Posts Tagged ‘Juan Davila A Man is Born Without Fear


Australia as an After Image: Middle Australia and the politics of fear

June 2016



“An afterimage … is an optical illusion that refers to an image continuing to appear in one’s vision after the exposure to the original image has ceased.”1


I don’t usually mix politics and art on this website but today, before the general election this Saturday in Australia, I ask this question: what kind of country do we want in the future? One that cares about human beings of all ages, races, sexualities, socio-economic positions and health – or one that has no vision for the future and which is governed by market greed.

As an immigrant I am forever grateful that I can call Australia home. I arrived in 1986 and got to stay as a permanent resident because of a gay de facto relationship. I was one of the lucky few. But today, dear friends, I feel that something has gone terribly wrong with this country. Looking back nearly 30 years later I wonder what has happened to that progressive country that was an unpolished diamond, a bit rough around the edges but generous and welcoming when I arrived all those years ago. Things seem to have gone backwards, terribly backwards over the last 30 years. It’s almost as though the country of hope and fun that I arrived in is just an afterimage located in my memory, a vision that continues to flicker in the recesses of the mind but is no longer present in actuality.

Today, as with many countries in the Western world which are edging towards the right through a “conservative movement” with clearly defined tenets and agenda, we live in a country governed by the politics of fear. This politics of fear – grounded in rampant capitalism where making a buck takes precedence over the lives of people: its business – and linked to the Christian fundamentalist right and the “re-engagement between church and state” – is, as David Kindon notes, “moving Australia away from the notion of a secular democracy.”2

Australia is now a less generous place than it was 30 years ago, ruled by god-given, government-aligned order. Bugger the pensioners, cut the arts program funding, get rid of public health care, call for plebiscite on gay marriage where the bigots can come out of the woodwork and other people decide whether you are deemed “equal” to them, imprison vulnerable people in state run concentration camps where the government has the right to hurt other people… and the list goes on and on: Border Force as a quasi paramilitary force for our protection, more people in jail than at any time in our history (due to the privatisation of the jails = money, profit), and “new anti-protest laws [In New South Wales which] are the latest example of an alarming and unmistakeable trend. Governments across Australia are eroding some of the vital foundations of our democracy, from protest rights to press freedom, to entrench their own power and that of vested business interests.” (Sydney Morning Herald)

Further, there is the “privatisation of government assets and services, attacks on public broadcasting services, deregulation of the private sector, and widespread cuts in the public sector.” (Kindon) As ever, the rich get richer, the miners get wealthier, and the poor get screwed. More entitlements were delivered to the wealthy and the corporate sector despite having seen the “end of the age of entitlement” announced by the Treasurer. Those very vested business interests.

This situation is not akin to the concept of “permanent temporariness” used to describe the plight of the Palestine State but is akin to that of a “permanent blindness” of a nation. Middle Australia will not hear what they don’t want to hear, will not see what they don’y want to see. Today, nationalism has become framed in terms of external (and internal) threats. Xenophobia in the recent Brexit poll in the UK is mirrored by simmering racism in this sun blessed country. Otherness, difference, liberal views, alternative thinking and, heaven forbidden, being an open and responsible member of the human race (on human rights, on global warming, on not being in wars we have no business being in) are all seen as threatening to the middle-brow status quo. Steady as she goes for “Team Australia” and if you’re not with us, you’re against us. Yes, let’s stick with this mob for a little while longer…


Dr Marcus Bunyan


1. Anon. “Afterimage” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 21/09/2011.
2. Kindon, David. “The Political Theology of Conservative Postmodern Democracies: Fascism by Stealth,” on the A Fairer Society website [Online] Cited 29/06/2016

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



David Moore (Australia 06 Apr 1927 – 23 Jan 2003) 'Migrants arriving in Sydney' 1966, printed later


David Moore (Australia 06 Apr 1927 – 23 Jan 2003)
Migrants arriving in Sydney
1966, printed later
gelatin silver photograph
30.2 x 43.5 cm image; 35.7 x 47.0 cm sheet
Gift of the artist 1997
© Lisa, Karen, Michael and Matthew Moore


Mervyn Bishop. 'Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory' 1975


Mervyn Bishop
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory
Type R3 photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet



Persons Of Interest – Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) surveillance 1949 -1980
Author Frank Hardy in the doorway of the Building Workers Industrial Union, 535 George St, Sydney, August 1955
NAA A9626, 212


Lifejacket and lifebuoy from the 'MV Tampa' 2001


Lifejacket and lifebuoy from the MV Tampa
Wallenius Wilhelmsen MV Tampa collection
National Museum of Australia


“There was one man from Nauru who sent me a letter that I should have let him die in the Ind … the Indian Ocean, instead of picking him up. Because, the conditions on Nauru were terrible. And that is a terrible thing to tell people, that you should have just let them drown.” – Arne Rinnan, Captain of the MV Tampa



Juan Davila
A Man is Born Without Fear
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art


J.W.C. Adam. 'Asylum seekers protesting against detention at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre on 22 April 2011' 2011


J.W.C. Adam
Asylum seekers protesting against detention at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre on 22 April 2011
CC BY-SA 2.5



“And when we call these places of horror in the Pacific ‘concentration camps’, that is an appropriate term, because that is what they are.

And when we accuse the Australian government of selectively torturing brown-skinned people in the way the Nazis chose the Jews and other groups to torture and ultimately eliminate, that is an appropriate thing to do, because we all know, in our heart of hearts, that if these people fleeing oppression were white, English-speaking Christians (white Zimbabweans, say) then their treatment would be completely different.”

Berger, David. “It’s Okay to Compare Australia in 2016 with Nazi Germany – And Here’s Why,” on the New Matilda website May 22 2016 [Online] Cited 29/06/2016


Ben Quilty. 'Trooper M, after Afghanistan' 2012


Ben Quilty
Trooper M, after Afghanistan
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist


Keast Burke (New Zealand, Australia 1896 - 1974) 'Husbandry 1' c. 1940


Keast Burke (New Zealand, Australia 1896 – 1974)
Husbandry 1
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph, vintage
30.5 x 35.5 cm image/sheet
Gift of Iris Burke 1989


Cronulla race riots 2005


Cronulla race riots 2005




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Exhibition: ‘Juan Davila: The Moral Meaning of Wilderness’ at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Caulfield

Exhibition dates: 4th August – 1st October 2011


Juan Davila. 'Wilderness' 2010


Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974)
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art



“The ‘Moral Meaning of Wilderness’ exhibition is a tour of the various approaches to the landscape: ‘plein air’ painting, studio landscape work, sublime landscape, historical evocation of landscape, modernity and the landscape, natural disaster, childhood memory of a landscape, woman in the wilderness. The ‘After Image’ works seem to refer to fantasies, inner space, unnameable objects, microcosm and immense space. Within the representation of “the land” one easily forgets that we are dealing with complexity and a field of projections. The political, the sublime, the moral stance, corporate destruction and the future of our environment come to mind.”

Juan Davila 1


“In a state of grace, one sometimes perceives the deep beauty, hitherto unattainable, of another person. And everything acquires a kind of halo which is not imaginary: it comes from the splendour of the almost mathematical light emanating from people and things. One starts to feel that everything in existence – whether people or things – breathes and exhales the subtle light of energy. The world’s truth is impalpable.”

Clarice Lispector 2



Simply put, this is the best exhibition I have seen in Melbourne this year.

Feminine jouissance is critical to an understanding of the work of Juan Davila (see quotation below). It is the jouissance of the Other: ineffable, incapable of being expressed, indescribable, unutterable. Also critical is an understanding of the meaning of ‘wilderness’ and ‘after image’.

Wilderness “is a relative term suggesting the perspective of a visitor or interloper for whom the landscape is wild and Other – for the landscape was neither wild nor foreign to its original inhabitants, at least not until its transformation through colonising, farming and displacement.”“An after image … is an optical illusion that refers to an image continuing to appear in one’s vision after the exposure to the original image has ceased.”4

The most powerful works are the Wilderness and After Image paintings. Grouped together in a room at the far end of the gallery, the effect of these paintings is to be physically surrounded by the nebula of the unconscious mind. The feeling is not dissimilar to being consumed by the abstract, elemental quality of Monet’s Nymphéas (Water Lilies) at the Orangerie in Paris. Pair to more earthly landscapes (see images 2 and 3 below) the paintings are the closest experience in approaching the divine that I have felt in a long time. Their visual and noumenal ‘energy’ is superlative.

Robert Nelson observes that, “The after-image is a momentary body-memory – not intellectual but bizarrely willed – perhaps a bit like the recollection of a dream or the instant slip that uncannily reveals the unconscious. In monumentalising this trace, Davila delivers us to another ethereal zone: the breath of libido, buffeted by clouds of repression and misty internalised myths. As portraits of evanescent memory, they are wantonly memorable.”5

Indeed, they are memorable. I had a spiritual experience with this work for the paintings promote in the human a state of grace. The non-material, the unconceptualisable, things which are outside all possibility of time and space are made visible. This happens very rarely but when it does you remember, eternally, the time and space of occurrence. I hope you have the same experience.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to MUMA for allowing me to publish the images in the posting. Please click on the images for a larger version.


“The term jouissance, in French, denotes “pleasure” or “enjoyment.” The term has a sexual connotation (i.e., orgasm) lacking in the English word “enjoyment”, and is therefore left untranslated in English editions of the works of Jacques Lacan. In his Seminar “The Ethics of Psychoanalysis” (1959-1960) Lacan develops his concept of the opposition of jouissance and pleasure. The pleasure principle, according to Lacan, functions as a limit to enjoyment: it is the law that commands the subject to ‘enjoy as little as possible’. At the same time the subject constantly attempts to transgress the prohibitions imposed on his enjoyment, to go beyond the pleasure principle. Yet the result of transgressing the pleasure principle, according to Lacan, is not more pleasure but pain, since there is only a certain amount of pleasure that the subject can bear. Beyond this limit, pleasure becomes pain, and this ‘painful principle’ is what Lacan calls jouissance.

In his Seminar “Encore” (1972-1973) Lacan states that jouissance is essentially phallic. That is, insofar as jouissance is sexual it is phallic, meaning that it does not relate to the Other as such. Lacan admits, however, that there is a specifically feminine jouissance, a supplementary jouissance, which is beyond the phallus, a jouissance of the Other. This feminine jouissance is ineffable, for both women and men may experience it but know nothing about it.”6



  1. Davila, Juan quoted in “After Image: A conversation between Juan Davila and Kate Briggs,” in Juan Davila: The Moral Meaning of Wilderness catalogue. Canberra: ANU Drill Hall Gallery, 2011, p. 53.
  2. Lispector, Clarice. Discovering the World. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1992, p. 122 quoted in Briggs, Kate. “Painting, an act of faith: Moments in the work of Juan Davila,” in Juan Davila: The Moral Meaning of Wilderness catalogue. Canberra: ANU Drill Hall Gallery, 2011, p. 8.
  3. Delany, Max. Introductory speech for “Contemporary Visions & Critiques of the Landscape.” Video of session. The Festival of Ideas, The Pursuit of Identity: Landscape, History and Genetics. The University of Melbourne [Online] Cited 21/09/2011. No longer available online
  4. Anon. “Afterimage” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 21/09/2011.
  5. Nelson, Robert. “Exhibition does not take air lightly,” in The Age newspaper. Wednesday, September 21st, 2011, p. 17.
  6. Anon. “Jouissance” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 21/09/2011.


Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974) 'A Man is Born Without Fear' 2010


Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974)
A Man is Born Without Fear
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art


Juan Davila. 'After Image. A Man is Born Without Fear' 2010


Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974)
After Image. A Man is Born Without Fear
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art


Juan Davila. 'Churchill National Park' 2009


Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974)
Churchill National Park
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art



“The Moral Meaning of Wilderness features recent work by Juan Davila, one of Australia’s most distinguished artists. The exhibition sees Davila turn to the genres of landscape and history painting, at a time when the environment is as much a political as a cultural consideration. With technical virtuosity, Davila’s striking representations of nature achieve monumental significance, depicting beauty and emotion while addressing modern society’s ambivalence to nature and increasing consumerism.

The Moral Meaning of Wilderness represents a radical shift in Davila’s practice, whilst continuing to explore art’s relationship to nature, politics, identity and subjectivity in our post-industrial age. Davila pursues his exploration of the role of art as a means of social, cultural and political analysis.

While many contemporary artists turned away from representation of the landscape, due to its perceived allegiance to outmoded forms of national identity and representation, Davila has recently sought to revisit and reconsider our surroundings au natural.

His paintings are, at first view, striking representations of nature. The paintings, created since 2003, are undertaken en plain air, a pre-modern technique based on speed of execution in situ, and the use of large scale canvases characteristic of history painting. He has also employed other techniques such as studio painting and representations of the landscape with reference to the sublime, the historical, memory and modernity.”

Text from the MUMA website


Juan Davila. 'The Painter's Studio' 2006


Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974)
The Painter’s Studio
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art


Juan Davila. '761 Wattletree Road' 2008


Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974)
761 Wattletree Road
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art


Juan Davila. 'What About my Desire?' 2009


Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974)
What About my Desire?
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art


Juan Davila. 'Australia: Nuclear Waste Dumping Ground' 2007


Juan Davila (Chilean b. 1946, emigrated Australia 1974)
Australia: Nuclear Waste Dumping Ground
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art



Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA)
Ground Floor, Building F.
Monash University Caulfield campus
900 Dandenong Road
Caulfield East, VIC 3145
Phone: 61 3 9905 4217

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday 12 – 5pm

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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