Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Relationscapes: How Contemporary Aboriginal Art Moves beyond the Map

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Relationscapes: How Contemporary Aboriginal Art Moves beyond the Map

Article excerpt



Mina Mina (Dorothy Napangardi Robinson, 2005) measures almost two metres in height (198 × 122 cm). Black on white, its white emergent through the black dots, it encourages us to look-across, to move-with the fragile dotted lines that compose its labyrinths. 'Looking at' is too stable for this shifting landscape that moves, already, in many directions at once. This movement-across is not a symmetrical one that would obediently follow a horizontal or vertical perspective: it is a vibrating movement, a resonance that forces itself upon our vision, transforming it into a politics of touch. This is a politics of touch because what the painting compels is not a static viewing but an activity of reaching-toward that alters the relation between body and painting, creating a moving world that becomes a touching of the not-yet touchable. This touching is rhythmic. It occurs not on the lines or with the points but across the vista the painting elaborates, an experiential vista that is already more-than the space of the canvas can convey. These are more than traces, they are material becomings toward a worlding immanent to the experience of viewing. The becoming-world called forth by this black and white painting is a creation of an event of which I am part. It takes me not somewhere else, but right where I can become, to a force-field that is an eventness in the making, an exfoliation of experience.

The painting envelops space, creating new spacetimes of experience, new viewing bodies. It literally quivers with its dissonant becomings. This is not a metaphor. Spacetime is ontogenetically re-created through the process. The painting has incited me to move, and with the movement I have altered the dynamic of viewing initially set forth by this viewing experience. I become part of the composition, part of the activity of relation through which the painting achieves its morphing form. I feel its limits, its openings, its diagram.

Deleuze writes: 'We do not listen closely enough to what painters have to say. They say that the painter is already in the canvas, where he or she encounters all the figurative and probabilistic givens that occupy and preoccupy the canvas'.1 A painting's diagram is expressed in this already-thereness, in the virtual event out of which the painting emanates. James calls this a terminus, by which he means the end-point that virtually envelops the beginning, creating the potential for the event to take place. Mina Mina's diagram comes together through the dotted black line on the upper right side of the canvas, a line that almost cuts off the comer from die rest yet embraces the painting as a whole. This self-embracing gesture is not only a compositional device, it is the painting's imminent force, a tension that constrains the experience to the singularity of its own eventness, a shapeshifting process.

Mina Mina speaks of salt lines, a mapping not of a territory but its passages, the traces it leaves in the landscapes it uncovers. A map is discovered here, not uncovered. This is a durational event, an activity of mapping that directs our bodies not toward its representation but toward its liveliness. This mapping is a creative vector of experience: it maps the future, not the past, leading us toward a recomposition of experience, a collaborative striation that smoothes the space of encounter.


Alhalkere (Emily Kame Kngwarreye, 1991) covers the whole wall. Three metres wide, it is powerful in its vivid evocation of the land, dancing with both grace and force. A-signifying traits merge to create a nonrepresentational, nonillustrative and nonnarrative field: 'marks that no longer depend on our will or our sight'.2 The diagram can be felt emerging from the deep reddish burgundy spilling from the top left-hand comer of the painting. It is as though the rest of the painting overflows from this dark comer, merging into a transformative activity of dot-painting, overpowered, finally, by yellow dots that transfuse with the surface, becoming surface, dense and airy at once. …

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