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