Paved with good intentions

Tuesday 17 August 2004

I made a rare expedition south of the Yarra on Friday evening. A friend had phoned asking me to meet her down at the ACCA opening. The Melways in my house is too old to include any of Southbank’s features, and instead claims the area is entirely occupied with small bark fishing huts and jute mills. In fact I cross Princes Bridge so rarely that everything after Map 44 may as well be blank paper for doodling and phone numbers, with the addition of the legend “Here Be Monsters” printed in the vicinity of Prahran.
So out of friendship I stumbled through the dark across the trackless field of mud that separates the Yellow Peril from the Red Menace and which I am beginning to suspect is a consciously-designed landscaping feature. The aforementioned friend wasn’t there, and never showed up: it turned out she had a last-minute change of heart and was happily curled up at home in front of a heater and watching Burke’s Backyard. Apparently a lot of people wanted to know how to grow a hedge that night because I’ve never seen the place so empty at an opening. Either that or the August Drag has settled in over Melbourne. The good things about having ACCA relatively empty are (a) you can see people you recognise before they’re right on top of you, and (b) you don’t have to kick people in the ankles to clear a path to the drinks table. ACCA is about the only place around that still has free, albeit hideous, wine and doesn’t demand some form of notarised photographic ID before letting you in.
ACCA contracts a squad of nice young ladies to prevent you bringing your free and hideous wine into the exhibition, so my exposure to the show was limited to what I cd see from the entrance. Besides, the exhibition’s called Cycle Tracks Will Abound in Utopia, which frightened me off because it implies that Utopia will also abound with cyclists: smug, sanctimonious cyclists in shapeless hemp clothing congratulating each other on the fine job they’ve done of making Utopia abound with the corpses of carnivores suspended from gibbets.
From what I cd see, the show contained videos. Lots of videos. I’m sure some of the videos are very, very good but whenever I see one in an art gallery I think “FAILED FILMMAKER” and move on to the nearest artwork that doesn’t expect me to wait around until it’s ready to start for me. Everyone in the videos seemed to be doing something purposeful but uninteresting: a lot of them had subtitles, which meant that either someone had finally realised you can’t hear a bloody thing at these openings, or that they fell into the cultural genre once defined by Patrick Cook as Ethnic Anything. I know that last remark makes me sound like a columnist from the opinion pages of The Australian but look at the curatorial brief in the show’s promotional blurb:
architectural [sic], social planning, migration, industrial relations, politics, economics, environmental activism…

Even if you are an artist who wants to be “relevant”, wd you feel comfortable being seen dancing to a tune called by some government minister’s junior political adviser who’s been asked to draft a discussion paper on The Vision Thing? And you know who those advisers are. Remember when you were in VCA or whatever and met some student politicians, and discovered they were unscrupulous scum who wd stab their mothers in the back if they thought it cd even slightly further their own interests? That’s what those guys are up to today: writing stuff like that.
Anyway, if you want to make the world a better place through your art, good luck to you but there’s something you shd ask yourself. Do you know what will happen if you actually manage to make a successful career out of pursuing these goals? You will end up like Bono. Do you really want this to happen?

Limited potential

Saturday 14 August 2004

The house got sold on the weekend. This is the decaying, double-fronted weatherboard place I’ve been living in for nearly two years now, in the part of North Fitzroy known locally as I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Brunswick. The house itself was dubbed Miss Havisham’s Barn, on account of it being about a hundred years old and untouched for the last fifty or so: faded, mouldering wallpaper curling off the crumbling plaster walls, floral carpeting with inexplicable bald patches in random locations, wiring and plumbing dating from the time of the Chifley government. The good thing about it is that it’s huge, with enough space to keep away from the mouldy bits, keep a good distance from the housemate when necessary, and avoid contact with the neighbours.
It’s probably for the best that our sometime landlord, Mr Dum, was averse to making any repairs to the house, no matter how essential. Rather than spending money on someone marginally competent he wd attempt to do them himself, with results that wd be comical if we didn’t have to live with them. (He earned the name Mr Dum when we found him trying to fix a broken light switch by jamming an unshielded screwdriver into the wiring, with the mains power still on.)
Mr Dum paid about $400,000 for this place a few years ago and was asking for at least half a million at the auction. The house was described as having three bedrooms: it took us while to figure out that the mystery bedroom is the lean-to out the back which fills with water every time it rains, thanks to Mr Dum’s efforts to block a small leak last year. Cleverly, he picked a day it was pissing down to hold the auction. We were betting he wd hold out for more money and not sell on the day, but apparently Mr Dum needs the cash because he brought his reserve down to $470,000 when it passed in at $457,000: he settled for $463,500.
Thankfully, the new owner wants to renovate, so I can probably stay on for a bit until the housemate’s rellos come through with a spanky new townhouse in Kensington at the end of the year. It also means no bond hassles! (“Yeah, don’t worry about that blood-soaked patch of carpet in your bedroom, it’s all coming up anyway.”) The condition report originally supplied by the agent had every spare millimetre of blank paper on the first page filled with reported breakages, markings and defects; the second page had a large cross through it and an exasperated “HOUSE IS OLD” scrawled across it.
Oh yeah, and someone at the auction left their umbrella behind. Score!