Erin Manning — Relationscapes — How Contemporary Aboriginal Art Moves Beyond the Map

February 23, 2009

Dreamings – Jukurrpa– are an integral aspect of life in Central Desert society. Stories told for more than 40 000 years, Dreamings not only speak about the landscape and its vicissitudes, they create spacetimes of experience. This creative alchemy sustains not only a reciprocal relationship to the land, it is also an enactment of the Law.  Law creates-with life, setting operational constraints for the perpetuation of the creative nexus between Dreaming and life. As story, Dreaming evokes the lived landscape, a spiritual and lived experience. To dream is to take response-ability seriously. It is to operate at the threshold where culture and law overlap, where the future-pastness of experiences in the making take hold.

For Aborigines, life is Dreaming in the sense that the coordinates of spacetime out of which everyday lives emerge are significantly in line with creation and recreation of the land and its Laws. But even this is too simple: the land is not an extension of the Aborigines – it is them. To be the land is to become in relation to it, in relation not to space itself, but to the living coordinates of a topological relationscape that embodies as much the Law as it does the grains of sand that prolong it in realtime. The land and the Law are not two, are not juxtaposed. They are not sustained in a present-future symbolism. They are one: a becoming multiplicity.

The Dreaming alters all dimensions of experience even as it embeds pastness in futurity. To simply locate a Dreaming as a story of creation is to touch only one aspect of the concept. Dreamings are mythological and cosmogenic tales that are not simply stories of creation (with all attendant dramas and misunderstandings, love stories and disappointments) in the Biblical sense, they are also stories of the creation of the future-present. Dreamings do not exist once and for all (although they also do that): they are tales for the retelling through song, voice, dance, paint. Dreams are for keeping alive.

The cosmology of the Dreaming must be understood as both actual and virtual. It is as an overlapping of the two, where reality and dream are not opposed but superimposed. Aborigines of the Central Desert animate time in space.  In their rituals, the present is ancestralised not as a nostalgia for the past but as a becoming-future. The past and future, the actual and the virtual are traces of becoming whose dimensions are experienced in shifting continuity as through the spiral of a Nietzschean eternal recurrence. When time is activated in this way what emerges is a time-line that is not linear. The present is always in the mode of an embodying withness not of a forgotten past but of a reexperiencing in the future-present.

To experience Alhalkere is to feel the recomposition of a living landscape that is not separate from the perception of perception that recomposes us. Alhalkere is the Dreaming insofar as it incurs concern for the event that is the shapeshifting of experience. Moving-with its own eventful becoming, Alhalkere becomes a metastable system that cannot be thought outside the experiential field it opens. Touching (with) us, Alhalkere asks that we have concern for the Dreaming.

It is to take the immanent materiality of the Dreamings seriously and to note that what paintings such as Alhalkere do exceeds the parameters of their landmarks. Their concern is for the embodied eventness of land, not a pre-determined location.

The relation the Dreaming proposes is not composed separately from its eventness. Dreamings are here and now as much as they are then and before. Dreamings are neither nostalgic nor predictable. They are concern for the present passing.

A Dreaming is not an entity, not a place. It is a movement, a song and a dance, a practice of mark-making that does not represent a spacetime but creates it, again and again.

Timespace is at the heart of this complex art as are conceptual slidings, performative experience, rituals of appearance and disappearance. This timespace is not haphazard: Dreamings must be performed lest they disappear into disuse, their songs forgotten or unsung.

Topology refers to a continuity of transformation that alters the figure, bringing to the fore not the coordinates of form but the experience of it. Topologies suggest that the space of the body extends beyond Euclidean coordinates to an embodiment of folding spacetimes of experience: pure plastic rhythm.

Topological spacetime refutes the dichotomy between the abstract and the concrete. Topological spacetime is not 1 + 1 but n + 1, always more-than. The Dreaming is an evocation of such a topological spacetime of experience. It situates land, body, space, time, experience all in one structural node, an elastic point that fields the perpetual movement of time.

To think topologically is to think dynamically: it is to situate the movement of thought at its transformational vector, deforming it into its potential. When we re-render the form static, when we stop the process, we are shortchanging the experience.

The desert is not one space: it is many overlapping spacetimes of experience that Aboriginals call Dreamings. These Dreamings can be drawn into maps, but such maps will never lead us anywhere if we expect them to do the walking for us.

. Space here is performed, folding into durations that become part of the materiality of the painterly event.

Bringing futurity into the mix, the sixth panel seems to virtually contain all the other canvases, holding the series together even while exhausting it, the paintbrush squeezing out its last drops of colour. In Whiteheadian terms, the subjective form has coalesced (concresced).  It is the event that composes the series even as it marks the beginning of its perishing.

where “the world within experience is identical with the world beyond experience, the occasion of experience is within the world and the world is within the occasion” (Whitehead 1933: 228).

). Percepts are “independent of a state of those who undergo them” and affects do not arise from subjects but pass through them (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 169).

Emily Kngwarreye’s art moves the body through the interpellation of increasingly complex sensations that are connected not to one final event but to the perpetuation of events alive in the “whole.”

When movement is no longer indexed to position (when mapping becomes an event), position itself becomes mobile.

the figure is the movement of becoming itself.

Gilles Deleuze suggests that the figure need not be conceived as the figurative. For a more detailed explanation, see his work on Bacon in Logic of Sensation (Minneapolis:Minnesota UP, 2003).

It is the rhythm of the land I see in Kngwarreye’s relationscapes, a rhythm that refuses to subjugate the image to the text, the dance to the music. The rhythm is all around, it is the “whole lot”: the weather, the seasons, the births and deaths, the rituals and performances, the body painting and batiks. These rhythms are sensations of the boldest kind, sensations that alter the very core of what it is to sense. There is no inside/outside to the sensations: they are as much of the body as of the land, extending synesthetically beyond all comprehension of three-dimensional spacetime, leading us not toward a dimension as such but toward a topological hyperspace of relationscapes, to an immanent transcendence that is profoundly of the land, of the here and now. [insert image 59 – Kngwarreye Merne Kame 1995]

The observations marked in my paintings are possibly valid for other people.  Though I can not make claims for more than the life i observe on this island and my practice which sustains my dreamings.


Direction.  non-euclidian non x-y axis.  how to describe the direction of dreams and how to map them? how to not map them but track their mobility?

-ice skater/figure 8 = the type of figure that my painting is expressing. read Deleuze on Bacon.

-Interplay between backround/foreground (folding in)

-Painting experience in the making

-Do people need to understand topologies in coming to my work?

-Paintings of experience, spacetimes, the activity of making

-The law( processional rules)(series of events and things coming one after another) is created to perpetuate dreaming and life.  Its constraints coral the meeting of both.

-subjective form has coalesced.  Coalescing is the event which marks the making and the beginning of the events destruction. The subject is the movement of the figure becoming itself.

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