These works were exhibited on the 18th of September 2019 at Pleasure Centre at Down/Under Space in Chippendale, Sydney, a group exhibition of queer artists working with the concept of collage.They are related, but I invite you to consider the different experiences of viewing/reading/ listening.
Originally published in Honi Soit. Find the article here.
The trolley rattles as I push it down the corridor towards the operating theatre. Patients are eating their lunch at this time of the day. The hall smells like mashed potato and powdered chicken soup. I smile at the man who’s always sitting on a bench at the end of the corridor, but he stares back at the floor. We’re told to greet anyone who comes within five metres of us. You never know why someone finds them self in a hospital.
I pass through two sets of locked doors to get to the loading bay of the operating theatre. The corridor and its uncomfortable food smells are replaced by cold plastic floors and the sour odour of medical sanitation. There’s a yellow line on the floor which I’m forbidden to cross, marking the perimeters of the sterile zone. Beyond the line, nurses robed in ice-blue garments, masks, and caps hurry in and out of rooms. I can only see their eyes, gazing at me as I unload the trolley. Some of them ignore me all together.
I reverse the trolley out through the double doors back into the corridor, careful not to let them slam on my way out. It’s warm, and now the air smells of rosemary. I’m glad that it does.
It was a mistake, trying to bring three wheelie-bins at once. I’m struggling, grasping two handles in one hand, and one in the other. There’s no hand free to cover my eyes from the sun, and my legs are cooking in the black trousers I had to buy from Target for this job. Silver-haired couples leaving their cars scowl at me as I struggle across the bitumen towards the garbage compressor, bins rumbling as I go. I don’t like to make noise. I’m only working here a few weeks.
As I go to lift the first bag from the bin and into the chute, I hear the soft sound of thin plastic splitting. Glass bottles make a gentle thud as they land on a bed of used tissues at the bottom of the bin. Fuck—the bag has broken. I gag as the smell of rotting fruit erupts from the bag. The rip grows as I try to salvage the remnants, and something wet touches my hand. Fuck this. There’s no going back now; I squat and, grasping the bottom of the green plastic vessel, lift it over the side of the compressor. Glass smashes, banana skins slop, and plastic crackles as the contents pour into the chute. I hit the button and watch the machine eat it all up.
I hope no one saw that. I think the silver-haired couples did.
The lunch room
A shiver runs down my arms as I push the cart along the aisle. The air-conditioning is always running at full bore in the supply shed, and the place smells like plastic packaging and cardboard. I move slowly up and down the shelves, collecting the supplies listed on the sheet. Unit 3 wants two boxes of Clindamycin. I unlock the drug cupboard and scan: left to right, top to bottom. I’ve done this one a million times, but I can never remember where it is. From the other end of the shed comes a grunt that resembles the word “lunch.” The Clindamycin will have to wait.
Taking my sandwich from the fridge, I seat myself in the corner of the tiny, damp office. The chair I sit in every day has a big stain on the upholstery. It was occupied by a stack of papers before my arrival. My co-workers make their way in, cold Tupperware containers in hand, ready to be invigorated by the microwave. The small room is overwhelmed by the aroma of leftover curry and rice. Another one enters with a bag of hot chips.
I don’t talk much. One of the guys is watching a dash-cam compilation, and I nod along as they talk about cars. We stay seated right up until the last second of 12:29. The phone rings and the manager answers.
He puts down the phone and looks at me. “You gave Unit 2 the wrong fluid bags.”
I feel like I am neatly posited in a white envelope, having been laid in these crisp, coarse sheets. They make me feel a coolness, but I’m still warm. I turn my weak neck to rest the side of my head on the pillow, and close my eyes. My body is too nauseated to breathe deeply, and I’m quietly puffing through my nose. The morning light, the soft bed, and the comfort of my mother at my side distracts me from my sickness, and I drift into light sleep.
The girl at the front desk recognised me when I came in. I passed the cleaner on the way up to the ward, who gave me a vague smile when he noticed my familiar face. It’s only been a couple of months. The nurses are all very nice to me now.
I eat my lunch sitting up in bed. Steam rises as I lift the cover from the plate. It’s lasagne with roast vegetables. There’s tea and biscuits on the tray, and a cup of chicken soup.
When I go to shower, there’s no shampoo or conditioner in the bathroom. I ask my mum to get some from the nurses.“I doubt they’d have conditioner,” she says.
“They do,” I reply, “I know which shelf it’s on.”
It was stupid of me to say I would have to go away.
And to say it to you.
Because there is no more or less here than where you are.
The past is no more, no less.
It is only further.
I often wonder if something in your chest went cold.
But you needed only to look into my eyes.
‘You'd find it there”, you said.
As if you knew there was something in me worthy of it.
Farewell to time
In the feeble golden city we walked the silent streets.
We were quiet
But I know by the way you look at the ground and grin that you are ready to speak.
I stare at my feet.
The green grass beneath flickers under a sun shadow sheath.
It covers your face. I catch glimpses brief
Of you on your side, ground to your cheek.
Looking to the foliage deep from where the sky seeps,
I can’t see you looking at me.
Like we’re restlessly asleep we move our arms, legs, feet,
Sit up, fall down meek
As you tell me of your week.
Moving in a circle, ever closer to each
Until in the centre we meet
And the side of my head can reach
The bottom of your neck.
I can feel you breathe.
Amongst yours my fingers weave and fall apart again.
They rest on your knee.
Then we stop moving.
We don’t have to speak.
You’re face down with your hands under your cheek
And my cheek beneath your soft smelling hair like wheat
That spreads from my eye to my teeth.
And I wonder if this is bliss,
Or just peace.
The church bells don’t sound like they did before.
All that can be heard is stiff metal clanging.
There is no echo or ringing.
Maybe the walls have grown over their pores, or the stone no longer wants to listen.
Or perhaps it is the bells, their insides rounded down and covered in soft scars.
Maybe someone has stolen the clapper and replaced it with a small spoon.
The throbbing bronze orb is nowhere to be seen.
My angel voice won't fill the space, when once I only had to whisper.
When I try to raise the holy ghost with semitones, the chant falls dead.
It is like I am singing my requiem in a plain of long grass, where there are no walls to sing it back to me.
I had not sung until today, and I had forgotten some of the words.
But today I sung in the plain. It is nicer.
There, the last note does not linger in the vaults.
The clapper was later found nestled in the grass, not far from where I was standing.
It had turned to glass. Someday soon I will put it back in the bell.
...I’ve stared into deep black waters at night,
seeing and remembering everything that once was,
everything that felt beautiful and exhilarating and unique to this world,
moments which looking back upon brings momentary nostalgia, warm,
filled with muted pain and soft sighs which will never be heard.
I stay above the waters edge.
I go home to my bed, tired and wide awake,
and dream of you.
A short film starring Isabella Mandic. Written and directed by Theo Delaney.
Published in Honi Soit (find it here).
Bundaberg is the place I grew up.
It’s a small city—regional Queensland. People like to think anywhere outside of Brisbane is a one-street ice epidemic. But Bundaberg is a nice place.
The city is surrounded by cane fields on all sides. When crushing season comes, a sweet, yet sulphurous steam from the mill pours into the afternoon air. When they burn the fields, delicate strands of ash rain over the whole town. They turn to dust in your hands if you try to catch them.
The sun shines almost every day. Going outside is a game of finding shade, or else having your mother remark how burnt you are at the dinner table that evening.
I come from two old families. My mother’s father’s parents settled there in the 20s and opened a cafe. They were Greek. My dad’s family were school teachers and cattle auctioneers. They’re Irish and English, and they’ve been there since the early days.
Our house is over a hundred years old, in the Queenslander style. It’s made of timber—cooling in the summer—and has a long verandah. It’s always full of sun and air. When I was a baby my mum painted the house light blue, with yellow walls inside. There are gardens all around, and a backyard that any child would dream of. You could always find shade there.
One of my first memories is of a winter morning in that house, when I walked with my grandmother over the wooden hallway floor into our kitchen. She was living with us at the time. The sight of her hand holding mine frightened me: there were blood spots, and thick violet veins protruding from her delicate skin.
I can remember the feeling of lying on her lap. She was tender and loving, in a way that has always made me want to cry when I think or speak of her. She died shortly after that cool morning in the hallway.
Every Sunday in the summer, my mum would take my two brothers and me to the beach. We’d pull up in the carpark and run across the burning bitumen to the flour-like sand. My auntie Pauline would already be sitting in her fold-out chair. “Jesus, where’ve you been?” she’d ask me as I threw my towel down next to her. She always phoned in advance to see what time we’d get there. Auntie Pauline was my godmother, and she made me laugh. Her hair was tinted black as the night, and she wore thick gold bangles on both wrists.
My grandad’s chair would be next to hers, empty. He would be off strolling up and down the beach, talking to all the regulars. You’d spot him with his walking stick, slowly making his way back. It was as if you could see his deep tan getting darker as he walked. He came to the beach every day. It was where he belonged. My mother says that the ocean is in our blood, from him.
We would migrate between the water and the warm sand, where we’d eat and chat. I loved hearing my grandad talking to his two daughters. “Did you hear old Mrs Briggs died?” someone would say. “Yeah, saw it in the paper. Shame, she was a lovely woman.”
When the sun got too strong, we would go home.
After his heart attack, grandad wouldn’t come to the beach anymore. I think he lost a part of himself because of it. He died when I was in Year 12.
Now that I live in Sydney, sometimes it hurts my mother to think that I don’t miss home. But everywhere I go, I look for it; in the shade of a tree, on cool mornings, when submerged in the ocean and in the words I speak and hear. It is the feeling of being loved.
I slept through the night and then the morning,
waking and returning to a dream.
Each time I observed the change in light,
slowly coming to glow through the warped glass.
Day began as it was becoming night,
in the place of intense remembering.
When I can't see it,
it doesn't move.
This is the past.
It makes me see truth;
what must die,
what I must kill,
what I must pry my knuckles off.
But I've been here before.
I've seen myself there now.
I've sung to these walls.
The haze in which I see all stretches there, now.
It's the highway.
There's some conclusion to which I'll fall.
For now? I'm nowhere.
Oberon, A Midsummer Night's Dream
That very time I saw, but thou couldst not,
Flying between the cold moon and the earth,
Cupid all arm'd: a certain aim he took
At a fair vestal throned by the west,
And loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow,
As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts;
But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft
Quench'd in the chaste beams of the watery moon,
And the imperial votaress passed on,
In maiden meditation, fancy-free.
Yet mark'd I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love's wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness.
Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew'd thee once:
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
Fetch me this herb; and be thou here again
Ere the leviathan can swim a league.
Created for Akira's Resort 2019 Collection presentation at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia 2018. Images via Getty Images courtesy of IMG Australia.
Created for Bianca Spender''s Resort 19 presentation at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia. Images via Stefan Gasotti/Caroline McCredie, Getty Images. Courtesy of IMG Australia.
This interview was conducted for Honi Soit. The condensed version can be found here.
To begin, do you think that our first love affects us in a way that last throughout the rest of our lives?
Yes, I think so. It could be the first love, it could be who we were before the first love. I don't know which came first, it's a chicken and an egg situation, but essentially the grammar of behaviour in the first love will seldom change. We will behave in exactly the same way, we will have the same hang-ups, we will make the same idiotic gestures and say the same stupid things. We can hide it, we can camouflage it, we can also learn to sound more deliberate that we actually are, but in point of fact the mechanisms are the same, the fears identical as at 12 as they are when you will be 82.
Do you think it's better to be young or old?
What a silly question, it is so far better to be young and to make all the mistakes one makes when one is young than to have all the experience, wisdom and clarity of an older person who basically doesn't have many years to live. It's better to be young, it always is.
Memory is a crucial aspect of writing, and in Call Me By Your name the book, narrated by Elio, I think his memory is an important element. How important is memory to you in your writing?
You know, I don't know. I'll tell you why I don't know. It's that the act or the gesture of reminiscing that allows me to write. In other words, I need the pretext of being in a remembering mode in order to write about an event. Is memory itself important? I don't think so. Nostalgia is not important either, although it plays a role. I need to write about a past that is still, to use a verb, perjurating, it still exists. That past has not gone away. That gives you the sense that maybe I am remembering, but that's not the point. The point is that what happened in the past still resonates today, and therefore we are affected by the past. But it's not memory though.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a love that we can't be in like Oliver and Elio's, or perhaps out of a love that affected us deeply. In the father's speech, he tells Elio not to deny the uniqueness of his relationship with Oliver. Do you think it's better to live with that longing and torment than to suppress it?
I think what the father is saying is that you don't really have a choice, but you can force yourself, by an extreme amount of will, to think that you are over someone. You can learn to hate the person. You can learn to denigrate what happened between you and say, "Oh it was just a little fling, it was nothing," or that it was "fun and games" as Oliver says. But in point of fact it doesn't go away. We can fall in love with many people , and not be out of love with the others that came before them. We are always going to be in love with the same people for the rest of our lives. We can think it's a mistake, but we're still in love with them. So what the father is saying is, "Don't kill it." He's right. You're wasting your time. Enjoy it, because there will come a time when you won't be able to have this anymore.
I think part of the essence of Elio and Oliver's relationship is the brief period in which they share it, and we see this later on when they meet again in the future when they both have very different lives. Do you think they could've ever been together, married or as partners?
I don't know. I'm married, but I think marriage is not essentially what happens between two human beings who are in love. Marriage is something totally different. I don't know how they would exist as a couple. Part of me dreads the idea of them as a domestic couple. You've probably heard me say this many times, but what do they do on Sunday evening? They do the laundry, they fold the towels. That's kind of boring, it's not what Elio and Oliver are supposed to be. But there is a return to the beginning. He comes back to the house, the way he came the first time, and I have a feeling, I've always thought this and nobody agrees with me, that he's come back to live there. Elio can't believe that it's happening and he assumes he's going to leave the next day. But I don't think he will.
The ending of the book really resonates with me. Though they've learned to think of each other less, what they had is still there when the meet again many years later.
Well, Elio has had other affairs and Oliver's been put on the back burner, but when Oliver says to come and visit him at home, Elio says that he just can't, which tells you that however much he's over him, there's still a part of Elio that can't accept the fact the Oliver is married and that he is going to hurt. And so he doesn't go.
It's a part of the isolation of their affair. Also, I find the setting in some ways enhances their relationship, and I think that's what the movie does so well, it enhances these beautiful surroundings which don't enhance the love, but more accommodate it.
I think so, I think the locale is important. In the book it's on the sea, it's much nicer. It's something very sort of myth-making, and their love is myth making as well so it all goes together. Did I plan it this way? No. In order to write the story, I had to have that house in that place. How the two work together? I have no idea. There are parts when I describe the smells, even the sounds. There's a part when I even have a knife sharpener who shows up once a week who makes noise, and then disturbs their sleep. That automatically tells you that their sleep was deep, that their windows are open, there's a nice draft. It's all the clichés of Italy, you can find them in any post card. I needed to do that to accompany the story. Did I think that I needed to describe the locale or the place to enhance the story? No, I didn't think that.
I think the film does it though visually, and very well. Were you glad to have Italian director?
Yes, I was. Very glad. That makes the difference. I was also glad that he was the director. A lot of directors were quartered and they all said they couldn't do it and backed out because they had other assignments. When they said that his name had come up, I said that he had made this amazing movie called I Am Love. It's a beautiful movie. He was the perfect person for this. So we met and I thought that I shouldn't show how interested I am, otherwise he's going to think that I'm a freak, but it was a wonderful moment. James Ivory also got on board, and it was very nice
I noticed some connections between Call Me By Your Name and I Am Love. There are these moments when Luca might use an effect or a particular shot that seems rather out of the ordinary. I remember one of the love making scenes in I Am Love. It's so sensual and the movement is so unusual. It's similar to the scene where Elio replays the scenes from his memories through a red, what seems like heat sensitive filter.
Oh yes, that was actually an accident. It was not intentional, but they said they would include it.
I think it beautifully encapsulates the retracing of his memory.
Yes, that's exactly it. It's one of those accidents that you keep because it just plays itself so well. I think it worked. It's a good thing they never cut it. But it worked.
I wanted to ask you about the character of Vimini in the book, who's not included in the movie. Her character fascinates me. What were your motivations for writing her?
There was no motivation to be honest, but I liked the idea that this was a kid who was very very smart, who saw through things. She may not have known the first thing about sex, but she is the one who reports that Oliver thought the Elio didn't like him. She is the voice of truth. Her function, I realised late in the book, is that she knew that she was going to die which allowed her to have this prophetic aspect to her. But what it does do at the end of the book is that when you find out that Vimini dies, that Anchise died, that the father died, you realise that time has happened here. These people have all gone away and it's never going to be the same again. It's totally different. You begin to sense that there's a tragedy brewing underground. And so I use her that way, and I like the fact that in this town, Oliver, I mean we know that whatever he was doing at night was ambiguous, was liked by everyone but the only relationship he had other than with Elio was with Vimini. He was like her big brother. And there's a part of Elio that's jealous of that.
Going back to what you said about emphasising the passing of time, in the book you write, at the end, "Time makes us sentimental. Perhaps in the end it is because of time that we suffer." What do you mean by that?
I don't know, I remember writing that sentence and saying to myself, "Is that clear? I don't know how to make it any clearer." Time is a horrible thing. It really means one thing only. It means death. It announces and foreshadows one thing; death. So death is there, and the more time passes the closer death comes. Also, some say time is a healer. I don't think time is a healer. Time is something that sometimes keeps the wound open. When you realise that thirty years have gone by since Elio last saw Oliver, that's terrible. That's more years than they had when they met. Time can have ways of really devastating us. I use a metaphor for this. When the used to have manuscripts when they first began printing, they had quartos and octavos. Basically you have a sheet of paper and you fold it in four or in eight. Time is divided in that way. When you realise that your whole life was divided into a series of octavos and you have none left, it's terrible! What have you done with all that time? You haven't lived well, you haven't been in love with the person you've been in love with all your life, you found other people. You made a mistake. You cannot fix it, or at least you can try to fix it. Time also does something else. It changes people, so that even if you're in love, the magic can go. And so you're stuck with that. Yes we're still in love, but the magic is gone.
You're here to talk about your new book Enigma variations, which I haven't read yet. From what I understand it's the story of a character in different stages of his life. Could you tell me about the protagonist, his name is Paul?
Well it depends, it's Paolo if he's in Italy, it's Paul, it's Paulie on the tennis courts. When he's twelve years old he falls in love with his family's cabinet maker who's 27-28 years old, and he doesn't know anything about sex but he's not even in love, he's just obsessed with this man. It's only later in life that he realizes he was in love with him. But at twelve he doesn't know that, and he's very aroused but he doesn't know what do with that arousal, he doesn't even know how to please himself. Then you see him with a woman who he's living with, but he's attracted to a tennis player . So he begins to court this man even though he's with another woman who he thinks is cheating on him with another man who turns out to be gay. He drops the woman, and has an affair with the tennis player, and as he's having the affair he hooks up with his old girlfriend from college and they're really still in love. But he's sleeping with his boyfriend. Then later in life he's fallen in love with a woman, and the only person he can turn to for advice is his boyfriend, they've now broken up, who now lives in Germany. He says, "Don't do what you did with me. Go after her, be direct." So that's sort of the here and now of the story, and it's about a person who is totally confused about his sexuality. Or maybe he's not confused at all, maybe he's just attracted to a whole lot of people.
Would you say that him having these various lovers is caused by a certain ambiguity or lack of clarity in how we look for love, or a deliberate lack of clarity. I think we see it in Call Me by Your Name as well.
Well I can only understand that. I cannot understand how if you're a man you're just attracted to women. That's not true. I don't understand how one can be attracted men and not be attracted to women either. I mean obviously there are cases of people who are just interested in one thing and not the other, but I think that everyone I've talked to in my life, everyone I've known, is bisexual. Women and men. In essence that's what fascinates me. We're not confused, because there's nothing to be confused about. You like coffee and tea, you like both, that's it. Now if you have to decide which you're going to live with, that requires some facts and organising. But most of my characters don't want that, and they like the freedom to move from one to the other. Ultimately they're enigmas. They don't know what they want. They don't know who they are. Most of my characters in all my books have no identity. Religious, political, nationalistic, sexual, whatever. They don't belong anywhere, and they don't want to.
Is that something you identify with?
Yes, I identify with not identifying with anything! I don't want to identify with one thing only. I hate people who are patriotic. I hate people who are fanatics. People will tell you, I'm proud of being x or y. I automatically don't take them seriously. What's there to be proud of? Why not just say you accept being x and y. The pride factor annoys me. I hate political statements of any kind. On the other hand, people disagree with me. They say, "You have to belong somewhere! You have to believe in something!" I have no patience for it.
I suppose that would relate to Call Me By Your Name, which is, in terms of representation, monumental as a story about a gay relationship and has surely been used in a political way. But on another level it is about universal love. How do you rationalise those two?
Well there are two points of view. The first is, let's face it, it is a gay story. It's not a straight story, it's a gay love affair. On the other hand, it is about love. I get so much mail from girls and teenagers, more girls than older men or gay men. So obviously girls are finding there the promise of love, the kind of love that they want. I do resent that fact however that a lot of people, in order to blandify the fact that it is a gay story, say that, "Oh no, it's not a gay story. It's just about love." It's a gay story, but it's also about love. The two exist coterminously. I don't want to privilege on position vis-a-vis the other. It's not incidental. But yet I still say to people that this could very easily be a story between a man and a woman.
I think we still that apprehension and reluctance between them that would resonate with the qay and queer community though.
I mean what? I don't know. When I had desire for a woman, I wasn't exactly excited, I fought it. I denied it. I didn't want it. I was too embarrassed to tell her. You can't open up that easily. So I think desire is a fundamentally shameful emotion to feel. You're embarrassed that you desire someone, because you want something from them. Whether it's gay or straight it doesn't matter. We're apprehensive as you said. We're afraid.
I'd like to finish on Enigma Variations, particularly the title. Music is a common thread in your work, could you explain why you chose this title?
Enigma Variations is a piece of music by Sir Edward Elgar, and I like the title, not just because the stories are all variations and because he is enigmatic unto himself. The title of the pieces of music is interesting because usually when you have the Diabelli Variations, you have a theme and then you have variations on it. In the enigma variations, Elgar does not give us what the original theme is. We will never know what the theme of those variations is, so that even theme itself is absent. I think that this is the story of Paul, or Paulie or Paolo. Whatever it is that he is at the source, we don't know, and we will never know.
I have his hands
I used to gaze at them, deep and strong
Broadening at the knuckles.
Thick fingers extend like trunks.
Bronze of pigment.
Mine, soft and transparent,
Their bones are his.
The last time I saw them
Gold faded to green
I made sure of it.
It is not enough to know that we are gazing at the same night stars.
Each day that I cannot search your eyes our distance grows more austere.
I see what before I did not.
The way the lights on the hills shimmer.
The way this city has become my own.
The ducts prepare tears
for an ache thought forgotten.
They stay behind eyes.
Something I wrote stopped me.
I couldn't think or write any more.
'It was the way I felt when we were together,
and then when we weren't.'
I like walking at night. This project documents an inner city landscape after dark, a series of vignettes which, while appealing to the eye, are fleeting and trivial, like many of the thoughts and feelings that enter and escape the mind.
I have a lot of time for couture fashion. It allows designers to exhibit true artistry and skill, albeit a rather excessive and exclusive spectacle. Though at times obscure, pretentious even, its magnificence is undeniable. Escapism is a word often aligned with couture. Convention and practicality do not exist in this world. It is unwearable, unaffordable and untouchable. Yet within this moment we can sit back, sigh and let ourselves be awestruck. It resides in a parallel universe, and all we can do is dream.
skin shimmers, as light make its way through the stirring foliage.
my world is green, gold and soft blue.
under my arms, around my waist the thin air meanders, sensual and transient.
my frantic mind is subdued.
a longing soul surrenders.
Yesterday, while emptying an old sim card which I hoped to reuse, I came across some old footage which I had taken on my little silver digital camera when I was around the age of 11. None of it was particularly enthralling, mostly capturing inane scenes of day to day life or images my friends and family. But I find it beautiful captures the excitement and purity of a childhood on the cusp of the digital age. The subjects are innocent and undeliberate, fascinated by the camera, whether in front of or behind it. After filming, we would all gather around the tiny screen to watch the shaky, hand-held image we'd created, often ending up in fits of laughter.We would film anything and everything.
With the way in which technology and digital photography has become so widespread, it makes me wonder whether we've lost some of the childlike authenticity in the way we interact with the visual world, in our gaze.
In Eastern Christian belief, the icon is not merely a depiction of a holy figure; it transmits the light of God, captivating and otherworldly.
I have always been drawn to Christian religious imagery. I remember from a young age being taken by depictions of martyrdom and divinity, rendered in deep, striking hues, illuminated and golden; crimson blood on pale bodies, soft, angelic faces, scenes of chaos lit by a single beam, the gentle gaze of Virgin nursing the child Christ, her gentle tears with the dead body of her son in her arms. I was baptised and grew up around religion, and for a long time tried to reconcile the powerful reaction I felt to representations with a genuine need for faith in my life, or belief in a higher power. But that need just never came. I've realised that I don't believe in God; I believe in the strength and compassion of the people around me.
I'm still not sure exactly what I feel when I see these images, whether it be sympathy, artistic admiration or simply aesthetic satisfaction. But now I'm sure it's not the light of God.
Every city needs its narratives. They remind us that our experiences are shared ones. Towards the beginning of The Preatures' set at the Enmore Theatre last Saturday, the third show of their national tour launching the new album Girlhood, front woman Izzi Manfredi told the audience, "a lot of people have been saying that this record's about me being a woman in the recording industry. That's just fucking false. I wrote it about growing up here in Sydney, being a girl." It was clear that she was glad to be home.
The Preatures are the quintessential Sydney band: hard to define like the city's character, a fascinating mix of subcultures, styles and stories, always drawing from the past, yet inextricably modern. Girlhood is an undoubtedly sentimental album, largely based on Manfredi's formative adolescent years. Each song creates an image in which we can all place ourselves: walking home at 4 am under a star-filled Australian sky, trying to figure our shit out in high school, smoking in the dark alone, getting your heart broken, feeling invincible. There is an element of melancholy too, perhaps the band reflecting on the way our lives have become less spontaneous in the hyper-technical, over-regulated modern world (Manfredi is also a known supporter of the Keep Sydney Open movement). Nonetheless, at one of the city's most iconic venues The Preatures paid homage the stories we've all shared in this place in an exhilarating homecoming, and their fans were glad to have them back.
The night opened with supporting acts Hair Die and Polish Club, both fellow Sydney bands. An-up and-coming post punk group, Hair Die definitely seem to have their shit together. Consisting of red-haired brothers Cal, Monty, Sam and lead vocalist Alys Hale, their stage presence is as enticing as their no-bullshit approach to music. Check out their first single here. Polish Club describe themselves as "the sweatiest rock band in Sydney" and the audience could attest to it. The duo of David Novak and John-Henry Pajak juiced their 45 minute set and had the crowd in the palm of their hand, asking the minors in the building to cover their ears for the track Don't Fuck Me Over.
The main act made their way onto the stage to thunderous applause and launched into the night with I Know A Girl, their infectious girl-power anthem from 2016 celebrating the women in Manfredi's life. It was the perfect introduction to the new material from Girlhood, interspersed with favourites from their 2014 debut Blue Planet Eyes. The stage was bathed in blue light for the rock ballad Magick, a bittersweet breakup track that wooed the crowd with its droning synth and guitar chords beneath Manfredi's provocative vocals. The title track Girlhood was electrifying, as the singer looked over the audience with her signature death stare-cum-grin, singing "whatever makes me a modern girl, well nothing makes me a modern girl."
A highlight of the night was Yanada, the song which Manfredi co-wrote with Sydney Darug woman Jacinta Tobin, the chorus of which is sung in the indigenous Dharug language, (Yanada means moon in Dharug). The singer paused to tell the crowd the story of its inception, of how she felt the need to pay respect to the people of the land on which she has lived and experienced her own sense of belonging to. She spoke of the importance of recognising and learning indigenous culture and language, a narrative of Sydney, and more broadly Australia, that can often be overlooked. Along with its profound significance, Yanada was a hit.
Cherry Ripe was another more mellow moment, a ballad in which Manfredi speaks to her younger self, a confused teenager in a tumultuous search for identity, not knowing her full potential. We'd all been there.
She told us Night Machine was the last song. We knew it wasn't. Following deafening applause Izzi returned to the stage alone, sitting at a keyboard beneath a single white light for Your Fan, a simple and immensely likeable tune reflecting on her journey, from being a fan of music to being a musician. She reminisces on the days of fantasizing over her idols, camping out for tickets, reading TV Magazine, the days before social media and phones, when things were more genuine. The atmosphere was palpable. It was magical.
But it was too sombre of a note to end on. The band returned to the stage and launched into their best known hit, Is This How You Feel?, a song you can't help but move to. Streaming out onto Enmore Road, the crowds were buzzing and rowdy. It was 11:30 but it felt like the night was young. The Preatures' might be lamenting the loss of old-world charm or our decreasingly spontaneous experiences.
But they're bringing it back for us.
Returning home to Queensland after my first semester of university in Sydney has in some ways been a surreal experience. Going from complete independence in a completely new and unfamiliar environment back to the place that I grew up in, back to family life, has been eye-opening but also comforting. I've realised the ways that I've changed and the ways that I haven't, and the advantages and limitations of both of my new and old homes. Stepping into the bedroom of my childhood was the the moment when I realised that I've moved into a new phase of life. The place where I would feel safety and intimacy, the hub of my adolescent development.
Everything was exactly as it had been left. Sitting on my old bed under the amber glow of my lamp, while having a changed perspective, I still felt the warmth of being home. It will always be there.
It's been a crazy week. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
2 rings, stuck on fingers
Selection of mineral water
Red merino sweater
Purple silk tie
Hair product sample
Trousers and belt
Notes for Greek exam
Union pamphlet and socialist group flyer from uni cuts protest
50 cents found on ground at Carriageworks
Raffles showcase ticket
Teeth whitener samples
Under eye patches
Monogram tote bag by the daily edited
Tote bag, free from an old vogue mag
and the places they've taken me.
hot wednesday night
march, ten fifty
station empty, filled
by the air of the city
cigarettes and concrete
carbon dioxide, cooking meat
history dying beautfully,
from circular quay station
A dollar eighteen
all with eyes to a screen
with an opal
am free as a wave
that wears at the ancient headland
that the queen to us once gave
these tunnels are the portals
between class, lives and times
equal in our silence we ride
all heading somewhere
to each other, unknown
yet this small space we share
for 13 minutes, like a home
we listen in on each other's conversations
rent, problematic children
and romantic depreciations
we never dare ask of the other's world
we sit, we gaze, but never unfurl
the ball of fermenting tales of the days events
or the anguish inside, which we so yearn to vent
but once did i see
this film of inner city alienation
fractured by an infectious joy
on the night of gay celebrations
an elated young woman, immune to train rider muteness
burst into song, and then a thing of beauty
blossomed as the carriage of commuters
lay down their pride
and joined her in a chorus
but there are times when some talk
when deeply unwanted
those who are cold,
to humanity absconded
with new found strength from the oblivious tunnel
their tongue as a fist
the weak they pummel
for the the clothes that they wear or the race of their mother
for their ancestral faith, for being an other
those of good heart speak up and defend
a recording to sunrise a bystander will send
On we ride
under cool white lights
under streets silent
subdued by the night
an announcing voice calls
a familiar name
you pull yourself up
you step off the train
you are yourself again
in your world of your own
lips are unsealed,
you stand, you are home
the anonymous journey,
the people you saw,
the lives you witnessed,
the stories you bore
are lost to the tunnel,
the black of the night
consumed by the city
and turned into light
Akira Isogawa is one of Australia's foremost fashion designers. Having immigrated from Japan in the 1980's, the Kyoto born designer's legacy and vision combines the aesthetic and philosophical traditions of his ancestral land with a striking modernism, making for captivating garments. As the honoured guest of the Bundaberg Regional Gallery for Flora & Fauna: The Nature of Fashion, Akira was kind enough to share his insights with me, and to discuss the ways in which nature has played a part in his design process.
Akira Isogawa, I would like to thank you again for being our guest of honour for Flora & Fauna: The Nature of Fashion at the Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery. To start, what do you think of Bundaberg’s style?
So, I arrived in Bundaberg at 3:30 in the afternoon yesterday and went straight to my hotel and checked myself in, and in the evening I had the privilege to attend the special Gala Dinner. This morning I came straight to the exhibition from my hotel, it was just a two-minute walk and so far that’s all I’ve experienced of Bundaberg. But what I saw was glamorous women, dressing up. I saw women in fully sequined vintage garments, others in beautiful original handmade clothing, and others in commercial clothing, but still very up-market and beautiful. There is a genuine interest in fashion, I feel, and it shows actually how many people are interested. This morning (at the Flora & Fauna Floor Talk) so many people turned out, on a Sunday morning! So it’s great to see that, and I don’t have much knowledge of Bundaberg, I don’t even know the population of Bundaberg, I imagine it’s not a big city. So it’s quite interesting to realize that the larger percentage of women are genuinely interested in beauty.
Could you tell me a bit about your own label Akira and your creative vision?
I started my own label more than 20 years ago and when I was studying at TAFE, where I trained myself to sew and make patterns. I had a vision of becoming a designer before I enrolled myself, 6 months before I landed in Sydney. I realized that I needed clothes for myself and that’s how I started. I always thought that there was no point in designing something that already exists in the market. I suppose I could say that my philosophy is actually designing something that is unique and timeless, and something that women can keep for a long time and treat as if it was a gem. I do believe that good design doesn't date. I think it is a sign of success as a designer, when you see women wearing some clothes that I designed more than a decade ago.
I had to question myself when I was starting out about why I wanted to get involved in fashion, because there’s enough clothing in the world right now really, and a lot of clothes get wasted. Why are we adding more to what we have enough of? So my answer to that is that I am offering something that you cannot find anywhere else.
This exhibition, Flora & Fauna: The Nature of Fashion, contains an array of garments spanning almost 200 years, which have been inspired by nature. How are you influenced by nature, by flora and fauna?
I think the transient way of nature, especially the seasons, the idea of seeing something so transient like flowers, some of which last only a few days, or even one night, has a certain beauty due to it’s short life. I find that story quite inspiring. The colours always change to. This is my first visit to Bundaberg and now we see greens, but who knows if I come back in three months’ time, if I come back in 6 months’ time, I’d see some other colour palette in a garden. So the ever-changing nature of flora and fauna is inspiring, like the nature of fashion. It’s an ever-changing industry. Nothing stays the same, as does nature.
You have a piece in the exhibition which uses a pattern by Mount Perry born textile designer Florence Broadhurst. Could you tell us a bit about the piece and why you chose that particular Broadhurst print?
I was just saying to people this morning that I wouldn’t have known of Florence Broadhurst if I hadn’t been invited to see her work back in the late 90’s. Also in the late 90’s, and though she had been very active in the late 70’s, I think her name had been nearly forgotten. A company got the rights to use her artwork, and had access to hundreds of her designs. They explained to me that they hadn’t shown Florence’s work to anyone. They wanted to test it with me. It was like a first trial for them to see how a designer sees Florence’s work. I selected a number of oriental designs, Chelsea and Nagoya, because they reminded me of Kyoto somehow. The interesting thing is Florence Broadhurst’s story. She was a well-travelled lady. In fact, she actually went to Shanghai, but didn’t make it to Japan. I feel she was eager to draw inspiration from the East but because she didn’t go to Kyoto, she used her imagination to come up with these particular designs, Nagoya for example which reminds me of a garden in Kyoto. I felt that I connected psychically with her imagination.
The piece is called water garden. I designed it in 2007 and it has a slight Japanese element to it, though not as profoundly as the original colours and features of Chelsea and Nagoya. To me, it was a Zen garden with pebbles and stones representing water and trees. It was a single colour print, but I thought rather than using bright colours, I felt that I wanted it to stay monochromatic, but with some sort of vibrancy so I included silver in the print.
You design all of this wonderful clothing, yet you as a designer choose to dress very simply. Do you have a particular philosophy behind that?
I try not to make much fuss about it. In Japanese there is a word for it. They say kuroko, meaning the son of blackness, that is meant to hidden. I feel that those garments are the most important thing and then then the creator of those garments is always behind the scenes. I just feel more comfortable to dress in a darker colour palette with no embellishment or no print for that reason.
What is something that you would like to be remembered for as a designer?
It is a big question actually. I'm still in action and I haven’t really thought about after I’ve finished. I feel that I’m a part of a special movement in Australia. Back when I arrived in Australia in the mid-80’s, as I look back on it now, what we wore and the environment that we were surrounded by, our house, our food, cities themselves like Sydney have changed so much. We have more access to things. So I would like to be remembered as someone who was a part of the movement to free the concept of Australia being simply mono-cultured, and I would like to be remembered as someone who expressed multiculturalism and freed things up in view of opening one’s mind.
Flora & Fauna: The Nature of Fashion is on display at the Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery until the the 12th of June.