Petersham Friday April 7, 2006

One for the fans only: this post is going up on Saturday arvo, whereas it was really written on Friday. I also wrote for Barbara Campbell yesterday, which threw me out a little. Not that I had to do any extra work – I just edited down the second section of this entry to squeeze in under her 1001 word limit. Once I’d done this chopping, it felt like quite a different piece. I wasn’t sure whether it was better or worse. Nor do I really have any criteria for judging. I tried to make it a bit less wordy, so it would be easier to read out aloud (which is what Barbara does, each day, at sunset). But then I thought, hmm, maybe I should use the reduced version in my own blog, so I put off putting it up online to think about it. To cut a long story short, here’s what I’ve done: the original longer wordier version is below. If you want to compare and contrast, check out the brief version in Barbara’s archive.

OK, enough boring admin talk, on with yesterday’s post…

My first walk with young Wolfie was fairly uneventful. Rachelle said that earlier in the morning (say before eight) is the time to go. I guess that’s when people go out for some exercise before work. Of course, being me, I only picked him up at a quarter past eight. Wolfie’s a friendly little fellow, black and very fluffy and about medium-sized, for a dog. Certainly not mean and lean and “hungry like a wolf”. He comes up to your knees I guess. He’s not too old, maybe about six months. Bec and I remember when the family brought him home. We could hear him yapping away happily next door.

Rachelle put on his lead, which fastens over the mouth and the back of the head. Apparently this is more comfortable than the traditional neck-strangling kind. And off we went. Straight up Chester, under the shadow of the old water tower, left at Crystal Street, and a long wait for the lights to change in the sunshine outside the jellywrestling pub. Then across Canterbury Road, which changes its name to Stanmore Road at that point, and down past the crazy collectable toy store to Maundrell Park. It was deserted. Maundrell’s a smallish green space, with a gazebo and some playground equipment. Wolfie and I did a few loops around.

I’m pretty sure we were both thinking: “is this all there is to it?”

There was a message stapled to a tree: someone had found a set of keys in the park. I took a photo of this probably illegal (but clearly good-willed) grassroots communicative action. For some reason I liked the idea of the sound of a staple gun firing off in the peaceful park.

Speaking of messages on poles…Wolfie sniffs the base of almost every tree, but he never seems to leave his own messages. Nor did my canine friend poo even once, on our walk, though I had a plastic bag just in case. We left the park and crossed over, past Borsellino’s vegie shop and down John St, crossing over to stay in the morning sun. John is a grand wide street with a gentle incline, and some beautiful big old decrepit terraces. At the foot of the hill we turned right into Addison, and said a friendly hello to the lollypop man. At the T junction we took a right into Livingstone, where a bunch of locals waiting for the bus smiled at us, tall man and fluffy black dog.

From there, its just a short hop back up to Chester and we’re home. No other dogs encountered along the way. We’d clearly missed peak hour.

* * * * *

In the afternoon, I decided to hit the Petersham op shops. In the almost two years I’ve lived in the ‘sham, I have never visited them. This was clearly an oversight on my part. On the other hand, I wonder if it’s an indication of a changing lifestyle. I used to be addicted to op shops. But accumulating stuff doesn’t seem like such a great idea anymore. I’ve got nowhere to put it, and besides, there’s the whole guilty sense of responsibility to salvaged junk which “just might possibly have a use” sometime in the future.

However, (here comes some home-grown philosophy) I do feel strongly that visiting an op shop while in the throes of an art project is a little bit like channeling some divine energy, or the gods of chance, John Cage style. I think other artists might back me up on this theory. It’s not for nothing they’re got “opportunity” in the name. And it’s not just the inert objects sitting on the shelves which make these divine chancey vibrations. It’s you. You’re open to the “value” of stuff beyond mere utility or style. You let the shop speak to you, inspire you. Anything could happen.

I dunno, maybe this is how regular people feel when they go shopping normally, and I’m just making a big deal out of it.

Anyway, a charge of electricity ran through my body when I entered the “community shop” up on Crystal Street. A gust of wind banged the glass door closed behind me, whacking me on the butt. I was immediately drawn to the book section, where I struck gold. Here’s what I found:

Ursula Meyer, Conceptual Art, (1972). In the back cover blurb:

An essential aspect of Conceptual Art is its self-reference; often the artists define the intentions of their work as part of their art. Thus, many Conceptual Artists advance propositions or investigations.

The book is more an anthology of projects, and there are some great ones I haven’t seen before. Like Vito Acconci’s Step Piece (1970) on page 3:

An eighteen-inch stool is set up in my apartment and used as a step. Each morning, during the designated months, I step up and down the stool at the rate of thirty steps a minute; each morning, the activity lasts as long as I can perform it without stopping…Announcements are sent to the public, who can see the activity performed, in my apartment, any time during the performance-months.

Acconci’s endurance improved dramatically: over the course of 28 days, his stepping time increases from three minutes to twenty three!

Joseph A Devito, The Interpersonal Communication Book (8th ed. 1998). Uh-oh, there’s some serious stuff in this uni text book which I am going to have to deal with ASAP. Take this section called “outing” on page 79:

Self-disclosure…is a process by which you reveal to other people information about yourself. Although at times you may be forced to self-disclose, we normally think of it as a voluntary process in which you control the amount of information you reveal to others about yourself. There is, however, another side to self-disclosure and that occurs when someone else reveals your hidden self, when someone else takes information from your hidden self and makes it public.

Moving right along, I also picked up what looked like a shocker of a pop-psych number by Edward de Bono. I couldn’t resist – it was called I am Right – You are Wrong (1990) … and Italo Calvino’s Marcovaldo, or, The Seasons in the City (1963) a gorgeous set of tales which starts off with an urban mushroom hunt. This one I will pass on to my friend Diego who’s doing a project about weeds as misplaced botany … and Sleeping Problems (Including Directions for Making an Analysis of Your Sleep and Keeping a Sleep Diary) by Dr Dietrich Langen … finally Krapp’s Last Tape and Embers by Samuel Beckett, a book which I don’t know anything about, but at twenty cents for such a specimen of high culture, how could I resist?

As I pottered around the shop I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between Pat and Caroline, two of the op shop ladies. Pat’s a volunteer, Caroline obviously holds a role of higher responsibility. Pat was anxious about the upcoming Easter break, and wondering how the roster would be filled since a lot of the shop volunteers were going away. Caroline was reassuring her that she would make up a roster and they’d find a way to keep things running smoothly. My mind stopped in its tracks. Without thinking, I cleared my throat: “Um…if you’re having trouble with finding people during the holidays, maybe I could help out? I’m just hanging around at the moment, and I’ve got a bit of spare time…”

Caroline quizzed me about what I do, am I a student?, etc etc. Before long I was telling her everything about the Petersham residency. She was clearly curious. She said she was into art, especially collaborative artworks, where many people contribute to a communal output. These projects can “bring people out of themselves”. Caroline described a project she’d worked on in Manly (?) where an artist had done a drawing on a canvas using silicone. The canvas was then worked over by many people. When it dried, the artist peeled off the silicone, cutting a crisp line through the overpainting and leaving a beautiful interwoven surface – many images layered on the one canvas. She liked this a lot.

I explained that it’s been some years since I’ve made a painting, that I work mainly with text now, but who knows what could happen? Since I have to put together an exhibition towards the end of my residency, maybe some sort of collaborative artwork could be made. I described my process a bit, you know, allowing the shape of an exhibition to emerge through a process, not laying it out fixed in advance, just trusting that by the time of the show, something will happen. Caroline diagnosed me as a particular personality type, based on the Meyer-Briggs scale. I can’t remember what type I am, it was represented by an alphabetic letter. But anyway, it was to do with those who function better by working towards a deadline. NO! I protested, I’m trying to get away from that! That’s why I’ve got this process of working a little bit every day and then when the time has passed, the work is done. No more big explosive projects, no more having to mop up the mess afterwards and spend a week in bed sick from fatigue.

Well, she wasn’t convinced. Perhaps I was trying to work against my normal way, but even that fact indicated that this daily stuff doesn’t just come naturally to me.

Caroline is also interested in the process of diarising. In fact, she’s thinking to start a course in harnessing your inner creativity called “The Artist’s Way”. It’s about writing “morning pages” each day. I have heard a little about this method, although I’ve never tried it. Probably it would channel some powerful stuff, especially since it’s not at all about releasing your writing to the public.

Caroline thought the op shop would be a good place to hang out and meet folks. I left my phone number for her, and she suggested I pop back in again soon and spend a little more time, to see if it was the right place for me.

* * * * *

Later on, my real estate agent and landlords came around to look at our security issues. There have been three break-ins recently, and we sent them a letter requesting bars on the windows down the side lane, where the crims climbed in. They pretty much poo-poo’d this suggestion. It was clear they just didn’t want to spend the money, but they made up some story about “fire safety being compromised by the bars, in fact, for that reason, window bars are now illegal”, etc etc.

I didn’t really buy it. I must do some more research on that. The most striking thing about the visit was the demonstrated lack of sympathy for our situation. An unwillingness to express concern for fellow humans who have undergone an unfortunate event. For me, the overall impression I got was that to make this concession – to attempt to understand how we might feel – would leave the floodgates open to litigation, to compensation, in short, to further claims for expensive domestic improvements. The encounter left me irritated and depressed.

* * * * *


Late last night, I googled “Meyer Briggs” and found this great personality test. It’s full of true/false statements like:

  • As a rule, current preoccupations worry you more than your future plans.
  • You often think about humankind and its destiny.

and my favourite,

  • Deadlines seem to you to be of relative, rather than absolute, importance.

I completed the 72 questions, revealing that my personality type is “ENFP” – which stands for “Extraverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving.”

Apparently, ENFPs are characterised thusly:

ENFPs are both “idea”-people and “people”-people, who see everyone and everything as part of an often bizarre cosmic whole. They want to both help (at least, their own definition of “help”) and be liked and admired by other people, on both an individual and a humanitarian level. They are interested in new ideas on principle, but ultimately discard most of them for one reason or another.

Finally, here’s another possible character analysis, which describes us ENFPs as “champion idealists” (!):

For Champions, nothing occurs which does not have some deep ethical significance, and this, coupled with their uncanny sense of the motivations of others, gives them a talent for seeing life as an exciting drama, pregnant with possibilities for both good and evil.

on the other hand…

All too often, however, Champions fall short in their efforts to be authentic, and they tend to heap coals of fire on themselves, berating themselves for the slightest self-conscious role-playing.

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