Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Vinnie, etc

Poor Vinnie. I say "poor Vinnie" but honestly, my sympathy and compassion for him is limited, even though he's quite pitiful. Here he is next to me on the couch right now 
He just really, really wants a cuddle and I completely understand that - everyone wants to be cuddled - but he has zero idea about how to behave and he can only sit quietly by my side for a few minutes before he is driven to claw and bite, never understanding that this isn't behaviour which makes a person want to cuddle him. He's just kind of disgusting and he isn't to blame for that, and I know that nobody else will love him or even be niceish to him or pay him a little bit of attention every now and then. None of this actually matters because I just can't get enthusiastic about him. He's Vinnie and he always will be.

I've just finished reading Men of Mont St Quentin by Peter Stanley

I've read quite a bit of this fairly interesting writer's work at this point. When I started at the Shrine, I asked a colleague who's an active professional historian to give me a reading list that would help me not just to fill in the huge gaps in my knowledge of Australian war history, but also to get my bearings in whatever debates were going on in the field. It probably says something not very good about me that I asked to be pointed especially toward significant figures in the discipline who've made a stand against post-Howard historical revisionism. (Going tribal at the outset, always a dick move.) Stanley was one of the people identified for me then and consequently I've read a lot of his stuff over the past year and a half - in fact I've read far more of him arguing with other historians than I have of those other historians actually putting their cases. It's a little like listening to someone in your train carriage having an argument on the phone: sure, the person on the other end of the line probably is a fascist, but what you mainly get first hand experience of is the cross person beside you.

Anyway this book is one of those very worthwhile & instructive textual objects: a narrative experiment, triggered by qualities in the source material that don't appear to be amenable to capturing or conveying in conventional ways. This is maybe the best reason to experiment with form; possibly these are the only circumstances where genuine form-breaking is able to produce a fully legible and coherent text. Measured against the various intentions/ambitions Stanley describes at different points in the book, I don't think the experiment is entirely successful, but it comes close enough to suggest some very interesting possibilities for this kind of history.

The primal source is a set of scrapbooks made by a Hawthorn man called Garry Roberts, whose son Frank died at Mont St Quentin in France on 1 September 1918. That's Frank and his wife Ruby on the book cover. Garry had been documenting his family and community in scrapbooks for many years before the war so he was fluent in the medium, if you like. When his son went to war Garry collated and curated every bit of correspondence, news, information, photos, cuttings - anything that shaped his understanding of what was happening to Frank. When Frank was killed, Garry, like so many other heartbroken people in this country, in his grief needed to know as much as he could about the circumstances of his son's death and where his body was buried. He sought out the surviving members of Frank's platoon and elicited from all of them detailed accounts of the battle, Frank's death and what happened afterwards. All this, along with official and journalistic accounts of the battle, official correspondence, photographs, postcards, clippings, letters of condolence, the complete textual web, went into the scrapbooks, which Garry kept making for the rest of his life, and which are now in the collection of the State Library of Victoria.

Those scrapbooks sound cool. They sound like phenomenally powerful objects that both demand interpretation and render it superfluous / impossible. They sound to me like a fantastic example of the collection as the medium par excellence for expressing the lived experience of the twentieth century. You know that I am completely seduced by things like that (Patrick Pound, Fahrenheit 451 etc).

(to be continued - I can't keep my eyes open - I'll edit this tomorrow)

Saturday, 19 August 2017

I'm on a train!

I’ve had a great day. It started at half past five when I got up and got dressed and rode my bike to Southern Cross station where I got onto a train to Warrnambool. That whole part wasn’t actually so much fun, it was raining and dark at 6 o’clock and about four degrees and I got so so so cold and because there was such a lot of water on the streets I went very slowly and only arrived at the train just in time, so I had to get on still in my wet things which I’d intended to change, and because I was short of time I also had to skip the very important step of getting a coffee, and therefore my outward journey was conducted in frozen coldness and I had to drink train coffee too. I forced it down with an egg and cheese roll that was the most hilariously unfoodlike substance I have eaten in years. The egg had had something incredible done to it and the roll was like…I want to say it was like a sponge but it was spongy without any recovery whatsoever. It had the quality of an edible object that has been grown in a vat or in a jar by adding water like a packet of sea monkeys. I needed to have the coffee, but the roll I only ate as an adventure, look, I am 44 and I’ve been on a lot of country trains. I knew it was going to be gross. It didn't matter because I also knew I would be going straight to Day Kitty as soon as I got to Warrnambool, of which more anon. 

The pair in the two seats in front of me (I am travelling in first class, did I mention that? la-di-dah. Ladidah!) were on their own transcendental culinary adventure - they methodically ate their way through one each of every kind of food you could get from the snack bar, and oh, the looks of concern on their faces when, just after Terang, the conductor came on the radio and said the snack bar would be closing soon! Anyway the train was pretty great, because even though it is obviously a point of pride with V-Line to never clean the windows of their trains, I could look out the window, and oh boy did I see a lot of cool things outside there. Heaps of animals, mainly. So many cows you would not believe it. I saw one very big hare running really fast across a field for absolutely no reason, I saw two foxes sitting in a small crater, heaps of rabbits that were having a great day, some alpacas, a camel, lots of horses. It was just like going in a train across a gigantic farm for hours and hours and I won’t lie, I fucking loved it. And I saw lots of towns too and railways stations. 

When I was a girl and used to go to Melbourne on the train very frequently, there were not as many railway stations as there are now. The canonical stations were these: Warrnambool, Terang, Camperdown, Colac, Birregurra, Geelong, Footscray, Spencer St. No others. Well, the train passed through many suburban stations but didn’t stop at any except Footscray. Now there appear to be about ten more stops, the new ones with poorly chosen names like Marshal, Sherwood Park, etc.  The other things I did on the train were piss in the toilet, which I don’t recommend if you can hold on because train toilets are the absolute worst, and sleep for a while curled up on my first-class seat and the one next to it, and I wrote the abstract for a conference I am going to go to in an effort to start rebuilding a connection with academia. I need to find people who I can talk with about the work I’m doing and who understand why it matters to make space for talking and exploring ideas, and that it’s ok to argue and debate as part of that exploration. I love my work and I like my colleagues but that sort of dialogue isn’t something we do and I miss it and need it back.

Well, 700+ words and I haven’t even got up to the part of the story where I get off the train yet. So I got to Warrnambool, went to Day Kitty which I do not know if I have mentioned on here before, but it is a cafe in Warrnambool which serves what I feel absolutely confident in saying is the most delicious, nourishing, good food in Australia and possibly the whole world. It occupies a shop, next to the cinema, which used to be Flaherty’s Chocolates, and there is a poetry to this which I won’t bother trying to unpack because everyone who reads this blog is well capable of unpacking it for themselves. Just go to Warrnambool and eat at Day Kitty then tell me what you had. What I would really like to do is to go there with you and watch your face when you take your first bite. That would make a good film, perhaps I can get some funding to make it happen, what do you think? Today I stood at the counter like a child in a sweetshop and read the menu several times until I was ready to commit. I had the okonomiyaki with a fried egg on top and a very good coffee and I read the paper and looked out the window at the sunshine drifting across Kepler St and savoured every heavenly mouthful.

After that I rode my bike around Warrnambool for a while which was great, I had vague thoughts of doing some op-shopping but instead I went and looked at some of the houses I’d lived in and hung a few laps past Kermond’s hamburgers because I do like the smell, how have they managed to make sure it never changes? How do they distribute it into the air so effectively? And then I went to the Warrnambool Art Gallery where my friend has a show and was giving a floor talk. Her work comes out of her recent experience of cancer, and it was powerful and beautiful. After her talk she and I had lunch and talked (not at Day Kitty because it isn’t open on Saturday afternoons) and walked along the beach until it was time for me to get back onto the train which is where I am now. Although I have gone on and on and on about the train it wasn’t actually the high point of the day and nor was being fed delicious vegetarian soul food, it was seeing my dear, dear oldest friend doing something so brave and amazing and spending a few lovely hours with her.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

This very morning

I was going to do the whole day, but once I actually started to do something meaningful at work I forgot (I guess that's a good sign right? Work too interesting to remember to blog it), and by the time I might have remembered, my entire soul was knee-deep in the incredibly awesome news from Barnaby world - which totally deserves its own post, but will I get around to it before the government decapitates itself by projectile shitting its own face? Who can say? Keep checking here is the only advice I have for how to make it through the current "constitutional crisis" as I suppose it technically is although I don't know why Mark Dreyfus kept saying so on PM, I don't think it really struck the right note because it sounded like a 1975-type scenario which this debacle really is not.

So anyway this is 6 am to about 9 am....this very morning

I get up at six and that is when I took this photograph. It's not a great photo is it. I am not really able to think very much until I have been out of bed for a little while. It was slightly harder than usual to get out of bed today because Leonard got in with us at about 3.30 am and I didn't sleep well after that. I was deep in a dream when the alarm went off and waking up from a dream is easily the most baffling kind of waking up. Lenny brought into the bed his little stuffed toy Lennydog and his tube of pawpaw ointment which he takes everywhere. A warm sleeping cuddly child is another thing that makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning. 

I just get up, put on clothes, eat, and go. I pack my stuff the night before. It's always dark when I leave and this morning it was also just beginning to rain. I listened to "For Your Pleasure" by Roxy Music and look, it was fine. No complaints.

Crossing Fleming Park in Brunswick East at about 6.30am I met the first of several people I regularly cross paths with on my weekday to and from work travels. She is an old woman who uses a walker to walk the paths that cross and encircle the park. In cold weather she wears a headscarf. I have seen her on weekends sitting on the verandah of what's presumably her house, opposite the park, in Albert St, with four or five other old people. When I meet her on the path coming towards me I always tip my front light down so it's not shining in her face and say hello to her, and she says, Hello, how are you? and she sounds exactly like our neighbour Mora who died a few weeks ago.

Waiting to cross Princes St at Canning St. This morning I passed by an old man I sometimes see walking citywards - sometimes on Rathdowne, sometimes Canning. He is a bit stooped but in the way of a tall person who's spent decades holding intense conversations with people who are much shorter. He wears coke-bottle glasses and a navy trenchcoat, and with his carefully combed hair he looks like an elderly retired minor star of the New Wave 

Bikes are forbidden in the Carlton Gardens but the last couple of days I've gone that way because I am such a rebel.

I guess you can't really see them in the picture, but take my word for it, there's a whole lot of people in exercise clothes lunging away underneath the DCM "blade" outside the museum. 

This is a little way past the City Square tram stop where I very often see a woman who looks like Noel Crombie. This seeing the same people in the same places bit, it's kind of fun and also at times extremely depressing. What the fuck is my life coming to, why is it so minutely repetitive?

Almost at work - just after seven - coffee, and a few minutes looking at social media and the internet, and trying not to make eye contact with the two other people who are usually buying coffee here. They are a blond woman who is always eating an apple and a man who dresses up like he's going in the Tour de France in order to ride to work. One or the other of them is always there but never both at the same time. 100% true. 

I am really enjoying this fake Troy Buswell account on Facebook although I shouldn't. I genuinely admire the disinterested dedication required to keep a project like this one going

Every day I look at this huge sign and I think I had really better get onto working out with Zoe when she might come to Melbourne and to the Dior exhibition with me. But I forget again as soon as I'm not looking at it

First person to work as always

The Shrine goes through a lot of toilet paper

Showered and dressed. I think this dress shrank lengthways since I bought it. If I'm honest it is too short for work. Yes it covers my bits but I had to spend the whole day remembering to only bend down in the OH & S approved manner

Yeah, then I started doing my work and forgot to take any more photos

Monday, 7 August 2017

Also recently

I'm just going to do dot points.

  • I went to see LCD Soundsystem and they were just verging on great. I have never been to a stadium show where the band tried so hard and put so much effort into reproducing as exactly as possible the sound of their recordings. On some songs this came out sounding very strange because the acoustics of the venue warped the mix, but mostly it was fun and good and occasionally even a bit moving. 
  • Went to see Dunkirk with a group of work people, this was also fun, although there was not as much harping afterwards on historical inaccuracies that are imperceptible to people like you and me as I would have liked. We saw the film at Melbourne Central, which I have not been inside on a Friday night since I used to work at Just Jeans there in the 90s. It has been transformed into a kind of indoor shopping centre version of King Street. It was completely full of loud, gross, drunk vulgarians
  • Dorian put a whole lot of my clothes into a tumble dryer which would have been a fine thing except many of them were made of wool and they got quite a lot smaller. Several of these were handmade. A huge drag, especially given that making black wool trousers is so extremely boring that I put it off for months before making the pair that got shrunk, and then I wore them like three times a week.
  • I'm still riding to and from work every day and I am now quite used to the pain of frozen hands in the arctic wastes of pre-dawn Carlton and I also know exactly how to predict when an Uber driver is about to suddenly park in a bike lane or allow his passenger to open the door into said bike lane. I have a little speech I like to give on such occasions. I flatter myself that it's scary.
  • I wrote something about something shitty that happened at work today and then I deleted it.
  • Leonard's teacher actually did tell us, at the parent-teacher thing, that we should give him challenging books to read, like for instance The Lord of the Rings. He's six, remember. I was so bewildered by this that I couldn't ask even one question that might have provided a clue about whether it was as it seemed and she hadn't actually got any idea what that book is, or was she just delirious with exhaustion? Either way, she certainly confusal-subdued the hell out of me and neutralised the parental threat I would otherwise have presented: an excellent technique which I think I might just try out for myself in tomorrow's staff meeting.

Sunday, 6 August 2017


I really wanted to make sure they found it OK

Prime cuts of felted jumper

A1 Bakery is the best place in the whole world. I always feel really happy there.

Budget = $20, so: fancy cat food @ $5.50, + chocolate @2 for $6, + phone $99, total = $110.50, "I went over budget! ha ha ha!" Definitely my child. In fact this just about sums up my relationship with consumer goods. 

Today. We had a nap together, which we haven't done since Lenny was in childcare. 

On the left, from the gentlest organic free-range egg farm imaginable, on the right, from the chook group chooks

One of the good things that has flowed from recent changes is that I have moved into this beautiful office


Did you see what fucking Photobucket did? Any embedded images hosted on their site were replaced with an ugly sign saying I can pay them $500 a year to get my pictures back. That sign is still almost every image on this blog for the archive dates 2005-2007. When they first did it I couldn't even see the images when I actually logged into Photobucket. They've now relented a fraction so I can go through the pictures one by one and download them to my own computer, which is how I managed to get the blog header back, although it's munted as you can see because either Blogger has done something to the template which makes what I originally did not work anymore, or (more likely) I amateurishly jerry-rigged the template and can't remember how.

What actually happened when Photobucket first did this is I couldn't look at my blog at all because it felt like it had been broken into and shat in by some Nazis. More accurately it felt like some Nazis shat in a drone and tapped a few commands into a computer in a shipping container in a business park somewhere very far from here and then the drone flew across several years of my life and squirted Nazi shit into every corner. I am not interested in conducting any kind of analysis of whether I am partly to blame for not taking better care of data that I obviously care very much about. Maybe later but not now.

At least the header image is back in a semblance of how it was before. I thought I would have to rebuild it to get it back, and putting aside the practicalities of how to recreate a specific variety of bad Photoshopping when you don't actually have Photoshop on your computer anymore, that rabbit was the essence of everything I aspired to be in those days and knowing that it didn't seem quite right to try to recreate it. I've changed a bit, although I still believe that the only way to fix the shit we're in is though a finely calibrated pedagogy of teaching people how to think mixed with telling them what to think (it saves time, and if you've taught them how to think properly they'll eventually get to the right conclusions anyway). But look, Ratty was got, and while that was nice for a while, in the long run his successors were as bad or worse, and this weekend people have been saying that Turnbull is about to be shafted by the party in favour of Dutton YES THAT'S RIGHT PETER DUTTON. If that's the prospect we're facing, by all means bring Ratty back immediately and Philip Ruddock too while we're at it.* Let's have Peter Reith as well.  So to cut a long story short it would really be better not to have to work through the existential crisis precipitated by the vandalising of my blog by fucking Photobucket. At least, not right now while my doctor is on holidays.

* Did you know that when Ruddock was finally nailed up alive under the floorboards of Parliament, Kevin Andrews took over from him at being "Father of the House"? The fact that our political system just keeps on producing fresh demonstrations that shit floats has nothing at all to do with patriarchy, said no one ever.

Friday, 14 July 2017


It's Friday evening and I had a substantial dinner but I am just wanting to eat, eat, eat in this freezing weather. I would really like some chocolate, which normally I don't think about but this was one of those weeks where people keep bringing chocolate and cake to work so I consumed a lot of sugar recently and thus I have cravings. There is no chocolate in the house however so I am making do with a G&T that has far too much G in it. In summary of Part One of this opus I have been quite drunk for the last fifteen minutes and it's only going to get more drunken from here on out, I note the glass is still two-thirds full.  Or is it just that I am very very tired? I have this delirious exhaustion fairly often in the evenings - not from drinking just form getting up too early and going to bed too late and being horribly confused about everything that happens in between, usually while it is still happening. One night not long ago I was reading Lenny's bedtime story to him and I became so drowsy that I was delirious. I heard myself say something about chocolate pudding and that it will keep. (Those are not themes in the book.)

Anyway, what I really thought I had better inform the whole world of is the depressing or maybe irritating (possibly highly offensive) news that I am really sick of my current work lunch.  Said lunch consists of some brown rice in a bowl, on it a green vegetable like bok choy or broccoli or maybe beans, which I cut up and steam in the microwave, with about half a block of tofu cubed and stirred in, with maybe some sauerkraut if I have some in the fridge, sesame oil, lime juice, and always a shiteload of sriracha sauce. It is very boring but also amazingly delicious and I bring all the components to work in their pure form and cook and combine them just before I eat it. Two things save it from being a source of simple smugness (as opposed to complicated smugness): one is that while it looks abstemious and all that I do eat a lot of toxic crap as well so it evens out. The other is the pleasure and enjoyment I get out of eating tofu, it is immensely delicious, and that deliciousness comes with the added bonus that it seems to gross some people out, to the point of gagging and retching, to see someone else eat 'raw' tofu. I love tofu and everything about it. I love the way it wobbles, the flavour of it, the nice compliant yielding way it slices and crumbles, the way it looks. It is good. Better than good. Maybe I need to ditch all the other stuff and just focus on the tofu.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

I've forgotten what I was going to say

How could I not forget? A huge, unexpected, and very good change has occurred in my workplace, removing stress, anxiety and bad feelings in one fell swoop, leaving an immense sense of relief and also a feeling of windfall. A rotten situation which I knew was never going to be mended and could only be endured is now entirely over. 

How great it will be to just go to work, at my excellent workplace, and just work on doing as good a job as possible, free of needless drama. I was dealing with it pretty well - I'd stood up for myself effectively and I'd planned how I was going to handle the situation into the future. But now it's finished and I have survived. Obviously I'm very happy that my working life is going to get easier and happier now. But it also matters to me that, as my doctor pointed out, this turn of events confirms that the problem really wasn't of my own making. Not so much because that would give me the high moral ground - even after all the nonsense that prospect just does not appeal to me - but because I am trying to learn to think about my life in a way that doesn't involve the default position of me being the original flawed element in any given scenario. It's not easy I tells ya. I'm a long way off being where she is, that's for sure. 

Why isn't Ivy Litvinov better known? the stories in this collection are very, very good. Also that cover painting is something else. Don't you just feel compelled to mansplain her? You can't though. She can't hear you. Why shouldn't a woman look like that? A proper challenge.  (Portrait of Odette Frizac by Maurice Denis)
 So to mark the occasion I am finishing off a cask of semillon that has been in the fridge for two and a half months. And from now on I will be back here much more often with half-digested chunks of bloguerie to stockpile for my own uneasy future entertainment. 

I've tried a little to remember what I was trying to say a couple of weeks ago. It was something like this:

  • the Patrick Pound exhibition gave me so much pleasure because it thought so interestingly about interesting things from the past, and it did this thinking with interesting things from the past
  • the Phuong Ngo exhibition reminded me of travelling in Vietnam and also other places, where you go somewhere that something momentous happened and the site is completely opaque, even boring. This can sometimes be really upsetting if you have hitherto felt a strong emotional connection to the place. I think historical battlefield tourism might be particularly prone to this experience. Geoff Dyer's book The Missing of the Somme is partly about this. Many people i've met through work in the last couple of years have talked about feeling intense disappointment at Dunkirk or Port Moresby or Fromelles. Ngo's show also reminded me that cultural capital and privilege have a deep overlap. The work in the show had no labels at all and I was acutely conscious that for Vietnamese-Australian viewers it probably needed none.
  • I love old shite. It means the world to me. Literally. Here is a random example, here is probably the greatest old shite find of mine or anyone's life. It is hard for me to form a working relationship with a brand new object that comes trailing no past adventures to be guessed at.  
  • I did not grow up in a house full of old shite, my parents had nice simple modern faintly Scandinavian 1970s stuff and not very much of it. My maternal grandparents' house also seems to have been amazingly free of clutter and I know it was full of beautiful things. But we only went there for shortish visits not conducive to deep exploration. 
  • The big important house in my early life, which was indeed full of old shite of all descriptions, was my paternal grandparents' place, a farmhouse in Warrion which is not far from Colac in Western Victoria. From when I was about seven to about twelve we went there often for weekends and I got to know intimately the entire contents of the entire house. This shaped my sense of the past and defined my mode of relating to it. The provenances of the objects that littered every flat surface in the living areas, filled all the cupboards, sideboards, chests, boxes, shelves and wardrobes, and were crammed into suitcases stacked up to the ceiling of the sleepout in the orchard, were as follows:
    • Early 20th century Ireland, Liverpool, London, Catholic missions to Africa, Catholic chaplains in both world wars, nurses in both world wars and in rural Victoria
    • Late nineteenth century Western Victoria, sport, farming
    • 1920s and 1930s the girls (my great-aunts) did a lot of needlework and went to dances. Some of them wore furs. They all wore gloves.
    • 1940s farming, marriage and setting up a house, lots of children and very little money, aspirations, investment in education and culture, globetrotting aunts and uncles, 1940s decor, carpet, heating, insulation and plumbing
    • 1950s childhoods, all sorts of reading matter - books, comics, annuals, magazines - music, clothes, educational pursuits and hobbies, going to church very frequently and in many horrid hats, and deep domesticity
    • 1960s adolescences (five), 1960s virulent Catholicism, 1960s push-button domestic gadgetry, some crap redecoration of the house
    • 1970s young people leaving home, some by going 'back' to Ireland, all fairly spectacularly one way or another, and all of them storing their stuff at The Farm.
  • I was recently talking about the farm with someone of my exact age who also spent formative childhood time at a family farm in rural Victoria but for him the farm meant being outside. I spent a lot of time outside too but it was the relics inside the house that I learned from. We found some common ground in the memory of the sleepout. The one at my grandparents' farm had originally been built to house two Italian POWs. I slept in it myself for most of one summer in about 1981. 
I'm going to do a post collecting things that I remember were in the house, but not now. I've already spent much longer here than I meant to and what I planned to do this evening was watch another episode of The Handmaid's Tale. Goodnight.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Still going

Still, regrettably, I am more occupied with other stuff than I would like to be or than is compatible with feeding my blog. I certainly haven't forgotten about coming back to the post I started to write about things and about why I think it's going to continue to be good for me, and indeed continue to get better, to work in a war memorial, which I hope surprises you as much as it surprises me, given that, you know, I'm not what anyone could accurately describe as a fan of war, all things considered.

So this is just me saying hello to my blog. Hello, Blog. I don't know why you exist, but I do know a great deal about how you work and all your ways.  For many years I've looked with a mixture of admiration and resentment at how you've made me feel that I was always a lot better in the past, at storytelling, at writing and at generally not being uninterruptedly shite at life. So it's funny to read archived posts from exactly six months ago, at the start of 2017 when I cranked you up again, Blog, and be remembering that I wrote that stuff feeling it was terrifically stilted, lame and generally inferior to the salad days of 2006-2008, while at the same time noticing that while I thought this as I did that writing, with six months' distance it really all seems fine -- it's NOW that all I can produce is an inferior and clapped-out trickle of nonsense.

Something that hasn't changed one bit from early 2017 is this:
Oh yes, still can't keep calm because still I'm arounded by disgusting idiot, just like the person who made this graphic (and who is probably a disgusting idiot too, let's face it.) So the peerless self-absorption of what I'm currently writing is an effect of the awfulness I would have to look upon if I ever dragged my gaze away from my own navel.

Well, I shall close now and go do some sewing because there is an intimidating meeting on tomorrow and a new dress will make me feel presentable and making it will take my mind off all the things that I am so very tired of thinking about.

Sunday, 2 July 2017


Just chucking these here because it's going to be a while before I get time to write again. I don't want to forget what I was trying to say.
Basil's first day with us
A speaker that sort of drifts around different locations in this street in Brunswick
Baby shoe, parcel and enclosed note, sent in September 1918 to a man who was killed before it reached him
Frost on nettles - today
Khe Sahn, 2001

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Things (1)

It was the last day of the financial year yesterday. For the first time in my life, I work in a place where this fact has consequences for me. The consequences yesterday, and most of last week, consisted mainly of a panicky and strained quality embedded in many otherwise normal interactions. In the afternoon I spent an hour and a half searching the building (2800 sqm) for the inexplicably missing green copy of a purchase order written out in February. It did turn up before I had to resort to dumpster diving but not until after I'd had a series of very awkward conversations about where it might have disappeared to with a string of people who all had very much better things to be doing (as I did too, I hope it goes without saying.)

After work several of us went to Newport Substation to visit an art exhibition on there. Conflicted: works from the Vietnam archive project by Phuong Ngo is what it was. The artist met us there and gave us a floor talk. I really enjoyed the whole expedition and I've been thinking about it since, in a sort of background reverie way; it took me to some places I certainly didn't expect to be taken, and I'm now going to try to write at least some of that down. It's going to take a few posts to get it all out. The tl;dr version is that I think it all adds up to feeling certain again, despite things being quite terrible at work recently, that a museum environment is a good place for me to be and I think I'll continue to thrive in my job and be absorbed by it.

Ngo's show is about the Vietnam War seen from the point of view of a person who knows he exists because of it and whose life has been shaped by it but whose experience of it is entirely mediated through the same media reifications everyone recognises and through his own family history. He's got this vast collection of found photographs and slides from the war - mostly bought on eBay, he told us, so real flotsam and jetsam, no longer the property of the people who took them and thus doubly displaced from the times and places and landscapes and people and events they depict - and the show used selected images from this collection to make a series of readings of that past and stake claims within it. One of the many confronting sections of the show began from three kinds of photographic images of women. A bunch of TV-sized light boxes stood in a room, all displaying enlarged snapshots taken of Vietnamese women, their faces mostly hidden in their wildly swinging hair or out of sight because of their contorted poses - dancing grotesquely and sexually in sequinned and feathered bikinis on a dingy improvised stage. On the wall of the gallery was a grainy mural-sized enlargement of a photo showing the audience at this spectacle - black and white American servicemen and a few Vietnamese women. Over this, in red neon, was a handwritten phrase from The Quiet American: Phuong was wonderfully ignorant. (Phuong is the name of a woman character in Graham Greene's novel) Two sets of stairs led out of this room. On the mezzanine above stood a 1960s telephone table bearing an orange 1960s photo album with decorative lettering reading 'Views of Vietnam' on the cover. Inside, one per page under that destructive sticky plastic film, there was a series of photos of American women, white and black, which the artist had extracted from collections of servicemen's photos of Vietnam and which presumably had been carried by those men. In the basement a monitor played a version of Philip Noyce's film of The Quiet American which the artist had recut to make Phuong the central character.

Those were all sexualised fantasies and the images they started from were correspondingly arresting but the show pointed to ways that projections of fantasy dominated all kinds of image-making about the war in Vietnam, even boring pictures. One work started from a tiny snapshot of a rifle standing on a perfectly made bed in a tent on a base somewhere. Another used a sequence of pictures of a Chinook helicopter either taking off or landing.  The things Ngo did with the pictures brought out and made explicit and readable some of the latent content of those fantasies.

The show was quite beautiful in itself but another layer of interestingness came for me from exploring it with a group of colleagues who are historians and curators (and at least one of whom is also the child of a man who was conscripted to fight in Vietnam) and have varying levels of investment in seeing the Vietnam war.

I was interested in the overlaps and differences between Ngo's show and the Patrick Pound one at NGV Australia. They have different purposes but they're both photographers working with collections of found photographs and objects as their medium, and they've both got very interesting things to say about collecting and collections as a conduit to the past. Both artists use their objects like language - as vehicles for expression and figuration -  and historians are maybe not all that comfortable with this, especially when the object's disconnectedness from history is taken advantage of, is used, rather than redressed, and the object is explicitly provided with a new context and no visible attempt is made to re-root it in a verifiable historical narrative.  (to be continued)  

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Australia - I'm standing in it

Welcome to another edition of Footwear Log

New clogs

Let's face it, this purchase was inevitable from the moment I wrote here that I was having lemming-like urges about buying myself a pair of shoes exactly like my psychoanalyst's. Do you know what I keep thinking about? Apart from how excellent these are on my feet? You do of course. I keep thinking about the scene in The Young Ones where Rik's sociology tutor comes to the party and Rik says to him in this excruciating way "ooh look I've got trousers like yours, they're great aren't they." In case you're not quite sure what I'm saying, I am in fact Rik in this instance, and also everywhere else in my life, 100% of the time.

I suppose I should be more disturbed about how pleased with myself I am about these shoes, which, it bears saying one more time, I wanted because my doctor has a pair exactly the same. I've wanted shoes of hers before but never actually taken the step of acquiring some, until now. I am all about taking the step these days. But stepping where? Is this a sort of payback for her freaking me out so deeply by copying me and changing her hair from dyed brown to silvery grey? (Yes I dare say it is.) Yesterday's session was another of the ones where I can't meet her eyes and so spend too much time staring at her feet. She had a confusing pair of knee-high boots on. They have zippers down the inside of the leg as is usual but also zippers down the outside, ie two zips per boot. Maybe a little bit on the kink side of things. I have no desire to follow suit there. The ways of the lemming heart are hard to fathom.

I was amused but also very embarrassed last week to find I'd accidentally started a mini lemming-stampede on facebook (hello friends) by posting about the skincare stuff I use: it's good stuff and I have no hesitation recommending it but it was quite weirdly interesting to have about half a dozen women tell me publicly and privately that they'd bought some after I talked about it. I guess what that's about is how old we all are. We're starting to see the lines on our faces. Though in my case the problem is not really caused by old age and decrepitude, I would not need to rub potions into my skin to stave off "the rapid increase of the crows' feet about the temples"* if I could somehow crack myself up a bit less often and/or a bit less completely. This morning I was riding to work (where things are still tense) in the dark, it was painfully cold, but I couldn't help laughing; I was thinking about the phenomenal crimes against human decency you could commit if you set yourself the task of making porn / exploitation versions of mainstream movies; Schindler's Slit is the one that did me in to the point where I had to pull over until I could breathe again. 

Also on facebook last week, speaking as I am of narcissism and masks, there was a game did the rounds where you invite your friends to post a gif that obliquely illustrates how they think of you. Zoe posted this, saying by way of explanation that it hadn't been what she was looking for but the thought the image was perfect; Kate said she thought so too.

I see what they're getting at. It's interesting. I certainly don't have these clean lines but I understand that I might seem to be structured like this. But from my perspective, it's different. Always when I write, and almost always when I talk, I'm very conscious that there's a lot I'm not talking about, and very often it's the stuff that I think about all the time. But as I think i've said before, evasiveness is the only language available to me (maybe to anyone?) and there does seem to be a possibility that it can be used to say otherwise unsayable things. The other thing this image reminds me of is an object I saw recently. Last Saturday Lenny and I visited the RAAF aircraft museum at Point Cook. He was about as interested in it as I thought he'd be: he liked the planes and not much else. One object he was most unfortunately smitten with was a horrid thing that looked like a superceded recruiting device : a black display case sort of object with a clear glass box on top with a hologram pyramid in the centre, inside of which appeared a succession of 3D images of recent aviation weaponry. Len was fascinated by this rotten thing like a mouse hypnotised by a snake.

Well. In the photo, my beautifully shod feet are standing on an Australia-shaped patch of light on the floor in the museum at work. It's one of a set of lighting effects that is meant to help visitors understand, in the absence of much signage, what they're looking at in different sections of this gallery which is devoted to WWII. This is the home front corridor. This light on the floor is easily the most photographed object in the entire museum - feet planted on the continent as I'm doing is a popular one, as is dumping your cute child somewhere on the map and taking a picture of that, god knows why. Most people who take this photo are overseas tourists. I don't know what they're thinking but I guess it's not about Tim & Debbie and chunky custard. Their loss.