Colonial and Gothic Dissonance: Tracing Desire Lines through Postcolonial Landscape

In: Intervening Spaces

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Abstract

The space of Australian postcolonial landscape has been fashioned by pragmatism and inured with the cultural experience of displacement, incarceration and the persistent need to lure free settlers from Europe. Out of these early settlement imperatives a style of representation arose that arranged the landscape as an object of culturally dissociated contemplation, figured by forgers in order to transform the view into something idyllic, tame and acceptable to the English eye. Another divergent style of representation borrowed from literature, however, depicts Australian gothic landscape as ‘a world of reversals, the dark subconscious of Britain.’ In this landscape we encounter a haunted backdrop for settlement wherein ‘immeasurable isolation’ combined with desperate uncertainty and unspecific danger in an unfamiliar place. More recently Australian visual artists have used immersive experience as a way of establishing a close proximity to landscape. However, in doing so, there is always an awareness of ‘an echo from our colonial past,’ which demands attention. In this sense, postcolonial landscape may also be seen as a ruin where elements of Australian gothic sensibility characterised by desolation, secrecy and isolation, create a disconsolate space. Postcoloniality therefore generates a dilemma for contemporary Australian artists who may grapple with landscape that is imbued with absence.