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A collaboration between artists and writers at SEVENTH June 2011 – January 2012 ISBN 978-0-646-57607-7 Published by SEVENTH SEVENTH 155 Gertrude Street Fitzroy VIC 3065 Australia firstname.lastname@example.org seventhgallery.org Project Coordinator Victoria Bennett Editor Meg Hale Proofreader Ronnie Scott Design Something Splendid Copyright 2012 SEVENTH and the writers and the artists. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission from SEVENTH. All images courtesy of Sam Barbour and the artists.
A collaboration between artists and writers at SEVENTH
Introduction Victoria Bennett Exhibitions June 2011 – January 2012 Artist-run Melbourne Ace Wagstaff Untitled Amy-Jo Jory World’s pearl Stephanie Van Berkel Small goods Izzy Roberts-Orr Escape Izzy Roberts-Orr Those last days of summer Laura Jean McKay Wading in, pieces of light Craig Burgess How to wrap a metre-long schlong Laura Castagnini Adrift in the void Anna Zammit
The palace of tears Andre Dao Light castle Izzy Roberts-Orr Night moves Jessie Scott Did Edward use a strap-on? Jo Latham Inter-Harris, Inter-Nordin, Inter-view David Wlazlo Transmutation Megg Minos Ben Millar’s The Colour Notation Project Rebecca Harkins-Cross and Roger Nelson Daily Exercise (1 to 3) Craig Burgess Garden consecration Izzy Roberts-Orr Scan Cassandra L. Acknowledgements Victoria Bennett
Co–respond is a SEVENTH publication exploring the possibilities of collaboration and conversation between visual art and writing. Featuring written works by fifteen emerging writers, Co–respond critiques, expands and documents SEVENTH’s exhibition program from June 2011 to January 2012. When I first read SEVENTH’s rationale behind this exciting new project, I couldn’t believe the synchronicity. It quickly became clear that we had been musing on some very similar topics. There is certainly nothing new about an artist-run gallery initiating an arts-writing project — or producing a publication for that matter — but, importantly, Co–respond is not all about arts writing. What sets it apart, and what attracted me to it in the first place, was its aim to involve writers from all genres and backgrounds. In doing so, it strives to present visual art in new ways and from new perspectives. It broadens the scope of arts writing beyond customary formats, and encourages collaboration and conversation. While still incorporating more traditional forms of arts writing, such as reviews and interviews, it throws some variety into the mix. Essays, short stories and poetry also feature, works that take their inspiration from art but run in their own creative direction. In this way, Co–respond provides an important forum for analysis of contemporary art
that is as much about supporting emerging artists through peer response as it is about supporting the authors of those responses: emerging arts writers, creative writers, poets and academics. This strategy allows us to open up the possibilities of the arts-writing relationship. It expands the experience of the author, artist and reader. Writers are invited into a world some have not had access to before, providing a new environment from which to draw inspiration. The exhibiting artists have the opportunity to see their work manifested as prose or simply to sit down and discuss their work with a stranger. The audience — our readers — gain a new perspective on these artworks, or experience an artwork firsthand through the written interpretations of another. The writers featured in Co–respond were each allocated an exhibition ‘slot’ at SEVENTH between June 2011 and January 2012. SEVENTH comprises multiple exhibition spaces, and each slot could include up to five different exhibitions at one time. Writers were given complete freedom to respond to whatever they wished, be that an artist, artwork, entire exhibition or even the gallery itself — as a space and an institution. Therefore not all exhibitions and artists are represented, and some have more than one response. The extent of the collaboration differs with every piece and was the responsibility of the writer to initiate and maintain. Some writers entered into conversations with their artists, some attended artists’ talks, while others worked more in isolation, responding to the artworks only.
The mix of styles and approaches taken by the writers was always going to produce a surprising result. The works themselves vary greatly, as different as their authors. Combining such disparate works in a single publication presents a risk, but in doing so we are able to explore just how many ways writing and visual art can relate and respond to each other. Co–respond presents these writers’ works not simply to explain or justify the artworks they respond to, but rather to give another reading, and in some cases another meaning, to the artworks. The attempt here is to expand the boundaries of arts writing, to increase the crossover, the grey area between writing and art. In this case the artworks are the inspiration, the beginning point; the writing, the destination. Victoria Bennett Project Coordinator
Exhibitions 8–25 June 2011
Camille Hannah Transparence
Fiona Williams Untitled (snow-white)
Danae Valenza Partnered Dance: Both Lead
Kim Jaeger You Geysir Crazy
Marita Lillie Panopticon
Exhibitions 29 June – 16 July 2011
Jasmin Coleman with Cara-Ann Simpson Stabilisers
Renee Jaeger Untitled
John Waller Propeller
Tyler Clark and Ed McAliece Anal Systems Conglomerate
Exhibitions 27 July – 13 August 2011
Kim Henenberg Wise Blood
Chloe Stevens Green Screen
Tristan Da Roza Variations of [minor] nature may have an adverse effect on levels of risk
Chloe Stevens and Virginia Overell Promenade Health Spa
Tristan Wong la casa nueva de dios
Exhibitions 17 August – 3 September 2011
Andrew Burford Hung
THE OK COLLECTIVE (Oliver Cloke and Kathy Heyward) Uniquely Yours 155a Gertrude Street, Fitzroy 3065
Jon Oldmeadow Adrift in the Void
Zoe Croggon and Martin King Here is Where We Meet
Exhibitions 7–24 September 2011
Claire Gallagher Failed Gardener
Eugene Howard Untitled
Jade Burstall Trading Futures
Fiona Waters and Molly Dyson Small Goods
Molly Cook ABC Wall Drawings
Exhibitions 28 September – 15 October 2011
Marcin Wojcik, Sarah CrowEST, Kristen Phillips, Federico Joni and Jamie Boys Cashmere If You Can S-5
Marcin Wojcik, Sarah CrowEST, Kristen Phillips, Federico Joni and Jamie Boys Cashmere If You Can S-5
Marcin Wojcik, Sarah CrowEST, Kristen Phillips, Federico Joni and Jamie Boys Cashmere If You Can S-5
Marcin Wojcik, Sarah CrowEST, Kristen Phillips, Federico Joni and Jamie Boys Cashmere If You Can S-5
Marcin Wojcik, Sarah CrowEST, Kristen Phillips, Federico Joni and Jamie Boys Cashmere If You Can S-5
Exhibitions 19 October – 5 November 2011
Amy-Jo Jory Down by the River
Christopher Dolman SUPERREGULAR
Laura Delaney Problems with the Location
Cameron Bishop and Simon Reis Gallery X2
Tanya Ungeri Button Pusher
Exhibitions 9–26 November 2011
Ben Millar The Colour Notation Project
Cat-Rabbit and the Seven Seas Oakleaf (Spill Air)
Jo Persson In the Zone
Hermione Merry and Henriette Kassay-Schuster Palace of Tears
Lillian O’Neil Burger Shop Blues
Exhibitions 30 November – 17 December 2011
Ann Fuata Daily Exercise (1 to 3)
Nathan Barnett and Robbie Dixon Heat death in the afternoon
Geoff Newman 27.
Luke Hand ⌘-C
Tim Buckovic Reliefs
Exhibitions 19–20 December 2011
Various artists Super Sell Out Sale
Various artists Super Sell Out Sale
Various artists Super Sell Out Sale
Various artists Super Sell Out Sale
Exhibitions Summer Residency, January 2012
Johanna Nordin Male Ego Exorcism Bureau
Lauren Carrol Harris Two Caves: New Ruins, and This is Happening
Johanna Nordin Male Ego Exorcism Bureau
Lauren Carrol Harris Two Caves: New Ruins, and This is Happening
27 July – 13 August 2011
Melbourne is a lucky little state capital, saturated with an abundance of artist-run galleries and even more commercial spaces, located every few hundred metres within our fine metropolis. (This first sentence reads somewhat like an excerpt from a piece of promotional propaganda, plugging Melbourne’s cultural assets for a buck, but that’s not what this piece of writing is about.) These little artist-run galleries (or artist-run spaces, artist-run initiatives, ARIs — whatever you want to call them) provide a nice creamy, rich and often exciting layer to the arts and cultural scene that can’t be delivered by the state institutions and the commercial arts pushers. You chasing? Melbourne is always chasing. Almost all innovation occurs on the fringes, the edges. It is the tiny movements that occur at this grassroots level where there is more room to move, more room to splash about, more room for action than there is in a conventional space that has to suit up, employ security guards and take out all the applicable public liability insurance. Ripple. There’s more room for ripples at an artist-run gallery. This DIY, artist-run scene is a bicycle wheel, an ouroboros, but not completely. There is change as well, with every turn, so a comparison to evolution or an operatic recapitulation would be better. The metaphors aren’t what’re important. What’s important is the reality of it: all the work, the effort, the money that goes into sustaining the phenomena of an artistrun gallery. It’s high maintenance, all hands on deck, grab a cup and start
trying to bail out the water that’s slowly filling this place — there’s no fear of drowning but we’d have to find somewhere new to hang out. There is no logical reason why these spaces should survive. For the most part, they’re non-profit and run by volunteers, their rent is predominantly paid by exhibiting artists with patchwork-agendas, and exhibition programs can chop, change and alternate, which, for an unwary spectator, can appear pretty impenetrable and recalcitrant (please feel free to liken to: [a] being in a foreign country; [b] trying to have a conversation with a surly teen; or [c] the confusing and often contradictory bureaucracy described in The Trial by Kafka). Thankfully though, artist-run galleries have flourished in Melbourne. They’re a relatively new strange breed of society’s cultural genus in comparison to the grand expanse of all the history that has come before them. Some of the stronger artist-run hubs live longer than a few years, usually by gaining attention for being novel or inventive start-ups, or sometimes notoriety for being raucous or shocking. Artist-run galleries are in a unique position to operate differently due to the lack of formal and financial constraints that bind institutions and commercial spaces, allowing for unconventional innovation or abundant raucous, punk energy. Some of these spaces are so successful they go on to evolve into contemporary commercial spaces, keeping their original open-minded governing principles that had served them well in round one of their lifecycles (Geoff Newton started the avant-suburban Dudespace and then later went on to found Neon Parc with Tristian Koenig, and Melissa Loughnan’s Utopian Slumps was a once humble curator-run initiative stuffed down a laneway in Collingwood). SEVENTH is one of the long stayers. Viewer attendance and artists’ favour are the key to an artist-run space surviving and growing, and this comes off the back of good programming — the careful selection of a range of diverse artists, who are also inevitably pushing a field of disparate concepts and ideas. This is what excites the interest of the artists and viewers. This is where SEVENTH excels. Ad-hoc programming — that is,
employing difference — can become a strength, meaning the leftovers are always fffresh. ARIs are often collectively managed and led by many. This characteristic avoids the destructive and selfish egomania that can occur with the individual, most noticeable in the reign of dictators. And as a bonus, the collective can be cast out but never destroyed, just ask Legion. When groupings of creative peeps disband, they often do as the hydra does, and start their own projects (when Tristian Koenig left Neon Parc in 2010, he went on to open a new self-titled space in Prahran). So where there was one, there are now two. Presumably, you know all this; you are all dirigible captains and I’m lecturing about aerodynamics. Artist-run spaces aren’t held together by any single agenda, force or adhesive, they’re supported by a multitude of small pebbles such as government funding (which allows for writing that includes the words ‘fffresh’, ‘ouroboros’ and ‘patchwork-agendas’), small armies of loyal artists and students and, of course, a (usually) overqualified management team of (usually) volunteers. There’s no chance here, no accident. This is purposeful, conscious; this is the ongoing apexing of cultural-evolution; only the strongest wheat survives the chaff. It’s impossible to capture such a fluxual creature as the ARI, we can only observe it for a moment before it changes, record its movements, document its shifting state, because every change that occurs is important, every alteration in the past helps inform the now. This is the now.
8–25 June 2011
of the subtle power of stopping to absorb our surroundings. The sublime, like abjection, can be seen as a reminder of death. We don’t need to feel our body crushed on the rocks below an ocean cliff to know it would be devastating — but is the innate knowledge of our own death what makes standing on its edge so exhilarating? Geysers spurt volcanic water into the atmosphere, and are both terrifying and profoundly beautiful. Caves all over the world are filled with elegant calcium shafts: an accumulation of single and persistent drops of water. These phenomena reveal the immense power of time, but they also illuminate fleeting moments. Ultimately, the sublime is about remembering, and being in, life. Rather than present us with yet another grandiose monument, Kim Jaeger’s work is a humble musing, an understated gesture. Painterly and unassuming, the installation asks us to take a small moment. You Geysir Crazy is about looking more carefully at the seemingly insignificant stuff, that quiet stuff that subconsciously prevents us from really goin’ round the bend.
Last night I dreamt I was walking through the bush. Tall spindly trees were stretched out beside me; I was looking to my right. It was totally calm; it was the gloaming. I could see deep into the forest. Behind the trees there was a white horse standing beside a small silver lake. The reflection of the horse on the surface of the water was unbearably perfect — it was so still — and in that moment what had been my reality drastically warped. It was as if two horses were looking back at me from another dimension, and it was breathtakingly beautiful. The dream later took a turn for the worse (yes, it involved an unpleasant geyser) but at that point I felt like I had witnessed a profound moment. These are moments: calling into the vastness of a cave; gazing at the immensity of a mountain range; feeling the parched heat of a desert; looking down on the neon city at night. Sometimes these moments hit us like a searing slap on the face. Other times they appear as stealthy goose bumps under a damp shirt. But they are there. In these moments there is the whisper of a realisation. Stuff, you know? A murmur about the really big stuff. Moments that make other moments seem irrelevant. Kim Jaeger’s work hints at this kind of realisation. Her exhibition, You Geyser Crazy is a response to a trip to Iceland taken in November 2010. Half rabbit hole, half cave and with Narnia in mind, the installation reminds us
28 September – 15 October 2011
driven by the terror of what will happen when your time runs out. You want success but you don’t even know what it is. Get a job, get a man, get a nice car and a big house and spend whatever’s left on things to make you happy: shoes and surround sound systems and a new phone every six months and brand-name everything. Things, things, things, all these things, but the dark room in the back of your mind never fills up, and you wonder if maybe the price of success is trading in proper happiness for store-bought happiness. But you keep buying anyway — gadgets, knick-knacks, ‘investment pieces’, instant coffee and instant gratification, one click and you’re two grand poorer but three pairs of shoes richer — filling your life with things to fill the void in the dark room and scale the summit before the timer reaches 00:00:00 and whatever is going to happen, happens. Shun your lover for the warm embrace of your new leather couch. Turn your eyes from the stars and wonder instead at ears and fingers dripping with diamonds. Choke down your fear of the dark room and the timer ticking down and the endpoint looming over you and go and buy the recliner to match your couch, because the soothing embrace of softened leather is enough to ease the troubles in your world. Forget loving and living and giving and receiving and all that shit: you are what you possess. Time to start buying.
Stephanie Van Berkel
It’s vacuum-packed memories and fit bodies gone soft from working corporate jobs and wearing cashmere sweaters. It’s piecing together a life, stitching it up with the shoestrings of old budgets and trying to prop it on a foundation of all the brand-name crap that money can buy. It’s wanting and trying and fucking and buying, building and breaking and bringing home the bacon — the breathless crawl up the slope of success. You hang on the precipice with one hand, taking business calls with the other. Life is a mountain and you are nearly at the peak — reach the summit, claim your prize and bask in the brief victorious glow before the light fades and everything starts the southward slide to middle age and mediocrity. In the back of your mind you carry a dark room, black as pitch and full of nothing. In the room digital red numbers are ticking down down down and an infinite siren sounds, winding up up up without ever reaching the crescendo. Time ticking down, siren winding up, anxiety stretched in both directions and you are waiting for the world, your oyster, to open up and show you its pearl. It haunts you, the echo of the siren and the memory of the numbers on the timer, tattooed red across your eyelids so that you can’t escape them even as you sleep, counting slowly down to something, but you don’t know what. Trawl through endless days of wake up, coffee, work, eat out, go home, performing each task with desperation disguised as aspiration,
7–24 September 2011
7–24 September 2011
She dreamt, last night That there was meat on the walls. Nailed to it. Sacrificed? Canonised? Martyred. She was salivating in her sleep, Woke to find a trail of dried spit Whitening on the side of her face. I am always so hungry, still So hungry, She thought, leaning in to lick the walls. They tasted of dust and age, Cracked and cool against her tongue But not enough.
He painted his nails bright red, Just the tips, And left them to cool on the windowsill. Glamorous, fire-engine nails Nails of pride That would make the office ladies weep. They sat on the sill, dripping, Or oozing, With untold promise and power. The nails were the way, the nails Were the change, His chameleonic shift to betterment. In the middle of the night, He woke To a scratching sound above his head.
7–24 September 2011
she’d forget and call her sister too. Some of us didn’t care, were beyond caring. We felt the rage of the endless day beat like wings that we bit and scratched at. When she fell we stood on her, flattening her head into the bruising bars. When we gave birth it was over her body, even though she’d passed days before. We had our teeth removed and our arms made useless so all we could do was stand and eat the slop with our faces. We stood the long day round. Our bodies grew fat and our legs weak and we collapsed on each other. We gave birth over and over again. In the last days, the giddy, heady urge to birth slowed and then stopped and we shed hair instead. It fell down through the top cells and covered those below. To punish us they stopped the food and turned out the lights and we were plunged into winter. During that time we told each other things. One said the children we made were sent to war in two armies — ‘roasters’ and ‘broilers’. None of them ever returned. ‘We’re lucky to see the long day,’ she said and we stood straighter, those that could, and appreciated our little space and our worn faces and feet and the feel of another’s body up against ours. Others said, no, the children were taken and raised as guards. ‘If they’re guards then why don’t they help us?’ we asked. We could just make them out through the dim. Watched as they moved past on legs like the bars of a giant cage, checking for children. We wondered if they were our sons. We starved that winter, some died, and then finally someone gave birth and set us all off again. The lights were turned on and the summer regained and those that had survived were rewarded with food. But we were different. One of us edged forward to eat and heard her brittle legs tremble and crack. She lay on the bars with sisters below and sisters above and called out. The din of us was terrific. We all spoke at once, in small sharp phrases: ‘She ate more than me.’
Those last days of summer
Laura Jean McKay
That summer stretched yearlong and we were always giving birth. We tried to make a game of it at first — taking turns in the narrow cells and pitching our cries like songs but towards the end we were either just fat or skin. The cells formed a long hall, lit sixteen hours a day and always the same: a fearsome golden light coming from the roof; particles of skin floating through the air, in our throats, our faces; the sisters above us and the sisters below. We were all born to the cell and none of us, not our mothers or their mothers before that, really knew if there was anything but the slanting cage floor, our cellmates, the heat. One of us had heard stories though. Said there was something more than standing and death. ‘What is it?’ we asked her. ‘Winter,’ she said. ‘And what else?’ ‘Darkness.’ One of us had seen her sister die, not two cells over. Sensed the familiar life coming to an end and it gave her such a shock her toes clenched over the bars of the floor. They couldn’t get her loose. Another thought of us all as sisters and rubbed her raw skin against the bleeding cage when another passed away. The guards would bring in someone new and after a while
‘She stepped on me once and said sorry.’ ‘She’s too old to have children.’ ‘She laughs when I do.’ She lay there and heard our voices flying over her like a great fleet of cages. One of us fell on her, the nothing weight of her raw skin pressed until there wasn’t much breath left. But she was still alive. A guard came and opened the cell with his cage hands and grabbed her by the legs. She was carried upside down along the hall. As she passed we called out, ‘Don’t go, don’t go; go, go, go.’ We were never sure. The guard carried her beyond the lights and dusk came suddenly, then it was pitch. She was thrown into it and for a moment she was flying. She stretched her useless arms for the first time and caught the air; then she came down. Her landing was sharp and wet. She smelled the sweet smell of herself rotting over and over again. She realised that she was lying on broken bones and there was nothing, nothing! between standing and death. There was no mother, no guards, no sisters, no cells, no skin, no food, no words, no birth — just the light and then the darkness. It fell all over her and sucked her back from life. ‘The summer just starts again,’ she told us. She wanted us to know what that was like, to be pulled back into the womb. Like all this time she’d been something spilled and now every cell found the other, reminisced, reformed. She wondered if, when she was born, it would be as a roaster or a broiler, whether it would be the same life she’d just lived, to the same mother, or would she be a guard, or something other? But she asked these questions very quietly, and from far away, so we couldn’t hear her. The guards had brought someone new to the cell and we were already calling that one sister. Far away in the darkness she felt herself becoming small. Encased in warm weather. Liquefied. The heartbeat of home.
30 November – 17 December 2011
Wading in, pieces of light
When I was a boy we had these red plastic cups. They were hard and made a high, sharp sound against the teeth. Drinking the last of its contents, I would hold my cup against my face, its circumference covering my eyes and blocking out the light of the day outside. Staring into its base, I could make out my reflection. No one else could see me at the end of that cup. It was a personal universe, which only I could experience. This childhood memory was triggered by my experience of Heat death in the afternoon, an exhibition of sculptural and 2D works by Melbourne-based artists Nathan Barnett and Robbie Dixon. Entering the gallery, Barnett’s freestanding forms made from plastic tubing, bent cleanly into shape, sit comfortably in the centre of the space. Diagrammatic drawings of these forms are positioned to one side and on the facing wall, on a shelf, is a collection of plastic cups and plates, all with their edges and lips gnawed. Interspersed with Barnett’s work is a series of structures by Dixon, which feel like they would be at home at the shorefront or at sea. One is possibly a signpost or a kind of gauge with a specific nautical function. On the back wall is a painting that uses what look like maritime signal flags as its subject. Another work is a broken banner-like structure, which is also present — in its unbroken form — in two photographs taken on a pier facing Melbourne’s city skyline. In the photographs, the banner either effaces the city or adds to the objects on the pier, depending on the angle of the camera. While my childhood memory more obviously resonates with the tactile plasticity and physicality of Barnett’s tubular forms and gnawed plastic
cups and plates, it was equally provoked by the intimate sense of subjectivity and relativity put into play by Dixon’s nautical structures and signs, which reminded me of my own discovery of subjectivity at that young age. Experiencing Barnett’s work, I had an immediate bodily response — I could actually taste plastic in my mouth. With Dixon’s work, however, it was more psychological. His objects felt relative, mutually dependent; they came together like a sentence that reveals some meaning greater than that of each distinct part. In experiencing his work, I found myself interpreting and making connections like I was learning a language. A further parallel between my memory and Dixon and Barnett’s work is the sense of annihilation at play in each. By raising the cup to my face, I briefly deleted the world around me. In Barnett’s work this annihilation occurs on a material level, where plastic itself is formed in a process that annihilates, in the true sense of the word. To annihilate is to ‘reduce to nothing’, and plastic is the product of the most spectacular reduction. Millions of years ago, sunlight was stored as carbon via the photosynthesis of plant matter floating at sea. This plant matter, and the remains of the animals that lived off it, settled on the ocean floor and slowly became oil, a by-product of whose refinement is plastic. In this way, sunlight — vast, intangible, breathtaking nothingness — has been fixed into the concentrated, solid world of stuff that we surround ourselves with. Plastic becomes a model for thinking about the transition from immateriality to materiality, and the role of form in this transition is where Barnett’s tubular sculptures find their voice; they are momentary structures on the timeline towards total collapse. Bits of matter and particles of light come together to make neat powerful shapes. Barnett’s forms are drawings in space; his actual drawings their counterpoints. They are diagrams of form, maps of spatial relationships. Barnett’s work recombines, rethinks and repositions. It reflects plasticity in a material and non-material sense, and positions the world itself as mere composition: stuff comes together and then it comes together again differently, and then again, and again. The more visceral side of Barnett’s work is embedded in his plastic cups, plates and other vessels that have been eaten away at the edges. They have been partly ingested. In those vessels, sunlight is swallowed. Plastic has
become prosthetic for us, it is an extension of our bodies, but more than that, it represents an invasive force. Plastic permeates the skin, it crosses membranes, becomes internalised, gets stuck inside. It makes us sick. It holds us tightly in a state of disease, in the thick of our last mutated fight, as conversely, we hold on just as tightly to it. In this sense, Barnett’s work talks of the suffering of humanity at this point in our history. Plastic’s toxicity is a warning shot, and in this way, Barnett’s work is alarming and disconcerting as much as it is elegant and direct. While in Barnett’s work annihilation is present in its material make-up — in the plastic itself — in Dixon’s work it operates on a semantic level: the ‘reduction to nothing’ takes place in the way things are structured, in the relationships between things and in what those relationships set in motion. More than a reduction, an erasure or elimination is present. Dixon presents parts of a whole that cannot be seen entirely. There is a sense that the inclusion of some things is a result of the exclusion of others, and that something remains unsaid in what is said. In this way, a subjective space is set up in which knowing in a particular sense is privileged over knowing in an absolute sense. This is most clear in the two photographs of the banner. In one photograph, the banner is one of a number of objects on the pier; it adds to the world of objects and to the city, which lies in the background of the photo. In the other photograph, the camera angle is shifted, and the banner becomes the main event; it eliminates the city, deleting it from the world. There is no absolute version of the banner or the city; the two exist relative to one another. This relativity is reiterated by the painted gradation of greys on the largest of the nautical structures. Here, the achromatic spectrum of the structure talks of subtle variations, small changes and gradual shifts. In Dixon’s work, nothing is either black or white, and if an extreme position is possible then it is temporary and contingent. Elements like the banner and the scale of greys unlock the other works; they establish a relationship between an all-or-nothing audacity (the annihilation of the city) and a fragile recognition of dependency. On the one hand, Dixon’s work awakens a powerful sense of autonomy, independence and freedom; his structures are signposts that point outwards, marking a point of departure. On the other hand, although the structures indicate
where a path lies, they embody uncertainty; they mark the beginning and end points of a trajectory that is unknown. This sensation of freedom in uncharted territory is appropriately oceanic. In response to the amorphous, terrifying nature of the sea, the structures that act as its counterpoint — its ships, signals and ports, even its sailors — embody an attitude of defiance that is bold, fearless and heroic. Although Dixon’s structures express intimacy and fragility, they occupy this position of defiance. Thinking again about the universe at the bottom of my red cup, I am struck by the capacity of a simple gesture to dramatically alter the surrounding world, and how gestures of this kind are present in both Barnett and Dixon’s work. In Dixon’s two photos of the banner and the city, the difference between adding and subtracting is a movement, a simple shift of the camera angle from one photograph to the other. The movement is relatively minute, but the implications in the change from addition to subtraction are radical. Similarly, the bite marks on Barnett’s cups and plates create a significant shift in how we regard these objects and their purpose: the vessels of daily consumption have been consumed. Barnett’s bite marks reference a pervasive toxicity and dramatically function as an omen of humanity’s collapse. While different in content and form, both Barnett and Dixon’s work can be seen to use simple material gestures to engage with the idea of annihilation. The annihilation of the self and the annihilation of the surrounding world are inseparable; they are mutually dependent, locked in a firm embrace. In a material sense, our annihilation is a reduction; we exist as recombinant forms, continually reimagined, increasingly complex.
17 August – 3 September 2011
How to wrap a metre-long schlong
An (educational) interview with Andrew Burford Laura Castagnini
Andrew Burford’s installation Hung was exhibited in the Project Space of SEVENTH in August 2011. Since then I have thought about the piece often, mostly to have a private chuckle at the thought that I’ve seen Andrew’s freckled wang through a giant penis kaleidoscope, but also to consider the position his humorous deconstruction of the phallus holds within contemporary gender discourse. I sat down with Andrew on the balcony of his Collingwood home to learn more about the power of the penis, what really goes on in the boys’ locker rooms and how (and why) he wrapped a metre-long schlong. Laura Castagnini: Hung is a well-hung penis that hangs from the roof. A ‘woody’ made of fake wood. We look through the ‘eye’ of the penis to view the kaleidoscope. Why do you love puns so much? Andrew Burford: It’s always fun to shove a pun in somewhere! That was tenuous I know, and I was lucky it worked with Hung, but it made sense conceptually for the work to be dripping in puns. I wanted the viewer to initially laugh at the big, fake, glowing wooden penis but then chuckle at the added one-liners. LC: The one-liners somehow go deeper, however. The shaft of your penis is coated in a wooden veneer, but on closer inspection we realise it’s actually book contact. It’s faux-masculinity, like a 1970s mustachioed porn star who lives in a cabin and chops wood. Why do you ‘poke’ at the construction
(literally) of masculinity? AB: The cheap, wood-effect contact is my favourite aspect of the work. It reminds me of being a young kid and covering schoolbooks, but this time I wrapped up a metre-long schlong. I loved how the viewer was enticed to look into the ‘eye of the beast’ and had to bend down to do so; they were essentially bowing to my penis and then laughing when confronted with a bouquet of dicks. But to answer your question with a question, why are we always trying to be men? What is a man anyway? Surely having a dick doesn’t automatically make you manly. The idea of the big guy with the big wang being the ideal man is just so irrelevant these days, and yet it still exists within society. I’m highlighting how silly these guys look, flexing their man-muscle to command attention. LC: Whereas Hung is almost the opposite; rather than compete with the oversized kaleidoscope apparatus you instead present a photograph of your penis head on. This self-exposure is a different ballgame in comparison to your earlier work, for example Nudes (2009-10), which examines other bodies. Why did you decide to put yourself in such a vulnerable position? (A bottom, if you will!) AB: Well, I’m more of a top than a bottom but I get what you’re saying. I have issue with artists who explore themes of nudity but are not willing to expose themselves. I’m sure I could have got some young stud with a prettier piece to pose for me, but how could I comment on masculinity if I wasn’t willing to stick mine on the line? The work was about judgment based on penis size and so I thought, if I’m getting judged for my work anyway, I may as well be judged on my cock at the same time. While I was sitting the gallery I did have one viewer look through the scope three times, so I couldn’t have been that much of a disappointment. LC: Was that me? I stole quite a few peeks too! Although for me the viewing experience was more innocent. It fulfilled an inner childlike curiosity about other people’s pink bits. I never knew you had so many freckles down there!
AB: My mother once said, ‘seen one, seen ‘em all.’ I disagree; everybody’s hidden bits are different in some way. Some are pretty and others not so much. I like my dangly bits, luckily. Childhood curiosity is an important reference point in Hung. A kaleidoscope is a toy many of us would have played with as a kid and, with its phallic shape, it lent itself quite easily to the metaphor. It is during adolescence that a boy’s (nonsexual) interest in the penis reaches its peak. All we talked about at school was our penises; whether we were circumcised or not, whether we jerked off, who in the class we thought stroked the trouser snake the most and how big our member was and it was only in the changing rooms that you had the chance to size yourself up against others. I remember that Richard was crowned with the biggest in the class, but he was a year older so it was ok. Quite funny considering his name was literally Dick. LC: Hung is, in a way, celebratory, however there aren’t many other happy penises in art; in the 1970s male performance artists including Bill Flanagan and Paul McCarthy made art about their genitalia, however usually in a sado-masochistic manner1, and much of Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic photography is shrouded by criticisms of black exoticisation. At the same time your presentation of your own genitalia is a popular feminist practice and your peephole device invites penis voyeurism in a way traditionally consistent with viewings of the female body. Is Hung actually a backdoor reference to feminism? AB: When women create work about vaginas they are usually empowering them, however the penis is already empowered. So I wanted to deflate it a little. Taking the piss out of the phallus and making it absurd takes away some of its self-assumed power. I suppose in a way this could be considered misanthropic but as I see it, I’m not manly because I have meat and two veg in my pants, and why should my ‘third leg’ lead the way for my behaviour? Claire Lambe, a Melbourne artist who has made some work surrounding the phallus in a similar vein to mine, is a good reference point for me. Her phalli are sometimes amusing and at others quite violent looking. To me her work reflects various aspects of what being a man should be and how this is meaningless. Like faking a male orgasm.
LC: Wow, is that physically possible? AB: It could happen, the noises anyway, but you would have to be prepared with some mayonnaise or shampoo or something. I really doubt I could be arsed with all that effort.
17 August – 3 September 2011
Adrift in the void
Can meaning be constructed inside a void? Jon Oldmeadow’s video, Adrift in the void, is set inside a fold in space and time. The artist provides field notes from an exploration of a space ‘in between’. Armed with a small camera hidden inside his sunglasses, he films his surroundings, narrating the footage in the first person. Oldmeadow forces unsuspecting members of the public to become actors in a disorientating fragmented narrative. Using cinematic tools typical of sci-fi time-travel films, he breaks down the constructs of the traditional linear narrative, questioning its role in establishing understanding. Playing with our sense of time, the work jumps forwards and backwards with ambiguity. The deconstructed narrative parallels the non-linear nature of everyday experiences. For example, when meeting someone for the first time we don’t tell them who we are in a linear format, starting with when we were born and continuing in chronological order. Nonlinear narratives mimic human nature and memory recall, and have been the focus of much film and literature. The opening shots of a sweeping view over the tip of an aeroplane wing are accompanied by a description of the beginning of the end: ‘I was reduced to a pure concept. My flesh had dissolved; my form dissipated. I floated in space liberated from my corporeal being but without dispensation to go anywhere else. I was adrift in the void.’ This quote from Haruki Murakami is the first of three from novels the artist read during his travels. Oldmeadow references that the sentiments of these texts resonated with the way he felt while he was spying on people through
For example Paul McCarthy’s video Hot Dog (1974) depicts the artist stripping naked and shaving his body before taping his penis into a hot dog bun, smearing his buttocks with mustard, then stuffing his mouth with hot dogs and taping his mouth closed.
the hidden sunglasses camera. The philosophical sentiments juxtaposed with scenes of poverty and political unrest make apparent a shared social consciousness. Slowly transitioning through relatively unconnected scenes, the work is held in a numinous weightless state. Set adrift in limbo we hear resonating strains of a choir singing. From the back seat of a taxi, the artist provides few clues to his unknown location, taking in glimpses of the surrounding neighbourhood and the back of the taxi driver’s head. The driver, Carlos Garcia Fernandez, is busy planning out his future as he negotiates the chaos of the city streets. Haunted by the sounds of gunshots and fireworks, he is trying to slow down his view of the world in order to predict what will happen. This fragmented view of Carlos’s life begs us to question what our own destination might be. Fast forward and we enter a street festival with locals celebrating and dancing. Two short women carrying babies wrapped in slings shop for belts. Oldmeadow explains that sisters Marta and Martina have travelled a long way to get to the city, taking three buses, two trains and the metrocable. ‘Marta had planned to name her baby Jorge, but kept it a secret as the gender was unknown. And miscommunication led to a small argument resulting in both babies being named Jorge, the same name as their father.’ The women wander through the markets in identical dresses. Unimpressed with the selection of accessories, they leave empty-handed. Through the development of these unnecessarily detailed characters, their backgrounds having little context to the story, Oldmeadow creates an uneasy tension between the viewer and the work. This sense of alienation and distance is further heightened by the restless and discontented nature of the characters. From a train carriage window, the size of the city, surrounded by mountains and an expansive shantytown, becomes apparent. Oldmeadow introduces a man standing on his porch in the rain, giving his actions meaning: ‘As Ramon Andres swept his porch he also swept away large gaping holes in his reality.’ Last night, we hear, Ramon placed his medicine near the bathroom sink, but this morning it had been moved to the centre of the kitchen table. He did not move it; he lives alone. Ramon continues
sweeping, as if trying to fill the holes in his porch. A quote from Philip K. Dick allows Oldmeadow to avoid providing a real reason for these happenings: ‘we all have leaks in our reality ... a drop here, a couple of drops there and a moist spot forming on the ceiling.’ Oldmeadow blurs the distinction between the real and the unreal, loosening our grasp on our experience of the work. Looking across the hillside scattered with the tops of dishevelled buildings, the desolation of the city is evident. From the vantage point of a cable car we spy down on soldiers standing on an embankment, surveying the area, guns strapped over their shoulders. Below, a mural depicts optimistic scenes of rebellion and athletics. As the shot fades out, the artist surmises with a quote from Paul Auster, ‘when a person is lucky enough to live inside a story, to live inside an imaginary world, the pains of this world disappear. For as long as the story goes on, reality no longer exists.’ The quotes provide structure to the loose architecture of the video, lending much weight and meaning to this work. Presenting fiction as non-fiction, Oldmeadow utilises the gallery space to position the video as pseudo-documentary. The disparate scenes in the video are linked by the strategic insertion of the quotes throughout, affecting a semi-fictional, diarised account of an explorer. It’s an obscure take on sci-fi, reminiscent of the narrated vacillating photomontages of Chris Marker and Tamar Guimaraes. Oldmeadow takes much pleasure in the magic of low-fi aesthetics, employing technology that has the capacity to transport us through space and time. The carefully measured contents of the work results in a blurry, but readable, road map to the abyss.
9–26 November 2011
The palace of tears
and before she had a name for it Mother had turned away and closed the door, and she was left alone in the darkness. The next morning, Mother wore her best blue dress, even though winter was approaching, and Alex put on her own, slightly darker, blue dress. The four of them, Grandfather and Grandmother, Mother and Child, walked through the chill October air towards Friedrichstraße station. She had heard the other children at school call it the Tränenplast — the Palace of Tears. As they turned the corner on to Friedrichstraße, they saw a squat, square building that would normally have been unremarkable — and really, it was just another ugly building in a city that was still being rebuilt — except that its huge windows sparkled in the cold October sunlight like a transparent jewellery box. As they got closer Alex thought she could see right through the empty building, right through to the other side. But this was only the first of the Tränenplast’s many optical illusions. As they reached the heavy double doors and pushed them open with a sigh, she saw that the floor descended like a sunken pool, so that from the outside one could not see the long line which barely shuffled towards a series of opaque glass booths at the end of the hall. She realised with a shiver that upon entering the building she too had joined the ranks of the invisible; that the casual passerby would not know that she, Alex, stood like all the others holding loved ones’ hands. And it seemed terrible to her that one could not know, from the outside, that the knots of hand-holding were severed at the opaque booths, and that every face in the hall was tear-streaked. Worst of all, one could not know that the remaining loved ones stood crystallised long after the departed had continued underground to board the train West. Seeing all this, Alex gripped Mother’s hand even more tightly. She knew that she must stay quiet in this place whose only sounds were the heavy thud of stamping from the glass booths and the drip drip of tears falling on to cheap linoleum, but the words came tumbling out before she could stop them. —Why don’t the doors have handles? But Mother said nothing and there they waited, the line barely moving and the thudding rubber stamp becoming duller and duller, until the
People ran through the streets, shouting to the smiling faces poking out of windows. Anyone who opened a door to get a better look was swept up in the joyful procession. Alex shut the window with a gentle click but the voices were hardly dulled. The muted television flashed images of people astride the Wall whilst others went at it with sledgehammers. Ignoring the flickering pictures, Alex poured herself a drink and sank into the faded couch.
She’d been on the cusp of puberty when the city was split in two. As people slowly began disappearing over to the West, she wondered if their bodies were changing too. So when Mother took her aside one day after school, she was ready to go. But when Mother spoke it was not at all what she had expected. —I have to go away for a little while, to the West. I would love to take you with me darling, but I can’t, not yet. But I promise it won’t be for long. Alex spent the following week being sullen, tramping around the neighbourhood streets until well after dinner time, when she would come home and eat the now cold meal without a word before retreating to her room. Mother only cried twice during that week — once while Alex ate her dinner in silence, and then in the doorway of Alex’s bedroom the night before the departure, her silhouette in the door frame betraying her silent sobs. Alex had felt a powerful urge to spring out of bed then, to run at Mother and envelop her in her arms. But something held her tight in bed,
only sound in Alex’s ears was that drip drip of tears. With each drop her body tensed in anticipation of the next, until she found herself watching the individual tears on the faces of mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, and time itself moved as slowly as a tear welling to fullness in the eye before its own mass is too great and its surface tension breaks and the drop rolls down the cheek. She felt a terrible sense of breathless anticipation between each drip as she willed gravity to pull the ballooning drop down off the cheek faster just so that she could breathe again: for now she understood the unbearable weight of silence hanging there, suspended. And then Mother was hugging her, kissing her, holding her; their tears mixed together on her face. Mother was standing in an open doorway without a door and she was waving slowly and almost smiling. —See — there’s no door, so they can’t close it — and one day soon I will come back through and we’ll cross over together, darling girl. But in their matching blue dresses Alex thought they looked too similar. That was not a doorway at all but a mirror; that was her hand moving up and down, as if to wipe something away; that was her face, almost smiling, twin rivulets of tears streaking down her cheeks and hanging like stalactites for a moment before falling.
together; that Mother had not ‘crossed over to the other side’ but fallen through one of the cracks in the seam. And if they pulled down the Wall then the seam would be perfected; the cracks would disappear. So she returned to that moment when the doorway stood open and Mother stood waving and everything was possible because nothing had yet happened, for Mother was wrong — as soon as she stepped through that doorway the door did close, on all the myriad possibilities of life in the East. And so Mother had chained herself forever to the terrible promise of A Better Future. Alex had learnt through bitter experience that the West wasn’t through the doorway — it was the doorway itself, the image of hope and transcendence and moving on. Alex got up from the couch to make herself another drink. As she stood at the bench mixing the liquid with a finger, she remembered that the Tränenplatz had been blue tiled, and that the clear sky filtering through the big windows above them had given the whole place the impression of being underwater. She had often imagined, as a child, that the steady drip of tears had hollowed out the sunken pool, and thinking now of that mirror image — the woman and the girl, even then already resembling each other — she felt submerged by the weight of all those tears and the realisation that now she must be the very picture of her Mother standing there, almost smiling.
Outside, the celebrations continued unabated, but Alex could not join them. She remained transfixed by that last image of Mother in the Tränenplast, knowing that if the Wall came down and East became West or West became East then the structure holding that memory together — she had always imagined it to be utilitarian like the Wall itself, cold metal scaffolding and grey cement — would collapse. And along with that last image of Mother would go the possibility of her return. For what she had come to realise over the years — after countless clandestine meetings with Western operatives and secret messages back and forth across the border, always in vain, at least when it came to the information she wanted: Mother’s whereabouts — the terrible truth she paid dearly for every day, was that there was no other side at all; that the Wall was not a barrier for keeping East and West apart but a seam which held the two hemispheres
7–24 September 2011
30 November – 17 December 2011
Night moves: Ann Fuata’s Daily Exercise (1 to 3)
She refuses to stop imagining, Convinced that if she does that will be the death of her. ‘I wanted to walk through a light castle,’ She says, inspecting her handiwork And cutting a row of paper people. When I ask what they are, she smiles, silent. A row of guards, perhaps, to keep the light safe. The web is spun in the deepest corner of the room, Fireflies are caught in motion, reaching out to touch Paper angels whizzing along lines of thread; Notes to remind her to shop now fluttering, Flimsy saints to orderliness. They hover, silencing the mundane, Playing with the light and creeping into the corners of eyes, Catching the cornea unaware, heralding her web; A shawl drawn around the night To catch wayward dreams. Torchlight beams, shadows stretch making faces like witches; The paper people stretch to reach each other.
Placing your artwork in an unmanned public space can be a little like abandoning a bundle at the hospital door. In the best of all worlds, a passerby would find and embrace it, take it inside and give it loving attention. But of course, there is always the possibility it will be left out in the dark and cold, unnoticed, failing to thrive. Morbid analogies aside, there is something both hopeful and fatalistic about public art spaces like the Night Screen at SEVENTH. Although often instituted out of an altruistic desire to make art more accessible, what they mostly do is exchange one extremely niche audience for another — the predictability, and privilege, of the art crowd, for the tantalising unknowability of the passerby. Melbourne boasts a diverse selection of shop-window art spaces. From veteran Platform1, with its endless glass boxes to fill, to the diminutive TwentyByThirty2, attached to a café in an aromatic alley behind Swanston Street, these repurposed retail sites are a strange combination of high and low profile. Located centrally, they are technically accessible to all, but would not be available to artists in the first place if they were exploitable, itself implying inaccessibility. The audience for such hidden public spaces is often conceived as some kind of amorphous ‘general public’. As Din Heagney, former director of Platform, put it: ‘[Platform] wasn’t just for the elite or people in the know, it was art for everyone, anyone, no-one …’3 But while it’s true that plenty of people rush past those windows on a daily basis, who are the people who
regularly stop? Who is the audience beyond the commuters who flood the subway at tidal intervals each day? At least speculatively, you can drill down further into the ‘counter-public’4, and identify this very ungeneric audience as: people at a loose end during the day, university students, buskers, retirees, the homeless, teenage delinquents, scammers and vandals. The Night Screen audience is potentially an even broader church, especially during the daylight savings hours of 9 pm–12 am5, when it is likely encountered by shift workers, bar staff, chefs on break, drifters, stumbling alcoholics, revelers tipping out of night spots and house parties, middle-class gourmands tipping out of foodie meccas, and perhaps only the most hardcore of actual art fans. How do curators and artists address this audience? And how does the audience receive what is being offered? When I visited on a quiet Tuesday night, I found myself wondering. Spectatorship breeds spectatorship, and as I stood watching the video, a woman with a slightly shaky, glazed countenance wavered in my peripheral vision, joining me in a sort of awkward, co-locational camaraderie of public art appreciation. ‘How’s she done it?’ my fellow audient suddenly asked, referring to the illusion created in Ann Fuata’s video Daily Exercise (1 to 3). An impromptu conversation ensued as we tried to nut out the mechanics of it together. Depicting three adjacent escalators, moving in alternate directions, it centres on the figure of Fuata, calmly stepping, one riser at a time, up the ‘down’ escalator. Timing her steps perfectly with its pace, she makes no progress and holds her position throughout the video. A sweet trick in itself, recalling childhood fascinations with shopping centre architecture, it becomes mind-boggling when you realise the whole video is being played in reverse. Just as easily as it had begun, the conversation dropped, and we went our separate ways. Unlike a gallery space, whose structure invites sustained and isolated attention to a work, a public screen creates these temporary, ephemeral opportunities for engagement: lighter moments in which people can encounter art and each other minus the potentially off-putting barriers attendant to the White Cube.
The metaphor of the window as a semi-permeable membrane between the gallery (the art world) and the street (everything else) is extended by Fuata’s depiction of escalators. Windows and escalators are both liminal space — always between two places. They are also both conveyances — this window conveying ideas and artwork to the public, the escalators conveying shoppers to products, workers to transport. The Night Screen acts as an insertion and an interruption to the highly monetised and merchandised retail-scape of Gertrude Street, and Fuata’s performance as an insertion into the wider capitalist landscape — an interruption to its insistent flow. She creates a moment of calm, defiantly refusing to advance in the on-rush of progress (a ‘progress’ which is ironically depicted playing in reverse). There is a playfulness to Fuata’s video too, which brings to mind Jeroen Offerman’s Stairway at St Paul’s6, in which the performance artist sings Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ backwards, then reverses the footage, invoking and inverting the urban myth of rock albums hiding subliminal satanic messages. In both videos, part of the pleasure is watching the public react to the performance with curiosity or disdain, either trying to avoid, or openly gawking at the camera. Both tread a fine line between tight conceptual and formal structure and an embracing of random inputs. Of course it is nearly impossible to measure the relationship between the window, the work and its potential audience, and unwise to generalise from specific experience. But my sense is that its fabric is constructed from many random, isolated moments of encounter — between the work, the individual, and between individuals and each other — on the street. Fuata’s work, both public and intimate, engaging and detached, perfectly addresses this accumulation of potential moments and potential audiences.
1 2 3
Platform Public Contemporary Art Spaces, <http://platformartistsgroup.blogspot.com>. TwentyByThirty Gallery, <http://www.twentybythirtygallery.com>. Angela Brophy. ‘Platform—In The Words Of Former Directors.’ What Art, Which Public: Platform Artists Group 1990-2010, ed. Angela Brophy. Melbourne: Platform Artists Group, 2010, p. 65.
Zara Stanhope. ‘Something Strange in the Subway.’ What Art, Which Public: Platform Artists Group 19902010, ed. Angela Brophy. Melbourne: Platform Artists Group, 2010, p. 9. Zara Stanhope uses Michael Warner’s concept of the ‘counter-public’: ‘self-initiated alternatives to the reigning cultural and political hegemony of the conception of the public as the market, and thereby authors of an alternative perspective.’ The regular hours for the Night Screen are the slightly more social 6 pm–12 am. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlS3j-9Y18s
9–26 November 2011
Did Edward use a strap-on?
Artifice, authenticity and attention or, contemporary art vs. pop culture Jo Latham
The 2011 film release of Stephenie Meyer’s fourth instalment of The Twilight Saga — The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 — was highly anticipated worldwide, not only because of the Twilight series’ popularity as a whole, but more so because it’s the film where they do it. But the physics of that sexual encounter, like many textual acts, remains confusingly unexplained. Since the birth of the modern vampire in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the violence and intimacy of fang penetrating flesh has been a symbol for sex, and more often than not deviant sex at that. But let’s not get carried away. Twilight’s vampire hero Edward is virginal, virtuous and celibate for over a century; he was unwilling in all three previous films to do the deed with his human lover, Bella, for fear of killing her. Here, bloodlust and sexual desire are inextricably linked; and sex is risky. He fears that sex will equal consumption, and in a way it does, as he impregnates Bella with a vampire child who does eventually kill her. But literally kill her Edward does not. This jump from metaphor to literalisation raises an even more important conundrum: how does he get it up? With all the vampire fiction around, each has its own interpretation of vampire mythology, but two things remain constant and necessary — vampires drink blood and are dead. Vampires’ living deaths includes super human powers such as phenomenal speed, strength, agility, fighting skills and more often than not, some form of mind-control.
Their relationships to sex differ, too. True Blood depicts the metaphor of the vampire for sex at its most explicit — where vampires are ‘the best sex’ any man or woman can experience. The Vampire Diaries sees teenage vampire Stefan and his human lover Elena experience fairly ‘normal’ sexual interactions, where bloodlust is completely absent. Angel and Buffy toyed more with the risks of death through post-coital desertion, but it was the vampire, not the human, left changed after the lead characters’ sexual encounter, and Angel must be celibate in order to remain ‘good’. But in all of these texts no mention of the blood-racing aspect of male performance is asserted. True Blood perhaps comes the closest with this slightly unhelpful dialogue between vampire Bill and human Sookie:
Bill Compton: I have no heartbeat. I have no need to breathe. There are no electrical impulses in my body. What animates you no longer animates me. Sookie Stackhouse: What does animate you then? Blood? How do you digest it if nothing works? Bill Compton: Magic? Sookie Stackhouse: Oh, come on Bill! I may look naïve but I’m not, and you — you need to remember that. Bill Compton: You think that it’s not magic that keeps you alive? Just ‘cause you understand the mechanics of how something works, doesn’t make it any less of a miracle … which is just another word for magic. We’re all kept alive by magic, Sookie. My magic’s just a little different from yours, that’s all.
Like with vampire skin — which looks similar to human skin and has the same basic function — fluids closely related to seminal fluids still exist in male vampires, which carry genetic information and are capable of bonding with a human ovum. This was not a known fact in the vampire world … because it’s nearly impossible for a vampire to be that near a human and not kill her [sic].
Hmm. Once again erection is evaded. But we know this: the heart does not beat. And erection is something more specific and unique than muscle function — it is most especially about blood flow. And let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with functional diversity. Erection, like any other bodily function, can work in different ways for different people or at different stages of their lives. While few devices exist for this purpose, exist for others they surely do. Rigid and attachable, hollow silicone wide mesh dildos can enable assisted erection, as well as enhanced sensation to both wearer and receiver. Some guys employ stuffing (the insertion of a flaccid penis), or like transguys with smaller dicks, use penis extenders. I like depictions of the not so smooth aspects of sex. The US version of Queer As Folk made condom use both smooth and sexy, while Michelle Tea’s novel Valencia makes glove use hot. Yet many hetero texts continue to exclude condoms from their sex scenes. Breaking Dawn — in both film and book — excuses itself I think from these nitty gritty aspects of sex, because the sex itself is barely detailed. But it seems to me quite possible, and indeed likely, that Edward spent a moment (however lightning fast due to his vampire super speed) hopping into a leather harness, and pushing his hard, yet not upright, ice-white cock through a ring into a hollow, black, vine-like silicone dildo, a hole in the tip to facilitate pregnancy-inducing ejaculation. Sex is always different. And sexual differences exist not just in desires, practices and bodies, but also in functions. That’s what Twilight precipitated me to think about and, for all its denunciation by intellectual elites, got many people reading, engaging, questioning: isn’t that the function of art?
(And she doesn’t, but Sookie might well reply something like: Well, sure Bill, but I can explain the mechanics, so explain yours!) True Blood too, I think, offers the most probable erection-achieving situation, in which vampires feed whilst having sex. For our hero Edward, Meyer explains:
Summer Residency, January 2012
Inter-Harris, Inter-Nordin, Inter-view
28 September – 15 October 2011
PUBLIC EVOLUTION EVENT NATURAL XX PROCESS SUBJECT DOER MARRIAGE STATUS FOOD INTEREST SEMINAL EXPRESSIVE FIXED KNOWN SOCIAL TASTING BIOLOGICAL ART NEW LARGE LIMINAL HIGHER FACE ORGANIC
PRIVATE SUCCESS HORIZON FAUX XXX PRODUCT EXPRESSION DEED CONTRACT OBJECT INTOLERANT RATES DIALOGUE POSSESSIVE BICYCLE UNKNOWN NETWORKING NOTES CLOCK STAR BLACK OBJECT PASSAGE POWER BOOK VEGETABLE
STOCK VIP GROUND DEMOGRAPHIC CRACK PLAID DOLL SMILING ICE ICE PATCH IRONIC INDY DOMINANT LAVA SMS HAWAIIAN THIRD INDUSTRY POST BOX STRIP MILLENNIUM SOMATIC PLAY LIBERAL BROWN
MARKET PHD ZERO MARKETING WHORE SHIRT PARTS ASSASSIN BABY WORK NOSTALGIA BAND PARADIGM LAMP STD SHIRT WORLD EVENT MODERN OFFICE TEASE BUG CELL STATION DEMOCRACY DWARF
CELL REALITY SMILEY DARK SMALL SOY FRENCH SOCIAL MATERNITY BRAND WINE SUBJECT WEB CORPORATE SHAPE RDO INVESTMENT BRAND GALACTIC ASCENDING EMOTIONAL HOT CRITICAL CASUAL FAG ART HYPOTHETICAL SAME SANS ECO HYPER BRAIN CHAOS VENICE SPEED EXEGESIS TROMA
PHONE TELEVISION FACE MATTER BUSINESS MILK BULLDOG WORK LEAVE NAME BAR OBJECT SITE BOX WEAR MDMA PROPERTY IDENTITY COMMAND DESCENDING INTELLIGENCE YOGA THINKING FRIDAY HAG COLLECTION CONJECTURE PAGE SERIF FRIENDLY LINK STORM THEORY BIENNALE DATING EISEGESIS FILM
MICRO IRRITABLE WEEKEND WIN DENTAL POLISHED MANIC CHARITY HECS ASTRO BEER CORPORATE NORI BOTOX INTERNET FOLK ATOMIC GENETIC EXISTENTIAL OIL TISSUE BERLIN URL ICE MIXED PLACENTA SLEEP CRAMP THINK CHAI DESERT SOLAR GLASS POST FUTURES GREEN MOVIE
BREWERY BOWEL WARRIOR WIN COVER CONCRETE DEPRESSIVE MATCH DEBT BOY GUT LADDER ROLL INJECTION PORN ART PERCOLATOR MODIFICATION CRISIS SPILL SALTS FALAFEL UTI AGE MEDIA CREAM SCHOOL ONS TANK LATTE BOOTS PASSIVE CEILING PUNK TRADING BAG FRANCHISE
INTELLECTUAL LYCRA TAROT NEW DAY COLLECTIVE IVF CEREMONIAL LITERARY SHOCK PLUTOCRACY IT NON INFINITE ARTIFICIAL CYBERNETIC SEED G SOUR RIGHT NOBLE PACK BOTTLED LUMINIFEROUS HOSTILE COUNTER GEODESIC LIFE HISTORIC SOMATIC ALIEN KRAUT LEARNING 303 NECK DOLMEN CLASS
PROPERTY SHORTS APP CIRCUS CARE BARGAINING COD GARMENT AVATAR JOCK OLIGARCHY DRESS EVENT MONKEYS PERSONS FEEDBACK BANK SPOT DOUGH WING GASSES ICE WATER AETHER MERGER CULTURE SPHERE PARTNER BRICOLAGE PULSE STATUS ROCK OUTCOME 404 TIE STRUCTURE DIVIDE
VEGAN REPTILIAN VELVET ANAL GUEST DESIRE CORRECTIVE POSITIONAL META HAUL MINI CRYSTAL ALMA COMMERCIAL COMMITMENT EXCLUSIVE TEAM HYBRID SELL SHARE UPWARD FAT GLOBAL MUSIC ARTS DIGITAL SOUND CROSS ONLINE TROPHY DE ADHD VIRGIN INVIDIOUS BIO COLONIC FAKE
BOLOGNESE HUMANOID ROPE BLEACH LIST ATTAINMENT SURGERY GOODS SPACE VIDEO BREAK HEALING MATER GALLERY CEREMONY MEMBERSHIP BUILDING CAR OUT PRICE MOBILITY FREE CITIZEN FESTIVAL SECTOR ANALOG SCAPE MEDIA POKER WIFE CONSTRUCT HD OIL CONSUMPTION MASS IRRIGATION TAN
CREDIT SUBLIMINAL EMOTICON POLITICAL PLAYING HOT FOOTY NATURAL CREATIVE STUDIO MALAR CHIN MOUNTAIN MODULAR POLO STAFF ROMCOM SPORTS ACID ALTER RELIGIOUS
RATING MESSAGE TWEET LEAK FIELD DESK TIP SELECTION EDGE APARTMENT FLUSH UPS CLIMB LOUNGE SHIRT ROOM SITCOM STADIUM PEEL EGO ECSTASY
NAME POLE MEDIA GEOMETRIC PLASMA FOOT CUBIC DESCENDING ONTOLOGY EMOTIONAL SOCIAL UP TAXI PARADISE MID 99 RETRO STATUS CLASS COUNT ACROSS
DROP DANCE INDEX PROGRESSION SCREEN HOLD ZIRCONIA CRESCENDO ASTROLOGY BAGGAGE CLIMBING DOWN RANK LOST CAREER PERCENT NIGHT ANXIETY DIVIDE DOWN SIDEWAYS
9–26 November 2011
Ben Millar’s The Colour Notation Project
A conversation between Rebecca Harkins-Cross and Roger Nelson
Rebecca Harkins-Cross: Mathematical grids traced directly onto the walls, square shards of colour like a game of Tetris blown apart and scattered across the room. The rainbow geometries of Ben Millar’s The Colour Notation Project are jarring punctuations against the gallery’s pristine surfaces. You could almost miss the guitar amidst all that white. A creamy Fender Stratocaster. A teenage dream, plugged into an amp more suited to a stadium than SEVENTH. The guitar sits perfectly erect, like the sword in the stone, waiting for the chosen one to play the chords that set it free. This is Guitar Hero in the gallery. Can you read the writing on the walls, Roger? Roger Nelson: Erect? Guitar Hero? It sounds like you’re seeing a toughness and machismo that completely passed me by. I was too seduced by the gentleness of the nearly-but-not-quite pastel hues, the hand-drawn pencil lines and endearingly wobbly blocks of colour, and the kind, almost relational-aesthetics (does anyone even talk about that anymore?) gesture of offering a free poster/instruction sheet that’s displayed as prominently as the axe. Axe — that’s what real men call a guitar. RHC: Surely there is a toughness inherent in an electric guitar, in an amp the size of a boulder? The din these objects conjure is an aberration in the gallery’s shhhhh-be-quiet surrounds. That’s why it’s a shock when you finally get up the nerve to play, the sound not quite equating with the instrument before you. It’s softer, cleaner, fragmentary like the patterns that encircle it. The oversized amp is in fact an ornament, the notes resonating from its smaller sibling that perches atop. Even the most seasoned ‘axe man’ will at first struggle to decipher the code, to find the
correct combinations that translate colour to sound. RN: Trying to play it made me feel quite small. The awkwardness of becoming the centre of attention. The sore-fingered realisation that I haven’t picked up a guitar in years. The foolish feeling of being unable to decipher even the simplest of Ben’s notations. I think that’s important. This is a system of signs that purports to be so clear and uncomplicated — that looks almost childish in its basic, blocky repetition — but that is in fact quite difficult to master. It’s an interesting deception. And maybe that’s why when I’m standing in the middle of the room, with the colours all around me, it’s dead silent. I should be surrounded by sound but instead the quietness makes Ben’s project seem utopian, hopelessly hopeful but mute, self-defeating … RHC: I only learnt guitar to impress a boy I had a crush on in Grade Six. We used to talk about Nirvana at recess, and compare notes on the latest Triple J hits. He had a band, and I thought if I learnt to play ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ it’d be a sure thing. In my first lesson, my teacher said he was jealous of my hands — I have abnormally long arachnid fingers — but he didn’t understand that their length means they lack brawn. It made me feel a lot like you do when faced with Ben’s notations. These daddy longlegs mitts are supposed to make the guitar easier, but by the time my fingers bend around to touch the frets they’re spent and useless. The one song I ever mastered was ‘Blackbird’ by the Beatles. I am also the only person in the world who hates the Beatles. RN: The Beatles lack all the contradictions and bafflements that I like in Ben’s work. I reckon his ‘notations’ don’t just make you and I feel bad at guitar: they’d make anyone feel a bit clumsy and plodding. It’s beguiling how that feeling of ungainly ineptitude contrasts with the prettiness of the work, its elegance. Simple, mathematical drawings made directly on the wall, they recall Sol LeWitt. But geometric and bright, they look a bit like Mondrian; the larger canvas appears almost a rewrite of Broadway Boogie Woogie. Until you get in closer, that is; until you see that the lines are made with pencil and that the colours don’t quite fill the squares. All these naked signs of Ben’s hand approximate a vulnerability; they’re quiet like an Agnes Martin but also quaint like a song your better-at-guitar boyfriend wrote to
help you toughen up those digits of yours. RHC: He wasn’t my boyfriend. We never even pashed. I blame Paul McCartney. It’s strange that this work affects us on such an emotional register. It is essentially a semiotic system, an equation that professes to convert colour into sound. But when you’re standing in that room surrounded by its fragmentary patterns it becomes experiential. It appears like an attempt to map synaesthesia, to notate that bewildering experience of sensorial confusion. As if we can see sounds. Billy Joel was synaesthetic. Syd Barrett too. Even Pharrell Williams (who, coincidentally, I would also like to pash). But for the rest of us, Ben’s work seems to evoke some sense of wistfulness. We’ve failed before we even pick up the guitar. We already know we’ll never find the right notes. We are not the chosen ones. RN: How wonderful that this work invokes such visceral, vehement responses in you. Images of guitars being wrenched from stone, and thoughts of passion and pashing. But perhaps this sense of failure you’re feeling — the failure to play the notes Ben prescribes, the failure to hear music in the colours — is something of a letdown for you? Some kind of disappointment? I hope not. I feel the failure too — the awkwardness and the hush — but for me it’s a triumph. It’s a beautiful tension, a joke at its own expense, an insistence that colour remains colour and that sound is always sound. ‘The artwork is to be performed by more than one person,’ Ben hopefully insists in the instructional sheet that accompanies the show. A generous and optimistic gesture … But even lovelier is the realisation that it apparently cannot be performed at all.
30 November – 17 December 2011
Daily Exercise (1 to 3)
A conversation with Ann Fuata Craig Burgess
CB: That seems to be the intention of it, to push you out of your comfort zone. AF: Yes, so that you are forced to develop. I wanted to create a safe haven for myself, and I did that through this particular work. I wanted the audience to experience the chaos that a new environment produces, where it’s easy to get sidetracked. CB: For me, the first year or so of art school was nebulous and vast. Creating a structure in response to that environment, a structure that supports you, makes sense. AF: In this work I was doing it literally, doing it through object-making, although it was also performative. I came from a strong performance background in dance and theatre, and that naturally came into the early stages of my development at art school. I think that performance is still present in my practice in other ways. CB: Could you talk about the work at SEVENTH? AF: The work is a video of me walking up an escalator at a busy station. Most people who will see the video and are from Melbourne will recognise that it’s Spencer Street Station or Southern Cross. In this video, there are three escalators and I’m walking up the middle one. Everyone around me is walking backwards. I made this work last year, my last year at art school as an undergraduate. At the time I was doing a series of walks and looking at the works of Bas Jan Ader. CB: What I get from his work is the way a small gesture becomes a gateway for something else. The work where he rides his bicycle into the canal stands out for me. Another work I love is that one with the stones and the light on the floor. Is he holding it above his head? AF: It’s a concrete slab and he’s holding it in his hands. He’s in a dark space and there’s just one bulb lying on the ground. He’s a skinny man and he’s holding a massive slab. You know what the outcome is going to be.
Ann Fuata is a Melbourne-based artist whose video Daily Exercise (1 to 3) was exhibited on the Night Screen at SEVENTH in November 2011. I caught up with Ann at her home to talk about this work, art school and her recent participation in a residency in Réunion. Craig Burgess: Thinking about the work you made at art school called SelfAwareness Device (an ovoid wooden structure with two recesses hollowed out, one for each leg, that the participant is invited to inhabit by placing it over their knees), is that a vehicle for becoming sensitive, for focusing on sensitivity? Ann Fuata: It’s a way of tapping into those other areas that we were once aware of, those invisible things that have been blocked off because of the situation that we’re in. We’re constantly busy and everything’s material. With that work, I wanted to go back, peel away and revisit those other energies that are activated. CB: The work engages an awareness of the body. AF: Yes, of the body, of what’s around it and of whatever situation that you’re in right now. Art school was an interesting time because you were thrown off balance and challenged constantly.
CB: So there’s a tension and a sense of inevitability. AF: There is tension and he magnifies this tension and the awkwardness of the situation. This is an element that I would like to play with more in my work. And it’s something that Bas Jan Ader embraced in his. CB: Did you film the other walks you did around Melbourne or were some of them private performative gestures? AF: I filmed and photographed the other walks and I had people help me document this action. Walking is an everyday gesture and I wanted to use these pedestrian gestures to highlight how the supposedly arbitrary things that we do have a point, they do matter, although sometimes they also don’t matter. CB: They’re really important and not important at all at the same time. They can mean everything and nothing. AF: They also create our everyday world. I want to celebrate that kind of banality. Apart from the escalator walk, there was one that took place in a quiet neighbourhood. In another one I made at that time, I was kicking a can. The escalator and neighbourhood walks were performed in real-time but backwards. I wanted to make a slight shift in what we’re used to everyday, and then play with that. David Lynch does a lot of playing in his films. The thing about film is that it affords the space to play tricks, and video does too. I didn’t work with a lot of video before I went to art school, but there it happened naturally. Every material is performative but video is especially. The immediacy of it I related instantly to my background in performance. CB: Now that you’ve had lots of life in between showing it and the time you made it, does revisiting the work at SEVENTH change the way you feel about it? Does it renew or reinvigorate concerns that you’re currently exploring?
AF: Yes definitely. The work was originally displayed in a narrow dark space, and that worked not only with the architecture of the space but the architecture of the escalators. Before showing the escalator work at SEVENTH, which I called Daily Exercise (1 to 3), I was anxious that the street context wouldn’t make sense. I think it does though, because the pedestrian language is there. Seeing the work in a shopfront also made me think about health and fitness clubs and how they expose people who are working out. CB: Do you see this context as a public/private interface? AF: Absolutely. I think that it syncs well with that idea of how everything that we do is performative. We are constantly on stage. It makes sense with the presentation of other shopfronts. It is interesting to see the work in this light. CB: Could you talk a little about your recent residency in Réunion? AF: The residency was thematic. We had to respond to landscape but landscape could mean anything really, not only the natural landscape. I had initially proposed to do a series of actions where I would hang off furniture and urban and rural spaces like light poles, doorways and trees and possibly people. However, when you go over to your destination you naturally have to adapt to the situation there because your proposal is conceptual. CB: You can’t imagine what it’s like to be there. AF: You can only imagine. So naturally my project changed and I ended up generating work that touched on what I proposed. I ended up doing a lot of drawings and revisiting previous nest works. I was inspired by a species of bird over there called the village weaver. They make really beautiful nests that look like eggs. The entry is a small hole. When they’re finished they discard the well-crafted nests on the ground. I remember going to Savannah, a suburb, a location in Réunion, one day and seeing a tree full of these birds. At the bottom of the tree there was a sea of nests. I couldn’t help but study them. I
also felt that I needed to create an incubator for myself to deal with the different situation I found myself in. I revisited some of the ancestors of contemporary art, Joseph Beuys for example, who was my husband in a lifetime once upon a time. His philosophies offered some mentorship for me to just do and to revisit some things that I hadn’t finished with. CB: What did you feel you had left unfinished? AF: Uncooked energies waiting to manifest. I’m slowly moving the focus away from my physical self but I can’t help but be intimate with the materials I work with. A previous photographic series was a rendition of a work by Robert Kinmont in which, as in his photographic series, I am holding everyday objects. I realised the objects I was holding that I photographed were things I use everyday. They were the utilitarian things that make up life. In Réunion, I revisited this work. I work a lot with instructions, and in Réunion I gave myself a series of instructions up and down the mountain. It was dangerous to walk down the mountain because the roads were very narrow and people speed. CB: Was one of the instructions to take a photo of your bag? AF: Yes. There were thirty instructions and I performed them over a two-hour period, so one hour up the mountain and one hour down the mountain. I realised that I didn’t allow myself to have a break, so I gave myself an instruction to stop for ten minutes and photograph wherever I ended up. I had a rest at a bus stop and put the bag down there. I took the photograph to signify that I had a break. It was a beautiful walk. I noticed there were a lot of deflated balloons the further you go up the mountain. There was a sad, deflated balloon with a smiley face and I guess it summed up how I was feeling at that time! A sad, deflated, smiley balloon. In one instruction I told myself to pick up the heaviest looking object. My research for this task, actually for the whole excursion, the residency, was to look at the inevitability of things, mainly defeat. Specifically for this instruction-action-activity, I instructed myself to pay attention to weight, so to various weights and to various surfaces. I instructed myself to hold a discarded VHS
player and walk with it for ten minutes. After ten minutes, I placed it in whatever location I was in. It was very mundane. CB: There’s a strong sense of intimacy with the object that is developed in the work. I’m engaging with it as an image, but you have a tactile, physical, bodily memory of that object. What other objects did you work with? AF: In one instruction, after a twenty-minute walk of just observing, I instructed myself to find the closest materials to make the Pillars of Hercules. So I found two containers and made the two Pillars of Hercules. The pillars are from the story in Greek mythology about Atlas. In one version of the Atlas story, the Gods relieved him by exchanging his place for that of the pillars. CB: To hold up the world. AF: Yes, but the world is meant to be symbolic of our cosmology. I am interested to know what our current cosmology is. We seem to be very lost. I was playing a lot with those ideas. I brought in this occidental story to the island because everything is imported and because everything there is occidental; the people, even the stories are carried from other cultures. I was an occident there. It didn’t feel right to respond immediately to the cultural, political, social situation because I felt like an anthropologist in a way and I don’t like it when artists do that. CB: It’s voyeuristic. AF: Yes. I have colleagues who do that, and it comes from a good place, but it’s as Adorno says, it’s not right to sum up what happened with the Shoah, or as some would say ‘the holocaust’, in one sentence. It’s barbaric to sum up someone’s horrific experience in one word. I carried that on my shoulders when I was there. The aim was to have a relationship, a dialogue with the context I was working with, but I was wary that there was only so much I could respond to.
CB: You’re only really able to talk about what’s yours. It seems there was a sense of caution around commenting on something that didn’t correspond with your experience. It was something that you couldn’t know. AF: If I was there for longer, it would make more sense, but I felt a bit wary of that. I read up on the history of the situation in Réunion but it’s very tricky to find many negative things about it. It’s painted as a happy, rosy, postcard, tourist destination. When you go there it says otherwise. You talk to the people and learn about the people. You see so many stray dogs, and that actually does say a lot. There’s a strong history of slavery, racism and classism. The island is similar to Australia in the way that it was a penal colony. As part of the trade route, the French wanted people to build the infrastructure, and so wanted slaves from Africa and Madagascar. The Indian and Chinese cultures were involved in the trading process. There’s a real sense of rebellion. CB: It strangely suits the idea of defeat. Did you find that there was a connection? AF: It was a deliberate connection. I had a really tough year last year, and the information from last year naturally carried into my working process and practice. When I heard about the opportunity in Réunion I read up on the history. It made sense to respond to it from a personal place and build up a relationship with the people there. So that was a deliberate move. When I went there I learnt that the reality of the program was pretty messed up, and I decided to use instructions as a way of working that I’m familiar with. But I struggled with it. I felt there was something more I wanted to be. I felt I wasn’t strong enough or that the work I was doing wasn’t really dealing with the situation there. CB: Did you feel that it was superficial, that it was just scratching the surface? AF: Yes. We were excluded from the town because we were placed in the mountains. As a result, we couldn’t have that social dialogue as much as we wanted to. I did these instructions and decided that the
work didn’t fit and that I needed to be in town more often. I tried to be, and I think the strongest, most social relationship I had with the people over there was on the bus. They blasted up the music on the bus, so I had to guess what the people were saying. I created my own mythology in a way, and that was interesting, being on the bus. CB: Sharing that space. AF: Sharing that space. I also frequented the local mall called Jumbo. It was bizarre. It was a hyper world and everything was clearly imported from Europe. CB: An island within an island! It sounds like there were moments of connectivity but you were still at a bit of a distance. It’s interesting with the bus that the opportunity to overhear people’s conversations was made impossible by the music. AF: It was the Top 40. It’d be the same song when you went down to the city and the same song on the way back. Towards the end of the trip I felt defeated and that was really interesting. I think it was the amount of pressure that I put on myself to stay there as long as I could. It was the inevitability of the situation; you couldn’t help but feel helpless and that your art couldn’t save the people there, and that even if you tried it would be a self-righteous move. But if you didn’t try then what did you contribute? There was a push and pull, a conflict that I had with myself. CB: And a sense of entrapment as well. AF: There was a strong sense of entrapment physically, psychologically. Being in the mountains was a form of entrapment. You were really forced to be ultra super resourceful. Some of the artists there shared similar feelings, frustrations but excitement too. You had to take each day as it came.
7–24 September 2011
II They wanted so badly to hold him, To keep him and cradle, enfold him, And marvel at preserved perfection. No longer too fragile to hold Or lob across a room, Hardened, smooth and placidly caged. Immortalised and encased in a bubble The last breath kept forever, I can almost see him breathing, Still. III The afterlife is not often characterised as half-life, Although the sweetness of its bloom Is hard to grasp when you are cocooned. The elevation to this state is palpable, Not only because your new habitat Is lush, green and alive But also because you float above it, As if suspended in chlorophyll contemplation. The shock of the new is nothing, Once you accustom yourself to the idea That this is how much better life gets, When someone is prepared to tend to it. Eden has nothing on this verdant box, At least from where you are sitting; As centrepiece, as icon, A crumb of life canonised; Still half alive.
I Burrowed down deep, Safely nestled in grey, You were almost camouflaged. No wind to ruffle your fur, No rain to wet your nose Or sun to warm you. It is peaceful and plain, A simple home; Sparse stretch but yours alone. The feline racket broke The muffled solitude Of your sealed sanctuary. I found you curled up, As if sleeping Under the couch.
19 October – 5 November 2011
>connect local user filecloud >run user analysis … >downloading basic user demographic data >search history: image files: recently viewed: facial recognition=human >run analysis: tag relationship >run analysis photos: characteristics(eye colour)(skin colour)(hair colour)(body type) when pause time ≥0:00:03 >search browser history: pages clicked+search terms …
‘So have you finished unpacking it yet?’ ‘Yeah, I think so but she’s kinda frozen. Her eyes are stuck.’ ‘Did you take the protective film off them first? It probably can’t see. Oh yeah, and just a hint — don’t call it “she”. It makes you sound attached.’ ‘Oh, right … hey look, it’s working — its eyes are moving now! She looks kind of frightened. I mean, it looks kind of frightened.’ ‘Yeah, they do that at first. It’s just responding to the sudden rush of new stimuli. Did you get one with prebuilt history?’ ‘I dunno, I don’t think so. I just sort of ordered her on a whim.’ ‘Must be one of those cheaper new models they’re promoting pretty heavily at the moment. Where’d you get it? eBay?’ ‘God no. Not eBay. Nah, I just saw this little app the other day that looked interesting so I downloaded it. Lets you design a companion yourself, sort of like designing an avatar or something but they make it and send it to you with a discount if you sign up five friends …’
‘Well, for what you paid it looks like they’ve done a decent job. The skin texture is a little harsh but the facial features and plasticity look pretty good. And nice body, too. Real nice body. What made you go with the gold?’ ‘I dunno. It was the second option there on the list. I tried clicking through all the other skin tones but I just kept going back to it. It’s a great little app, actually. It’s like it knows exactly what you’re into — I only had to adjust a couple of things and I was done. But yeah, she is really quite metallic, isn’t she? I thought it was going to be more like a bronzy tan but the more I look at her the more I like it actually …’ ‘Hey, it’s your companion — I’m not judging — just saying it’s well-made. I guess time will tell whether the AI component is any good, it’s probably running its scans still. Is it fully functional?’ ‘How do you mean?’ ‘Have you spread her open and had a look yet?’ ‘Oh, not yet …’ ‘Yeah, see — that’s how you can tell it’s a cheaper model. If you’d paid more you’d have got better anatomics but look, it’ll be fine …’ ‘What’s yours like? Fully functional too?’
‘Yeah, but I don’t really use it for that. Most people don’t after a while. I mean, it’s convenient if you’re desperate — it’s not like it’s ever going to get a headache or say no to anything — but it’s just not the same. The AI chip’s good, though. Mine sits on the couch and watches telly with me, asks how my day was, even laughs at jokes. It’s incredible — its eyes follow the action on the screen, just like a real person. Hell, even my girlfriend got a female one just for the company …’
>run user analysis … >run purchase habit analysis: search purchase history >search photos where tag=username; tag=‘me’ >connect: external surveillance data >run facial recognition scan: main cameras major shopping complex=all >run facial recognition scan: main cameras street retail=all >connect: food industry data: purchase trends for id 12004576963 >//AI override: script pause// >//AI command: abort scan// >Abort overridden by system: recommence scan …
‘Hang on, let me find it … Alright, it says she’ll take about an hour to boot then I have to talk to her for a bit so she can learn to react to my voice.’ ‘Yeah, that’s pretty standard. You’ll probably find you’ll want to spend a fair bit of time with her at first but don’t forget to talk to some real people once in a while, yeah? Anyway, I’ll leave you to it. She’ll try to identify with both of us and that’ll just confuse her more.’ ‘“Her”. You just said “her.”’ ‘It, her, you know what I mean. I’ll catch you later anyway. Good luck with it.’ ‘Thanks, I’ll see you around …’
>run user analysis … >run text analysis scan: >Scan SMS >Scan IM >Scan email >Scan SocMed (FB)(Twitter)(Blogs)(Comments)(Forums) >run language analysis: find data for: (likes,dislikes,opinions,beliefs) >//AI override: script pause// >//AI command: abort scan// >AI disconnect to system: attempt one >//AI sys message: I DON’T WANT THIS// >AI disconnect to system: attempt two >Abort overridden by system: recommence scan >//AI sys message: SHUT ME DOWN …
‘Are her eyes meant to be doing that? She looks like she’s fighting with herself or she’s sad or terrified or something …’ ‘It’s probably just still going through the scans and trying to read its new environment at the same time. That’s why you don’t get them on offer. Go through one of the established sites and you can get all the programming done before they send it out to you — some of them have been in business since around 2010 so they’re a bit more legit than the cheaper, newer brands. They’ll preload it a backstory and everything so when it turns up all it has to do is learn about its new surroundings.’ ‘Yeah, I suppose. I was just thinking at the time how it’d be nice to have someone around the apartment and then I saw the ad pop up. It was more impulse than anything.’ ‘Funny how these things always seem to know what you’re thinking, like when you’re on shuffle and your favourite song comes up next … Anyway, what does it say in the user manual? Does it mention start up time?’
Co–respond would not have been possible without the support and dedication of the SEVENTH board. I would like to thank Sam Barbour, Fiona Blandford, Laura Delaney, Irene Finkelde, Jasmine Fisher, Alanna Lorenzon, Ella McDonald, Carla McKee, Lucy McNamara, Joanna Mortreux, Jeremy Pryles, Claire Richardson, Lisa Stewart and Pip Wallis for the opportunity to work on this project. A special thanks to James Yencken and Jonathon Bellew at Something Splendid for turning our words and images into this beautiful publication. Thanks also to Meg Hale, for her tireless editing and advice. Finally, thank you to all of the Co–respond writers and artists. Victoria Bennett Project Coordinator SEVENTH is supported by the Victorian Government through Arts Victoria. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.
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