top of page

Bernard Smith’s European Vision and the South Pacific

1 December 2022 at 4:30:00 am

Convert to local time with www.timeanddate.com

Session Convenors

Dr Sheridan Palmer, University of Melbourne

Session Speakers

Rex Butler, Monash University
Dr Sheridan Palmer, University of Melbourne
Professor Greg Lehman, University of Tasmania
Professor Laurence Simmons, The University of Auckland
Valerie Sparks
Dr Harriet Parsons
Dr Chris Bond

Bernard Smith (1916–2011) was arguably Australia’s greatest art historian and one of the most important humanist thinkers internationally on ideas concerning cultural contact. His European Vision and the South Pacific, first published in 1960, was a pioneering document of deep and interdisciplinary research: a meditation on art, literature, science, the politics of colonisation and cultural exchange. It shows how the ideas of the Enlightenment and the empirical structuring of scientific and geographical knowledge during the great eighteenth-century voyages of discovery affected notions of identity—both for Europeans and the Indigenous peoples with whom they came in contact. Not only did Smith’s investigation into imperialism of this period explore the conditions of frontier contact it opened the dialogue on cross-cultural perceptions and decolonisation, allowing us ‘to think beyond or after it’. For this, Smith’s book remains a beacon in pacific studies and postcolonialism.

The republication of European Vision and the South Pacific is an essential part of the discourse reframing the interconnections and crossing of cultural boundaries between Europe and antipodean societies. This third edition of a significant Australian classic, complements scholarship on territorialisation, colonialism and the politics of exchange between metropolitan centres and peripheries, and a new introduction by Sheridan Palmer and Greg Lehman situates the book in a contemporary context.

This special panel session, chaired by Rex Butler, will discuss the importance of this major classic.

Rex Butler, Monash University

In 1981 Paul Foss published ‘Theatrum Nondum Cognitorum’, the essay that could be said to have inaugurated post-modernism in Australia. In it he traces a certain “reversibility” between Australia and the rest of the world, and it is this “reversibility” that inspired an artist like Imants Tillers to make copies of works from overseas seen only in reproduction. But this “reversibility” was already the subject of Bernard Smith’s 1956 ‘Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and Cook’s Second Voyage’ and European Vision and the South Pacific (1960). This paper will consider the connection between Foss and Smith through a reading of Oscar Wilde’s famous aphorism “life imitates art’ in his essay ‘The Decay of Lying’ (1891), which was inspired by the Australian Mortimer Menpes’ “orientalising” paintings of then-contemporary Japan.

Dr Sheridan Palmer, University of Melbourne

Bernard Smith’s ground-breaking European Vision and the South Pacific was, at the time of publication 60 years ago, considered a marker in historical revisionism on European and British imperialism and colonisation. He unpacked the interdisciplinary modes of art, literature and science and presented a reference platform that is still being used today by contemporary scholars and artists as mapping discovery, loss and cultural exchange.

Professor Greg Lehman, University of Tasmania

Greg will discuss the influence of Smith’s work on recent analysis of the visual representation of Indigenous people, especially in Tasmania. In addition to drawing on aspects of his curatorial and creative practice, Greg will consider the trope of the ’noble savage’. While Smith introduced this to the Australian context through the lens of William Dampier’s published observations, Greg will follow Smith's ideas back to the Golden Age and offer insights into this trope's varied persistence in popular culture today.

Spray_X.png

Biographies

Dr Sheridan Palmer, University of Melbourne 

Sheridan Palmer is the editor of the third edition of Bernard Smith’s European Vision and the South Pacific. She is currently a senior research associate in the School of Culture and Communications at the University of Melbourne on the ARC project The Abbey Art Centre: Reassessing Australian postwar modernism. She curates and writes on contemporary artists and her major publications include Hegel’s Owl: the life of Bernard Smith, Power Publications, 2016; Antipodean Perspective: Selected Writings of Bernard Smith, Monash University Publishing, 2018 and Centre of the Periphery: Three European Art Historians in Melbourne, ASP, 2008. 


Rex Butler, Monash University 

Rex Butler is Professor of Art history at Monash University and has published on Australian art and critical theory. He is the author or editor of What is Appropriation? (1996), A Secret History of Australian Art (2002), Radical Revisionism (2005), with Laurence Simmons Colin McCahon: Victory over Death (2021), with A.D.S. Donaldson UnAustralian Art (2022) and with Sheridan Palmer Antipodean Perspective: Selected Writings of Bernard Smith (2018). 


Professor Greg Lehman, University of Tasmania 

Greg Lehman is Pro Vice Chancellor, Aboriginal Leadership at University of Tasmania, and is a Tasmanian Indigenous art historian, curator, poet and commentator on identity and place. Greg is descended from the Trawulwuy people of north–east Tasmania. Greg co-curated The National Picture: the Art of Tasmania’s Black War, a touring exhibition that opened at the National Gallery of Australia in 2017. He was also a founding member of the National Museum of Australia’s Indigenous Reference Group. Greg's lyrics have been performed by the Gondwana National Choir at the Sydney Opera House, and he was also librettist for the 2018 oratorio A Tasmanian Requiem, which explored frontier warfare in Tasmania. Greg collaborates with visual artists who engage with Tasmania’s deep history and culture, and recently participated in a series of artistic interventions that led to at the 2022 decision by the Hobart City Council to undertake Australia’s first removal of major colonial statue from a civic place. 


Professor Laurence Simmons, The University of Auckland 

Laurence Simmons is Professor of Film Studies in Media and Screen at The University of Auckland. His most recent book-length publications include Tuhutuhi, William Hodges Cook’s Painter in the South Pacific (Otago University Press, 2011), on the artist William Hodges who accompanied Cook on his second voyage to the Pacific, and with Rex Butler Victory over Death: The Art of Colin McCahon (Monash University Press, 2021). He also co-curated the travelling exhibition Gordon Walters: New Vision and co-edited the accompanying catalogue. 


Valerie Sparks 

Valerie Sparks is an artist working primarily with photo media to create large scale printed landscape works and immersive installations. She is interested in the history and aesthetics of immersive environments, including frescos, glasshouses, stereoscopic photography, French scenic wallpapers from the 1800s, contemporary 3D light-based installations and Virtual Reality environments. In 2015 Valerie completed a Masters of Fine Art at Monash University and has a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Anthropology and Pacific Studies, Honours in Anthropology, and a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Drawing. 


Dr Harriet Parsons 

Dr Harriet Parsons is an artist and independent researcher. She graduated from the Sydney College of the Arts in 1997 and exhibited regularly until 2011 in galleries in Sydney and Melbourne. She received a Master’s degree from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2012 and completed her PhD in 2019 at the School of Culture and Communication, Melbourne University. Since 2020 she has been the Director of Currency House, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes the interests of creative practitioners and publishes the essay series, the New Platform Papers. 


Dr Chris Bond 

Dr Chris Bond is a contemporary artist who creates hand-made facsimiles of books, magazines, exhibition catalogues and correspondence that become the documentary materials for his installations that hijack the conventions of the museum display. His narrative scenarios construct uncannily real worlds in which fictional artists, writers and organisations are the subjects of fantastic stories that hover on the edge of possibility. He completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) Honours at RMIT in 1997 and a Doctor of Philosophy in Fine Arts (Visual Art) at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2018. He has featured in 24 solo and 130 curated exhibitions at venues including the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Gertrude Contemporary, Blindside, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Bus Projects, Heide Museum of Modern Art, National Gallery of Victoria, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and Samstag Museum, Adelaide. In 2001 he was awarded a studio residency at Gertrude Contemporary. In 2013, he won the Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize, and in 2017 the BalletLab McMahon Contemporary Art Award and received an Australia Council Art Development Grant.

bottom of page