Chapter 5 Pool X: Methodologies
In this chapter I look at parallel methodologies in the work of others. I concentrate on three artists, all of whom have exhibited at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, linking their work to the major terms and concepts explored in previous chapters. I consider their relationship to Peter Hills concept, superfictions, using it as a tool to undermine particular truth producing frameworks. I do not co-opt the concept but extend it and relate it to my understanding of the terms heterotopia, supplementary subjectivity, interiorised other and biopolitics. In addition, I use a variety of practical examples and artists to outline my concerns, arguing that identity can never be stable. The frameworks that surround it become open to corruption, we can, therefore, never regard ourselves as being home.
Description of the Work
Pool X, like the Mnemonia Room, is analogous to a Russian Doll. It captures the subject in a series of unfolding perspectives, each one of them supported by a false architecture. The first perspective places the viewer at the end of what seems like an empty lap pool, with its dirty water marks and other miscellaneous detritus. It is obvious it has not been used in a long time. A ladder stands ready to be used by the subject to descend into the interior. The subject, following their descent, becomes the object of another viewers gaze, who stands on the exterior of the space looking in, where the subject originally stood. At the deep end of the pool is a spy-hole in which a film plays depicting an unpeopled beach. An astromonk slowly makes its way to shore, only to disappear, disintegrate, reappear and recombine over and over again in an endless loop.
As the subject watches the events on the beach unfold a soundtrack begins to play from above them, seemingly synchronized to the film they are watching. From above, the sounds of the beach, muffled by the pool cover, begin to drift into the space.
Another layer of complexity comes from the projected images beamed into the space and onto the subject watching the film. For the viewer exterior to Pool X they watch the projected visage of astromonk, fused with the viewer inside the space, act out a drowning narrative. In effect this places the real-time viewer outside the space in the same supplementary position as the people that watch the astromonk making its way onto the beach. Looking into the heterotopia (as art object, as pool or as metaphor for ocean) they are immune, or disabled, to an others suffering. The subject inside the space occupies a position of otherness and, with the viewer outside the space, is rendered supplementary.
In earlier chapters I have referred on a number of occasions to the story of Narcissus. I see it as an allegory that succinctly describes subjectivity in the post-industrial world, where identity is hosted in a variety of virtual frameworks. The image of ourselves is maintained in a series of perspectives that are generally banal but sometimes dangerous. From internet social networking sites Facebook and My Space, to the economic identity expressed in most of the mail (bills and bank statements) we receive, as well as the identity framed in other discourses briefly touched-on, such as the law, medicine and citizenship. We are not so much fixated on the singular image in the heterotopia of the mirror/lake, like Narcissus, but on the triangulated self at the centre of many perspectives, which operate outside our control. This is predicated on the suspension of disbelief and the notion that the space is real and therefore the statements that emanate from it are truthful. Space conceived as a heterotopia means that what is produced inside it becomes something other than real. For a methodological parallel to space as a false architecture I use the concept of superfictions.
What happens when illusion slips out of the picture frame and fiction escapes from the pages of the novel? Posing this question in relation to the term, superfictions, Hill roots his investigation to contemporary art practice, seeking out those artists directly engaged in creating fictional situations in the gallery environment. Antecedents or those whom he considers work in a superfictional way include Marcel Duchamp (his readymades), Jorge Louis Borges (fictional worlds within fictional worlds), Guillaume Bijl (replicas of spaces) and Charles Green and Lyndal Brown, to name but a few. His contention is that superfictions is, in and of itself, an art movement that insinuates fictions into seemingly real life organisational structures or primary framing devices. They thereby lead the viewer to suspend their disbelief, because the structure that surrounds the fiction seems so stable. The structures he has used include the museum, the teacher-pupil paradigm, the hotel and the casino.
The Argentinian writer, Jorge Louis Borges, weaved fictions into fictions by creating believable primary framing devices around his subjects, such as in his short story, Tlon Uqbar Orbis Tertius. He inserts the details of a fictional country, Uqbar, into the Encyclopedia Britannica. Further into the story, the narrator discovers, by chance, volume eleven of A First Encyclopedia of Tlon. In it he finds a taxonomy of a society inhabiting an unknown planet and that its language and derivations of its language religion, letters, metaphysics all presuppose idealism. That is a utopia, by definition, and yet in the narrative of the short story it is also a heterotopia; a proposition that legitimates the real world from which the narrator not Borges writes. The narrator conjures a believable series of events and material interactions that chronicle the gradual unfolding of the speculative world of Tlon upon the real world of earth. In the story, published in 1940, but dated, 1947, seven years into the future, fiction leaks back into reality, and indeed, becomes reality.
In Borges story, through believable architectures and artifacts, fiction leaks back into the real world. This is a superfiction. In our real world nation-states were created and whole cultures were subsumed and represented in museums by their artifacts and their remains. The supposed rational, dispassionate, mechanism of the museum framed the viewer in a discourse of truth. Knowledge gained inside the contrived organisational structure is then transposed onto artifacts and identities outside the museum. Some people, as demonstrated, are made to wear the stain of atavism. In Borges scenario the world that leaked back into reality was an ideal one reflecting and criticising the skewed idealism of Nazism while in the case of the museum, the worlds represented are anachronistic, and position the viewer on the cusp of progress. Is the art gallery a space where identity is entwined with the artifacts represented a place where the superfictions of other spaces can be explored and stable representations disturbed?
Two Heterotopias inside a Heterotopia; the Museum and Art Gallery
The contemporary art gallery is a space displaying several features common to heterotopias; so too is the museum, but I argue they are antithetical to one another because of the different ways they come to frame their objects and, subsequently, frame the audiences they host. In most contemporary private and government subsidised spaces the exhibitions change from month to month. With the change of artists, different artifacts grace the gallery. The artifacts are transitory, and the viewer is expected to negotiate the space in a different order each month as a result. Not so in the museum space where the objects are generally static, unmoving, and always there, stratified in layers of time. Tony Bennett notes that in the 1851 exhibition at the Crystal Palace, the proto-type for the modern museum most objects were displayed as representative of a stage within an evolutionary series leading from the simple to the complex. In many respects, the museum display is predicated on stasis, the notion that things are frozen in time, whereas in the commercial and government funded contemporary art gallery display is dynamic.
For the work to have meaning (and monetary value) in the transitory context of the gallery the identity of the author behind the work (artifact) becomes one of the critical points in discerning what the artwork is about. The, generally, white walls, punctuated by art objects that are installed, painted, sculpted or appropriated, are arranged in a temporary, and very specific, narrative. Often, as explored in chapter 4, it is a narrative that best enunciates the socio-political identity the artist is perceived to embody or the socio-political concern they have, which inside the gallery space is of great significance, particularly in Aboriginal art. This is not to say that the directors, boards and curators of contemporary galleries are apolitical when it comes to selecting an artist/artists to exhibit in their gallery. The selection process is in part based on prejudices, institutionalised bias and established networks. In other words, names are not drawn out of a hat, but screened for the aesthetic they present and/or the socio-political agenda implicit in the work. Considering this, I stress that the socio-political imperative and identity of the artist is articulated in a space that is predicated on the notion of display, much like the museum, but with one fundamental difference. The museums artifacts, as Tony Bennett makes clear, are assumed to be reflections of past modes of existence, and therefore a benign congregation of objects and their times, whereas the art gallery a temporary exhibition space is a blank piece of paper, without an ideological motive, and yet it always houses an opinion.
The schism that exists between the two spaces rests on perception, and yet spaces can be commandeered to manufacture a variety of views on objects and subjectivities, as the previous chapters have explored. Superfictions, for my argument, presuppose that all architectures prejudice experience, good and bad. All spaces - real, analogous and digital create fictions, which then intersect with other fictions from other spaces, with ideological foundations. The obvious conclusion is that we live in a vast superfictional framework. The art gallery is merely the best place to illuminate this, and writing from the perspective of a supplementary subject myself, I sometimes wonder if we inhabit superfictions in every aspect of our lives, from Facebook to the legal system? Imagined on this scale, which was not Hills intention, superfictions becomes a concept for a science fiction narrative. I do not go so far as to suggest that superfictions form the foundations for all experience, and by extension, the emergence of subjectivity. I do, however, see it as an important adjunct to the conception of space that heterotopia provides an other space holding others in representation. The problem is outside of the gallery, in other heterotopia, some spaces and the biopolitical differences and outright fictions they perpetuate detract from our experience, and indeed, can erase an individual, or group on a mass scale.
Artists: Many Worlds and the Human Menagerie
Advancing Foucaults exploration of disciplinary space as the fundamental context for the emergence of subjectivity, Giorgio Agamben suggests the extermination camp as the pure, absolute, and impassable biopolitical space will appear as the hidden paradigm of the political space of modernity
He warns that we will have to learn how to recognise this biopolitical spaces metamorphoses and disguises. Imagining superfictions as an all encompassing paradigm not only shows the boundary between fiction and reality to be porous it opens up the possibility that all spaces produce fiction dressed as truth. Using the artist, Richard Billinghams films and photographs of animals in zoo enclosures as a prime example, I posit the zoo as a heterotopia that exemplifies this paradigm. Billingham presents it as more than the inhumane incarceration of wild animals and poor facsimiles of their habitat, but as a biopolitical space where the distinction between animal and human collapses to the point where the animals display the most depressing signs of humanity.
Billinghams ZOO series, made-up of videos and photographs, and shown at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in 2007, depict a number of animals in a habitat that is not theirs, but supposedly ours. Humans have entrapped animality in order to study it, covet it, preserve it, kill it and train it. The threshold between animal and human is solid and definable, writ large in a space such as the zoo. It maintains the fiction that what is outside of it is human and at the same time allows for a dangerously apparent anthropomorphism. In his film, Elephants, the animals move back and fourth, over and over again in movements that make the viewer think that the video is on a short loop of just a few seconds. It is not, this is their endurance, day in day out. What the viewer witnesses in the actual space of the zoo and what they witness in the gallery space are of two different orders. The first, in real time, is the disengaged view whereby the viewer is able to move onto the next exhibit because their gaze is not fixed to the choices someone else has made. Whereas in Billinghams video, the second order of viewing, the viewer is trapped by the view the artist decides best enunciates the animals psychosis.
The audience come to the art gallery, a heterotopia, to see his works of animals confined in their zoo enclosures. The animals, trapped in climates, habitats and cultures a long way from home, perform animality in the zoo. Their space orders their behaviour as much as their instinct. In the context of this thesis I could call them supplementary animals because all they do is look like the animal they resemble; they do not behave like the animal they were or were meant to be (if bred in captivity). Elephants move back and forth; a gorilla swallows its food and then regurgitates it; whilst a seemingly unconscious panda bear slumps in the corner. This is Billinghams misanthropic zoo, and rightly so, because in creating these simulated environments for wild animals humans have sought to construct themselves as human.
His work exposes the tendency for individuals and imagined communities inside the nation-state, particularly in the West, to compose themselves against something other. At a deeper level, with careful surveillance and, no doubt, selective editing, Billingham asks the viewer to step onto the threshold that separates the animal from the human.
The false architecture of the zoo its painted backdrops, imported trees and vegetation, man-made watercourses and caged sky creates a superfictional framework; an unnatural set of conditions from which, for instance, the lion-ness of the lion emerges. It roars like a lion, it moves like a lion, it looks like a lion and it even sniffs its prey, in the next enclosure, like a lion only it will never consummate its desire to meet with what its olfactory sense suggests is there. It is the fiction of the lion; it is the reiteration of a lion; it is the trace structure of the lion; it is the supplement of a lion. Just as I was constituted by a false architecture in Darwin (as outlined in Chapter 2) when I was called a "nigger", so too, is the caged lion. It exists in a superfiction exuding some signs of lioness, but ultimately its behaviour conforms to the strictures of the space in which it is framed most distressingly exemplified in Billinghams films.
The facsimile of their natural environment invokes disturbingly human responses from the animals. Clearly, some are mad, driven to repetitive behaviour by a situation that inhibits their natural instincts, others just remain still, their eyes darting, seemingly looking out for a point of interest to break the monotony of the day. The viewer, in his/her desire to anthropomorphise the animals, cannot help but look at the their manifested psychosis as a result of an unnatural incarceration. In this instance they also witness an ascent that is the very human becoming of animal. The event parallels Deleuze and Guattaris metaphorical collapse of the animal into the human: the snout of the animal deterritorialises into the nose and mouth of the human.
The zoo becomes a platform for the management of the animals humanity, and metaphorically, it becomes the pond into which Narcissus falls. The viewer is forced to contemplate a descent into the murky space between the animal and the human, a space Giorgio Agamben marks out in his book, The Open: Man and Animal. In a secular, science and reason based world, he suggests, humanity does not emerge from the double knit of a living being and a spiritual being, but rather the very political separation of man from animal and the human from the inhuman. He describes the human experience as an anthropological machine which in its two variants ancient and modern is at work in our culture. The human, he argues, is produced through its separation from animality, adding the machine necessarily functions by means of an exclusion
and an inclusion. I
In essence, we are defined by what we exclude, and necessarily, by those indeterminate beings who occupy the gap between animal and human. These are the people that have the interiorised other (explored in earlier chapters) thrust onto them. They are a shifting population made-up of people, according to Agamben, like the man-ape, the enfant sauvage or Homo ferus, but also and above all, the slave, the barbarian, and the foreigner, as figures of an animal in human form. Billinghams Gorilla confronts the viewer with the ape-man, the figure of a human in animal form.
In detention centres, in the ocean off Australia and desert communities in the middle of Australia, where once Europeans thought there was an inland sea, asylum seekers and Aborigines are forced to carry the mantle of otherness and the attributes of animality. They emerge from the uncanny, in rickety boats on heaving seas and run-down shacks in broiling heat, and yet so have all of us, or we could, if we allow for the concept of supplementary subjectivity (explored in previous chapters). Following McLeans psychoanalytical approach to the ocean as a metaphor for absence, Bennetts governmental analysis of the museum framework and Billinghams re-presentation of the animal becoming human I have come to see all spaces, constructed and imagined, as potential heterotopia.
Home for me became other, and I was rendered other in my home. In Darwin, as detailed, I was simultaneously rendered other and supplementary, two ambiguous states of being that truly dislocate and describe the place of the non-Indigenous identity in Australia. From the nation-state to the conception of self, and infused with fictions, pre-conceptions and blind ideologies, the false architectures in which identities emerge contain hidden mechanisms for the production of otherness. A tropical island for instance, becomes a detention centre, as is the case with Christmas Island, but the island also figures in the imagination as a paradise with associations of pleasure and idleness only for the privileged subject though. Uluru doubles as a tourist destination and an Aboriginal community which tourists rarely see. Both the rock and the island would not be so prominent if they did not rise from the flat, indeterminate plain of the desert and ocean.
For Ian McLean, the ocean and desert are important backdrops to the conception of a European identity in Australia, they both signify indeterminate space that cannot be surveyed or tamed. He describes the ocean as an emblem for the tyranny of distance, marking the odyssey of Australian identity
interiorised in the Australian psyche as the mythological inland sea, and now the red centre. These spaces not only maintain the fiction that the place we inhabit is the real space and shore-up a national identity, they are heterotopia, holding a deep mythological resonance for the non-Indigenous subject. McLean describes them, citing Freud and Luci Irigary, in psychoanalytic terms as uncanny and as the immemorial intrauterine abode. The non-Indigenous Australian subject, McLean argues, stands in a space that is not theirs and looks across a sea of repressions literally the ocean, a figure of the unconscious and longs for home, Europe. In other words, we stand in a heterotopia, which as the island continent of Australia, floats in a heterotopia. Like the art gallery the ocean is also transitory, an open ended heterotopia where the subject embarks on a literal and metaphorical journey.
In his installation, Babylonia (2005), Callum Morton presents the viewer with a view of themselves infinitely dispersed between two mirrors, in the transitory space of what seems like a hotel corridor. Morton shows Western subjectivity to be supplementary inside an island that floats in a heterotopia the art gallery. At first sight Babylonia appears as a monolithic rock that juts out of the gallery floor, slightly reflective, so it gives the impression the rock is floating, as an island does on the horizon. It sat in the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art like Uluru sits in the desert, and Christmas Island in the ocean, unmoving, present against the white walls of the sky. As heterotopia these three analogous objects, transposed onto each other, elicit both shared features and sharp distinctions. They create a palimpsest that I explore in the following pages.
Islands, Oceans, Deserts and Rocks
The Yankunyjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people, the traditional owners of Uluru, request that tourists do not climb the rock (although many do). Viewers of Mortons work are invited to enter a realm of pure simulation the interior of the island. For the uninitiated tourist, whether they climb Uluru or not, what kind of experience do they have when they look at the lonely icon that sits in the middle of the driest continent on earth? Is it akin to looking at a piece of Aboriginal art, only more of the senses are involved? Of course the non-Aboriginal tourist does not have access to the spiritual dimensions of the rock that the traditional owners hold as their secret-sacred. Is it beauty itself that orders the experience, or the want to connect with the landscape that drives the tourist to take hundreds of photographs of the most photographed rock in the world? Surely all angles have been covered. Perhaps it is the rocks sublime visage that draws people to it, rising red, from the flat desert plain, as described in all those photographs. No doubt, the experience consummates the representation. Perhaps in the desert as in the ocean, a metaphor for absence, subjectivity is refortified against the vast emptiness of its surrounds. Uluru provides a presence, but is it really solid?
Juliana Engberg describes Callum Mortons Babylonia (2005) as a hyper-glossary of culture and art. She applies all kinds of references to it, from cinematic homage to existential event, descriptions any literate viewer would pick-up on. It is a monolith that invites the viewer into an interior to stand amongst a network of simulacra, including grunts, muffled screams and radios and ringing telephones emanating from behind the closed doors of the hotel corridor. Inside a heterotopia (Mortons island) inside a heterotopia (the gallery) inside a heterotopia (the city and the nation-state) the viewer is ensconced in a superfiction that does not end at the gallery door, rather it extends outside the gallery and into the very fabric of our real lives. Simulation, summarised by Jean Baudrillard as the generation of models of the real without origin or reality: A hyperreal. Accordingly, the map has overtaken the territory, it precedes it. Baudrillard kick-starts his essay, Simulacra and Simulations, by recounting a part of a Borges story where the cartographers of an empire draw a map so detailed that it ends up exactly covering the territory.
The reproduction of Uluru comes before we visit it in the red centre. In his 2003 essay, The World Will Be Tlon: Mapping the Fantasitic onto the Virtual, Darren Tofts uses Borges and Baudrillard to illustrate how fiction overlays the real, or how it can feedback into reality and confuse the certainty of memory. Tofts coincides here with Hills concept, superfictions, when he talks about information from outside-text, proof artifacts and scattered ephemera. In the Borges story objects from Tlon such as a compass and a small, but unnaturally heavy object made of a metal not of this earth begin to infiltrate the real world thereby proving the existence of Tlon. The real world appropriates the ephemera in good faith. What is the Shroud of Turin but a proof artifact? In the making of a nation-state what does it mean to plant a flag in the ground? It is an artifact of faith before value and signification, just as the myths and imagined maps of the antipodes were for Ptolemy and future explorers.
Fantasy has always been projected onto the Australian landscape and its people, from the grotesque representations of Aborigines found in early colonial paintings to the Australian Impressionists interpretations of the Australian bush from which Aboriginal people had presumably disappeared. Considering Arthur Streetons 1890 work, Near Heidelberg, in this context, rather than calling it an Impressionist work, which implies an immediate faith to colour and light, it might be called a simulated mnemonic device, or perhaps, a superfiction.
Streeton was so obviously enamoured with the landscape, demonstrated in many of his letters, but most keenly in painting like Near Heidelberg (1890). In the work he renders an idyllic and idle scene encompassing not just the landscape but the Europeans engagement with it. Men and women, dressed in their finery look out from the middle ground of the work, onto a sunlit valley. They are bathed in light, almost lost in the golden glow of the summer grasses. No doubt this was Streeton reflecting his affection for the landscape on the edge of Melbourne, in the late nineteenth century. At the same time it, and many of the other Heidelberg Schools practitioners works, demonstrate a need to suture the European to the landscape. The Aboriginal subject disappears from the landscape in their paintings and in his/her place the pioneering white man (sometimes effete and idle), and the idle white woman (in most cases) are made native.
It is instructive to know that from the perspective Streeton paints his scene following the path of the Yarra River to Mount Donna Buang on the horizon in the valley the group of people gaze at sits the Aboriginal reserve of Coranderrk. At the time, it was made-up mostly of people from the Kulin nations, and was a contested piece of land, particularly in the 1890s. White settlers in the area were unable to acknowledge its long success as a self-sustaining community, and importantly, as a community adapted to European economic culture. In 1886 the Half Caste Act was instituted meaning that Coranderrk became a settlement where people of mixed descent under the age of thirty-five were banned. It was thought that they would eventually assimilate the Aboriginal blood line over generations would fade into white. Meanwhile, the Half Caste Act and its policy of exclusions and removals caused populations on reserves to plummet, but people still attempted to live close to their traditional lands and families, even if that meant living in fringe camps and rubbish tips.
One of the essential characteristics of modern biopolitics is its constant need to redefine the threshold in life that distinguishes and separates what is inside from what is outside.
Understandably, in an effort to render the European subject indigenous, reserves, fringe camps and rubbish dumps were uncommon backdrops to the Impressionist landscapes. This is a narrative that remained unexplored by the Heidelberg School painters, although now, the people of Coranderks stories can be found in the political activist and clan leaders, William Baraks paintings, hanging in the same major galleries as the iconic Australian Impressionist works. A biopolitical separation is evident here. Perhaps the camp as hidden paradigm, or as biopolitical space, was established (in Australia) earlier than Agamben suggests. In the Half Caste Act we witness the political exiling of another race, created by the seemingly stable organisational structure of the Victorian Parliament. The legislation was a superfiction of grand proportions, similar in nature to the Nuremberg laws of 1935 which saw anybody with three or four Jewish grandparents effectively deprived of citizenship. At the behest of an obviously racist ideology, based on the notion of pure blood and white supremacy, legislation was passed through architecture, in itself unstable and fluid, to become law. More insidiously, the legislation implants a prevailing cultural orthodoxy, one that went largely unchallenged until Albert Namatjiras intervention into the field of art and representation in the 1950s.
In a piece addressing Peter Hills concept, Adrian Heathcote, in his essay, The Rise and Rise of Superfictions, makes the point that from the very beginning of our species, fictions have been threatening to break out of their confines. Fictions too, have been kept in elaborate framing devices, turned out in myths, rhetoric and legislation, often as ineffable truths. Yes, there is a truth to the treatment of light and space in Streetons work, but there are also myths, which according to Heathcote are fictions that infuse themselves into the texture of everyday life, stiffening it against the formlessness and ambiguity of experience.
Oblivious to Indigenous peoples struggles against colonisation the major group of Australian artists during the 1890s were busy establishing an art movement that relied as much on fiction as it did on a true resemblance to the character of the Australian bush and people. In Australian art history the Impressionists works and techniques loom large, as do the myths they perpetuated. Largest of which was that Australia was a young, fledgling country populated by stoic, melancholy, European pioneers working the harsh land, playing in the cultivated fields and rivers and sometimes getting lost in the bush. The paintings, shown in the galleries of the large coastal cities, depicted another world; a world constructed along the same lines as Jorge Louis Borges Tlon. Borges shows how believable frameworks, such as the encyclopedia, supported by proof artifacts, like the compass, turn fiction into reality. The excursions of the Impressionists, presented in the cities, were artifacts from an alternative territory. Blind to the suffering of the original occupants of the landscapes they depicted, the Impressionists impressed upon the viewer a mostly idyllic vision of Australia, but not a real one. They present the viewer with a heterotopia, something Australia has always been. In this light, what is a photograph of Uluru, but a representation of an other world? A world we do not live in. A country we do not inhabit. It might be a superfiction, when tied to a non-Aboriginal identity.
De-localised by a Legislated Superfiction
At the base of Uluru lies the Aboriginal community of Mutitjulu, like Coranderrk, a biopolitical space used as much for its backdrop as its squalid living conditions when it was occupied by the military in July 2007. In the lead up to a federal election in November of that year the Howard Government seized on the report, Little Children are Sacred, to declare a national emergency. The report found high levels of child abuse, in Northern Territory Indigenous Communities, caused, in part, by a failing education system, alcoholism and the breakdown of traditional family and cultural values. Howards intervention was framed by a seven point plan which included suspending welfare payments, bans on alcohol and pornography, the scrapping of the permit system, and extra police to enforce the plan. The army was rolled out to complete the picture. There was only one group of people targeted literally, Australias interiorised other and they were again differentiated by their skin and most effectively, for those at home in the coastal cities, by their abject spatial circumstances.
The separation of the Aboriginal body, in this circumstance, was akin to the separation of the Jewish body in Germany by which the German biopolitical body is made actual. The government of the day created a state of exception where all normal rules are suspended under the auspices of a national emergency or crisis and as a result the Australian body is actualised. Using spaces such as the beach where the Australian flag was used as a proof artifact to denote who belonged and who did not during the Cronulla riots of 2005 and the desert, home morphs into something where someone is always excluded, and perhaps reified into what it always has been; a space where the identity of others and of self is reified. Agambens biopolitical space of modernity is everywhere.
'In all these cases, an apparently innocuous space actually delimits a space in which the normal order is de facto suspended and in which whether or not atrocities are committed depends not on law but on the civility and ethical sense of the police who temporarily act as sovereign'. (Agamben)
Agamben suggests here that the arms of the state will act out its biopolitical wants, no matter how questionable, even at home, if a state of exception is what it takes to sanction them. He calls this a dislocating localization that exceeds determinate space into which every form of life and every rule can be virtually taken. He argues that space is no longer necessary to ordering our forms of life, there are black holes everywhere and any one of us is liable to be dragged into one. Agamben articulates this as the Western individuals modern day, underlying, fear. The camp, where all normal rules and protocols are suspended, is a dislocating localisation able to be applied to islands and desert communities, and most distressingly, to home. Under Agambens conception of a dislocated localization, home becomes a foreign territory, not just for those stuck on islands or in desert communities, but for all of those who identify as non-Indigenous Australians. We live in Mortons Babylonia.
In a superfictional addition to the Australian Impressionists paintings I have literally re-appropriated some of their most iconic images. Replacing some of their figures with astromonks and decontextualising the natural space they are found in by literally removing the scene from the figure, so that they float in the natural wood-grain of the non-Indigenous, manufactured plywood I have used. My focus is different to Anne Zahalkas re-presentations of Impressionist works in the 1980s. In works like The Breakaway (1985) and The Immigrants (1985) she insinuates new subjects into iconic Impressionist works in order to remind the viewer that others were involved in the forging of the national character, namely women and southern Europeans. In the lead-up to the bicentennial celebrations of European settlement in this country her interventions into Australian art history were a timely reminder of the fictions that feed into our national narratives.
White men were not the only pioneers in Australia; they were not the only workers, but for a time, it seems, they were the only artists, as they were the only subject actively involved in the landscape lighting fires, digging graves, riding horses and other such masculine activities. I do not argue that the Australian Impressionists works were out and out misrepresentations; they were merely selective in their subject matter, as all artists are. In works like Frederick McCubbins Lost, however, (both the 1886 and 1907 versions) the bush is depicted as an enveloping force in which the vulnerable, adrift subjectivities of woman and boy are confronted with the indeterminate space of the Australian bush. They present as the only presence in a sea of uncertainty. Man, in Tom Roberts A Breakaway (1891), is pioneer, conqueror of nature, rounding up sheep in a cleared and open sun-baked paddock. In psychoanalytic terms he is active. A conspiratorial strand is evident here and sits next to the over-arching Impressionist narrative. Perhaps Roberts man on horse is riding to rescue the absent identities of those two characters in McCubbins enclosed and claustrophobic paintings.
The Australian Impressionists manufactured a national identity as much as they contributed to the absenting of the Indigenous identity in the Australian landscape. I do not mean to carp, as I love their work and their impressions were reflective of their culture, but where exactly, did the Aboriginal subject go? They went missing in Australian art for about 60 years while the white subject made themselves comfortable in an others space through legislation like the Half Caste Act, amongst other things. The Impressionists contributed to the myth that Australia was a landscape ripe for taming, because it was wild and empty, and yet it was not. In my series of re-appropriations I render the landscape from the perspective of someone to come, astromonk, out of place and out of time. The subjects are emplaced, like those of the Impressionists, in spaces that are not theirs. In the McCubbin re-appropriations the space the subject sits in is recontextualised as purely foreign; they float in the random pattern of a manufactured non-Indigenous timber.
Apart from the material differences that separate our re-presentations of some Australian Impressionist works Zahalkas photomontages now hang in major galleries, like the National Gallery of Victoria, where the originals hang. As well as re-appropriating the figures and scale of the old works I have reproduced some of these as multiples, in a smaller format, and framed in the old frames which once held old prints of Impressionist works. I sourced the framed prints at various opportunity shops around Melbourne, and the updated versions have been re-dispersed out to those same shops. In this way they become scattered ephemera or proof artifacts that leak back into real spaces, and perhaps into real homes, like Borges objects from Tlon. This last series of works, as opposed to the sculptural installations and actual size re-appropriations, represent a small scale superfiction, and are a literal homage and practical application of Hills concept.
Assemble, Dissemble and Reassemble
Mike Nelson, like Richard Billingham and Callum Morton, presents heterotopia inside the heterotopia of the art gallery. In his exhibition, Lonely Planet, at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, in 2005, he re-presented an amalgam of Melbournes 1930s glory days which included parts of the old Melbourne Cricket Ground Members stand and other materials salvaged from disused, now abject, spaces. Literally, he dislocates local spaces, only to recombine them in installations that evoke in the viewer a sense of nostalgia and isolation. Isolation, perhaps, from a past that cannot be recaptured, and yet it is something Nelson manages to do, because the viewer inhabits a utilitarian space, at once authentic and removed. Nelsons work entraps the viewer in spaces that once ordered real experiences; spaces that were built at the behest of old paradigms or outmoded discourses, such as incarcerating wayward youth and people with mental illnesses. They are rich with memory and association.
The difference between Mortons and Nelsons works is that Babylonia was pure simulacrum and had never played host to human experience until it was exhibited, whereas Lonely Planets recombined spaces once ordered human behaviour. In Richard Billinghams work we witness an unflinching view of how an artificial space orders animal behaviour, to the point where it begins to exhibit signs of human psychosis. All three were shown over successive years at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, a heterotopia itself. They each share a desire to position the viewer in frameworks of association that destabilise spaces exterior to the heterotopia of the gallery, as opposed to the museum which tends to stabalise, or add to the legitimacy of the things that exist outside its walled interior. Identity, rather than being shored up in the spaces and images the artists present us with, becomes distant when we see ourselves reflected in the face of a gorilla or find ourselves wandering the hallways of an abandoned boys home.
My work combines many of the conceptual and material features of the artists mentioned above. Pool-X lures the viewer into an interior of associations while setting that viewer up as a subject of the piece for those outside the work. It presents the viewer with the possibility that they are supplementary. She/he could be an astromonk seeking asylum; they could be trapped in the legislated superfiction of Coranderk, or the Pacific Solution; they might be othered, or dislocated, from the space they call home. The spaces I have created for this research resemble stable environments, but always with an uncanny sting in the tale, whether that be a skewed perspective, a sudden movement from what looks like a dummy in an astronaut suit or a slide show of an astromonk drowning and projected onto the viewer for a viewer exterior to the interior of the piece. The works seek to intervene in the assured representations society creates for itself and others by corrupting some of the conventional, biopolitical, architectures in which identity emerges. Superfictions, for me, has become more than a methodology, it is a concept that represents the impossibility of truth, because truth is always mediated in fictive, or as Derrida would term it, artifactual frameworks.
Peter Hill, The Superfictions PhD, RMIT, 2000, p. 12, retrieved 19 May 2009, www.superfictions.com/
ibid., p. 153.
Jorge Louis Borges, Tlon Uqbar Orbis Tertius, in Donald A.Yates and James E. Irby (eds.) Labyrinths: selected Stories and Other Writings, Penguin Classics, Australia, 2000, p. 27-43.
ibid., p. 32.
As an example, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces in Melbourne is a not for profit organisation briefed to exhibit the work of emerging artists, actively encouraging, according to their website, risk and experimentation. Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, retrieved 14 February 2009, http://www.gertrude.org.au/about-us.
Although they do have their temporary exhibitions also, like the Robinson Family kitchen, and on a slightly larger scale, in 2009, the blockbuster, A Day in Pompeii.
Tony Bennett, The Birth of The Museum: History, Theory, Politics, Routledge, London, 1995, p. 213.
The narrative is shaped by the dictates of the space and will often be arranged chronologically or thematically, but always, spatially.
This idea, as explored in the previous chapter, rejects the notion that the author is dead, and resists the model of subjectivity capital globalisation asks the individual to abide by in the so-called real spaces they inhabit, which exist outside of the art gallery. The model of subjectivity I describe is influenced in part by Chantal Mouffe, For an Agonostic Public Sphere in Democracy Unrealized, in UM Bauer, M Nash, O Enwezor, O Zaya (eds), Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2002, pp. 87-93, and her description of the disappearance of agonism in Western politics due to the nation-states unwavering belief in free-market capitalism. Neo-liberal market capitalism prescribes pattern buying for the individual. If you can afford an identity, by all means, buy one. To be punk is to buy into its signs. Rebellion is moot because the antithesis is swamped by the markets ability to subsume an image, on-sell it and dilute its power. It is by no means that simple but perhaps an expression of Foucaults comment in Theatrum Philosophicum: You think you are seeing the subversion of the other declaring itself, but in secret, contradiction is working for the salvation of the identical. Foucault, cited in Clare OFarrell, Foucault: Historian or Philosopher?, The Macmillan Press, London, 1989, p. 31.
Considering this I question what would happen if I took a collection of watercolour landscapes, done in the style of Albert Namatjira, to Gertrude Contemporary Art Space or the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and expected them to be exhibited? In spaces that have been built on reputations of exhibiting cutting edge artwork I doubt I would receive a fair hearing unless I married them to some of the ideas in this thesis. They might be written off as works from another time, anachronisms in the discourse of contemporary art and yet if they were to find a wall to be hung on the spaces themselves, with the place they occupy in the art machine and the way their reputations govern the gaze of the viewer, it could also be observed as a very contemporary move. The gallery itself is encoded with a whole set of beliefs which affect any work exhibited inside it, much like the museum does to its objects and subjectivities.
As witnessed during the last years of the Third Reich. The dimension in which the extermination of a group of people took place was neither religion nor law, but biopolitics. Agamben, 1998, p. 114.
ibid., p. 123.
Lucy, p. 123.
In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari describe the process of becoming-human, or the process of faciality. The breast of the woman, with her upright posture, indicates a deterritorialisation of the animals mammary gland; the mouth of the child, adorned with lips by an outfolding of the mucous membranes, marks a deterritorialisation of the snout and mouth of the animal. Deleuze and Guattari, p. 172.
Agamben, 2004, p. 79.
ibid., p. 37.
I would also argue that those people with profound mental and/or physical disabilties as well as those in a vegetative state also rest in this indeterminate category, where they are invested with human qualities and kept alive by artificial means. The neomort and the overcomatose person is found in the Jewsish body, where in legislation, the non-human was separated from the human within the one body. ibid., pp. 35-38.
McLean, 1998, pp. 1-14.
McLean, 1998, p. 2.
ibid., p. 5.
I describe a melancholy wandering here, perhaps akin to the experience of the animal in the artificial surrounds of the zoo enclosure.
Juliana Engberg, The Island of Dr Morton in Callum Morton, Babylonia, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, 2005, p. 5.
Baudrillard, p. 166.
Darren Tofts, The World Will Be Tlon: Mapping the Fantastic onto the Real, Postmodern Cultures, Volume 13, Number 2, 2003, retrieved 2 September 2003. Proof artifacts is a term Tofts borrows from a Phillip K Dick story.
Ian McLean, 1998, pp. 20-29.
Arthur Streeton cited in Australian Impressionism, Lane, pp. 123-127.
Tom Roberts work, An Australian Native (1888), depicting a young woman in her sartorial splendour demonstrates, by its title, the need for this group of artists to make themselves and those they painted and their audience feel at home. Roberts, around the same time painted a real Australian native, with a disembodied head, Aboriginal Head Charlie Turner (1892). An art critic from the Sydney Morning Herald wrote that the value of the work would appreciate considerably over time, given the gradual disappearance from our midst of the original possessors of the soil. SMH, 2 September 1892, p.2, cited in Angus Trumble, Australian Impressionism, Lane, p. 187.
Perkins and Langton, pp. 142-169.
ibid., p. 166.
Agamben, 1998, p. 131.
Agamben, pp. 166-176. Agamben speaks of the emergence of the camp as a fundament of modern biopolitics, where refugees and sundry others are produced, as Jews were in the concentration camps. He concludes his argument stating: Only a politics that will have learned to take the fundamental biopolitical fracture of the west into account will be able to stop this oscillation of the neo-liberal project that seeks to eliminate poverty through development not only produces within itself the people it excludes but also transforms the people of the Third World into a population defined only in terms of its bare life or biological existence and to put an end to this civil war that divides the peoples and the cities of the earth. ibid., p. 180.
ibid., p. 132.
Heathcote, A, The Rise and Rise of Superfictions, black + white, 11 February 1995, pp. 32-33, cited in Hill, 2000, p. 52.
Report of the Northern Territory Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse, Little Children Are Sacred, 2007, retrieved 11 December 2008, http://www.inquirysaac.nt.gov.au/pdf/bipacsa_final_report.pdf
Act Now, Issues, Little Children are Sacred, retrieved 11 December 2008, http://www.actnow.com.au/Issues/Little_Children_are_Sacred.aspx
Agamben, 1998, p. 174.
The ocean and desert have also been used as backdrops for the biopolitical separation of the asylum seeker, in heterotopia like the Christmas Island Detention Centre and Woomera, sanctioned by a manufactured state of emergency, or crisis. The Pacific Solution a loaded rubric if ever there was one was created specifically to deal with the asylum seeker issue. Spaces too, like the one pictured above by Rosemary Laing, were constructed at the behest of what may be regarded one day as a legislated superfiction.
Agamben,1998, p. 174.
Guantanamo Bays transformation into a detention facility is a literal example of this suspension. No habeas corpus and the suspension of the Geneva Convention in the treatment of enemy combatants it existed in a legal black-hole, and on that reason was opened where it was, in a legally indeterminate space. See Klein, 2007.
Agamben, 1998, p. 175. The camp as dislocating localization is the hidden matrix of the politics in which we are still living, and it is this structure of the camp that we must learn to recognise in all its guises.
Considering the notion of a dislocated localisation, in which the idea of home as a foreign territory is built into the term, fused with Foucaults final words on heterotopia makes for a chilling combination. Citing the ship as the greatest reservoir of imagination and as the heterotopia par excellence, like Australia, adrift on the boundless expanse of the ocean, his last sentence conjures a coming world, devoid of imagination: In civilizations without ships the dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police that of the corsairs (pirates). Foucault, 1998, p. 185.
I note that there were several female artists who have come to be included in the Australian Impressionist narrative, such as Jane Sutherland.
Derrida & Stiegler, 2002, p. 3.