Sunday, December 17, 2017


Queensland Landscape (Unreal) Oil on linen 50 x 90 cm 2017


On Friday I graduated with a Master of Philosophy (M. Phil) from the University of Queensland. It was a very exciting and fulfilling day. There are a couple of photos below. 

My thesis title was Drones and Night Vision: Militarised Technology in Paintings by George Gittoes and Jon Cattapan. 

Many thanks to my rigorous and wonderful supervisors, Dr. Fiona Nicoll [before she left for Alberta Uni], Dr.Amelia Barikin and Dr. Paolo Magagnoli. The two external examiner reports were returned within two weeks of thesis submission with no requests for corrections or changes. But, with a topic that involved research into the paintings and practices of such thought provoking artists as Gittoes and Cattapan, AND research into drones, autonomous weapons and ubiquitous surveillance, how could anyone lose interest!

I deliberately chose to undertake cross-disciplinary research because, at the end of the day, I wanted the research to trigger inspirations for my own creative practice. The research into militarised technology came from my longer term interest in existential risk posed by emerging technologies. But, especially for an M. Phil, I had to narrow the topic down. I am really happy with how my focus on the legal, ethical, cultural and technical aspects of airborne weaponisable drones, ubiquitous surveillance and burgeoning developments in autonomous weapon systems has provided informed inspiration for my recent paintings. So, onto the next stage....lots of painting and a possible book, based on my thesis.

At the University of Queensland, St. Lucia campus.

At the University of Queensland, St. Lucia campus. In the Great Court.


Queensland Landscape (Unreal) (top) is spoof-ish. It is a landscape, but is it a real one? Or is it an unreal one?

It was inspired by my rural Queensland childhood landscape. To the East of our farm, in the middle of flat treeless Pirrinuan Plain, the Bunya Mountain range cut a majestic silhouette against the seemingly endless sky. Thus, the mountain silhouette in Queensland Landscape (Unreal) could be the Bunya Mountains, which is, in fact, part of the Great Dividing Range that runs down the East coast of Australia. 

But, the orange-red background and the almost fluorescent green appear unnatural. Is the  image a simulation, a fake environment? But, I have painted it - it is not a digitally produced simulation. Can a painting be a simulation in the 21st cyber-century? Can a painting, be a simulation of a simulation, a double entendre play with mimicry without algorithmic assistance? 

I have painted landscapes for decades. So, with a long history of painting landscapes, is  Queensland Landscape (Unreal) an amalgam of many images, if not all? Here, I take a different turn and ponder how generative software is capable of producing many design iterations from provided parameters and sources. Also, bots [internet robots] that can generate fake news, images and online engagement, because they can access mind blowing amounts of data to use, manipulate and appropriate. But, is this similar to engaging memory for the creation of an image? Queensland Landscape (Unreal) speaks to the way my memories, perhaps a source of data and parameters, have created a landscape that could be real and unreal. I lived with the Bunya Mountain silhouette until early adulthood. My childhood landscape of flat treeless plains, distant mountains and huge skies, is part of who I am. In my 20s and 30s I lived in another rural Queensland landscape, further west, beyond my childhood home. There were more trees, a few hills, but massive skies and hazy flat horizons still dominated.

But, to say my memories are data, reduces the impact of how those memories are formed and indeed remembered. I say this because it is not just about me 'downloading' visual memories. It is also about feelings, reminders of heat and dust in Summer, and frost and cold winds in Winter. It's about storm clouds rolling in, and heavy rain obscuring landscape features. Its about my parents ricocheting from worry about no rain, to worries about destructive floods. It's about memories of playing in mud, or watching snakes disappear into cracks when the black soil was starved of moisture. It's about my two younger brothers and I walking out to the main road to catch the school bus. We walked easterly towards the Bunya Mountains. Sometimes we talked, sometimes were fought! It's about the big boys on the bus shouting things out the window to me as I ran to catch the bus - I was often late. It's about going up to the Bunya Mountains for family picnics. We relished the lush green, the rainforest, the waterfall  and the different animals and birds. We were aware of the important Aboriginal connection to the Bunya Mountains. We knew it was a very significant meeting place for Aboriginal people and respected that.    

Queensland Landscape (Unreal) encapsulates all my memories and much more, some I may not be even aware of. It holds secrets behind its spoof of computer generated, bot manipulated unreal-ness. Maybe it is a cosmic landscape - regular readers will know where that idea comes from!

Me with my parents-on a tractor-the Pirrinuan Plain, Darling Downs, Queensland, Australia. 
Early 1960s.

Me in 2014 on a visit to my childhood landscape. I am positioned against the western horizon. In the opposite direction the Bunya Mountains cut their majestic silhouette against, as you can see, the endless sky. 


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