Remnant and reliquary : fragmentary traces reconciled as object and knowledge. Reading and registering the artefact through material culture research and the lives of women, Australia 1788-1901

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This thesis conducts a number of examinations which serve to articulate the artefact as a carrier of meaning, as a signifier of historical time and place. Furthermore, the artefact or its fragmentary remains are considered within the collection where they rest; the museum, library and exhibition spaces are explored as repositories assigned with notions of identity and cultural significance. Additionally, artworks are created and displayed as artefacts whose particular aspects raised as a result of research are interpreted using contemporary ideals. The thesis is reconciled as an artefact in its own right, built on the foundations of the ‘book' as a vehicle for the transmission of ideas; as object and knowledge. Women’s historical memory is framed through a series of such examinations centred in colonial Australia, 1788-1901, where the artefact is traced to reveal its particular aureatic character, then read, registered and (re)read. Artefacts have been collected, observed, grouped, exposed, used, drawn, described and recorded as the focal point for research which reveal the artefact's own narrative and mythology. The concepts of disposal and dispossession, dormancy, provenance and procurement enrich readings. Consideration is also made of the environments in which the objects have come to reside, enabling slumbering latency, time and decay, protection and secrecy. Artefacts included in this project are those designed and made for pragmatic or ritual use, some collected as memento, as the ephemera of daily life, or for the protection and adornment of the fragile and sensuous body. Fragmentary remains within this study have been granted an elevated status traditionally reserved for artefacts of historical significance or great beauty. My original artwork reframes these fragmentary artefacts for a contemporary viewer, placed in the exhibition environment. Series of drawings and photography, assemblage, collage and jewellery works to adorn the body, comprising over fifty individual works, further reinforce the themes addressed through the text. These artworks were exhibited at the Hyde Park Barracks Museum on March 8, 2009 as part of an International Womens’ Day celebration. An additional exhibition has been planned for late 2009. This intimate exhibit will be installed as part of the Museum’s archaeology exhibits on level 2. The artist’s interpretation of Barracks archaeology, such as undertaken in this thesis, has been cited as part of the Museum’s application for World Heritage Listing as a convict site to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in August, 2009. These research findings are presented in specially crafted volumes, designed to illuminate the themes explored in the research as a contemporary frame for women’s historical memory. The artists’ books, which speak for the materiality of the artwork and exhibition, have been crafted using the ideologies which underpin the thesis. A nineteenth-century photograph album traditionally regarded as a repository for memory is mapped, examined and then recontextualised as the conclusive aspect of my assessment. My research findings are united, in graphic sympathy with this original volume, to create a unique textual curiosity; a modem palimpsest embodied with the spirit of the past, the reconciliation of historical memory presented as object and knowledge. In this way, the research serves to frame women’s historical memory using fragmentary remains as the focal point for scholarly investigation.
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