Considering the feedback at the intensive and in subsequent meetings with supervisors was valuable in revealing the perceived allure of the shroud and predicament surrounding my painted or stitched contributions to the works. Painting has cultural baggage and it contrasts dramatically with the ineffable quality of the decomposition print. My main research question concerns representation and the meaning it brings to a painting. Aware that mimesis is a system of representation that constructs the world rather than reflecting the world as it is (Sturken and Cartwright 2001 Practices of Looking) I developed the shroud process finding the world constructed by mimesis, reflected in the meaning decoded by the spectator, disagreeable. In the generative process of writing about practice I found that some meaning encoded in process by a painter is also ineffable even when clear intentions drive decisions. What role do memories or moments of decoding by the artist during process, play in the encoding of an image? Materials encode meaning, as does the labour of the artist, whether process centres on observational, imagined or technically mediated constructions of the image. The feedback at the intensive centred on the tensions between what the critical spectators found easy or difficult to decode. Preference was for the shroud image for its ambiguity or ability to elude decoding. This was compromised or at least mediated when I reintroduced the silhouette of the body prior to decomposition (which often disintegrates the boundary of its form). The silhouette gives agency to the painter, allowing them to encode or direct meaning. The ochre is obvious, its pigments strong and application graphic, which distracted spectators impeding on their desire to engage with the indistinct other, the animal subject. Is the animal shroud, so lacking in cultural baggage, able to therefore escape anthropogenic meaning? Offering, instead, a message from outside the ‘human’ construct? We have a visceral bond with the shroud as bodies, living matter that will die and decompose. How much should I read into this? To begin engaging in a political dialogue about animal/human relations operates (as Erica Fudge illuminated in Brutal Reasoning 2006) by turning the animal into a conceptual framework with which humans can again become the subject. This endless narcissism responsible for the construction of the ‘human’ and the ‘other’ appears to be culturally specific.

Spectatorship and “the role of the psyche – particularly the unconscious, desire and fantasy – in the practice of looking” (Sturken and Cartwright) and Lacan’s culturally constructed ‘subject’ draws on the mirror phase of a child’s development to validate it and the formation of ideology through representation. The emphasis is on a physically disempowered infant in that moment when intellectual development occurs in a body restricted by underdeveloped motor skills. The perception of being a separate entity is said to occur through a process of looking at other bodies while becoming aware of being within a body. This instils a power relation between self and other mediated by a desire to control ones own body, which is projected onto the ‘image’ of other bodies moving around them. This developmental moment was likened by film theorists Baudry and Metz, to the viewer in the theatre environment, dominated as it is by the passivity of the body and overpowering size of the image. What is evident to me about this theory is how culturally specific it is. Infants in settled cultures actually extend this moment of apparent disempowerment by allowing their infants to remain physically dependant for longer. Placed in a crib or pram there is no encouragement to move and stimulation is limited, in fact the entry of the carer into the infants line of vision must create excitement and fixation. In contrast, the necessity of mobile communities to walk and find or catch food and make shelter results in parenting techniques which speed motor development, such as not supporting the head of a newborn and leaving the child lying on the ground often outdoors unrestricted amidst the activities of siblings and extended family, resulting in rapid motor development.

Animals, People: A shared Environment

The Australian Animal Studies Group (AASG) are holding their 4th Biennial AASG Conference in 2011: Animals, People – a Shared Environment. Its purpose is to “bring together animal theorists and scientists from a broad range of academic disciplines with representatives from non-government organizations, government officials from several nations and representatives from industry, to examine the interrelationships between human and nonhuman animals from cultural, historical, geographical, environmental, representational, moral, legal and political perspectives.” It is held in conjunction with the Environmental Futures Centre at Griffith University, Brisbane. I am looking forward to presenting at the conference in July. I submitted the following abstract:

Animals in Australian Painting explored through practice-led research
This paper examines how practice-led research in painting can enable an experiential understanding of a subject. In this case the subject is the relationship between human and non-human animals in Australia as expressed in painting. Distinct cultural perspectives impact on the levels of involvement between painter and subject, while approaches are informed by individual experience. Therefore my research becomes equally involved in particular intercultural realities in Australia; specifically fusions between Aboriginal and European culture and the intercultural phenomena that constitutes my own identity. Through examining material experiments in my own painting process and the painting traditions of Kunwinjku speakers from Western Arnhem Land, I discuss some current interrelations between human and non-human animals in Australia informed as it is by colonial and Aboriginal history. The theme of the conference ‘Animals, People – a Shared Environment’ can translate within arts practice through the use of materials animals also access or embody. This is a cultural activity that activates awareness of living in an environment shared with animals. Like the foundational practices of hunting and collecting to provide food and shelter shared by human and non-human animals, its practice has been severely reduced and altered by Industrial Capitalism. The impact of Industrial Capitalism on what constitutes this ‘Shared Environment’ is a given in the context of this paper, and emerges through practice despite my efforts to counter its cultural impact.

Materiality of Language

As my practice-based painting research has become engaged in the procuring of pigments, the written components of my thesis should reflect the experiencing of matter using its own kind of physical resonance. In this semiotic realm, Julia Kristeva’s Revolution in Poetic Language 1974 and its exploration by Kelly Oliver in Ethics, Politics, and Difference in Julia Kristeva’s Writing provide insights into writing as practice.

What approaches are available or possible in writing about material process or analyzing material culture? It is clear that psychoanalytical overtones are always present in exegetic text but need not be explicit, poetic license being therefore invited to allow the “textual presence” particular to a “writing subject” liberty. Leon S. Roudiez elucidates Kristeva’s dialectical notion concerning the nature of a text for the purpose of “textual analysis” in the introduction to Revolution,

The text that is analyzed is actually the effect of the dialectical interplay between semiotic and symbolic dispositions. Here it would be helpful to keep in mind the etymology of the word and think of it as a texture, a “disposition or connection of threads filaments, or other slender bodies, interwoven” (Webster 2). The analogy stops there, however, for the text cannot be thought of as a finished, permanent piece of cloth; it is in a perpetual state of flux as different readers intervene, as their knowledge deepens, and as history moves on. The nature of the “threads” thus interwoven will determine the presence or absence of poetic language. Those that are spun by drives and are woven within the semiotic disposition make up what Kristeva has defined as a genotext; they are actualized in poetic language. Those that issue from societal, cultural, syntactical, and other grammatical constraints constitute the phenotext; they ensure communication. Seldom, however, does one encounter the one without the other…it is often the physical, material aspect of language (certain combinations of letters, certain sounds – regardless of the meaning of words in which they occur) that signals the presence of a genotext.

Finding words that fulfill their role as communicators of matter in its sensual entirety or in addition indirectly relay unutterable (or peripheral) physical or psychological experiences is one challenge (genotext). Conceiving of the structural context in which such words can emerge while enabling understanding is another challenge (phenotext).

In reflecting on the former task, I am tempted to state my dissatisfaction with the English language regarding its combinations of letters and sounds. I have found Magyar and Kunwinjku much more enticing. In reflecting on the latter task, my approach has been that of a diarist, a form of writing practice familiar to me having kept daily diaries from age 12-18. While returning to this practice has not been difficult, the transformation of this unedited vernacular style into something worthy of inclusion in a thesis haunts me.

Pigment, matter, sensation

Materiality is a key concern for many researchers in the painting field as it opens on a discussion of process and what it is that differentiates painting from other cultural activities. There are many angles from which materiality can be discussed, but the nature of my research is the matter itself. What is paint and what can it be? The exploration of pigments and their origins need not be simply a tabular exercise but can be a multi-sensory experience of the sacred within cultural practices of painting. This brief presentation includes my own practical exploration of what paint can be and experiences researching the origins of pigment and their mythical significance in Western Arnhem Land. My particular focus is on naturally occurring pigments and their collection by hand, rather than synthetic simulations, therefore the traditional significance of a substance is integral. The most sought after natural pigments around the world have economic and spiritual power surrounding their cultural and historical story, which contributes to their innate material particularities in their contemporary usage. All factors attributed to the paint itself infuse and enrich the process involved in the production of a painting, which Gilles Deleuze describes as “a being of sensation,” and what is held in the matter of a painting as a state of “becoming” consisting of materials and space. Thus the artist is not the sole agent of transformation but rather the one who collaborates with transforming substances. As Deleuze states “So long as the material lasts, the sensation enjoys an eternity in those very moments.”

Guattari, Gilles Deleuze and Felix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.
———. What Is Philosophy? New York: Colombia University Press, 1994.

Gilles Deleuze: Image and Text

Chapter 5 – Sensation: The Earth, a People, Art
Elizabeth Grosz

Grosz begins with some brilliance from Friedrich Nietzsche (Will to Power)
“Art reminds us of states of animal vigor; it is on the one hand a excess and overflow of blooming physicality into the world of images and desires; on the other, an excitation of the animal functions through the images and desires of an intensified life – an enhancement of the feeling of life, a stimulant to it.”

Grosz agrees art is a compulsion of the human animal, a sensation wild and dangerous. “Art is a consequence of that force that puts life at risk for the sake of intensification, for what can be magnified in the body’s interaction with the earth…for the sake of sensation itself.” Sensation sought outside the control of reason. Powerful sensation that consumes reason and regurgitates a stratum of understanding known as superstition. As intensification, sensation is equivalent to magical power so profound is the perception of it and its affect.

Does sensation differ in intensity with an increase in mystery? When the art object reverberating sensation is apprehended in sacred circumstances compared with an encounter with art taken out of context either through time or cultural displacement, or when the process of making is difficult to deduce, the materiality confounding. The “percepts and affects” formed can create a sensation of the supernatural of “inhuman forces from which the human borrows and which may serve in the transformation and overcoming of the human…by his conversion into a being of sensation.” As a connective, radiating and transformational force, sensation generates a relational interpretation of perception often possessing its own form of logic.

“Affects are man’s becoming-other, the creation of passages between the human and animal, cosmic becomings the human can pass through …percepts…are the transformations of the evolutionary relations of perception that have finely attuned the living creature to its material world through natural selection into the resources for something else, something more, for invention, experimentation or art.” The concepts of affects and percepts find parallels with the formation of what the Berndt’s describe in their Anthropological study of Kunwinjku speakers as “the man-myth dimension, which is inseparable from the [man-man or man-land dimension]…It is as if the first two dimensions were combined and resorted, and provided with a series of explanations and relevances.”

Art as sensation can, as intent, be “a premonition of what might be directly inscribed on the body.” Art is then an act of sorcery that conjures and sustains sensation in an art object for the duration of its material existence. “They aim to capture the force of time, opening up sensation to the future, making time able to be sensed, even if that means becoming-other.”

Bill Harney jnr and snr

I recommend Born under the Paperbark Tree 1996 and Grief Gaiety, and Aborigines 1961 for an accurate picture of NT early last century from multiple racial perspectives.
Bill Harney jnr is a phenomenal man born into unbelievable circumstances like many others at the time. His performance of a mosquito at the ‘Barks, Birds and Billabongs’ symposium was the most remarkable and intense indigenous performance I’ve ever seen.
I hope to see him again in April on his Jankangyina tour of Wardaman country and the Lightening Brothers Rock Art.

Animal Ethics

In reading ‘In Defense of Animals’ edited by Peter Singer, a collection of essays by various authors and activists, it becomes overwhelming as to the extent of the war human animals continue to wage against the innocent. Our twisted laws that view animals as property without rights and their subsequent torture and massacre through factory farming, scientific testing, and mass killings. Although the examples supplied in the text were all unbelievably horrific, and extinction rates due solely to humans alarming, the Monkeys discovered in 1981 who were kept in small uncleaned putrid metal boxes without vet care for scientific experiments in a basement provided the worst image in my mind. Their limbs had been deliberately been disabled through surgical interference to record how they managed, they were strapped to chairs and given electric shocks or burnt with lighters to record their reaction and in another denied food to record their levels of frustration. The monkeys were neurotic and were resorting to self mutilation, biting or tearing their fingers off, the worst being a monkey that had torn open its own chest cavity as a result of the torture and even in that state was still subjected to further experiments. Human society is very sick and has been for a very long time.

Anyone interested in animal rights should explore Animal Liberation and organisations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, formed by Alex Pacheco and others who notified the world about the monkeys mentioned above, and particular to Australia Voiceless.

Kunwinjku kunwok

In the preparation of ethics information and consent forms to formally ask permission from Kunwinjku speakers living in Gunbalanya or nearby outstations to teach me language and culture, I attempted translation into Kunwinjku.
My only reference in Canberra was the 1998 edition on Kunwinjku Kunwok produced by Steven and Narelle Etherington in consultation with members of the Gunbalanya community. The Kunwinjku Language Centre’s current Kunwinjku Language Project is managed by Donna Nadjamerrek, Ngalnarridj skin (kunkurlah) and a Ngalmok woman from well known outstation Kabulwarnamyo established by her father Wamud, respected painter (bim) of bark (dolobbo) and rock (kunwardde) using traditional ochres (delek). I met Donna formally in Gunbalanya at the Rock Art Field School and we spoke informally at the Barks Birds and Billabongs conference at the Australian Museum. I hope she will agree to teach me Kunwinjku kunwok, as I am determined to learn this wonderful ancient language of Australia.

A Thousand Plateaus – Becoming Animal

Reflections on the rhizome “the line of ‘nomad’ thought”, the abolishing of hierarchical structures in the process of writing (or making). In psychoanalytical terms, Massumi explains, “The central perspective is…to promote human relations that do not automatically fall into roles or stereotypes but open into fundamental relations of a metaphysical kind that bring out the most radical and basic alienations of madness or neurosis.” A dissipation of constructed dualism in the cauldron of multiplicity. For the conscious embodiment of becoming we must be the sorcerer, the magician who, for Crowley, “brings all set ideas and judgments into question, which often makes him appear in a questionable light himself. As a creative creature, he knows no conscience.” Paths open are taken without judgment and what was hidden is revealed. Hierarchical laws imposing order are broken when convenient anyway, and are therefore grounded in hypocrisy. A clearer analysis of this feature of human law is proposed by Bataille, “When a negative emotion has the upper hand we must obey the taboo. When a positive emotion is in the ascendent we violate it.” Therefore the taboo is irrelevant when we follow our instinct. Becoming being our true state of instinctual negotiation, to always freely form alliances where borders to the known are sensed without the restriction of an external law. “A Thousand Plateaus is an effort to construct a smooth space of thought…an open system.” The human who is becoming unfolds the magic of life, and just like fellow animals negotiating nature, is free. Creative practice is, in essence, the space of becoming allowed to a select few. The continual work to reach a plateau which, as Massumi explains, is “when circumstances combine to bring an activity to a pitch of intensity that is not automatically dissipated in a climax…A Thousand Plateaus tries to combine conceptual bricks in such a way as to construct this kind of intensive state in thought…The way the combination is made is an example of what Deleuze and Guattari call consistency…a dynamic holding together or mode of composition.” The relevance of this text to painting is invited, “lift a dynamism out of the book entirely, and incarnate it in a foreign medium, whether it be painting or politics…pry open the vacant spaces that would enable you to build your life and those of the people around you into a plateau of intensity.” That’s my kind of bible.

Post-Minding Animals conference

Like a turtle paddling in the shallows I observed the sharks manoeuvre in the depths of an ocean made of language and questioned wether I really wanted to enter those depths and why? On the day I was there, speakers from the arts spoke in an intimate theatre. I wondered if there was any tension between the artists and animal activists due to the fine line between animal exploitation that some artists tread. The specialised audience created an expectation for dense theoretical papers, which I had not prepared for, my presentation being for a general audience. Video, photography and installation/performance were the preferred mediums to express animal/human relations by the artists, I was the only painter.

Indigenous culture was not mentioned at all in this session by artists. The animals involved were urban pets and farmed animals. My perspective of becoming animal is unable to disassociate from indigenous culture because it informs my own relationship to animals which are indigenous or feral.

The artists who presented were:

All women.

Steve Baker and Yvette Watt discussed photographs by a woman called Mary Britton Clouse.

A recent exhibition in relation to the theme involving some of the artists Becoming Animal/Becoming Human
The work of Sam Easterson interested me the most due to the natural habitat context the animals were in when making the work.

I had the privilege of meeting associate professor Linda Williams and artist Maria Fernanda Cardoso at the conference.