‘Revolutions – forms that turn.’ Obviously the word ‘revolution’ has multiple meanings, and it evokes different responses from just about everyone who is attempting to grapple with what this Biennale means to do. I was interested by the opening line of Christov-Bakargiev’s own introduction to the concept because it seems clearly related to the revolution as uprising: “The impulse to revolt.” But the revolutions I’ve seen in my Biennale wanderings thus far seem to have much more to do with the ‘revolution’ of repetition and rotation, some of it physical, some of it historical, some of it spatial. I’m confused by her invocation of the notion of ‘revolt,’ then, because of its strong association with ‘rebellion,’ and I guess I haven’t seen the inferred radicalism, although it is interesting to wonder if radicalism is still a going concern in the world of 2008. I asked this same question of the written word a couple of weeks ago, and I think it’s also relevant to contemporary art: Is there even such a thing as true originality anymore? Is it possible to be the first artist to paint or record or design or sculpt or install anything at all these days? Isn’t everything doomed to derivation? Doomed sounds pejorative; not doomed, then, but perhaps defined by these derivative times? And so, by a curious inversion, isn’t originality the only genuine revolution left? And can it occur in actuality, or must we only talk about and conceive it at this kind of remove? Let’s face it. These concepts have been traded and defined and refined and critiqued and rejected time and time again throughout the ages – where is the revolution in these words today? It’s an empty war chest; all the munitions have been exploded long ago.
We are consigned to our moment in history, and whether we like it or not, the kind of revolution we’re experiencing in the twenty-first century is one of unending repetition. Oh look, here we are again. It’s groundhog day out there, in life, in art, in politics, in fashion, in economics. One of the ‘comradely’ addresses I read in the Biennale catalogue repeatedly quotes other ‘revolutionary’ sources from other times in history: is it just me who thinks this circular return to what has already been is a seemingly inescapable dilemma in contemporary discussions of art, philosophy and literature?
I guess I took it as a given, then, that this is the type of revolution Christov-Bakargiev’s Biennale was intending to engage. Turning, always turning, world without end. Is revolution temporally bound? Are we unable to participate in the revolutions of the past because we weren’t there, or can we now appreciate that in fact these are the only revolutions we are ever likely to see? I haven’t been at all bothered by the retrospective quality of the exhibition because I’ve so far assumed it was completely intentional. I thought it was part of the point (forms that turn, etc “Revolving, rotating, mirroring…”). But John McDonald’s weekend review of the Biennale in Spectrum (and I like his Visual Art section very much) seemed to be looking for the revolution elsewhere. No, he seemed to be after a very different type. The uprising type. That revolt, the ‘storming of the Winter Palace,’ as he himself says. I’m just not sure any of us is capable of that revolutionary moment in history anymore; I think perhaps we’ve already had them all. There will be more riots, there will be more movements, there will be more overthrows, there will be more wars and despots and oppressors, I’m just not sure there will be any more true firsts. And let’s not forget that revolts are always in response to something, so were they ever really firsts at all? Perhaps to some what I’m suggesting robs the word ‘revolution’ of its radical implications, but equally the circular movement of this second revolution is more interesting to me, because it has no beginning and no end, it is a perpetual whole, and remains far more complex in its way than an uprising that betrays itself in the very moment of exchange. What happens after the revolution? Well, only one type keeps on turning, and it was ever thus.
I’m still unable to post from my home computer, which is causing all sorts of problems and interrupting the floooooow, darlinks. It’s actually a serious pain in the arse. Mike recommended downloading Firefox, which is exactly what the WordPress people suggested too, but I’m concerned my computer won’t survive it. Put it this way. When I took it into a Mac store recently, staff gathered around excitedly, whispering and pointing at it like it was something straight from a time capsule. One of the younger staff members had never seen one before; he was just happy the rumours were true. So yes, my equipment is a little dated… on its last legs. It actually groans in the night. All of which makes me loath to attempt to force advanced software on it now. It’s like asking grandma to start dressing like a Gen Y-er – embarrassing for all involved, and doomed to failure.
So until I can afford a new computer, we’re just going to have to keep muddling on. I’m now writing myself emails on my computer at home, then dashing up the road to post the content as a blog. Not very efficient, but at least it works.
Anyway, my generally positive reception to the 2008 Biennale of Sydney continues. I went to the MCA with my friend Liv yesterday and we both agreed there was some excellent, intriguing art on display. Leon Ferrari’s La civilizacion occidental y cristiana (1965) is shockingly prescient. Executed partly in response to the USA’s bombing of Vietnam, it could easily have been created as a critique of the war in Iraq. In terms of revolutions, forms that turn, how disturbing to see what comes around again and again, and with it all the lessons we fail to learn.
One of the most recognisable works is Maurico Cattelan’s Novecento (1997). You won’t draw a single comment on communism VS fascism from the suspended taxidermied horse’s mouth, but that’s apparently part of the inspiration for the piece. It’s faintly ludicrous – absurd, really – which is certainly an effective subversive political critique in my book. It’s also simply funny, as well as being disturbing. This once majestic creature (Cattelan’s Italy?) is left hanging, humiliated, and unable to salvage its dignity. It’s certainly a sight to see.
I love Attila Csorgo’s Slanting Water (1995), especially the surprise story of how the image was captured, and Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s I can’t work like this (2007), which is amusingly agitated, really like a frustrating task abandoned. Julie Rrap is always provocative (Liv told me yesterday something I hadn’t known: Rrap is Mike Parr’s daughter, and Rrap comes from Parr in reverse… these artists are such tricksters… Cattelan used to send a friend in his place to interviews, confusing his identity and playing with the presumed integrity of an artist’s interpretation of his or her own work), and Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio’s Senza titolo o Rotolo di pittura industriale 1958 anticipates Warhol’s commodification of art through consumer products and replication. Pinot-Gallizio spray-painted a long roll of canvas, which unfurls from high above the wall just like a gigantic, carelessly unspooling toilet roll, which could be cut and sold by the metre; unlike Warhol’s screen print repetitions, since each metre is unique, but wholly anticipating the later artist’s interest in factory line, de-romanticised interventions into notions of artistic “Purity.” Good stuff, in other words, if you like that sort of thing (and I do).
Of course, there’s also the usual selection of disappointing shit, but you get that.
It’s been an absolutely perfect day in Sydney, one of those gorgeous blue-sky pearlers where it feels like the absolute best place on earth. The water is so clear you can see straight down to the bottom from hundreds of metres away. It’s much easier on a day like today shaking off the winter doldrums, because it doesn’t feel much like winter at all. I haven’t been running for quite a while because of that whole false start, here-one-day-gone-the-next pregnancy thing, but I did go today. Which is good, because the effects of winter linger longer every year.
Which brings me to yoga. Two of my good friends who live locally go to yoga twice or thrice weekly. They look fantastic, and they swear by it. They’ve also tried to get me to come. Many, many times. And once, I actually signed up for a course with Llew, and paid some ridiculous amount of money in advance for classes that I would eventually, inevitably, invariably miss. I should have known by the start time alone that I was not long for the yoga mat: 6:15 am or something equally evil. I’m not doing anything but rolling over and letting out a meaty snore at that hour of the morning; what was I thinking?? Why deny who I am? Why pretend?
It was a good lesson to learn. No more paying in advance, and no more ‘soft’ yoga for me. The thing about exercise is that if I’m going to force myself to do some in the first place, then I really like it to feel as though it’s doing some good. For me, this means cardio. Sweat. Racing heart. Aching legs. Adrenalin. None of this namby pamby Pilates poncery. If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not exercise. It’s activity. A leisure pursuit. Recreation, perhaps. But not exercise. Exercise = punishment. As far as I’m concerned, exercise is the price I pay for my decadent, no-holds-barred, pass-the-cheese lifestyle. So I don’t want to be calm and assume the lotus position. I want to smack something.
My friends assure me that the new yoga place they go to isn’t about feeling all Zen at the end, which is great, because I walk in there and spot so much as an incense stick and I am out of there. Assuming they ever get me in there, that is. Because it’s winter, you see, so I am teetering, although not necessarily toward the tantric… I just need an indoor option. At the first sign of rain out on the boardwalk, I retire my runners faster than the first drop can fall. Lazy. I’m a lazy runner. If it’s inclement, I’m reclining. Except winter food beckons, and then after a few weeks of wet weather and warm pudding, I am in all sorts of trouble. So I need a back up exercise program that I can do indoors in wet weather. Could their hardcore yoga be it? I don’t know… Yoga people have always been pretty high on my list of things to smack (you know the ones, and don’t pretend you don’t), so the idea of doing yoga myself is ALL WRONG. Whenever I talk to my friends about their fantastic course – and I can see how fit they both are as a result of it – I think “Maybe. Maybe I can do this.” But the second I’m away from their yoga evangelising and back on the beachfront, I sort of come to my senses and remember the Failed Experiment of the last time I tried it. Maybe we all just need to accept that it’s not for me. Maybe I should take up boxing instead
I was standing waiting for a coffee at my favourite local cafe Barefoot this morning, so I started absently flipping through a newspaper on the counter. A ‘tribute’ from Rove McManus to Jane McGrath caught my eye, and as the realisation slowly dawned on me that she’d died, I just teared up on the spot. Strange the things that’ll do that to you, but it just seemed inestimably sad to me that this woman, wife and mother, who has done so much to raise cancer awareness and raise funds for the on-going fight against this insidious bloody disease, had lost the fight. I rushed out of Barefoot genuinely upset. And I bet I’m not the only Aussie girl feeling this way today.
I’m not a big cricketing fan or anything like that. Naturally I know Jane McGrath’s husband is Australian bowling great Glenn McGrath, but cricket’s really got nothing to do with it. It’s just a really basic, every-woman kind of solidarity, if I can even say that of someone I didn’t know. I think we’re all pretty terrified of breast cancer, but it also still seems remote, something that happens off stage to someone else. If you’re anything like me, a known hyperchondriac, you might regularly clutch at your breasts in the shower, and clumsily push skin around when you’re lying in bed, and poke around under your arm as you’re getting dressed, and break out in the occasional icy sweat just thinking that that pre-menstrual glandular lump might be something more, but you don’t ever quite believe it could really happen to you. I don’t, anyway. It’s too frightening, so I keep my very worst fears subdued even as I have them. It’s like a constant argument in my head:
“What’s that lumpy bit?? Or that? Jesus Christ, what about that???”
“Nothing, that’s what, you pathetic hypochondriac. It’s nothing.”
“But what if it is something? Shouldn’t I ask my doctor what she thinks?”
“I can tell you what she thinks. She thinks you’re a hypochondriac. You can’t ask her again. It’s nothing. It’s never anything. Stop obsessing about it.”
“But should it feel like this? What should it feel like? And anyway, what does cancer feel like?”
“How should I know? I’ve never had it. Stop your whining, you’re starting to freak me out.”
I’m torn between worrying too much and worrying too little. They say early detection is key to catching it in time, but I’m actually embarrassed to bring it up with my doctor again. I think partly it’s because I don’t really know what I’m looking for. Bodies throw up all sorts of perfectly normal and benign lumpy bits – how the hell would I know what a suspicious lump feels like when I already feel like my body’s full of them?? And yet of course I don’t want to miss it if it’s there. So back to square one I go, and the looping conversation in my head begins again.
And then Jane McGrath dies, and my heart just breaks for her family. Her kids. She was 42 years old with a lot of life to live. By all accounts, she was one of life’s beautiful people. The lady demonstrated throughout her cancer battle a grace under fire that humbles the rest of us and goes some way toward explaining why Australian women all over the country are probably feeling pretty sad today. It’s a story with the very worst ending, but there’s no question Jane McGrath would want some good to come of it, so I’m going to keep getting over my embarrassment, and keep on asking my doctor when I’m there if she wouldn’t mind just having a quick prod too, and I’m going to suggest that you do the same. Just to be on the safe side, because I don’t really know what it is I’m looking for, the difference between a normal lump and an abnormal lump, but my doctor does, and so does yours.
By Christ, do I ever have a severe case of filing fatigue… today was a frenzied blur of transcribing and writing, transcribing and writing, transcribing and writing. Why do I do this to myself when I know better than to leave transcribing to the last minute? It aaaaaalways takes sooooo much longer than I expect. And then I have to dash toward my deadline like it’s Stella McCartney at Target all over again (I’m really not sorry I skipped that particular race). But I filed my two stories, right on the dot of 3 o’clock, right down to the wire. Not exactly life on the edge a la that guy from Touching the Void, but risky enough for this timid little rabbit. Oh man, I really just want to go for a walk along the beach before it gets dark, because as the Yanks say, I’m beat, but I feel like I really have to get my batting average on DoctorDi back up where it belongs, especially because, unbeknownst to you, my precious, silent, unknown, mostly invisible reader, yesterday we reached a little milestone together of over 9,000 views… I know it’s not exactly worthy of its own theme song, but over the number of posts (345), that averages 26 views per post, which is an awful lot better than that sinking feeling that I’m talking to myself, which elsewhere in my writing life is something of an occupational hazard. Anyway, we did it, we’ve exceeded 9,000 views, thank you very much, and I am hoping we can hit 10,000 by DoctorDi’s second birthday on September 29. I think I have already told you that I am hopelessly sentimental that way – I calculate anniversaries almost obsessively, and usually in terms of some kind of ambition (“By my next birthday, I hope I’ve…had a short story accepted for publication.” You win some, you lose some, but my birthday’s in September too, so it’s not too late!).
Anyway, I blame Llew for the deadline dash today. Llew and the new microbrewery that’s opened down opposite the wharf, 4 Pines Brewing Company Llew immediately read that as ‘four pints’ and insisted we get stuck in, merely to “inspect” the joint, of course. I stuck to the schooners but it was such a lovely mild night, and I had such a hot case of editor anxiety after that mix-up from Monday, that before I knew it, we were thirsty. Very, very thirsty. Lucky for us we were at a brewery. Phew – that was close.
At the moment they’re running two home-brews through the taps, but it’s going to increase to five over time, and the brand new glistening vats are right there taking up an impressive area of floor space and looking very encouraging in that Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory kind of way (“You’re turning Voilet, Violet!”). All good things shall come to those who wait for more good beer… and by that I mean us, of course. Big kids, yes, but still children of the strictly over 18 years of age variety (or at least those who look the part, if my memory past the age of 14 serves). And the best thing is: no hangover. I feel tip top today, just harried by my deadline which, just to be clear, is completely my own fault and nothing to do with the manifold amber delights at 4 Pines at all.
Boy, did I ever learn my lesson the other day. It just goes to show I can put more than my foot in my mouth; I can cram my two typing fingers in there good and proper too.
It all started with a fierce burst of righteous indignation and misplaced certitude. This happens to me a lot because I usually KNOW I’m right, I just KNOW, I’m like, TOTALLY POSITIVE, one hundred percent CERTAIN. Until I’m not. And that’s what got my arse kicked on Monday.
I honestly thought I was right. As you’ll see. You don’t send a columnist and his editor the email I sent unless you’re pretty bloody sure you know of what you speak. I even went so far as to repeatedly, confidently accuse the guy of plagiarism; for a writer, there’s probably no greater single insult. Shit. It actually makes me cringe that I was so absolutely sure and yet ended up being so wrong. I blame the internet, the damn thing, much as I usually sing its praises and even as I’m using it right now to communicate with you all (so I’m a hypocrite too – geez, this comeuppance just won’t quit). It used to be a case of merely comparing publication dates, but now, oh no, that won’t do, you have to have read every single one of the 688,000 Google results before you can be certain you’re not getting it all wrong. Unfortunately I only scrolled through the first 5 pages of results, and armed with the three publication dates, off I went to complain just like those efficacious women you see waiting impatiently by customer service counters everywhere, all puffed up with their handbags locked across their formidable bosoms, giving everyone in their sight line the evil eye.
So here’s what happened. I sent the following email to Sam De Brito, his editor, and to the Letters page at Vanity Fair. Read it, and then I’ll tell you what happened next.
What, women aren’t funny but plagiarism is hilarious?
Excuse me for gushing, but I had the most “amazing experience” reading Sam De Brito’s column in Sunday’s S section of The Sun Herald (‘Sorry, girls, you’re just not funny’), and that amazing experience was a serious case of déjà vu.
Because I’m pathologically petty, I like punishing my husband for that long ago day when he successfully got me into bed by laughing at my jokes (see De Brito, Sam). I exact this punishment by refusing to get out of our bed every Sunday morning whilst he whips up a one-man kitchen spectacular. It’s worked out very well for me. As he’s toiling away, unselfconsciously embracing his weekly sabbatical as my home whore (see De Brito, Sam, for more on this phenomenon of the unselfconscious man, because these sessions feature heavily in my husband’s tales of adventure, achievement and conquest. He’s not embarrassed to tell his friends about them at all), I’m lolling around combining as many deadly sins into one fantastic binge as possible. Over time I’ve realised that reading S over breakfast in bed is a fast-track to a rousing session with the Super Seven. Here’s how it usually goes down at my house.
1. Covetousness. Glynis Traill-Nash has great taste, a sense of humour and her finger on the seam, as it were. She always unearths something new for me to covet (see Smith, Sally).
2. Envy. Tell me this. How can acting be work? Because it never looks or sounds like work in your cover stories, it always looks like the world’s best game of dress-ups with friends. Movie sets are always a beautiful love-in, the milk is never off, the boss is never a tool, and it’s always in the actual job description to get it on with the sexy married guy sitting opposite (see Jolie, Angelina, Hathaway, Anne, and Miller, Sienna), even though he always gets all the good lines (see De Brito, Sam).
3. Lust. I fondly remember the good old days when Amy Cooper used to report with lush, colour photographic evidence that Tom Williams was still single and on the Sydney party scene. Look, I’m a happily married woman, but that man is a fine sex object, I mean, storyteller (see De Brito, Sam).
4. Sloth. Did I mention I like reading S in bed? If it’s raining out, as it was on Sunday, I can push this out til mid-afternoon. I often do this reeking of stale alcohol whilst the unmistakable stench of our mid-thirties, we’re-too-old-for-this-but-two’s-better-than-one flatulence chokes the room (see De Brito, Sam). In such circumstances, I’ve contemplated moving my computer into bed and just never leaving, because if it’s good enough for Ernest Hemingway, it’s good enough for me.
5. Gluttony. Into these ruffled sheets I have received many a just reward for my legendary humourlessness (see De Brito, Sam), ranging from toasted ham & cheese croissants with berry Danish to follow, to full-scale Eggs Benedict, always with extra Hollandaise. And because I’m slothful, I always ensure the sheets and doona wear just a little of the love too. Some sauce here, a little streak of butter and jam there. Many an issue of S has ended up smeared with my husband’s labours – oops, my mistake, that only happens after he’s “laughed like a lunatic smoking hydro” at something I’ve said, and we all know what that really means (see De Brito, Sam).
6. Here’s the thing, I usually max out at 5 out of 7, which nonetheless is a pretty satisfying binge. I’m not usually consumed by injured pride reading S, nor does your section usually make me angry. But look at that: Sunday I hit the jackpot! Seven out of seven! How about that?! It was such an “amazing experience” that I just had to tell someone about it.
I’ll try not to be too “elliptical” about my “emotional issues” (see De Brito, Sam). Yes, like so many others I know, I’m very proud to be a funny woman – getting laughs is easy when you’re half psychotic – so I find the over-simplified, embarrassingly ignorant suggestion that women aren’t funny kind of insulting. Pride – aha! I am guilty of the sixth sin. So yes, my pride was wounded when I first read the thesis that women aren’t funny.
But here comes number 7 – anger – and this really does make my blood boil in a way that leaves me at my absolute un-funniest: that article published eighteen months ago, and its author was Christopher Hitchens, As in, not Sam De Brito.
“Why Women Aren’t Funny” published in Vanity Fair’s January 2007 issue, and quickly gained huge international notoriety. In fact, a Google search of that phrase alone returns over 688,000 results, a lot of them connected to the Hitchens piece. Indeed, the essay became so famous that VF published a response – ‘Who Says Women Aren’t Funny?’ featuring Sarah Silverman, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and others acting for the defense – in April 2008.
Oh yes, I am angry. I was so angry on Sunday that I not only got out of, but also actually made the bed, ranting to my husband in that “overexcited” way I do. The Hitchens piece is not even mentioned in De Brito’s article – as sloppy referencing of sources goes, this is absolutely egregious. Either De Brito didn’t bother to do even the most basic homework for his article, or he knowingly ripped off the Hitchens piece and claimed it as his own. I feel very strongly about plagiarism, so I thought I’d share its definition with because De Brito is clearly a little loose on its finer points: the appropriation or imitation of another’s ideas and manner of expressing them, as in art, literature, etc., to be passed off as one’s own.
Reading your column on Sunday, I couldn’t just smell our Dutch oven farts, I could distinctly smell a rat.
Angry, Proud, Gluttonous, Envious, Slothful, Covetous, Lustful, and really peeved (as well as, dare I say it, still pretty bloody good company),
See, I was really sure I was on the money (oh and by the way, I was making up that whole slothful, eating in bed thing to make a point…I needed that whole riff on the seven deadly sins to actually work) You can tell, can’t you? But little did I know, Sam De Brito actually beat Hitchens to the punch, publishing this blog post five months before the VF essay published. It’s pretty similar to what appeared in the paper on Sunday. That is, Sam De Brito got there first, not Hitchens, and, understandably, he was really, really pissed with me. He left a shat-off message on my phone (complete with a condescending ‘sweetheart,’ just to put me back in my place), and shot back an email with the link to the original blog and a challenge to send the same accusation to VF, which I duly did (I know it’s possible to have two male columnists have the same idea at the same time, but it’s still kind of strange).
Total case of Mea Culpa 1.01. Damn it all, I was totally off the mark. And accusing a well-known Sydney columnist of plagiarism really wasn’t my finest hour or smartest career move… It’s frankly just bad form (but then, I was SO SURE I was right!!!), but you can see how it happened. Armed with the publication dates alone, I was on fairly strong ground. Put it this way: when I was tutoring Professional Writing at UNSW, this would have been enough for me to mark a student’s essay as highly suspicious. Add to that a Google search, and I felt like I’d done enough investigating, as a reader, to fire off my complaint. And as you can see, I went in guns blazing. It’s awful being so wrong after being so positive about being right! Anyway, I could totally appreciate the man’s desire to rake me over some hot coals, so I faced up to my mistake and all’s well that ends well, but it does make me look at the internet a little differently. As in, warily.
It withheld the exact information from me that exonerated the columnist, and the information was there – somewhere – just out of reach. And resting my case on the publication dates of hard-copy magazines and newspapers once would have been enough in the way of best practice, but no longer. Now it’s just the battle of the blogs out there, and millions of writers large and small are cramming their simultaneously-occurring thoughts out there in one big idea super-highway that makes the entire notion of originality (and copyright and intellectual property) almost laughable. Is it even possible to have the first word on anything anymore? I’m not sure. But one thing I do know (and I’m sure of it, I’m positive, I know it’s true, I’d bet my house… no, no, I was wrong last time but this time there’s no mistake, HONEST) is that women bloody well ARE funny, and I don’t care who said it first.
My sister-in-law Flic has a part-time gig at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), so we were lucky enough to score a bait to last night’s opening of the 2008 Biennale of Sydney, ‘Revolutions – Forms that Turn.’ And we weren’t the only ones! I don’t think I’ve ever seen the gallery so packed. When we arrived, the wall of people standing between us and the bar was absolutely impenetrable. This made me tetchy. What is wrong with me that I can’t stand in a roomful of people with full glasses without virtually panicking until I have a glass of my own?? Within seconds of crossing the threshold, I’d stopped listening to the person speaking (then again, we arrived in time to catch the last of the most boring speech of all time. A lady whose name escapes me now was speaking in a crushing monotone that made not having a drink to knock back all the more a Total Crisis Situation), and started tracking the best route to the bar. It seemed a matter of some urgency that I get a glass in my hand.
Eventually I got one. And I swiped about eight mini-quiches and party pies, too, with such deft skill that the waiters started recognising me from across the vast room. After being stuck in the sweaty middle for a while, eventually we pushed through the arty throng – most people seemed to be earnestly discussing whether or not they’d successfully scored an invite to the Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MCA) party – to the James Angus sculpture, Bugatti Type 35, 2006. A fantastic, distorted, unstable, surreal structure robbed of its vehicular imperative, it is strangely beautiful, and certainly compelling visually and conceptually. On the ground floor, it’s the perfect introduction to the main exhibition downstairs, which I managed to get to once I successfully reclaimed my husband from the bewitching charms of the Dita Von Teese lookalike he found over by the Angus work. He says they were discussing sculpture, I say they were a heartbeat away from burlesque.
I’m just going to say it. The Biennale of Sydney’s AGNSW exhibition is far, far, far and away better than last time. Llew and I were both frustrated and disappointed in 2006. Bored, even. Which is not exactly what you’re after in what’s showcased as Australia’s main festival of contemporary art. There’s a new curator in da house, Artistic Director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, and if the AGNSW component of the Biennale is a taste of things to come, this time it’s really going to live up to expectations. And about time. Too often exhibitions of contemporary art in Sydney fundamentally fail to represent the best of the field. It often feels like we’re dished up the also-runs, the runt end of the litter, the way that we get out-of-season cast-offs from fashion houses in America and Europe.
It just doesn’t look like it’s happened this time, and I am ecstatic. I saw some great stuff last night, really exciting art. My favourite artist was probably Gianni Colombo, whose work I really loved. Outside the darkened room holding his Spazio Elastico (Elastic Space), 1967, installation is another of his kinetic works – sorry, it’s called something or other structure, I just can’t remember its title – that is so surprising and unassuming and fun. I think kinetic artists are quite cheeky by nature because they are all about confounding expectations and discreet sleights of hand.
The date of the Colombo works is something I noticed moving through the exhibition; whereas a lot of work at the last Biennale seemed mostly very current, this exhibit at AGNSW is dominated by work from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. It’s contemporary art, sure, but it’s not post-2000. I know there is stuff at other sites that is right here, right now, super contemporary, but at the AGNSW at least it’s coherently retrospective as well as futuristic in tone, a kind of looking back (and simultaneously forward), which is surely what revolutions are all about. I can’t wait to see what they’ve got at the MCA and on Cockatoo Island and all the other sites around Sydney. The 16th Biennale of Sydney is open to the public 18 June – 7 September, so get out there rather than sitting on your arts!
We were always going to need a worthy replacement for our beloved Pulsarnator, which finally died of chronic rust poisoning last January. Yes, we have been without a vehicle for eighteen months, which in Sydney is as unthinkable, as completely foreign and suspect, as tee-totalling (we’ve tried that too, with much less success…) or not owning sunglasses (something we’ve never attempted. In fact, Llew collects sunglasses into clusters he calls ‘a quiver,’ and I’m even wearing them today in the rain because I’m slightly vampirical in direct sunlight and nobody needs to see that). Yes, not owning a car in this city is the sort of thing that people greet with deep suspicion and concern. It’s a lot like not owning a television (we really are Luddites, aren’t we? No TV, no car for the entirety of 2007, a petrol war year, and no stereo system – we have a record player instead. No wonder people think we’re freaks!), but a million times worse. Virtual strangers have tried to foist a million gigantic televisions on us, but say you don’t own a car, and people either cross the road to avoid you or anonymously leave food stamps in your mailbox. The idea that these deprivations have all been our choice is almost as incomprehensible as the situation itself. Anyway, you get the picture.
In a very real sense, the car had to choose us. We weren’t really in need of a replacement for the Pulsarnator so much as we started to feel the desire for one. A lot of time has passed. Of course there have been occasions where we needed a vehicle, and unfortunately our not having one has, over time, meant putting out other people. That’s probably the biggest factor. Other people being inconvenienced by our decision not to replace our dearly departed car. Not great. And the longer we held out, the bigger the tally of inconvenience-to-others became. Also I don’t know how to drive, and I was never going to learn unless we bought a car. Given I’m turning 36 in September, my learning how to park and steer and avoid hitting other traffic seems a little overdue, and I’m finally of a mind to do something about it (frankly I’ve never felt terribly inclined because I know how poorly I negotiate all other types of machinery. You heard it here first, and don’t say I didn’t warn you). So, where would the car come from? How would it materialise?
In the end, it was ridiculously easy. It was finally sunny last Saturday, so Llew and I went for a long walk around our surrounding neighbourhood. By chance we walked by a dealership, and round the back, there she was: a race-car red old 1987 Merc. A little worse for wear, obviously. The paint looked faded, the driver’s seat cracked, the back windows wouldn’t wind down and there was a small question mark over the braking system, but it was undeniably our next vehicle because it was love at first sight. We went for a spin down to Clontarf marvelling at its handling and its price, then we got back to the dealership and chatted to the dealer about the car’s (several) more egregious faults. But we were already sold, truth be told. Here was our worthy successor. What you have to understand is that we don’t drive very much, we don’t have a garage, and we live at the beach: any car we buy faces an accelerated death-by-rust. We don’t want or need a really flash car that’s going to die on the street outside our place in less time than it takes for the leaves to fall. So for our purposes, this car fitted the bill like few others would.
We went away. We spoke to Llew’s dad. He’s a Merc man from way back, and in fact had owned this very model back in the day much closer to its actual release. He too took it for a test drive, and felt the same way we did: we had to snap up this car before someone else did because it was a steal.
So Saturday, we rocked up with our cheque book in hand. They’d fixed the windows, and they’d given the car a polish. Colin, our really lovely dealer, had it parked outside for us. We didn’t even recognise it: it was gleaming as brightly as a brand new car. Llew and I looked at each other, incredulous. “That’s our car?! You’re kidding, right? How can that be our car??”
We laughed and gave each other high fives as Colin filled out all the paperwork. “We need to name it,” I said to Llew. “It’s got a lot to live up to after the Pulsarnator.”
We gazed at it and tossed a few names around and then it came to Llew (whose full name is Llewellyn Jenkins) in a flash: the Welsh Dragon. We fell about the garage laughing, it was so perfect for our glistening chariot. We handed over the cheque (Llew actually haggled with the man, and we knocked a couple of hundred bucks off its already absurd price tag), Colin waved us off, and we were away, calling Llew’s father from the car with this message: “The Welsh Dragon has left the nest.” No more needed to be said.
We decided it was absolutely essential to christen our glorious dragon with a drive to the fish markets; when we pulled into the carpark, Llew leaned over, patted the dash and said “Welcome to the family.”
What can I say? When you know, you know, and the Welsh Dragon has landed.
After all my pledges to get a new post out each weekday despite the failed technology at home, plain old life ended up getting in the way last week. Last Thursday, I actually got as far as the internet cafe I am sitting in now. I sat down and stared at the computer screen and thought about what to tell you, how to describe my feelings to you, and weighed up whether in fact this was something I even wanted to do. Did I want to invite you into this event? I wasn’t sure. So I sat here for a while longer, staring at the computer, and then I got up and walked away without having been able to type a word.
But in the end it’s precisely what’s on my mind, and what’s happening in my life, that I so often share with you as the readers of this blog, and so it seems counter-intuitive in the extreme to keep it from you, since what I am trying to create here is predicated on transparency. For this blog to continue to be worth the time it takes you to check in and read it, you have to know you can rely on me to be honest. In turn, that honesty is difficult sometimes. There is a cost involved. I pay a certain price for inviting you into my world, but I started this blog with a view to the development of my writing practice, and I am striving to build that practice with everything I am. One of the things I am striving for is an authenticity that I believe is a direct result of vulnerability. I expose myself here to an extent that sometimes makes people uncomfortable., and certainly there have been posts that have been very confronting to write. This is one of those times, but I feel I would be compromising everything we have together were I to pretend that last week didn’t happen. It did.
Last Wednesday I woke up bleeding. This was devastating, because just eight days before my doctor told me that a blood test confirmed that I was pregnant. I had my second very early miscarriage just a couple of months ago; this was my third in fifteen months. I was just three weeks in, and I can’t tell you how far away, how remote, the concept of nine months is when you can’t hold onto anything for longer than 28 days (my personal best). It means I have so far been spared a miscarriage when there’s a developed foetus -I can’t imagine what some of my friends have been through, how crippling it must be to lose a pregnancy at an advanced stage – but I haven’t been spared the sense of loss and the brutally extinguished surge of hope and excitement. In fact, this time it was pretty bloody awful, I guess because despite trying to keep my own and Llew’s feelings in check, we both thought this time would be different. I’d stopped running, drinking coffee and drinking alcohol before it was possible to even check – I wasn’t even late when I had my blood test, so eager was I to catch it at the very earliest interval and adjust my life accordingly. I didn’t want any room for error this time. I wanted to make sure there was no way, absolutely no chance, that I could accidentally contribute to something going wrong.
But there you go: it didn’t make any difference. It still wasn’t viable, and it was still gone a week later. How to describe Wednesday? Um, I was a total wreck. A sobbing mess. I could not stop bawling. Llew took the day off work, and together we presented at the nearest specialist clinic of obs and gyn because my doctor’s surgery is closed on Wednesdays. We didn’t have a referral or an appointment, but the specialist kindly agreed to fit us in anyway. I sat in the waiting room sobbing as pregnant women and prams with toddlers and new mothers feeding teemed all around me. On the walls were children’s paintings and photos of happy, healthy deliveries. Outside the rain lashed against the windows, as bleak as my own broken heart.
There’s nothing anyone can do for you in this situation. So early, it’s all over, and I knew that. I just wanted to know why. At three, it gets harder to hear and to accept and to tell others that it’s just one of those things. No it’s not. It’s three of those things. But Dr Ferry, kindly Dr Ferry, told me that indeed this too was in all probability just bad luck. I’ll say! I told him about my careful eliminations and he said that I’d been excessive. Well, better safe than sorry was my thinking, except of course it made no difference at all. I needn’t have loaded up the pantry with coffee alternatives after all. I could have been for that run. I might have had that glass of wine. I can barely stand to think about those herbal teas and the tin of Milo and the unwanted bag of decaf sitting in the cupboard above the kettle. They’re only there because I knew – for one week I knew – that I was pregnant, and I didn’t want to risk even my usual one cup of coffee a day.
Blood tests afterwards. Loads of blood tests. Lots of vials of my (B negative) blood. Just like the last time. They tested me again to look, again, for a possible explanation, for an underlying cause, for something concrete that will make sense of the fact that I can get pregnant easily (we’ve never tried as such with dates and thermometers and things) but can’t hold onto it for quids. So far there’s no such evidence, but I’ve been in to the pathologists this morning for a two hour test and once those results are back, I’ll go and see Dr Ferry again, with a referral from my doctor this time, and we’ll see what he says about all that blood. My blood narrative. Eyes are not the windows of the soul, it turns out, because it is our blood that reveals everything.
Wednesday was a stunned, bruised blur. I could not stop weeping. We skulked off to a matinee, and then another, the escapism of a darkened movie theatre absolutely the perfect and only remedy for the sadness of the day. Everywhere I turned there was a Truman Show obstacle course of babies and prams and toys and pregnant women and small children; they teemed all around us as we variously averted our gaze or helplessly stared after them, the wonder of life so abundantly created elsewhere and with such apparent and breathtaking ease. My actual physical being felt fractured and failed. The sense of having failed in some tribal, essential way was absolutely profound. It was shocking, the intensity of my disgrace.
Nearly a week later, the sadness lingers in some remote corner of my mind, but the debilitation has cleared. I am not built to dwell on things over which I exercise zero control. I do not like being sad, or feeling bad, or harbouring negative thoughts. I can’t help it: something in me simply moves on. I’m very grateful for this inbuilt mechanism because it means I let go of the very worst of life’s viciousness. This is still a small thing, I know that. It may not be the last of its kind. Indeed, a friend told me someone in her family had seven consecutive miscarriages before having two healthy children. There could be more of this. And I have not had a later miscarriage, so in many ways I have been spared a whole other level of hellish pain. I know that. But it’s still my loss, and my third, and it wasn’t easy knowing as I sat there that it was already gone. I’d kept the home pregnancy test with its two blue lines, full of promise and possibility, and I just couldn’t bear to think of it, the way I’d felt when both lines appeared, the hopeful, shy presentation I made afterwards to Llew, the precious start of something that in the end wasn’t meant to be. But maybe I haven’t been able to bring myself to throw it out because in a way it remains a symbol of hope for the future – that’s the way I prefer to think of it, and that’s how I let go of what’s happened in the past. Three strikes, but I’m not out. Not by a long shot.
Strange… it let me read Rosy’s comment, write my own and check my blog stats, but the second I tried to post, KABOOM, Batman and Robin style. Crash after crash. So here I am down the road at a different internet cafe (when I go for a change of scenery I really like to put myself around), having braved Sydney’s decidedly foul weather to come shout from the rooftops that I love swearing. Why am I telling you this now? Well, I suppose it’s because of chef Gordon Ramsay.
Gordon Ramsay has been copping it from the Australian press in recent weeks for one thing or another. One was being slightly taciturn during an interview with The Good Weekend‘s Mark Dapin. I usually really enjoy Dapin’s features, and his column is hilarious, but I really came down on Ramsay’s side this time. Dapin kept taking Ramsay down a path he’s already trodden (quickly, successfully, and in the opposite direction), being his feelings about his abusive father, and Ramsay understandably got pretty jack of it, and fast. And Dapin spent the rest of the profile justifying himself rather than reflecting on all the very good and proper reasons Ramsay kicked him out of his Wandsworth house after a 17 minute interview. Well, Mr Dapin, it’s because you were being a tool (and just quietly, I don’t think Ramsay gives a toss if you ‘think he’s all right’ or not).
Anyway, Dapin mentions Ramsay’s fondness for the F word, and we don’t mean food. And a couple of weeks ago I read another profile (Ramsay is due out here and is rumoured to be sniffing around for an Australian property to add to his gastronomic empire) where the journo held forth at some length about Ramsay’s predilection for a well-placed expletive. A man after my own heart. I have a PhD and a potty mouth. Yes, I love the dark arts and the naughty bits. What’s a great conversation without a good fuck?
Oh, I know it’s terribly uncouth of me, but I can’t help myself (fuck it). When I read in A Novel in a Year that the author believes swearing in fiction usually betrays an immaturity in the writer, quite honestly the first word that crossed my mind was “Bullshit.”
How can this be, I wondered? People I know swear all the time. I swear all the time. I love to swear. If there’s such a thing as swearing well, then I like to think I do. I think a well-chosen ‘shit for brains’ or ‘fuckhead’ or ‘cock breath’ can really lift a sentence to giddy heights of illicit pleasure. And the big reason why I am mounting a defence of the swear word is that it’s just the way a lot of people talk. If there wasn’t any swearing in my manuscript, I’d actually think it failed the test of the real. I don’t know about the conversations you have with your friends or around your dinner table or leaning on the bar of your favourite pub, but here in my social milieu, we like our martinis and our mores dirty. A lot of my favourite people are inveterate, really tremendous swearers. There’s an art to it, I think, and I admire their abilities and try to learn from their genius. Also it’s just plain old too late for me to mend my wicked, wicked ways. And I think that all these writers of all these articles that focus on Gordon Ramsay’s swearing are kidding themselves. Where are they living that ‘fuck’-ing isn’t a natural part of daily life? And if these are Australian writers, these would be censors, then I can only express surprise, because for as long as I’ve been alive, Australians have sworn like troupers. Long may it continue (sometimes it just feels good).