Sensing the silence: Mary Kathleen

Mulcahy, Jennifer (2008) Sensing the silence: Mary Kathleen. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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This research aimed to develop a personal visual response to identified qualities of silence. Its explorations of those qualities of silence intrinsic to specific landscapes culminated in artwork designed to connect with the viewing audience at a deeper and more spiritual level than that of an object merely to be viewed. The hypothesis was that artwork has the potential to be much stronger and more powerful if, as well as conveying visual imagery it is able to emanate a palpable sense of a unique energy that is very much an arbiter of an individual’s response to a specific landscape? By provoking in the viewing audience a greater empathy with place, art works then have the potential to contribute to raising awareness and influencing public opinion on a range of environmental, social and political issues.

These visual interpretations of silences endemic to certain locations focus on the unseen but powerful energy that fuels these silences, and which is very much the arbiter of an individual’s response to specific landscapes. Previous visits to the defunct uranium mine Mary Kathleen (located in the north-west Queensland) had prompted an awareness of the varied and strong energies inherent in the area making it an ideal location for this research.

In order to demonstrate that different essences of silence could be incorporated into artwork in such a way that they could then be accurately identified by viewers of the works, it was necessary to make artwork that responded to a number of related yet very different sites. Lists of criteria were established for the selection of sites and the identification of specific areas within the study area which contained strong and varied essences of silence. On this basis a number of sites were chosen for further investigation. A data collection plan and technical experimentation plan were instigated for each of the selected sites.

Whilst the artworks responded to different essences of silence sensed at the individual sites and focused on conveying these different essences, they also needed to relate aesthetically, each to the other, to ensure the cohesiveness of the final exhibition. In order to ensure the interdependence that would draw the different energies together, and yet allow sections of the exhibition to reflect unique energies, experimentation prior to the construction of the artworks was essential.

Research into, and experiments with different media and construction processes were undertaken in order to complete artwork that is an empathetic response to the silence endemic to the selected sites, as well as consistent with the research concept. The resultant five years of research and construction yielded works in response to four different sites and their associated essences of silence which were exhibited at a major regional gallery.

The responses to the work elicited from the viewing audience (which included the general public, media and art critics) were exceedingly positive with many written comments demonstrating the extent to which they, as viewers, had felt and been aware of in the work, the type of energy the artist had felt coming from the original site. This demonstrated that it is possible to create artwork that, in addition to visual interpretation of place, acts also as a purveyor of the essence unique to a specific place and time. Hence the greater connection and understanding from viewers to a specific place, as communicated in the artwork, gives the artwork significant immediacy and relevance to contemporary issues.

Item ID: 8003
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: ceramics, sculptures, glass sculptures, bronze sculptures, Mary Kathleen mine, landscape art, silence in art, uranium mining, art, place in art, environmental impacts, spiritualism in art, Australian landscapes, sacred sites
Additional Information:

Erratum: On Page 280, the last sentence of paragraph 1 should read "The invitation and catalogue from this exhibition can be found in Appendices K and L."

Appendix I.1 is used with permission from the copyright owner, Ceramic Art. Full reference details of this publication are: Naylor, Stephen. (2007) Jenny Mulcahy: sensing the silence. Ceramics: Art and Perception. 67:35-38.

Appendix I.2 is not included in the electronic version of the thesis.

Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2010 05:02
FoR Codes: 19 STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 1905 Visual Arts and Crafts > 190502 Fine Arts (incl Sculpture and Painting) @ 50%
19 STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 1905 Visual Arts and Crafts > 190504 Performance and Installation Art @ 50%
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