Present Pasts


  • Nicola Dickson Artist Researcher


contemporary painting, Australian birds, natural history collecting, French Enlightenment, Nicolas Baudin, re-presenting, art and archives, climate crisis art


Viewing and contemplating archival objects and images provokes me—a female Australian settler artist—to imaginatively engage with and re-present stories of the past; pasts that resonate in the contemporary present. My focus over the last ten years has been to imagine and think within the historical records of the French Enlightenment voyages of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as led by the colonial governor, Antoine Bruni d’Entrecasteaux and cartographer and naturalist, Nicolas Baudin. These voyages to Australia and the Pacific are situated within a dismembering discourse of Empire, exploration, ‘discovery’ and exoticism (Chevallier). A major impetus for their undertaking was given by the emerging discipline of the natural sciences, and accompanying shifts in European conceptions of humankind’s relation to the natural world; a prime objective was the gathering/taking/making of knowledge by observation, measurement and material collection. In 2020, following the 2019–20 summer of ferocious bushfires, and during a COVID-19 lockdown in Canberra amidst a global pandemic, my focus in practice turned to the endemic birds around me: local, heard, seen, treasured. What emerged was a renewed close-to-home response to the Baudin collecting raid of ‘exotic’ Australian species.

Author Biography

Nicola Dickson, Artist Researcher

Dr Nicola Dickson, an alumna of the Australian National University, is an independent visual artist based in Ngunawal and Ngambri Country/ Canberra. Her practice utilises painting to re-present stories from the past that inform contemporary experiences of place.

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