Sunday, November 21, 2010

Banality of Grief

This is brief.
It's sunny, heating up to 32 degrees.

I'm indoors, skulking.

Mucus clogs my lungs, my nose, my head
is fuzzy
throat dry
eyes bleary and thick

Is this what happens when I forget to cry?

sitting slowly
wrapping up precious nothings in tissue and bubble wrap


stacking my archives
the professional library
years of typing, reading, rereading,
squinting at enlightenment on photocopied A4
No, I don't want to forget

my mind is fuzzy
I don't want to make or dance or sing
just slowly breathe through the changes all around me

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day of The Dead

Today I'm back in Boganborough and it's cloudy and I'm tired and I feel like I'm coming down with a cold, but I've had such an amazing weekend.

Renaissance Wife and I travelled north again to the NSW north coast for the "Love Day" of two dear friends. Because life is crazy we had a wonderful time hanging out with about 30 people from Melbourne who also travelled north for the same event.

I gave Renaissance wife a verbal tour of the beefy hinterland along the rivers where 5 generations of my mothers ancestors cut down forests and raised dairy cattle before heading up the hills to New England to get degrees and raise beef cattle. She was a bit freaked out by the parade of unpeopled roadside homesteads along the McLeay and Bellinger rivers, and the ghosting horror of Kinchela where stolen Aboriginal children were acculturated and abused for nearly a century. I persuaded her to detour over to South West Rocks and picks up some shells as a memento of where my grandparents honeymooned in the 1930's, and brought them as tokens of longevity to our marrying friends.

They called it a love day. Our dear friends waded into ankle-deep water where many of us stood in the afternoon sun and people's children did their best impersonation of putti frolicking in the sunlit shallows and it was so beautiful and heartfelt and momentous that we all cried. And then everyone swam and then as the sun set we drank, and ate and danced until midnight - to a local band who covered Astor Piazzola and finished with a Kolo and how incredible was that?

And yesterday we had a brunch of seeds, oysters, tofu and other leftovers by the water and a swim in the sun.

On the way back to the airport, Renaissance wife drove me to my brother's grave - after we got lost finding the cemetery - as I do each time I try to visit. I bought flowers and junkfood from woollies and sat in his grave hanging out with his headstone and my memories of him. Flowers were symbolic: poppies for... well, you know, Daisies aka Margaritas for me. Red Gerberas for the passion of grief, yellow Geberas for the joy of hope, and orchids coz they last for ages.

I felt so lucky to have been able to visit his grave so close to his deathversary. So lucky to have a place with sun, and seabreeze and ocean views and trees where I could sit and remember my brother and what he was to me.

Finally I felt so lucky to remember that the terrible pall of grief and pain that amputated me when he died, has finally changed into something warm and loving and tender, and that I've lived through all of this and gained so much wisdom and life force as a result.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010



I decided to post this up for all the peeps who wish they could have been with us on Tuesday.

Steve Kirby was born in Somerset, England in 1956, the only son of a young woman living with her parents and sister Jan, with whom he was raised.
He died last week in Bathurst in the house he shared and help create with his partner, in the company of three of the many people who loved him dearly: his partner, his daughter, and myself.

In between those two events is a history not only of Steve’s life, but of all of the lives he touched in so many places across the globe and in so many inspiring, transforming ways.

In preparing this Eulogy I was wondering how I could represent the immensity of lives that are connected to Steve Kirby’s ‘story’. There is of course, his CV, available on the website of Watters Gallery, and there are the oral narratives from his families in England and Australia, or from a range of friends in Australia, who listened avidly to Steve’s anecdotes and insights from his rich life.

In the past few weeks, I’ve shared some of those stories with people who knew Steve, such as his family, friends in Bathurst, and friends from Art School such as Sharon, Anna, Heli, Elyss, Mignon, Kim, Mel, Jason, Ted, Doug, and others.

It has felt like piecework – a slow patching together of small, sacred fragments of memory that each of us have of Steve.

There are so many parts of Steve that many of us here today remember and treasure, and I cannot hope to fully represent who Steve was to so many of you, or how you will remember him into the future.

So what I hope to do, is bring some elements together in order to create a mosaic of fragments – much like the mosaic sculptures that Steve exhibited in 2003 and 2004. These were composed of small exquisite elements selected from larger experimental works of painting, drilling, gouging, staining, pushing, moulding and carving a myriad of coloured and pigmented forms: wood, canvas, board, ink, paint, clay etc. Steve would select small tile like elements from these larger works and then spend hours, weeks and months in his studio laying each fragment next to another, and another, and another…..

And Steve used to say that this mosaic piecework – of making a connection between two random shapes – that for some reason, be it intuitive or compositional or whimsical – just worked – he said that this work of cutting, moving and connecting was about relationships –about creating relationships – somewhere between choice and chance – that two elements would connect, coalesce and create another series of visual and imaginative relationships and possibilities.

So I’m hoping that in the words offered in this Eulogy, in the recollections of Steve’s English family, in the words offered by his daughter, in the words and image fragments assembled in the booklet created by his partner, in the poetry and music we are sharing with you today, that parts of your personal sacred fragment of Steve can create a connection and relationship with someone else’s that will help sustain us all during this time of grieving.

For now, I want to talk briefly of my relationship with Steve, who has been a dear friend, ever since we met at NAS in 1997. At the time, Steve had already lived in Australia for 10 years with his wife and two small children.

Steve said he was interested in sculpture, and had studied with Tom Bass, but wanted to explore the expressivity of hard materials. He described how visiting the Art Brut museum in Switzerland changed his life, and how he’d spent years walking around the UK and Europe collecting small fragments, carving on stones, creating shapes with clay, and how in Bathurst he ran sculpture workshops with kids with disabilities – allowing them to explore how ordinary materials such as newspaper, clay, sand and string could extend their bodies and sensations of being in the world.

After sweating it in foundation year formalism of casting carving and construction, both of us ended up doing majors in painting. I made a deliberate and strategic decision that I would probably learn more from being a student in the same classes as Steve Kirby than picking any particular discipline or teacher. And in fact, Steve was a great teacher and mentor to many of us at art school. Teaching us how to live with ourselves, our frustrations and our materials, and the unending maddening processes of making something new with a level of intelligence and integrity. Steve’s intellect was like oxygen to me – pure, clear and calm – and his capacity to link deep thought to the wordless mess of making to an emotional intelligence and integrity has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.

Steve used to bring in books – he introduced me to Scott McLoud and to James Elkins. I’ll never forget Steve standing in my Studio reading the following description from Elkins’s book “What Painting Is”.

“It is important never to forget how crazy painting is… Painting is born in a smelly studio, where the painter works in isolation for hours and even years on end…. Painters have to work in a morass of stubborn substances.
For those reasons, the act of painting is a kind of insanity… even the most commercially minded artist has to wrestle with raw materials, and get filthy in the process.”
James Elkins, What Painting is: p147.

I think it is important to acknowledge that last Tuesday, Bathurst lost an incredible artist and philosopher.

After studying painting, I studied art history and eventually completed a PhD. As part of this I travelled the world, visiting art schools in the UK, New York and Paris, and meeting many of the famous international writers Steve and I used to read and discuss in art school. And I want to tell you, that even now, after all of the reading and talking and listening I’ve been lucky enough to have, that Steve Kirby continued to be an inspiring source of enlightenment, reflection and consideration. He could make this incredible links between creativity, philosophy and the daily business of making and breathing and feeling life. I have been so lucky to know Steve, to have so many conversations about life, art, love and ideas for years now. Steve was best man at both weddings, and best friend when I was heartbroken, answering the phone to my sobs at 3am on a number of occasions, and reading my theses, introducing me to trashy TV, and guiding me by SMS through his home city of Bristol.

Steve’s generosity extended not only to how he lived, but to how he died. I don’t ever want to romanticise death, which is a horrible, agonising tragedy. However, the way in which Steve faced his illness, the pain, the tragic implications for those who loved him, and the final terrible awfulness of his passing, was special and sacred, and ultimately profoundly generous.

Steve was curious about the world, and curious and critical about his daily life. We often discussed his illness in phenomenological terms, and the implications of reducing parts of ourselves and yet not shrinking away from the experience of life. Steve also discussed the nature of suffering with a number of friends. Tracey and Helen recalled the time he referred to the word Thole, an old Saxon word that was used during his youth in England about suffering. However, whereas we’re used to considering suffering as an affliction that we are passively subjected to, thole describes suffering as a type of conscious bearing, a deliberate, patient endurance.

Steve used to discuss the work of suffering, both in the pain he was experiencing in his illness, and that of his loved ones in witnessing his suffering and fearing his death. Steve spoke of thole as offering a way of considering the agency that we can have in the way we can experience suffering, to make it an experience, and to be able to live suffering well.

Steve criticised the common contemporary attitude to suffering as one of shock, as if we are entitled to never suffer, and a life well lived is without pain.

He said that People do not know how to suffer well.
To plumb the depths of suffering and taste it with all it’s senses.
To be in that space and not try to paint it a different colour.

Tholes implies a level of agency, it doesn’t mean putting aside our daily existence. It is about applying all of our resources, everything about our daily life in order to undertake the work of bearing suffering as part of the richness of our life.
We draw upon our daily lives and our resources in order to do the work of suffering.
Tholes is about a profound presence, and having all of our sense in the moment of suffering.
Steve said how this is a process not unlike the work of painting – in fact very much akin to the creative process itself.
This is not a simple analogy, but touches at the heart of the integrity that Steve brought to his life and his life’s work and creativity.
This means, being attentive and being present to ourselves, to others and to the sensations of the worlds in which we live.

In the past few days I’ve been numb, because I cannot imagine a world without Steve. The silent timbre of his voice, his words, so many words, have been part of the pulse of the way I am in the world.

We have another friend Heli who we knew at art school, and who returned to Finland in 2001. Steve and Heli haven’t seen each other for nearly a decade but they maintained constant SMS contact – especially during the crazy late night studio hours. Heli wrote an email back to me the other day, where she said:

“I started to think whether my silent conversation with Steve continues, as it has continued over these years, and you know Margaret I believe it does. The way he and his work inspires me is something like that cannot disappear. He is in all little things. Everywhere i look.”

I hope that the gift of Steve’s life and generosity continues in all our lives for a very long time.

Finally I’d like to end with a quote from the Nigerian English writer, Ben Okri:

“Don’t let grief kill you. You are not born yet. You haven’t painted enough. … you owe it to what you’re suffering now to make sure you survive. You owe it to us, your people. The Greeks have a saying that the Skylarks buried its father in its head. Bury this grief in your heart, in your art. Live, live with unquenchable fire. Let everything you’re suffering now give you every reason in the world to master your life and your art. Live deeply, fully. Be fearless. Be like the tortoise – grow a hard shell to protect your strong heart. Be like the eagle – soar above your paint and carry the banner and the wonder of our lives to the farthest corners of the world. Build your strength. Destiny is difficult.” Okri, Dangerous Love, p379.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I'm trying to pull together the words for a Eulogy.
And part of me thinks about mosaics - not the continuously pixellated patterns but the way that fragments come together in strange little meshes of possibilities.
Perfect tiny distinct fragments - juxtaposed by memory and time and whatever else was near them by the time.
and each new connection generates a starburst of further imaginative possibilities....

Of course I'm trying to skate over an immense awesome overwhelming tragedy.

And death is awesome.
It is immensely big - watching the agonising slowness of life slowly ebbing away from someone.
Staying with them - or whatever that is left of - leaving of them, holding them, holding courage, slowly watching breaths, counting time, counting minutes, doses, hours, counting the cracks on the walls, counting the final pulses......

I feel so immensely privileged to share in something so sacred and immense.

Away from the immediacy of tragedy - the proximity of loss - it would have only been loss - immense horrible tragic aloneness - but here, so many new things have burst forth - crazy laughter, tears, sobs, shreiks, bad food, bad jokes, and so, so, so much love.

We visited his studio today. I was wondering how hard it would feel - but instead - it felt like entering a familiar beloved book - I felt something beautiful surrounding us. A special glowing warmth that somehow emanated from the works or the space or the space between bodies and the bodily memory of being there with him.....

and today it was snowing - in October, in the sunny antipodes. snow and Wysteeria blossoms. A strange miracle amidst so many sad mysteries.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


Escribo. Escribo que escribo. Mentalmente me veo escribir que escribo y también puedo verme ver que escribo. Me recuerdo escribiendo ya y también viéndome que escribía. Y me veo recordando que me veo escribir y me recuerdo viéndome recordar que escribía y escribo viéndome escribir que recuerdo haberme visto escribir que me veía escribir que recordaba haberme visto escribir que escribía y que escribía que escribo que escribía. También puedo imaginarme escribiendo que ya había escrito que me imaginaría escribiendo que había escrito que me imaginaba escribiendo que me veo escribir que escribo.(Salvador Elizondo, El grafógrafo, 1972)

It's one of those nights to slowly pick my way through language, so I'm gonna translate the words above into English:

"I write. I write that I write. Mentally I see myself write that I write and I also can see myself seeing that I write. I remember writing already and I also seeing that I wrote. And I see myself remembering that I saw myself writing and that I remember seeing that I remember to write and I write seeing myself write that I remember having seen myself write that I saw myself write that I remembered having seen myself write that I wrote and that I wrote that I write what I wrote. I also can imagine myself writing that I have written that I imagine myself writing that I have written that what I imagine writing that I see myself write that I write."

Wish Like hell I could still remember all the conjugations in Spanish!

Friday, September 24, 2010


Generally I regard September as my Menstrus Horibilis, but my periods are a bit late this year.... (LOL...TMI... erk)

It's a big month of anniversaries -many of them ghastly, but a couple being quite nice...

Anyway - this week has included:
Anniversary of KD's death (3 years ago)
Renaissance Girls birthday (34 years ago)
my brother's death (11 years ago - that's him in the piccy above with the trumpet)
Moving to Melbourne (2 years ago)

It's a big emotional time.
Plus my current work contract started 12 months ago
and we moved to the boganborough palace 12 months ago.

So, I've spent some time looking back, looking forward, looking around. This has been facilitated by the fact that Renaissance girl is on holidays and I've been commuting four hours a day to work.

I'm always relieved to look back and note that time passes, and horrible things move away fast - or I move forwards from them.

I'm so relieved that I'm no where near as tormented as I was 2 or 3 years ago, and that as much as I miss Sydney so much that it physically hurts, that here my life is a lot calmer, and that I am slowly, ever so damn slowly, putting down roots.

However, I was thinking this week of what a small closed snobby little town Melbourne actually is.
I defy anyone who says that Sydney is less friendly than here.
I've lived here for 2 years and have yet to be invited into the home of any Melbournians that I've met. (This excludes close relatives and close friends of my partner, and ex-Sydneysiders)

Even among the close friends of my partner, there are some who have invited her, but not me into their homes.

Reflecting on this is a bit shocking.
I remember in Finland how an East German woman I met, insisted on inviting me around for dinner, saying how it took her five years to be invited into someone's home in Turku, and how, at the time, I found this unimaginable.

Now, I can see how this happens and what it feels like.
Despite the introversion of Renaissance girl, and our cloistered life in Boganborough, we have invited and hosted numerous acquaintances and friends that I've made here - at work or wherever.
but the invitations haven't been returned.

Reflecting on this, I can see why I've stayed on antidepressants, why I've needed regular trips north and why I can't entirely blame Renaissance girl for my isolation here.
And I'm wondering when and how this will change.

Moving to Sydney was hard for the first 3 months. Then I did start being invited to friends homes, and spent the next 19 years fending off invites to dinner, to coffee, to drinks, to hang out in order to make space to accept so many more.
Melbourne portray this as 'superficial' - but I can't see how being able to quickly move into, expand and sustain a wide range of networks over twenty years is superficial. I call it sustaining.

Admittedly the friendships I have here seem to be closer, but I suspect that this is from sheer desperate isolation on my behalf.

Anyway - this is not just another hellbourne whinge.

Part of me has scarily assimilated. I now have my favourite laneway haunts, and can name the AFL team I support and have an idea of where they are in the competition. I know where the best coffee is is most parts of the city and surrounds (It boganborough it's at home), and mostly manage the thermic challenges of the hideous climate here.

There are some really, really good things here.

The first is that we are leaving Boganborough and heading west at the end of the year.
We've found a more manageable love nest on the other side of the Maribyrnong, surrounded by bike paths, sari shops, bus routes and olive trees, and within walking distance of people we've met - including some that have invited me into their home, and some that I hope, eventually may return the invites that I have already extended to them.

Life with Renaissance wife has continued, and it's been hard as hell at time - as both of us have faced and are facing major life changes - but we are both still growing individually, still holding each others hands, and laughing and cuddling and creating as well.

And my work - as maddening and precarious ad frustrating as it is at times - is also incredibly stimulating and sustaining. I continue to meet wonderful people, and find out wonderful things about the people I've already met.
Where I am, the academy feels much less like an academy - and more like a porous hub where a range of people get to meet and exchange ideas, and sustain active connections with local communities - of migrants, refugees and kooris.

I could never, ever imagine anything like this ever happening at ye olde sandstone camelot of my Alma Mater. It's not just the saturation of the sandstone universities with Lara's, Tara's and Sara's - it's their location, and the types of connections and affinities among the staff and students already present. Even the diversity of my old department always felt like a few stranded exiles from the working class, the brown or the not-quite-white, somehow being lumped together - but apart from the outside communities from which we came.

I'm also involved in crazy performance projects and other mad wild schemes of Mayhem. Creativity still manages to burble and bubble out of my in exquisite ways.

I'm not really connected to any visual arts scene here, and I miss like hell - the sustenance of the open, trashy diverse mish-mash of Sydney artists. In Sydney art always felt like an excuse for another party, or a meeting, or a conversation - something that was part of the daily breathe of crazy creative nutters getting together.

I haven't found that here. but I haven't given up hope, just moved my energies into other areas; performing, writing, laughing.

Art is always a relational activity, and expresses a moving towards, around and within circuits and networks that are profoundly social. Many of these circuits are imaginary, as they invoke a connection to come, or a community to come, but so many of them slip easily into a tired cliquiness of 'in-jokes', and internal references.

I always like how in spanish to 'create', or "crea" sounds so similar to the word for 'believe' or "creo". Communities that create are also communities that believe - or dream ourselves into existence, and work towards sustaining this dreamworld into daily patterns of sustenance.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Apologies to Banjo

Thanks to Hairtales for this image

There was a lass in the Melbourne burbs; she came there from Newtown,
She wandered over street and park, she wandered up and down.
She loitered here, she loitered there, till she was like to drop,
Until at last in sheer despair she sought a barber's shop.
" I'd like you to trim my locks, I'll give anything a go,
Who cares if I'm a Newtown dyke up here in Gree'boro?"

The hairdresser was small and fat, as bogans mostly are,
She wore a Millers special dress, she drove an ugly car:
Maybe she was a humorist of note and keen at repartee,
Maybe she wanted to do a swatch, whatever that may be,
But when she saw our friend arrive, she exclaimed `How can this be?'
And asked if she was taking drugs and was off her bloody tree

There were many gilded ladies that hung out in the mall,
Their eyes were dull, their heads were flat, they had no brains at all;
To them the dresser sent a text, before her phone did shut,
`I'll give this try-hard trendy dyke a real discount haircut.'
And as she combed and snipped it off she asked with a bit of a sneer
'I can't believe you cut your own hair and shape it round your ear'

A grunt was all reply she got; as she snipped from front to back,
'Why do you cut your own hair? is it money that you lack?'
"I used to have dreadlocks" our friend she did reply
"For the next ten years I just played around, with lots of coloured dye
My hair's been pink, and blonde and green, and red and orange and blue
It was easy to cut it myself, I made sculpture with it too"
"Dreadlocks! how did you wash them!" the professional enquired
"I never bothered, not for years, but in the end I was quite tired"

"So what brings you here? why the change?" asked the lady in the shop
"Would you like some gel, do you want it short, and spiky up on top?"
Remembering her partners Mum and her spiky scary mullett
Our heroine's stomach did quiver, bile rose up in her gullet
This Newtown girl was wary of the suburban hair disease
"I don't use gel, I don't want spikes, just trim it simply please"

The dresser kept on cutting, and clippered behind the throat
She raised her pencilled brow, she paused awhile to gloat,
"Do you like this style, do you like this cut, do you like what I have done"
The customer replied, "Perhaps, Just let me put my glasses on"
She met the dressers eye and sighed, and quickly looked away
And agreed to the offer of gel that again passed her way

She struggled gamely to her feet, and faced the talentless foe:
"You've done for me! you dog, I'm beat! one hit before I go!"
Alas it was a dream, to rant and rave and yell
She knew the only thing to do, was quickly leave this hell

Our girl got up, and moved away, her wallet it was proffered
The dresser spoke, and quoted high, double what was offered
Her eyes did bulge, her throat went dry, she pointed to the banner
"It says here ten bucks for a haircut! or is that just for a Nanna"
The dresser said "Ten bucks for a cut, but you needed more, this we call a style"
Our heroine was flabbergasted, she could already taste her bile
Scared of spewing on the spot, she quickly left the scene
And cursed that nasty mall in the borough known as green

She would have liked a wild up-country yell to wake the dead to hear,
Dreaming of a loud revenge as she mumbled in her beer
"I only wish I had a knife, you hair destroying shark!
I could do better with a stanley knife, even in the dark!"
Maybe to the hairdresser this was a type of fun
destroying the self esteem and dignity of someone
Maybe cheap haircuts are just for gilded girls or those who just don't care
Who don't feel scared and stupified to sit in a hairdressers chair

And now while round the bathroom floor the final clippings fall,
She tells the story o'er and o'er, and laments her visit to the mall.
"Random personal experiments, oh God, I've really had enough,
What a crazy thought I had, why did I think I am that tough?"
And so she swore "never again, there's some things I cannot do"
And vows that forevermore, she'll cut her own hair on the loo

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Non Spaces

Today has been a completely magical, heavenly day in the burbs.
The doctors wife & I staggered into the sunlit garden with our coffees, to sit and watch magpies warbles, while Princess Fluffbucket crouched in the rocket, trying to stalk them.
Yesterday morning was very similar.
We are surrounded by greenery, birdlife, calm quiet delights. Inside our four white walls we make our own delights of puppets, vulvas, art, colour, games, books, dressups.
It's like heaven....

and yet, and yet.

I've had an interesting few days, showing a German Film crew around my life and the spaces where I work and play - rediscovering and re-presenting the invisible spaces of banality and daily life for a new audience.

they said that Boganborough reminded them of Stuttgart.... with a bizarre hitchcockian edge - as the hordes of Cockatoos swoop and screech and swirl at sunset......
They wondered why the beautiful green parkland near the lake was deserted, except for a lone figure out jogging (the doctor's wife) and the cluster of Wiggas on the skateboard ramp.

I took them out to where I work, by way of contrast.

The picture above is from Footscray, which is not where I work, but an inner city (hell! it's zone 1 and 2 stops from the city circle and they have trams) version of Melbourne's wild west. It's being colonised by well-meaning cultural tourists, who embrace the rub of queer and straight, the various shades of brown skin, the polylingual street signs and edgy fringe of junkies. Recently I met someone (at an art opening in Prahran) who described where I work as a 'wasteland'. I asked where he lived and he said "footscray". In fact not quite - turns out he lives in Seddon, which is kind of like a white-working class segue to middle class aspiring home ownership - without any tinge of new migrants or junkies, but close enough to both to claim some sort of affiliation.

Walking around where I work was weird. (how's that for alliteration?) OK - it was weird with a film crew, because my cultural tourist eyes were exaggerated by the presence of a camera. White Academic plus White Film Crew, walking in streets of small dark-skinned people - who moved out of camera-range, giving us baleful glances.

I felt -intensely - like I did in Vietnam. Suddenly, my skin was not neutral - but very distinctly coloured, and very distinctly out of place. Of course this was not only about the pinking bits of epidermis under a pallid autumn sun, but the short hair, the spectacles, the pants and leather jacket - the non-femme, queer female garb, that marks me not only as not asian, or not african, or not pacific islander, or not latino, or not koori, but as someone who can afford to be flagrantly queer, because I am white in a way that is consolidated by my baby-academic class, and my whiteness. Academic women don't do high femme, in general, because we apparently don't have to - we can afford a certain level of gender neutrality, or gender queerness. I know 2 queers living in the suburb where I work, but they aren't white, and they perform queerness differently, often subject to the verbal abuse from being queer and NOT WHITE. But outside the graffite-arted Cuel Caffe, I stuck out and attracted stares, and didn't feel comfortable about getting my fix of bubble tea.

The nature of this privilege became more marked as the camera followed me up McKechnie Street, past the bingo hall to the university. Baleful glances from other pedestrians, turned into supplicating smiles - as we got closer to the uni - my status as an academic was confirmed by others, as my androgynous white garb merged into the habitus of white privilege.Whatever the wildness of VU is, with it's feral rabbits, roadworks and gum trees - it is still a university, where queerness is whitened into a culturally acceptable and even desirable form of loucheness, rather than an alien trespass.

Anyway - from this, the camera followed me and my workmates to a community education session in West Sunshine. they captured my appalling slides between Spanish and English, captured the slapstick of four PhD's trying to load and unload a car, and captured the heartwarming compliance of a community group with university research. Many exquisite micro-moments. I forgot what language I was speaking. Language disappeared between the warmth of bodies, smiles, laughter and hugs.As much as I love this type of work, I'm aware of who we are, as academics, and how compliant the community are in allowing us to enter their world and 'educate' them. i'm also aware why. So many participants said, that they had maybe 5 minutes with a doctor, maybe once or twice a year, and only in English. So to be in a room with four friendly doctors for 3 hours, even if 3 of those are doctors of philosophy, and even where most exchange needs a translator, means they get some chance to speak about their bodies, and feelings, in an atmosphere that is half-human.

I guess what I'm trying to fathom - is how meaningful spaces are generated, amidst the anonymity of a city. I've lived in Boganborough for 7 months now - and I think I would be recognised by 2 shopkeepers - maybe? (funnily enough - at the chemist and the bottlo) We don't speak to the neighbours, nor even greet them, and aside from polite smiles to dog walkers during my morning scurry to the train station, I don't encounter any human faces beyond our fence.No eyes meet at the station, or on the train, or in the shopping mall. Boganborough is almost completely white, and so I wonder about my race, and racial affiliations, and what I'm trying to achieve by disavowing this. Am I only another cultural tourist - enjoying the frisson of entering non-white spaces where my class and race privilege isn't challenged? And what is it that I need to sustain and be sustained by the living possibilities of my physical surrounds?

The things I miss

I spent most of the past month zipping between cities: Sydney and Melbourne.
Some reasons were good, like graduation and friend's parties.
Some were bad, like friends being sick...
zipping between two worlds - experiencing both cities in a state of flight and flux gave me a chance to have a lot of good coffee, and a lot of good takeaway, and to burn out my overdraft limit even more... as well as to see both places above and below, in moving between and within, finding new and old faces, to rediscover cities as spaces of chance encounters, new discoveries, new possibilities always emerging and subsiding.

Somewhere in the middle of this I discovered that another acquaintance/inspiration had been forced to abandon his mortal coil in an accident involving a bicycle and a stairwell.
How do begin to describe the loss of someone who was the centre of so many legends?
He's turned up to my first wedding in a Koala suit and overalls covered in red tyre tracks - giggling hysterically while claiming to be attending as "Road Kill"
He had been one half of the legendary duo "the 10,000 foot naked rock stars" who had done the first ever fully naked radio marathon on 2SER - inspiring my own Radio Stripathon with Daz Chandler for the 2SER fundraiser some years later....
I thought he'd done the street mural pictured above - below his house and next to the cafe where I'd see him serving coffee whenever I went for a dose of darlingithurts bohemia...

I asked where he was, and the guy serving me whispered "he died". The mural is a dedication, the ripped off heart sign regularly replaced.
So I sat, stunned, in front of a knitted cover for a sandstone wall, sipping my latte, passing my teddybear to a dear friend sobbing over the worst ever news about her partner, both of us feeling the cold shock of dread inching into our spaces of life and colour.....

So, flying back and forth, I've missed the opening of the biennale in Sydney, missed friends' shows in Melbourne, missed the cat, the wife, the calmness of weekends in the burbs....

but then so much life, light, stories and possibilities, and memories coiling themselves around new connections, movements and spaces, finding myself again, finding others, and finding at last that this new city has elements of familiarity and delight and feels like home again.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

First as tragedy, then as farce

Sorry to quote dear old zizek but it's such a good title, and recent circumstances have reduced my wordsmith skills to pastiche.

this blog has always been about angst , so maybe my recent writers block is attributable to the lack of disaster/tragedy torment in my life. Apart from the odd #$%$%^FIVE HOUR %$*&$#$# COMMUTE from the north east tip of Hellbourne to the North west tip, things are pretty cruisy at the sapphic love palace.

Aside from the mundane joys of birdlife, moonlit cycles, the cat, my wife, the garden, books, art, flowers, veggies, cuddles, love, sex, porn, fruit and vulvas..... I've had some exquisite epihanies of late - I finally got to meet Alphonse Lingis, and hang with him at a masterclass, and afterwards at a cafe in Carlton. He's brilliant, generous and amazing as ever, and we spoke about EVERYTHING, and he loves birds, and....tonight I'll meet my wife at the same cafe en route to hear Luce Irigaray telecasting too.

And then Michael Taussig gave a series of events hosted by Monash uni- mostly promoting his last book - which was everything I'd hoped and building on his work that he discussed at UTS in 2005 - about Malinowski and colour. He said that his latest book, 'what is the color of the sacred' explores not so much the history of color but the color of history. Now why am I spelling 'color' yank style? because Taussig quotes isadora de seville in linking color to calor and the lack of a u ras home this point. and because Taussig, the expat australian now has a lovely noo yoik twang to his accent and meter, and phrases slide from him like some kind of cool-arsed poet - which in many ways, is what he is.

I'm still delighted at experiencing the bodily presence of the writers of words that I worship - their accents, eyes, hands, their gestures, lips and their sweat. The memory of these sensations inflect the richness of the words I read later.

So. I could write more about Taussig, but don't know where to start except to say that the book is everythink I'd ever hoped for in critical ethnography - exquisite, poetic, critical, historical, brilliant. The book is hard to find in Australia. Renaissance Wife bought me a copy online - but it is worth the angst of filling coffers. It is brilliant.

I had to pirate huge chunks of my own copy to give to a friend - my favourite coloursmith ever, who is now... gasp.... err - what's the best euphemism? Facing the immanence of mortality rather intensely right now?

Dying is such a long, complex and multilayered process, that I don't know what to call dying, and what to brush over, fingers crossed, hoping that silence will ward it off.

Is terminal cancer an easier term to swallow than dying?

Dying seems more like the last gasps, the death rattle, the agonising body wracking parts where the dyee is reduced to an incoherent mass of flesh. Where pain takes over and destroys language, or thought, or an access to anything beyond the immediacy of flesh, pain, breath.

And my friend is not at that stage yet. He is still so wonderfully life affirming, intelligent and funny. Still so generous with his time and energy. Still so keen to reach out and grasp at any morsel of colour, life, brilliance. He doesn't want to die, but says that if he must, then he will die well. Dying well involves constantly turning towards the light, colour, warmth, ideas.

I brought him a coloured crochet quilt, fruit he'd never tried before and taussig, de certeau, bachelard. We laughed together, and hope to laugh again. Later I went to the cliffs, letting the sea and sunset embrace my sobs as I cried and cried. Whenever I'm faced with tragedy I feel desperate need to grab at soul food, good fruit, fresh vegetables, sydney harbour, plants, art, philosophy & human kindness.

This is such a bloody hard time. So much like last year with Renaissance Wife's mother. I dunno why I've had to bear witness to so much suffering recently. Dunno why the Melbourne trains can't run on time either.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Hot art for a hot cuntry

Awww, Thanks so much for all the comments on my last post - especially Melissa who I see as a bit of a post-thesis success story...
Maybe it is just in the nature of doing relatively unrecognised labour like art making and random theorising that makes it so hard - we work and work and work, and push out everything inside of us - and still.... it never feels like enough. Maybe it's just the nature of being a woman in this society?

I've been driven to ponder the gendered nature of work and recognition lately. My wjerk (the one that pays the bills) has been giving me the shits lately. Partly is the usual palaver of deadlines, stress, micromanagement, poor boundaries and poor communication, but times like these, the gender stuff really kicks in. Like, I'm amazed at how little work men actually do. Some of them seem to have no concept of what work is, and are completely blind to the frenzy of activity around them. Male colleagues and superiors will walk into a room or up to me or my female colleagues, assume we will drop EVERYTHING and attend to their tiniest little whim. Right there and then! Partly it's a relief, because I think , "well, at least the boundaries are clear. All I have to do is obey them; they're paying me, so they can take the rap if the particular brain surgery I was working on before clipping their nails falls arse over teeth" but then part of me thinks... "Ohhhhh God, not this again! why are so many men such a waste of space?"

Sorry about the mysandrony folks - but some peeps are such an easy target.

And I'm afraid this is also related to ART.

ONe week ago I participated in the opening of a group show in Hellbourne. The opening was fabulous, the show is wonderful, it is still up and on exhibit at the Victoria College of the Arts gallery somewhere on Southbank.

I do need to write about the wonderfulness of the curator, the concept, the space the work, the process...... I feel so incredibly lucky to have been involved. This is a fabulous art-debut in Melbourne, and as much as I whinge about this place, it has been incredibly hospitable towards me.

OK, so firstly the good bit - the show: Addition/Erasure is a group show of 4 poets and 5 visual artists. That's a lot of peeps. All of us were given the "brief" of installing work that crossed both fields of the visual and the verbal. So some of the poets were 'concrete poets' who worked with the effect of lettering in space, or in unusual spaces such as Classified Ads, and some peeps explored the spaces between words and images (Acutally that was a nice pairing: an artist drawing words, and making exquisite visual puns, and a poet drawing half images and words...). There were two large sculptural installations that incorporiated text into the piece: one through sound (a cutesy dada homage), and one through dramatic text, emblazoned on a banner, embedded into the materiality of the piece. And there was a video booth, coupled with an act of giving kitsch new age slogans on index cards. The index cards, and the birod words providing the link between the real, and the hyper-real - of the endless i-photo slide show loop of slogans emblazoned over kittens and puppies and other kitsch wonders.

And the there was Schappylle Scragg. True to form, I went completely over the top. Felt I had to prove myself as a real artist - even though I haven't had any sort of practice since 2007. And even that has been brief fleeting stunts, performances, photo shoots. I guess this is my practice now. I still feel a bit guilty that I'm not drawing or doing oil paintings.

So for Scragg, I sewed a lot of vulvas, incorporating beer cans and bogan flags.

I also mounted some Aussie Flag Porn onto a dozen tiny easel/stretchers which were arranged on plinths (thank you Emmy, Zoo, Jane for the images) so the space looked like an amateur art exhibition, or a suburban gift shop.

This may have been enough work: crossing the boundaries of art and craft. Appropriating second-wave feminist craft aesthetic for the sake of a bogan parody. But to hammer the point home, Schappylle invested in a K-Mart scrapbooking kit, and assembled a range of texts and images into her own scrapbook. This was about re-appropriating the rather suspect feminised contemporary craft movement of cupcakes and stitch and bitch into a cutting critique. Playing with the duality of "cunt" as reclaimed female genitals, and "cunt" as the perjorative term par excellance. I'm always intrigued with the investment that women have with the appropriation of our bodies and bodyparts into mainstream misogyny. what does it mean?

I decided to extend the theme further: by doing a "spoken word piece" literally blending poetry and visuals together. The visuals - come from Schappylle herself, and three days of bodily interventions to change the surface of my skin. To add raiments that I don't wear. Fake tattoos, fake hair, fake teeth - and fake (bogan flag) nails. Fake tanned tits pushed up into mammarian excess. Scragg re-enacted Schneemanns scroll piece. I'd transcribed the lyrics of 6 iconic Aussie Beer ads (VB, Fosters, Swan, XXXX, Westend, Tooheys), and arranged them into a continuous circular poem. I printed this out as a single column which I concertinaed into shape not unlike a tampon, and placed in my amenable genitalia. I decided to wear a merkin during the show. I wasn't sure if hellbourne was ready for scragg's shaved orange fleshcunt. I wasn't sure I was ready to bare my genitals in a new city. The merkin is funny. Big blond curly pubes. a little laughing derive.....

It was very funny doing this, and funny watching the audience. It was funny ... just to perform and be the centre of attention. It was funny when people recognised the lyrics, and funnier when people started nodding and cheering to scragg's bogan themes. This discrete performance could be described as a success.

the bits I'm not so sure about are including the wall collage of scragg's photos - roughly pinned up over a bogan flag cape. Maybe this was too much - although it makes a nice transition between scragg's crafty corner and the flat adhesions of:
which was one of the concrete poems installed near it. Surprisingly these few words left me speechless.

We had a group crit the next day, and everyone glossed over it. The artist wasn't present, and... the words, blank, large, flat, with so much space.... seem to be repellant. The deflect engagement or entrance. I didn't like the shiny adhesive surface either.

I think most readers will agree with me that ponderous pretentiousness can be a little tiring. The think that strikes me is how gendered so much of it is. I used to laugh at "stylised conceptual minimalism", and yet faced with it - faced with a few flaccid conceits ensconsed in the miasma of a male ego... I was left... flabbergasted. silent. I don't know where to start.

Apparently one of the other artist didn't 'get' my work. He also has never been to a drag show, and doesn't 'get' drag. He asked how I would quantify the success of my work. He said "you could go for a walk but you can't quantify that". I said "Actually, quantifying walks is my day job. You use a pedometer." Metrosexual gender fixity is easy to gloss over, I guess.

Another wordsmith said the following phrase "Well, there was modernist man, and then there was post-modern man, and now there is contemporary man, so this is why I use the phrase 'contemporary man'" I strongly suspect that he hasn't read even Benjamin, let alone Lyotard or Jameson.

Okay, okay, I am an evil intellectual snob. Peeps who make pompous references to the zeitgeist without having done some critical reading on cultural time give me the shits. I think "what, apart from your ill-informed arrogance, gives you the right to take up this space?".

The other female artist, very quietly embedded a reference to Zizek in her work, illustrating part of the cover of "First As Tragedy, Then As Farce" - a nice touch which resounded off my favourite work in the show: "I told you it would come to this". this is a nice, humble, evocative way of making a critical reference, embedding the temporality of wading through the whacky world of Slavoj, in patient pencil lines... stroke, stroke, stroke, Helen Johnson, I love your work.

And then there was my favourite target of mayhem fury: a nasty little man who visibly recoiled at scragg's advances during the opening -no- they weren't sexual - but flesh was visible, and OTT as scragg handed out bogan flag stickers, and black armbands for those (too few) who protested. I had him picked for a misognynist - that weird cold deadness of hate, that tragic experience has taught me to smell a mile off. the next day I discover that he has edited an anthology of Gay and Lesserbeing Poetry. Fuck. and I thought my coalitionist aspirations couldn't sink any lower. His work? Execrable. A private world of endless solitaire, performed on pieces of paper. WHY NOT DO SOME PROBABILITY THEORY? I wondered, my silence clanging against the walls as he slowly mystified his process of verse selection, space selection, sticky tape, selection. He said that scragg's work made him feel better about his nationalism. A nasty catty comment, that made me flinch.

I guess that small games of chance work for small minds, who would collapse if exposed to the mechanics of algebra 101. I guess that small minds collapse around big ideas, big theories, big flesh, big personalities - the stuff of life, gulping gusts of air, screeching excess of creativity. Listening to the passive aggressive drone of soft voiced dullards, I felt irritated. these people call themselves writers? Do they read? do they listen? do they ever explore the silences outside of their own heads?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Art Yart

This is one of those crazy posts that come out of disturbed sleep patterns.

In four hours, I'll get up, have a shower, make coffee, have breakfast, get a lift with the wife across town, go to the gym (gasp yes), and go to work....

Meanwhile I've been making work, preparing work, installing work for the show on thursday night...
(btw I'm in a group show called "Addition Erasure" that opens at VCA Margaret Lawrence Gallery on Feb 18)

And part of me is so amazingly excited to be making work, and to see it come together, and part of me is tired as hell, and frustrated at how hard it is to sit down and spend HOURS and HOURS on making small crazy things, when I've got to get up and go to work, and maintain a life as well.

In previous shows, I've been able to drop everything for a week or two and immerse myself in materials. I've also come from a position of a sustained practice.

This time, I feel like I've hit the ground running - dragging my fingers and increasingly failing eyes to their limits. Desperately trying to catch up and create a body of work in a short space of time.

Once this is over, I go back to my regular "hobby" occupation of writing research papers!

and I'm wondering where I'm meant to find the time, and what I've done with my life, and what I'm doing with my life and what I want to do.

this is nothing new.....

but my day job is an intense stimulating research position, in a field that is different to my own, so my own PhD research is pushed somewhere to the background... and then there is my somewhat lapsed art practice/career which I'm still pretty invested in and ideally feeds into my own research.....

And I don't want to let go of these interests or this expertise, and I don't think I can be happy with art as a hobby (just noting my rapidly decreasing interest in drawing once it stopped being linked to anything else apart from the moment of its practice is proof of that)

and I wonder how I'm meant to be doing all of this when I haven't even had time or energy to read a book, for.... AGES

Is this standard post-doc dilemma?

Saturday, January 02, 2010


Just faffing about online again... read a novel in a last ditch attempt at protocrastination while Mrs right conquered tittyraider and the cat conquered a purple ball of sparkle...

Anyway - I read zoo's posting about the past decade and pondered the significance of it all.....

still pondering.

thought I'd try to construct a bit of a 'Meme' about the last 10 years......



I travelled a lot
I circumnavigated the globe, and a few gloves
I learnt another language
I did another degree
I did a PhD
No one in my bio family died
Quite a few friends died
I got married twice
I had lots of good sex and a lot less bad sex than the previous decade
I had a lot of art exhibitions
I stayed in squats in 3 countries
I faced my fear of seaweed and slimey marine life and snorkelled in 3 countries
I swam in a few oceans, some of them freezing
I didn't take many illicit substances
I did not attempt to give up coffee (this is called learning to be kind to oneself)
I lived off life modelling for 3 years (and supported a partner)
I thoroughly explored the Louvre
I got to know 3 cities apart from Sydney very well.
I died my hair every shade of the rainbow
I still went to political protests (though much less than the previous decade)
I didn't do a single paste-up

If this sounds boring it may be a reflection of my voidoid brain at the moment (hooray for holidays!) or that memes are a pretty facile way of conveying the richness of life's tapestry