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Curating curiosity: an antipodean doubling
In the second decade of the nineteenth century, during the period of Lachlan Macquarie’s governorship (1810 – 1821), a penal outpost in New South Wales became an unexpected wellspring of curiosity. This thesis offers insights into the specific material and conceptual forms of curiosity during this period through an exploration of a selection of images and objects. These include the Macquarie Collectors’ Chest, the Skottowe Manuscript, the Riley cabinet and paintings by convict artist Joseph Lycett. Each of these colonial curiosities reveals the rarely examined entanglements and collaborations between colonisers, convicts and Aboriginal people and expose the duplicity of nineteenth-century colonial life and identity in the antipodes.
In addition to examining this manifestation of colonial curiosity, one that is bound to a specific time and place, this thesis traces the after-life of colonial concepts of curiosity in contemporary art and exhibition making through analyses of work by the Australian artists including Brook Andrew, Julie Gough, Fiona Hall, Nicholas Folland and Joan Ross. This study demonstrates that works of art can function as epistemological ‘boomerangs’, travelling between early modern (and ancient) conceptions and misprisions, and the contemporary.
Curiosity is therefore considered not from the northern hemisphere, home to the great age of curiosity, best expressed through the sixteenth and seventeenth century cabinets of wonder and art known as Wunderkammern and Kunstkammern, but from the south, where curiosity emerges with a distinctly antipodean voice. Case studies of exhibitions, including those curated by the author, are critical to this thesis. Through a veritable Wunderkammer of juxtapositions between works of art, ideas and exhibitions, this thesis positions an austral curatorial perspective, inviting us to see from the South.