Well it’s that fun time of year for casual academics, of no money and nail biting about possible/probably work next year.
The guilt-tripping over writing/not writing and mounting credit card debt is a habitual anxiety, mainly manifested in my back, and I feel too guilty to see an osteopath, and wonder if I’ll be able afford to see a dentist by Easter.
This time, I got a bit proactive and did a few days of casual work in a warehouse. I really enjoyed folding cardboard, exhausted my obsession with packing tape guns, and enjoyed the calm wordless communication of working together with my hi-vis clad colleague. finding our rhythms of folding, lifting, unpeeling, sealing. Measuring the cadences of our tasks to the blare of the radio, and the trashy workbeat crunch of nova FM and the high rotation hell of my latest earworm torment, titled above.
Back in the real/unreal world I completed a crochet piece – a large one, of scintillating dayglo pastels, singing “freedom” in Tamil. It will be on show and sale via silent Auction in Sydney in 2 weeks, at this fundraiser….
I’m still aching with love for the piece, the colours, the conversations around it, the new friendships made through it….. it was hard to pack it up and send it off……
In another unreal world I’ve been noticing the amount of general resentment and grumpiness and infighting among my circles of outlaw renegades. It’s as if everyone has been infected by a level of morose cynicism and want to attack each other, because they and we are so depressed by the current government, and its policies, and the mainstream media reports which celebrate them.
I’m always interested by agency, and when we take it or abandon it, and I’m interested by the ‘shaming’ phenomenon that lefties do so well to each other. Actually I’m more horrified than interested by shaming, and horrified when I participate in it.
There is a great article published in “the Conversation” on the dilemma of the Biennale of Sydney being sponsored by Transfield,; the corporation that is set to make a lot of money by running the offshore concentration camps for refugees. Any visitor to Villawood, knows how much money they are already making from the crazy amounts of fencing around the detention centre, but things are getting much, much worse….. The article is thoughtful and considered, exploring the roles and agency of academics and teachers in relation to corporate art and It includes hotlinks to this wonderful piece by my friend Anne Deslandes, which calls for labour boycotts against the labour of locking people up: of shipping and constructing metal fences, etc. as well as this more complex and intense piece by Angie Mitropoulos. I love the latter, because it’s a thinking paper, trying to consider the complex webs of power and agency and guilt/culpability.
Capitalism works well on finding a source of profit in everything; including fostering the deluded ideology that consumer power exists or is greater than labour power. Last week there was handwringing over which superannuation schemes profit from detention centres (and don’t I get to gloat about the moral superiority of my super savings being less than my student debt….?). Meanwhile, even in their compromised, implicitly racist and sexist state, labour unions do have the capacity to present a genuine economic and political – so much so that the current federal government are organising show trials against them.
Boycotts do have some power – but mainly in a symbolic sense. they provide a rallying call for activity and awareness.The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign by those actively working to challenge the horrors of the Israeli Occupation of Gaza, is a great example where the publicity around declared support, the public iteration of a boycott probably does more good than the dint in the profits of Soda Stream or Max Brenner……
So, back to the Biennale, and my heartstrings pulling me apart. I was really delighted that someone who I admire a lot – as a mentor and friend; as a feminist and queer activist – was given an official project spot in this year’s Biennale. They have created a marvellous project in collaboration with a whole range of feminists and activists, and the work and the process are all about representation, and breaking apart the singular voice of mastery or authorship. In other words: PROFOUNDLY RIGHT ON. Such a welcome change from the hagiography over Sean bloody Gladwell…..
And this artist wrote to me today, describing the hundred emails she had received from the concerned public, telling her she should withdraw from the Biennale. And this broke her heart, and made her feel ashamed, enraged, guilty…… And I’m feminising my friend now, because the politics of boycotts and guilt and shaming cannot be separated from the politics of gender, and all of those people from marginalised categories who are made to bear the burden of the silence of those they come from and represent……
And I am wrangling internally because I can’t wait to see the work. I can’t wait to buy the catalogue, and take it across those transfield fences to show my friends inside detention… because this work, and its representation is profoundly liberating. We say that art is ‘free’, and of course it is not. It is messy and entangled and complicated and compromised, and it is one of the reasons why artists and activists often clash….. However, art is mobile – no – it is profoundly motile…. it contains elements that shift and change constantly, and can’t be tied down to a party line, or a corporate promotion or a national ideology.
I was at the detention centre a few days before invasion day, and I saw something astonishing. A young woman; blond, curly hair caught in a high ponytail, sauntered into the visitors centre, in a tight fitting navy singlet…. with a SOUTHERN CROSS. I wish I could have taken a photograph, because everyone reading this will think I am lying or exaggerating, but I couldn’t make this up. Middle Eastern boat person mimics Schappylle Scragg. doesn’t mimic. I read it as mimicry, but it is something else. Brave young woman fleeing theocratic fascism, finds herself locked in a gaol. Finds herself given second hand clothes. Finds herself about to walk around in public in skimpy tight clothing. she finds herself, continues to find, and explore, and create and live. Because even people in detention have and the capacity to to take and remake the visual culture that surrounds us, and rework it into a habitus of hope and courage and connection.
The Melbourne centre is not Nauru or Manus. It is not quite and not yet a bare life hellhole. I hope it never is. It is not a holiday camp, however. And despite my own productive working relationship with SERCO right now, it exists within a context where this experience is more common.
I don’t have any answers, or solutions, or party lines. I notice levels of rage and despair and hatred among my progressive friends and this upsets me. I try my very hardest to retain optimism, to keep connections and dialogues, and collaboration happening, because I think that isolation and suspicion and cynicism are first step to fascism. I don’t ignore the problematic or limited or selfish acts and words of my friends or of myself, but I don’t want to condemn anyone right now. My enemies are in power right now, and so I need as many friends as possible.
On a brighter note the Melbourne Free University has started another awesome project…. of getting together volunteers to run free seminars for refugees on Bridging Visas who are prohibited from working or studying.