An Uncanny Serenity

A single-channel HD video. 28'08''

Images: video stills of An Uncanny Serenity. 2017.

In An uncanny serenity, a large white candle coil is seen among a flourishing fern bush, hung on a tree and continuously lit from dusk to dawn. The work depicts the tradition of human trespass on a wild land. However, the normality of such tradition is subtly subverted by the peculiarity of the candle. In the video, the awe, mystery and liberty of the bush is intensified and normalised. In the infinite time created by the looped playing of the video, the multiple cultural signs of the white candle, the form of a large coil and the Australian flora, slowly unlock their signification. Together they present an intercultural site, where the once fixed cultural, political and aesthetic perceptions of Australian landscape are confronted and shifted at the encounter by the audience. 

In the video of the candle coil, the dominant Australian culture is hinted to by the depicted native vegetation: large ferns, eucalyptus and gum trees. As the bush site is disturbed by the implied human trespass and the burning event, the traditional view on Australian identity that is associated with bushland is challenged. The Australian bush is the psychic place of Australian identity. It holds the history of many people who lay claim to it– the aboriginal, the colonial, the explorer and the migrant. It is presented as the mysterious, a refuge, melancholic, freedom, the uncultured, the unmanageable, the remedial, mythic, a void and the sacred. This review is reflected in Don Watson’s book titled The Bush. Watson comments Australian bush as ‘both real and imaginary’:

‘In the imaginary bush, the life is the life of the Australian mind. It feeds the nation’s idea of itself.’[1]

By depicting the disturbance and the dissonant content, the video recalls the traditions of colonial landscape painting and imagery, while it reinvents them. In the tradition of the symbolic representation of landscape, especially 19th century images of the Australian landscape, the application of the panoramic frame and unfolding composition-the picturesque land in the distance with human and animals in the centre or the front area of a flat surface–were used to create a reflection of social order and the desire for assimilation.[2] The order created for the images of the Australian landscape established a visual norm for the white audience in the colony or back in the home country. The unfamiliar and strange figures, such as the native flora, fauna, the aboriginal people and the Chinese community, became comprehensible to them and read as the expected content in the context of the Australian land. Representing the colonial desire of assimilation, the subject of the Strange and the Other is coloured into the ‘normal’ that fits the same cultural lens. The candle coil in the video is analogous to the exotic figures in the early images of the Australian landscape. The candle object contrasts to the bush by representing a different order and force from those prior that have inhabited at this site; by representing the human trespass and a destructive intrusion into the imagined complete and balanced ecosystem. Moreover, in the video, the sequential images of the bush site are captured from a fixed camera lens position. It references the fashion of framing the landscape in photography.

This video also brings the discourse of the sublime and the Australian landscape into new relief. The image of Australian landscape is presented through the influence of the artistic and aesthetic discourse of the sublime. In the introduction of the course titled From the sublime to the ridiculous, Damien Freeman, the lecturer, states that the ambivalence of the aesthetic pleasure is produced from the sublime experience of both the beauty and the terror.[3] The peculiarity of the candle’s form is contrast to the picturesque background of the bush land. The candle intensifies the awe, the mystery and the liberty of the bush. While it enhances the mysterious and outlaw characteristics, it also challenges the colonial perception of the bush.

While the video is recollecting the elements from the past and historic lens, it is presenting a new image of Australian bush and mapping out the cultural landscape in the contemporary Australian bush environment for the future. The candle burning and the daytime passing depicts the content of presencing. With the emphasis of the present, the image of Australian landscape with the candle coil rewrites the traditional imagery order for a new perspective of viewing and interpreting the Australian bush. This perspective is powered in a different technological time. In the video, new horror and beauty are established and interpret sublime in new context. It suggests the new context pertains to the culture of immigration and diaspora, as the landscape with the candle presents the image of a site of migrants and intercultural activities.

1, “The Bush by Don Watson review – driven by the burning truth”, Paul Daley, The Guardian, published September 22, 2014, by-the-burning-truth

2, Meighen Katz, "A Civilised People? Landscape, Art and National Identity in the Nineteen Century." In Not as the Songs of Other Lands: 19th Century Australian and American Landscape Painting. Melbourne: Ian Potter Museum of Art, the University of Melbourne, 2017, 38-43

3, “Sublime: the pleasure of the overwhelming. A learning curve lecture series with Damien Freeman”, The Art Gallery of NSW,  last accessed October 2, 2017,

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