Submission note: A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Visual Art [to the] School of Communication, Arts and Critical Enquiry, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora.
This exegesis is composed of both visual and written elements that explore the theoretical underpinnings of conceptualising the suffering and fate of the Australian horse in war. The written component of the thesis is a narrative investigation into the way visual arts practice might be used as a tool for reflection and critically inquiry into war histories, disjuncture, subordination and animal suffering. The studio practice explores the image of the horse suffering in war though a visual exploration inspired by the emotive content and material aesthetic found in Light Horse soldiers World War I diaries, letters and memorabilia. In particular, the stories found in the writings by World War I Light Horse soldier and Australian author Ion Idriess became the driving force behind the final outcomes of my studio research. Approximately 39,300 horses were sent to the Middle East during the Palestine Campaigns of WWI.1 The overarching narrative ‘all the horses were shot’ symbolises the soldier’s loss and consequential occurrences of the World War I Palestine Campaign. Upon reflection though a contemporary lens, the role of the Australian horse World War I in war becomes disturbing. A confronting image of the horse’s experience in war emerges in certain Light Horse Soldiers’ graphic eyewitness accounts. Atrocities are clearly depicted in Ion Idriess’ vivid illustrations of the way in which the horse experienced war. An altered form in the horses’ body shape and demeanour is described by Idriess, demonstrating a shift in its previous natural state as it is forced to inhabit extraordinary circumstances. Imagery describing the form of and shape of the horse as it charged into direct gunfire, was shot or suffered a bomb blast, fell to the ground with exhaustion and suffered illness and injury, hunger, thirst and fatigue assisted in formulating an artistic response within the studio research. Utilising emotive and aesthetic aspects of history some artists respond intuitively to historical material and content to uncover unseen facets of the past and reveal elements that may otherwise remain hidden. The creative act of utilising my drawing practice as a way to visually probe the soldiers’ descriptions sought to determine an aesthetic understanding of the look and shape of body of the horse as it suffered in war. This aesthetic investigation led to a renewed interpretation of the existing imagery surrounding the role of the Australian horse in war. In employing drawing as a way to critically engage with this image, a visual form particular to the Australian horses’ suffering and fate in war emerged within the marks, traits, traces and scribbles.
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