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Brunelleschi’s Demonstration of Space

2 December 2022 at 4:30:00 am

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Session Convenors

Dr Gail Hastings

Session Speakers

Zoe Marni Robertson, University of Sydney
Dr Gail Hastings

In Florence in the early fifteenth century, Filippo Brunelleschi demonstrated single-point perspective with a picture panel and mirror while he stood in the central portal of Santa Maria del Fiore. Painters adopted the demonstration’s technical ramifications, and the Church celebrated their more life-like paintings. Yet the demonstration’s philosophical and scientific ramifications promulgated by Nicholas of Cusa led Giordano Bruno to be burned at the stake. It presented questions on the nature of space that contradicted an Aristotelian Universe with anisotropic matter-filled places, not isotropic space. Much, nevertheless, remains contested. Not only Brunelleschi’s method but also perspective’s replacement of a theocentric viewpoint with a subjective or anthropocentric point of view in today’s ‘posthuman’ world.

The panel will explore the history of perspective and the ensuing nature of space in contemporary art.
This includes, for instance, its first art historical treatment by Erwin Panofsky in his essay ‘Perspective as Symbolic Form’. Here, perspective’s ‘reality’ accords with a Kantian dichotomy in which space is an empty ‘form’ of thought separate from any content of the world outside. Yet, in 1960s New York, artists contested ‘a priori space’ with the art of the real. Were they unrealistic to do so?

Revisionist Perspectives Under Technofeudalism

Zoe Marni Robertson, University of Sydney

This paper will look at the resurgence of ‘Gothic’ aesthetics within ‘Post-Internet Art’ as a challenge to the narrative of perspective. Much of Post-Internet art has borrowed from ‘Gothic’ aesthetics (fused with the dystopian futurism of 1980s) as a way of processing the financialised entrenchment of the status quo. According to Brian Rotman (in ‘Signifying Nothing’) the numerical value of zero took hundreds of years to assimilate into Europe and was only adopted when it became clear that it was essential to trade (mercantilism). The logic of creatio ex nihilo (that God created out of nothing) was Christianity’s way of assimilating new financial systems just as the value of nothing was then exemplified in art (and architecture) through Brunelleschi’s ‘vanishing point’. The term ‘Gothic’ is pejorative, an insult against art and architecture that failed to conform to ‘Romanesque’ proportions championed from the beginning of the ‘Renaissance’, a historical revisionism (of continuity) against the remarkably modern intentions of much of ‘Gothic’ architecture (as argued by Panofsky in his work on Abbot Suger). Therefore, in disrupting this narrative, that of the civilised and uncivilised, of a central perspective, the amorphous (and underground) art movements of today challenge the accepted ‘Technofeudal’ order.

The infinite grief of space in Brunelleschi’s demonstration

Dr Gail Hastings

Sixty years after artists contested a priori space with the ‘art of the real’, a question remains: how do we engage with real space given the infinite grief Brunelleschi’s demonstration also unleashed? When Brunelleschi closed the door of his goldsmith workshop that day to walk to the centre of Florentine religious life and deploy his fateful discovery of single-point perspective, he lived in a theological universe of finite dimension. Earth coincided with the universe’s centre and heaven circumscribed its limit. Composites of Aristotle’s four elements—earth, air, fire and water—filled the five-minute distance he travelled, not space. Brunelleschi’s demonstration forced the infinity of Euclidean planar geometry into direct correlation with this finitude. Centuries later, the contradiction released us from a geocentric world. Yet the discovery also jettisoned us into an infinite abyss in which we grieve our finitude (with no Kingdom of God after death), and struggle with a subjective point-of-view we must sacrifice if we are to surrender to a participation in meaning. Roland Barthes assures us, it is when the author enters his own death that writing begins. Yet, we still seek the authoritative viewpoint. Has art not yet begun?



Dr Gail Hastings 

Gail Hastings is a studio based artist in Narrm/Melbourne with a PhD from The University of Sydney. The subject of her PhD is the space in Donald Judd’s art. 

Zoe Marni Robertson, University of Sydney 

Through prose poetic writing, painting, video and performance, disparate research and personal connections are synthesised into a lived experience of the political. Materials are gathered out of waste (small attempts at sustainability). Where waste is unavoidable and other ethical concerns (such as the exploitation of labour) are inherent in the process (the machines/tools and materials), these preoccupations are addressed as part of the work. By couching life and work in the material processes that make a life and work possible, the countless otherwise autonomous processes that mediate existence are made legible, toward a rationalisation that is much less limited than the strictly economic.

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