Monash University

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System synthesis: the ambiguous zone of the nature/culture divide

posted on 2017-02-28, 02:15 authored by Wilson, Kent
The research for this project has been driven by a compulsion to produce a spatially engaged, material expression of a broad, overarching concern – our human relationship with nature. The development of the artworks over the course of the research refined this further to an exploration of our relationship to ornamental plants, through the use of the houseplant and the urban eucalyptus. This restriction to a subset of plants established a particular territory of enquiry – a domestic field. My initial intention for using plants was for them to stand in as a symbol of ‘nature’. They were to be metaphors of nature while the technologies that bound with them in the sculptures were to stand in for ‘culture’. The hope was that there would be an interplay of the natural and the cultural, and a situation in which the distinction between the categories would blur. Finding a sympathetic position in this regard through the writing of Bruno Latour laid the foundation for an exploration of his network theory. An investigation into systems thinking and its application to art practice in the theories of Jack Burnham and the artwork of Hans Haacke was also instrumental. These ideas inspired research into other biologically inspired models, including the rhizome and the biophilia hypothesis, which led eventually to the formulation of the synthesis framework. This framework provides for a way of understanding my art practice and its expanded field of operation into curating, writing and gallery engagements. Through the process of this research I have come to understand that everything is connected in an alliance of networked relations and that my practice is a system. It is a system that generates networks. Leading the way to this conclusion was an awareness that the living plant, the core material of my sculptures, is itself a system. If the plant is a system, then its relation to other sculptural materials broadens that system. This set of relations necessarily expands with each connection and establishes a network. Understanding the artwork in this way means tracing the links outwards and recognising the environmental context of this advancing web of relations.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Claudia Terstappen

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Fine Art


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture

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