Tuesday 9th February 2010
The recording of this lecture can be accessed after it has been performed here
Special thanks to Stephen Gallagher, Ardi Gunawan, Scott Mitchell, Dimitra Panigirakis, Tony Panigirakis, Lara Stanovic and Jonathan Symons.
We are here at Project Space which is part of the RMIT university city campus. Since site specificity, like a fluoro scrunchy, is forever fresh and practical, I thought I’d make a lectern and deliver a lecture. And while I will discuss the form of this artwork – using the parameters of site, context specificity and curatorial premise to position what I hope will be a critical narrative, my thoughts will also drift to my parents. For me, thinking about my parents is not unusual when making a piece of art, as the site of production for my woodwork is often my parent’s carport in Moorabbin. I was thinking about my mother’s incessant need for social appropriateness: Dimitra goes to any length to fit into the broader social milieu in which she finds herself. In some ways Dimitra, and the Adamakis clan she belongs to, had site specificity down pat long before art discourse adopted the term. The difference being that my mother’s chameleon personality remains unfailingly polite – she lacks the ‘my way or the highway’ machismo of Richard Serra, Walter De Maria and their ilk. On the other hand – my father (Tony) burns social bridges as fast as my mother builds them. His is a type of hyper criticality that repels friendship but which on some levels I find admirable and have, inevitably, internalised. So for all the performed academic posturing that this lecture aspires to – between site discourse and institutional critique – this text has my parents written all over it…
I want this lecture to be explicit. I want the content to explicitly explore the representation of self within a broader sense of the social. The position I develop might at first seem to have a contrarian relationship to the curatorial premise alluded to in the exhibition title – Secret Files from the Working Men’s College. Lectures are not exactly secretive. But this would be to interpret the work as a reactive gesture – a work that relies on external forces for its framing. And while curatorial context imposes some boundaries on any work – it’s not the total picture. The curatorial premise is only one frame of many. A work is framed first by its immediate structure – like the frame that hangs on a wall – that wall belongs to a building – which is geographically sited – and sits within a social world.
If I were to try to summarise my concerns for this piece, it would be to highlight the importance of frames, boxes, structures, boundaries and so on. These social mechanisms (that at this point are only vague metaphors) are not intrinsically oppressive or stifling – they could just as easily be considered enabling. And if I were to think that my practice was in some way free of a pre-existing ideology – I’d only be fooling myself. The box is there, it’s just not being acknowledged. By failing to acknowledge the box we allow its insidious potential to emerge.
So much for being explicit – lets try that again. This exhibition brings together artists who once studied at RMIT and who identify as gay, or at least not exclusively heterosexual – some might call this queer. Queer is a somewhat dated term that was invented to refer to a whole bag of transgressive social practices that don’t conform to heterosexual norms. The term ‘queer’ had the life of many discourses that are initiated by university theorists – it was short lived. [2017 edited note: This is an uniformed quip. So whilst in 2010 the term ‘queer’ was not explicitly part of my own limited framework, the notion of queer was expanding in a number of discursive fields beyond the identity politics I was referring to here. From Sarah Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology, Jack Halberstam’s notion of queer temporality, Jose Esteban Munoz and queer futurity and even Karen Barad’s Nature’s Queer Performativity – queer was and is everywhere – appropriately in different guises.] The word is now most commonly used as a short-hand term to group (and homogenise) gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex groups. It’s a term most commonly used by those now aging X-geners (like myself) who listened to Pansy Division, loved Greg Araki’s early films and might have had a purple fringe in 1994. For the record I never listened to Pansy Division – I just was trying to make my teens and early 20s sound cooler than they actually were. So these initial prerequisites (and there are more) for inclusion in this exhibition might be seen as a set of social limitations that reduce meaning for the respective projects that are grouped together. My point amongst the many digressions that I will make during this lecture is that these boundaries are clear and enable freedom as much as they hinder. And when the social boundaries aren’t transparent – a stupid type of autonomy emerges. It’s like being in denial about the four walls that surround you – barely touching the sides of your formal insularity – but also having no critical effect on the world that built the structure that holds you up and that you ignore. The term four walled structure might be a misnomer as this structure has flex and is inherently complicated. I know, I know some artists might not feel they’re bound by any structure – they’re free, they’re free, they’re free…
Of course Stephen Gallagher as the curator of this exhibition is an autonomous agent. He has made choices based on a whole other set of criteria that at this stage I’m not privy to and so I can’t comment on. I can only make comment on the consequences of some these choices. He has chosen nine artists to be part of this exhibition; seven of those are male; the majority are over thirty years old; and there are of course a number of ‘so called queer’ artists who studied at RMIT that aren’t included; including some who refuse to be named – like the anonymous artist who may or may not come to the opening; and those artists who never want to be associated with a Midsumma exhibition because of their ties to a sub-cultural art field that finds any community involvement to be at odds with their own very singular self-identification. I could also use Gallagher’s curatorial premise as a lens through which to view my own work or even as a brief to work towards. Quoting from the catalogue: how “does queerism manifest” in my artistic practice? And, how does my project use “the subtle inclusion of queer content?” I cant say to what degree the aforementioned statements have influenced my project in this exhibition. Is this how I would (dare I say) ‘normally’ respond to a curatorial premise? The lectern can certainly be interpreted as phallic; I was going to colour-match the blue of the lectern with a decorative interior planter box; I may or may not shake a handmade snowdome that encases a buccaneering pirate; this action does seem a little masturbatory; which is a troublingly exploitative use of a snowdome that was made by an eight-year old boy. So these factors can definitely be read against Gallagher’s assertions regarding my subtle queer practice. But this linking of artistic strategies with an essential sense of identity – in this case a queer identity – would be to fall into an essentialist trap. While I want to assert the structures that facilitate sociability, it does not mean that I want to reduce it to a set of characteristics that simplify meaning. I want to encourage an exploration of how the structure can be complicated and to revel in this complication.
I could articulate the production of this lectern as a masculinised assertion. This might be a masculinity typified by anything from a violence that excludes those with less social capital to a masculinity that looks towards the homoerotic. This masculinised performativity could also be regarded as ‘straight acting’ which for me is a characterisation that sits somewhere between the closet and internalised homophobia. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick described ‘closetedness as a speech act of silence.’ Could the straight-acting then be considered a form of passive aggression? On the other hand the lectern could also be an assertion that art has a use besides exploring its own form. The use would aspire to the same value as is held by furniture. There is something very satisfying with telling your Greek working-class parents that you are making a piece of furniture. This act is mutually understood. It’s also satisfying to go to the hardware store seeking advice from the timber yard about your seat, table, planter box or lectern thing that you’re constructing out the back. But this again is another ruse. Once this lectern is placed within this gallery context – the lectern is somewhat deadened by the abstracting process of art’s presentation. The lectern becomes something between a piece of furniture, whose utility is denied by the social conventions of the gallery, and an artefact. It is a piece of sculpture performing the ‘lectern’ – some might call this a model – some might call this a type of drag. But not all lecterns are the same. There are vast differences between the material, stylistic and structural variations found in lectern lexicon.
And here I turn to Susan Sontag via George Baker and their respective discussions concerning camp. Now there’s a difference between notions of camp and drag. So don’t go conflating the two. Although as we know – the pedestrian idea of drag can of course sometimes be camp. But lets not get entangled in Miss Candee’s knickers over this. I mention camp because Nikos Pantazopoulos made a passing comment regarding the camp value of my lectern. This observation was welcome and invites further interrogation. So I thought why not do that right now since his work is directly facing my own. Sontag noted (in her Notes on Camp in Against Interpretation: and other essays, Octagon books, New York, 1966) that the ‘essence of camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration.’ It is she continues ‘one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon’ – an ‘emphasising [of] texture, sensuous surface and style at the expense of content.’ Nikos was observing the finish and the design sensibility of the lectern. While the lectern is made in a manner that is basic and clear it also goes to some length in highlighting (some might say tizzy-ing) this clear and basic construction-turned aesthetic. Chipboard and glue/screw construction methods are usually associated with ad-hoc or temporary built form. But the varnishing, edging, highlighted screws, two-tone chipboard and the super flat matching of another university’s pantone scheme (Monash’s PMS 2495 to be exact) is in some ways superfluous to the content/function of the lectern. But can the campness of a work be its content, I wonder?
This camp quality only talks of the way something looks. What is interesting about Baker and Sontag’s use of camp is how it becomes a strategy for critical intervention and a lens to view the world with. Sontag notes that camp involves ‘extraordinary ambition and the tragic failure of such ambition; Camp thrives on transforming such losses into victories, but of a frivolous or enjoyable sort.’ It is at this point that I refer back to the Pantazopoulos’ work in this exhibition. The long titled work, A material and political investigation part II – a post political event: a plywood wall and a list of objects gleaned whilst looking for other activities at Gilpin & Clifton Reserve Albert Street Bunswick to be redistributed out of the gallery space over the duration of the exhibition. It is a shifting work that ambitiously attempts to resist subjective framing but fails only because it itself points to this incapacity. Its Rauchenberg-like collection of everyday detritus that comes and goes – a post-minimal and process-driven work in everything but its historical framework. The objects accepted and then rejected within a set of criteria that is unbeknown to an audience except that it might be post-political as is noted in the title of the work. It incorporates two sheets of dark plywood screw-mounted onto timber support. This leans against the black back wall of the gallery, activating a considerable visual space of the gallery even though it only takes up a very shallow space of the floor. Accompanying the sheet is a collection of found objects: a cheap mass-produced plastic chair; a log; a truck tyre; pieces of melamine; a chain; and other such things that are presented in a backs-to-the-walls kind of way. They come and go.
Chantal Mouffe regards the political as an ‘ever-present possibility.’ The political is regarded by Mouffe as any type of relation that inherently has an antagonistic quality – what she call a friend/enemy distinction. She notes:
‘Politics is always about the establishment, the reproduction, or the deconstruction of a hegemony, one that is always in relation to a potentially counter-hegemonic order. Since the dimension of the political is always present, you can never have a complete, absolute inclusive hegemony. In that context artistic and cultural practices are absolutely central as one of the levels where identifications and forms of identity are constituted. One cannot make a distinction between political art and non-political art, because every form of artistic practice either contributes the reproduction of the political.’
From Chantal Mouffe Every Form of Art has a Political Dimension, Grey Room 02, Winter 2001, MIT press, pp. 99.
While borrowing quite clearly from a Minimalist and process-driven vocabulary, Pantazopoulos’ work is doing something else. It is camping these strategies up. Pantazopoulos’ almost brutal piece like my lecture/lectern – aspires, but then fails. This failure isn’t about an unsuccessful piece (at least in Pantazopoulos’ case) – to the contrary it is about a type of earnest absurdity that this work – like my own – flirts with… I.e. It’s political, it’s post-political, it’s political, it’s post-political, its political, its post-political – I give up – lets get the hell out of here and have some fun down at the reserve – the Gilpin & Clifton Reserve, Brunswick. And so the objects leave the RMIT Project Space. A space consumed by identity – therefore politics.
Minimalist space was much simpler. It didn’t really differentiate space as a social and political construction. It was just space – man. Baker uses camp to eloquently explore the practice of Minimalism, in doing so he sets up a strategy for how post-minimalist practices activate space around an object. This rings true for Pantazopoulos and my own work.
‘Camp might then value Minimalist surfaces as “superficial,” but it also invests these surfaces in depth: Camp likes Minimalism’s fakeness, revels in its extreme challenge to nature. Camp turns Minimalism into theater. Camp makes Minimalism festive. Camp turns Minimalism into objects of decor, into furniture or things to be used. And, above all else, Camp simply adores the fact that Minimalism, in perhaps one of its greatest failures, thought it could escape the condition of subjectivity altogether—Camp really thinks this is so cute (and so sad)—for Camp is nothing if not an extreme exacerbation of subjectivity, sensibility, taste.’
From George Baker, The Other Side of the Wall, OCTOBER 120, Spring 2007, pp. 106–137.
These readings of the lectern and of Pantazopoulos’ intervention are of course different variations of reductions based on subjective concerns. These subjectivities are only part of a network of things. Bruno Latour defines a thing via its etymological root to mean anything from ‘an assembly of matter, a concern or an inanimate object.’ Therefore a context isn’t made up one thing but of many things interrelating with one another. What happens when you throw into this interpretative pool: the university that underpins the existence of this gallery; the notion of student alumni; and intersecting paths and experiences of artist, site, audience and the other art that surround the lectern in this group exhibition. Well, it kinda gets too much. While I’m all for complication. I sometimes need a break from the noise…
CUE – THE HANDLING OF SNOWDOME PROP: I would like to make a work about the pirate encased in this DIY snowdome that sits on my mantelpiece. It was made by Linus – an eight year old boy in my family. The snowdome is actually a jar. This jar might have had jam or some other condiment in it. Fixed to the bottom of the jar is a plastic figurine of a pirate. One arm flexed in a fist, the other wielding a sword. He wears a red bandana and all the other costume trappings you would expect. Surrounding the base of the pirate is not glitter but big chunks of colourful plastic coated foil. What is great about these chunks is their very irregular shape and size. You need to shake the jar quite rigorously to get the chunks up and moving. And when you do they seem to dominate the internal space of the jar which is filled with water that is slowly becoming tinted from the discolouration of the foil. The pirate recedes at times when the angular chunks of foil do a type of graceful dance through the fluid. They eventually sink to base as the vigorous movement of your forearm subsides.
I guess I romanticise the simplicity of this craft practice. That it engages its audience in the explicit and simple manner that I first thought I would be replicating in this work. But that was never going happen. Convolution abounds. I haven’t even got to my central premise: GAY – RMIT – ALUMNI – ART – and not necessarily in that order.
The form of the lecture is very hot-right-now. That’s a very arrogant statement but I have already alienated a swag of my potential audience by performing my lecture on a weekday morning – I guess that might be part of an affectation that I am developing. From Simon Fujiwara, Trisha Donnelly to my friend and colleague Tom Nicholson who is right now using the lecture form in collaboration with Tony Birch at Sydney’s Artspace – the performative quality of the lecture is a pervasive response to the over-materialised forms of the last decade. I am not accusing Nicholson, Donnelly and Fujiwara of making faddish and cynical responses to the artistic zeitgeist. I certainly might be accused of that myself. But the barely there installation, the undocumented or badly documented performance, the didactic quality of the archive, the emphasis on sociability are all part of the shifting, competing and arbitrary norms that make up the art field.
An artist who has never been shy of the lecture form is Andrea Fraser. I have an absolute infatuation with Andrea Fraser and some would say I’m parroting her now without doing the intensive research that her performances actually require. Fraser is part of a much longer tradition of ‘artist and writer’ that dates back to the 1960s. I’m thinking of Robert Morris, Robert Smithson, Adrian Piper, Art & Language and Joseph Beuys who in their respective capacities used the didactic form (exegesis, classrooms, theory, philosophy and lectures) to sit alongside what might be considered their more spatial or sculptural practices. For some of these artists the didactic or text-driven form was conflated into all other formal interests. Smithson would explicitly comment on the material weight of words – highlighting the importance (but also potentially the heavy burden) associated with the artist’s exegesis.
The performed lecture and the written text as the form of my project is influenced by the boundaries defined by the hosting institution. The boundaries are not merely architectural. That would be like calling my work site-specific – like the term queer has lost its historical and discursive specificity. But defining the site of this display is important never the less. The form of this performed lecture doesn’t have an instrumental relationship to the complex intersection of social forces that it’s placed in. In other words this project doesn’t have a broad social use like a community mural, a workshop, a vase or a church icon might have. In some ways it would make total sense for this lecture to be incorporated into the education program offered by RMIT Tafe or University – but that would also mean that my lecture would become privileged over the other thousand lectures found at RMIT, only because its art. I don’t want to give another leg up to this reified field of ours so I decided to nick and steal from another field, namely education. The social finds its way into the form then – through the glass wall with a band of rusted coloured enamel. It’s like the walls of the form are permeable. Closed in the sense that this work is about its own set of conditions but also open because these conditions are made up of the sociable concerns it has its back to. This type of autonomy really has only one effect and that’s on the field of art – a micro one judging from past audience experiences of my work.
The major issue I have with the lecture form is the resolute authority that it could potentially convey. How can I perform a lecture that is explicit in its social contextualisation but at the same time embraces insecurity, ambiguity and hesitance? Probably wishful thinking… What is interesting about a statement that has a propositional quality is that it is capable of falsity as well as truth. The propositional form can only assert a possibility and put forward ideas for consideration and discussion. This contingent state is not foreign to any of the art mentioned that deals with the lecture form. In fact this is probably what the examples I have given have in common – a challenge to the idea of resolute authority. Which is interesting in terms of Andrea Fraser is that she challenges this authority within the form of her practice but at the same acknowledges the active manoeuvring within this field of power.
‘The artistic field specifically is constituted above all else as ‘a site of struggles in which what is at stake is the power to impose the dominant definition of the artist, that is the standards of criteria, the norms according to which producers and their products will be evaluated.’
From Andrea Fraser, It’s Art When I Say It’s Art, Or… in Museum Highlights: the writings of Andrea Fraser, [ed] Alexander Alberro, MIT Press, Mass, 2005.
I guess I too am manoeuvring in that field of power – regardless of how consciously strategic I am being. The text of this lecture is a process of legitimation. And to the aid of this legitimation comes not only the objective power of the lectern but that of words and ideas. As an artist, I use words like any other form. But I also use a field of ideas, theory and philosophy to legitimise, translate and expand. These word and ideas: explain; add value to the field of art; build analogous bridges; make analogies clearer; make new social narrative; substantiate claims; translate so others can understand; make new language; and make parallel discourse. But I am also interested in how this expression of power through these words separates this work from other works. I am interested in how one might mash up, misquote, unacknowledge, misrepresented other thinkers ideas. From Pierre Bourdieu take on capital, Anthony Gidden’s enabling structures, Theodor Adorno’s theory on autonomy and Judith Butler’s notion of performativity – I’m concerned that my 101 quotation is part of strategy to as they lift and separate… And there is segue way into the aspirations of the university.
The university has an undisputed stranglehold on the pathway that leads to a professional artistic career. This isn’t a new (or unpredictable) development as the shift from art being beholden to a market through production of craft to it being a manifestation of a concept (which eventually proceeds to a market) is old enough to be traditional. It is also no coincidence that the proliferation of MFA programs occurred in sync with the dematerialisation of the art object and the increase in production of artist writing in the 1960/70s. What is new (at least in this corner of the world) is the increasing academicisation of this training which has been colonised by the language of the hosting institute – i.e. artists now quantify and qualify their experimentation via the notion of academically sanctioned research. It is now not uncommon for a star student to enter art school at 18 and leave with a PHD at 27.
It could be argued that this prolonged university stint presents the artist with the rigour of conceptually framing their own practise as well as an additional path to finances and audience creation. This potential self and peer framing offers the broader art community an alternative to the dominant framing of curatorial, historical or commercial institutional voices. The academy’s alternative expertise can offer a counterbalance to the dominant market’s fetishisation of cohesive and stable presentation over all other modes of public outcome. These dominant regimes follow conventions that aren’t essentially exploitative but do enact an exchange in values based upon a calculus of commercial imperative, conceptual convenience and public relations. This is not to say that the four years of a PHD art program doesn’t have the potential to be one long insular psycho-therapeutic session in the guise of conceptual self-reflexivity. However it seems as though some art schools have (progressively over time) chosen to borrow from the university’s set of tools that privilege individualism, the sometimes arbitrary markers of industry experience/expertise and the pillaging of other faculties’ discourses over collaborative research, peer review, and an interdisciplinarity characterised by dialogue rather than representation.
So this gallery is linked to a university. So connected that in the last couple of years RMIT’s Project Space moved away from model based on the ever shifting vagrancies of cultural/social capital – playing a part in Melbourne’s inner-city circuit of galleries that validate and support contemporary art practices – to a space that prioritises links to officially sanctioned research outcomes. Both these models of practice might have the same virtues some expect from contemporary art. These could be independence, rigor, experimentation and/or aesthetic challenge. The difference being that the commissioning agent of this art – the gallery – has different expectations from the two respective models.
While on some levels the program doesn’t seem to have changed. Going from a gallery that bestows cultural prestige onto an institution, i.e. we show edgy art, it’s so now it hurts. This is a metaphor for the RMIT student experience and/or graduate without there being an explicit connection between teaching/learning/research and the art that once was displayed in this space. To making the gallery a mediating device for internal machinations of the teaching/learning/research at RMIT. These would be you’d hope the core competencies of a university – a type of in-house publishing endeavour. The public relations wing of the university would like this art to have the same effect as the last model of art practice. It probably doesn’t but what does it really matter. Who is this public that PR departments of universities are trying to reach anyway?
A sense of belonging is important. At its core an alumni association is about creating an ongoing sense of belonging via the establishment of a support network based on influence, a sense of prestige and the continuation of the nurture felt whilst within an educational institution. You once belonged and you continue to belong. Of course alumni associations are derived from a masculinised sense of belonging. Not surprisingly based on the fact that education was once the exclusive domain for men. An incongruence emerges when trying to connect the educational advancement of the working class connoted in RMIT’s first establishment as a Working Men’s College and the exclusive terrain of an ‘old-boys’ association which the word alumni is tinged with. Of course art schools don’t have the usual trimmings of alumni associations like newsletters and reunions. But this doesn’t mean that networking based on an association with RMIT (like VCA or Monash) doesn’t exist. Come to think of it most artist-run-spaces might be considered pseudo alumni associations. CLUBSproject in particular was overwhelmingly dominated by RMIT graduates – with only one token VCA graduate – Chris LG Hill.
Since the 1990’s the predominant gender of art school graduates is female. The term alumni is strictly speaking a male plural – alumnae is plural feminine. The use of this latin term is questionable as the term graduate is genderless.
Amongst other attributes like skill acquisition, knowledge transfer, control, class advancement and socialisation – educational institutions are aspirational. RMIT is no exception. And while each University has its (own projected and not) narrative of aspiration i.e. the University of Melbourne has an overwhelming intake of private school high school students, RMIT likes to think of itself as a university with a technological edge even though it nearly went bust over a bungled IT enrolment disaster. What is interesting about RMIT’s historical narrative is the shift is in its naming: Working Men’s College (1887): Melbourne Technical College (1934); Royal Melbourne Technical College (1954); Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (1960); and finally RMIT University in 1990.
The Australian artworld doesn’t like to openly acknowledge that most of its artists have been educated in university – that the art that is part of this world is part of a pedagogical process. Unless of course its an international name university. (Cue the opening track from the TV series FAME.) The obvious exception is the graduate show. This is a time when notions of pedigree and influence derived from educators acquires a fresh lustre. The ritualistic harvest of fresh talent at graduate shows is the acceptable manifestation of the pedagogical within contemporary art cultures. The debutantes are embraced both for their own precocious promise, and for faithfully reflecting and affirming existing constellations of stars. This link (think alumnae) is only good for 3-5 years.
The problem with being pigeon-holed is that this metaphor still exists… The line “I’m not a gay artist, just an artist” is always reverberating in my ear when a Midsumma festival opportunity is on offer. I react. I invariably accept the opportunity regardless of the curatorial premise because I guess I care about what people think of me. An exhibition is if anything a public relations activity bound by a series of art conventions like ideas, forms and processes. Lets put any issue of my self-esteem aside, although that might be difficult during this lecture. Between the competing institutional contexts that frame this work: Art, RMIT University, the Midsumma Festival, Project Space et al. – you are left with me. Never-the-less, if I refuse to be in this exhibition am I projecting a problem with being gay. Limiting yourself to one identity might be problematic as we’re all a complicated matrix of social markers. I’m a Greek-Australian artist whose work rarely touches directly on ethnicity, but that doesn’t make the identity inappropriate. Rejecting one marker over another is perpetuating negative associations with being gay. After all I’ve never had a problem with being associated with white straight middle-class artists. In some ways this isn’t too far away from (from the hidden and not so hidden violence) of the playground taunt or generic insult of – that’s so gay. So tell me again, what’s wrong with being gay I tell my sometimes over-active internalised critic?
So Gay, hey. Besides subtlety being something that I can never do. Believe me I try. What eventuates is some bulking timber structure (lumber as my friend Russel Walsh likes to call it) with an accompanying convoluted conceptual thread. Its subtlety as sledge-hammer. There is a pattern to this sensibility and it all started just up the road, RMIT, Bowen lane in Building 2. And while the ‘rigors’ of the atelier program of the RMIT Painting department really only made mention of one gay artist for the whole three years I studied there. Have you looked at Ross Bleckner? I can hear the lyrical abstractionist tutors ask.
I was busy being gay. Finding freedom in that box, in that structure, in that boundary.
In 1997 I danced around in my Target y-fronts with a male mannequin as my back-up dancer. I eventually found myself in bed with this hunky bit of rented plastic. Only to be caught by my father mid-fondle. Trying to justify it as an art project and not some form of depravity in the wails and screams that followed the incident was difficult.. My mother then asked me, so then why didn’t you use a female mannequin?
In 1998 I wondered around Bowen lane trying to find another hunk, this time non-plastic and animate. I had cooked him a romantic candle lit dinner in my studio and I wanted to buy an hour of his time. I suspect he would have done it for a lot less than the 150 dollars I gave him. I was one of those students that lived with his parents, got austudy and worked and had no bills. It was expendable income and indulgence as conceptualism I guess. But I want the constructed romance to be bought and for it to be alienating. I would occasionally bump into this Media Arts student around the RMIT traps. It was awkward to say the least.
In 1999 I hosted an afternoon tea and lecture to my fellow students and Andy Thompson. It consisted of a slide presentation of six paintings that aren’t exactly subtle in terms of their formal qualities. The pieces were: Jackson Pollock’s Cathedral (1949); Claude Monets Waterlilies (1916); Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night (1889); The Edgar Degas’ Dance Class (1873); Georgia O’Keeffe’s Redcanna (1930); and Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1893). These highly saturated and canonical paintings were chosen because Jack – a character from Dawson’s Creek (a 1990’s TV series) used these paintings to describe his experience of sex to his friend Joey. Now Joey was a budding artist and she had begun to life draw. Clumsy Jack had spilt a drink over one of Joey’s assessment tasks and because he felt guilty, volunteered to be a life model for her. (You have to also understand they’re in high school – put any sense of credulity aside.) In the same episode the straight couple Andie and Pacey decide to potentially get past their heavy petting after negative HIV test results. Dawson’s Creek always fucking around with dominant paradigms. I showed the clincher of the episode in edited highlights during the lecture. It was the awkward life drawing session where Jack (who is yet to ‘come out’ in the series) uses the Pollock, O’Keefe, Monet, Munch and Van Gogh to describe his experience of sex. He uses these paintings to describe the unnamed gay sex he has already had. He cracks a boner. He cracks a boner when mentioning what might be considered the campest paintings around. Well almost, Degas is not camp, he’s just creepy. I by no means made this connection 99. I just thought it was kinda little funny. But these painting, this art that as Sontag noted ‘has extraordinary ambition’ to respond to emotion or subjectivity but also ‘tragic[ally] fails such ambition.’ Straight I guess. But exceedingly and hilariously camp.
A PROVISIONAL CONCLUSION
(CUE – THE HANDLING OF SNOWDOME PROP) I would like to make a work about the pirate encased in this DIY snowdome that sits on my mantelpiece. It was made by Linus – an eight year old boy in my family. The snowdome is actually a jar. This jar might have had jam or some other condiment in it. Fixed to the bottom of the jar is a plastic figurine of a pirate. One arm flexed in a fist, the other wielding a sword. He wears a red bandana and all the other costume trappings you would expect. Surrounding the base of the pirate is not glitter but big chunks of colourful plastic coated foil. What is great about these chunks is their very irregular shape and size. You need to shake the jar quite rigorously to get the chunks up and moving. And when you do they seem to dominate the internal space of the jar which is filled with water that is slowly becoming tinted from the discolouration of the foil. The pirate recedes at times when the angular chunks of foil do a type of graceful dance through the fluid. They eventually sink to base as the vigorous movement of your forearm subsides.