UnAustralian Art in the long Eighteenth Century

9 December 2021, 5:00:00 am

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Session Convenors

Dr Helen Hughes, Monash University
Zoë De Luca, McGill University

Session Moderators

Dr Helen Hughes, Monash University
Zoë De Luca, McGill University

Session Speakers

Zoë De Luca, McGill University
Alisa Bunbury, University of Melbourne
Dr Helen Hughes, Monash University
Julia Lum, Scripps College

Since the mid-twentieth century, which is to say among its founding moments, scholars in the field of Australian art history have pushed for works of art produced on this continent to be considered within a non-nationalist context. This panel turns to art of the eighteenth century with this particular lineage in mind. Of course, one could say that there is no eighteenth-century Australian art of which to speak, and so the premise is, at best, half-cocked. What is most significant about the eighteenth century in this context is the fact of British invasion and the imposition of settler colonialism upon these shores. ‘Un-Australian Art in the Long Eighteenth Century,’ then, is a provocation to remap, redraw, return, or otherwise to field defining projects like European Vision in the South Pacific with contemporary political imperatives in mind. We welcome papers on eighteenth-century Australian art and its historiography, as well as on the art and art historiography of Empire, as well as papers that concern broader networks of circulation in precolonial Australia and during the first decades of invasion.

PAPER #1
Returning European vision: drawing on Lady Penrhyn to Port Jackson and back

PRESENTER
Zoë De Luca, McGill University

Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth (1750-1790) kept a journal from March 1787, when he boarded the First Fleet ship in Portsmouth, until he returned in August 1789. This paper retraces the complete voyage of Lady Penrhyn, following Bowes Smyth’s record. While his drawing of an emu is somewhat well-known (and among the earliest made by a European), here I explicate the full arc of the returning European’s vision, as it unfolds from his copied pictures and lumpy coast profiles. The surgeon’s drawings are distinctive from the visual culture central to Bernard Smith’s theory of ‘European Vision’ since they served neither scientific nor artistic purposes. My stake in the journal is that it recasts the First Fleet within a global network of conveyance. Informed by infrastructure studies, this paper works through the namesake and journey of Lady Penrhyn to establish a twofold form of embeddedness for invasion in 1788. One, the First Fleet’s proximity to trans-Atlantic slavery. And two, Lady Penrhyn as part of a global supply chain, in which transporting women to Port Jackson was only one stop on a carefully executed round trip. Both work against the national narrative of convict transportation as the basis of invasion and its commemoration.

PAPER #2
Temporary visitors: Early artists on Norfolk Island

PRESENTER
Alisa Bunbury, University of Melbourne

From October 1774, when crew from HMS Resolution briefly visited the tiny pine-clad Pacific island, Norfolk Island was included not only on maps but also in British debates about how it may best serve imperial interests in the Pacific region. Unoccupied and anticipated as a valuable southern source for masts and canvas, Norfolk Island was claimed only six weeks after Sydney, under the charge of Philip Gidley King. Its use as a penal and farming settlement was originally vital to the survival of the colony of New South Wales, until the invasion of lutruwita (Van Diemens Land) superseded its purposes and it was closed in 1814. With no Indigenous people to document nor lands to explore and survey – as in NSW, visual records served a small number of purposes. Charts and coastal profiles to aid safe transportation and records of the wildlife dominated, with few depictions of the built environment. A rare exception are records of the wrecking of HMS Sirius in 1790, an event that threatened both Sydney and Norfolk Island settler populations. This paper looks at the intentions behind art produced during this first British incursion, its inclusion in Australian art historiographical discussions, and its relevance today.

PAPER #3
Coins and Convict Art: Numismatics in Colonial Australian Art History

PRESENTER
Dr Helen Hughes, Monash University

Convict artist Thomas Barrett (c. 1758–1788) is often attributed as the maker of the ‘first colonial artwork’ in Australia, The Charlotte Medal (1788). This medal is closely related – in size, shape, material, and skillset – to coin currency. In this paper, I consider this medal in relation to several of its object cousins: both legitimate and illegitimate coins, and other forms of exonumia, such as convict love tokens and British naval medals. Numismatics (the study of currency including coins and medals) is a useful framework for examining national art histories, for coins are typically imprinted with a royal subject, head of state, or national coat of arms. In their circulation across borders, however, coins also map transnational networks of exchange. In addition to considering how coins routinely evade national borders or, in the case of forgeries, undermine their sovereignty, I explore the ways in which people related to coins in eighteenth-century England, whether trustingly, with fear, or believing them to be a phylactery. All this is offered with a view to considering how early colonial Australian art, as emblematised by some of these numismatic objects, can be seen to transgress as much as affirm national borders.


THE THREE PAPERS WILL BE FOLLOWED BY A RESPONSE FROM JULIA LUM, SCRIPPS COLLEGE

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Biographies

Zoë De Luca, McGill University

Zoë De Luca is a Melbourne-based art historian and writer. She has recently published in Discipline, Curator: The Museum Journal, Di’van: A Journal of Accounts and C Magazine. She is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University, Montreal, where she has also taught in art history and museum studies. Her doctoral project focuses on the international exhibition of Richard Bell’s Embassy project (2013-ongoing) and the infrastructure of the art/colonised world.


Alisa Bunbury, University of Melbourne

Alisa Bunbury is Grimwade Collection Curator (Museums & Collections, University of Melbourne) and for many years was Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Victoria. She recently completed a Curatorial Research Fellowship at the National Library of Australia looking at art relating to Australia’s second colonial settlement, Norfolk Island, which is one of several colonial research projects she is currently undertaking.


Dr Helen Hughes, Monash University

Helen Hughes is Senior Lecturer in Art History, Theory, and Curatorial Practice at Monash University. She is a founding co-editor of Discipline contemporary art journal, and on the editorial boards of Memo Review and Index Journal. Recent publications include Double Displacement: Rex Butler on Queensland Art (edited with Francis Plagne), Tom Nicholson: Lines towards Another (edited with Amelia Barikin), and Kiffy Rubbo: Curating the 1970s (edited with Janine Burke).


Julia Lum, Scripps College

Julia Lum is Assistant Professor of Art History at Scripps College (Tongva Homelands; Claremont, CA), where she teaches courses in the history of photography, visual cultures of empire, and the art of Pacific voyaging. She researches topics related to art and culture of the eighteenth century to the present in Britain and the former British empire, focusing on points of intersection and collision between Indigenous and colonial cultural practices in the Pacific. Her writings have been published in Journal18, British Art Studies, Visual Studies, and Shift. The recipient of Yale University's Theron Rockwell Field and Frances Blanshard prizes, her current book project is entitled Landfalls: Art Between Britain and Oceania.