Making an Impression in the Contact Zone

9 December 2021, 12:00:00 am

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Session Convenors

Dr Alex Burchmore, University of Sydney

Session Moderators

Dr Alex Burchmore, University of Sydney

Session Speakers

Luise Guest, University of New South Wales
Ariel Kline, Princeton University
Dr Jessica Priebe, National Art School

The papers in this session reflect on the collisions of the personal and material that occur when a sense of self arises between or across cultural and ontological categories, tracing the embodied formation of racial and sexual identities through artistic practice. Anne Anlin Cheng has provided a potent theoretical touchstone for the study of such collisions with her concept of ‘ornamental personhood’ as ‘an alternative track within the making of modern [identity] not traceable to the ideal of a biological, organised, and masculine body [but] peculiarly synthetic, aggregated, feminine, and non-European’ (Ornamentalism, 2018). Cheng locates this within the material processes of accumulation, classification, and combination through which subjects and objects come together. Building on Cheng’s ideas, these three papers focus on expressions of personhood through the impressing, stamping, striking, or otherwise impactful manipulation of materials, reflecting also on the role of such practices as registers of contact or intrusion across various boundaries (cultural, interpersonal, physical, material). Topics for discussion include: the psychological and social separation of self and other; the ‘contact zones’ of colonies and diasporas; the politics of autoethnographic impression and imitation; and the frictions generated by curiosity and opportunism in the production and consumption of export art.

PAPER #1
A Female Vernacular: Gendered Materiality in Chinese Contemporary Art Practices

PRESENTER
Luise Guest, University of New South Wales

This paper examines the work of three contemporary artists from the People’s Republic of China. The work of Tao Aimin, Liu Xi and Cao Yu embodies aspects of female sexuality, motherhood, and daughterhood, yet each artist expresses ambivalence towards a feminist identification. Through a polysemic interrogatory lens comprising situated Chinese feminist history in conjunction with the ‘subterranean’ feminism proposed by Ella Shohat their work is interpreted as a counter-patriarchal intervention into traditions of sculpture, wood-block printing, and porcelain production. Tao Aimin’s installations of bound books printed from the wooden washboards used by rural women reclaim a female history of mother-daughter relationships and domestic labour. Her calligraphy is Nüshu, an ancient script form devised by women in remote Hunan province, emphasising her subversion of traditional forms. Liu Xi casts women’s washboards in porcelain and her sculptures feature explicit references to female sexuality including transgressive installations of ceramic genitalia. Cao Yu’s own hair, urine and breastmilk become art materials in her installation and video works. Developed from a broader study of gender in contemporary Chinese art, underpinned by extensive interviews with the artists, this paper argues that gendered experiences are embodied and critically re-examined in the visceral physicality of material practice.

PAPER #2
Turner's Burials

PRESENTER
Ariel Kline, Princeton University

It is the rogue splotches and encroaching imprints, so characteristic of J.M.W. Turner’s work, that solicited critical ire following the exhibition of War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet in 1842. Critics were not sure what to make of it—at once too full and yet too empty, a picture lost in a sea of red paint and reflections in which the exiled Napoleon is doubled, a body “radiating…blood.” Alone on St. Helena but for a distant guardsman and small rock limpet, Napoleon gazes towards the ground in which the limpet is known to burrow. A dark pendant to the memorial picture, Peace. Burial at Sea, Turner’s War is a painting marked, stained. This paper turns to burial and excavation as impactful manipulations of materials—here represented in the layered paint that comprises War’s most confounding passages. In 1840, Napoleon’s body was exhumed from St. Helena and returned to France, the same year that the island became a burial ground for formerly enslaved Africans at its Royal Navy base. This paper lingers with the proximities these events offer between Napoleon and the middle passage, and argues that Turner realizes their impact by the reflections and obfuscations made possible in paint.

PAPER #3
Colonial Trash to Island Treasure: The Chaney of St. Croix

PRESENTER
Dr Jessica Priebe, National Art School

This paper examines Chaney, the porcelain shards found on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Taking its name from the Crucian words for ‘China’ and ‘money’, Chaney refers to the remnants of European and Chinese ceramics brought to St. Croix by the island’s former colonisers France, England, the Netherlands and Denmark. Drawing on postcolonial critiques of colonial settlement and slavery in the Caribbean, I consider the circulation and archival memory of Chaney among plantation owners and enslaved populations, especially as it relates to the consumption of European ceramics by slave planters. This paper also investigates the afterlife of Chaney, which has been transformed over hundreds of years by St Croix’s tropical climate. Often unearthed after heavy rain, Chaney hunters repurpose the shards into jewellery, a process that has contributed to a reassessment of its material status as items of memory and identity. While these fragments still stand as evidence of their colonial context, Chaney is seen by some as a symbol of resistance that speaks to an alternative narrative of colonisation. This paper concludes by examining the work of contemporary Crucian artist La Vaughn Belle, whose Chaney paintings are part of her project to map and restore identity for Caribbean populations.

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Biographies

Dr Alex Burchmore, University of Sydney

Dr Alex Burchmore is an art historian specialising in the study of Chinese art, with a focus on ceramics, trade and exchange, and the interweaving of personal and material identities. Alex received his PhD from the Australian National University in 2019 and joined the University of Sydney in 2021. His doctoral dissertation traced the extent to which artists in China have used porcelain to shape their personal, historical, and cultural identities. His recent publications include a chapter dedicated to the ‘fugitive luxury’ of contemporary Chinese ceramics in The Allure of Matter: Materiality Across Chinese Art (forthcoming, University of Chicago Press).


Luise Guest, University of New South Wales

Independent researcher Luise Guest’s writing about Chinese art has been published in The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, The Journal of Chinese Contemporary Art, Yishu Journal, and Art Monthly Australasia. Her book, Half the Sky: Conversations with Women Artists in China, was published in 2016 by Piper Press. Her research interests include gender and national identity in contemporary art from China and the influence of Buddhist/Daoist thought on the work of contemporary artists. A PhD candidate at UNSW, her research examines how Chinese women artists insert gendered subjectivities into contemporary translations/transformations of ink painting and calligraphy.


Ariel Kline, Princeton University

Ariel Kline is a PhD candidate at Princeton University. Her dissertation, “Of Monsters and Mirrors: Art and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Britain,” is about monstrosity and heroism as two poles against which the human was defined across the nineteenth century. In particular, the dissertation unfolds the ethical and political stakes of these terms, implicated in nineteenth-century British paintings that visualize empire.


Dr Jessica Priebe, National Art School

Jessica Priebe is a lecturer in art history at the National Art School. She is a former Junior Research Fellow with the Sydney Intellectual History Network. She is the author of François Boucher and the Art of Collecting in Eighteenth-Century France (Routledge, forthcoming 2021). Her articles appear in The Journal of the History of Collections (2016), 1740, Un Abrégé du Monde (Fage éditions, 2012), British Art Studies (forthcoming, 2021), Making Ideas Visible in the Eighteenth Century (University of Delaware Press, forthcoming) and Sea Currents: Art, Science and the Commodification of the Ocean World in the Long Nineteenth Century (Bloomsbury, forthcoming).