I am at the very early stages of thinking about my PhD, a fact that was pointed out to me by a professor at the University of Melbourne when I corresponded with him about my research area! He’s right – and I may find that I have to change horses in a little while, to take account of the ‘state’ of my research area as I read more and more about it.
In a nutshell, I am interested in how the experience of dislocation is expressed by a person in acts of creation. This interest is sparked by two things: firstly, I found an obscure reference to a Victorian man called Charles Frederick Bielefeld in a book on papier mache, with a comment that Bielefeld (who was known for his architectural ornamentation) had made a ‘portable village’ of cottages and a single villa out of papier mache for a client called Seymour who was emigrating to Australia. What a mad idea! How can you make durable buildings out of papier mache? The second spark relates to my own imminent experience of emigrating to Australia and my interest in what that will do to my work. I have my suspicions that the physicality of the buildings in which we live affects us deeply, and I wonder, what must it have been like for the early Australian settlers to have lived in often temporary, often crude accommodation? Many of them moved from cramped inner-city slum housing (or not much better) to the wide open spaces of what is now New South Wales and a distinct lack of infrastructure or satisfactory housing, at least in the colony’s early years, via three months at sea. What did that do to them? And how was it expressed?
I put together a research proposal as part of my MA, and it was pounced upon as likely PhD material. But interestingly, I find that I may have to adjust my ideas somewhat. Professor Lewis – the expert on portable housing in Australia and on C F Bielefeld – points out that papier mache housing was of no more interest to its occupants than any other sort of temporary housing and that so little information survives about Bielefeld’s (and others’) structures that it may be impossible to draw any sensible conclusions. I have another suspicion, too, which is that the early colonists may have been too preoccupied to care, and that no supporting material will be there to find… Early art in the colony – unless I have completely missed the point with my reading so far – was largely the preserve of Navy officers, whose topographical skills were in great demand for defining coastlines and countryside, and entrepreneurial sketchers whose work described a ‘paradise’ of natural beauty in order to encourage further settlement. There may not have been many early settlers looking around them at the landscape and their own habitation and drawing philosophical conclusions expressed as art that survives today!
I have a friend who completed a PhD several years ago in the field of English Literature. She was kind enough to say to me that most of her fellow post-graduates changed tack several times in the early stages of their studies, and that really did make me feel better about the idea! Thank you, Helen.