Sunday, October 30, 2011

Chungking Express: Paradox Waiting









"beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella," - Isidore Ducasse, known by his pseudonym Comte de Lautréamon (1869)


Chungking Express is a film by Wong Kar-Wai from 1994. It is a beautiful meditation on paradox, absence and the rule of the heart over the mind. The loneliness of crowds peppers the gritty realism of people getting on with life in the famous Chungking Mansions of Hong Kong. In particular He Qiwu, also known as Cop 223 (played by Takeshi Kaneshiro). Qiwu's girlfriend May broke up with him on April 1. His birthday is May 1 and he chooses to wait for May for a month before moving on. Every day he buys a tin of pineapple with an expiration date of May 1. By the end of this time, he feels that he will either be rejoined with his love or that it will have expired forever. Meanwhile, a mysterious woman in a blonde wig (played by Brigitte Lin) tries to survive in the drug underworld after a smuggling operation goes sour. He Qiqu spends time at a snack bar in the crowded Chungking Mansions, using the phone to make hopeless calls to women he does not actually know ("we were in grade four together" or "has it been five years...you have two kids now") and chatting to the owner who attempts to find him a date.

In the second story of the film, the unnamed Cop 663 (played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) is similarly dealing with a breakup, this time with a flight attendant (Valerie Chow). He meets Faye, the new girl at the local snack bar (played by Faye Wong). She secretly falls for him. The flight attendant waits for the cop around the snack bar, and finds out he is on his day off. She leaves a letter for the snack bar owner to give to the cop. Everyone in the snack bar reads the letter, which is assumed to be the flight attendant's way of telling the cop that their relationship is over. The envelope also has a spare set of keys to the cop's apartment.

The film revolves around the themes of doubles, replacements or doppelgängers and how or if anyone really knows anyone. The doubles in the first story are not copies but dim reflections, fractured similarities recruited by the protagonists from the pain and loneliness that the original bestows upon them.


The paradox of relationships is fully explored in Chungking Express with a brevity and economy that is at times startling, but always beautiful. "Knowing someone does not mean keeping them" (知道一个人并不意味着保持其) says Brigitte Lin's character as He Qiwu tries desperately to engage her, the mysterious blonde woman who we already know he will fall in love with,  in conversation in a bar. But the pair do not meet, even thought they are sitting next to each other, her in her Lolita sun glasses and blonde wig and him stumbling through his words as he wears his heart on his sleeve. People change. He's a cop and she is a drug dealer. They share a hotel room, although he eats and she sleeps. They are miles apart. Upon leaving at sunrise he cleans her shoes with his tie while she continues to sleep, and the world is turned upside down. Surrealism lives and love is madness.


While He Qiwu contemplates his 25th birthday, the blonde woman murders a western man while he waits for another woman in a blonde wig with whom he is intimate. Like a hallucination two dreams collide, one of death and the other of lust. Shadows move off the stage and blood runs with the rain.


There is little between them but they can barely hear each other. Cop 663 and Faye seem to be in two different pictures, but they are speaking to each other. He is elsewhere and she is stuck. Memories betray us. His flight attendant girlfriend has just gone and he is telling us about it in grainy images with audio from the take-off procedure of the flight upon which they met. "Onboard every flight is a stewardess that you long to seduce.  This time last year, at 25, 000 feet I actually seduced one" (板载每次飞行一名空姐你长的勾引去年这个时候25000英尺其实我的诱惑之一).  Is the truth being told?




Nothing lasts and there is no forever.


Who is leaving who in the sad memories of Cop 663? Soon everyone in the snack bar quarter is reading the letter from the flight attendant to 663, the moment of dissolution is shared  before the cop (n)ever reads it. Or has it?  His keys in the envelope make Faye the double (s)he does not know (s)he has. Noise between people is part of (mis)understanding.


By this stage of the film we seem to be swimming in clouds. A person is burnt upon the mind of another and they remain as a presence no matter the distance. What was presence in absence for He Qiwu has become absence in presence for Faye and Cop 663. He returns home for lunch, talking to the closet in the words he used for his flight attendant, but she is gone. Who is there?


She is. The double that we all carry. She inhabits the living quarters of the lonely cop. Watering his plants, talking to his stuffed animals, left behind by his love, and eating his food. Shouting to him as he passes by. Like a living ghost. A memory that answers back. How many of you can there be?


While he is absent, she cleans and redecorates. Changing the track of reality for the dreaming cop. "Did I leave the tap running or is the apartment getting more tearful?" (离开的自来水运行公寓越来越含泪). He is lost and dreams collide around him. Music she chooses becomes his and he remembers it as something it is not. Objects hold memories and as these change so does the man and his world. And then there is love in crowds...or not. One letter can make all the difference. Where do you want to go?


Saturday, October 29, 2011

May the Coming Darkness be Mischievous and Thrilling

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Presentation at Amsterdam University Symposium


Thursday, October 13, 2011

8 Films I (Probably Should Not) Have Seen as a Child

10 movies I should not have seen as a child by Nadine Von Cohen has inspired me to make my own shorter list. I was shocked at first by the mundanity of the films Von Cohan had chosen (Porky's and Cocktail!). I then remembered that my mum and dad did not really restrict me much in what I saw or read. However, I really did not have a lot of film watching when I was a kid. My life was books and British Television (Goodies, Dr Who, Kenny Everett etc). However,  I did manage to collect a list of 8 films that scared me in some way in my tender years. These are not arranged in any order, but here are my 8 movies I should not have seen as a child:

 

Rocky Horror Picture Show (12 Years Old)
I saw Rocky Horror from the back of a station wagon with my mother and her best friend in the front seat. The film must have had an effect on me as I wrote out all the words to Sweet Transvestite on the front of my school ring binder folder. For the following two years I used it for all my classes. Later in high school, when I was about 16, I went to two school socials (dances) dressed as a woman. I am totally amazed I was not beaten up, but I was 189 cms tall when I was 15, so I was a very unconvincing drag queen dressed in a pastel frock and old lady shoes, complete with a bad wig and stockings.

 

Jaws (10 years old)
On Cavill Avenue at Surfers Paradise I went and saw Jaws with my best friend and afterwards we bought shark's tooth necklaces. Jaws was a totally unpleasant experience for a boy who loved the beach.



Bliss (14 Years old)
At a hippy beach house at Byron Bay my mother rented the video of Bliss by Ray Lawrence. Some of the other mothers staying there called my mother 'sick' for showing it in the public lounge area of the house to children. Its a great film and the book (by Peter Carey) and film changed my life.


 

The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus (8 years old)
On TV with Richard Burton as Faustus; I was fascinated and terrified at the same time. I remember the first appearance of Satan to Faustus was as a skeleton covered in maggots. The image is incised upon my mind.


Mad Max (11 years old)
This film made me look at Australia (where I spent the first 30 years of my life), differently.It is a brutal account of petrol head culture and the highway was a lot more frightening for me after seeing it.

German Piss Party (15 years old)
I stumbled into 'The Shed', a corrugated iron box at the back of my friend's house used for drinking, darts and a bit or work, to discover his older brother and friends watching a grainy film with people speaking a language I did not understand. What unfolded during the following 30 minutes horrified me. I did not watch another porno for decades, and even then I have never been a fan of it. I blame the urinating Germans in this bizarre document of 80s fetish culture.



Psycho  (11 years old)
This is a deeply disturbing classic.  I just wish I had not seen it when I was 11 years old.




The Shining (11 years old)
Nothing on the screen scared me as much as The Shining. This film is an exercise in psychological terror.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Blogging the (Un)Control Machine




“I broke out my camera gun and rushed the temple — This weapon takes and vibrates image to radio static — You see the priests were nothing but word and image, an old film rolling on and on with dead actors — Priests and temple guards went up in silver smoke as I blasted my way into the control room and burned the codices — Earthquake tremors under my feet I got out of there fast, blocks of limestone raining all around me — A great weight fell from the sky, winds of the earth whipping palm trees to the ground — Tidal waves rolled over the Mayan control calendar.” - William S. Burroughs, “The Mayan Caper”.




The author William S. Burroughs proclaimed, “smash the control images, smash the control machine” in “The Mayan Caper” from his 1961 novel The Soft Machine. Burroughs believed that the word and image has been used throughout human history to control thought. He particularly associated it with the Mayan civilization of Meso-America. Whether or not Burroughs was historically correct in his assessment of the “Mayan control calendar” is largely irrelevant today, if one pays attention to Burroughs more simple claim that images and words populate the imaginations of people when they are broadcast using the electronic mass media. Mass media for the majority of Burroughs’s life (1914-1997) was broadcast using the one-to-many model. Newspapers, Television and Radio beamed messages into the lives and minds of millions of people every day. This network of one-way information channels (if one ignores the heavily censored Letters to the Editor and talk back radio) is drowning today in an ocean of user driven digital content. Fourteen years after the death of Burroughs, anyone who can access the Internet can fashion their own ‘camera gun’ and begin beaming images into the minds of others. As a revolutionary force, the writings of William S Burroughs provide us with a set of principles that can be used to understand how the ruling order is replaced in relation to the digital media sphere. The blogs, wikis, live feeds, podcasts, web journals, micro blogs, RSS feeds and forums of today are soft weapons that ‘take and vibrate images to radio static’, breaking them up, distributing them and making the digital food of revolution. Blogging with its millions of channels is now the media ‘uncontrol machine’.  
In his fiction Burroughs paints a picture of a bygone society where one delves “Into the interior: a vast subdivision, antennae of television to the meaningless sky. In lifeproof houses they hover over the young, sop up a little of what they shut out” (Naked Lunch 11). Today it is nearly impossible to shut much out in the average suburban Western home, and controlling production of media content is like trying to contain a solar storm. Millions of channels circle the planet offering input and output possibilities for anyone with a story or an image. Among the many, the Chinese government attempts censorship in the face of this image horde, but there are always holes in any Great Wall. Recently a colleague travelled to China to give a series of lectures on film and the digital image. She was of course unable to access YouTube, so she Skyped instructions about which videos to rip off the site and I sent them to her from Europe via the file-sharing site Sprend. These videos were then shown in a Chinese university lecture hall. This is just one crude example of how information always finds a way. I would like to mention some others.
The proposed revolution of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement is radio-sonic, if one judges by the radiating ‘i’ logo of the Global Revolution livestream site.  Twenty-four hours a day, beginning on September 17th 2011, people began occupying Zuccotti Park (Liberty Park) in Downtown Manhattan in New York. Coinciding with the physical occupation is the digital barrage of Twitter (micro-blogging run off hashtags), the live video stream, forum discussion, archives of links and comments, blog posts, still images, podcasts, live audio streams, email lists and YouTube videos. This river of information has sparked Occupy [enter-town-name] around the USA and even overseas. What could be relegated as a collection of disenfranchised and left-leaning complainers has quickly evolved into an idea (“occupy everything” seems to be its slogan, and it of course comes with a manifesto http://occupywallst.org/article/a-message-from-occupied-wall-street-day-five/). The ability of digital media to spread this idea (and I am doing it right here) is a testament to the tenacity of the word virus. The need to overcome the dominant dream narratives is most recently articulated by popular Slovenian philosopher Slovoj Zizek when he spoke at OWS on 9th October 2011 and said, "The ruling history has even limited our capacity to dream". The dream of authenticity goes on.



Philosopher-at-Large Slavoj Zizek addresses the crowd gathered in Liberty Plaza
 
 
 
 


Global Revolution media feed, Saturday October 8th 2011. The end of the Mayan Calendar as we know it?

The OWS movement is the latest and possibly most visible outside mainstream media of a series of high profile digital image barrages connected to popular protest and resistance we have seen develop over the last couple of years. In a rough time line that also shows a growing sophistication, these include the 2008-2009 Israeli-Gaza War, the 2009 election protests in Iran, the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the civil uprising in Syria, and finally the present Occupation of Wall Street. The Israeli-Gaza War was mostly conducted on the Internet via Twitter, with some videos and websites taking up the events only often after they occurred. The 2009 election protests in Iran were Twitter based, but many of the feeds from the micro blogging site were located outside the boarders of the Islamic Republic. However, videos built an enormous following online for the ideas and demands of the dissident forces in Iran. This culminated in the murder online of Neda Agha-Soltan, a video of the shooting death of a beautiful young woman on a street in Tehran that went viral. As Neda gazed into the camera lens, blood gushing from her nose and mouth, the viewer was propelled into the human drama of a cruel and unjust situation. The image wars in Iran had just been stepped up a notch.
The speed of the revolution in Tunisia stunned the world. On 17th December 2010 a street vendor in the town of Sidi Bouzid set himself alight in protest over long term persecution by corrupt local street officials. Mohamed Bouazizi died on 4 January 2011, at 5:30 pm local time. Protests began immediately afterwards, and built up until President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia with his family on 14 January 2011. The rest is history, and the role of social media in the build up to the flight of Ben Ali is contentious. Wikileaks is said to have playeda significant role in the turn of events in Tunisia, along with high unemployment, inflation and official corruption. However, the Tunisian uprising is clearly an example of the masses no longer believing the official control narrative of the government. As Mohamed Bouazizi lay dying in his hospital bed, Ben Ali visited him on December 28th 2010, promising to appoint a new Minister of Youth and to look into the unemployment problem (running at around 40% in Sidi Bouzid) . What resulted from the visit was an undermining of the official information line, with Al Jazeera reporting, “For many observers, the official photo of the president looking down on the bandaged young man had a different symbolism from what Ben Ali had probably intended.” The game was over for Ben Ali and a new set of images are still being developed to replace the old in Tunisia.
The revolutions in Egypt and Libya seem to follow a similar pattern to that of Tunisia, as information channels are gradually developed and become dominant, in form if not in content. This progression often mirrors the changes occurring in the streets and corridors of power in each nation. Images replace images as power shifts. Flows of information supporting one group or idea become larger, more regular and more widely distributed, as support grows and gains are made on the ground. What is different from the usual flows of propaganda in any political changeover is that the sources in these contemporary changeovers are multiple based on weight of numbers. While major broadcasters such as Al Jazeera covered the assembly in Tahrir Square in Cairo from atop the buildings around it, creating a visual metaphor of distance and collectivity, the real coverage was happening on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and countless Egyptian blogs. Wael Abbas, Sandmonkey, Hossam Eid, Ali Seif, Nora Younis, Misr Digital, and Baheyya are some of the most popular blogs. It must also be remembered that in the last weeks of the regime of Hosni Mubarak the Internet was shut down for the entire of Egypt in an attempt to silence dissenting images and ideas. Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates commented on the shut down in a highly perceptive analysis, "Whenever you do something extraordinary like that, you're sort of showing people you're afraid of the truth getting out." In the same story by The Huffington Post it was revealed that efforts to shut down such an information network inevitably fail. As they did for Hosni Mubarak.
Attempts are still made in digital media sites to summarize the movement in a single form of language. In doing so the summary attempts to return a movement to the singular, what the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin calls a monoglossia, which identifies the locus of control with the authoritative interpretation of the word. The OWS movement is one example of this, where a major digital news site took pictures of 34 people in Liberty Park and described it, as “This should give you a pretty good idea of the different types of people occupying Wall Street“ .  What I would ask of buzzfeed’s summary of who is occupying Wall Street is where does the occupation begin and end? Is the video feed running 24 hours a day part of the occupation? What about the forums, blog posts, videos, and Tweets? Are they part of the occupation? If they are, where are they? With millions of channels open all over the Internet, the occupation of Wall Street has become part of the infrastructure of the World Wide Web, which as its name suggests, is worldwide. There is no place for an idea, as it occupies the world as a virus does, in time but not in space.
As the forms and practices of the OWS movement become more established they are copied. Well not so much copied, as manifested. It is contagious and how it is going to end we do not know yet. In researching this article I cam across a new site in the United Kingdom called BEYONDCLICKTAVISM, which gives a little bit of background and then four reasons for its existence:

Beyond Clicktivism was set up following the netroots uk event primarily to address the following questions:

  • What can we do online that is uniquely progressive so that if others emulate us their response is informed by progressive values?
  • How do we get people climbing the ladder of engagement, moving from Facebook “Likes” to actual concrete action?
  • How do we integrate progressive use of social media with non-political use of social media?
  • How can we build tools that can also be used to call politicians to account and stop the next Blair or Clegg from flying in the face of the principles of their parties and shamelessly tearing up their pledges to the electorate?

Directly below these points is the statement; “The scope and ambitions of the site have expanded since then.” I am sure I can say the same thing about the activists and media artists mentioned in this text, working around the clock and around the globe to realize some crazy dream they have, over and over again.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Redfern the Didjeridu and Me










Download: Vision Mission
Didjeridu solo by James Barrett


In 1995 I was living in Sydney, Australia in a suburb which was home to many Aborigines, the indigenous people of Australia. Called Redfern, it was centred on an area known as “The Block”, a crowded jumble of houses and old factories where around 1000 Aboriginal people lived on land that was returned to them by the Australian Government in 1973. Despite having grown up in Australia this was, at the age of 26, my first exposure to large-scale Aboriginal culture.

All up I lived in Redfern about 3 years between 1995-99. The atmosphere changed a lot in that time. This is a short account of a cultural sanctuary that existed along side and because of the independant nature of The Block (long may it live...) [Names changed to protect the innocent.]

The Fern (1995-96).
Our house looked like a wooden ship long run aground. The lower decks silted up and stuck fast in the earth. A crew of tattooed white nomads of soul had moved in. Hair every color of the rainbow, fleshy bits pierced, and always curious to pick through any unattended pile; rubbish or recycle, silo or asylum. We would occasionally awake to find strangers sleeping in the basement cellar spaces. These homeless or traveling folk would usually be given tea and porridge before they jumped back over the fence into the world beyond. Once a wine merchants premises, three huge brick barrels like rooms made up the ground floor, and each opened out onto the tiny backyard which was being composted from day one; vegetables drawn from cement. The middle and main story was four large rooms with a verandah running along three. Sculptures of twisted metal, bone, plastic, feathers, artificial limbs, manikin torsos, crazy flags, and banners hung from the railing and tumbled down into the garden where a two meter dragon with leather wings and a rotating blades for a head presided over a collection of urban jungle and classical forms. In the rooms above lived a various individuals over time, but that was usually the first thing they forgot.

I came to live in Redfern, inner city Sydney, one day, some day; I can't remember the first day. I remember I was frightened by it long before I ever saw it. That same thing (brainwashing?) you laugh at today when you tell people your suburb, and they go quiet and then ask "Is it dangerous"?
Answer: "I like it because the hype keeps the tourists, fashion clowns, and yuppies away". The thing I really liked about it the most was the feel of community, the spirit of the suburb, which spread an almost equally in distance from the railway station for all directions but west. Opposite the station beat the real heart of Redfern; The Block, for this was Aboriginal land. Australia has existed for only a short time. Before white people named and claimed, tied her up and robbed her, she was a living, breathing entity. The spirit of the Aboriginal people is not dead and life in Redfern was evident of this. This was one step out of Babylon, community where people don't pretend to be nice, either they are or you know about it fast. Sure, there was a lot of drugs, and a bit of violence, but we lived in a state of psychological siege with the TV. telling you what you've got to believe. As always the thing that everybody wants is plastic and covered in fingers, and the only way you can be a man is if you buy a house and have a retirement plan. Fuck the Brady Bunch family values.

So let me tell you some things of The Fern. Our house was found by Burn whilst looking at a possible squat site across the road. It was a tumbled down triple story plaster and timber terrace with a secret garden in the middle of the city for rent. It was taken immediately as the deficit was growing for low cost accommodation and production space for artists in inner city Sydney. A month before ten years of tradition had ended with the eviction and demolition of 134 Campbell Street, Darlinghurst. This had been a madhouse of creativity and alternative culture with strong links to the National Art School just across Taylor Square. The so-called gentrification of Darlinghurst was ploughing ahead. The way The Glebe and Balmain had gone in the 1970's and early 1980's was happening to Darlinghurst, Newtown, and Chippendale in the 1990's. At this same time Cyberspace Studios in Glebe, home at one stage to 80 artists was going through the eviction process. For a while in 1994 it seemed that everyone who was not prepared to prescribe to the normality of experts in Central Sydney was retreating to Redfern.

In Regent Street was to be found The Golden Ox, once a restaurant, now a venue for everything from Koori bands to trance traveler's techno parties. It was also home to many, some long, some short term. In the next block Renwick Street provided the public with Airspace Studios, Sylvester Studios, and The Punos Warehouse. A combined living space for as many as 50 artists this was also perhaps the busiest street in Redfern. Airspace contained a large warehouse style gallery with different exhibitions and performances every month. It was managed by one who went by the name of P.C.D-23, a long time resident of Cyberspace Studios in Glebe. Both Airspace and Sylvester Studios were situated in a former meat works factory providing vast combined living and studio space for artists, and both were always full to capacity during their relatively long history. The Punos Warehouse was home to the Punos design team who constructed environments for techno parties, and the interior of their warehouse was testament to their abilities. A huge dragon and a fly at the entrance leading to a space filled with all manner of objects floating and flying. Punos worked a lot with the famous Vibe Tribe sound system in 1993-95, which ended a glorious career in a police provoked riot with a party at the Sydney Park brick kilns on 8th April 1995.








Vibe Tribe party, Sydney Park Brick Kilns 1995.

At the city end of Renwick Street on the intersection of Regent and Cleveland Streets was the Artspace Gallery and performance space. Not to be confused with the recently government conspired Artspace in Wooloomaloo, which was created from the building occupied by The Gunnery, Sydney's most famous artist run space. Around the corner was 2 George Street, a 6-floor terrace house occupied by many of the Vibe Tribe organizers (situated next door to the Independent Commission Against Corruption and as a result under 24 hour video surveillance). It was at one time the home of 30 adults, several dogs and a few children. Across the park from George Street, following the eviction of Glebe's Cyberspace, was the 5 floors of The Sydney Sculpture Studios. About 40 people lived in the warehouse building, engaging in activities ranging from music to sculpture, dealing and party planning. Next door to the sculpture studios was one of the few squats in Redfern, occupied by about 10 punks they made use of the facilities at the Studios for water, eating, and toilets. At the other end of the street at 186 George Street were a crowded terrace house and the city base for many techno style travelers, with around 40 of them crowded into the three floors for weeks at a time. Around the corner on Redfern Street could be found 140a Redfern Street, a large warehouse space and home to many over almost 15 years. Heading east down Redfern Street brings one to 120a Redfern Street, my address and a somewhat typical home for about 30 travelers and wise fools from 1994-98. Some of us worked a little bit. In fact at most times the house (3-8 occupants at any one time) was funded by Roy Morgan Market Research (to this day I hate telephones), and the Department of Social Security (bless the memory). Everyone wanted to spend as much time dreaming as possible, and did not worry too much about money. We were living on the almost dead, kissing the carcass, and taking from the old what we needed to build our own fragile reality. Somehow it suited the time and the place. This rekindled philosophy of the hippy aesthetic given a punk attitude. Often labeled as Ferals it was more than just a fashion for many who embraced this understanding. Lacking the nihilism of the European so called New Age Travelers ("Not in this age, not in any age", said John Major), much angrier than the hippies ever were, and determined to breed and build a micro-society, unlike the short lived, do or die punk movement. Excess was the enemy and transcendence was the goal of many. However, as always with humans the ideal often falls short in practice, and the pressures against any self-directed autonomous zone are many.

The top level of our house was a single grand bedroom with cracked plaster ceiling, two arched windows in each opposite facing walls, a fireplace at one end. It was like living in a tower. When I came to the house the tower was occupied by Sev, who began his day much later than most usually in the area of high noon or sunset. Sev's public life consisted of, among other things, the Erotometre. A device comprising voltammeter and frequency generator, with a needle through the penis of each male (Sev and friend), they became a naked switch in a high pitch electrical storm of tongues and fingers, touching and rubbing. Sev also performed telephone research at The Morgue (Roy Morgan Research) but said it was far below his intelligence (this was true of everyone working there except perhaps administration). Below Sev's chamber was the velvet cave of Burn, a witch and sorceress of the highest spirit. It was she, Burn-Ya-Debts who found the house along with Kira, and the famous Lebanese/Australian wild poet of the Snowy Mountains, Riesh. When this story began Burn made statues and told stories. She was drawing and painting, a poet and student at the National Art School.

The kitchen was the heart of the house. A large round table, dozens of flowers in dried arrangements hung from the ceiling. Stove was quick to cook with cupboards full of spice and fruit, vegetables, and soy products (god bless the bean). Many chairs, a stereophonic cassette-playing machine, and chai made to order. Famous for it's wall of obituaries including Andy Warhol, Vincent Price, Sterling Morrison, Brett Whitley, Tracy Pew, Kurt Cobain, Nico, Frank Zappa, Salvador Dali, River Phoenix, Kurt Wolf, and more always to come. From the kitchen a long hall went passed a bathroom with some tales to tell, and many seashells scattered. Then a small painting studio occupied by the occupier of the room at the end of the hall. Kira was in love at this time and shared her room of ancient objects and beautiful cloth with an intense young artist by the name of Dun. Together they danced love for a time, made art in every movement, took to walking in parks, making forward in each other's eyes. This was that moment you find your whole life out in front of you.

In 1995 the National Art School was in threat of "rationalization" by faceless beauracrats unless the staff, students, and friends of the school could influence the decision makers. We in our corner of the urban sprawl decided to assist and at a rally in Martin Place we performed on the back of a Dodge flatbed truck. So was born Senselesss, a floating collection of performers, artists, musicians, poets, and attention seekers. Fuelled by belief in existential coincidence, redundant technology, and cannabis, Senselesss would undertake a variety of acts and demonstrations in numerous settings over an eventful twelve months.

Sound sculpture and the collective subconscious were the seeds of the group consisting of a core of three people and involving many. The large steel sculptures included a 50 strings box harp suspended from the ceiling, the size of a coffee table and weighing about 120 kg. Also three round steel bells a meter in diameter and weighing 100kg each, and a single string upright base that sounded like a compressor pedal from hell. Combined with films, tape loops, poetry, lighting effects, fire, costumes, dance, and a sense of ritual. A variety of reactions were received when we committed an act. Performances were made at the Sydney College of Fine Arts, Sydney College of Art, The Metro Theatre, Airspace Gallery, King George's Hall in Newtown, and for the art terrorist organization Brainwash. Throughout 1995 there were 12 public performances made and in 1996 the group began to engage in a more private exploration of sound. Following the suicide of one of the major contributors in early 1997 the original group disbanded.

By 1997 things in Redfern were beginning to noticeable change as well. A deal had been done between a few powerful government appointed individuals in the Aboriginal community and the South Sydney City Council. The aim seemed to disband and scatter the residents of The Block (Divide and conquer served the British invaders well and is still employed in black-white relations in Australia), and then reclaim the real estate. The heavy police presence in Redfern was also beginning to give the area a feeling of siege or open warfare. The harassment and strong-arm tactics from law enforcement included ten police marching up and down Everleigh Street (the main street of The Block) in full riot gear and then getting back in the van and driving away, daily for about two weeks. Street strip searches were almost a daily occurrence, and despite a police station being set up in the train station, heroin was still being sold openly only meters away. One night in 1997 some person or persons unknown emptied a machine gun into the doorway of a female aboriginal elder's house (the council of elders opposed the relocation of the residents of The Block). The newspapers (which were already publishing shock stories about the drugs in Redfern) the next day ran a story about right wing extremists terrorizing the Aboriginal population, although nobody was detained over the attack and nobody saw who the attackers actually were.

The atmosphere in the area was degenerating into violence and resentment. Nothing was being done to improve the living conditions of Block residents and no policy of prevention or harm minimization was attempted in regards to the flow of heroin into the suburb. A needle exchange program consisted of simple handing out hundreds of syringes each day without any support, counseling or care offered or available. The local exchange program was halted after public outcry over a newspaper photograph of a 15-year-old white boy injection himself with heroin in an alleyway in Redfern. After this action a Commonwealth Health Department car would simply leave 1000 syringes in the middle of Everleigh Street every morning, not even bothering to pick up the used syringes. The pressures upon the community seemed to be coming from the very top levels of Australian society and Government. It was the final stage in the "gentrification" of the inner city area of Sydney.

Most of the artist run spaces in Redfern had been evicted and demolished by the end of 1997, and the process of "gentrification" was well and truly underway. Throughout 1997-98 Redfern was the subject of several shame articles in the tabloid press, and real life "shock TV" programs. The traders of the Redfern Street clothing factory seconds shops began to notice a drop in trade at this time and many were forced to close by early 1999. Appeals by the local small business organization to begin a plan to revitalize the area, using the vehicle of Aboriginal culture as a means of achieving this were met with brush-offs and silence from local and state politicians. Real estate speculation was not suffering however, and the first million-dollar terrace house in Redfern (Pitt Street) sold at auction in mid-1997. The cafe culture also began to establish itself in Redfern and Regent Street, although they did not yet open at night when the windows were covered with very heavy security grates. I left Redfern on 21st February 1996 to help nurse my grandmother through the last weeks of her life. Although I would live in Redfern again the necessary lessons had already been learnt.

I was fascinated by the stories and struggles of the Aboriginal people and after a short time of living in Redfern I wanted to learn to play their long flute-like instrument from the far north of Australia. Most people call it a Didjeridu, but that is a European interpretation of the name based on the sound the instrument makes. The Aboriginal people call it by several names, some being Yiraka or Yidaki ( trachea), Artawirr (hollow log), and Ngaribi (bamboo).

My first Didjeridu was a copper pipe, played a bit like a trumpet, but with a small enough aperture to make it easier to circular breath, as is needed to play Didjeridu. Shortly after this a friend of mine who lived in an isolated Aboriginal community in the far north of Australia sent me a Didjeridu. This instrument I played for a year, until I had the opportunity to leave Australia and travel as a near destitute backpacker. When I arrived in England in 1997 an English friend gave me his Didjeridu as he was about to go to Australia and could not carry the heavy instrument with him. So I was now broke and in Europe with a Didjeridu. I began playing on the streets as a busker, earning enough money to survive and stayed in Europe for 18 months, meeting up again (we first met in India in 1996) with the girl who I would eventually marry and set up a home with.

I lived as a street musician in Amsterdam for most of 1998, and have played at cafes and festivals in Spain, Holland, Germany, Sweden and Belgium. In Amsterdam I spent 3 days in the company of Alan Dargin who was one of the two best Didge player I have ever seen (the other is Charlie McMahon). My most recent achievement was playing at the 397th and 399th Saami Winter Market in Jokkmokk in the far North of Sweden, in February 2002 and 2004 where I was part of a group of Saami, Inuit, Swedish, American, Japanese and British musicians whose first performance (2002) was recorded by Finnish radio. The second perfromance was the highlight of a multimedia web project  undertaken by Umeå University.

Playing the Didjeridu has given me many opportunities to meet people. There is much interest in the instrument and the ancient culture it represents. The Didjeridu is more than just an instrument for me, as it has a presence that is difficult to describe without using spiritual terminology. The breathing technique and the hypnotic tones it produces have a highly meditative effect on myself and often on those who listen.

The Didjeridu has become identified with what is labelled The New Age. I think of myself as coming from a culture which is described in the book “The Didjeridu: From Arnhem Land to Internet” , as alternative lifestylers’ whose “model society is based on four essential elements; firstly holism of experience, secondly community with it’s qualities of interrelatedness and co-operation, thirdly ecology, with its sustainable ethos and fourthly, a creative spiritual milieu.” (Neuenfeldt et.al. p140). It goes on to say that it is the rejection of materialism by alternative lifestylers’ which separates us from the New Age movement, which “has become in many cases a highly commercialised and profit making industry” (ibid.).


Bibliography:
Neuenfeldt Karl (Ed.) The Didjeridu: From Arnhem Land to Internet John Libbey Publishers. Sydney. 1997

By james barrett