Mapping Knowledge – Texta’s House

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This is something I wrote for my Centre for Ideas subject at film school, about mapping my neighbour’s “archival system”.

Colour Coordinates at Texta's House

Colour Coordinates at Texta's House


When you enter Arlene Textaqueen’s house, you think of chaos, rather than order. Your first visual impression is like a test-pattern in the moment it disintegrates before your eyes, when you turn off the television after broadcasting has ceased at 2am – a distorted swirl of colour. But an invisible structure of organisation is threaded throughout, holding up piles of op-shop clothes, ornaments, knick-knacks, mix-tapes, art objects, zines and textas1.

Expecially the textas. In fact the origins of her archival system are to be found here, in the origins of art itself. By this I mean the origins of art for each of us as an individual, the first moments when we, as children, wield a coloured texta to draw our house, our dog, our mum and dad, or the wild and inscrutable contents of our childish imaginations.

A large bookcase is piled on every shelf with coloured textas. On one we find vermillion, pomegranate, grenadine and ruby. On another we find verdigris, teal, chartreuse or mint – or at least the factory-produced versions of these, in pure chemical tones. Arlene’s magic as an artist is in evoking the complex tonal variations of our world, and the multiple textures and layers of personality, which she highlights in her nudes, using these bright and un-mixed shades.
Looking around the house, you begin to discover that this is how the entire contents of her house, a living museum of recycled relics forgotten from other peoples lives, is ordered. By colour.

If you ask Arlene why her house is ordered this way, she will say that with so many belongings, it is simply the easiest way to find anything. But colour is Arlene’s passion. She is so drawn to colour, that colourful objects have a habit of finding their way into her house. Searching one day for a neon coil of pink rope in my shed, I tracked it’s phosphorescent trail to Texta’s house, and there it was, sitting amongst the candy, fluorescent socks, head-bands and novelty erasers on her pink shelf, nestling comfortably with its own colour-kind.

Arlene is remapping cultural coordinates in her work, by reinterpreting the female nude, as a female artist. She has rejected an apprenticeship to the Western male tradition of painting the female nude, and instead taken up the artistic tools of childhood, learning to use these in very sophisticated ways. So what if Picasso painted with his penis? That was hardly anything new. In her time-space continuum, the nudes have climbed out the windows of the Musee d’Orsay and are drawing their own pictures, designing their own clothes, emceeing their own shows or performing in their own queer stripteases now.

Charting a passage through the artist’s house, is mapping the coordinates of her self, and her art. Her frames of reference are laid out before the visitor, in the second-hand possessions, highlighting in bright colour the deeply personal meaning they once held for their former owners, scavenged and re-interpreted, archived in the full spectrum of colour.

1. A “texta” is an Australian colloquialism for a coloured marker pen – the name originates from the popular “Texta” brand name widely used in Australia.

Paul Cox, the Satyricon, John Waters and Bastard

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A few reflections that made into my “intellectual journal” at film school this week, after a lecture by Paul Cox. The lecture was hugely inspiring – he was passing on the baton of avant-garde and anti-commercial film-making (and art-making) to a new generation – or rather passing on a molotov cocktail… served in a martini glass. He seemed to possess an odd mix of revolutionary and bourgeois taste, one minute talking about getting arrested for incitement to riot, and another complaining about loud modern music being played in the supermarket. But the main thrust of Paul Cox’s message was to reject commercialism in art at every turn, to live a simpler life in order to keep the money out of it as much as possible. To question everything, attack capitalism, revolutionise plastic consumer culture, and never compromise. A message to hold close to the heart.

I have ordered a translation of Petronius’s Satyricon from the Parkville campus library. What a bunch of freaks! Can’t wait to read it. This sounds like a John Waters movie, 2000 years ago in Rome! Have also borrowed Fellini’s film version.

From an online translation of the first chapter of the Satyricon (translation: Alfred R. Allinson, 1930):

“This is the reason, in my opinion, why young men grow up such blockheads in the schools, because they neither see nor hear one single thing connected with the usual circumstances of everyday life, nothing but stuff about pirates lurking on the seashore with fetters in their hands, tyrants issuing edicts to compel sons to cut off their own fathers’ heads, oracles in times of pestilence commanding three virgins or more to be sacrificed to stay the plague,– honey-sweet, well-rounded sentences, words and facts alike as it were, besprinkled with poppy and sesame.

Under such a training it is no more possible to acquire good taste than it is not to stink, if you live in a kitchen. Give me leave to tell you that you rhetoricians are chiefly to blame for the ruin of Oratory, for with your silly, idle phrases, meant only to tickle the ears of an audience, you have enervated and deboshed the very substance of true eloquence.”

Other than debates about what one should be taught at art school (if anything at all), this passage reminds me of two things I have read and seen in the last week.

Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters

Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters

Number one – “Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters” – the chapter where he discusses his stint as a community college teacher in a prison for the criminally insane. O, pope of trash! John Waters teaching the inmates a syllabus including his own films, as part of a curriculum designed to rehabilitate psychopathic criminals seems perversely, wonderfully, appropriate! In fact, Waters’ psychiatrist tells him that he is glad he became a filmmaker, because if he hadn’t, perhaps he would have wound up in a similar institution. This is another case of making a film about what you would much rather do, or see. And sometimes it’s probably better that way… I’m sure John Waters would much rather that Chris Isaak actually turned into a crazed sex addict when hit on the head by David Hasselhoff ‘s turd, which dropped from the sky after Hasselhoff defecated on him accidentally whilst flying above his Baltimore suburb in a plane (as happens in his film “A Dirty Shame”). The authorities, if not the general public, are no doubt much happier such an event occurring only on celluloid. But what could society at large learn from this film about rejecting nice conservative traditions of religion-inspired sexual-repression in favour of embracing the loose, dirty and uninhibited (and gay) aspects of sex. And then I wonder how many fewer sex criminals would be in gaol if they hadn’t repressed desire to the point of true perversion? How many times, at film school, when faced with institutional conservatism, do I ask “What would John Waters do?” Wouldn’t it be nice if his films were included in our curriculum, rather than having to be sent to a gaol for psychopaths to be taught them. 

Bastardy: Documentary by Amiel Courtin-Wilson

Bastardy: Documentary by Amiel Courtin-Wilson

Number two – the documentary film “Bastardy”, directed by Amiel Courtin-Wilson, which is surely one of the best films I’ve seen in ages, and I have been at film school watching classics for the last 7 weeks! I watched this gem at a festival for indigenous film outside under the stars at Treasury Gardens.

Halfway through I was wincing with the fact that I was the only film student from the VCA in attendance (as far as I could tell, perhaps there were some) and one of a number of residents from the Fitzroy / Collingwood area (amongst the 1000 or so strong audience) which did not total the number who should be watching this film – given its huge social, historical and political relevance to my neighbourhood.
From Hilary Harper’s review on ABC Melbourne:

“Like the best documentaries, Bastardy gives up its secrets slowly. After wordlessly following a tiny, elderly Aboriginal man around his dossing places, the camera shows confronting scenes of his heroin habit (“this is what a fella lives for”, he matter-of-factly admits) and tells stories of burglaries and gaol time. The scene where he revisits his favourite robbery target is hilarious: “Can we get all of us in the shot?” he asks, gathering around the house’s name-plate. But via 70s stage and film footage we learn that this man is the celebrated actor Jack Charles, star of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, who performed with many of Australia’s most revered directors in between time in the nick.”

There is nothing “pretty” about this film – no familiar “heroes” as we are taught to hold our faith in (the war heroes, action movie heroes Paul Cox freely disdains) in our popular or mainstream culture. But there is so much beauty in this film. And the subject of the film, Jack Charles, with all his faults, is a true hero, who you are left admiring greatly – despite the fact that he’s homeless, a junkie, a robber, and a faggot. This man, who pushed away the one person who showed him real love (his boyfriend in the 60s and 70s) and spent half his life in gaol, on countless repeated charges of burglary, is revealed to be a true and fearless hero of indigenous theatre. His raw talent is obvious from the excerpts shown from his films, and from the fact that he was still called upon for roles despite his destitution. And by the end of the film, he has overcome 30 years of heroin addiction – a feat few would have thought possible.

Anyway, this week at film school, and these extra-curricular influences, have inspired me to make beautiful and fearless films, make films from the heart.

Badlands Soundtrack

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My friend Mickey sent me a great percussion piece featuring marimba today, after our discussions re. film soundtracks. I haven’t included that here, just details on the soundtrack to Badlands, one of my favourite films, and soundtracks, ever – and the original inspiration for exploring the marimba / xylophone for film music.

From Robert J. Thomas’s DVD review, some soundtrack details for Badlands (1973):

“Musica Poetica”*
by Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman

“Trois Morceaux en forme de Poire”
by Erik Satie

Theme “Migration”
by James Taylor

Written by H. Barnes, H. Cornelius, D. John
Performed by Nat “King” Cole
Courtesy of Capitol Records

Written by M. Baker, B. Smith, S. Robinson
Performed by Mickey and Sylvia

*Some tracks are on “The Best Of Carl Orff”, BMG 75605 51357 2, 1999:

..Carmina Burana – highlights – about half the 1 hour long masterpiece.
..Schulwerk (School work) – excerpts (collaboration with Gunild Keetman)
…. Rundadinella
…. Guten Morgen, Spielmann (Gunild Keetman)
…. Der Wind, der weht
…. * Gassenhauer (Gunild Keetman)
…. Wer da bauet an der Strassen
…. Malaguena (Gunild Keetman)
…. C’est le mai
…. Carillon
…. Sommerkanon
…. Lügenmärchen
…. Stücke auf Ostinato (Gunild Keetman)
…. Schlaf, Kindleinm schlaf
…. * Passion
…. Tanzstück (Gunild Keetman)

Edit: Apparently the film’s composer, George Aliceson Tipton, composed more original music for the film than is usually acknowledged (thanks to Adrian below for pointing this out). He can be found discussing this in Rosy-Fingered Dawn a 2002 documentary on Malick’s films (which I’ll now try to track down).

Bones Records

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OK, so I’m not actually sure what my website is yet… is it just a showreel, or is it a blog? Well today i feel like blogging so here goes.

I’m doing some research for my film school application today, and happened upon “Bone Records”. How cool is this: some young  rebellious rock n roll types in the late 1950s in the Soviet Union wanted to start pressing illegal bootleg records of rock n roll that was seeping into the USSR despite a ban on this booty-shakin, and potentially state-shakin, music by the Kremlin. Not having other materials available to them, they started recycling old medical x-rays – scratching the grooves into x-rays of peoples broken bones and ailing lungs, and distributing them via underground networks. The discs sure do look sweet:

X-Ray Record

Apparently some of these unfortunate music fans were subsequently arrested and spent years in the Gulag for their crimes. Other daredevil activities that young folk engaged in for the sake of music, truly embracing the spirit of defiance inherent in rock n roll, included ripping off public telephone boxes and using the parts to construct makeshift pickups for electric guitars.

Check out the info, some more pix and comments over here

This thread reminds me of many of the themes we were examining in “Electric Dreams”, and of some of the footage I saw of state-sponsored rock’n’roll manufactured by the socialist governments of Eastern Europe in the 70s to try to co-opt this phenomenon for their own propagandistic purposes, ala Christian rock (though much more entertaining I thought). I’ll have to get hold of some of the documentaries that are mentioned here, I’m still fascinated with the cultural battles of the Cold War. Meantime I should write up some more about the Electric Dreams show…