mary Jane and Hilda' c. 1856 (installation view)

 

Robert Dowling (England 1827-86, Australia 1834-57, 1884-86)
Jane Sceales with daughters, Mary Jane and Hilda (installation view)
c. 1856
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2016. Acquired through family of Ella Lewis (nee Hood), granddaughter of Jane Hood (nee Sceales)
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Jane Sceales and her daughters lived at Merrang, the pastoral run next to Minjah, owned by Joseph Ware. This is one of two known mourning portraits commissioned by Jane after the death of her husband Adolphus Sceales in 1855, produced while Robert Dowling was staying and working at Minjah. Scottish-born Jane is depicted in mourning dress, a teal and black tartan bow knotted elegantly at her collar. The skirt of her elder daughter, Mary Jane, is trimmed in the same fabric. By the close of 1856, Jane had remarried Robin Hood, becoming the matriarch of one of the most prominent families of the Western District. (Exhibition text)

 

Robert Dowling (England 1827-86, Australia 1834-57, 1884-86) 'Masters George, William and Miss Harriet Ware with the Aborigine Jamie Ware' 1856 (installation view)

 

Robert Dowling (England 1827-86, Australia 1834-57, 1884-86)
Masters George, William and Miss Harriet Ware with the Aborigine Jamie Ware (installation view)
1856
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Eleanor M. Borrow Bequest, 2007
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Robert Dowling (England 1827-86, Australia 1834-57, 1884-86) 'Masters George, William and Miss Harriet Ware with the Aborigine Jamie Ware' 1856

 

Robert Dowling (England 1827-86, Australia 1834-57, 1884-86)
Masters George, William and Miss Harriet Ware with the Aborigine Jamie Ware
1856
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Eleanor M. Borrow Bequest, 2007

 

 

In the late 1830s the young brothers Jeremiah, Joseph and John Ware, the eldest just twenty years of age, had played a major role in the settlement of the Western District in Victoria. By 1856 they were established and notable figures in the colony and had become significant patrons of the fine arts.

Robert Dowling’s family portrait Masters George, William, and Miss Harriet Ware and the Aborigine Jamie Ware is set in the grounds of pastoralist Joseph Ware’s property, Minjah. The group is headed by the eldest son, George, who bears a staff, the Biblical symbol of leadership often associated with Moses. To the right sits his younger brother, William, on the left is their sister Harriet and the Mopor youth from Spring Creek who took the family name, Jamie Ware. The portrait has remained with the descendants of the Ware family since its commission and is a poignant depiction of interracial accord.

There is an obvious affection between Jamie and Harriet: he reclines comfortably while the young girl drapes her arm casually over his leg. The absence of Jamie’s employers – the children’s parents, John and Barbara Ware, gives added resonance to the work, revealing the trust and intimate position Jamie held in the family. The depiction of the youth in European dress rather than as an anthropological study expresses the family’s concern for harmonious relations with Indigenous people.

Jamie’s inclusion is also symbolic of the Ware family’s awareness of the traumatic post-contact history experienced by Indigenous Australians, an understanding that was not generally shared in mid-nineteenth-century Victoria. By the 1850s it was reported that Tasmania’s Indigenous population had been decimated, which would have been a significant issue for Dowling and the Wares who had all migrated from the southern-most colony. Dowling painted a number of works that were intended as memorials, such as the NGV’s Tasmanian Aborigines, 1856, and Warrnambool Art Gallery’s Minjah in the old time, 1856. While these works look to the past and convey a sense of mourning, the Ware family portrait looks positively towards a more harmonious future and therefore is a transformative work to enter the NGV’s nineteenth-century Australian collection.

Masters George, William, and Miss Harriet Ware and the Aborigine Jamie Ware joins a number of works in the NGV collection that share a Ware family provenance. Joseph Ware commissioned six works from Dowling between 1855 and 1856, and the NGV collection contains works acquired by his younger brother, John Ware, that were donated in 2004 as part of the Joseph Brown Collection. These include Eugène von Guérard’s Spring in the valley of the Mitta Mitta with the Bogong Ranges in the distance, 1863, and the homestead portrait of John Ware’s Yalla-y-Poora, 1864.

Dowling continued to receive Ware family patronage after he left Australia in 1857; his portrait Miss Annie Ware, 1882, the daughter of John Ware, being commissioned during the sitter’s European travels.

Humphrey Clegg, Assistant Curator, Australian Art, NGV (in 2007)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with at centre middle, Martha Berkeley’s oil on metal Georgina, Emily and Augusta Rose c. 1848
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The Province of South Australia 1836

As early as 1829 the development of a convict‑free colony, home to settlers and migrants from Britain, was mooted. Seven years later, with regal approval, the Province of South Australia was officially proclaimed. Nine ships carrying free settlers to the colony set sail from England in 1836. They landed at Kangaroo Island and Holdfast Bay and finally settled on the banks of the Torrens River, where the township of Adelaide was established. With a number of trained artists among the early colonists, South Australia rapidly secured a position comparable to that of Hobart as a sophisticated centre for the visual arts.

These artists documented the earliest years of the colony and the first settlers. In 1845, Australia’s first solo exhibition was held by George French Angas, and two years later Adelaide artists held a group exhibition in the new colony. The discovery of gold in Victoria led to an exodus to the eastern colonies, slowing but not halting activity in South Australia.

The Province of South Australia was established on the land of the Kaurna people; the South Australia Act of 1834 included a guarantee of the rights of ‘any Aboriginal Natives’ and their descendants to lands they ‘now actually enjoy’. Despite these worthy ambitions, colonial expansion did ultimately dispossess and marginalise Aboriginal people. (Text from the NGV website)

 

Alexander Schramm (Germany 1813 - Australia 1864, Australia from 1849) 'A scene in South Australia' c. 1850 (installation view)

 

Alexander Schramm (Germany 1813 – Australia 1864, Australia from 1849)
A scene in South Australia (installation view)
c. 1850
Oil on canvas
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
South Australian Government Grant 1982
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Martha Berkeley (England 1813 - Australia 1899, Australia from 1837) 'Georgina, Emily and Augusta Rose' c. 1848

 

Martha Berkeley (England 1813 – Australia 1899, Australia from 1837)
Georgina, Emily and Augusta Rose
c. 1848
Oil on metal
36.4 x 39.5 cm
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
M.J.M. Carter AO Collection 2007
Given in memory of Di Townsend, Betty McIlwham and fellow Gallery Guides’ education programs for children

 

 

Martha Berkeley’s painting practice encompassed landscapes and views of the infant settlement, flower studies and portraiture. She depicted her family on several occasions and her portraits of her husband Charles, sister Theresa, brother-in-law and children are among her finest paintings. This charming group portrait presents her three daughters against the backdrop of their home in Adelaide. Berkeley adopts a format typical of Regency depictions of children; the youthful trio are happily engaged in the wholesome activity of posy-making, with the eldest, Augusta Rose, looking towards the viewer, as though appealing to them to join in. (Exhibition text)

 

S.T. Gill (England 1819 - Australia 1880, Australia from 1839) 'Port Adelaide looking north along Commercial Road' 1847

 

S.T. Gill (England 1819 – Australia 1880, Australia from 1839)
Port Adelaide looking north along Commercial Road
1847
Watercolour
20.3 x 32.0 cm
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Morgan Thomas Bequest Fund 1923

 

S.T. Gill. 'Country NW of tableland, Aug. 22 1846' 1846

 

S.T. Gill (England 1819 – Australia 1880, Australia from 1839)
Country NW of tableland, Aug. 22 1846
1846
Watercolour
19.0 x 30.7 cm
National Library of Australia, Canberra
Gift of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to the Australian Government, 1956

 

 

Along with government-supported expeditions, individuals also sought to discover new stock routes and pastures. In 1846 John Ainsworth Horrocks organised one such venture to explore beyond Lake Torrens, and S. T. Gill volunteered to accompany the party, with goats for food and a pack camel, named Harry. The trip ended abruptly when Horrocks accidentally shot himself at a desolate salt lake – he died later at his property in the Clare Valley. Gill subsequently painted a series of ‘faithful scenic representations’ documenting their tragic journey and exhibited them in Adelaide in 1847, providing the public with an accurate indication of South Australia’s dry interior. (Exhibition text)

 

George French Angas. 'Encounter Bay looking south' 1844

 

George French Angas (England 1822-86, Australia 1844-45, 1850-63)
Encounter Bay looking south
1844
Watercolour
26.2 x 35.9 cm
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Bequest of J. Angas Johnson 1902

 

 

George French Angas was the eldest son of one of the founding members of the South Australian Land Company, formed to develop a settlement in South Australia, and came to Australia as an experienced naturalist, artist and author. He travelled widely throughout South Australia, to the Murray River and down to Lake Coorong, sketching the countryside, and the customs and dwellings of the Aboriginal people he met, as well as spending time in New Zealand. Angas exhibited his watercolours in Adelaide and Sydney and upon his return to London, where his book South Australia Illustrated, with impressive full-page coloured lithographs, was published. (Exhibition text)

 

 

Melbourne 1851-61

The township of Melbourne grew steadily as migrants from Britain and other European countries sought economic opportunities and political and religious freedom. In 1851, the Port Phillip District became an independent colony and was named Victoria in honour of the Queen. The town’s fortunes were further transformed that year when gold was discovered. Victoria was the richest source of gold in Australia, and consequently experienced the greatest levels of growth and change. The population exploded as enthusiastic and optimistic prospectors poured in from around the world with the hope of making their fortunes. Despite enormous social turmoil and environmental destruction, gold propelled Melbourne into an unprecedented phase of expansion and prosperity.

This had a profound impact on the arts and cultural life in colonial Australia. The desire to replicate the cultural institutions of European capitals reached new heights and wealth from gold enabled these aspirations to be realised, with the establishment of a university, library and museum. In 1861, in a moment of great significance and pride, the Museum of Art – Australia’s first art museum, later known as the National Gallery of Victoria – opened at the Melbourne Public Library on Swanston Street. (Text from the NGV website)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with to the left in the bottom image, George Cavenagh’s Glorious News! Separation at last! 1850; and at centre top in the same image, Henry Burn’s oil on canvas Swanston Street from the Bridge 1861
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

George Cavenagh (editor and publisher) (India 1808 - Australia 1869, Australia from 1825) 'Glorious News! Separation at last!' Issued with the Melbourne Morning Herald 11 November 1850 (installation view)

 

George Cavenagh (editor and publisher) (India 1808 – Australia 1869, Australia from 1825)
Glorious News! Separation at last! (installation view)
Issued with the Melbourne Morning Herald
11 November 1850
Letterpress on buff paper
Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

From the establishment of Melbourne in 1835, its colonial inhabitants campaigned for it to be a separate colony, rather than a distant district within New South Wales, controlled by the Sydney-based governor and legislative council. A public campaign began in 1839 and petitions were repeatedly sent to London. After many delays, on 11 November 1850 news was received that independence was to be granted. A jubilant population celebrated with fireworks, parades, balls and a three-day public holiday. Further festivities were held when the colony was formally proclaimed on 1 July 1851, and the first parliament sat in November of that year. (Exhibition text)

 

Henry Burn (England c. 1807 - Australia 1884, Australia from 1853, died 1884) 'Swanston Street from the Bridge' 1861

 

Henry Burn (England c. 1807 – Australia 1884, Australia from 1853, died 1884)
Swanston Street from the Bridge
1861
Oil on canvas
71.8 x 92.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of John H. Connell, 1914

 

 

Painted just twenty-six years after foundation, Henry Burn’s view of young Melbourne looks north from the Yarra towards the centre of the city. It reveals a number of identifiable landmarks including the original St Paul’s Church; the coroner’s office and Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, at what is now Federation Square; and Johnson’s Bridge Hotel, now the Young & Jackson Hotel. (Exhibition text)

 

Unknown, Australia. 'Dress' c. 1855

 

Unknown, Australia
Dress (see installation photo below right)
c. 1855
Cotton, silk, metal, mother-of-pearl, baleen
152.0 cm (centre back), 34.5 cm (waist, flat)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Michael Parker, 1983

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with at centre right, Eugene von Guérard’s oil on canvas Ferntree Gully in the Dandenong Ranges 1857
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Eugene von Guérard. 'Ferntree Gully in the Dandenong Ranges' 1857

 

Eugene von Guérard (Austria 1811 – England 1901, Italy 1830-38, Australia 1852-82, Germany 1838-52, 1882-91, England from 1891)
Ferntree Gully in the Dandenong Ranges
1857
Oil on canvas
92.0 x 138.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE 1975

 

 

Within five years of arriving in Victoria to try his luck on the Ballarat goldfields, Eugene von Guérard had undertaken several trips to sketch remote wilderness regions of Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. These meticulous studies were translated into sublime panoramic vistas of volcanic plains and mountain ranges, and primordial bushland views, which melded his romantic European sensibility with scientific intensity. In early 1857 he returned a second time to the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne and later completed this scene in his studio. This celebration of nature was an immediate local success and became an important image that was reproduced in subsequent drawings and engravings. (Exhibition text)

 

 

Daniel Thomas discusses Eugene Von Guérard’s Ferntree Gully in the Dandenong Ranges

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne with at centre Sofa 1840s
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown (Victoria / South Australia) 'Sofa' 1840s

 

Unknown (Victoria / South Australia)
Sofa
1840s
Red Cedar (Toona ciliata), upholstery, (other materials)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Michael and Traudl Moon, 1996

 

 

The success of German immigrants in South Australia saw the establishment of the German Immigration Committee in Melbourne in 1849 to encourage their settlement in Victoria. By the close of the decade, German immigrants had settled near Geelong, establishing Germantown, now the suburb of Grovedale, and by the 1850s were expanding into the Western District. It is likely this sofa was produced by German makers in either of these South Australian or Victorian communities. Its sweeping curves recall the architectural forms of the German Biedermeier style, but its lines and elaborate carved ornamentation reveal more Classical influences. (Exhibition text)

 

 

Further images

Tommy McRae (Kwat Kwat/Wiradjuri) (c. 1836-1901) 'Ceremony; hunting and fishing' 1860

 

Tommy McRae (Kwat Kwat/Wiradjuri) (c. 1836-1901)
Ceremony; hunting and fishing
1860
Pen and ink on blue paper
Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Accessioned c. 1931

 

 

As a consequence of colonisation Tommy McRae created cross-cultural pen and ink drawings on paper as a dialogue with the colonisers and a means of recording a culture often subjected to change and silencing. On a single sheet, McRae creates a holistic picture of his rich culture, which includes two distinct corroborees, a eucalypt with bird perched atop its foliage and a hunting story of four emus being stalked by men in camouflage while another spears a large fish. Two lines of male dancers are freely sketched in silhouette upon Country, indicated by a light tangle of lines. (Exhibition text)

 

Tommy McRae (Kwat Kwat/Wiradjuri) (c. 1836-1901) Page from 'Sketchbook' c. 1891 Sketchboo

Tommy McRae (Kwat Kwat/Wiradjuri) (c. 1836-1901) Page from 'Sketchbook' c. 1891 Sketchboo

 

Tommy McRae (Kwat Kwat/Wiradjuri) (c. 1836-1901)
Pages from Sketchbook
c. 1891
Sketchbook: pen and blue ink, 26 pages, paper and cardboard cover, stitched binding
24.4 x 31.2 cm (image and sheet) 24.4 x 31.2 cm (page) 24.4 x 31.2 x 1.0 cm (closed) 24.4 x 62.4 x 0.5 cm (open)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2001
Purchased with the assistance of Ian Hicks AM, John Higgins and two anonymous donors, 2008

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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20
May
18

Exhibition: ‘Stephen Shore’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 19th November, 2017 – 28th May, 2018

Stephen Shore is organised by Quentin Bajac, The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, with Kristen Gaylord, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography, MoMA.

 

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'West 9th Avenue, Amarillo, Texas, October 2, 1974'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
West 9th Avenue, Amarillo, Texas, October 2, 1974
1974
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2013
17 × 21 3/4″ (43.2 × 55.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

 

The truth in the detail of day-to-day life

1970s colour photography is the key period in the work of Stephen Shore. These classical, formal colour photographs capture “mundane aspects of American popular culture in straightforward, unglamorous images.” They are what made him famous. They are, historically, conceptually and emotionally, his most effective means of communication as an artist.

American Surfaces and Uncommon Places made Shore “one of the most prominent figures of the American New Color movement,” showing colour just as colour.

I know that is a strange thing to say, but Shore was showing the world in a different light… and he was using an aesthetic based on the straight forward use of colour. Colour is just there, part of the form of the image. Of course there are insightful subjective judgements about what to photograph in American surburbia, but this subjectivity and the use of colour within it is subsumed into the song that Shore was composing. It all comes back to music. Here’s a Mozart tune, this is his aesthetic, for eternity.

I remember seeing two vintage Stephen Shore chromogenic colour prints from 1976 where the colours were still true and had not faded in the exhibition American Dreams: 20th century photography from George Eastman House at Bendigo Art Gallery. This was incredible experience – seeing vintage prints from one of the masters of colour photography; noticing that they are not full of contrast like a lot of today’s colour photographs – more like a subtle Panavision or Technicolor film from the early 1960s. Rich, subtle, beautiful hues with the photograph containing this amazing presence, projected through the construction of the image and the physicality of the print.

Shore has a fantastic eye and his colour photographs are beautifully resolved. The subjectivity is not pushed, because his song was in tune, and he just sang it. Like his contemporaries, Wiliam EgglestonRichard Misrach and Joel Meyerwitz, there are some artists who just know how to play the tune.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to MoMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Stephen Shore encompasses the entirety of the artist’s work of the last five decades, during which he has conducted a continual, restless interrogation of image making, from the gelatin silver prints he made as a teenager to his current engagement with digital platforms. One of the most significant photographers of our time, Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) has often been considered alongside other artists who rose to prominence in the 1970s by capturing the mundane aspects of American popular culture in straightforward, unglamorous images. But Shore has worked with many forms of photography, switching from cheap automatic cameras to large-format cameras in the 1970s, pioneering the use of colour before returning to black and white in the 1990s, and in the 2000s taking up the opportunities of digital photography, digital printing, and social media.

The artist’s first survey in New York to include his entire career, this exhibition will both allow for a fuller understanding of Shore’s work, and demonstrate his singular vision – defined by an interest in daily life, a taste for serial and often systematic approaches, a strong intellectual underpinning, a restrained style, sly humour, and visual casualness – and uncompromising pursuit of photography’s possibilities.

 

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'New York, New York' 1964

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
New York, New York
1964
Gelatin silver print
9 1/8 × 13 1/2″ (23.2 × 34.3 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) '1:35 a.m., in Chinatown Restaurant, New York, New York' 1965-67

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
1:35 a.m., in Chinatown Restaurant, New York, New York
1965-67
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1995
9 × 13 1/2″ (22.9 × 34.3 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Kanab, Utah, June 1972'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Kanab, Utah, June 1972
1972
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2017
3 1/16 × 4 5/8″ (7.8 × 11.7 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Amarillo, Texas, July 1972'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Amarillo, Texas, July 1972
1972
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2017
3 1/16 × 4 5/8″ (7.8 × 11.7 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Washington, D.C., November 1972'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Washington, D.C., November 1972
1972
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2017
3 1/16 × 4 5/8″ (7.8 × 11.7 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Second Street, Ashland, Wisconsin, July 9, 1973'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Second Street, Ashland, Wisconsin, July 9, 1973
1973. Chromogenic colour print, printed 2017
17 × 21 3/4″ (43.2 × 55.2 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'U.S. 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, July 21, 1973'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
U.S. 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, July 21, 1973
1973
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2002
17 3/4 x 21 15/16″ (45.1 x 55.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Photography Council Fund
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Breakfast, Trail's End Restaurant, Kanab, Utah, August 10, 1973'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Breakfast, Trail’s End Restaurant, Kanab, Utah, August 10, 1973
1973
Chromogenic colour print
16 7/8 × 21 1/4″ (42.8 × 54 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'West Third Street, Parkersburg, West Virginia, May 16, 1974'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
West Third Street, Parkersburg, West Virginia, May 16, 1974
1974
Chromogenic colour print
8 × 10 1/2″ (20.3 × 26.7 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Lookout Hotel, Ogunquit, Maine, July 16, 1974'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Lookout Hotel, Ogunquit, Maine, July 16, 1974
1974
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2013
17 × 21 3/4″ (43.2 × 55.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents the most comprehensive exhibition ever organised of photographer Stephen Shore’s work, on view from November 19, 2017, until May 28, 2018. The exhibition tracks the artist’s work chronologically, from the gelatin silver prints he made as a teenager to his current work with digital platforms. Stephen Shore establishes the artist’s full oeuvre in the context of his time – from his days at Andy Warhol’s Factory through the rise of American colour photography and the transition to large-scale digital photography – and argues for his singular vision and uncompromising pursuit of photography’s possibilities. The exhibition will include hundreds of photographic works along with additional materials including books, ephemera, and objects. Stephen Shore is organised by Quentin Bajac, The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, with Kristen Gaylord, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography, MoMA.

Born in 1947, Shore spearheaded the New Color Photography movement in the United States in the 1970s, and became a major catalyst in the renewal of documentary photography in the late 1990s, both in the US and Europe, blending the tradition of American photographers such as Walker Evans with influences from various artistic movements, including Pop, Conceptualism, and even Photo-Realism. Shore’s images seem to achieve perfect neutrality, in both subject matter and approach. His approach cannot be reduced to a style but is best summed up with a few principles from which he has seldom deviated: the search for maximum clarity, the absence of retouching and reframing, and respect for natural light. Above all, he exercises discipline, limiting his shots as much as possible – one shot of a subject, and very little editing afterward.

Shore started developing negatives from his parents when he was only six, received his first camera when he was nine, and sold prints to Edward Steichen, then director of MoMA’s Department of Photography, at the age of 14. In the early 1960s Shore became interested in film, both narrative and experimental, and he showed his short film Elevator in 1965 at the Film-Makers’ Cinematheque, where he first met Andy Warhol. That spring, he dropped out of high school and started photographing at Warhol’s studio, The Factory, initially on an almost daily basis, then more sporadically, until 1967. Elevator has been restored by conservators and will be screened in the exhibition for the first time since the 1960s.

In 1969, Shore used serial black-and-white projects to deconstruct the medium and rebuild it on a more detached, intellectual foundation. In these works, many shot in Amarillo, Texas, with his friend Michael Marsh as his main model, Shore was striving to free himself from certain photographic conventions: the concept of photography as the art of creating isolated and “significant” images, and the related cult of the “decisive moment”; perfect framing; and the expressive subjectivity of the photographer. The principle of multiplicity prevails in Shore’s work of that period – series, suites, and sequences that resist all narrative temptation. In their attempt to eliminate subjectivity, these series are related to a number of Conceptual photographic works by other artists of the same period.

In November 1971 Shore curated an exhibition called All the Meat You Can Eat at the 98 Greene Street Loft. Embracing a century of photography, the show was composed largely of found images collected by Shore and two friends, Weston Naef, then a curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Michael Marsh. It also included images by Shore, such as shots taken with a Mick-a-Matic camera and colour photos that would serve as the basis for the postcards in his series Greetings from Amarillo, “Tall in Texas.” Stephen Shore will include a reconstructed version of this display, using material from Shore’s archives – some that was originally in the exhibition and some that has been selected by Shore for this installation.

In the early 1970s Shore turned to colour photography, a format that at that time was still largely overlooked by art photographers. In March 1972, he started taking snapshots of his daily life, embarking in June and July of the same year on a road trip to the southern US. For two months he photographed his everyday life in an almost systematic way – unremarkable buildings, main streets, highway intersections, hotel rooms, television screens, people’s faces, toilet seats, unmade beds, a variety of ornamental details, plates of food, shop windows, inscriptions, and commercial signs. In September and October 1972, images from the series were shown at Light Gallery in New York under the title American Surfaces. The MoMA display of this work echoes that initial presentation, in which the small Kodacolor prints were attached directly to the wall, unframed, in a grid of three rows.

Begun in 1973 and completed almost 10 years later, Shore’s next project, Uncommon Places, inhabits the same world and deals with the same themes as American Surfaces. Yet because of Shore’s move from a handheld 35mm camera to a large-format one, Uncommon Places features fewer details and close-ups and a more detached approach. Appearing in the context of accelerated change in the national landscape, especially in areas of suburban sprawl, it betrays a more contemplative reading of individual images. Before being published as a book in 1982, the series was exhibited both in the US and abroad, especially in Germany, making Shore one of the most prominent figures of the American New Color movement. Though he is best known for his large-format work of this period, Shore was at the same time experimenting with other photographic formats. The exhibition will include a selection of stereo images he made in 1974 that were never published, and have not been exhibited since 1975.

While working on what would become Uncommon Places, Shore began to accept photographic commissions, not only for editorial work but also for institutions and companies. If some of these commissions seem quite distant from Uncommon Places, most of them still show some affinity with the series in their attention to architecture and exploration of “Americanness.” He took photographs focusing on contemporary vernacular architecture that the architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown used in their 1976 exhibition Signs of Life: Symbols in the American City. This exhibition will feature some of the original, gridded transparencies from Signs of Life that incorporate images by Shore and other photographers, not seen since 1976. Finally, some commissions he did for magazines alternate between urban landscapes, portraits, and architectural details in a direct extension of Uncommon Places. Shore would include a number of commissioned photographs in his personal body of work, showing how porous the borders were between the two groups of images, and Stephen Shore will include examples both of the photographs in context in books and periodicals, and of others that were not subsequently published.

Starting in the late 1970s, Shore gradually abandoned urban and suburban areas and turned to the natural landscape, a subject he would concentrate on almost exclusively during the next decade. These included the landscapes of Montana (1982-83), where he settled with his wife in 1980, Texas (1983-88), and the Hudson Valley (1984-86), where he moved in 1982, but also more international locations: the Highlands of Scotland (1988); Yucatán, in Mexico (1990); and finally the Po Valley, with a series in Luzzara, Italy (1993). This period corresponds also to a reduced public visibility of his photographic work, marked by fewer exhibitions, publications, and commissions.

In the early 2000s Shore began experimenting with digital tools and technologies that had only recently become available. Between 2003 and 2010, he made dozens of print-on-demand books, which were each printed in limited editions of 20 copies, making them similar to artist’s books. But the ease of production, speed of execution, democratic nature of the technique used, and modesty of the finished product are in direct line with the snapshots of American Surfaces and the immediacy of Polaroid images. In the choice of subjects and approaches, the series of books seems both literally and figuratively to be a mini-version of Shore’s entire oeuvre, blending and reworking the themes that have always been important to him – an exhaustive exploration of a particular subject or place, a penchant for the vernacular, an interest in sequence, a tendency toward autobiography, a search for a kind of immediacy, and a dry sense of humour – while still retaining its autonomy and specificity. A few years later he created Winslow, Arizona in a single day in 2013. The precise temporal duration of the series – one day from sunrise to sunset – links it to some of Shore’s print-on-demand books, but it takes on a new performance-based dimension. Over 180 of the pictures Shore took that day were presented, unedited and in the order in which they were shot, in a slide show, projected on a drive-in screen in Barstow, California, a few days after he took them.

In 1996 and 1997 Shore, who had always been fascinated by archaeology, undertook photographic projects around excavation sites in Israel and Italy, shooting solely in black and white. Within the archaeological remains of these vanished cities, Shore was especially interested in the human dimension, both domestic and secular, seen in bones, pottery, and vestiges of dwellings and shops. Then, between September of 2009 and the spring of 2011, Shore returned to the region five times, photographing throughout the entire territory from north to south, or From Galilee to the Negev, as he titled the book he published of a selection of his photographs in Israel and the West Bank. As indicated by the title and structure of the book, with chapters organised geographically, the project was guided by a topographical exploration. It mixes various temporalities – which are echoed by the diversity of the images – bringing together the “short term” of people and events with and the “long term” of the landscape and planet.

The photographs Shore took in Ukraine in the summer of 2012 and the fall of 2013 have as their subject the country’s Jewish community, specifically survivors of the Holocaust who are assisted today by the Survivor Mitzvah Project. Following three years of photographing primarily in Israel, the series provided Shore with the opportunity to continue working with subjects related to his Jewish roots. In a break from his norm, Shore structured the Ukraine series around the human figure. Survivors in Ukraine, the book of photographs he published in 2015, provides accounts of 22 survivors, all more than 80 years old, through a wide range of images: close-ups, busts, and full-length portraits; fragmentary portraits of hands, arms, and legs; views of dwellings and interiors; and still-life details of meals, belongings, and memorials to departed family members.

In the summer of 2014 Shore decided to devote most of his photographic activity to Instagram, where he posts images almost every day. While he continues to take on commissions, the bulk of his personal production over the past three years has been through the social networking app; he considers this output his current “work.” With Instagram Shore has reestablished a rapid, instantaneous practice, one that requires him to be on constant alert. It also presents a new, dual aesthetic challenge for Shore in the square format and the small size of the image. These constraints encourage a simplification of the picture, making it more a “notation” than a constructed image. Tablets will be stationed within a gallery of the exhibition, allowing viewers to scroll through Shore’s Instagram feed, which will feature new images as Shore continues to post them.

Press release from MoMA

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1975'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1975
1975
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2013
17 × 21 3/4″ (43.2 × 55.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Thomas and Susan Dunn
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'U.S. 93, Wikieup, Arizona, December 14, 1976'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
U.S. 93, Wikieup, Arizona, December 14, 1976
1976
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2013
17 × 21 3/4″ (43.2 × 55.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Thomas and Susan Dunn
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Giverny, France, 1977'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Giverny, France, 1977
1977
Chromogenic colour print
7 11/16 x 9 5/8″ (19.5 x 24.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of the Estate of Lila Acheson Wallace
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Graig Nettles, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, March 1, 1978'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Graig Nettles, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, March 1, 1978
1978
Chromogenic colour print
7 11/16 x 9 11/16″ (19.5 x 24.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired with matching funds from Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller and the National Endowment for the Arts, 1978
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California, August 13, 1979'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California, August 13, 1979
1979
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2013
35 7/8 x 44 15/16″ (91.2 x 114.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Gallatin County, Montana, August 2, 1983'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Gallatin County, Montana, August 2, 1983
1983
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2017
36 × 45″ (91.4 × 114.3 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'County of Sutherland, Scotland, 1988'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
County of Sutherland, Scotland, 1988
1988
Chromogenic colour print
35 1/2 × 45 1/2″ (90.2 × 115.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Susan and Arthur Fleischer, Jr.
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Sderot, Israel, September 14, 2009'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Sderot, Israel, September 14, 2009
2009. Chromogenic colour print
17 × 21 3/4″ (43.2 × 55.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Peqi'in, Israel, September 22, 2009'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Peqi’in, Israel, September 22, 2009
2009. Chromogenic colour print
17 × 21 3/4″ (43.2 × 55.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Uman, Cherkaska Province, Ukraine, July 22, 2012'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Uman, Cherkaska Province, Ukraine, July 22, 2012
2012
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2017
16 × 20″ (40.6 × 50.8 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

 

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04
May
18

Exhibition: ‘Susan Meiselas: Mediations’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 6th February – 20th May 2018

Curators: Carles Guerra and Pia Viewing

 

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Sandinistes aux portes du quartier général de la Garde nationale à Esteli : "L'homme au cocktail Molotov", Nicaragua' 16 juillet 1979

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Sandinistes aux portes du quartier général de la Garde nationale à Esteli : “L’homme au cocktail Molotov”, Nicaragua
16 juillet 1979
© Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos

NICARAGUA. Esteli. 1979. Sandinistas at the walls of the Esteli National Guard headquarters

 

 

The second of a double header from Jeu de Paume, Paris.

Whatever you write or say doesn’t matter. It’s the images that matter, the work before you.

Meiselas’ work offers respect, that is the key word, respect for the individuality of the people she photographs. You can feel it in her images; it is what gives them their power. Unlike the previous posting on the work of Raoul Hausmann, where it was all about the photographer, here the work is authored but the photographs are all about the subject: their place in the world, their trials and tribulations.

Meiselas’ photographs are very strong – graphic work (in form and declaration) balanced with an existential, human touch. Meiselas questions the nature of the original photograph and photographic process in order to understand how the photograph and its ongoing testimonies change in specific times and places, by developing multilayered narratives which integrate the participation of her subjects into her works. As such they are as much meditations on the human condition as much as mediations between place, her role as witness, storytelling, and how the meaning of images changes according to the context of their diffusion, which is facilitated by technology.

On the compilation of her visual histories, I can’t put it better than the text below:

“Lauded documentary photographer Susan Meiselas has been working at the nexus of history, politics, ethnography, art, and storytelling throughout her prolific career, producing multi-layered photographic narratives about individuals and societies across the U.S. and the world. Sensitive to both the potential and limitations of images, the 1992 MacArthur Fellow approaches her projects aware of their inevitable impartiality and incompleteness, supplementing her own photographs with texts, interviews, archival images, and other forms of documentation. “My projects are authored but I’d like to think they are not authoritative,” she says.

“About Susan Meiselas” on the Artsy website

Marcus

.
Many thankx to Jeu de Paume for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

A member of Magnum Photos since 1976, Susan Meiselas questions documentary practice. She became known through her work in conflict zones of Central America in the 1970s and 1980s in particular due to the strength of her colour photographs. Covering many subjects and countries, from war to human rights issues and from cultural identity to the sex industry, Meiselas uses photography, film, video and sometimes archive material, as she relentlessly explores and develops narratives integrating the participation of her subjects in her works. The exhibition highlights Susan Meiselas’ unique personal as well as geopolitical approach, showing how she moves through time and conflict and how she constantly questions the photographic process and her role as witness.

 

 

“It is important to me – in fact, it is central to my work – that I do what I can to respect the individuality of the people I photograph, all of whom exist in specific times and places.”

.
“This photograph is for whom. And so, for a long time that’s been the question motivating almost everything that I do.”

.
Susan Meiselas

 

 

Susan Meiselas: Mediations at Jeu de Paume on Vimeo

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Sharif and Son' 1971

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Sharif and Son
1971
Série 44 Irving Street, 1971
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

 

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Lena après le spectacle, Essex Junction, Vermont, 1973
1973
Série Carnival Strippers, 1972-1975
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

USA. Essex Junction, Vermont. 1973. Lena on the Bally Box

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Lena juchée sur sa caisse, Essex Junction, Vermont, 1973' 1973

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Lena juchée sur sa caisse, Essex Junction, Vermont, 1973
1973
Série Carnival Strippers, 1972-1975
© Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos

USA. Essex Junction, Vermont. 1973. Lena after the show

 

 

“Meiselas is known for her searing, visceral photographs of civil unrest and political revolution around the world, from Central America to Kurdistan. However, it is her “Carnival Strippers” that defines her career for many.”

“A History of Magnum Photos in Ten Photographers” on the Artsy website.
See what they mean on the Susan Meiselas: “Carnival Strippers” 1972 – 1975 web page.

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Debbie et Renee, Rockland, Maine, 1972' 1972

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Debbie et Renee, Rockland, Maine, 1972
1972
Série Carnival Strippers, 1972-1975
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

USA. Rockland, Maine. 1972. Debbie and Renee

 

 

Meiselas’s first major photographic essay focused on the lives of women performing striptease at New England country fairs, whom she photographed during three consecutive summers while teaching photography in New York City public school classrooms. Carnival Strippers was originally published in 1976 with a new edition of the book (which included a CD of the audio recordings) produced by Steidl/Whitney in 2003. In 1976, Meiselas was invited to join the photographic cooperative Magnum Photos. Beginning in 1976, she photographed a group of young girls living in her neighbourhood of Little Italy, New York. Entitled Prince Street Girls, they inspired an on-going relationship.

Meiselas is best known for her coverage of the insurrection in Nicaragua and her documentation of human rights issues in Latin America for over a decade. In 1978 Meiselas made her first trip to Nicaragua, and that year one of her iconic images was published on the cover of the New York Times Magazine. In 1981, she published Nicaragua: June 1978-July 1979, reprinted in 2008 (with a DVD of the film “Pictures from a Revolution”) and in 2016 (with a customize AR app, to trigger film clips from the photographs). Her image of Pablo Jesús Aráuz, the ‘Molotov Man’, made on July 16, 1979 just before the triumph of the Sandinistas, has become an icon of the revolution. The image is shown recontextualised in the installation The Life of an Image: ‘Molotov Man’, 1979–2009. Meiselas served as an editor for two collaborative projects, both of which support and highlight the work of regional photographers. The first, El Salvador: The Work of Thirty Photographers, Writers and Readers, 1983, also features her own images. The second project, Chile from Within, W. W. Norton, 1991, focuses on work by photographers living under the Pinochet regime. Meiselas has also co-directed four films: Living at Risk: The Story of a Nicaraguan Family, 1986 ; Voyages, on her work in Nicaragua produced in collaboration with director M. Karlin, Pictures from a Revolution, 1991, with R. P. Rogers and A. Guzzetti; and Reframing History, 2004.

In 1992, Meiselas produced Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History, Random House, 1997; University of Chicago Press, 2008. The book was produced along with akaKURDISTAN, 1998, an online archive of collective memory, currently shown as a physical map with story books made by contributors from the Kurdish diaspora worldwide. Pandora’s Box, Trebruk/Magnum Editions, 2003, is an exploration of an underground New York S&M club that began in 1995. Both projects are shown as exhibition works.

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Mississippi' 1974

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Mississippi
1974
Série Porch Portraits, 1974
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Caroline du Sud' 1974

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Caroline du Sud
1974
Série Porch Portraits, 1974
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Dee et Lisa, Mott Street, Little Italy, New York, 1976' 1976

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Dee et Lisa, Mott Street, Little Italy, New York, 1976
1976
Série Prince Street Girls, 1975-1990
© Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Roseann sur la route pour Manhatten Beach, New York, 1978' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Roseann sur la route pour Manhatten Beach, New York, 1978
1978
Série Prince Street Girls, 1975-1990
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

USA. New York CIty. 1978. Roseann on the way to Manhattan Beach

 

Alain Dejean Sygma. 'Portrait de Susan Meiselas, Monimbo, Nicaragua' Septembre 1978

 

Alain Dejean Sygma
Portrait de Susan Meiselas, Monimbo, Nicaragua
Septembre 1978
© Alain Dejean Sygma

 

 

The retrospective devoted to the American photographer Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) brings together a selection of works from the 1970s to the present day. A member of Magnum Photos since 1976, Susan Meiselas questions documentary practice. She became known through her work in conflict zones of Central America in the 1970s and 1980s in particular due to the strength of her colour photographs. Covering many subjects and countries, from war to human rights issues and from cultural identity to the sex industry, Meiselas uses photography, film, video and sometimes archive material, as she relentlessly explores and develops narratives integrating the participation of her subjects in her works. The exhibition highlights Susan Meiselas’s unique personal as well as geopolitical approach, showing how she moves through time and conflict and how she constantly questions the photographic process and her role as witness.

Her early works already illustrate her interest for documentary photography. Her very first project, 44 Irving Street (1971), was a series of black and white portraits. Here, she used her camera as a means of interacting with the other tenants of the boarding house where she lived during her time as a student. For Carnival Strippers (1972-1975), Meiselas followed strippers working in carnivals in New England over the course of three consecutive summers. The reportage is completed with audio recordings of the women, their clients and managers.

From this period originates also Prince Street Girls (1975-1992), which was shot in the district known as Little Italy, in New York, where Susan Meiselas still lives. She photographed a group of young girls over several years, capturing the changes that took place in their lives as they were growing up, constituting a chronicle of the evolving relationship between the young girls and the photographer.

Three important series represent the center of the exhibition: Nicaragua, El Salvador and Kurdistan. Made between the late 1970s and 2000, the works reveal the way in which the artist challenges and practises photography. During the course of her extensive travels in Latin America, over a number of decades, in times of war and peace, Meiselas returns to the sites where she took the original photographs, using the images to find the people she had met in order to pursue a record of their testimonies. With her project Mediations (1982), Susan Meiselas reveals how the meaning of images changes according to the context of their diffusion. Her novel approach is almost prophetic in a world where the diffusion of the image is facilitated by technology.

As from 1997, Meiselas addresses each conflict in a different way according to the context. Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History (1997) is an archive of the visual history of a people without a nation. Meiselas, who gathered those elements all around the world in collaboration with Kurdish people, constructed her work as an installation composed of a compilation of documents, photographs and videos.

In 1992, Meiselas, asked to contribute to an awareness campaign exposing domestic violence, began by photographing crime scenes, accompanying a team of police investigators, and then selected a number of documents with photographs from the archives of the San Francisco Police Department. This research led her to create Archives of Abuse, collages of police reports and photographs, exhibited in the city’s public spaces as posters on bus shelters.

For the retrospective at the Jeu de Paume, Susan Meiselas has created a new work, begun in 2015, based on her involvement with Multistory, a regional arts organisation based in the United Kingdom. This last series A Room of Their Own was made collaboratively in a refuge for women and focuses on domestic violence. The installation includes five narrative video works, featuring Meiselas’s photographs, first-hand testimonies, collages and drawings.

The exhibition of the Jeu de Paume is the most comprehensive retrospective of her work ever held in France. It retraces her trajectory since the 1970s as a visual artist who associates her subjects to her approach and questions the status of images in relation to the context in which they are perceived.

Press release from Jeu de Paume

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Masque traditionnel utilisé lors de l'insurrection populaire, Masaya, Nicaragua' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Masque traditionnel utilisé lors de l’insurrection populaire, Masaya, Nicaragua
[Traditional mask used during the popular uprising, Masaya, Nicaragua]

1978
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

 

 

In the late 1970s, without an assignment of any sort, Susan Meiselas went to Nicaragua to cover the popular insurrection following the assassination of the editor of the opposition newspaper La Prensa. She became one of the most celebrated photojournalists in the world for her colour photographs of the Sandinista Popular Revolution. Some of them became icons of the Nicaraguan revolution. She didn’t see the insurrection as a series of isolated news events as a photojournalist would, but rather a historical process that was unfolding every day. Her approach was specific to the context of the conflict and the terrain.

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Fouille de toutes les personnes voyageant en voiture, en camion, en bus ou à pied, Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Fouille de toutes les personnes voyageant en voiture, en camion, en bus ou à pied, Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua
1978
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

NICARAGUA. Cuidad Sandino. Searching everyone traveling by car, truck, bus or foot

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Retour chez soi, Masaya, Nicaragua' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Retour chez soi, Masaya, Nicaragua
1978
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

NICARAGUA. Masaya. September, 1978. Returning home

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Muchachos attendant la riposte de la Garde nationale, Matagalpa, Nicaragua' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Muchachos attendant la riposte de la Garde nationale, Matagalpa, Nicaragua
1978
© Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos

NICARAGUA. Matagalpa. Muchachos await the counterattack by the National Guard

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Soldats fouillant la passagers du bus sur l’autoroute Nord, El Salvador' 1980

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Soldats fouillant la passagers du bus sur l’autoroute Nord, El Salvador
1980
© Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos

EL SALVADOR. 1980. Soldiers search bus passengers along the Northern Highway

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Route pour Aguilares, El Salvador' 1983

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Route pour Aguilares, El Salvador
1983
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

EL SALVADOR. 1983. Road to Aguilares.

 

 

With Mediations, 1982, the project that lends its title to this retrospective exhibition, Meiselas revealed the effects that the circulation of images produces on their meaning. At a time when, thanks to new technologies, photography has become the object of an all-reaching exchange, Meiselas’s attitude becomes unprecedented, while her archival projects constitute a valuable precedent. Two of them, the ones devoted to Nicaragua and Kurdistan, are widely represented in this exhibition.

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Veuve sur le charnier de Koreme, nord de l'Irak' 1992

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Veuve sur le charnier de Koreme, nord de l’Irak
1992
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

NORTHERN IRAQ. Kurdistan. June, 1992. Widow at mass grave found in Koreme

 

 

The retrospective emphasises the development of Susan Meiselas’ photographic practice from the 1970s onwards. In most of her early work, she addresses the subjects of her portrait-based images by including them in one way or another in the process of her work. In 44 Irving Street, (1972), she asks the persons portrayed to comment on their representation and in Carnival Strippers (1975), a sound recording of the context in which the photographs are taken gives further perspective on the strippers lives. In addition to this aspect, her interest in archival documentation and the compilation of visual histories can also be traced back to this period (Lando, 1975) and one can see this develop in her research work on Kurdistan. Her treatment of images reveals that, in her artistic practice, she considers the photographic frame as a moment in time complementary to other forms of framing and capturing reality, which may be seen and reviewed over time.

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Blocs de béton signalant la fosse commune de Koreme, nord de l'Irak' 1992

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Blocs de béton signalant la fosse commune de Koreme, nord de l’Irak
[Concrete blocks signaling Koreme Mass grave, northern Iraq]

1992
© Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos

 

 

Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
Tel: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 11.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Sunday: 11.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

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09
Mar
18

Review: ‘Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco’ at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 17th November 2017 – 12th March 2018

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'I’m going through changes' 2016

 

Del Kathryn Barton
I’m going through changes
2016
Synthetic polymer paint and fibre-tipped pen on canvas
200.0 x 180.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

 

Hocus pocus, mumbo jumbo

Meaningless talk or activity / a form of words used by a person performing conjuring tricks.
Language or ritual causing or intended to cause confusion or bewilderment.

 

I have never been convinced by the work Del Kathryn Barton and this medium-sized exhibition at NGV Australia does absolutely nothing to change my mind.

Replete with the artist’s usual cacophony of tits, vulva and penises, the works mine various forms: sculpture, drawing, painting, film and collage; have multiple influences: Louise Bourgeois, Max Ernst, Barbara Kruger to name a few; and investigate numerous concepts such as the fluidity of gender, the link between human and animal forms, women’s genitalia and the blooming of flowers, the ornate decoration of species, “the strength of women, the visceral power of female sexuality and … Barton’s multiple interests in feminism, nature and the maternal figure.” Too much she cried!

Barton has a certain facility in the drawing of line, but this is too often overwhelmed by her inability to let negative space speak for itself. Every work is filled to the brim with vacuous detail, then overlaid with multicoloured polka dots in both collages and paintings (see the detail of her work in the face of cosmic odds, 2016 below), as though this device will tie all the works together. Her signature paintings of women have surface presence, are “just so meticulously attractive”, but absolutely lack what Barton is seeking – “so inexplicably intimate, so beyond, so seemingly effortless that there can be no defence. In these moments there is an opening-up within the body, the mind, within all the senses …” I felt nothing of that when looking at these works – no connection to an inner self or ‘the vast ocean of the collective-consciousness’.

Barton’s inability to engage the viewer in an intimate dialogue of body and mind can be seen in both text and graphic.

“today my body is feeling love
you fell into my flesh…… and we are fresh…… again
the unflesh are so clean somehow….. and their stirrings inform our smallness….. so that we are still small”

You fell into my flesh and we are fresh again. Please.

Then you look at the line work in volcanic woman (2016, below) as “these women erupt upward, as molten liquid bodies of agency. They display their genitals as though it is from their vaginas that the Earth’s energy spills forth,” and note the caricaturesque drawings lack any sense of intimacy or sensuality despite the subject matter. I think about Barton’s hero Louise Bourgeois and her work “10 AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME” (2006, below). Both works are displayed in a grid and produced in the same colour but the difference could not be more stark: Bourgeois’ use of negative space, the quiet sensitivity, eroticism and the superb intimacy of the work is the antithesis of Barton’s sexual megalomania. So often in art, less is more but Barton never seems to understand the adage.

To use Christopher Allen’s turn of phrase about the NGV Triennial, Barton’s works are “frenetically busy, but inherently insipid,” despite the overabundance / reliance on the display of sexual organs and excretions. While the artist desperately wants the viewer to be drawn into an intimate embrace with the supposed psychological and spiritual meanings of the work, the lack of emotional, sensual or erotic sensation negates any feeling towards it. Barton’s meaninglessness talk using confusing iconographies lays a surface trap for the viewer, taken in by decoration and sexual abundance. But if you look beyond the psychedelic aesthetic and decorative surfaces it’s just a conjuring trick, ritual representation as pseudo-spiritual experience.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The NGV presents a major solo exhibition of one of Australia’s most popular artists, Del Kathryn Barton. Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco reveals the artist’s imaginative and deeply sensuous world, where ornately decorated species – both human and animal – are rendered in seductive line and colour. Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco is a survey of new and recent work by the two times Archibald Portrait Prize winner that reveals the breadth of Barton’s practice. Featuring comprehensive displays of recent paintings and drawings for which she is arguably best known, the exhibition also includes collage, sculpture, textiles and film, all drawn together by the artist’s exuberant and psychedelic aesthetic.

 

 

“The creatures are so gorgeous. They’re just so meticulously attractive, I’m never repulsed. Without the darkness Barton seems to think is there, what is left? Passive psychedelia? I believe Barton feels intensely, but a second-hand trip, like a dream told to a friend, is never as emotional as the teller thinks it is.”

.
Victoria Perrin1

 

“I had a weak-at-the-knees, tingle-all-over moment when I saw Louise Bourgeois’ work for the first time about fifteen years ago in Los Angeles. Yes I am a CRAZY fan. And, yes, it’s true I lay under her big spider in Tokyo and cried…

These are the releases I hope for in our vast world of art. Encounters when the artwork is somehow so inexplicably intimate, so beyond, so seemingly effortless that there can be no defence. In these moments there is an opening-up within the body, the mind, within all the senses … an experience of recognition, relief and awe that informs one’s deeper creative makeup.”

.
Del Kathryn Barton

 

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring the inside another land series (2017, detail)
Photos: © Tom Ross

 

 

In this series of seventy-five montages that combine digital collage with hand painted details, Barton creates post-human visions in which women’s bodies are both human and plant. The Dadaists used collage to access the Freudian domain of the unconscious mind, and the great Dada artist Hannah Höch was a key proponent of photomontage in her exploration of the role of women in a changing world. Like the Surrealists, Barton uses collage as a method to critique the illusion of a defined and orderly world, in favour of absurdity. The visual delirium of these works induces a kind of hallucinatory experience in which new creatures seem possible.

It is widely understood that flowers symbolise female sexuality: their physical resemblance to women’s genitalia is coupled with an associative significance in their blooming, which invokes the creation of new life in birth. The history of floral representation strongly binds femininity and flowers, from the Greek nymph Chloris and her Roman counterpart Flora, who oversaw spring and flowers, to Sigmund Freud who was very clear on the matter: ‘Blossoms and flowers represent the female genitals, or more particularly, virginity. Do not forget that the blossoms are really the genitals of the plants’. (Wall text)

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'inside another land' 2017 (detail)

Del Kathryn Barton. 'inside another land' 2017 (detail)

Del Kathryn Barton. 'inside another land' 2017 (detail)

Del Kathryn Barton. 'inside another land' 2017 (detail)

Del Kathryn Barton. 'inside another land' 2017 (detail)

Del Kathryn Barton. 'inside another land' 2017 (detail)

 

Del Kathryn Barton
inside another land (details)
2017
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'you’re not a bit ashamed' 2017

 

Del Kathryn Barton
you’re not a bit ashamed
2017
Synthetic polymer paint and ink on paper
152.0 x 194.0 cm (image and sheet)
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'to speak of anger, I will take care' 2017

 

Del Kathryn Barton
to speak of anger, I will take care
2017
Synthetic polymer paint and ink on paper
152.0 x 194.0 cm (image and sheet)
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring the work briefly turned into dreams (2016)
Photos: © Tom Ross

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'briefly turned into dreams' 2016 (detail)

 

Del Kathryn Barton
briefly turned into dreams (detail)
2016
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Del Kathryn Barton
come home to me
2014-2017
Gouache and ink on hot pressed paper
Collection of the artist. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery and A3

 

 

The flexibility of language is revealed in come home to me. Barton loves language but at the same time questions its ability to communicate. The floating words are a strategy for awakening us to the various, infinite and slippery meaning of words. Like poetry, Barton’s fiercely non-didactic texts are open to diverse understandings. There is no wrong or right interpretation of these texts. Without dictating the associations these words create in each of our minds, Barton evokes sensual delights and pleasures of the flesh. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring a detail from the work come home to me (2014-2017)
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and National Gallery of Victoria

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'mud monster' 2014 (detail)

Del Kathryn Barton. 'mud monster' 2014 (detail)

 

Del Kathryn Barton
mud monster (details)
2014
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring the I am flesh again series (2008)
Photos: © Tom Ross

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring a detail from the I am flesh again series (2008)
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and National Gallery of Victoria

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'I am flesh again' 2008 (detail)

 

Del Kathryn Barton
I am flesh again (detail)
2008
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring the photogravure work the stars eat your body (2009) and the bronze up in this (2012) top; and the bronze i can grow you more, drunk on its own nectar (2017) bottom

 

 

Two-time Archibald prize-winner Del Kathryn Barton is being celebrated in the largest ever exhibition of her work to date at NGV Australia. Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco features 150 new and recent works by Barton, including her famed kaleidoscopic portraits, a never-before-seen large-scale sculpture in homage to her mother and Barton’s short film RED, starring Australian actress and Academy Award-winner Cate Blanchett.

‘With a practice spanning art, fashion and film, Barton’s psychedelic images reveal her personal responses to the human experience. She is one of Australia’s most popular artists, renowned for her highly intricate and distinctive hybrid forms, that break down boundaries between humans and nature’, said Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV.

This show is deeply personal for Barton with the debut of her new sculpture, at the foot of your love, which has been created in response to her mother’s terminal illness. Completed in 2017 and comprised of printed silk and Huon pine, the sculpture is reflective of Barton’s reoccurring themes of motherhood and nature. Featuring a wooden conch shell and an enormous silk ‘handkerchief’, the work is symbolic of Barton’s grief for her own mother.

Comprised of five panels and over 10 metres in length, sing blood-wings sing is Barton’s newest and largest painting to date. The painting features a female-focused reimagining of the 1963 Peter, Paul and Mary coming-of-age song, Puff the Magic Dragon. Barton often listens to the folk tune whilst working in her studio as a symbolic reminder to maintain her childlike curiosity through her artistic practice. Barton’s interpretation of the song and its meaning is depicted by four breasted, rainbow coloured dragons. In her signature style, she blurs human, mythological and animal representations in art, encouraging her audience to see how imagination and desire can test traditional forms.

The exhibition also features Barton’s acclaimed film RED, where Cate Blanchett plays a mother re-enacting the redback spider’s deadly mating ritual, alongside actor Alex Russell, Sydney Dance Company’s Charmene Yap and Barton’s own daughter Arella. In RED Barton conveys the strength of women, the visceral power of female sexuality and encapsulates Barton’s multiple interests in feminism, nature and the maternal figure.

Born in Sydney in 1972, Barton graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, Sydney, in 1993. She won her first Archibald prize in 2008 for her self-portrait with her two children and then again in 2013 for her portrait of Australian actor Hugo Weaving.

Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco is one of five solo exhibitions by leading Australian artists for NGV Australia’s 2017-18 summer program. The exhibition is on display at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne from 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018.

Press release from the NGV

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

sing blood-wings sing (2017)

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018.
Photos: © Tom Ross

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'the highway is a disco' 2015

 

Del Kathryn Barton
the highway is a disco
2015
Synthetic polymer paint and fibre-tipped pen on canvas
Private collection, Austria
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'I want to love you' 2016

 

Del Kathryn Barton
I want to love you
2016
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring the work at the foot of your love (2017)
Photos: © Tom Ross

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring the work at the foot of your love (2017)
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

at the foot of your love  (2017) was made by Barton as she prepared for her mother’s death. The fabric represents a handkerchief for the tears of all children who mourn their mother’s departure. The wooden conch shell is envisaged by the artist as a boat on which to sail into the darkness of eternity and ‘the vast ocean of the collective-consciousness’. It celebrates home and place, since the Huon Pine tree, from which the work is made, is a precious and endangered timber of Australia, subject to decay. (Wall text)

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'of pink planets' 2014

 

Del Kathryn Barton
of pink planets
2014
Collection of Boris Tosic, Sydney
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

 

In this work a creature with the head of a wallaby and the tail of a snake looks as though it might suckle from one of the woman’s five breasts. The breast is a dual organ, both of pleasure and sustenance, and multiple breasts suggest abundant life energy. Symbolically, the multi-breasted woman recalls the mythological icon Artemis of Ephesus, goddess of the wilderness, the hunt, wild animals and fertility. In some interpretations of the iconography, the nodes on Artemis’s chest are said to be the testes of bulls sacrificed to her. This fluidity of gender, human and animal forms is a strong current in Barton’s art. (Wall text)

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'openly song' 2014

 

Del Kathryn Barton
openly song
2014
Private collection, Melbourne
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'or fall again' 2014

 

Del Kathryn Barton
or fall again
2014
Collection of Leonard Warson, Melbourne
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

 

The tangled and lush floral decoration of Barton’s paintings recreates the millefleur (1000 flowers) technique of late Middle Ages to early Renaissance tapestries, distinguished by a lack of uniform pattern. The medieval period is sometimes perceived as a time of pagan superstition when the mysteries of nature and humanity were still full of wonder and darkness, and the unknown and unexplained were revered. Barton’s works evoke this period and direct viewers to a mysteriously interconnected world where spirit, psyche, natural cycles and the body are interconnected in intimate, unknowable relationships. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring a detail from the work or fall again (2014)
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring a detail from the work in the face of cosmic odds (2016)
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and National Gallery of Victoria

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'See ya mumma' 2016

 

Del Kathryn Barton
See ya mumma
2016
Synthetic polymer paint and fibre-tipped pen on canvas
140.0 x 160.0 cm
Collection of Brooke Horne, Sydney
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'is the energy' 2014

 

Del Kathryn Barton
is the energy
2014
Private collection, Melbourne
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'girl as sorcerery figure' 2005

 

Del Kathryn Barton
girl as sorcerery figure
2005
Collection of Jane Badler, Melbourne
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Del Kathryn Barton
girl #8 (installation view)
2004
Fibre-tipped pen, gouache, watercolour and synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Del Kathryn Barton
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and National Gallery of Victoria

 

Louise Bourgeois. '10 AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME' 2006  Louise Bourgeois. '10 AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME' 2006 Louise Bourgeois. '10 AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME' 2006

 

Louise Bourgeois
“10 AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME” (details)
2006
Etching, ink, watercolour, pencil and gouache on paper

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring the volcanic women series 2016-
Photo: © Tom Ross

 

 

‘I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of songs. Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst.’

HÉLÈNE CIXOUS, THE LAUGH OF THE MEDUSA (1975)

 

In this new series of works, entitled volcanic women, Barton coaxes and melts women into and out of the Earth’s larval core. Bodies flow from the ground, emerging as hot red lines of ink. These women erupt upward, as molten liquid bodies of agency. They display their genitals as though it is from their vaginas that the Earth’s energy spills forth. Barton here celebrates the abundance and generative necessity of women’s desire and sexual vigour. The suppression of women’s sexuality by a culture of fear is melted away in these volcanic works. (Wall text)

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'volcanic woman' 2016

 

Del Kathryn Barton
volcanic woman
2016
From the volcanic women series 2016-
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

Installation view of 'Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco' at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 17 November 2017 – 12 March 2018 featuring a detail from the volcanic woman series (2016)
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

 

“The film is split into sections titled MOTHER, FATHER, LIFE, DEATH and DAUGHTER. When it comes time for the father to feature, he is accompanied by a shot of a car revving. When the spider arrives (in a wonderful dance performed by Charmene Yap), she moves in an incredibly enthralling manner, but she’s writhing on a muscle car. The performance of gender isn’t twisted, it moves straight past the iconic and into the parodic. But it’s not supposed to be a parody of the deadly spider that eats its mate, it’s dead serious. Barton has no intimation of the taboo and genuinely titillating danger that Bourgeois could reproduce in spades. Then it hits me, everything in Barton’s world is conventionally beautiful, yet we’re supposed to find it shocking. I don’t see women reflected in her vision of “hyper-women”, I see great beauties, I see movie stars and high-fashion models.”

Victoria Perrin1

 

Del Kathryn Barton. Still from 'RED' 2016

Del Kathryn Barton. Still from 'RED' 2016

Del Kathryn Barton. Still from 'RED' 2016

Del Kathryn Barton. Still from 'RED' 2016

 

Del Kathryn Barton
Stills from RED
2016
Collection of the artist
© Del Kathryn Barton

 

 

‘Mother of otherness Eat me’

SYLVIA PLATH, POEMS FOR A BIRTHDAY (1960)

 

Sylvia Plath’s words open Barton’s first short film, RED. The human maternal figure at the heart of this work (played by Cate Blanchett) is interchangeable with a red-back spider. Alongside Blanchett, Barton’s daughter, Arella Plater, and actor Alex Russell portray the nuclear family, and Sydney Dance Company’s Charmene Yap is the arching, writhing spider. The film explores women’s desire and maternal experience. In the realm of recent art history, the mother-spider recalls American sculptor Louise Bourgeois’s massive, looming arachnids. Bourgeois is one of Barton’s greatest influences and represented spiders in a renowned series begun in 1994 and continued until the end of her life in 2010. Like Plath and Bourgeois before her, in this work Barton has rendered the overwhelming complexities and contradictions of motherhood. (Wall text)

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

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Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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25
Feb
18

Review: ‘All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne