University of Tasmania
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Agency in garden imagery : a painterly investigation into thresholds of otherness

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posted on 2023-05-28, 09:20 authored by Burnett, PL
This studio-based investigation explores traditional representations of gardens in order to create an alternative way of perceiving cultivated space. This thesis presents a way of perceiving otherness‚ÄövÑvp in garden imagery through the materiality, colour and agency of paint. The works offer an alternative visual conception of tensions between gender, identity, power, agency and authority. The studio practice examines pictorial devices of the imperial vista, diagrammatical mapping, encompassing narrative, framing portals, surfaces tension and compositional axis. These devices are utilised to engage with the notion of boundary and threshold, where they disintegrate and become suggestive of something other. This framework is examined through political, cultural and gendered power relationships, and contextualised through the writings of W.T.J. Mitchell, Martin Jay and Martin Warnke. The garden construct is argued as a form of cultivated landscape; Mitchell argues landscape as an instrument of cultural power and Warnke argues all landscape is political, identifying structures and boundaries as symbols of power. Jay aligns the act of gardening with violence, as a site of conflict between natural force and human control. The concept of the threshold of otherness is drawn from the ideas of Emma Cocker, Marc Treib and David Batchelor. Cocker discusses otherness in the context of the threshold of the untameable and unexpected in creative practice. Treib identifies the delicate agreement which arises between seemingly conflicting landscape modes as a form of otherness, whereas Batchelor sees the potency of colour with its cultural bias as a form of otherness. Underpinning this research is the Foucauldian convention of power, where the convention of painting is examined as an operation of power over (authority) and power to (agency) and this is argued both pictorially and relationally, that being the experience of the painting as object in a gallery space. Typically, vistas, control, vantage points, colonialism and the politics of assigning otherness all resonate with the operation of power over, whilst a more immersive, visceral, un-prescribed engagement aligns with power to. In the project, the tension between agency and authority is represented through wildness. Wildness in garden constructs is the ever-resourceful life force of nature, which aligns with the alchemy of paint, through viscosity, fluidity, pigmentation and flexibility. Wildness is contextualised within the writings of Emma Marris, who discusses wildness within national parks and gardens; Rebecca Solnit, who discusses wildness in the context of resistance to control; and Richard Mabey, who looks at wildness in the context of weeds and cultivation. The utopian ideal of the Garden of Eden has been a pivotal influence in understanding garden imagery, in both aesthetics and attitudes. This utopian ideal led to the identification of authority and agency as key forces, traditionally seen as two divisions or binaries within garden structures, but in this project reconciled as a state of productive tension. This tension is seemingly opposite but not independent or isolated from each other; in their most dynamic form they operate in dualism, in a complementary state, creating a visual charge by simultaneously attracting and repelling. Four visual themes are carried through the final suite of work: otherness, control, agency and oscillations. These themes have been defined and contextualised through a number of key artistic works. Marc Quinn's macro psychedelic flower painting is used as an example of otherness. Fiona Lowry's muted, pattern-like landscape pulsates with restraint and is therefore argued within a framework of control, and Cecily Brown's suspended gestural energy in a suite of works that denotes garden motifs is discussed in relationship to the agency of paint. Additionally, Bahar Behbahani presents a complex work of the Persian garden which is examined as an exemplar of oscillation, with layers of poetic narrative and veiling abstraction. Embedded in the strategies of narrative and veiling are the issues of identity and gender. The contribution of this research project to the field is the offer of another way of seeing and engaging with garden imagery. This vision is presented as one that comes from standing within. Rather than a scene or picture, this vision is embedded and grounded, elemental and basic. It acknowledges the historical, cultural, gendered and political ways of seeing a vista and the power positions in garden imagery. This thesis steps outside these traditional notions and presents a way of looking that embodies a relationship to potency and potentiality, a threshold position that is never fixed or static but one that evokes a poetic sense of renewal and regeneration.


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