bilateral kellerberrin

June 30, 2005

BIG & small (a question from Nicki, “answered” by Lucas)

Filed under: analysis? — Lucas @ 1:49 pm

The first swift reply has come through, from Nicki, and a very challenging statement/question it is too! I think I will post it here first while I think about it. That way maybe one of you dear readers will help with the answer!

Some context: Nicki visited Kellerberrin for one day only, during my residency – she lives in Melbourne, and works for The South Project, which was sponsoring Cristina’s residency which ran parallel to mine. And so, onto Nicki’s question:

Here’s my question with rather a convoluted lead up.
I remember a comment you made the evening I meet you that went something along the lines that ‘you were working at doing as little as possible’, sorry about the paraphrase, but the idea left quite an impression.

Once back in Melbourne I realised that I often crave time to think. It seems like a simple thing, but is often quite difficult to achieve. It seems to me that the my ‘bigger’ things in life- time to think, contemplate, enjoy people and conversation are forgone for the smaller more trivial things that take place in such rapid succession that I convince yourself that they are the larger/important things in life. How upside down priorities have become. I got this after three days in WA. One in Kellerberrin. I can’t even imagine the effect of two months. While in Kellerberrin you produced a very community orientated public outcome from your residency and workshops: the simulated pipeline installation. And I’m assuming the installation was familiar enough with the Kellerberrin community for them to respond quite well to it in a gallery space.

Question: Do you think there is a space in the public domain in large urban centres for art projects like the pipeline to be realised if they are reliant on the active and ongoing participation of individuals who do not exist in community structures like you’d find in small rural centres? Is there a potential for such projects to provide a regenerative situation for urbanised individuals (the WASP’s in particular), or is it simply not relevant if the community structure is not there in the first place?

Rather an immense question to throw at you. But its something that I’ve been wondering/ thinking about lately. Interested to hear your thoughts…

* * * * *

My reply: (added July 13, 2005)

Thanks Nicki for your complex comment and question.

OK, first up, “doing as little as possible.”

This was a personal strategy, since my life in the last 18 months has been very busy indeed. I felt like that busy-ness was something of a problem. Sure, I’m always “productive”, and never bored. But somehow, I have a tendency to drift into one project, then another, and I’ll agree to help someone get something together, and so on, and before you know it all I’m doing is responding to overdue deadlines. It began to feel a bit like schizophrenic “self-employment” – there was the “me” who commissioned the jobs, and that was the exciting part. And there was the me who had to do all the schlepping to carry them out – not so much fun, really, especially when this “employee-me” usually had to also fund these crazy schemes out of my dole cheque.

So I decided to not take on extra activities while in Keller – just to concentrate on living day to day, and see what would happen. What happened, of course, was that I had a lot of time to think and record the minute interactions – a trip to the butcher for frozen fish, bumping into one of the volunteers at the op-shop, etc etc. Far from “doing nothing” in a supposedly “empty place,” I was just able to listen to what was going on around me. And it was interesting, I thought.

To give you an idea of how difficult I find that process in my “real life”, just look at the gap in blog postings between May 28 and June 14. On the 28th of May our exhibition opened, and the next day (with a lot of help from Anne, Louise, Chris, and Pauline), I packed up all my crap and raced back to Perth. We presented Line Describing a Cone in Perth on Monday night, and then four more times in the next fortnight in the eastern states. It was something of a stress, I must say.

But couldn’t stress be just as interesting as tranquility? How valuable it might be, to be able to document and think about what it’s like to be stressed, right from in the middle of it. But of course, analysis and documentation are hardly high priorities when you’re worried that your ancient projector with the $300 light bulb might blow up just before the show, so Bilateral Kellerberrin (the blog) simply missed out on the action. In my memory, that cinema tour is like a dream: overstuffed suitcases and over-burdened friends taking care of our under-resourced ambition. Madcap dashes to airports and replacement projector missions. Fun, often, definitely a personal achievement, but certainly not contemplative.

That’s what my life is like, generally speaking. The Keller experience was a rare treat. But I’m trying to learn something from it, and bring that contemplation (even a little bit of it) into the general flow of my daily Sydney existence. I think having started a PhD is helping a bit, as it (a). shoehorns a little space for thinking and reading and (b). gives me an excuse to say no to extra projects. But really what I need is discipline. Self-generated discipline.

As far as your actual question goes:
you asked: is there scope for a publication like the Pipeline in urban areas?

As you suggest, the community structures in (sub)urban areas differ from those in small rural towns. For a start, Kellerberrin’s geography is kind of like an island on the highway (I guess “island” is where we get the word “isolated”) – thus it has a distinct geographical location which makes it different from say Doodlakine and Cunderdin (its two nearest neighbours). This is unlike Petersham (the suburb where I live in Sydney) which bleeds into Marrickville, Stanmore, and Lewisham. It’s difficult to tell where one stops and another starts.

Each suburb has its own train station, I suppose, so that helps us “belong” to one place or another. But generally, except for the Portuguese folks who run shops here, the residents of Petersham go off to work somewhere else in the day, and (I presume) spend some of their Saturdays away in other boroughs too. Conversely, Petersham (especially at the weekend) is often full of “out of towners” – they come in their black-tinted 4WDs for the Portuguese charcoal chicken and custard tarts.

This is all a bit vague. But I would guess that in Sydney, locality refers much more to real estate than to any kind of participatory community stuff. Folks may have friends all over the city, and we travel to meet up with them. Our communities are formed by work and lifestyle interests, rather than by geography (generally speaking). Although, the two do overlap, don’t they? An interest in surfing will lead to a preference for living near the beach, for instance…

But it would be hard to imagine the residents of Petersham putting together something like the Pipeline newsletter, unless there was some extraordinary circumstance (like council planning to demolish the whole area and put in a jail instead. Probably, unbeknownst to me, there are stronger ties forged between members of particular ethnic groups who gravitate to each other for support. I guess that is why you were asking about WASPs. Churches, I suppose, might be a place of community participation, and they produce newsletters, right? And, they’re “local” – the origin of the word “parish” is geographical too:

[Middle English, from Old French parroche, from Late Latin parochia, diocese, alteration of paroecia, from Late Greek paroiki , from Greek, a sojourning, from paroikos, neighboring, neighbor, sojourner : para-, near; see para-1 + oikos, house; see weik-1 in Indo-European Roots.]

After some collaborative activist projects I’ve been involved in recently, I’ve come to appreciate the power of “desire”. That is, if there is enough shared desire for something to happen (call it “need”?) then it is easier to get off the ground. But if we’re trying to push a project through simply because it sounds like a good idea, or something we “should” do, it rarely takes off. I wonder if the “spread-geography communities” which I referred to above make this more difficult. “We” think of our neighborhoods simply as places to go and sleep, without strong roots and a sense of the history of the people and landmarks.

Having said all that, I too have had very little involvement in my local geographical zones in Sydney (I’ve lived in Ashfield, Newtown, Broadway, Glebe, Alexandria, and Petersham) due to my aforementioned chronic busy-ness. So there could be a whole lotta struff going on that I know nothing about. A lot of this stuff I’ve said here about neighborhoods needs unpicking – there are so many assumptions. But that’s where I’m at right now – making guesses (and hopefully testing ’em out!)

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