Ghostcards of WA: An exhibition of oil paintings on linen – and – Repositioning the Denkbild: A painting investigation into deaths in custody in 21st century Western Australia: An exegesis

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Arts & Humanities

First Advisor

Dr Paul Uhlmann

Second Advisor

Dr Marcella Polain

Field of Research Code

1905, 1699, 2002


Having a personal connection through several family members to the life and work of Ngaanyatjarra Elder Mr Ward, I found his death in custody in outback Western Australia unsettling and incomprehensible. As the circumstances of his death were revealed, I became aware of glaring omissions in the telling of his story and the circumstances that led to his death. Through my engagement with the subsequent media reporting, official documents and personal conversations, I recognised a profound lack of understanding of difference and otherness within a shared history and space in Western Australia. The initial aim of my project was to investigate the incomprehensible through the lens of Ngaanyatjarra Elder Mr Ward’s death; however, ethically, this proved a difficult path to negotiate. Through my research, I came to understand that the continued use of the dominant language of the coloniser, which is embedded in social practices and academic discourse is, in part, continuing to perpetuate white privilege. The ethical problems raised inspired me to develop an approach, which although oblique, would nevertheless enable fresh insight into otherness and difference in a multi-cultural society. The particular concern of this practice-led research project is not to exploit the trauma of others but to raise awareness of this social space through my work, giving rise to new understandings and possible relations.

This research gathered key texts from Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno, to facilitate the transfer of the written form of Denkbild, a literary device manipulating the codes of language to visualise the process of thought, into a painting practice. The Denkbild (thought-image) is a Euro-centric genre of exploratory philosophical writing, crafted in response to a society witnessing tremendous change as a result of the devastating impact of WWI and WWII. Through this creative project, the challenge was to re-activate the Denkbild through painting and accompanying text to investigate deaths in custody and interrogate the connected issues of ethics, politics and inequality, which is written into the shared spaces of Western Australia. The Denkbild is then developed further with the addition of Henri Lefebvre’s threedimensional spatial application of dialectical thinking and the creative practice of selected Australian artists. Through this addition, the binary dialectical framework of the Denkbild is expanded to reflect contemporary thinking on the concept of space as a social product. This perspective emerges to enable fresh insight into Aboriginal understandings of space as representing an ‘eternal now’, such that a mutual understanding of space is manifested. My painting practice reflects and informs this transition, as I moved from the painting studio to selected locations to record information and experiences that developed my research position.

To achieve the project’s aims, I engaged in reflexivity and praxis as the methodological tools to guide my research. Through painting, my research extended across interdisciplinary fields including visual arts practices, philosophical history and literature, to interrogate a spatial dynamic, revealing marginalised insights and connecting interrelationships between sites. For the purpose of this research, the paintings, exhibitions and exegesis function on two levels: as an avenue into mediation of Western Australian culture and as a methodological approach to visual art practice. My research culminated in the exhibition, Ghostcards of WA 2017 at the Spectrum Project Space, ECU, Mount Lawley. This project is significant as it renews the Denkbild to further the unique relationship between conceptual and representational categories that binds together experience, object and practice to form an interrogative tool for critical inquiry. In the application of this method to a Western Australian context, new thinking is encouraged through the inclusive reading of space and the collapsing of misunderstandings perpetuated in historicism through a shared recognition of the inherent value of space/sites which— far from being incomprehensible, reactive, nostalgic and solipsistic—are comprehensible, active, prescient, abundant and social.

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Paper Location