Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Arts and Humanities

First Advisor

Dr Paul Uhlmann

Second Advisor

Dr Lyndall Adams

Abstract

This practice-led research project investigates indeterminate aspects of perception related to human vision and postcolonial conditioning. Through an inventive range of lens-based artworks, the research draws parallels between preconscious visual phenomena and the subjective experience of non-indigenous Australians of multiple generations.

The resulting body of creative work, New Australian Plants and Animals, can be seen to approach preconscious visual phenomena derived from the physiology of the human eye through the use of primitive photographic lens technology. This process is applied to the subject matter: introduced plants and partially naturalised migrants. This synthesis of subject and materials creates new insights into preconscious vision whilst questioning aspects of colonisation-in-reverse (Tacey, 1995) where the colonised land immeasurably exerts itself on the coloniser’s psyche. The partially naturalised migrant is metaphorically compared to introduced plants in Australia that are found inexplicably to evolve into new species.

The research highlights photography’s historic role in falsely maintaining the view that the human eye views the world with a flat, sharp field of focus by revealing how images potentially appear at the back of the human eye before being processed by the mind. The photographic component of the research work can be seen to depart from the contemporary practice of representing cultured landscapes with highly refined technical processes. Instead, the photographs move towards picturing an indeterminate space where the physical world meets the embodied subject through the use of primitive photographic materials. Additionally, by inverting the power of the lens and photographing the coloniser instead of the colonised, this project enabled fresh insights into the postcolonial subject.

In line with Paul Carter’s concept of material thinking (2004), this research relies on the ‘intelligence’ of materials to automatically reduce visual phenomena to a preconscious ocular quality whilst metaphorically operating as nineteenth-century colonial survey equipment. A broad range of artists has informed the research, ranging from late nineteenth-century European naturalist painters to contemporary Australian installation artists. The main theorists informing this project are Walter Benjamin, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Edmund Husserl.

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