A 'society of spectacle': visuality, space and colonial masquerade

Bill Dunstone, Curtin University of Technology


In 1880, Naylor Minton Griffiths, American 'entrepreneur and promoter of social reunions', and 'Professor' Alfred Silvester, British illusionist, presented a series of masked balls for the settler public at Fremantle and Perth. The Griffiths-Silvester ventures - which first got off the ground as celebrations of Anniversary Day - later known as Foundation Day - were part commercial, part carnivalesque and part commemorative in spirit. But they were definitively performances circumscribed by relations of power. This paper discusses the spatial and visual organization of these masked balls as performative fiction-making processes that embodied urban fantasies - conscious and unconscious - of a 'body politic' in settler Western Australia. The fictional direction of subject formation and position is linked with the interdependency of fantasy and the 'real' in maskings. The masquerades are analysed as performative social and corporeal 'mappings', comprising cartographic 'views', boundary demarcations, terrae incognitae and displays of bodily 'monsters' and 'freaks' - all relating self and Other. The masquerades, which had been promoted as imaginaries of social order, worked through visual, spatial and corporeal schemata that consciously graded masqueraders and onlookers according to position and power, and that were installed in the unconscious. Masqueraders and observers were mutually implicated in constructing the look of each other. Despite the advertised presence of a 'Moral Policeman' at each occasion, the masquerades can be read against the grain as moments when visual and spatial fields, constitutive of subjectivity and myths of social cohesion, were disrupted and fractured.

New: 20 September, 2001 | Now: 6 May, 2015