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(Re)Cruising Utopia: One person’s heaven is another’s hell, and other places I’ve found the devil by Jake Treacy

When
2024-07-04
Author
Jake Treacy

Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.

—John Milton, Paradise Lost,
1667, Book 1, Line 242

Gustave Dore, Satan Descends Upon Earth, 1866, engraving


Gustave Dore
Satan Descends Upon Earth, 1866
engraving

How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth…you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.

—Isaiah 14:12-17

After challenging the totalitarian rule of God, and entering into war with heaven, Lucifer—the Prince of Air, the Light Bringer, the Morning Star—was cast out along with the other rebel angels. Their fall—their mythological expulsion—marks a genesis in the Christian cosmology to the historical severing and on-going tumultuous relationship we perpetually trammel with the earth.

The deep-seeded psycho-geographical trauma rooted through biblical scripture has consequently informed a hierarchical and governmental dominion—through colonial, industrial, and capitalist powers—which perpetuates violence upon the land, throughout terrestrial, chronological, emotional, spiritual and psychical landscapes. The corruption and exploitation of these terrains echoes a wasteland passage that being earth-bound is a hellish experience, void from paradise, and ultimately a punishment.[i]

Ambrosius Holbein, Utopiae insulae tabular, 1518 woodcut map from Thomas More's Utopia


Ambrosius Holbein
Utopiae insulae tabular, 1518
woodcut map
from Thomas More's Utopia

Know thyself.

—Delphic maxim engraved on the Temple of Apollo,
ancient Greece, 5th century BC

There once was a garden named Eden. In this garden lived two genesis beings, Adam and Eve. They lived in this terrestrial paradise completely oblivious to the world around them. After crash-landing hotly into the netherworlds of the earth, Lucifer wandered the land and came to this garden named Eden. Here, Lucifer met Adam and Eve and realised their oblivious nature. Lucifer, the Light Bringer, sought to help them know the world, and consequently to know themselves. They ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge—an act forbidden by God lest they too challenge his authority. Upon eating the fruit—a gift from the earth—they attained awareness and autonomy. They became illuminated, could see the designed world of the garden for what it was. They were free. And they were excommunicated from this walled garden-prison named Eden, cast out into the ‘wilderness’ through the east gate, where a cherubim welding a sword of flames forever guarded re-entry, as well as the Tree of Life.

This story illustrates a deep fissure cut in the psyche of human being’s relationship with the natural world. A story of lifting the veil. A story of ‘Paradise’ lost, but knowledge gained.

In the series Bounded in a Nutshell / King of Infinite Space, Kai Wasikowski incorporates 3D spatial software—typically utilised in architecture, mapping, and the natural sciences—alongside black and white photography, to question the settler colonial history of landscape photography to romanticise a sense of belonging to, and possession over, stolen land. For the “abundance of data collected in making these images, there is an equal amount of blankness.” Both camera and spatial technology illuminate ways of seeing whilst simultaneously constructing an unseen. The images encourage a deeper gaze beyond the surface, to question the ideological notion of how nature is represented through the lens and framed up through farces of ‘paradise’ or ‘wilderness.’

Gustave Dore, Satan Overlooking Paradise, 1866, engraving


Gustave Dore
Satan Overlooking Paradise, 1866
engraving

The here and now is a prison-house.

—José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia,
2009, pg. 1

In his reflections on queerness and utopia, José Esteban Muñoz maps out a queer futurity. Recognising the quagmire of the present, he encourages us to dream and enact better pleasures and ways of being in the world—a queerness with the world that is warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality.[ii]

After the fall, Lucifer endured a “wandering quest” of the earth. [iii] The notion of the wanderer is to navigate the world through senses and reciprocity with the terrain. Unlike the tourist who relies upon maps and cartography, the wanderer discards the map, knowing the world, acknowledging Indigenous methodologies of being with the world, honouring and caring for Country, honouring ecology and bodies against the colonial-industrial desire.

The history of mapping utopia is an inherently colonial ideology [iv] and a futile one at that considering the etymology of the word ironically translates to ‘no place’ from the original Greek. This marks a disposition of beinglessness with the world, being apart from the land, and therefore possess a fear of it. There have been many places titled with infernal toponyms across the world, such as the town of Hell in Norway; or geographical locations, such as the Darvaza Crater, or the Door to Hell, in Turkmenistan; or Devil’s Punchbowl in Oregon, US; or the Devil’s Marbles, a colonial name given to a sacred site in the Northern Territory otherwise known as Karlu Karlu in the language of the traditional owners, the Warumungu people.

In Rebecca McCauley and Aaron Claringbold’s collaborative work Here’s what we know, the idea of ‘passing through’ is explored through the vernacular of leisure, tourism, and car culture. The images have been captured through a series of road trips—petrol stations, colonial monuments, shop fronts, and the shifting landscape encountered whilst on the road. The work critiques a constructed national identity on stolen land, the consumption of place through circulating images, the archive of the tourist, and the history of landscape photography. In a language of bitumen and paved tongues, the work questions colonial Australia through the naming of places, the mythologies of the settler-explorer, and mapping of the land through Google Earth.

The land will take back the hand of the godhead.

—Georgia Kartas, HALF MOON HALF TIME,
Mythamorphosis, track 5

In Ellen Dahl’s images from the series Four Days Before Winter, the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard—one of the fastest warming places on earth—is presented through an eerie lens as a liminal place—a place in limbo. The images are a meditation on slow geological time set against the clock of climate change, where collapsing terrains are engulfed by Artic fog, melting permafrost drools down mountainsides, and glaciers crack in environmental vulnerability. Svalbard has a long history of coal mining that is still occurring today. The impacts of resource mining in the immediate area are highlighted in the work’s ghastly resonance of twinned images depicting a lump of coal. This is a pairing of harsh realities and of geological imaginings, where realities in a time of climate disaster—due to capitalism and industrialisation—are laid bare, barren, and raw. The glacial blue image literally inverts the world, encouraging new ways of seeing and imploring climate action by looking to the past to in order to see the future.

This series records story in place, land and home, and "being connected to place, wherever that is…to care about what happens to the world around you."[v]

The recording of remoteness and human/more-than-human entanglement presents images from the edge, and questions what can be gleaned from the peripheries, from the edges of the world, beyond the centres of power and governance.

Photography—to draw with light—illuminates perspectives through how the world is framed up, as a place to navigate terrains, utopias and dystopias, heavens and hells, and those bleary greyed spaces between. The analogy of Lucifer—the Light Bringer— who fell to the earth like lightening [vi]—queers and challenges the status quo—of hierarchy and dominion—in image-making. The effigy of the rebel angel may be dangerous in the eye of the godhead, as an adversary to the government, or an accuser of the corrupt. Lucifer turns the lens back onto the consumer. Despite extreme banishment, Lucifer becomes a symbol of hope in a world of chaos for those desiring freedom from the restraints of living under an authoritative God. By being engulfed by the earth is to be queerly intimate with its terrains. And like the latent image, that which remains unseen, shall emerge from the peripheries to illuminate new and radical ways of seeing and being in the world.

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.

—John Milton, Paradise Lost,
1667, Book 1, Lines 233-234

About

Jake Treacy is a queer non-binary poet and curator working on unceded lands and under sovereign skies of Wurundjeri Country. They are interested in radical gestures of love, transformation, and healing through collaboration. Their current practice and research is informed by dreams, sex, queer mysticism, and doom metal.

They are a University of Melbourne graduate with a Master of Art Curatorship (2017) and Postgraduate Art History (2013). They currently curate at Incinerator Gallery, having previously curated across national art galleries as well as non-conventional public spaces, co-directed an artist-run initiative, sat on grant advisory panels, written published copy on numerous contemporary arts practices, performed poetic dissertations and spoken on contemporary curatorial practice in public forms.

Kai Wasikowski
Material Resonance [beyond the veil]
, 2023
National Photography Prize 2024
Murray Art Museum Albury
Image by Jeremy Weihrauch

Rebecca McCauley & Aaron Claringbold
Here’s what we know, 2023
National Photography Prize 2024
Murray Art Museum Albury
Image Jeremy Weihrauch

Ellen Dahl
Field Notes from the Edge Arctic Coal Diptych, 2023
National Photography Prize 2024
Murray Art Museum Albury
Image Jeremy Weihrauch

Footnotes

[i] “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” —Genesis 3:17-19.

[ii] “Queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness’s domain. Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see and feel beyond the quagmire of the present. The here and now is a prison house.” — José Esteban Muñoz, Cruiding Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, 2009, pg.1.

[iii] ““Wander” initially means merely “to move hither and thither without fixed course or certain aim,” but this physically ungoverned movement accrues such dubious associations as literal-”to deviate from a given path, or determined course; to turn aside from a mark” and figurative-”to turn aside from a purpose, from a determined course of conduct, or train of thought; to digress; to pass out of the control of reason or conscience; to fall into error (moral or intellectual).” There are 35 occurrences of wander and its cognates in Paradise Lost. The wander in Paradise Lost is frequently linked with the Fall due to Satan’s “wandring quest” (2.830) and Eve’s “Desire of wandring” (9.1136)” —Jai Tang, Desire of Wandering: Decoding the Word “Wandring” in Milton’s Paradise Lost, 2021, pg. 50.

[iv] Thomas Moore, Utopia (Libellus vere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festivus, de optimo rei publicae statu deque nova insula Utopia), 1516.

[v] Hannah Storey, Ellen Dahl wins $30,000 National Photography Prize from Murray Art Museum Albury, ABC Arts, posted Sat 23 Mar 2024.

[vi] “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” —Luke 10:18.

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