PERIPHERAL - Orientalism in contemporary photography
OVER the past twenty-five years, emerging technologies especially photo media have transformed social and intellectual life in modern urbanised societies. Internationally, a younger generation of artists has increasingly adopted photo-based technologies in the studio to make work that reflects the presence of technology and photo media in society in a range of ways.
One such young artist currently riding the crest of this new wave of photo media art is Central Queensland-based photographer, Shane Fitzgerald, who, over the past few years, has been experimenting with large scale studio-produced photographs. These images, though abstracted, evoke the tropical colours and atmosphere of northern Australia, where the artist lives and works. Fitzgeralds art has made an immediate and dramatic impact on many viewers through its large scale, intense colour and tantalising sense of slippages between reality and representation, nature and technology. Frequently, his photo-images describe a particular type of space and are often related to a geographic horizon line. They evoke places where earth meets cosmic space, or water meets sky, as seen at dusk or dawn. One sees an incandescent edge, or line, hovering between abstraction and representation a space that evokes wonder.
In 2002, Fitzgeralds most recent series, Peripheral, extends this tropical idiom and the notion of a hovering line or edge between different entities and experiences.
In works such as Bonsai and coastline, Currumbin Falls, Daintree and Screen, Fitzgeralds starting point is the sensual beauty of the Australian tropical landscape and his reflections on the break up millions of years ago of the super-continent of Gondwana, which once comprised all the southern continents. For Fitzgerald, Australias split away from the Asian landmass (along the mythic Wallace Line?) evident in the shared characteristics of Australian and Asian landscapes, birds, animals and flora, evokes reverie on difference and similarity between nature and art, technology and tradition, Australasian and Asian geography and cultures, in the 21st century.
The Peripheral series also summons up in particular ways the imagery and techniques employed for centuries by Chinese and Japanese artists, who created idealised versions of nature in scrolls, screens and prints from exquisite flower and tree studies to majestic scenes of mountains and villages enveloped in cloud. Such traditional Oriental works transformed the particulars of hills and rocks, streams and clouds into a spiritual landscape, which served as an imagined refuge from the pressures of everyday life or as a backdrop for poetic reverie. These idyllic Asian images were, of course, set in the past and, for many viewers today, their lost perfection makes them objects of nostalgia.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the desire to find such a refuge in nature faces challenges in a world of depleted and shrinking wildernesses, as does the notion of creating exquisitely handcrafted paintings in a technological age. For some today, the arcadian notion of nature as refuge can only be seen ironically, and the frame for human pursuits in modern societies, in East and West, is likely to be technological.
Yet works such as Fitzgeralds Peripheral images remind us that the vision of discovering a realm where human and natural worlds are in balance remains a compelling metaphor. His technologically-produced photo-images remind us in a new way of the old insight that nature is not a term that excludes us: to experience it is to understand ourselves.
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