Image - Shaun Gladwell 'Interceptor Surf Sequence' Still - Video Work 2009
We live in an age of monsters and the body panics they excite, where zombies and vampires have taken centre stage, where monsters have colonised much of mass culture. The insidiousness of colonisation creates a system in which monstrosity becomes normalised and naturalised via the essential fabric of the everyday, trivialising what is genuinely monstrous about the existential structures of modern day life.
Terra Australis Incognita was the name first given to Australia by European explorers, literally translating to ‘unknown southern land’. Gerry Turcotte (Australian Gothic 1998) asserts that long before the fact of Australia was ever even confirmed by explorers and cartographers it had already been imagined as a ‘Grotesque’ unhomely space. The antipodes, a dungenous world of reversals and a land peopled by monsters. Turcotte further asserts that Gothic tropes applied to narratives surrounding the bush have created a Gothic effect that is ‘distinctively Australian’. Gothic tropes seem to lend themselves the Australian interior and were most notably described in the 19th century by the Melbourne novelist and journalist Marcus Clarke (Australian Scenery 1876. Clarke wrote of “the strange scribblings of nature learning how to write” and also drew on Edgar Allan Poe to transfer a melancholic condition onto the Australian landscape.
Experiences of Australia are complex and unexpected or uncertain, often creating the feeling of the familiar transposed into unfamiliar space. Freud identified the experience of a familiar/unfamiliarity as the condition of the ‘Uncanny’ ‘where the home is unhomely - where the heimlich becomes unheimlich - and yet remains sufficiently familiar to disorient and disempower (The uncanny 1919). The Freudian Uncanny marks shifts in perception, experience, power balances and discourse, which signals unsettlement.
The Gothic Mode has endured for over 2 centuries, engaged by a diversity of authors including Horace Walpole (1717-1797) Mary Shelley (1797-1851) Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849) and featured heavily in Australian colonial fiction, most notably Marcus Clarke (1846-1881). The Traditions original author Horace Walpole was in many ways rebelling against the structures of order, reason and rationalism of the 18th century, reinventing and re-imaging the human experience through the creation of what he termed a ‘Gothic’ novel.
Recent decades have given rise to a 'Contemporary Gothic' - a subculture of cults and fashions that seem far removed from the conventions literary origins. Furthermore popular TV series and films have developed followings that support a plethora of internet sites for devotes to stories of horror and terror. The Gothic term seems to have been taken up as a general descriptor. Tropes of the Gothic conjured up in the popular imagination might include haunted houses, family madness, sinister outsiders, gloomy landscapes and a pervasive sense of menace and terror.
This Gothic term has shifted and evolved with time and is redefined according to cultural, economic, political and social circumstances. However, it does consist of recognisable tropes; darkness, isolation, duality, horror, confusion, eroticism, madness and death. The Gothic mode emphasises the uncertainty and desperation of the human experience. That experience is often depicted through enclosure and entrapment, a solitary hostile environment, with an unspecified, unidentifiable danger. This feeling of isolation and a fear of the unknown is paradoxical in that it also suggests transformation, a light in the darkness. Gothic darkness is metaphorical, this contrast of light/dark, this duality, speaks to the very nature of the human experience. What arises out of the Gothic shadow world is a metaphorical web of inter-related themes that when combined create a particular ‘effect’.
Straightforward narrative structures regularly fail to register the reality of monstrous dislocation and unseen structures between bodies and the powers that govern them - and so we need an armoury of de-familiarising techniques. In its most radical version the Gothic is compelled to dramatise, using a metaphorical language and imagery to shock the modern mind, operating by way of estrangement effects, via procedures that make the everyday appear as it truly is - bizarre, shocking and monstrous.