Visiblespace is the work of artist Paul Thomas.
Current practice led research focus is on my forthcoming book Quantum Art and Uncertainty and the media art installation Quantum Consciousness
Paul Thomas is a Professor in Fine Art at UNSW Art and Design. He initiated and is the co-chair of theTransdisciplinary Imaging Conference series 2010-2016. In 2000 he instigated and was the founding Director of the Biennale of Electronic Arts Perth 2002, 2004 and 2007. Thomas is a pioneer of transdisciplinary art practice. His practice led research takes not only inspiration from nanoscience and quantum theory, but actually operates there. Thomas’s current research ‘Quantum Consciousness’ is based on the experiments being conducted by Professor Andrea Morello, Quantum Nanosystems, UNSW, looking at immersing the viewer in a visualization and sonification of quantum phenomenon in the development of quantum computing. He has exhibited nationally and Internationally with his pervious nano art works ‘Mulitverse’ based on Richard Feynman’s diagrams on photons reflecting from a mirror, ‘Nanoessence’ which explored the space between life and death at a nano level and ‘Midas’ which researched at a nano level what is transferred when skin touches gold. His current publications are Nanoart: The Immateriality of Art, Relive Media art Histories, co-edited with Sean Cubitt and Interference Strategies and Cloud and Molecular Aesthetics co-edited with Lanfranco Aceti and Edward Colless.
The current focus of my practice is based around developing a reconfiguration of our relationship to matter. This research has stemmed from my early interest in the spatiality. The inspiration of my own art practice has continually been focused around renegotiating and recontextualising a spatial understanding of the world. As have demonstrated in the archive, my early interest in a colonialist spatiality was the initial inspiration of my projects to investigate the spatial possibilities of cyberspace.
The spatial concerns of my early work were materialised through a performative and photo documentation format. The documentary work was a continuous analysis that reflected my growing awareness of vision, consciousness and perspectival constraints. From the beginning a perspectival disconnection from the world around us intrigued me. This was also prompted in part through my experience as a migrant lecturer in drawing, teaching aspects of perspective in a new country.
This practice began in 1977 on my arrival in Perth, Western Australia. Considering myself as a spatial migrant after years of being resident in Australia is partly due to Paul Carter’s suggestion that the early explorers of Australia were ‘displaced, disturbed by the emptiness of resemblance’. (Carter 1992 p 3) I was interested in a spatial identity which was based on the illusion of being someone who saw himself as a permanent tourist. The context of my practice was to identify the spatial reconfiguration of living in Australia, and to avoid being a body that does not merely occupy the space that it takes up.
My previous artwork was a conscious and subconscious construct of spatial dislocation, creating my own (subjective) form of defining space. Initially my ideas were, like those of the early explorers, mediated through an imposed Euclidean space. I perceived art that described the Australian environment as reflecting and being reflected by a colonialist attitude. This link of art to colonialism based on a perspectival premise denied the possibility of art based on this paradigm as a vehicle for any further social change. Without a new spatiality my initial strategy was to deconstruct the superimposition of a perspectival way of seeing on to the land through the process of flattening out the space of exploration.
The artwork I produced aimed to test the perspectival structures of colonial spatiality. I originate from Lincolnshire in the United Kingdom where the flat barren landscape played a defining role in my spatial understandings, as is documented through my early works. The first awareness of the importance of the delineation of space was in my works Waiting for Nothing and Visible Nothing 1978. I was particularly interested in the way Matthew Flinders’ naming in Spencer Gulf preserved the spatial and topographical relationship of the Lincolnshire villages. (Carter 1987 p 184)
Flinders’ naming of sites was not just saying something about his own autobiography but also about his life as an explorer, which in turn suggested a personal connection. The interesting question for me was whether by standing at the time, in this new terrain, my preconditioning did not allow me to see through different eyes.
The art I have produced since arriving in Australia has reflected my spatial concerns. These spatial concerns were manifested in various works but were left underdeveloped. However, retrospectively, they now appear to have a focused spatial significance. The body of work produced form a narrative, an immigrants’ narrative but also as an explorer’s one (in the aesthetic exploration of new spatialities) searching and forming a series of speculations of my space and time.
The analogy of myself as an explorer is explained further by the recognition of Flinders’ experience of flatness. Whilst on the island of Mauritius as a prisoner he is taken to see a waterfall that over time has eaten its way back through the mountainous landscape. Flinders, whose background is also the flat fens of Lincolnshire, reflects on the waterfall in the mountainous Mauritius.
For much as the contemplation of the waterfall depresses Flinders, it also elates him. And this dialectic informs his recollection of home. If, in one mood the flatness of the Fens, their open horizons, induces a delicious sense of retirement and refuge in another their unadventurous equilibrium provokes panic and revolt. (Carter 1987 p 197)
This dialectic between horizontal and vertical is meaningful to my own relationship with Perth where the flatness of the environment highlights the feeling of retirement and refuge. In this way, the imposition of my roots created a situation where the spatial attributes of Perth did not seem to challenge my preconceptions but reinforced them. ‘There is a double aspect to the plain: that it releases but releases into nothingness’. (Carter 1987 p 197)
On reflection my preconceptions were challenged on arriving in Australia by my use of a number of different devices and strategies appearing in my work intuitively as significant symbols: a chair, a square, a circle, string/line, and myself standing inside the geometry of my work. Through performance, installation, drawings and paintings, the symbols used have contained clues to a greater spatial understanding of myself in my relationship to location. This I see not in the act of self-interest but in the contextual problem of geometric relocation as reflected in a social microcosm, expanding to a universal potentiality. In this context, the work of examining, researching and reworking the significant symbols confronts this dislocation and denial established through migration.
‘I saw no evidence of a successful adaptation of Europeans to Australia, rather a complex fantasy had been developed to urbanise the environment. That fantasy stood in the path of my own identity’. (Vizents 1987 p 4) The understanding of this quote became clearer for me in articulating a personal need to find a way through this dilemma of appropriation and identity. The perspectival vision that I had fostered by a defined point of view is the source of my investigation, forming the basis of the practical work.
An early work that I produce in 1977 demonstrated my interest in the space between. In this work, called Waiting for Nothing, the unseen is defined by the string that delineates the space between. ’This gaze I encounter is, not a seen gaze, but a gaze imagined by me in the field of the other’. (Lacan 1977 p 84)
The work investigated the perspectival construction of my perception using the metaphorical string as the object of that gaze. This gaze was now based on an emptiness of resemblance – the topography of perspective derived from my own history and then superimposed it on a new space.
This exploration of materiality, developed naturally out of my earlier work, shows a consistent narrative of Western spatial logic that begins with Brunelleschi’s discovery of perspective and, today, culminates in the virtualities of digital space and scale.
Through reading the works of writers such as Paul Carter, also an Englishmen who migrated to Australia (several years after me), I became aware of the ways in which perspective, as a spatial construct, imposed a colonialist or European vision on the Australian landscape no matter what the subject matter of this vision. This realisation is ultimately the source of my fascination – in this dissertation – with Filippo Brunelleschi’s peephole device, which is the starting point of my investigation. I realised that an understanding of Brunelleschi’s device was the key to understanding the social and psychological context of colonialist visualities, and their effectiveness in disconnecting the seer from the world around them. The change in spatial location created a physical reconfiguration of my perception. I became more aware of how this prescriptive perception dominated my understanding of the world. As my awareness through my practice was dominated by the use of telecommunications and digital media it had become obvious that I was imposing a pre-conception on this new concept of cyberspace.