Ben Taylor

Ben Taylor completed his MFA at the Tasmanian College of the Arts July 2016.

This research explores the uncanny threshold in painting. The uncanny threshold is a concept derived from my personal experience of contemporary Australian architecture in the form of Lovett Bay House, the private home of architects Richard Leplastrier and Karen Lambert in New South Wales. This research argues that Lovett Bay House challenges Malpas’s view (2008) that the threshold is something that needs to be crossed, as a zone of transition, in order to be a threshold. At Lovett Bay House, the absence of a conventional door, and the effective removal of the front wall, shifts the concept of the threshold as space of transition (from inside to outside or vice versa) to the threshold as a zone of habitation – a space in which one dwells. Within the zone of habitation it is argued that everyday experiences are made extraordinary through the simultaneous and overlapping space of the extended entranceway; the inside and outside experienced as one, and, what I have termed, the uncanny threshold.

It is the aim of this research to explore the physical entity and felt experience of the uncanny threshold through the pictorial space of painting. In the first instance, a genealogy of the threshold is developed, drawing on the sublime as a device in painting. Key works by Caspar David Friedrich, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and J.M.W. Turner have been selected, each demonstrating a particular approach to the sublime and, hence, the threshold in painting. In the contemporary setting, works by Peter Doig, Karin Mamma Andersson and Jess MacNeil have been selected to explore the uncanny threshold in painting. The key devices relevant to this research are described as a “twofold temporal movement” (Grenier 2007, p. 107-108) in the case of Doig; twofold spatial movement in the case of Andersson and twofold spatio-temporal movement in the case of MacNeil. Each of these works demonstrates an approach to the threshold, and provides a means through which I am able to develop and convey my own exploration of the threshold as a spatio-temporal threshold that houses the two in one.

This research draws upon three key aspects of the Modernist movement: a framework of tradition, material experimentation and a continual experimental approach. The final methodology develops a series of incidents that work to emulate the overlapping and simultaneous concurrence of space found in the reveal zone of the threshold at Lovett Bay House. The architectural reveal, a structural component concealed within the conventional threshold, becomes apparent when one is ‘tripped up’ in crossing the threshold. At Lovett bay House, due to the architectural arrangement of the threshold, the reveal is continuously present. The incidents as methodological device produce a series of images that allow one to visually contemplate the threshold as a zone of habitation in painting; images that are familiar, yet curiously strange. The incidents work sequentially and as a whole to disrupt the logical, linear progression of each painting and in doing so, demonstrate that the threshold is a place of simultaneous and overlapping spatio-temporal zones.

The final images are not a representation of the threshold. Rather, the threshold has been used as a methodological device. The resulting images, produced through this research clearly demonstrate that painting, like architecture, is able to exemplify a form of threshold where movement and transition do not apply. The uncanny threshold as overlapping and simultaneous spaces and incidents generates a familiar yet strange set of unfixed, amplified, ambiguous, uncertain, sensory and spatial awareness.