Thursday, October 07, 2004

More Mysandry: Your Belly is a Battleground

Living communally has mainly been a matter of necessity, although sometimes I like it. I’ve spent most of my adult life living with partners, in shared households. I wonder if it was ever just two of us if we’d go mad. Anyway at the moment I think the third party is driving me up the wall. This is meant to be the honeymoon period and I wonder if maybe if the honeymoon is so rough that we’ll iron out all the crinkles of discontent and it’ll be smooth sailing from then on? Or if this is just a really bad sign that things are not going to work out at all.

Firstly I’ve put myself in a bad situation by lodging a friend, who was homeless and desperate. I let the pity factor play in big time. I also know this person’s faults way too much and I guess was irritates me about the share house situation is seeing the bits that irritate me about them as a friend being brought into my home life. Like being a bragging moron. Fine in the pub, entertaining even, I’m astonishingly tolerant once drunk and can be diverted and amused like some cooing toddler. Three drinks and the critical bitch switches off and I laugh and giggle and gurgle away, three more and I contemplate heterosexuality, bring the total to nine and I start slobbering over pieces of furniture.

Yeah, so pub talk, kind of like TV talk, fills the space emptied by drink, background blur…… but sober it really ain’t so crash hot. I actually don’t care for sales pitch while I’m wearing my pyjamas, let alone hearing the construction details of someone’s air castle while I’m trying to pour the foundations of my own intellectual endeavours. Writing a thesis can be profoundly irritating to be around, apparently. I find myself a shithead so why shouldn’t other people? When I crawl from the cave downstairs for some fuel, I usually trying to digest some theoretical sludge and don’t want chit chat about the weekends parties or someone’s unresolved adolescent oedipal dramas. We’re all over 30 for fucks sake!………… oh God. I mean I said all this before. “You are moving in with students we want a QUIET house. No loud phone calls in the loungeroom, no loud stereo, no loud banal conversations”. Hell he said he agreed.

But this is a minor point. The other aspect sounds like a sad story from the felafel sagas, and I can’t believe this is happening. “Lets do share cooking” he said, “lets pool the kitty and share the cupboard space” he said. “Fine” we said. We each put in 20 bucks for Paddy’s and replace what we use. So like he buys tiny weeny pots of vegemite to replace the big ones we buy, ditto for honey, milk, margarine, peanut butter, oil etc. It took two months to realise what was going on. Fuck. The communal kitty he now sees as a n excuse not to eat anything outside, and wolf down whatever fruit, veg, bread, tuna or leftovers are around. When it comes to communal cooking, he’ll scrounge in the cupboards and do the $2.00 pasta meal for 3 special. Great the first time, and the second and the third. By the fifth I’m getting a bit sick of it. It’s not the meal per se, it’s the super chef ego histrionics that accompany it. It’s the patronising comments that accompany his supervision of anything I cook, it’s the sizing up of the other flatmates cooking, which is La Vraie French cuisine. No ego, no bullshit, just decent ingredients prepared with no fuss and cooked well. With lots of salt, and cream and cheese. Aii my gallstones! Pardon my digression.

Ostensibly we all cook, we all enjoy cooking and eating. Or so I thought. But it looks like Mr. Three has got a big dose of food as simulacritis. I remember Roland Barthes analysed fashion as existing on three representational planes: Image fashion, Worn fashion, and some other one. Anyway this sums up our flatmate pretty damn well. His “image food” is all Donna Hay and one great knife and lots of anecdotes about working in kitchens. This kind of talk probably goes down really well at 30something singles dinner parties. I wouldn’t know coz I try to cultivate friends with limited social skills. Anyway “worn” food comes from a tin and cellophane, and no designer can openers here, I can tell you. All the time reciting this blather about professional kitchens and Italian relatives! It is the shit after all! If only I was drunk, I wouldn’t care, but I usually have to study after dinner!

It’s probably something wider in Australian society that I’ve missed. I reckon in Australian culture food exists within the same circuit as fashion. (The burdens of being a post industrial acculturated colony!). My mother does not cook the recipes of my grandmother, and there’s no way I’d cook what Mum cooks. There’s nothing wrong with either Nanna’s or Mum’s coking, I like both but since we all learnt to cook from our friends, TV, latest recipe books, women’s weekly or the herald then using our parents recipes is like getting them to buy our clothes – some sort of affront to our adulthood. Personally I learnt to cook from lovers from different cultures , who learnt from their parents. I also learnt that people make jokes about Australian dinner parties: calculating the number of people and the number of potatoes to match and Australians in restaurants: splitting the bill and arguing about who ate the most rice. For most of the world food is a potlatch phenomenon, something to be shared freely, not calculated and displayed like the latest consumer product from DOMAYNE. I am heartily sick of the slick chrome “foodie” culture in Sydney. I’m sick of the ostentation of showing off the “latest” recipe, let alone the latest frigging kitchen gadget. I don’t want to think of food being in fashion or out of fashion. (Even though I find certain foods kitsch) and I’d like to think that the things I cook now I’ll still enjoy in 10, 20, 30 or 50 years time.

Back in the maison, the two female cooks just do what we do best. A meal for the household is an act of love for the other housemates. While I don’t have the impeccable credentials of La Cuisine de Maman, I was a South American’s wife for 5 years and passed the test on a few basics, plus I’ve got my own obsessions, laska (from scratch), tom kha gai (from an egg and a few seeds: step one: plant seeds and incubate egg, step two: don’t let the chick eat the seedlings etc.) various marsalas and the ultimate midnight munchie dahl, as well as the sublime art of two minute noodle meals. The latter is what I lived on while scraping through art school. Scraping being the operative word. I only had austudy and paid more rent than I do now, plus therapist bills and art supplies. That left $5.00 a day for food, and I didn’t know about dumpsters either. Right now, no one in this household is that poor. So there’s no excuses for the “feed a family of four for $2.00” act.

The pseudo boho poncing just looks like scamming to me, especially when the said slumming student sustains two major drug habits, (ciggies and the pub) and asks me why I haven’t seen the latest movies (I can’t afford to!). So to put it simply I reckon we’re being had. I reckon our shopping and cooking is providing extra income to Rothmans, Carlton and United Brewery and friggin fugging Hollywood, and I’ve got major moral objections to all three. So what to do? The communal kitchen thing works in my favour because I hate eating a dinner in front of someone who isn’t partaking, but I am starting to feel really quite cross. We could try the group account/kitty, but I know it’d be more admin work for me, and FUCK, WHY CAN’T HE BE A NORMAL RESPONSIBLE GENEROUS HUMAN BEING instead of acting like he’s living with two wives, or two mothers????? And he wonders why girls drop him after 2 months? Personally I am not very interested in training any more men in basic human decency. I have plenty of male friends who I have perfectly satisfactory friendships with, and I’m not interested in training Mr. Right and have no male family members with whom to have any lingering issues with. So I reckon, I’ll have to make a new years resolution next year and become a separatist. I won’t excommunicate the male friends, just give myself a focus to push all of the annoying ones out of my way. No male flatmates, no fruitless efforts at making into the boys club at uni, hell, I’ve got even better excuses to turn down party invites. And I can rudely ignore and speak over boring men in meetings on the grounds that I refuse to listen to men. Woohoo! Sheila Jeffreys here we come!!!!!

ps wanna recipte for my laksa paste?

You need

Blachan - (also sold as belaccan and called shrimp paste in english) - buy a solid block of brown stinky stuff, and grate up about 2 tablespoons worth - if you are cooking for vegans - then substitute this with some red miso paste or vegemite if you're desperate.

A head of Garlic - peel and chop up the lot
One big onion - do same as for garlic

A couple of chillies - 3 little red pointy buggers or half of one of those scarey balloon fuckers (once I mde the mistake of biting inot the end of one of them in paris - I thought it tasted mild and used 3 in my paste - and I nealry killed half of the anarchovegan population of France)

Some Fresh galangal and or ginger - grate up a sqyare inch of the fresh stuff - or if you can only get the hard dry woody stuff then don't bother - just stick that in your soup later on

2-3 tablesppons of that nice prepared tamarind pulp (or about 1-2 tablespoons of the thick stodge that you gotta remove the seeds from - about as much fun as pipping olives)

2-3 lower stalks of lemongrass

small handful of dried kaffir lime leaves

handfull of candlenuts

Right now you can probably tell that I'm no purist. welcome to good old aussie fusion cuisine! In australia "Laksa" is a kind of catchword for all amnner of variations on a big noodly curry soup. I developed this receipe about 10 years ago and it took 4 years and lots of expereimentation to ge tright. I was primarily inspired by the ravings of Malaysian student firends - and decided (like most Aussies) that I preferred the high cholesterol creamy KL version to the hotter, thinner and more sour Penang Assam version.

anwyay my recipe says to grab all the above stuff and chuck it in a narrow plastic vessel and mush it all up with a bamix. I used to do it manually with a mortar and pestle - but now I can't be bothered.
I usuallly add a bit of sesame oil to keep the blades runing, and generate a nice complement to the pungence of the blachan.

Now comes the extremely naughty bit.

My favourite aussie Laksa comes fomr Doy Tao in newtown - where they hold off on the palm sugar (for once) and use PUMPKIN to add to the mixture.

Coooked pumpkin goes amazingly well with fish! - Pumpkin and mussel soup is one of the speciallities of one of anna's aunts - it I'd recoomend it.

Anway - my version of LAksa - you make the hard goopy paste and then add it to some pumpkin (half a butternut or a quarter of a blue) that has been boiled in water (and don't throw out the water). Chuck in the paste and let it slowly simmer for a bit.

How much of a bit? 20 mins should be fine but you can go longer. don't go all day or you'll tunr all the stuff into cabbage..........

In the mantime, prepare some meat/veggies/tofu.this involves cutting them up into small pieces and lightly stirfrying them. blanch some noodles and some fishballs (yum!), and open 3 tins or a ! litre UHT pack of coconut cream.

Add coconut cream to laksa paste and pumpkin mix and mix thoroghly and heat.
blanch noodles and stick in serving bowls. throw veggies/meat/tofu on top
pour over soupy laksa mix
garnish with fried onions, lemon wedges, bean sprouts, fresh coriander
salivate and eat!

this should be enough for 4-6 people.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Merited Misandry

When I was a very young undergraduate studying Science, I read Evelyn Fox Keller” Reflections on Gender and Science”. This was a classic volume of the 70’s, that problematised Baconian models of scientific discovery in relationship to the sexist nature of gendered social relations in the lab. To put it simply, women’s minds and women’s bodies were described and studied as separate, aberrant and pathological “objects” of science, medicine and psychiatry, while the majority of leading scientists and doctors were men. The nature of the university supported this because most student in the ‘hard’ sciences were men, and also even in the biological sciences, where equal numbers predominated at undergraduate level, numbers of women tended to plateau out at postdoc level – most women researchers being left at lower academic, research assistant, teaching assistant level.

Anyway in student feminist circles I definitely felt like a brave, bold pioneer in a ‘non traditional’ field. All the other women were doing women’s studies and getting to write essays on Liz Grosz and Luce Irigaray while I was trying to splice genes with creationist bible bashers. OK it wasn’t always that bad, in science students were pretty aware about the social relations around them. Other female students all sighed and clucked about stray sexist comments made by (male) demonstrators, and male students at least seemed to mouth the right sorts of concerns about possibilities for women pursuing careers in science. Maybe it was just a strategy to get laid. Hell, it worked!

Fast forward a decade and I decided that I should be doing essays on Liz Grosz and Luce Irigaray since that’s who I’ve been reading in my spare time for ten years. I start a serious reading and writing habit, and wax literal about all that fine Irigiraian notions of dissimilating in the enemy camp of male dominated philosophy. Lots of well written words about slaying angels and the inner struggle of the female writer marginalised by the very structures of meaning.

This is so successful I write my way into a PhD. So1 here I am in academic land and with a postgraduate library card and an APA I reckon I’m unstoppable. No more ignorant boyos to flirt and dissimulate to, lots of women and men to have serious philosophical discussions with, instead of inanities uttered between writing down silly numbers or trying not to spill biohazards in my hair.

Arts research is largely conducted on a solitary level, but the gatherings, seminars, conferences are, presumably, where the professional networking occurs, the chatter, gossip, exchanges, job rumours, publication projects are lubricated by the beverage of choice and the randomly fecund ping-pong of chatter. Evelyn Fox Keller wrote about this, and stated that they occur in science and yes they do exclude women. No one has written lately about how much they excluded women in other disciplines. Feminist theory waffles all about semiotics and the problematic of designating a gendered subject. What is the subject? What is gender? Apparently it’s all in flux, kinda of like a thing you can make up on the spot and the utterable intelligibility of such aint just confined to the genitals. Gender is a state of play. Woo hoo!

I have found the latter ideas really really good. Especially in bed, or en route to the bed, in various bars at around 3am when picking up options are getting slim. Latex casting can work wonders, and girls (or guys) never leave the house without a false moustache, a wig and several genitalia tucked away in your purse. You never know when they can come in handy. (damn! I said I wasn’t going to discuss dating tips!) Back in the ivory tower, things aren’t quite so queer and forward, kind of back and behind, or back of beyond. I’m often reminded of the old days at the country, when I strayed form the ladies lounge at the pub. Marginalisation is such a loaded word, that trying to write about it without sounding accusatory is difficult. So I’ve tried to describe it in terms of everyday experiences.

This paragraph specifically refers to the life experience of bespectacled, asthmatic, uncoordinated, flabby or skinny individuals (or any gender) whose level of engagement with compulsory school sports was less than Olympian. If you are an active and successful member of the varsity sporting fraternity you can skip this bit. Remember how you felt during team selection (when you were the handicap) school sports carnivals (when detention felt preferable) change room before and after PE, PE itself? Suddenly the appearance of trackies, joggers and scungies changed the social order so that you who reigned supreme in the classroom spelling or maths quiz felt the pangs of the subaltern.

This paragraph specifically refers to the life experience of those whose experience of international travel has gone beyond Fairstar cruises, Kontiki Package tours, student exchanges to English speaking countries, or backpacking circuits. If this doesn’t fit your life history, you could probably ask one of the many students on campus who are migrants or international students from a non English speaking country. If not, just hunt down your nearest diagnosed Aspergers sufferer. Have you ever had the experience where you are stumbling along in a social setting, and suddenly you realise that you cannot understand a single word that is being said, and you say something that you think is right, and everyone stops and stares at you and you suddenly realise that you haven’t got the slightest clue about what you should do or say next in order to establish harmonious social relationships?

If you have never experienced the above, and would like to try it, then I’d suggest donning some form of prosthesis or attire that would identify you as female and walking into a postgraduate research seminar. If the patina of backs gets monotonous, walk towards a gap and listen in to whatever conversation is occurring try saying something polite and engaging. There you can witness the scintillating pulse as the conversational lull ceases, comes to half a second of complete silence before a male starts a completely different conversation and the lull resumes. This little experiment can be repeated during chaired seminars. If the chair allows you (iterably intelligible as female) to speak, do so, and note the response. If this isn’t enough, try greeting your colleagues while traversing university thoroughfares, and enjoy your own awkward facial tics and arm flapping as you try to disguise the futility of unreciprocated gestures and smiles as a brief outbreak of eczema.

Outrageous! Appalling! Is she paranoid? I hear you cry. No I’m not, and I personally invite you to conduct the experiments yourself across a number of faculties and departments. My own experience is that Arts is actually once of the worst offenders. Science and Engineering maybe patriarchal boyo techie boring areas, but they are also grounded in an implicit sense of practical contingencies. Women are still often doing most of the crap jobs in such disciplines. The crappy but necessary jobs. Rule one for high falutin success, make sure the poor sucker whose shoulders you stand on is a happy team member. So my theory is that the group collaborative research environment of the shared laboratory gives these guys some idea of how to behave. One that isn’t necessarily shared by the theoretically savvy sensitive new age guys in Arts.

Now I may come across a some kid of hardcore bitchy feminazi, but you’ve gotta admire my witty writing style and I urge you to continue! Tears and whinges aside, I am still utterly perplexed at this behaviour, directed (not only at me but other female students), from iterably intelligible heterosexual men. I assume these guys go off and whinge about the inadequacy of their sex lives? Actually I am fucking sure of it. The one or two who deigned to talk to me (admittedly only as undergrads) certainly did. So I’m going to publish tips for the lonely straight guy volume one, right here:

Practice how to have conversations with women, which involve both of you talking.
Even if you never socialise with women, you can develop these skills with the women you encounter in your professional lives, like your postgraduates students, researchers in your department and the one or two female academic staff.
By learning how to listen, smile and respond to what women are saying, you will learn to interpret women’s social gestures, this knowledge will increase with experience.
You can use your knowledge of how to communicate with women in your personal life.
Communication, eye contact, interest: chicks love that shit, you’ll win every time.

Just to fend off accusations of heterosexism, I’ll add that heterosocial skills can benefit us all. Even radical homosexual separatists have family members of the opposite sex not to mention the odd tradesperson, retail assistant etc. So I reckon acquiring skills for communicating with the opposite sex can benefit us all. In the meantime, what’s the survival strategies for the poor gals like me? I’m really not sure. I have mixed with a large variety of men and women in many different circles outside uni, both male and female, and the sort of autistic intransigence I am currently encountering is really pushing my aquired social resources to their very limits. I’ve tried doing the blokey drink buying palchick thing. Failed. Flirting. (sipping wine, fluttering eyes and giggling) Failed. Doing the anorexic male ego mirror thing. (OK, not quite anorexic, but I sucked in my gut, and asked vapid flattering questions in a high voice). Failed. Wearing a skirt and cleavage . Failed. Wearing a jacket and tie. Failed. Did the maternal “tell me your problems”. Failed.

So for the time being I’m staying away. I go to other seminars, test the other departments, other faculties, I flit and flutter and flan in the rest of the world where I seem to have infinite success in comparison. But these arenas are not my profession, they are not my research area. I’m like the foreign visitor who entertains from sheer novelty, and I’m entertained back. The problem is that I like my own research area, I believe in my discipline. Interdisciplinary play is all fine and dandy, but I really do want to teach and write in my area. It is the one that makes sense to my ideas and my career.

So what am I to do, if I can’t communicate with other researchers in my field? Change fields or change sex? I guess if I got diagnosed with breast cancer, I could entertain the latter option. Get the radical double masectomy, start taking T. But while they are only threatening my career and not my life, I’d really like to hold onto my beloved secondary sex characteristics. So what do I do? Feminists have written about the sexism of my discipline for longer than I have been alive, it still hasn’t changed the fact that for me, right now, it is bloody hard being a woman in my field. Worse still the problem isn’t only the men, it is the women. There are women researchers in my department, I’ve even heard rumours that there may be another PhD student, but where are they? Who are they? What are they doing? They aren’t coming to seminars, they aren’t lounging in the corridors or haunting the library. They’ve probably missed out on an office, hate the seminars as much as I do, and are more than likely juggling other jobs and social responsibilities that come with adulthood and femaleness. So the cycle continues.

I wish I could propose a solution or suggestions to this. “Oh yeah, a postgraduate women’s network” “ an e-list” “more women’s studies networks”. Sounds like more bloody work, and I suspect that like me, most women researchers and students are already snowed under with extra jobs, extra responsibilities, both paid and unpaid. So I’m going to put the onus on the men in my discipline. You know who you are. If you don’t, ask yourself when was the last time you listened to a female colleague speak for more than 5 minutes when she wasn’t giving a paper or discussing YOUR life or YOUR research? Then I am writing about you, and I suggest you modify your behaviour. Ask other men how. Believe me, plenty of them have learnt. If you don’t change, I will continue to hate you, and one day when I get my bloody doctorate, I’ll get a gun and shoot you. Yes you. It’s not reasonable but isn’t this reason enough to change?

Friday, September 10, 2004

squatting and the recovering catholic

Hey there!!!Do you have kids that you desperately want to turn into emotional cripplesbut you CANNOT bring yourself to committing child abuse????Well! why not get someone to do it for you????By signing up with the nearest organised religion and forking out megawadsfor one of their half rate educational institions you can have your childindoctrinated into astonishing levels of self loathing, social ignorance,authoritarianism and superstition, plus if you're lucky we'll throw in ahefty dose of physical if not sexual abuse from our celibate clergy at noextra cost.All guaranteed to turn your little sproglets into neurotic, painfullyunconfident, superstitious, paranoid emotional basket cases. They won'tblame you either, at worst, they'll reject their religion and feel fearfuland shameful about their lapse for ever and ever amen.I blame Jesus, mother mary, all the angels and saints and the most holyroman catholic apostolic church.Some how, Catholicism and SOCOG combined to imbue me with the firmest ofparanoid suspicions, that I was destined to eek my days in eternal squalorand misery, surrounded by those I loathe; vermin from all branches of theevolutionary tree, wheezing in dusty, mouldy, smoke filled, athsmatic hellholes, with cumbersome and dysfunctional whitegoods, rising damp, dry rot,termites, faulty plumbing, rapacious landlords, noise pollution, airpollution, mind pollution and indeed this has been my actual physicalreality for the past ten years.Every house I have lived in sydney has been a slumPart of me thought it was my punishment, for running away from the countryin the first place, and moving into a share house instead of a Universitycollege when i was 18.......Suffer little children who come unto me.Part of me feels deeply unworthy of everything that's good for me andcompletely incapable of ever receiving what I might actually want. GenerallyI have found it safer not to even imagine what that might be. As a sciencestudent I felt guilty and embarrassed to be walking the corridors of theBiomed building, not because I was surrounded by the halfwit crypto fascistimbecilic creationist sludge of BSSMania with the social skills ofDropsophila faeces, but because in my fascination with reading Globalhistory, Marxist Economics, contemporary French Feminism and learningspanish and being a pothead student hack i wasn't able to pepper my labbench repartee with stories of Ski Club BBQ's and 9am lecture summaries.I have very slowly shed my former insanely innaporpriate and incompetentroles as a practising Catholic and possible Scientist and I am seriouslyconsidering abandoning any possible attempt to work in an office either.Being on time, neat, well dressed and well behaved and organised are notwhat I am good at.Lord, I am not worthy to receive thee, but only say the word, and I shall behealed.Not so. I don't actually want any of these things. Including Jesus. I dofeel that I don't want these things, but I do feel more strongly that Idon't deserve them. I've ONLY JUST STOPPED TAKING COMMUNION.Catholicism is a useful way of articulating a passionate moral sense; not somuch into a coherent and constructive social movement to challenge injusticebut as an individualised messianic/martyrdom psychosis that disables anyreasoned attempt at social change or political organisation.I am the truth the light and the way.So while I find myself passionately outraged by injustices, inequalities,crimes against humanity and the future and equipped with a sophisticatedintellectual capacity to analyse and understand why such things happen, anyactions on my behalf to curtail anything, end up being frustrated by quickfix martyr crusades or more entrenched messiah reflexes.While I have avoided the pitfalls of chainsmoking macrobiotic veganazism, Ihave none the less sufferred spectaular episodes of deluded frustration. TheJanis Joplin Valerie Solanis combined reincarnation fantasy was a sociallyamusing but personally destructive episode and allowed the "being married toChe Guevara is more important than being a Lesbian" lifestyle disaster tofester longer than it should have. At least I got my BSC in the process?Maybe one day I'll have the courage to burn it.Recently I stopped believing i was Simone de Beauvoir. this was good. I wasno longer trying to explain or manage the actions of a Dementia ridden,liver failing Jean Paul Satre and his coterie of spawned lovers to a widercircle of aquaintances who I wasn't really interested in.What this meant wasthat in april I ended up cohabiting with people who were roughly my age withsimilar cultural and social interests, good communications skills, sounddomestic committments and pleasant demeanours.Living in a pleasant household was wonderful. Breakfast was no longer acoffee soaked avacado smeared growl against humanity, but a good excuse tochat and eat with other people.Unfortunately my bride of christ ghost still lurked. I hate Real EstateAgents, I hate renting, I hate SOCOG, I hate the housing commission. Iwanted to do something good and radical and wonderful and free.Squatting thebiscuit seemed like the answer. The Biscuit was SHAC, NOOF, the Deomondacult, and the antiSOCOG SATANIC alliance. We had wooden floorboards, Cedaruprights, heritage windows, holy statues, running water, a gas stove andsomeone installed a sink on the top level last week.but no showers.I got used to UTS. even though water used to flood everywhere and therewasn't enough room to swing a cat. UNSW showers were better. Art schooldoesn't have hot running water so things were rough there too.The biscuit was also enormous, dark, damp, cold, the phone was never chargedand we couldn't ring out. After four months it hadn't been raided, but therewas no fire escape and no adequate security. There were 47 creaky stairsbetween me and the toilet and I got sick of emptying my wee jar every 8hours. I got sick.When green stuff started coming out of my lungs it was time to go.Fortunately there was somewhere wonderful to go to. On the faith of aninterview and assurance one month ago, Anna and I borrowed Tims doona andpillow, caught a Bus to Alpha house and sat on the doorstep of number 5until someone came home. (OK actually we waited an hour, left a note, wentback to Tims, Got a phone call from Max and returned) there we collapsed ona spare mattress for a week, both coughing up green stuff, anna sweating andfeverish. It was OK. The magic yellow room was dry, warm, well lit and smokefree. We recovered.The first night I woke up in the middle of the night and snuck (into thenext room!) into the toilet. and there I saw it. Anna was dead to the world,but I woke her up and insisted she put in her contact lense (she's blind inone eye) and come in...........a bathtub.we had a warm bath at midnight, in the room next to the bedroom.It was simple sudsy lavender scented heaven with towels & bathmats & noclothing change & no holes in the floor or mould.This is paradise.Alpha house is wonderful and they wanted an artist. Thank god I'm not stillstudying science. I sadly moved my futon & greatly reduced mass of clothesfrom the squat on sunday.Gav wasn't there, rob had gone to the Desert, Stevewas staying in a house coz he thought the squat was too unhealthy for hisdog and Pablo had been on his own. Pablo is the squatter from heaven, he hasa trade and keen political intelligence and proven committment. Amidstchiding me for being a Petit Bourgeouise Dilletante he made a pully to lowermy futon and delivered it in his car to alpha house. I didn't have theenergy to organise anything else. My friend Sarah, took an afternoon off aconference and carloaded my clothes and books over.Moving out of Albert street had been a four day operation involving 2 x 2tonne truck loads, 80 kilos of boxes shipped to mums, plus three carloads,and this was AFTER the Garage Sale!!!!!! so for me, four carloads in anafternoon is pretty minimalist!!!!! Maybe I'll reach Suzi's phase ontravelling for 5 months with only a daypack but I doubt it. I've realisedtwo REALLY big things about myself. I am not a nomad and I am very afraid ofthe dark.I also hate the damp and the cold. I love having a phone and light and aroom of my own. I think I'm having a Virginia woolf Delusion. Havingrealised just how much I hate and love the above things I am now acutelyguilty.I feel really guilty and like a failed activist and like I don't deservewhat I actually want and need. Even though my rational mind keeps remindingme that having a fucked up back, influenza, terrible hayfever, Bronchitis,chronic exhaustion, and being unable to paint or socialise are all reallygood reasons NOT to not live in a highly phsyically and psychologicallystressful environment my catholic guilt assures me otherwise.I keep waiting to wake up and discover that I'm not living at Alpha house,or for Coco Max & richard to wake up and kick me out because they KNOW thatI'm not worthy. It's very hard to remind myself that I'm an artist, I wantto live in a commuinity. I don't smoke, I don't treat the loungeroom as apub, I clean up after myself, this is what they expect of me and we all getalong well. They don't offend me or bore me shitless and Richard gave me theFluffy flowers from Marriott Street!!!!!my phone number is 9516 3246!!!hugsmayhemps I HAVE weaned myself OFF coffee and avocado!!!!!! but the morning bath ishere to stay.


I'm frightfully sorry but this is going to be one ofthose fucking boring email travelogues......fuck I'msuffering linguistic deprivation already.I'm stillwriting snail mail postcards to those whose addressesi've got.....So picture me in one of those international lonelyplanet style backpacker meccas...could be anywhere:glebe , bondi, earl's court, Amsterdam, barcelona, therive gauche........I'm in an internet cafe, along astreet lined with cheap tour agencies, foreginexchange, cheap hotels, groovy disdplaced cafesreferring to rock songs, and long libed pale muscularyouths sporting back packs........Vive la Non lieu! do you really need the name of thecity.trips for successful travel - pick your brandf oftourist travela nd stick with it - watch the signs andsport the clobber so others identify just who youare.......Dickhead moi, fresh from a fattening french Xmas offoie gras, and with hair grown out and deep ingrainedprejudices from the St Joseph's College glen Innesguide to travelling overseas, unfortunatel allowedmyself to be led to the Potts point end of town. Bighotels, Big shops, No decent food, only americancoffee. Accented screams of "HEEELLLOOOOO" on everycorner. It sucked.Chambre nous was a strange cross between the bluedolphin at nambucca heads, with a touch of Hoc Tap andBasil Fawulty thrown in. The manager was a scary crossbetween Zhang Zhinh and Imelda Marcos - or some dodgydrag queen - or was that my old boss? Prizer bitch. Wewere paying fifty aussie bucks a ngiht and the aifcondiitoning didint' work and the room stunk ofcabbage. 3 nights prepaid on a pre tet panic. fuck.The breakfast was OK. Amazing fruit and pho with a 270degree views of the city and the river and the sunriseaccompanied by the casio Karaoke backing soundtrack.(think of Ave maria on an old nokia!!!!!)Last night I found a small hermetically sealed roomwith mega aircon and satellite TV. Watched news infrench and italian cooking shows in Italian.......Engross it was better.Highlight of yeasterday wasspoeaking french with an old couple in tha park whoweren't trying to sell us anything. lowlight wasrealising that the munich beer palace only serveddodgy thai salads with different names - but alltasting suspiciously like Newtwon Thai takeaway.Acute weird point yesterday was the "revoulutionarywomen\"; section in HCMC museum. HCMC musuem costs10000 d to visit or 13000 d to pose in wedding gear.Unforutaley we left ours in Paris. Bride everywhere inmountains of tuile imitating Proust and the virginmary (think of pale limipid saintly wilting) spereadout all over spectaular neoclassical balconies a lamode francaise. Next door we ar ein a room with a hugesocialist rEalist mural depicting sexy billboardstuyle chicks in ao dais extatically waving andleaping around a tank with a type of female cheguivara figure on the top, as nuns covwer beneath.Lnog Live the revolution eh what? other highlights ofthe fmeinist program of giai phong included displaysof cake tins used by comrade madam X, to make cakcesfor revolutionary cadres. And blouses and jumpers wornby the veritable Comrade Madam Y . this is all somescary American plot to turn me off revolition. all theway with capitalism eh?Crossing roads here is a challenge. Drivers much lesshomocidal than France, but constant barrage ofinterpolation sucks. Keep your eyes to yourself -don't llokd at anyone and shake your head. this reallysucks. I thought yesterday if anyone gesticulated atme with an air motorbioke I'd gesdticulate back with afucking air kalshnikov! hid in hotel.Drank beer, feltbetter.So : moral of the story...gues where the hell it isthat I am? I'm only speaking english, and doing a spotof shopping and it is hot. Everyone quotes to me in USdollars......More empty spaces.......I could list thesights, the sounds, provide a cutesy traveloguereminiscent of SMH travel section, but what's thepoint? Being here I realise that tourism should makeme a better consumer and a better capitalist. (onemust l;earn to barghain, one must learn to find thebest deals, the real product, the genuine food). Thisis the only cultural landscape I am inhabiting rightnow. Blinkers off. The food ain't that different towhat I seek out at home: coffee, rice, pho...........The crowds are just like lonodn tube at Xmas and theweather is similar to what i'm dreading in Sydney in afortnight anyway.......This is not unlike spain, or sydney, or BK, KL,,amsterdam etc. Same Community aid abreoad styleehtinic ware in shops in this particular cartier andpseudo upmarket shit down the road......More detailed travelogues of previous explorationswill be puclished in my forthcoming book: "Why Londonis a cheaper holdiay destination than Vietnam", andthe next chapter will hopefully include pictures ofrocks.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Presque...Mais Presque Pas

Presque Mais Presque Pas

Because my partner is French, lots of people ask me if I’ve read “Almost French” by Sarah Turnbull. I have, and so has the better half, and naturally we like it. It is the type of witty chatty heartwarming story with just the right smattering of anglophilic froggyphobia to make for knowing chuckles all round.

But part of me just wishes that the suave frog who swept her off her feet in Eastern Europe had been a woman, or if Sarah had been a male Turnbull instead of a female. Then the story would have been set in Bondi, Darlo or Tamarama and not the dreary Seizieme or the pulsing Sentier. It’s not that I’ve got anything against hetero love stories, hell no! It’s just that if I was a man, or if my partner was a man, then my story would be more like Sarah’s and the other straight friends with French lovers and less like my own.

The reason why I’m typing this in Sydney and not in France is because of homophobia. Whenever my beloved Belle Mere’s jokes about the sauvagerie of the Anglos gets a bit much I remind her of this fact. France does not recognise gay and lesbian relationships. There is “pacs”, but this counts for nothing. The immigration categories are quite simply married, divorced, widowed, or celibate. France is certainly behind its EU partners in this fact. If my better half obtained work in the UK, Germany, Netherlands or Belgium I could travel and stay as her partner, but her parents are in Paris. It would be nice if we could spend more time with them than the three months we usually spend every couple of years camping in their home, acting like overgrown adolescents. Australia, deeply reactionary in many, many things, still has a system for enabling gay and lesbian partners of Australians to settle here permanently. It is still about ten times more difficult and stressful than for heterosexual marriage, but it is possible. And after four years of joined at the hip scrutiny, my partner was granted Permanent Residency and we are now enjoying the adult freedoms of separate bank accounts and separate holidays that I thought feminists had established as a basic right before I was born.

My partner is returning to France for two months and while she is away I’m going to write and remember the past six years that have brought us to this point. This is to be the full unexpurgated version of the greatest love story in the world. The shorter version got submitted to Department for Immigration and read out at our wedding 3 years ago, but this is the whole meandering drippy bit. It’s sure to feature plenty of that quaint interculturality that everyone loves to laugh about, coz I exaggerate everything heaps. I’ll pay for it later I’m sure. I’ll write different bits as I remember and hopefully this will build into a reasonable memoir. John Howard is using homosexuals as his latest whipping boys for the next wedge politics based federal election so maybe the chances we’ve had won’t be around for much longer.

I met the love of my life in a smoky bar in the Marais six years ago. I was strolling back from a failed visit to the Pompidou and read a sign “club privee pour les femmes”. It was my first visit to France and I was still amazed that French was actually separate language to Spanish and how little I understood. Anyway I wandered in, sat down with a beer and looked around. I’m not used to going into dyke bars, and was much less comfortable when I was younger and had long dreadlocks. I saw a table of “jolly English lavender ladies” and feeling too self conscious to join in started writing in my notebook.

Lots of people keep travel diaries but I reckon mine must be the most boring ever. Writing for me is kind of like doodling for other people. When I’m nervous, I sit and write streams of consciousness into notebooks. I’m often nervous when I travel so I write lots. Kind of like “I am sitting here writing this with a blue pen that I bought for 2 francs at franprix on the corner of rue blah and rue blah blah. I also bought a baguette, and a banana and a lion bar. In all I spent a total of 12 francs. This beer that I am drinking cost 35 francs, and I had a coffee this morning for 10 francs and I bought a demi pain for 8 francs so today I spent 75 francs and I can spend 25 francs more and I’ll have to get a demi verre of beer if I buy another one and finish my baguette for dinner, because 100 francs is my daily total and that is $25.00 and I’m already spending 100 francs a night at the hotel. Right now in the pub people are playing pool around me and there are 4 women at a bar and three women at a table behind me and a small dog in front of me. The signs on the wall say blah blah….” You get the picture. It’s kind of like the internal monologue of rain man. Riveting stuff. This is why I’ve been so reluctant to keep a blog. My diaries are Painfully boring. I seem to need an audience (even imaginary) to generate a narrative.

Anyway I was scribbling away, and even mentioned the approach of the one who changed my life forever. She thought I was drawing her, and wanted to sneak a peek. I think I did do a couple of scribbly sketches of dykey bums bending over the pool table. One must have been hers, but I think I noticed her tits first. No-one ever told me at school that if you look at women’s bodies involuntarily and not men’s that you are probably a lesbian. I guess St. Josephite nuns have rules against passing on that sort of vital information, and actually I wasn’t looking at anyone with sexual interest while I was at school so if wouldn’t have helped me anyway. Adolescent sex was for me a bloody nightmare. It was for most people I knew except for one girl in my class. She had a steady boyfriend from year six, and did lots of flirting on the side. She left school after year ten and I think they got married soon after. When her kids hit highschool she broke out of her childbride confines and ran off with her brother in law. It was a town scandal, poor thing. By comparison I’ve got nothing to complain about. Needless to say I wasn’t gay, I wasn’t anything. Just really sexually frustrated. Come adolescence I fled to the city and broke out and had a fair amount of luck and quite a few mishaps with men. It didn’t take long for me to realise that I was attracted to women as well. It took a hell of a long time for me to actually sleep with one. This was due far more to my own social ineptitude than lack of courage. I did try, but I failed. No-one ever says that in coming out sessions or advice columns. They speak about courage, and integrity and conquering internalised homophobia and being true to yourself and your desires. No-one ever says that picking up chicks is REALLY REALLY hard. I reckon that’s why lesbian couples stay together for so long. I also reckon I’ve got no time for straight girlies whingeing about how hard it is to pick up men. Take a walk in my blundstones baby, guys are easy. When I finally dragged some winsome wench into the sack, my early fumbling efforts weren’t much to write home about, unless my family were some uber-rich freaky Christians prepared to fork out mega bucks if I could let myself be cured of my deviance. No-one ever says that either. Gay sex is meant to be the best ever. Well, often it’s not. Like travels with a sausage, life in salmon land can have its ups and downs as well as its ins and outs. Anyway by my mid twenties, I’d done straight, I’d done dyke, I’d done mardis gras. I was pretty much into the polymorphous perversity mantra of the late 90’s. Hell I wasn’t turning anything down. Let me think about it. Nope. Nothing!

So I guess the above explains the nervousness. I knew that real lesbians would know I wasn’t one of them and would steer clear. So I concentrated on my imperative of cultural tourism and scrawled away. When I found myself being chatted to by a small shaved headed thickly French accented baby dyke I was bemused. When she offered to buy me a beer I was grateful. When she said she was doing her PhD in Lesbian literature, I raved about Jeanette Winterson, and when she said she couldn’t play “err, ziss sing err, we err, call le Boillards” I took it to mean she couldn’t play pool, and I knew right then that something absolutely unique was happening to me. A dyke in a dyke bar was admitting that she could not pay pool. Suddenly I knew why I was in Paris. This would never happen in Sydney. Paris! The intellectual haven, where even baby dykes talk about Virginia Woolf and admit they can’t play pool. About then I remember some trashy Madonna song “holiday” coming over the sound system and then she sidled up to me and we started kissing. Oh sigh! Oh soft mouth and musky scent! Oh! small rounded limbs and fierce fondlings! Oh! Snogging on that Harley Davidson outside! Oh Sapphic bliss!!!

Even though my 100 franc a night hotel was around the corner, my directions got muddled and we wandered off into a balmy summer evening with Anna giving me a guided tour of Marais and Les Halles, and Le Pont Neuf (I think). Then it was 2am and I realised that I was locked out of my hotel. So we ended up catching a cab, with some guy who called her Monsieur as we snogged in the back, and I got my first glimpse of the Arch de Triomphe. We alighted somewhere near the Champs Elysee (which means elysian fields and looks nothing like a Poussin painting) and got in her car and she drove me to a suburb which I tried to compare with Sydney but I couldn’t. It was full of weird 50’s high concrete bungalows, a bit like a film version of Ionesco’s “rhinoceros” that I saw on TV once. And there we spent the night, on a foldout bed in the loungeroom. Anna said her Dad was home upstairs and she didn’t want to disturb him, and we had to leave first thing in the morning before he got up. I had visions of that scene in “trainspotting” and somehow convinced myself that maybe she was seventeen.

After we shared a coffee and parted I was kind of nonplussed. I was glad, but not overwhelmed and I was more concerned that lack of sleep and a mild hangover was going to ruin my appreciation of museums. It did, and I vowed not to call her that night, but then at dinner, decided to call her and schedule another meeting the following night, once I’d had some sleep. When we met again something magical happened and suddenly I didn’t give a shit about the museums. I remember her dropping me off at the Louvre, where I allowed myself three hours to wander in one of those shagged narcotic hazes through endless marble halls of American tourists and ancient sculptures. I ran into one of my friends from art school and blabbed crazy euphoric squeals as his face turned green and puckered with jealousy in front of me. Luckily some valley girls and a gay boy turned up and joined in the conversation and echoed my coos and sighs. Yeah. The Louvre.

So this magical affair went for four days, and I had connecting flights from London and art school back in Sydney. So I couldn’t delay my return. We parted over really crap coffee after Gare du Nord, which I was convinced was just like the Monet painting (Of Gare St. Lazare). We’d found a whole crate of madeleines the night before which we were giving to gypsies and with which I intended to survive my last 48 hours in Europe.
It gave the whole farewell a kind of gritty postmodern Proustian air. I cried at leaving her. She tried to make me laugh. We both promised to write to each other and I actually wrote something less than excruciatingly banal in my travel diary.

What I found out years later was that while I was convinced I had met the love of my life (how do you know? You just know!) and was torturing myself with the thought that we’d never see each other again, she was feeling chuffed at scoring a summer fling and looking forward to the next lay! She didn’t believe that I would write to her, I couldn’t bear not to. Every word, every thought, every sensation I was living with her, imagining telling her, wondering what she would thing or say or do. A wiser cynic would dismiss it all as silly infatuation, but I really believe that there are certain experiences where we are challenged to follow our hearts and find ourselves. Falling in love with Anna gave me this chance. Sexuality was no longer a matter of an intellectual construct or a social ploy or quick libido fix, something profoundly deep within me was involved this time. I remember the first time I had sex with a man when I returned to Sydney, and I burst into tears. The sex wasn’t particularly crap or distressing, just a paler shade of beige after living in dayglo. I cried at the thought of never touching her again, never smelling her, never feeling this way about anyone ever again and being able to share it. After the initial disappointment casual sex resumed its normalcy as a fun social activity, a bit of a transgressive release and whatnot but I knew that with Anna I had found something absolutely precious. So I wrote, and she wrote back, and we kept writing each week and the letters got longer and longer and crazier and crazier and then she announced that she was buying a ticket and coming to visit me! A dream come true!

To be continued next time.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

get a real job

Lately I've been reading stuff about "national standards" for artists fees, and I even got an email (from my boss! hah!) about "an artists protest" - some sort of sit in at the MCA to demand worthy payment for our creative efforts on non commerical exhibitions and projects. what do they mean by artists protest? Every frigging day is a bloody protest if you are an artist!

Anyway the fees for artists is a great idea and obviously necessary and worthy etc. but I suspect it shares a problem fundamental to all arts funding ..... which is big.

During my time in the garret I became increasingly fed up with the refractory nature of "managed" arts funding structures. Community arts in particular really started to get up my nose.

Essentially community based and community managed arts projects are usually funded through an organization, which ostensibly acts to assemble and promote artists. Actually what they are doing is replicating the gallery representative structure, whereby a professional (or non professional) acts to select and filter (and sometimes appropriate) new undiscovered artists. So really most "new arts" projects are usually just new curatorial projects; alternative spaces designed to select, exhibitor promote artists but not actually help produce the work itself.

Ultimately this means that most arts funding is directed towards umbrella organisations, or curatorial projects and the nature of applying for funding itself is administratively heavy and favours creative efforts that replicate and reinforce the administrative and managerial cultures rather than actually assist or promote artists or the making of new art work.

given this administrative bias of arts funding, I am fearful that any "fee for artists" protocol would inevitably ensconce itself in labyrinthic merit based criteria, which would once again favour those artists with extensive administrative skills, or those supported by galleries or organisations with those skills and networks. (a bit like Oz Council fellowship grants) this would rally make the scheme redundant, because it would really only assist those practitioners and exhibitors who are already established or partly established or at least reasonably successful in negotiating some sort of institutional support.

Essentially if funding practitioners is tied in with a type of merit base selection, then it will inevitably be problematic. the exciting thing about art, and new art is its unregulated nature, and its link to a type of productive and reactive use of leisure time. What differs hobbyists form serious practitioners is really only a fairly shallow margin of self perception and luck (plus a fair amount of gender politics) , and I don't think that maintaining that distinction necessarily leads to either interesting art or better conditions for emerging practitioners.

What I would suggest is that we should look at the contracting levels of leisure time and increasing surveillance for welfare recipients. Producing art would be a hell of a lot easier if more people had access to affordable housing and studio rental, decent public transport, reasonable commercial rental (for exhibition spaces and performance venues) decent conditions for casual and part time employment and a guarantee of minimum revenue assistance (i.e. a dole) without being coerced or being forced to dissimulate insertion into full time work in other industries.

Even then I have a problem with aligning issues of artists with welfare issues, because my experience is that community arts projects are largely structured according to welfare 'management' models. Within such models, Artists are treated as "clients" that need to be managed and regulated and indulged, instead of the skilled and dedicated un(der)paid cultural workers that we are. Has anyone read "the good friend" by Oscar Wilde? I idenitified with the flower picking field mouse, and I'll let you guess who the other characters were. As a result I am intensely suspcious of ANYONE who says they want to "help" artists. How many people are in really well paid jobs as mangers, lobbyists curators etc, compred to the amount of artists, slumming it in part time work, or centrelink?

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Doing the flan on King Street

I walk down King Street and it is changing. Has changed, will change. The shoe shops have changed. Funky running shoes and doc martens have been replaced by kitten heels and courts. The endless stretch of infinite overnight cafes – in a multitude of themes derived from scavenging at Tempe tip. (Zambezi, blue, chock Beenz, alley Katz, 381) have all been replaced by an endless stretch of Thai restaurants, and more café bars, juice bars, gelato bars. Lots of chrome, MDF, hard chairs and tiny tables. Infinite hues of beige. The Ocki no longer has an ecosystem of urban feraldom as a flooring. It has gone upmarket and orientalesque, and turned away my girlfriend the other day – she didn’t conform to the aperitif and Tapas target market. People reckon getting rid of Makkas was a victory – but I have my doubts. Balmain and Woollahra don’t have Makkas either and they are hardly hotbeds of urban life.

There are still a few old and familiar faces, the beggars outside Newtown station, the punks congregating outside the NA meetings at Newtown neighbourhood Centre, the chance encounter at the townie – other faces caught in crowds of commuters, shoppers, cinema goers, pub fiends, –always consumers, striding, straggling, staggering along that long stretch of tarmac which I’ve called home for 14 years.

Something different happened today. It made me nearly as cross as the closure of burland hall by south Sydney council. I was standing at the traffic lights and noticed a guy ripping down the announcements on the traffic pole. He wasn’t some random angry guy but a council employee. Somewhere some of my taxes were funding this. This caused me to look around – and notice – that the posters, stickers, graffiti have started to vanish. OK there are now bright coloured signal boxes and arty sculpted bin holders, but the bill posters have been replaced by perspex bus shelters, and the patina of A4 notices, stickers, political posters – and my favourite – weird anarchist manifestos all in unreadable 9 point font wedged in every crevice between shops, on traffic lights, near bus stops have all started to vanish.

I’ve got an intense distrust of the institutionalisation and regulation of any activity. Monocultures are boring and also lethal – as any scientist will tell you. A society is fecund when people have a multitude of ways of communicating with each other –languages, but also gestures, intimate and random spaces for interaction and exchange. A culture is fecund where there are multiple sites as well – where there is not merely the finest theatre or most successful art gallery – but where the street itself is a canvas, where people can engage with where they live, depict it add to it, deride it – and not merely pass through it as passive consumers.

What Elizabeth’s works show is how simple it is to respond and engage with our urban landscape. The art of the flaneur or stroller – is not a slick negotiation of the sophisticated urban environment – but a space for meandering confusion, for a dazed wandering – a shuffling back and forth, a stillness, a level of quiet unimpaired by coffee grinders or poker machines, or the blare of the latest tinny electronic audio product. A healthy musical scene has buskers, guitars in cafes, dodgy pub bands, electronic artists and even karaoke – ranging from the exrecable to the sublime. Just ask anyone who has been to New York. Music is in the ways that ordinary people make noise – and respond to it. Equally for art. I don’t think inner city artists need more spaces to sell our work – at the moment we need spaces just to make it. This means not only to have access to affordable studio or living space but also having time unsupervised or regulated by work or Centrelink – shopping schedules or waiting in traffic jams– where we can just drift – and let our hearts and hands form a response. Just as importantly we need exhibition spaces unregulated by the demands of bottom line exhibition sales or effective PR outcomes. (that btw is not a reason not to buy her work!).

I’m glad that places like the “Ari” are supporting artists like Elizabeth to show their work, and I’m glad that artists like Elizabeth are doing work about our spaces, about the performers in our spaces like Jackie – and who are providing a record of what it is to sit in local spaces and hear live original music, easily and often. I think it is really important that exhibitions like this are held not only by professional artists – and that people who do respond visually and creatively to our urban environment are not treated like a client class of aspiring artworld superstars – but as the sensitive, engaged and thoughtful people they are. Jackie Orzsaczky is someone who has performed an important role for musicians in Sydney. He has kept performing and recording and encouraging spaces for many other musicians to do the same. So he’s a great subject matter for work which bears witness to the importance of having vital living cultural spaces, unregulated by funding schemes or bureaucrats. Elizabeth’s work is testimony to this, and I hope her images won’t survive as a relic of a vanishing cultural milieu – but contribute to its ongoing survival.

I walk donw King street and it is changing. Has changed, will change.

The shoe shops have changed. Funky running shoes and doc martens have been replaced by kitten heels and courts. The endless stretch of infinite overnight cafes – in a multitude of fancies derived from scavenging at tempe tip. (Zambezi, blue, chock Beenz, allli Katz, 381) have alll been replaced by an endless stretch of thai restaurants, and more café bars, juice bars, gelato bars. Lots of chrome, MDF, few couches,. Infinite hues of beige. The Ocki no longer has an ecosysytme of urban feraldom as a flooring. It has gone upmarket and orientalesque, and turned away my girlfriend the other day – she didn’t conform to the aperatif and Tapas target market. People reckon getting rid of makkas was a victory – but I ahe my doubts. Balmain and wollahra don’t have makkas either and they are hardly hotbeds of urban life.

There are still a few old and familiar faces, the beggars outside Newtown station, the punks congregating outside the NA meetings at Newtown neighbourhood Centre, the chance encounter at the townie – other faces caught in crowds of commuters, shoppers, cinema goers, pub fiends, –always consumers, striding, straggling, staggering along that long stretch of tarmac which I’ve called home for 14 years.

Something different happened today. It made me nearly as cross as the closure of burland hall by south Sydney council. OK it was 7 years ago but some of us still maintain our rage…….. I was standing at the traffic lights and noticed a guy ripping down the announcements on the traffic pole. He wans’t some random angry guy but a CCOS employee. Somewhere some of my taxes were unding this. This caused me to look around – and notce – that the posters, stickers, graffittii have started to vanish. OK there are now birgh coloured signal boxes and arty sculpted bin holders, but the bll osters have been eplaced by JC decaux bus shelters, and the patina of A4 notices, stickers, political posters – and my favourite – weird anarchist manifestos all in unreadable 10 point font wedged in every crevice between shops, on traffic lights, near bus stops have all started to vanish.

The reason why this shits me are following:
I like to read stuff while waiting for traffic lights. I like to find out about local share house prices and criteria, lost and found dogs, weird weight loss schemes and other strange scams –without having to waste gold coins on Murdoch/Fairfax fuckup propaganda. I like to think that there is still a space – where one day –aided by a photocopier and lots of glue I could self publish my great Australian manifesto anonymously and madly up and down King Street. The other relates to bill posters – and the history of everyone I know who has worked bill postering – but also the amount of artists – like me who use decollage – which is the chance tearing of, texturing or subtle altering of bill posters and notices in public spaces. In Paris this quiet and free form of social protest and creative commuter play has become an art form – here it is becoming illegal. Tearing a poster, is easy –cutting open a perspex bill board is not.

I’ve got an intense distrust of the institutionalisation and regulation of any activity. Monocultures are boring and also lethal – as any scientist will tell you. A society is fecund where people have a multitude of ways of communicating with each other –languages, but also gestures, intimate and random spaces for interaction and exchange. A culture is fecund where there are multiple sites as well – where there is not merely the finest theatre or most successful art gallery – but where the street is a canvas, where people can engage with where they live, depict it add to it, deride it – and not merely pass through it as passive consumers.

The art of the flaneur or stroller – is not a slick negotiation of the sophisticated urban environment – but a space for meandering confusion, for a dazed wandering – a shuffling back and forth, a stillness, a level of quiet unimpaired by coffee grinders or poker machines, or the blare of the latest tinny electronic audio product. A healthy musical scene has buskers, guitars in cafes, dodgy pub bands, electronic artists and even karaoke – ranging from the exrecable to the sublime. Just ask anyone whose been to New York. Music is in the ways that ordinary people make noise – and respond to it. Equally for art. I don’t think inner city artists need more spaces to sell our work – at the moment we need spaces just to make it. This means having time unsupervised or regulated by work or centrelink –or shopping schedules – where we can just drift – and spaces unregulated but the demands of bottom line exhibition sales or effective PR outcomes. There are healthy moves afoot in the “50 most unsaleable artists” and in the irrepressible graffitti art movements. A lot of grafitti art is not made by ‘alienated yoof’ however – but middle class, sophisticated artists with graduate of not postgraduate qualifications.

I’m saying all the above to try to convey a sense that reality is very rarely as it seems – and most things are ambiguous. What seems slick and sophisiticated often is pretty raw and humble – whereas stylised art brut effects are often conscious references to something entirely imaginary.

Something fairly special happens when you sit down to draw in an urban space. Time slows down. It is so rare that we actually pause in public. Our urban spaces are largely spaces of transit. We pass through them –and objects and money pass through us in the process. Cruising, consuming, not a great deal of time to stop. I noticed this particularly when I went to Marrickville metro to sketch the trees. The surrounds of metro is regarded as a nicely landscaped non zone surrounding a shopping mall –and it is filled with people – but the people there don’t ever stop. It’s as if the space doesn’t exist. So an artist drawing acts as someone bearing witness to a space – not only because of the images that they create – because a camera could do that, but because OF THE time it takes. The slow consciousness of presence. Of sitting with a place, taking time with it. Drawing is like a mediation – and to draw in a space, and to draw a subject renders homage to it in a way, especially when so little of our urban spaces make this easy or comfortable. Drawing is a low consumerist activity. It is slow, anachronistic, uncontrolled, and yet it seems so simple and accessible.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Flying Palletts

“Paint records the most delicate gesture and the most tense. It tells whether the painter sat or stood or crouched in front of the canvas. Paint is a cast made of the painter’s movements, a portrait of the painter’s body and thoughts. The muddy moods of oil paint are the painter’s muddy humours, and its brilliant transformations are the painters unexpected discoveries. Painting is an unspoken and largely uncongized dialogue, where paint speaks silently in masses and colours and the artists responds in moods. All those meanings a re intact in the paitnigns that hand in museums: they preserve the memory of the tired bodies that made them, the quick jabs, the exhausted truces, the careful nourishing gestures. Painters can sense those motions in the paint even before they notice what the paintings are about. Paint is water and stone and it is also liquid thought.” (James Elkins “What Painting Is” p5)

I feel very honoured to be opening Anna Whheers’s show tonight. I met Anna at the National Art School where we studied together, but I’ve come to know her much more since we finished 5 years ago. Anna has been a great friend and colleague, holding our old studio together by helping us keep in contact, and she’s has been a great mentor, inspiring me with her painting practice. Despite this I’ve found myself being led astray into academia, with my main artistic practice being the Sunday life drawing where Anna and some of our group from art school still come. Studying art theory has given me a great outlet to explore words and ideas, but it is with some trepidation that I attempt to offer a few words that may describe Anna’s latest show.

Painting is something largely conducted in the wordless spaces of the heart and hand, and I’m afraid that words may encircle the paintings and close off the possibilities of what we may see in them. One of our teachers at art school said that painting is about secrets. What you see, or what I see in Anna paintings may be the same as what she sees in painting them, but it may not be, and I’m not entirely sure how right it is to try to name all of these things that we sense and maybe wonder at, and maybe feel deeply moved or touched by, but can’t quite state why. In these paintings, I feel that Anna has offered us a part of herself which is very intimate, and very sacred in a way, and I don’t want to take that away from her.

So I’m going to try to offer some words and ideas, to encourage people to look at the paintings, and maybe to articulate some of what happens when we look at her work, and why I believe her work is so powerful and special. For me art appreciation comes from the heart. It comes from what happens here, in my chest when I look at certain works, and the rest is trying to find words to give shape to what is an emotional process first.

When I first sat down to write this speech, I dragged some books off the shelves and pored over them, and then thought oh my God, I’m not giving a lecture, what will I write? Then I went to the beach. And it was looking out into the ocean, into the flashes of light folding over endless moving waves. Watching colour constantly changing, moving, crashing and flying, I lost track of myself, of time, of everything, and let myself be memorised by the strange union of vision, sensation and my own imagination. This state is called “reverie”. It’s like dreaming with your eyes open, no it’s better than that, because we don’t necessarily see images or stories, but see our emotions and imagination unfurl and flow in the matter of the world around us. (OK I’ll admit this idea comes from a book “L’eau et les Reves” by Gaston Bachelard). For me the same sensation is captured in oil paint and the best oil paintings, like Anna’s, have this quality.

The subjects of Anna’s works seem deceptively simple. Her last show was titled “Cows, Goats and China”. And the subject matter and titles of the works; still lives, animals and figures are hardly the stuff of cutting edge post modern conceptual wrangling. But for me, the titles, the fleeting images of cows, goats, fruit, vases, these are not the subjects of the paintings. The subject of her works is the paint itself. I believe for Anna, that subjects like the goats act as the seed of the painting. She starts with the form, or the idea of a goat, and then in the act of painting it, enters into her own reverie, and follows her hand and her imagination into where the colours, and textures of the paint lead her. I hope I haven’t said too much. And maybe what I’m saying makes no sense, I am also an oil painter and I’ve got my bias, and some of the audience may be wondering why this would interest them in a bright coloured painting of a goat, or a cow or a bowl of fruit. So I’m going to try and explain what happens when we looks at the works, when I look at the works, and you can look at the works and see if you agree.

If I discuss this horse painting here: the horse acts for me as the threshold, where our eyes enter the painting and our imagination starts. It’s bright coloured, not much like a horse, but the shape is definitely like a horse and makes me think of a horse, and that horses remind me of speed, energy, wildness, but a kind of fragility and gentleness as well. If she’d done a perfect George Stubbs style horse painting, we’d see a perfect George Stubbs style horse and admire the glossy coat and well rendered anatomy and not have any emotional reaction at all. In Anna’s painting, she hasn’t’ reproduced a horse, but suggested a horse, and so we thinking of a horse while we look at the other shapes, marks or gestures in the painting. It is the semi abstract nature of the work that gives it it’s power. So I see in the marks, a force, and a fragility, a youthful energy and yet a nervous shying, and for me this painting is really powerful. If it was purely abstract, I’d get lost, unless I could find figure like images in the paint. If it was purely representational I’d get bored too, because there wouldn’t be anything left to imagine. Bt there is something else in her works, more deeply related to the unique talent Anna has.

When we, or when I, look at the marks made to produce Anna’s paintings, what we see are body prints of the movements that Anna made in painting them. We have a direct impression of Anna’s own gestures, and so looking at her paintings, is not so much like looking at a photograph or a film, but like looking at a dance or a ballet. I believe this is why paintings are so much more moving as images than photography or film, because they are a record of movement and the movement of a person’s body, and they affect our own emotional states in the same way that watching dancing in or hearing music does. There are so many paintings where this voice, the movement, is held so tight it’s like a whisper. I can imagine the person holding their breath, holding their arm stiffly, not wanting to let any uncontrolled mark or movement escape their strict intellectual idea of what the painting should be. Other paintings are kind of like a boorish roar, loud monotonous holler in the name of someone’s ego or bank balance. Anna's paintings are neither of these. They are like a song, and I can sense her voice when I see them. This is one of those songs that goes up and down, and is not always in perfect tune, and sometimes it is loud and throaty, and other times soft and playful, and sometimes, like Annie de Franco and bluesy and angry and wild, but all the time, this lovely melodious quality. There’s a playfulness in the work. Not like a flippant “I’m so clever” kind of play, but a genuine, “oh, I wonder what will happen if” kind of play, a continual testing and trying and learning. And Anna does learn, her paintings have evolved, and gained in richness as she has continued. And at their best her paintings are like metaphor for life itself. Don’t be afraid to live. Don’t be afraid to breathe, and don’t be afraid of colour. We are living in increasingly beige times, of conformity, fear, materialism and selfishness, and such open, generous alive works as Anna’s are a wonderful reminder that it is absolutely possible, and necessary even, to imagine and to live more fully.

copyright: minoumayhem 2004.