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Constructing vertical visions : Cataract Gorge : a visual exploration of space, place and perception

Henderson, SJ 2010 , 'Constructing vertical visions : Cataract Gorge : a visual exploration of space, place and perception', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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A climber’s way of seeing concentrates on verticality, with its varied and radical viewpoints. Cliff surfaces are seen in close proximity with intense points of focus. Kinaesthetic and corporeal knowledge interacts with cultural, imaginative, metaphoric and psychological dimensions, all informing a climber’s perceptions. This project responds to these experiences and concepts about place-making revealed through climbing and painting, as performative actions and representation. More specifically it explores the contribution of my perceptions and experiences as a rock climber to the construction of paintings of a locality, Cataract Gorge, a site of personal and cultural significance.
In the construction of vertical views, the performative function of the image is highlighted through the bodily enactment of climbing movements and in the activity of materials and painting processes. Pictorial strategies extend traditional Western landscape representations, particularly conventions of the picturesque. Histories of representation of human/nature relationships involving climbing, heights or high places and concepts of the vertical sublime and the vertical imagination inform visual investigations.
Initial paintings explored verticality through manipulation of format, composition and negative space that repositioned the artist’s/viewer’s point of view. Ink paintings on paper simulating the experience of verticality through the format of the work were developed in series and exhibited in traditional gallery style. The kinetic, expressive and responsive qualities of ink were emphasized with a focus on tactility, reflecting a climber’s intimate, temporal and sensory encounter with a site. Osmotic drying processes, the effects of gravity and directional movement reference both the dynamics of the site and those between a climber and a place.
Analysis of paintings using photography as an investigative tool led to greater emphasis on the expressive potential of materiality and the spaces between components of painting. The actual walls act as a ground for the elements significant to a climber, which are cut out and pasted directly on the architectural surfaces in differing contexts. This breakdown of the frame challenged pictorial conventions and generated new ways of activating gallery spaces. These innovations marked a performative shift from how a place is seen to how a place is experienced by a climber, extending specific views into open speculation.
The visual field references the related methodologies and concepts but contrasting mediums of Thomas Cooper and Dan Shipsides. Artists’ depictions of localities where I have climbed – by Von Guerard, Carleton Watkins, a traditional Chinese ink landscape scroll painting and Sidney Nolan – are used to differentiate and clarify my aims. Representations extending beyond singular views to multiple viewpoints include works by William Robinson, Tim Burns, Nancy Spero and Bea Maddock. Paintings by Lui Guo Song, Richard Kimberly and Neil Frazer influenced experimentation with the expressive potential in ink and negative spaces. Work by Christl Berg and Nancy Spero informed site specific and gallery based installations.
The importance of the vertical vision, beyond challenging the Western landscape view, is its focus on the relationship between the physicality of both painting and climbing as a metaphor for the corporeal dimension of the experience of a place. The work opens up the encounter with space and place through a realignment of the perceptual field to that of the unique bodily experience of the climber.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Henderson, SJ
Keywords: painting, Cataract Gorge, place, verticality, landscape, rock climbing, perception
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Copyright 2010 the Author

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