Detail from artwork ghost in the machine
Detail from ‘Ghost in the machine’, artwork by Deidre Feeney, photo supplied.

Dr Deidre Feeney

The Powerhouse Research Fellowship

December 2020

Project Title: Image and Device: Creating spaces between knowing and imagination

This research project focuses on 19th and early 20th century optical devices from the Powerhouse collection to further knowledge of how glass has been used in diverse ways to create images — from mapping distant stars across space and time, to projecting images with the purpose of engaging our imagination and suspending our established systems of (dis)belief. These discoveries will then be applied to the design and creation of new works of art in the form of optical image systems.

Dr Deidre Feeney is interested in the diverse, and even opposing, functions of Powerhouse collection of optical objects. Although sometimes developed around similar periods of time, various devices generating various types of images create a space of uncertainty between notions of measured knowledge/truth/rationality (the optical scientific instrument) and imagination/illusion/irrationality (the optical entertainment device). As we now enter a new space of uncertainty created through emerging sentient technologies of computer vision and artificial intelligence, these questions of how we see and experience images are again relevant.

The research and development of Feeney’s new work will also examine changing ideas around the perception of images and their making. By rendering explicit the historical, ideological, material mechanisms of how it is we see what we see, Feeney’s research at the Powerhouse aspires to draw attention to a space that lies between knowing and imagination. Feeney will examine a range of optical objects within the collection to understand their function and design, such as the measuring machines from the 1887 Carte du Ciel project, Jules Duboscq’s Saccharimeter, Tinseley’s reflecting galvanomemter & polarising helioscopic eyepiece, Bausch & Lomb’s epidiascope projector and Edison’s Projecting Kinetoscope.

Feeney is a multidisciplinary artist, researcher and educator working across installation, moving image, optics, electronics and digital fabrication. She works as a Sessional Lecturer at the Australian National University School of Art & Design, where she has recently completed a Fellowship at the Centre for Learning and Teaching. Her practice investigates ways in which the material of glass and optical image systems engage directly with our senses to generate renewed experiences of contemporary wonder. Fenney holds a PhD and BVA (Hons) from the ANU and BA (Hons) from Trinity College Dublin. She exhibits in Australia and internationally and has previously participated in thet Stephen Proctor Fellowship and SAR Fellowship at the National Film & Sound Archive. In 2019 Feeney was an ANU Vice Chancellors Creative Research Fellow working with the Research School of Physics to explore novel ways to generate projected still & moving images.