The Powell-Cotton Dioramas and the Re-interpretation of an Idyll

Howie, Geraldine (2011) The Powell-Cotton Dioramas and the Re-interpretation of an Idyll. PhD thesis, University of Gloucestershire.

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Abstract

This research examines the natural habitat dioramas created by Major P.H.G. Powell-Cotton, in doing so it affects a remembering of a sense of place where a diorama reflects in Mieke Bal's view a three-dimensionality that draws on architectural space; it then considers the three dimensional representation of the landscape within the diorama itself; the two-dimensional illusion of a trompe l'oeil landscape painting; and the exterior space occupied by the viewer. The Powell-Cotton natural habitat dioramas exist behind large glass screens their purpose follows an aesthetic relationship with the emergence of the natural habitat diorama and the ability to transfix perception through the re-interpretation of an idyll. The potential for this practice-based research was to explore the possibility of developing an aesthetic for sculpture and architectural space. However in focussing on the Powell-Cotton dioramas the notion of aesthetic attitude would lose ground due to their idiosyncratic, artificial, and extraordinary nature, it then prepared the basis of interpretation in establishing 'theatres of landscape' as an open concept. With landscape, a sense of place anticipates various positions and numerous delays; it recollects the cognitive knowledge brought to the prospect that involves aspects in, of and about landscape. Regarding the studio-based project, the diorama was placed between the real and the unreal, challenging Bal's rationale of the cognitive relationship of a diorama to the concept of a discursive space. Where both artist and viewer 'activates' this space with their presence, they bring their own recollection of landscape and by assigning landscape with memory the potentiality is where cognition becomes accentuated. Whereas the unknown and uncharted can refute reality, memory is dependent on what is known both formally and informally, it places the natural habitat diorama in a visual system that is both constructive and destructive. Therefore the research methodology examines the historical context of the diorama through a doctoral thesis by Karen Wonders and an analysis of Louis Daguerre's diorama by Richard Altick. Following Bal's analysis of the diorama, this created a dilemma - in what ways are the perceptions of the observer determined, and how are they undermined? Jonathan Crary and Giuliana Bruno considered the diorama's position in relation to film and film archaeology, which ultimately the diorama and natural habitat diorama could not compete with. In asking what has Powell-Cotton's museum to offer in the 21st century, this thesis examines the concept of a diorama, its objectives and correspondingly its failings. As the dioramas in the Powell-Cotton Museum were undocumented, these dioramas and their written, visual and architectural relationship to Louis Daguerre offer a contribution to knowledge concurrent with the relationship of this practice based research project. Whereupon the research diary forms the basis of a contribution to new knowledge in the construction of small and large-scale dioramas, sculpture and installations. By challenging Bal's analysis this research practice would investigate natural and projected light and the visual language of transparency, translucency and opacity in the representation of landscape and landscape as motif, and progressing to the structural implications of 2D and 3D work.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Dioramas; Photography and art; 3D models; Natural history exhibitions
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
T Technology > TR Photography
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Art and Design
Depositing User: Phil Davis
Date Deposited: 21 Mar 2016 12:34
Last Modified: 20 Dec 2016 14:02
URI: http://eprints.glos.ac.uk/id/eprint/3264

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