acknowledgement of country:
The UNSWeetened Literary team would like to acknowledge our First Nations peoples, the traditional and ongoing owners of this land. Specifically, we acknowledge the owners of the land on which the UNSWeetened Journal has been edited and produced, the Bedegal and Gadigal peoples of the Eora nation. In all of its forms, Indigenous storytelling carries powerful reminders that the sovereignty of this land was never ceded. We extend our hope that the strength and endurance of these cultures will continue to be conveyed in the stories of old and new.
This yearâ€™s UNSWeetened Literary Journal was inspired by a Japanese aesthetic concept: wabi-sabi. For the team, this thematic guide became something of an elusive and difficult ideal. As with any themed journal, it professes more than it would seem to deliver. The design team has wrestled with wabi-sabi aesthetics to produce visuals that might reflect the handsomeness of simplicity, and the beauty of restrained minimalism; the editing team tried to use some of the principles of wabi-sabi as a rubric for assessing and editing the pieces we received from contributors; the promotion team simply promoted, and did so brilliantly. In the end, this yearsâ€™ Journal took wabi-sabi as an inspiration, a sort of springloaded diving board, but it does not exemplify wabi-sabi. Having said that we do hope that it pays homage to what seemed to us a poetic and deeply resonating philosophical concept â€“ one that seems to emphasise some of the realities of all of our lives; their imperfect and incomplete nature, their finitude, suffering and belonging to nothingness. At the risk of perhaps downplaying the depth of these concepts, we might venture that they belong equally to the creative and intellectual work of all students both in theme and intrinsic qualities. To that end, we hope you will find in this publication the pleasures of the wonderful flux that is student writing.
what to read
contents 4 • Cher Joji
45 • I am
7 • Wrong Order of a Story
52 • Exist
12 • Time
57 • Inherit
13 • The Lost Hour
58 • Clay
66 • A partment:an ekphrastic poem Madeleine Martin
Stephen McCarthy Gwen Buckland-Watts Josie Anugerah Nina Greenhill
17 • Hiccup
Emma Catherine Nina Greenhill Laura Peacock Rosy Leake
67 • The Hospital
22 • Misplaced Teeth
68 • Awell, Scut and the Three Jobs Nina Greenhill
24 • Table for Undefined
77• Together Forever
Defne Huzmeli Victor Tsang
25 • Witness
26 • Ugly Girls
29 • New Video
37 • Archived Virtual Bodies
42 • Man Made
79 • Never Stand Still
Justin van den Bogaardt 83 • Historic Melancholic
85 • Here Stood the Church
87 • The Dancer
CHER JOJI Stephen McCarthy Cher Joji, I was very happy to get your letter of the 30th and to know that everyone had arrived safely. I hope that the journey was not too rough, and I hope that everyone has recovered by now, especially Kiki. Please tell her from me that she needs to take care of herself, even if by the time you read this she is probably running around like her old self. And do not worry yourself over that small chest. I am sure that there is nothing of very much worth in there, and whatever is in there can be replaced very easily. Mostly things here are fine, except for something I’ll tell you about later. Maman is feeling better today, but last week she was the worst I have seen her. You know her better, of course, and perhaps it was normal, but I had trouble consoling her. She would not get out of bed, and when she did she just lay on the chaise longue and looked out of the windows. I can hear her walking about as I write this, so hopefully she is still fit by the time you are reading this. Old Fozeur is still as good as can be expected, though I seem to feel him getting slower bit by bit every day. He needs help from little Alcée now to push the full barrow, but he can still do the watering and trimming on his own. He is still very nice to me; I think he would still like to spoil me as he must
have when I was young. He should take care of Alcée more, teach him about more than cultivating gardens, but it is not very bad that he does not at the moment; I try to play with him, and I think that he likes me as much as Old Fozeur. After all, he is a child; he needs to play. Marianne is still trying to get leave to see her people in Margaux, but Maman is not letting her. I do feel sorry for Marianne, because she hasn’t seen her people for a while now – and I hear that her father is not doing too well either – but she shouldn’t press Maman so. She knows how Maman gets, and that Maman will not change her mind in a hurry, and that asking her every day will only make her more resolute. Thankfully Marianne has not asked in the last few days. I thought Maman would start shouting the last time. She is good, Marianne, as you know, but still, sometimes I do feel it would be better for everyone if she could think a bit more (is it cruel of me to say that, dear?). The rain is definitely coming. The clouds have gotten thicker for the past week or two now, and we got our first bit of thunder a day or so ago. I was just going downstairs, and everyone was coming in, Old Fozeur, Alcée, Marianne with the râgout (I have taken to having them all at the table for meals – I hope you do not mind? It is
simply that it gets lonely now that you are gone and Maman does not come down. And besides, they are all quite polite and make good conversation, even little Alcée). Suddenly a loud thunderclap came and made us all jump. Marianne nearly dropped the râgout, and little Alcée was certainly scared. I went upstairs to check Maman, who was angry at me for not having shut the windows earlier in the day. Now I shut them in the morning every day, sometimes without even asking her, just in case there comes another thunderclap, or the rain comes in earnest. Which reminds me of what I have to tell you. It was only a day or two after the start of the month when Maman asked me to shut the windows early in the morning. As I was doing so, I thought I saw a man coming up the grass towards the house. I went downstairs to discover that I was right. I decided to go out and meet him myself; Old Fozeur was out in the garden, and I did not want Maman upsetting herself about anything he might say (you know how he is). I went out onto the terrasse and met him. He was about the same age as you, and he had one of those brown vestes croisées on, like the one Uncle Charles had. He stopped as he saw me, I think, and bowed a little. ‘Madame.’ He said at first. I nodded. ‘I am hoping that I am at the residence of
a Monsieur Georges Pasconeau. Might I be in the acquaintance of Madame Pasconeau?’ I was shocked. I did not know quite what to say at first. I did not know anyone else knew your middle name, and who would address you (or anyone else, for that matter) by it? I was so shocked that, in fact, I simply said, ‘No.’ He looked at me, then bowed, and turned, giving his apologies for disturbing the lady of the house – yes, quite, he used those words. He turned and was gone. I tried not to think too much of it, but he kept returning to my mind through the day. I didn’t recognise him, from our trips to Grande Rivière, or from the few times I came into New Mulhouse with you. When Maman asked, all I said was that he was looking for someone who did not live here. I hoped to Great God that he would not return. But he did the next morning. It was exactly the same as the day before, though I saw him from my room, and he asked for you by your last name. I asked him who he was at that. He only replied, ‘I am an acquaintance of his. I assume I am having the pleasure of conversing with Madame Vigier?’ I said that he had, and asked him why he was asking after you. ‘I was merely interested in contacting your husband, Madame. I could have sent a letter, but I was in the village doing business yesterday, and thought I would come by the house.’ I asked him then what he was doing here
today. He didn’t reply for what seemed to be a long time, but looked at me. I was getting quite uneasy, and was going to ask him again, until he said, ‘My business was not complete by yesterday evening. I decided to stay another night in the village.’ I asked him what it was he wished to talk to you about. He merely said it was a matter of little importance and that he would come back some other time. He was turning away from me when he looked back and said, ‘But my sincerest apologies, Madame, I have committed you the gross indecency of not introducing myself. My name is Selyan Delafontaine. It is an honour to make your acquaintance.’ As I offered him my hand I tried to think – Delafontaine? The closest I could remember was the Delarues, and their pesky children who would always wake us up during the night when we stayed in town. Do you know a Selyan Delafontaine? There was something about him that I did not like, though he seemed really quite a charming person. He offered to have us around for dinner sometime in the next week, and when I said I did not know when you would be back, he offered to only have me around. I must admit, I was somewhat flattered – I hope you are not too angry with me for saying that – though I said that I was not particularly sure. He offered me his calling card, which I have on my desk in front of me as I write this, and said that I was more than welcome to call at any time.
I have not done so. Joji, what should I do? Maman had words for me that evening. I know you do not like me saying so, but I tried not to pay her very much attention. I should have sent him away properly yesterday, I should not have spoken to him when he came again today, I should have let Old Fozeur deal with him, he would have sent him on his way, that man’s sort were always trouble. I was going to ask Maman whether or not she knew of a man named Selyan Delafontaine, but I thought it best to leave it. She was quite shaken when I left her, Marianne having come up to help her back to her bed. Now that I think of it, perhaps that is why she was in the state that she was in the past week. Joji, who is Selyan Delafontaine? Should I be worried? In any case, I hope you are taking good care of yourself, and that the little ones are being very good. Please tell me more of everything – you know that it still pains me a little that it was all so sudden, and that you took them with you. Please give them very many hugs and kisses from me, but do not give them all away; save some for yourself also. With great love, toujours, Votre Chérie
WRONG ORDER OF A STORY Gwen Buckland-Watts
The sky looks like a fork has been taken to it and in the grated indents, between the neatly lined up grey blurs, a little sun shines through. I haven’t seen the sun in what felt like weeks. Or more so I hadn’t seen it that bright: what I had seen had been the dollar store version of the real thing, half-dipped behind clouds, obscured from view from offending trees. What I had seen would retreat as soon as it could, from this bitter winter sky that darkened early and woke up late. It’d been raining for a week and I had been walking for a mont--- My sister, electric white blonde hair in braids, turns to me and says, “That was nasty.” with the brutal honesty only a fourteen year old can deliver and I feel that familiar slink of shame entwine itself around my heart and tug it back into place. She’s right, I should know bett--
When our friendship ended, in high school, in that terrible silence that came after we both said, words strung together in the ugliest way possible, I realised for the first time how awful it is to lose an intangible thing; this warm soup of a feeling, which is, I admit, perhaps not the most poetic way to describe love, but how I see it. All-consuming and surrounding and somehow kept alive by two people smiling. -- Lunch break at uni and I’m telling that other friend, the one who does Chemistry, Alice, that I want to be better, that I’ve done some self-scrutiny and I don’t like what I see and she scrunches up her face and says, “I think your personality is just negative. Who has time to self-actualize when there are assignments to do?” -- There are a symphony of sounds in the dark, in the bush, twigs breaking, leaves scratching against my tent, unseen
animals doing unseen business and at the beginning I kept thinking about that story I read, about the tourists who were murdered by that man in the bush, not far from here and I wondered how many sounds in the black were huma --- humming to the verse of something silly by a band I’m too embarrassed to admit I like and the verse comes on and the screeching vocals emitted from my well-battered phone cause a flock of birds to scatter, the branch beneath them shuddering with the sudden movement, the sudden lose, as they divert and regroup, flashes of red in the sky. -- Somewhere along the way, I think we forgot how to talk. Maybe twenty years of living together under the same roof meant we exhausted all possible routes of conversation; dinner follows the familiar script of inquiry and birthday cards seem the same after awhile. -- The signs says: ‘5 KILOMETERS TO BLACK MURRAY ROAD’ and I stop and stare. Four weeks done and I’m five kilometers away from civilisation, from worries about money and texting the right thing and mirrors that inflict pain and drinks that make me say the wrong thing, always the wrong thing. Five kilometers away from coffee and someone I love wrapping their feet around mine and my mother, always playing the music too loud in the car. Five kilometers away from --
-- People always say we look the same. We get mistaken for each other in supermarkets, in the aisles of Officeworks. This is annoying, I want to say, whenever I answer to her name from a strangers lips, because can’t you see that we are NOT the same? Here’s the checklist: One of us is taller. One of us has freckles. One of us likes musicals and the other prefers plays. One of us is louder and one of us is funnier and oh my god we are so different, that to see her and to see the essence of her is to recognise that she is not me -- She wasn’t there to wave me off when I got off the bus and began my descent into the belly of the bush. I hadn’t asked, but I had wondered, when I had begun to walk, on that first day, with a month of only my thoughts and W.H Auden for company, if she had thought of me when going about her day. Here I was, conjuring her, I could write our names in the mud on the path and no one would know, the rain would wash it off in the night, the imprint would not leave a trace: other people had walked this path, and after me, other people would follow. I was not special, dreaming and thinking with the trees surrounding me. And yet it felt like I was, it felt like this was a voyage into the unknown, which would come to be known to me and me alone, and as much as I would speak of it after, something about it would be mine, unable to be unwrapped by an enthusiastic vocabulary, IPhone photos. I would take something that I
couldn’t share, that I couldn’t give back, something with a capital S. -- “That’s mine.” She said, when I was packing. Pointing to the shirt I was weari --
-- And suddenly there was three of us, six years old and me and her rushed to the hospital and there’s this new thing, this bawling creature, clenched fists, refusing to let anyone have a good time. “This is--
-- Eight years old and staying at some seaside town, sand in our hair and face, lips cracked and parched, too many days spent kicking the waves and burning our skin, on a hammock with our parents looking out into the view of the harbour at night. My father points at the ships on the horizon, flashing lights of yellow and orange and pink and he says that they look like floating cities --
-- It was the youngest that brought the book home, from a second hand book shop nearby. One year out of uni and no clue about what I was doing. ‘Here,’ she said, thrusting something fat and earmarked my way, pages sprawling, the pictures inside green and inviting, ‘it worked for reese witherspoon.’ get off your ass is what she meant, but we were raised in that English way--
--“No it’s not.” I say and pack it anyw --- T.S Elliot, that miserable bastard, wrote that we measure our lives by coffee spoons and I remember reading that in high school and all those years as a teenager that were just grey, just dreary, filled with pointless homework, stupid worries, trying to pull the strings of my own life but they were always in someone else’s hands and then, all at once, thrust to me at eighteen and I was unprepared
-- I haven’t had a shower in what feels like years and there’s blisters adorning every place that was once soft and fragile; I’m more blue than white, my body the sacrifice I made in order to get from Point A to Point B. Although maybe I’m being too dramatic about this, maybe I really just should have prepared more, exercised more, gone on smaller bushwalks leading up to this one like the book sa--
-- I finally understand what they mean about brooks burbling, the sound of water quickly skimmer over smooth stones, in a hurry to get somewhere, fish brown and black and blue divulging in the gaps between these stubborn rocks. I take off my shoes and my socks and stand where the water isn’t too deep, relishing in the sweet feeling of something unfurling and stretching
-- there’s a photo of the three of us, curled up on a couch in a shack some ancestor of ours built a long time ago, on a forgotten coast of Tassie. We’ve all got ribbons in our hair, all wearing nice dresses, stained vividly purple by mulberry juice, lips blue, even streaks of the berry down her cheeks, across my collarbone; the third with violet fists clenching the gathered lace of her skirt.
We’re wearing the same smile in the afternoon sun: gleeful, guilt-free. -- “It’s actually mine.” the third says, airpods in, seeing the disputed shirt in my suitcase. I wait. My other sister waits. The air between us suspended and tight, barbed wire pinning the three of us here, together. She shrugs. “But I was going to donate it anyway, so you can have it.”
And there she was. And there she was, too. Both of them, waiting. As I trudged towards them, small figures growing large, I realised that we were all wearing the same shirt.
The indents grow. Or shrink. I don’t even really understand my own metaphors but what I’m trying to tell you is this: everything was an electric orange and there was nothing, no trees, no mountains, blocking me from the splendour. I stopped and I looked” and then I kept walking.
A Time for Everything 1999. Buying time. Wasting time. A good time. Itâ€™s time to leave. What time will he come? 4.30pm. Working a 9 to 5. Sometime. It takes some time. I take my time. He took my time. That was a waste of time. That was five years ago. The due date. In due time. Killing time. Yesterday or the day before that? If I could go back in time. She has too much time. For the billionth time. A time for everything.
THE LOST HOUR Nina Greenhill
She picked the bag up. It was lighter. Panic set in. She went through the red pocket, the blue compartment and the yellow section of the backpack. Her boss, Father Time would fire her or worse - slow her time down. She hated that. Last time it happened, she had washed her hair for three hours, painfully aware of each second passing. Each of the hours was there in the bag but the thirteenth hour brick was missing. She couldnâ€™t see it amongst the other twelve. It was almost the end of eleven oâ€™clock. The tenth was plugged into a portable charger. Father Time would not be happy. He had left her in charge whilst he went on his holiday.
She looked into the bag again, seeing nine pens. Eight of them were out of ink but she could never figure out which. She had been on shift for seven hours and was feeling the tiredness. Father Time never got tired. She supposed that was because he could constantly reset his own body clock. She stood, trying to think where that battered thirteenth hour brick was. It had been a while since it had been used, but she was sure she had packed it in the bag. It was the last left and was getting rather worn. The cold war had used quite a few of the bricks up. She turned her attention back to the bag.
She had six chocolate bars left that were mixed in with the hours. They were part bribery for her five-year-old brother, who Mother Nature had left with her four hours ago. Mother Nature had grabbed Father Time and left. They’d be gone for the weekend and left her, their daughter in charge. She couldn’t help but think that this was nowhere near as stressful as when she had to be Baby New Year. Neither did her little brother have to be it anymore either, so that was a weight off their shoulders. She would wonder later how wise Father Time had been to let his daughter put in the hours he was away. She took out the next hour and put it in the back pocket of her overalls, so she was ready to switch it out. She may have been 18 in human years, but she knew how to be organised, despite what her parents thought. She looked around. The repair bench was cluttered up with malfunctioning hours. If she could fix a previous version of the hour she needed, she might get out of this problem. She could hear the breathing of her brother asleep underneath the bench. She was good at fixing time. Father was certain that nothing really needed fixing as they were due to get a new shipment of bricks in any day now. He had been saying this for the past three months. She knew, because she had marked the order date and time on the calendar, the
ledger and the noticeboard. It would have been fine if he hadn’t waited until the last possible moment to order them. That was the last time the thirteenth hour was used. She cleared the bench, getting ready to work. Some would say that she needed to prioritize, but she thought her time management was spot on. She had learnt it from the person who literally invented it. She found three bricks she could use but it all depended on what their problems were. Some hours went too fast, and others went too slow. Some just disappeared entirely. It was always a trick to tweak them just right. She tied her hair in a short ponytail and rolled up her sleeves, ready to get to work. She got a screwdriver and took apart the case of the broken red brick. Grabbing a tiny pair of jumper cables, she restarted the hour brick. It whirred its little fans to life. She read the display and saw it flicker in and out. This repair would take too long. This one needed new parts shipped in, and the last time she had manipulated time to speed up a delivery, she had been banned from the control room. Now that she was back and ‘responsible’ she wasn’t going to let that slip through her fingers again. The pink brick was next, the number spray-painted on. She loved it when she got to use the stencil and number them. But taking it apart, she saw the wires
inside had melted. She threw it to the spare parts bin. It was a pity she couldnâ€™t use it to fix the red one. Holding the yellow one, she wished. She wished that this problem was solvable. Opening it up, she found a single unconnected wire. She jammed it into its port and connected the tiny jumper cables. The brick came to perfect life. She switched its battery with a fully charged one, putting its case back on with impressive speed. She took the brick over to the line-up, impressed with her tackling of the situation. She sat back down at the work bench, figuring that a good use of the next hour was to keep repairing the broken ones. She needed a small break first and to check on her brother. She put her hand into her bag and took out two chocolate bars. She ate one and went to give the other to her little brother, slamming her elbow into the wooden bench, effectively numbing it. She tried to keep her pain inside but a groan escaped her. She took a breath and waited for the tingle to pass. Her brother was still asleep, and upon looking closer, he was cuddling something. She knelt down and saw he was cuddling a brick. The very same hour she had lost.
THE UNKNOTTER Christine Wiltshier
She sits unpicking the seam Yarn begins to work free . . .
She is becoming the opposite of the three fates:
Unravelling not spinning Unravelling not weaving Unravelling not cutting
Will she cut or pull the yarn free Saving the threads for what? She pulls at the yarn with just her fingers Teasing . . . stretching . . . unravelling, one stitch at a time Wool caresses her fingers They are her tools now Easing, stretching . . . unravelling
When her daughter first played with yarn She became â€œmummy the unknotterâ€? Following in the wake of knotted and plaited laces, ribbons, fringes . . . hair Daily she walks across a single forgotten remnant of playful dexterity.
Leila Frijat (Content Warning: mental illness, grief)
My mother had been the proud sales manager of a small stationary firm for 15 years. And in all of those years, my favourite story was about the man she once knew who would hiccup every day. Like clockwork and almost as loudly as these hiccups themselves, my mother would hear the colourful curses of this man as he tried to clean up the newly spilt coffee stains off his shirt.
“Did he eat too quick mum? You always say that to me when I get the hiccups” I said.
“His shirts are almost like loyalty cards by this point,” She would say with pride of the joke she had countlessly repeated to me over the years. Her eyes would shoot towards my own in anticipation for the punchline. “Every ten coffee-stained stamps gets you a change of clothes!” We would then sing together as she grabbed at my sides to hold me up to the sky.
“Oh! I know! It’s like that thing that makes Penelope squint her eyes randomly!”
I still remember this one time that she hurried home to tell me about the man. His latest hiccup, she told me, was so loud that it pierced through the clacks of long nails against keyboards and even silenced the murmur of the photocopier machine. After a painfully long silence, she had realised that he hadn’t even cursed this time. And just as she was about to ask him whether he was okay, he shot up and left the office. Not returning for the rest of the day.
She shook her head, only spurring more potential reasons to come tumbling out. “Maybe his belly isn’t happy?” “Hmm, I don’t think so,” She hummed.
“Oh, baby no, it’s not like that” mum airily laughed as she continued combing through my hair. “Then what ma?” I whined as I exhausted all of my potential ideas. She was silent long after my question had dissipated into the air. The mood stilled as she combed through my hair with her motherly precision. I could hear her mouth open and close as though she was trying to catch the answer that was threatening to spill out. And as I began to fall into the space between here and there, I could hear her murky voice in the distance as she finally answered. I never did remember what she said that day. My fickle mind never thought to ask her again. A few weeks after the incident
had occurred, mum lamely concluded that the man had moved departments. The man that would hiccup every day now reduced to a funny anecdote that we reminisced about. That was until I started having this issue, where parts of myself wouldn’t work the way they were meant to. I was never really bothered by them; they were never anything too serious. Usually just odd, small quirks that would make me look a bit silly. Like my legs veering in an unknown direction or my vision focusing in ways that I did not want it to. They were never harmful. My friends had even started to routinely check for new little quirks that I had acquired since the last time we had met. One friend even concerningly mentioned that they appeared to be growing in frequency and complexity. “Aren’t you worried? I know this year has been stressful…” They let the sentence linger. They watched me swish the dregs of my drink precariously around the edges of my cup. It was silent for a moment too long. “Ah I didn’t mean to remin-” In hopes to interrupt their awkward retraction, I laughed an airy laugh that I had learnt from mother. I had seen her masterfully use this wispy noise to whisk away any tension in the air. It also
bought me enough time to conjure a seemingly convincing reassurance for my friend. “Nah, I guess it’s just one of those weird things that your body does. You know? It’s like that guy that my mum knew…” I finally answered as I finished the rest of my drink. “Surely, I’ve told you this story… right?” I asked as I searched to see their worried expression falter. Their curiosity had betrayed their worry as they looked down to shake their head. I quietly thanked them for accepting my invitation for the socially graceful departure from the tense moment. I steered the conversation far enough away from their question and began the well-rehearsed tale about the man who would hiccup every day. Our night continued its usual path, where we pretended this was our last drink and filled silences with long sips. But nothing about our night was normal as my mind refused to let go of the memory of my morning with the most recently acquired quirk. See, I could no longer count the number of times that I had woken up in the middle of the night, to find myself with tears that were not my own. I hadn’t even cried since the death of my mother and yet here I found myself crying for a person that I did not know. The first
time it had happened, I did something odd. In my delirious state I started to console the terrors of this person that seems to exist where I slept.
“Oh, I didn’t know” I softly replied. She shrugged as she continued humming to herself, keenly aware that I had more to say.
“Don’t worry, I’m awake now. Don’t be scared” I would coo, as I rocked the both of us back to a gentle sleep. While odd at first, it seemed to work. Particularly bad nights would find me awake with a blocked nose and a heavy worry for them as I waited for our sobs to slowly subside. I always found that as my nose cleared, our breaths would fall into a synchronous rhythm leading us both back to sleep.
“I dunno why I’m so nervous about tomorrow” I confess, as I watch the last clouds of our warm teas fight against the frigid morning air.
While this new quirk was nothing more than an odd occurrence that happened from time to time, I had begun to grow fond of them. They were a welcome addition to my otherwise empty days, obliging me with afternoon naps to succeed their nightly visits. There were other days where I struggled to fall back asleep after calming them down. Cynthia seemed to always know those days and she would sleepily drop her arm across my body. The weight of her arm a threat to not wake her up, so I would lay still and watch as the gooey warm light of the morning slowly begin to fill the room with its pink hue. “You wriggle around too much when you’re awake” She answered as we sat on the veranda to watch the day start for the people who weekdays belonged to.
“Aw, I don’t blame you, hun. I think she’ll understand if you cancel – it’s only drinks.” Cynthia replied as she placed her legs across my lap. “No, I’ll go. It would be good to get out of the house” I answered as I stared off towards the crowds of people that walked towards the station. It had been days since I had to help soothe my nightly visitor from their terrors. I had noticed that I would fall into the gaps between lapses in conversation and thought. It was a space emptier than anything that I had ever known before. In hopes to find where my little quirk had disappeared, I allowed myself to travel into the creases of this place. I grew tired on my journey to locate where the quirk had gone and nestled myself comfortably between here and there. It was only until I felt Cynthia’s hand lead me off the veranda and towards our bed that I realised how long I had been gone.
“I can’t find them anywhere” I mumbled into her lap as she stroked my hair. Her hands paused momentarily almost as though she was startled to hear my voice. “I know” she whispered as she continued. I opened my eyes to look at her, “I miss them”. “I know.” She says again, the confirmation securing me enough to fall back again into sleep. I remember the feeling of violently resurfacing back into consciousness that night. At first, I was prepared to help settle the terrors of my nightly neighbour. However, my dry eyes told me that I was not awake because of the tears or terrors of this person at all. The realisation quickly brought along an all-consuming darkness that pushed down against my chest. My laboured breath worked against the pressure as my hand blindly searched to catch the thread of the cord by the bed. As I heard the click, I watched as the room flooded with light. I refused to listen to the screaming white spots that filled my vision and allowed the soft light to sooth my raspy breath. Slowly I started to watch the spots lazily swirl into the blades of the gently rocking fan above me. They continued to swirl and grow to form watery bubbles that sat on top of my vision.
“Is it our neighbour?” Cynthia grumbled into the pillow as she hid from the piercing light. The lack of my response alerted Cynthia that this was not the case and despite my best efforts, a sob begun to emerge from the space that I had grown all too familiar with over the past few days. What started as a whimper quickly reverberated throughout my entire body. With each sob, my body further folded into itself as it tried to block out the world around it. Cynthia was careful to interrupt. She turned the lights off in an effort to offer me some semblance of privacy as I slowly started to follow the routine that I had performed countless times now. As my sobs started to subside, I felt my body fall limp into Cynthia’s embrace where she held me until my breath steadied. The silence that we shared captured time in between our embrace as we waited until the early morning light pierced through the cracks of our curtains. “I think I’m ready to go visit her.” “I think she would like that.” The turbulent events of the early morning faded into the back of my mind as I shared the story of the man who Mum once knew. As the last of my friends laughs melted into the sounds of the pub, we stood to leave. We walked together the familiar route to our homes in a comfortable silence until I suddenly
found myself pushed into their arms. “I’ve really missed you” they mumbled into my shoulder. I squeezed them tightly in response. When we finally parted ways, I realised that my shirt had been stamped with a salty farewell and I was left to wonder whether I had done exactly the same thing to the person that existed in the space where I slept.
Teeth seem misplaced A jaunty walk Flamingos in a sea of black I recognize these people from photos I’ve taken at birthday parties But nobody ever hires a funeral photographer What moment would you look out for anyways? Usually it is a smile, a laugh, a hug Would it be a tear, a cry, a hug? A touchy director of this horror film No one will ever want to re-watch My mum says “She has to be” I wonder how long it took her to learn the right measure of a hug or hand on shoulder to strangers My little black number turned sombre I line up to see her with her makeup done Differently A rare sight Doll like
MISPL ACED TEETH
No movies prepare you for the real instead this feels like a movie This feels like something I shouldn’t be seeing Filipino body But you never realize just how small someone is until they’re in a box We take our seat For the show A ritual unfolds There is a sort of voyeurism We watch them cry and it makes us cry more A ripple of sniffles But for a moment despite my mother’s tissues She is the giggle at the funeral The deceased’s ex-lover and husband look like they could be brothers Some people really do have a type My neck hurts from looking up at the circular stained-glass ceiling My clock as I watch the colours shift with the sun
Keeping track of time Stained sheets and stained lives A three-year-old’s incomprehension “Mummy’s nose was bleeding” And a one-year-old in the dark House all alone aside from a corpse A father who each time we are told to stand up Rises with both in arm An estranged mother’s ugly cries seeming touched But as we drive back I learn from my own that When her daughter was younger she had touched her In ways and places a mother should never Truth be told I am the self-absorbed teenager Initially lacking a grasp of the gravitas My own insignificant in comparison bad news delivered right before we entered I must miss a concert later at night already paid for, for a bullshit reason A mask of my grief with grief of the suitable kind Till I choke on the mourning air and the empathy kicks in Masquerade fades as I wash my face with true tears for them Hymns are a bad compromise But we all have a ticket to death Her friend who organised the event Says her greatest achievement was as a mother
I realize I agree, find it to be held in high esteem I wonder if that is my mother’s aim But know she cannot say the same I realize I want to be known for bringing children into the world of a different kind A slideshow rolls I feel sick to my stomach Sure a photo I took will show It doesn’t You think it will end after the first song Then “Oh my god okay after the second song” Then “It HAS to end after the third song” It is four songs long with photos taken seconds apart A desire to somehow have the premonition to organise my own funeral slideshow manifests Because why the fuck would you include a selfie with the Snapchat dog filter Finally, it is over But then there are the familiar red velvet cupcakes And pistachio macaroons from birthday parties A friend of hers a pâtissier I hold it in my hand Once again there is that parallel I process life in poetry And now I do death
LE FO B A
Fork tines and knife serrates Scrape against ceramic, Against plastic, Against paper We have all sat there, Scraping and scrapping, Tasting rice and meat, Tossing words and heat On this mahogany battleground Some sit in their trenches Throwing slurs and sticks Others run, seeking escape Freedom from the vocal pricks This table is treacherous A silent debate: Over traumas and hopes Shoved against the ropes On this table, Families fall apart Others come together A table for love And a table for hate A table for just eating Or a table for anything.
WITNESS James Kemp
(Content Warning: domestic abuse, assault)
We're in the kitchen when your father arrives angry, but trying to hide it for once, wanting what he always does. You fold your arms and stare him down while I casually murder some ants who won't stop stealing my jam. 'We talked about this, Dad. It's not happening.' You say like you did a thousand times in my dreams, and yours. He sees, somehow, that you mean it â€” then turns and walks away. And my helplessness goes with him.
Ugly Girls Belle Campbell
(Content Warning: body image)
Me and the ugly girls sit in the car park waiting for the world to end. Me and the ugly girls have scars we can’t explain, that itch in the cold and speak in silences. Like last week’s trash we unfold ourselves in group prayer, creased and wrinkled and lined. Me and the ugly girls are performing a new play called Life where we pretend to be ok with being ugly. In Act I, Scene IV we all write for a Feminist Magazine called The Unplucked Brow,
and when we get home we stalk our co-worker’s Instagrams. Like all millennials we want to feel special and we hate the success of others. Me and the ugly girls are waiting for the world to end in the hope that there will be another. Sometimes I feel like I could sit still hands clasped like stone. Only to be discovered in the year 3029 by a young man who remarks, ‘I’ve never seen such beauty. What a shame she’s so ugly.’
P SH O K
(Content Warning: body image, self harm)
*****NEW VIDEO***** MY TOP TEN GIRL HACKS!! BOYS, CONFIDENCE, PERIODS, TANNING, DIY BEAUTY HACKS!!!!!!!!!! *****MUST WATCH***** HI GUYS< WELCOME TO MY CHANELLE!! Blue light reflected on flushed face reflected on cold screen. So loud, she pierces my skin. My skin. Hurting. It’s quiet here, and I can’t hear the rain. It hasn’t rained in months. FIRST OF ALL U WANNA MAKE SUR U DRINK A BIG GLASS OF LEMON WATER EVERY MORNING< IT”S REALLY GOOD FOR UR HEALTH< UR VITALITY< UR STRENTH< UR MOOD< UR S K I N > ALL THA T GOOD SHIT> Usually, when it rains around here, I feel the sound on my skin. My neck, my shoulders, the insides of my wrists. A drum beating soaking wet hair, a single sheet covering a body that rises and falls, slowly, with the rise and fall of the rain. From here, where my head lies, if I turn my eyes (naked) down enough, I can see that body (my body) rising and falling.
2 Rising, too high. Falling, not low enough. Displacing the sheet so fiercely with my flesh; and it was somehow less opaque. That’s what I am. Too opaque. if only there were less of it, Lifelike. 3 Love? Are you awake? Yeah, I’m right here. Do you remember last year, the way our hands fitted together the way I needed you the way your lips met my lips; awkwardly, clumsily, new, I MEAN WHO HAS TIME FOR TOXIC PEOPLE???? ALL YOU”VE GOTTA DO IS CUT THEM STRAIGHT OUT ((((( )))))) NO ONE GOT TIME FOR TOXIC POEPEL< YOU”VE GOTTA LOOK AFTER YOURSELF!!!! LOOK AFTER URSELF GURL I MEAN YOU”VE GOT TO CHERISH YOUR LIFE AND AKCNOWLEDGE UR VALUE I MEAN h o n e s t ly CUT THEM OUT>BIIIITCH!!!!! and cold.
4 đ&#x;‘?đ&#x;‘? đ&#x;‘?đ&#x;‘? I was hurting and Iâ€™m still hurting. He doesnâ€™t answer Silence, dry and empty. A quiet inhalation, and exhalation and inhalation and exhalation. The space between my fingers clammy slightly, the throbbing in my ears replaced by nothing. I reach out to touch the shoulder that lies beside mine. Still still warm and it is too dark to see his face. I didnâ€™t speak. 5 Back then, And of course, Hurt, rising and falling, slowly, with the rise and fall of the rain. I didnâ€™t speak. he never saw (me). I just want to go back to her hug her harder than anyoneâ€™s ever hugged her. hold her head GURL< YOU ARE WORTH MORE THAN THAT!!!!!!! SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT GURL< BINCH< KNOW UR WORTH> HONESTLY< JUST GO GET A FACIAL< A PEDICURE< A SMOOTHIE< WHATEVERE MAKES U FEEL LIKE A GODDESS ANGEL> GURL< AND KNOW ((( ))) UR ((( ))) WORTH KNOW UR GODDAMN WORTH GURL !!!! smooth her hair back
6 đ&#x;‘?đ&#x;‘?đ&#x;‘?đ&#x;‘? Tell her (You deserve so much So much better than this shit). Tell her that sheâ€™s beautiful but one day that all that shit, all those shit people But that was years ago, and this is now and yet last night I lost an arm, a leg, and a lover theyâ€™ll be gone. GURL U ARE FUCKEN BEAUDIFULLLLLL JUST STAND UP TALL STOP CURLING YOUR BACK UNCROSS UR ARMS AND I CAN (GUA) (RAN) (TEE) THAT U WILL FEEL 100% BETTER matter, and hurt, YOUâ€?VE GOT TO TAKE CARE OF YOURESELFFFFFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 7
All while I was lying in bed, my ability to write my ability to walk my lover a 45 minute walk away, alone in his bed, arms legs still intact, never giving Painting. loveâ€™s second thoughts a second thought. my voice left too, along with my ability to hold back my anger. Slowly, over my eyelashes, slides slick, black paint. TODAY Iâ€?LL BE SHOWING YOU AREALLY EASY WINTER TO SPRING TRANSITIONAL MAKEUP ROUTINE THATâ€?LL MAKE UR SKINN LOOK DEWY< FRESH< AND GLOWY!! ITâ€?S HONESLT SO EASY< IT TAKES LITERALLY FIVE MINUTES AND IT
Darkening them; how they should look. I blink repeatedly, the wand held They begin to feel heavier, look heavier, away, curling, yet curling, upwards, in front of me. curling curdling, Once again I am tired. thickening, clumping, SSO WHAT U WANNA DO NOW IS JUST TAKE THE EYELINER< I USUALLY USE A PENCIL BEACUSE IT IS SO MUCH EASIER THAN THE WANDS <AND THEN YOU JUST SLOWLY OUTLINE THE TOP LASH LINE AND ALSO THE LOWER LASH LINE< A line forms slowly just above my upper lashes, darkening. The PENCIL seems to pierce my skin; I flick out a slight wing from the corner of my eye.
LOOKS ~SO~ NATURAL AND GORGEOUS> IF YOU”RE NEW HERE< DONT FORGET TO SUBSCRIBE AND CLICK THE NOTIFICATION BELL< AND AS ALWYAS< REMEMBER TO LIKE< COMMENT< AND SUBSCRIBE>
Cleansing. AFTER I”M FINISHED WITH MY EYEBORWS I USUALLY C O N T O U R MY FACE BECAUSE HONESTLY WHO DON”T WANT THAT FUKEN NEAPOLITAN ICE CREAM FALVOURED CHEEKBONES FACE BONES< THERE”S NOTHING SADDER THAN A FLAT MONOCOLOURED FACE THAN AN UNCHISLED CHEEK BONE bitch NOTHING. ,,,,
I stand there, (here); opaque, and lifelike; as the blood drawn by my eyeliner PENCIL seeps through my lashes and onto my cheeks, and then further down, to my chin, my neck, dripping onto my clothes and the soft, warm carpet beneath my feet.
I trace my lower lash line now; the eyeliner is no longer black, but red; a black, black red, which washes away the mascara, washes away the brightness under my eyes. My eyes too small, nose too red, forehead crinkled slightly and skin Skin: opaque, and lifelike.
Cleansing. When it rains around here, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , I feel the sound on my skin and other places on my wrists, the corners of my eyes, the space above my head (above above my head, above the roof of the train, in the space where it’s always sunny, even when it’s not). , , , , , ,, , ,, The droplets are pregnant, and heavy. They steam, and fog up the bathroom mirror. (Opaque). I can’t see her anymore. rising Steam around me, I massage cheap cleanser into my face, circles upon circles upon circles on wet, hot, skin. Rinsing it off, massaging wet, hot, skin, and I can’t see her anymore. Out of the shower now, dripping wet onto the bathroom mat, my cat scratches at the door. I didn’t speak. A few drops of toner on a cotton pad, swiped across my face in front of the mirror, still fogged up, and I don’t s ee her anymore. Again, a cheap moisturiser massaged in circles onto my skin. YOUR SKIN LOOKS LIKE BUTTER!!!!!!!LIKE ACUTALLY SOOOOO GOOOOOOOOOOOD Cheap butter someone left the breadcrumbs in from an afternoon vegemite toast.
1kg for $19.99! $19.99!!!! I am soft, I am clean. I smell lovely. The pimple on my left cheek is clearing away now, I know it, it’s all cleaned out and only a red bump remains. I can feel it, I can really feel it, THIS WEEK”S TOTALLYY GONNA BE A GOOD SKIN WEEK I KNOW IT!!! A GOOD OLD GOOD SKIN GOOD WEEK111111
Bathroom lights out. Bedroom lights out. And I don’t see her anymore.
ARCHIVED VIRTUAL Cyma Hibri
Archived Virtual Bodies: Incomplete Notes on Online Anthropology and Fetishizing Fetish 1. I’m late to the party, only recently having stumbled across the body of work of Net artist Jon Rafman. Rafman’s practice operates under a Post-Internet framework, creating video works and installations that seek to critically engage with contemporary modes of sociality. A self-described ‘amateur anthropologist’, Rafman documents the supposedly overlooked crevices of the internet (fringe social media sites like 4chan, DeviantArt and Tumblr, and online metaverses such as Second Life) where often misunderstood subcultures and their discontents might emerge. The following are some disorganized and wholly unresolved thoughts regarding the ethical implications of art as anthropology in the post-digital world, with a wavering focus on Rafman’s body of work: 2. One could say there are some visceral similarities between contemporary anthropological art methodologies and those described in Edward Said’s work on the Orientalist canon. The anthropological approach to art, whilst revised, seems inextricably tied to an historical flânerie of archiving, 1 Edward Said, Orientalism, 1978 2 Emily S Apter, Fetishism as Cultural Discourse, 1993, p 3. 3 William Gibson, Neuromancer, 1984, p 67..
mediating or even fabricating “precious relics”, supposedly pregnant with ethnographic potential and insight into the exotic. The common formula is as follows: artist documents subculture of interest; fashions aestheticized artefact from findings of said subculture; plonks it in White Cube. This often decontextualizes the document of the Other from its original site, potentially negating the subject’s encoded sociality (rituals, customs, lore etc.) necessary for its benevolent/informed interpretation. The ethnographic text is reduced to a fetishized object, subject to the “Eurocentric voyeurism of ‘other’ collecting” (perhaps elitist voyeurism is more appropriate here). I feel it necessary to clarify that by drawing this parallel, imprecise as it is, I do not intend to trivialize the enormous violence of cultural imperialism and its legacy, nor the significant deconstruction of these histories by postcolonial theorists like Said. Likening the scope and impact of colonialist tourism that paved the way for Orientalism to that of contemporary forms of cultural exploration only serves to perpetuate historically grounded acts of representational violence. I would instead like to draw attention
to questions of how the ambiguous power relations inherent to the documentation of human cultures inform the ethical implications of such praxes. How do considerations like those of representation, consent, and agency figure into the methodologies of contemporary art ethnographies? 3. In 2009, Jon Rafman conducted free guided “tours” of the enormous, multiplayer real-time virtual world (MUD) Second Life. His tour0guide avatar is Kool-Aid Man, the grinning mascot pitcher for the iconic American cordial drink. What now remains of this earlyish iteration of “participatory” Net Art is a collection of mundane video montages and slideshows of Kool-Aid Man perusing the vast cyber-geographical landscape of Second Life, occasionally stumbling across spaces allocated to online BDSM practitioners. Upon viewing these archives, one might notice the immediate humour of the tours. A smiling, anthropomorphised cartoon pitcher of red liquid placidly watches two sexdoll-like avatars engaging in stilted virtual intercourse. Perhaps it’s the irony of the real-world credibility Kool-Aid Man acquires when positioned next to such absurd figurations of online intimacy. Or maybe it’s the self-reflexive allure of a comically brash avatar, referentially busting through a wall and shrieking “Oh yeah!!! I’m subverting the role of the Troll!!!!!! I’m a Cyber Disrupt0r! This Is The Street Art/
Culture Jamming Of Web 2.0!@$%#’ William Gibson’s term referring to the shared experience of cyberspace as “consensual hallucination’ is particularly compelling here. 4. RE: Orientalism. There’s a moment in the Kool-Aid Man in Second Life montage on YouTube where KoolAid Man is reclining in a palatial living room, adorned with arabesque mosaic and furnishings; Persian rugs, ottomans. A feminine avatar wearing a skimpy bikini dances seductively for Kool-Aid Man, gyrating, occasionally glitching. I don’t know which contextual speculation I enjoy more: the scene being strictly pre-meditated to confirm the parallel between past and present forms of archival flânerie, or a simple aesthetic coincidence. 5. In his seminal indictment of The Artist as Ethnographer? (1995), Hal Foster describes the modern-day quasi-anthropologist as engaging in a process of “self-othering”. This entails the artist, subconsciously or otherwise, projecting an image of Otherness onto the ethnographic group they are representing. They either idealize the group as transgressive in their sheer nicheness or represent them as a microcosm of some sort of societal disparity. But in doing so, the artist casts themself as the Other, rather than bridging the chasm between author and subject of study. It almost seems too easy to say that Kool-Aid Man is Rafman’s form of self-othering. Rafman in fact
4 Hal Foster, The Artist as Ethnographer?, 1995, p 3. 5 Martin Kohout, A conversation with Jon Rafman about the Kool-Aid Man (in Second Life), 2010. http:// itsalreadynow.tumblr.com/post/570634983/a-conversation-with-jon-rafman-about-the-kool-aid
acknowledged the deliberate disparity between himself and those he sought to document: ‘It’s like I’m destroying the consistency of their make-believe,”. Several writings on Rafman’s work cite this quote, ostensibly to legitimize his trolling of Second Life as critical engagement with the digital subaltern. But as I see it, this statement makes an implicit assumption of total delusion on the part of those who participate in such social groups. It’s as though the function of this sort of pseudo-ethnographic work, beyond archiving what is seen as an alien spectacle of misinformed social practice, is to reinforce the divide between the highly self-and-sociallyaware artist and the escapist naivete of Second Life denizens. 6.This supposed divide in selfawareness is presented as the underlying thesis of Rafman’s ethnographies of digitally engaged fetishists. That their proclivities are the result of both an overexposure to and deprivation of diverse, saturated socialities through the framework of the internet, and an inadequate real-time social life. While not a completely implausible argument (all one must do is scroll through 4chan for five minutes to understand), this proposition can only crystallise through a lack of genuine engagement and collaboration with those Rafman seeks to represent. 7. Here’s a platitude for you: The Internet has changed everything. This includes the way we conduct
research through ethnographic art. The very processes that seemed so rigidly defined in Foster’s essay have expanded immensely over the last two decades, with unprecedented capacities for observation, documentation and distribution. Most obvious is the newfound ability to observe and record unnoticed in online spaces. Malin Sveningsson posits that such anonymity potentially “decreases the risk that the presence of a researcher influences the natural flow of the environment, and, thus… lets us observe cultures as they normally are” – a perspective seldom afforded to pre-internet anthropologists. But this development foregrounds a significant ambiguity regarding consent, one that is further obscured within intimate online spaces in which anonymity functions as a marker of both autonomy and self-protection. Rafman conducted his Second Life tours with a glaringly conspicuous avatar, immediately setting him apart as a self-conscious intruder in the virtual communities he infiltrates. However, there remains an obfuscation of intent and a reluctance to involve those he documents in an “intersubjective encounter”, which could be interpreted as a potential breach of consent. There is no evidence that those depicted in Rafman’s work are aware of or consenting to their involvement. That they might have felt in some way violated upon discovering their avatars (though distinct from their offline
6 Malin Sveningsson, Ethics in Internet Ethnography, 2003, p 47. 7 Larissa Hjorth & Kristen Sharp, The Art of Ethnography: the Aesthetics or Ethics of Participation?, 2014, p 128. 8 Sveningsson, p 58.
identities in their fantastical, idealised projection of self) is not at all unlikely. The effects of these revelations could potentially generate or perpetuate a lack trust between insiders and outsiders, and later limit accessibility for those who wish to conduct intersubjective research in earnest. A concrete example of this can be seen on Fetlife. Most users of the niche BDSM social network now include disclaimers in their bios along the lines of: “Institutions, study groups and/or individuals using this site or any of its associated sites: you do not have permission to use any of my personal information, correspondences, writings or pictures. If you have or do, it will be considered a serious violation of my privacy and personal property and will be subject to legal ramifications.” To have to reassert these rights (often taken for granted by most social media users) beckons fruitless, attention-worn questions: Is there such a thing as cybercorporeal agency? What do we consent to when we mark ourselves as present/ online within ill-defined virtual public spaces? 8. Guy Debord wrote in The Society of the Spectacle: “The spectacle’s estrangement from the acting subject is expressed by the fact that the individual’s gestures are no longer his own; they are the gestures of someone else who represents them to him.” One can’t help but imagine those whose avatars have ended up projected onto
screens in numerous Biennales, e-fluxed ad nauseum, feeling something similar. 9. By participating in online fetish spaces, a user will find that it’s often encouraged to contribute to the creative inventory of said space. By creative inventory, I mean the tools by which virtual kinksters populate and elaborate upon their experience of online power exchange or fetish fulfilment. In Second Life, many participants/fetishists contribute to the abundant marketplace of functional and ornamental fetish items/sex toys, available for purchase and use within the world. The creation and dissemination of user-made tools that enhance the potential for interpersonal engagement offers an insight into the importance of creative mediation within these online spaces. Rafman only briefly acknowledges the role of user intervention in the Second Life fetish scene: we see a few seconds of footage inside a small room, its walls plastered with advertisements for fetish-focused toys, such as functional, attachable vulvas with the ability to excrete cum, piss or blood. What the footage crucially misses, however, is the (arguably absurd) complexity and ingenuity of some of these fetish tools in shaping the experience of participants. For instance, a user can purchase a blindfold that, when worn, completely blackens the screen of the wearer, restraints that restrict the movement of avatars to varying degrees, and a variety
of gags that effectively block access to the in-game chat box. These seemingly peripheral details often figure into the bulk of anthropological insight, and are only afforded to those who engage with cultures beyond what they can only see from a vantage point. 10. “An ectoplasm-like substance recurs throughout Rafman's recent works, the characteristic gloop that figures as a shorthand for the gelatinous excess of virtual materiality. Treacly instantiations of an essentially fluid morphology, not unlike Rafman himself, whose attention-deficit world is reflected in his ever-mutable practice... the entropic waste of transmission, splurging out at the seams.” These concluding words in Gary Zhexi Zhang’s essay on Rafman’s work conjure a sequence of potent tableaux. The first of spermatic impulse, of a grotesque incontinence. I acquiesce to the image of literal ejaculate, iridescent and pooling at the bottom of a dirty sock, quickly relegated to one of many piles. It sits limp amongst older polyester vessels dried stiff, empty Slurpee cups, flecks of stale instant noodle, cigarette butts, and crumpled tissue jaundiced by the effects of self-quarantine. Room thick with the musk of a windowless inhabitance. I subsequently recall scenes of abject sanctuaries, (brought to the public’s attention by mainstream media with an alarmist jouissance a few years ago now) of the safe havens of young Japanese men afflicted with hikikomori,
a pathologized kind of severe social isolation linked to video game addiction, social phobia and chronic masturbation. Hentai body pillows and old computers obscured by mountains of homebody detritus. The essay starts with a similarly excremental tone, quoting Rafman from an interview: “I’m with them, dancing in the shit” (Zhang’s emphasis). The author, somewhat bewilderingly, reads this as “an expression of resolute solidarity”; I see this more as Rafman expertly distilling both his fetishization of internet alterity and his myopic selfothering into a perfect few words. Still caught in a free-associative reverie, I remember that Still Life (Betamale) (a 2013 video work made in collaboration with Oneohtrix Point Never) has a sequence that depicts someone in what looks like a fox Fursuit, flailing in a deep pool of viscous, shitty mud, struggling to keep their zoomorphic head from submerging. I finally imagine Jon Rafman, smugly loyal to the tradition of Foster and Said’s quasi-anthropologist, only ankle-deep. 11. Note that I’ve never even stepped virtual foot into the metaverse of Second Life. Nor have I ever seen one of Rafman’s works in person. I just have a nice trove of videos and scholarly articles at my disposal.
9 Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 1967, 30. 10 Shaowen Bardzell & Jeffrey Bardzell, Sex-Interface Aesthetics: The Docile Avatars and Embodied Pixels of Second Life BDSM, 2006, p 3. 11 Gary Zhexi Zhang, “The Online Anthropology of Jon Rafman”¸ Infinite Lives, 2016, p 97.
MAN MADE Will Garner
(Content warnings: child sexual abuse, self harm, suicidal ideation, PTSD)
Time is so compressed you can barely pull apart the threads of narrative to see what I am. A fifth of my life: spent in possession of another. Three fifths of my life: spent so far away from my body. A fifth of my life spent in my own skin: I learned to crawl and then to talk, I learned to scream, I learned my name, I learned to walk. I— I am a spinning top, a spiralling dancer, I am a child and a man. I learn the spaces that I occupy, and I flicker out of sight. I am relearning what it means to be human, I am relearning what it means to be alive. I am relearning what it means to call this corpse a body and see scars instead of veins. I sing off-key to the radio and have to believe that this means I’ve survived. I I I I me me me me I me I me I me I me I am fighting to be remade. I I I I would be my own subject if I knew my own voice. I would be in control if I had ever learned that ‘control’ was a choice— but I choose yes, I choose yes, I choose to give in
I choose to reach heaven, I choose my right to sin I choose to push history away and let the future begin— But I’m tired and I can’t find a reason or a rhyme. I am tired I am rotting I am crawling through the earth I— I— I could just give in. I could have chosen death ten years ago, fifteen years ago, five minutes ago, five minutes away, twenty years away Time is rushing and it’s eating me alive— I’ve been alive for twenty years, Will I feel this way in twenty years have I really been alive for twenty years will I still be this broken in twenty years—? Can it take me over, yet? I’m a man-made machine, so can’t I just be reset? I— I am a thousand narratives twisted together, and all I want is just another: Another chapter, a paragraph a sentence a phrase a clause or or or or a word. Just one. Just a word. If that’s all I can take I will take it. I will be so careful, I swear, I will touch it so gently, I swear. I am a construct of my own making and so I am remaking, I am remaking, I am remaking, I am remaking I— I—
I consist of broken parts and I am writing myself to life. I am a star constantly exploding through time, somehow so far away from now I am a star constantly exploding through time, somehow so far away from then I am a star and a solar system of stories: I am exploding now, I was exploding then, and I am a star, exploding. You cannot see it, but I’m trying to see you. I am trying to touch so gently, I am trying to breathe so gently, I am trying to live so gently. I— I— I— I try. I rebuild myself from the shards of glass and rub salt where my blood has dried. Try to feel grateful that the skin scabbed over; made itself new. Instead I live wishing that I had died. This skin does not belong to me – it doesn’t fit quite right So I cut myself open make brand new wounds, I reshape this flesh myself with my own hands I shape myself— what is a self ? Am I self, do I get a self, will someone tell me if I am a self ? Or am I— I— I— I—?
I am a victim/survivor – I died that day and so I remain and I— I am a victim/survivor I am a victim/survivor I am remembering how I was made. I am teaching myself to be more, I am learning how to be more. Please tell me how to be more, I know that I can be more. I beg please someone just let me be more, please tell me that I will ever be anything more I swear I can be more because I— I am man-made. And I am a man remade.
I am a ‘victim/survivor’ – not complainant! Can’t won’t don’t complain! I am a victim/survivor – I am defined— no, because this body is undefined— I am a victim/survivor – I have the right, I choose my name and— I am a victim/survivor – I’ll change this body make it new and—
R O T O RT S
(Content Warning: suicidal ideation, mental illness, r*pe)
An ocean of darkness in front of me, interspersed occasionally with stripes of white, or multicoloured socks, or bright floral scarves against the black silks and linens. These bursts of colour belong to those who’d say, “It’s what she would have wanted,” “She never liked to wear black, she’d rather see us in colour,” “She’d shake her head at all this unhappiness.” Locate, don’t analyse, locate. This part I feel in my throat. A lump that forms right before you’re supposed to start speaking. Perhaps there is a welling behind the eyes, the sensation of drowning. Perhaps not. Mostly, it is felt in my throat. My thighs feel soft against the dark cotton of my dress. Soft against one another. This morning they were still slightly red and tender. Last night, I waxed them, rubbing the strips hard into my skin before ripping them away. The pain is slight but the sting remains and intensifies briefly afterwards. Small pieces of wax stick, just above my knees and on the sides of my upper thighs. I rub coconut oil between my palms, massaging it into my legs before stepping into the steaming shower. Fucking ridiculous. Disgusting.
My grandmother was a happy, peaceful woman. She found God in everything. She used to tell me, “Er ist im Regen, der vom Himmel fällt. Er ist in dem Gras und dem Sonnenschein, und in jedem Lachen.” One day, early in the year when she still lived with us, she was walking home from the library and got lost. She turned right at the crossroads instead of left. I found her at the park, sitting on a bench, waiting. At the time, I didn’t know what she was waiting for, but now I think maybe I do. The next day, I waited outside the library and walked home with her. I told her, “Here, we turn left.” It started slowly. And then one day, she couldn’t tell between our two cats, despite the fact that Marmalade had little splashes of orange around her ears and tail, and Beans was completely white. She couldn’t remember the bus that took her to the pool, and even though she loved to swim, occasionally she would end up down at the markets, held at our old primary school on Saturdays, wandering amongst the little stalls selling fresh fruit and bread rolls, her goggles swinging uselessly from the crook of her elbow.
The first word she lost was rain. No matter how many times it battered against our windows that summer, it never came back to her. Soon, she could barely string a sentence together. And then it was vague gestures, and wrung hands and furrowed brows, and then, eventually, a calm, vacant blankness. If there was one place I ever found God, it was in my grandmother, but soon she forgot that as well. Every part of the forgetting was awful, but the worst was when she forgot where to find him. My father’s house is huge. Sometimes, at home, as I close my eyes in the shower to prevent the burning sting of
shampoo, I am back there. The water pressure of the shower is different. Slightly stronger, more demanding. The ground is smoother underneath my feet: no tiles, just a sort of shallow plastic tub. Often, around about now, the silence outside disappears. Something bashes against the door, again and again and again. It’s hard to imagine a fist so heavy. “What the fuck are you doing in there.” No question mark. There it is - the familiar sting: shampoo in my eye. Checking if I remembered to lock the door.
A low, dangerous voice this time. No swearing. “Hurry up.” It pours out of the shower head, pummels against my shoulders, turns my feet into burning red, setting my cheeks into a hard numbness. He moved house, after my mother left him and my sister and I went with her. It was the kitchen, I think; he couldn’t stand the sight of it, incredibly, deafeningly empty, always sickeningly messy, though cooking was a rarity. Plastic takeaway tubs spilled from the bin, stacked upon each other, as each week garbage day was forgotten. Even when he moved house again, the kitchen followed him, with its emptiness and messiness, staring at him as he picked out his white shirts turned pink from the washing machine. Shortly after my sister and I came and took the cats: white and fluffy, with huge blue eyes. They were twins. The larger of the two, Beans, was under so much stress that she started to overgroom herself. She licked and scratched and chewed until she broke her skin into little pink sores, and then scratched and chewed those until they were huge, red, rotting patches of open flesh. Her hair began to fall out, and eventually we all scraped enough money together to take her to the vet. We left that afternoon; she didn’t.
But the worst thing - I think maybe it was the living room. He decorated it himself. The first thing he did was throw away his Nanna’s rug. He drove it to the dump in a borrowed ute. “Infused with catpiss. Those fucking runts.” Maybe they’re the only thing he’s glad he lost. He bought a new rug. Persian red. When he asked me if I liked it I couldn’t speak. Busy. Intricate. Utterly stifling. On top of that rug were three 70’s style armchairs, as well as a black-andwhite checkered tile coffee table and a big leather sofa. On one wall was a large bookshelf, piles of dusty books stacked arbitrarily atop one another. Some were classics - big, noteworthy, beautiful volumes: Tolstoy, Melville, Dickens, Brontë (both). Some were less well known - embarrassing titles that made me want to either scream or cry. I haven’t decided yet. How to Socialise and How to Make Friends. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. What the fuck is a highly effective person. On the opposite wall hung a huge mirror with a large, dusty-gold frame like a 19th century painting. Sitting in the lounge room, you can see your every movement; even if you ignore it. You are still there. I hate it.
I hate thinking of him, alone, only the mirror for company. He doesn’t notice. On the third wall was positioned a ridiculously large television. I don’t think it’s ever been turned on. How do you say goodbye? One day you answer the phone, and then the next you don’t. And then you never answer again. And it’s like a huge weight is lifted from your shoulders and replaced with something else: layers and layers of soft, warm wool, worn in the height of summer. New, beautiful sunglasses, perfectly suiting your face shape, but the lenses are slightly too dim - you can see, but it strains your eyes - the ocean looks dark and cavernous, the surfers in their grey wetsuits merging with the rolling blackness: present, of course, but invisible. Missed call from dad (13). My first lover is my last, so far. Years ago, I dove right into him. I think he liked it - being the ocean. I drowned in him, in the fullness - felt in my chest, my stomach, the middle of my forehead every time he touches me: with his eyes, his hands, his lips. On our first date we rode out to the jetties. When I think of that day it’s almost blank, except for salty water on skin on wooden planks, and maybe his lips, but I’m not sure if he kissed me or not. Paper cranes, hung from strings hung from ceilings. I folded him a hundred
paper cranes, and then a thousand. Inside each I wrote one reason why I Loved Him. Why I loved him. Why I love him. They were thrown out - the more I gave him, the more they disappeared. It was his mother, who often cleaned his room, like every other room in their house, when it started to show signs of residence. It was his dog, who liked to steal small things and chew on them until they were destroyed. No - it was the fan in the height of summer, on full blast, always: the little cranes never stood a chance. Of course, that’s it - they were blown behind the desk, behind the bookshelf, behind the chest of drawers and under the bed. When he moves house and lifts away his furniture all of my love will spill out from the walls, it will fall in piles at his feet, tiny, colourful, folded squares of paper, and all the reasons why I loved him. Why I love him. I feel black and blue all over my skin. Is it anxiety: constriction of the chest? Or fear: felt in the forehead, lungs, shoulders, and heels? Insecurity: felt everywhere, but mainly the lower stomach, the end of my chin, every part that sticks out. This part I feel everywhere. A chair is thrown, brusing the air as it leaves the extended arms and crashes into my sister.
I’ve had so many bruises in my life - I guess we all have. My uncle once took me sailing and afterwards my knees were raw, bleeding, and discoloured. My sister once accidentally closed the car door on my fingers. I once dropped a brick on my foot. Falling from tree branches, thrown off bikes. Poles and rocks and concrete floors, things that draw children like a fistful of candy, leaving black and blue and purple and green. As a child I wore these bruises with an air of pride, accomplishment. A chair, suspended in midair, ended up directly on top of her, bruising the side of her face, her upturned arms, bruising her eleven-year-old rib cage, bruising her eleven-year-old heart. Now, years later - though it is hidden, I can still see it. Raw, bleeding, and discoloured. The silence after a violent scream is almost as bad as the screaming itself. Silent tears may often produce more gravity than loud, ragged breaths and wailing cries of despair. Not always, though. My fingers push into my scalp, harder and harder in circles that froth with bubbles. I smell like coconuts. Sweet honey and almond. Now the bubbles are gone, and I comb out the soaking strands - my hair is smooth. It travels down my back, encasing my naked shoulders like a silk scarf. I squeeze shower gel onto my loofah, the scent of manufactured rose making me dizzy. I begin to scrub myself - as though I am made of wood, and must
be sandpapered into smoothness. As though I am made of ice, and must be shaped into something beautiful before I melt. Out of the shower, my face is wet and my hair soaking. Water collects in puddles at my feet. My skin is soft and clean. I stand in front of the mirror. Cheeks red from the hot water. I see my collarbones, chest, shoulders, and hips. I see my stomach and thighs. Dark hairs against my light skin. The rose wafts about my temples. I feel sick. Bent at the waist, my torso presses hard into a completed thousand-piece puzzle on top of a writing desk. Behind me, my lover moves, speaking words I cannot translate into meanings in my mind. Just sounds. Slow down, please, stop - darling. It hurts. He does not slow down. Did I speak aloud? I continue to hear my voice; he does not. Soon, he is finished, and on my cheek are imprints of puzzle pieces. They stick to my chest and ribcage as I peel myself upright. It is too dark to see his face. The pieces fall off my body onto the floor, silently, like teardrops onto bedsheets.
I love you my darling, beautiful girl, I love you. I love you too. Yesterday evening, after my waxing and shaving and plucking and scrubbing and washing and close, close inspection, I took a bath. The bathwater was black, a sea of black, except for the occasional white stripe, multi coloured sock, floral scarf. It reaches my throat, and the tap keeps running - I can’t reach it to switch it off. Perhaps there is a sensation of drowning - perhaps not. The water covers my mouth, my nose, ears and eyes. Soon, it is inside me. I can no longer feel my body, pressed into the bottom of tub. I open my eyes and see only black - only black and a broken thousand piece puzzle on top of a writing desk, only black and a dining room chair, suspended in mid-air, at the highest point between my father’s outstretched arms and my sister’s tiny body. I blink, once, twice, and the lump moves - no more is it felt in my throat, but rather in a faint ringing behind the ears, a soft flushing in the cheeks. Locate, don’t analyse, locate. I see my mother, she nods. I see my sister, she smiles. I begin. •••
When everything is over, I drive my mother and sister back to our house, and then I drive myself down to the ocean. Briefly, I am suspended in mid-air. My feet have left the rocky edge behind me, my fingers now outstretched towards the swell. Nobody else is here. I could disappear right now, released from the rocky earth into the air, but making no splash as I enter the water - not entering the water at all. Just gone. The wind is bitingly cold, wrapping icy fingers tightly around my fragility, as my body touches absolutely nothing. And now - submersion - deep, deep below: this coldness I expected, this coldness snatches away my fragility, this coldness shocks my body into alertness, and finally, I am awake. My body rises, slowly, and then more quickly. Abruptly my head breaks above the surface of the water. It is colder up here? Or can I not feel it anymore? I dive down again - if only there were something other than seaweed and sand, something I could cling onto. Looking at the surface of the ocean from underneath - it looks terribly different. Looking down from above, I see reflections and one shade of greying blue, and tiny waves that break into
tiny white-caps that disappear into tiny bubbles and droplets of water. My body floats upwards towards it, desperate for air. Once again, I feel I have left myself at the bottom, until my head breaks above the surface and I am suddenly real. Once again. Legs kicking. Arms circling. Chest heaving, hands wiping salty water from my eyes. Once again. If every day were like today, in every place, everywhere, perhaps we would not know that the sun existed. Perhaps we would think that the world was covered in a blanket: faintly illuminated from within, illuminated from everywhere, indiscriminate and greyblue-grey. Floating on my back, I could almost believe it now. From above, I float face up on the surface of the water. I am utterly weightless. But from below, where down is up, I am face down. And I am warm in spite of my nakedness; because of my nakedness. My face is above the water, and I am still able to suck in the cool, electrified air; but my ears are still submerged. Perhaps there is a sensation of drowning.
to her after she wrote it. However, months afterwards, when time had scrambled the pages, and retrospect warped, twisted and muffled specific words, exact events giving way to murky feelings of despair - it became beautiful in my mind. I remember now. I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am. I close my eyes, and I can still see the sky. Its violence welcomes me. The ocean caresses me. Lover. Breathe out. Everything is cold, and this part I feel nowhere. The salt of my tears intermingles with those of the ocean. My lips taste both. I am, as well, I guess.
There was a book, written by a woman. What was it that she had said? I am reminded of it now. When I read it, it was awful. Just awful - I hated it. I hated what she wrote, I hated what happened
EXIST Nina Greenhill
From a point in time, she existed. She was often confused about this, as so many people stopped existing, and what was the point if it all achieved the same result? She knew she would remember the point that she stopped existing. She remembers every point she stopped existing.
Existing (definition) – verb, present participle, The act of being, of physical operation in the present moment. She knew she had stopped existing for three people. She was sure about that number. It was the number of lives she had removed herself from. They continued to exist in hers. Keeping people blocked on Facebook is maintaining their existence for her, while keeping her life squarely out of theirs. The first point of non-existence was on
a warmer September afternoon, long after she had deleted his number from her contact list. She had received a text from an unknown number and had gotten a sick feeling in her stomach. She was walking past a pub she was too young to order drinks at. She texted back. Upon confirmation of the identity she added the number to her phone’s blocked list. She never saw him again. Hey Presto, inexistence.
Inexistence (definition) – noun, feminine, The state of absentia from a life, resulting in alienation and forgetting. From that point, she knows how the next one will play out. Life is, after all, a series of points an individual hits before they die. No use pretending otherwise. She is so far ahead of these old points that forgetting them would free up so much more space for new points.
The next point will be after the next break up. She will break up with him after he loves her. Having learnt from that warm September afternoon the year previous, she will block him across her accounts. For three months, he will be the closest he will ever be to not existing in her life. She will forget him and have joy for the first time in years. She will be unrestricted, and she will see the world, without having to worry about the Other Person in her life.
Other Person (definition) – noun, neutered, Individual who is judged to be another individual’s other half because of the assumption that individuals are below their worth without involving another individual in their life. She will still exist for him, as he kisses another girl and thinks of her, as he runs his nimble fingers through another girl’s
hair, as he tries to move on for the sake of moving on, and not because he wants to. She doesn’t know that life will throw them back together, that existing with each other will happen again. She will then pick up her broken pieces and splinters with tweezers and finally extricate herself from his existence. It will be the best move she will make in her life. She will use a puzzle mat to figure which piece goes where. She can roll it up and store it until she finds the next ones. She will do so many things she couldn’t before, but existing until then is difficult. Going through the motions will destroy her over and over again as she watches her life go by in a series of points. Clinging to it will hurt with each breath.
Going through the motions (definition) – phrase, origin: 1350-1400 AD, The process of motion with no perception of good feeling or
enthusiasm. This condition has existed for centuries, indicating that it will continue to exist despite the efforts of generations to gain perceived good feeling from life. The third point of inexistence hasn’t happened yet. It will happen next Thursday. It’s harder to break up with a best friend. But she knows she doesn’t need to explain her reasoning. That friend will just be another blocked person by that point. It was easier when existence wasn’t a priority. It was easier for her after another’s existence became a priority. Animals were so much better to exist for. She was sure that on an evolutionary basis, cats existed because they decided they needed to – that survival was the top priority. She supposes that’s what they had in common. She wonders if by thinking about this that she is being too existential for nine o’clock in the morning.
Existential (definition) – adjective, past participle, The mode of thinking about the affirming of existence and the out of body interpretation that leads to overthinking and questioning the meaning of life. She now moves on with her life. Other People’s opinions can’t matter to her if she doesn’t let them.
She discards her imposter syndrome every time it surges. She knows she has a voice, has valued perception, has a purpose in discussions. She used to be quiet, always on the outside. She still absorbs information like her khaki pants absorbed the blood she lost from falling out of a tree – permanently.
Khaki pants (definition)– noun, nineties, Cargo pants that were corduroy, but the eight-year-old didn’t know about different types of fabric. She did know colours. She was proving she could climb higher than one of the neighbour’s kids. Later in life, she would realise that the kid was an asshat, and she shouldn’t have to prove herself, but she was eight years old and a girl.
Asshat (definition) – noun, masculine, A person who is obnoxious and everyone wishes would go away, but who sticks around because he thinks he is being funny and well-received. She judged that falling out of a tree was not too great a price to pay to show that anything the boy could do, she could do better. She still can, despite the reconstructions on both of her knees. ‘Dudes dig scars’ is her justification. Existing starts to become easier for
her once she evaluates each day, and finds something that was not â€˜going through the motionsâ€™. She looks for The Deliberate and that which makes her feel. She lives and she will live. She does a little each day and, in her head, that adds up to a lot. Together with her cat, she will rule her world: and the various states of existence for its inhabitants continues on. She rummages around, and makes space for new points. The old points lie on the kerb, waiting for the council clean-up. She exists now in her own life.
T E PO Prize WINNER
Honey drips from the tree forming a pool, a pool that crystalizes and becomes a mound a mound that rises and is a pylon. A yellow crowning glory. At the base of the pylon; keloid skin that scars easily. Sheets on the washing line thick with honey. It must be so heavy. How does she lift it with such ease?
Is it ease? Sweat on the brow and a bow in the knees. A sharp snap like a dog like the one that bit her. When the weather gets hot the honey melts. Itâ€™s ok, this one wasnâ€™t the right shape. Next time, we can decorate it in small things and bows and frills and she will lift it up to the place that it should've been
back in the tree.
Clay: Material and Immaterial clay kleɪ/ noun noun: clay; plural noun: clays 1. a stiff, sticky fine-grained earth that can be moulded when wet, and is dried and baked to make bricks, pottery, and ceramics. “the soil is mainly clay” technical sediment with particles smaller than silt, typically less than 0.002 mm. a hardened clay surface for a tennis court. “she won more matches on clay than any other player” literary the substance of the human body. “this lifeless clay” i. Matter as Material vs Matter as Martyr The relationship between clay and (wo)man is a historical one. I don’t mean this in a literal sense in which
earth and body combine, but rather in a metaphorical post-humanist ideal. This discussion of materiality and immateriality must surely take place in a post-humanist landscape where the body and flesh are dematerialised beyond substance into the metaphysical. There exists much scholarship about the dematerialisation of man yet Donna Haraway’s (1992) feminist post-humanist approach sparks a more contemporary conversation about materiality and immateriality. Haraway writes: My stakes are high; I think “we”— that crucial material and rhetorical construction of politics and of history— need something called humanity. It is that kind of thing which Gayatri Spivak called “that which we cannot not want.” We also know now, from our perspectives in the ripped open belly of the monster called history, that we cannot name and possess this thing which we cannot not desire. Humanity, whole and part, is not autochthonous. Nobody is self-made, least of all man. That is the spiritual and political meaning of poststructuralism and
postmodernism for me. “We,” in these very particular discursive worlds, have no routes to connection and to noncosmic, nongeneric, nonoriginal wholeness than through the radical dismembering and displacing of our names and our bodies. So, how can humanity have a figure outside the narratives of humanism; what language would such a figure speak? The relationship between humanity as existence, humanity as construction and humanity as flesh is a material one. In Haraway’s opinion, humanity is not autochthonous, it has not been formed from the static existence of being but rather it has been realised through movement and translocation between time and space. Therefore humanity is a holder of information. Humanity is a signifier of historical, social and political realisations of being which are not inextricably bound to the flesh in which it dwells but instead exists within the metaphysical realm. Human becomes post-human, material becomes immaterial. This retreat from materiality is certainly evident within postmodern feminist discourse where a discursive focus on the feminine has been at the expense of materiality. In much postmodern feminist scholar, Judith Butler’s Bodies that Matter (1993) being a notable example, the ‘feminine’ is constructed with the material body as a consequence of the discourse rather than a determinate. Hence in
postmodern feminist scholar there exists a tension between matters. The matter of the material body is reconsidered in political, cultural and social terms so that the physical becomes a respondent to the metaphysical. This metaphysical or ‘immaterial’ discourse is constructed with, and hence becomes, a matter of language. The language informing and describing matter becomes more important than the matter itself. Hence in postmodern feminist ‘language’ the discourse about the matter overcomes the physical presense of the matter. Alaimo and Hekman (2008) describe and question this concept for thoroughly, they write: Language has been granted too much power…The belief that grammatical categories reflect the underlying structure of the world is a continuing seductive habit of mind worth questioning. Indeed, the representationalist belief in the power of words to mirror pre-existing phenomena is the metaphysical substrate that supports social constructivist as well as traditional realist beliefs. A performative understanding of discursive practices challenges the representationalist belief in the power of words to represent preexisting things. Clay is a signifier and a subject of this same discourse. It is a material yet its existence is told through an immaterial history, a history governed by language, politics and culture. Clay produces its own identity through a specific
performative locatability - it tells us of its origins: its place of birth; its climate; its geography; its space. Clay, like many such materials, inherently performs what second-wave feminists would call a ‘politics of location’. It prompts us to touch it, to make it, to create something from. Yet it remains (materially and immaterially) situated to and contingent on its material specificity and locale. The politics of clay’s specificity allows it to ‘speak’ of its materiality and inform us of its own purpose. Hence, clay is material. But clay is also immaterial, it is bodiless in that it speaks of a time and place unknown to human kind. Clay is in us. It is the material from which, some argue, human flesh was first formed. Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Throughout the bible, we see reference to clay as an element which materialises our being and forms the flesh of our bodies. This material is human, and like humans it gives away its origins, yet its immateriality is inextricably linked to and informed by post-human discourses. The invocation of clay to be touched and worked lies not in its tactile materiality (as many things in existence are malleable) instead its need to be worked lies in its ability to transcend its own locale and specificity, a true allochthon. Humans unearth clay, they mark and torture it into being, they surround it with fire and destroy it. They un-earth, un-localise and un-specify it with the political and social rhetoric of their own time. Once lying static in its birthplace, clay is ripped from the land – for moulding, for marking, for sculpting, for throwing. They inject their humanity into it. At each stage the clay masks a new mode of being and humans form new relationships with it. Yet clay, this holier-than-thou sticky substance, does not go willingly. It’s re-location and re-specification does not lead to its disembodiment. On the contrary, clay, no matter what its ‘final’ form, inherently translates and performs its materiality.
Clay allows energy to pass through it and be held within it, a tension that ebbs and flows between what was, what is and what will be. Let John Hughes (2017) explain, reaching deep through earth into the tissue of life itself a mind of clay pure language translating geology and climate hot and cold dry and moist light and dark living and dead
ii. Transference: the gestures between the (un)making “Clay requires movement, you have to truly be with it. When you move around it, it disappears” - Aneta Regel, (2018) artist Clay invokes energy. the material requires movement. to do so the substance of the body doing the moving requires sustenance. sustenance is energy. energy must transfer into the material for it to be moved. In ancient China and Japan, from 8000 BCE, the process of unearthing clay material, forming it into a functional vessel and baking it was part of daily culture and economy. Functional vessels as well as ceremonial vessels were crafted, decorated and sold or exchanged across the land, creating veins of trade and economy across the country. The transference of energy from clay to human and human to clay has a rich cultural history within East-Asia, as depicted in this Chinese pictorial narrative. The narrative portrayed is as much a transference as it is a performance, as Garth Clark (2018) notes, “The vessel is one of the most performed art pieces.” The performative aspect of transferring clay from earth to vessel is celebrated in
the pictorial text above where material is moved, formed and transformed by the energy of the worker. This practice of transforming clay through energy is a human gesture, telling of the worker’s time and space. Its re-specification by the hands of the worker and the fire denies it of its autochthon existence as it can never again be reworked as new and transcend time, space and context. water’s edge wet dry wet dry wet going to dry the going is sticky is soft is supple is is is taken is cold to the touch but easily warmed by the toucher is growing taller and fatter it’s skin being stretched and plumped its’ maker bulging before it its’ water which once held it is lost no farewelled yet it stands it parades now water is its’ slayer fire fire it prays it it licks it strokes it transforms its’ being being hard being strong being taken back to the water’s edge the edge will not take it it is no longer the going it is the gone
Looking at contemporary artist Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran’s work, it becomes clear that the politicised, historicised and socialised image becomes the works materiality, its time and its space. While its material form (the clay) becomes ‘post-material’ as it reveals nothing of its existence other than the existence Nithiyendran has forced it to perform. The working of clay then is a transference of the human condition onto a material which is physically dislocated yet metaphysically inexorable. During the making (or un-making) process of transforming clay from a material to a vessel there is a transference and performance of humanity. Nithiyendran explains that through his making practice his hands act as a “strong political tool in which the hand-formed aesthetic allows [him] to subvert and depart from conventional ceramic conventions…[he thinks] a lot of people are drawn to art because of that humanist aspect – you can see humanity in it” Nithiyendran’s practice materialises the idea that through our manipulation of clay we inherently inject our own humanity into it, along with our relative political and social realities. In Nithiyendran’s sculptural work clay becomes immaterial and, in a post-humanist sense, becomes a holder of information – a signifier of his metaphysical and physical locale.
Time, space and language are intertwined with the sculptural object yet at the same time the clay itself is transcendent of context. iii. Metamorphosis: (un)making and destroying clay kleɪ/ noun noun: clay; plural noun: clays 2. a European moth with yellowish-brown wings. Moths go through an incredible transformation process whereby their caterpillar body matter, in the pupal stage of growth, disintegrates in the cocoon then re-forms to become a winged moth. It is not dissimilar to say that clay does a similar thing during the firing process. In the presence of prolonged intense heat (between 500 degrees Celsius to 2500 degrees Celsius) the clay molecules change to an irreversible chemical composition. At 500 degrees Celsius the hydrogen bonds present in clay are broken down by the heat and replaced by short strong oxygen bonds. Beyond this temperature, the particles begin to vitrify and the
sedimentary rock particles begin to melt and fuse together. The resulting material from this firing process is no longer clay, it has become ‘ceramic’ or ‘pottery’. It is therefore correct to say that the firing process is both a destroyer and a creator of material. Garth Clark (2018) likens this process to the creation of plastics, “Just as crude oil is manufactured into plastic, clay is manufactured into ceramic.” There seems to be a dissimilarity between plastic and ceramic, one being a ‘natural’ substance and one being ‘unnatural’. But are they not two sides of the same coin? Just as plastic takes thousands of years to break down, so too does fired pottery. We have based much of history on the fragmented shards of pottery found in archaeological sites around the globe, construing an image of the social, cultural and political aspects of ancient civilisations on their ceramic wastage. Perhaps plastic will be our pottery, the archaeological gems a future civilisation might prey to discover. New Zealand artist Richard Stratton (2017) conceptualises this historical importance of ceramics, explaining, Internationally, ceramics has played a key role to unlocking human history, helping us to date our growth via
fragments of clay. New Zealandâ€™s industrial ceramic history was based upon techniques reflected in sherds (pieces) I found while mudlarking on the Thames. These sherds are examples of processes our ceramic predecessors were influenced by and became the backbone of early New Zealand pottery. Stratton takes ceramics out of the context of art and into the realm of history and anthropology. While he views pottery as an enduring material, his true focus is on how this material is imbedded with the human condition of past civilisations. As the worth of clay was in its materiality and its ability to be void of time and place, ceramic denies these abilities as the context of the creator is eternally embedded within the ceramic object. The metamorphosis of clay into ceramic has un-made and destroyed clay, yet its performance still resonates in its existence and its materiality still lingers. Clay has not died completely but is in limbo between life and death. It exists now as a mutation between material and human, neither one nor the other but a child of the two. They feel as if they have formed themselves. They speak only because the sculptor
has found a way to shed her own voice. She does not give herself up in advance. She does not and cannot empty herself by a conscious act of will. It is the process of shaping that frees her and allows these creatures, if only for a moment, to become the self that is freed.
Bibliography: Alaimo, S. and Hekman, S. (2008). Material feminisms. Indiana: Indiana University Press, pp.120-121. Bisshop, A (2017), Marble, Lost Rocks: A Slow Publishing Event 2017-2021, Tasmania. Braidotti, R, (2013), Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming, Oxford, Wiley. Braidotti, R, (2013), The posthuman, 1st ed, Polity Press. Butler, J. (1993), Bodies That Matter: on the discursive limits of “sex”, New York: Routledge Chinese picture book, date and origins unknown. Clark G, (2018), Witness Dictionary.com. (2018). “the definition of clay”, [online] Available at: http://www. dictionary.com/browse/clay [Accessed 8 May 2018]. Haraway D, 1992, ‘Ecce homo, ain’t (ar’n’t) I a woman, and inappropriate/d others: The human in a post-humanist landscape’, J Butler, J Wallach Scott, Feminists Theorize the Political, Routledge, pp. 86-100. Hinton, P. (2014). ‘Situated Knowledges’ and New Materialism(s): Rethinking a Politics of Location. Women: A Cultural Review, 25(1), pp.99-113.
Hudson, M 2008, ‘Japanese Beginnings’ in W Tsutsui (ed), A Companion to Japanese History, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, pp. 13-29. Holy Bible, Isaiah 40:12, New International Version, 2011, Biblica Inc. Holy Bible, Genesis 2:7, New International Version, 2011, Biblica Inc. Holy Bible, Isaiah 64:8, New International Version, 2011, Biblica Inc. Hughes J, (2017), “Why look at Beth Cavener’s animals”, Ceramics Art and Perception, Issue No 106. Goldsmith K, (2005), Paragraphs on Conceptual Writing, Ubu Web papers, [accessed 6 May 2018] Place, V. and Fitterman, R. (2009). Notes on conceptualisms. Ugly Duckling. Regel A, (2018 April 19), personal interview. Nithiyendran R M, (2017), The Cave, ‘The National: New Australian Art, Carriageworks, Sydney. Nithiyendran, R M, (2016), In the Beginning, [Ceramics, Glaze, Mixed Materials], Melbourne, Ian Potter Museum of Art. The Dowse Art Museum, (2017), Artist Talk: Richard Stratton. [podcast] The Dowse Project, Available at: https://soundcloud. com/thedowse/artist-talk-richard-stratton, Accessed 26 May 2018.
AN EKPHRASTIC POEM Madeleine Martin
A genre painting depicts the mundane: still life; abstract plane; on lino or upon terrain. Genre is just a name. Small apartment floored with carpet, travelling cord, interrupted â€” stringy white feline seeming clandestine in frontal composition. Imagined interior on canvas, eerier than figure-in-landscape or shot by sightseer. A scene captures attention, while the unseen piques a fascination sated only by creation.
HOSPITAL Wendy Chau
When you got old, it was always about waiting – Waiting for time to pass, waiting for your children to visit you and waiting for the end to come. You were always waiting. Waiting until the end grasped you in its clutches and you fell into the darkness. With each step he took, he imagined time stopping. Time stopping as a family smiled in relief, Time stopping as the middle-aged couple grasped each other’s hands, Time stopping as Death loomed over hospital beds. If he could stop time, he’d make each second last hours. He’d become an observer of moments that passed too quickly to be remembered or appreciated. He’d stop time for himself, so that her time would never end.
AWELL, SCUT, AND THE THREE JOBS
On Mabon Market Day in the town of Donne there were two women up to no good.
“The pasties might be better but this is quantity over quality. Quality costs more.”
They stood unnoticed behind a baker’s stall in the town square. Coloured flags were strung from a tall pole in the centre, criss-crossing over the wooden stalls that sold all manner of things from candles to herbs, to everlasting ice and little figures that smoked musk. The flags ended just past the surrounding streets, tied along timber-framed houses, one after the other.
Scut sighed, “You’re literally stealing them.”
Scut was reading the notes on the back of their contract of employment. An unremarkable merchant called Rymal had hired them to find his stolen door. The description of the suspect who’d stolen it was hastily scribbled. Awell held an embroidered blindfold between her teeth, leaving her hands free to take as many pasties as she could put in her many cloak pockets. They were keeping their heat well. She was warm next to her sister. “Pasties are better at the rim of the market,” Scut told Awell.
“That’s not a nice accusation.” “We’re not being paid to be nice,” Scut pointed out. “We’re Contractors -paid to compromise our ethics to get other people’s jobs done. Which is pretty good, considering we don’t have any! It’s easy money.” Awell winced after she put away the last pasty, realising too late it had gone into the pocket filled with delayed gunpowder. She kept many magical items tucked away; this was where most of her money went. She would have stolen them but all magic went a bit wrong when it wasn’t obtained fairly. They had been scoping the market for the man matching the description. Scut finally saw him. He had a long scar down the left side of his face and a pair of the biggest ears she had ever seen. He tried to hide them under a battered top hat but was unsuccessful. His clothing was an eclectic mix, each article of the
highest quality, but collected over his almost forty years. They started walking, following Top Hat. Scut tucked the notice into an inner cloak pocket and nicked a mug of hot wine from the counter of a passing stall. Awell sprinkled a packet of tracking powder into it and put the blindfold on, tying it at the back of her head. Scut loosened her posture and stumbled over to the man, acting like the very happiest drunk. She bumped into him, spilling the laced hot wine all over his fancy clothes. He stormed off. Awell peered through the thin blindfold, grabbing Scut’s arm. Through the fabric she could see the man’s footprints come alive in vibrant blue and she followed the steps through the square. The blindfold let her see the magic that would otherwise be invisible. They had done this so many times before that Awell could see his footprints as though he had painted them himself, but Scut kept an eye on the man. It had happened where they had let one of their previous marks wander a fair way before they followed, and his boots had been stolen. Needless to say, Scut and Awell had learnt THAT lesson. Awell rubbed her fingers together by her side and the footprints gleamed brighter through the people in the square.
He took them down winding alleys he must have travelled before as he did not look for street signs or a map. Scut and Awell did their best to keep their cover of a blind girl with her drunken sister. Before long, two hardened men joined him. The alleys grew narrower and the sun disappeared from the space between opposing eaves. Scut decided to make a move on the men, before more came. Awell could hear Scut’s footsteps getting quicker and grabbed her, shaking her head. The three men stopped and faced them. The hardened man in front of Scut had a right hand that now held a sharp and rust-pitted knife. He lunged to stab her and she stepped to his right. She latched her right hand onto his wrist and rolled his elbow into her shoulder. Her left hand covered her right and pulled his arm toward her, causing him immense pain. His knife was now a hair’s breadth from his own throat. “Do you yield?” Scut demanded. He smirked, bringing his left arm up to punch her. Scut jolted his captured wrist toward her shoulder, breaking the man’s joint. The knife flew from his grip. She planted her leg behind his and rolled his bent arm over his shoulder, throwing
him to the cobblestones. Awell could barely see the proper forms through her blindfold. She ripped the blindfold off, stuffing it into one of her many pockets. One person she could take blindfolded, but Awell didn’t want to wager her life against two without her proper sight. She patted her pockets and felt a pasty. Something clicked inside her head. She dug out the pasty from her gunpowder pocket. She threw it, and heard the devastating splat as the pasty hit its target. She snapped her left fingers and the baked remnants blew up. Top Hat and his friend were smoking and singed, with plenty of unused powder coating them. Awell held up her right fingers in a motion to snap. The assailants stopped moving. The gunpowder itself had not caused the men to stop but the knowledge of the gunpowder had. Delayed gunpowder sets itself off at the wielders’ discretion according to its uses. Awell hadn’t skimped when buying this lot, and although she couldn’t produce magic, that didn’t stop her from mastering it. The remaining large portion could cause a more harmful bang. “Next one will be bigger,” she said, looking to see the damage Scut had
done to the other man. Whistles from law officers could be heard a street away, raised by the explosion Awell had made. Top Hat motioned to the solid wall of the building beside them. “Perhaps inside?” he asked, visibly nervous. Awell and Scut stood their ground as the whistles drew nearer. More ne’er-do-wells were coming down the alleyway and going through the wall, not keen to be caught at whatever they had been doing. Top Hat motioned again, and the sisters finally agreed. Aware of the eyes on her Scut walked perfectly confidently straight into the wall. She slammed into an invisible doorframe. Awell pushed her through. Inside the wall the outside sounds dulled. The law officers could be heard running past. There was a tall desk, upon which an elderly man perched. His nose pulled down, like an exotic bird, rounded and sharp at the point. He had a face, etched deep with laugh lines, and snowy hair braided into his long beard. He was missing an arm and Scut guessed from the markings radiating out from the stump, it wasn’t an accident at the mill. They weren’t fooled by his welcoming smile. They saw the battle-axe resting against his tall stool.
“And what’s your name darling?” he prompted, his quill flamboyantly cut into the shape of a hunter’s blade. “Scut.” “And your friend?” “Awell.” “That’s not a name.” “She doesn’t think it isn’t.” He raised his eyebrows, judging them outwardly for the first time.
It had only been a week since Scut and Awell had blown into town, pushed by the frozen Southern Wind, but there was no cool reception here. Top Hat stood next to a tall, slim and bearded man, wearing tailcoats and fingerless gloves. Tailcoats addressed them. “Welcome my guests! I hope you had a pleasant journey!” “Right up ‘til the knife,” Scut retorted. “That wasn’t nice.” Awell cut a sharp look to Scut.
He motioned for them to go through the door to the right of the small foyer. The door was ancient, strong oak, being fitted into a frame of new pine. Awell knew exactly where it was stolen from.
“Well... It was unavoidable,” Tailcoats explained.
The room they entered could be better described as a Great Hall. Alongside the far wall were windows from floor to ceiling, depicting scene after scene of bandit and robber getting the upper hand. The last was empty but Awell was sure she had seen something in the shape of the missing stained glass.
“Because we’ve been watching you since you accepted Rymal’s contract.”
Everything circled around the hearth in the centre of the Thieves’ Den. There were tables strewn about, some occupied with local criminals and butchers and candlestick makers. These people weren’t strangers to Scut and Awell.
Awell snorted. “And how do you figure that?”
“Then you’ll know that we walked past the door he sent us to find not 5 minutes ago.” Tailcoats nodded with a smirk. “You know that job is done, so we’ll get out of your hair now,” Awell stated. She elbowed Scut and made to walk out of the Hall. Top Hat from the alley stood in their path, towering over them.
Awell damn well wished they’d walk away from this. Street fights they could handle, but a hall full of them was a different matter. “I don’t think you know who I am,” Tailcoats said. They turned around. “We haven’t been introduced, no,” Scut said. “I am Sturgis Malbrut. Only the very stupid turn their backs on me,” he explained. “I think you’d better tell us why we are here.” “I think you could be of use to me. Your contract with that crook Rymal has now ended.” “The fact of the matter is, we’re plumtuckered after doing the job, and then the fight in the alley…” Awell began. “I could make it worth your while.” Sturgis reached into his tailcoat and drew out a solid gold bar about as long as a thumb called a Lippin. “And what would this job entail?” Sturgis put his arm around Awell and walked them over to the gaping hole where a stained glass window used to be.
Awell pursed her lips. With some thinking, maybe they could leave here with their lives yet. “I saw a wonderful stained-glass window at Rymal’s…” Awell looked at Sturgis’ face. He finally spoke. “If… Rymal was the one who stole the window, then I think we should look at your new contract.” Awell nodded. If Rymal’s contract was the only thing he was openly concerned about, then this was something he wanted them to do against Rymal. Written contracts were magically binding, which meant they could now fleece him with working fees if they handled it right. Once word got out that they would betray people for the right sum, no one would hire them in this town. The extra money might be enough to pay their way to the next province. Awell furrowed her brow, as though she was thinking hard. “So what you’re suggesting is a double cross?” Sturgis nodded. “You would give us Lipp?” Awell asked. She and Scut had experience with
double crosses. They wouldn’t be flying from the seat of their plants on this one.
“And if we don’t think your plan’s much chop?” Scut asked.
“I would give you double what Rymal pledged.”
“We have your word?” Sturgis nodded. “Of course-half now, half later.” Awell winced. “I’m afraid that won’t work.” “And why not?” “Because as is, we are the only ones who know where our employer is and how to contact him. Promises don’t help.” Sturgis looked blankly. “We’ve been stiffed before,” Scut explained. They could see Sturgis weighing it up. No one had heard of them and therefore they couldn’t be trusted. Awell saw Scut purse her lips and she just knew that she was going to come up with something that would make or break them. They breathed a sigh of relief when Sturgis nodded. “Well, we are invested in this. I should start planning,” he said.
“We could always work it out. If we take into account our own strengths and weaknesses, we typically end up with good outcomes,” Awell offered. “You have heard of the Latobian Job?” Scut asked. They could see the surprise in Sturgis’ face. The crowd knew as well as he did what happened in the Latobian ranges. The sisters knew they had established the short-term trust they needed. “I see no reason to shy away from a fresh outlook,” Sturgis proclaimed, getting ahead of the crowd. “Those who stick with what they know tend to be the worse off when change blows in.” Scut and Awell smiled innocently, not a pair of conniving mercenaries, but the girls who had just scored a job. Awell bit her lip, appearing apprehensive to talk. Sturgis broke into a smile. “What’s on your mind?” “Well, we haven’t sorted out the sum of payment…” she looked away, playing the weaker human. “I stick to my word.”
“Rymal payed us 100 Lipp,” Awell declared, lying through her teeth. “100 Lipp!” Sturgis gasped. The crowd’s reaction was mixed. Some were unhappy that the chunk of money they gave for protection and for assurance against hard times was going to be payment for petty payback. Most laughed at the figure, for Sturgis’ word was his bond, as he was an honest thief. That was the reason he was their leader. If he failed to pay the sisters the 200 Lipp, he would be unseated the next day. Sturgis settled himself. Awell could see him deliberating. “Very well,” he decided, motioning for Top Hat to bring the money out. Sturgis gulped as he handed the girls the bag of money. Scut smiled and sat down at an empty table with Awell. She started counting the small gold and silver bricks. The crowd began to murmur, wondering about these newcomers. “It’s all there,” Sturgis interrupted. Scut finished counting the load, satisfied with the amount. They took the money and left before Sturgis realised that they didn’t sign a contract. He had been too distracted by the money. With no written contract, they followed their feet to the closest guardhouse. The guardhouse was a respectable building, with a proper front door
and a sign. Along the outside at eye level hung a noticeboard. Rymal and Sturgis’ sketches were in wanted posters, amongst some other ne’er-do-well’s and signs to keep vigilant. Sturgis’ read ‘WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE’. Awell munched on a pasty while Scut’s stomach growled. “Told you so.” Awell took the wanted posters off the board. They walked inside to talk to the law officers. The woman they outlaid their plan to was tall and sturdy and named Constable Bruch. She didn’t underestimate Scut and Awell, and their plan happened the next night. Awell and Scut set to meet Rymal in an alleyway, not too far from the square. They waited in the narrow space. Occasionally they would look up to the roofs either side, trying to spot where the team of officers waited, harnesses on and ropes tied to the ridge of the roof where they stood. Rymal tacitly walked down the alley to the two girls. He was the same unremarkable man they remembered him to be. He kept looking around, paranoid. “Did you find it?” he squeaked.
“They did, though not in a returnable manner,” Sturgis remarked, walking out from a house. Rymal blanched. If he had known that his precious door had ended up in the hands of Sturgis, he would’ve left it well enough alone. Sturgis’ folk appeared from the walls along the alley, nimbly tying up and gagging the merchant. The officers rained down from the sky, taking the thieves completely by surprise. Awell clambered up the closest buildings’ timber framing to a second story windowsill and dug into a pocket, pulling out a pouch with a pair of engraved knitting needles and wool. Scut was in the thick of the fight, avoiding the navy-blue-clad officers, when a baton knocked against her foot. She picked it up and began thumping thieves. She saw Rymal stumbling around to escape, confused. Rymal tripped and fell, lying on the side of the fight. She could see the clouds of his breathe in the cold night air. Sturgis’ arm looped around Scut’s throat, choking her before she realised he was behind her. She dropped the baton and brought her arms up to pull the elbow of his choking arm down, breathing again. She whipped her head back, breaking his nose. She grabbed his thumb and twisted it out of the choke, stepping
away, keeping her hold on his hand secure. She pushed it down, trying to perform a wristlock. He drove his knee into her stomach forcing her to the cobblestone. She was on her hands and knees in front of him. Thinking quickly, her right hand grabbed the back of his ankle and her left forearm slammed just below his knee, locking his leg. She pushed and he plummeted backwards. She could hear his head crack against the street. Scut turned her attention to the melee, and her next opponent. Awell sat at her sill, knitting. Each time a thief tried to run away, she would make another stitch. Flags were still roped along this street. She was using the needles and yarn, willing them to represent of the flags. Each time she made a stitch the flags soared, binding their victim’s feet to the ground. She was working from the outside of the fight in, careful to leave the law officers. As she caught more, she had time to build up the stitches, using the ropes to constrict them further. Before long every thief was in restraints and a second unit was taking them away in wagons. Scut and Awell approached Constable Bruch as the final cart rattled off. “I guess this is goodbye then,” Constable Bruch stated.
“It isn’t goodbye ‘til we’re paid,” Scut warned. Bruch dug into her pocket and handed them the bounties. “Don’t spend it all in one place.” The sisters walked toward the west gate, making their way out of town. They barely ever had more than the clothes on their backs, which suited them fine. This time they could set themselves up nicely in the next town, with triple the gold they bargained for. Awell took a pasty from her pocket. “That’s disgusting,” Scut remarked. “They keep well.”
R FO R
E H T
My eyes roam over the golden sand as I peer over the fence, scanning the water for any sign of movement. The seagulls that fly above wail to one another, a stark contrast to the tenderness of the ocean’s melody. “Ellie? Where are you?” Ellie’s head pops out from behind a large oak tree, and a bright smile welcomes me. Her long brown locks are in two plaits, draping delicately over her frail shoulders, like slumbering snakes bathing beneath the sun. It was a lovely day, the sun was gleaming, accompanied by soft, cool breezes and the faint, pleasant aroma of flowers. “What’s that behind your back, Olivia?” Ellie asks in a teasing manner. She giggles and hops closer. I pull my hands out, and my palms open as the orchid reveals itself, its soft white petals peering curiously out at us. Ellie gingerly picks it up before bringing it to her nose and closes her eyes while she takes in its sweet scent. Holding the orchid as if it were fragile, Ellie makes her way
towards the tree and carefully places the flower onto her growing pile. A great mountain of orchids lay before her, each one as white as snow. “So... what are we doing today?” I ask her. With a mischievous grin, Ellie grabs my hand and pulls me towards the looming ocean. With a bucket of water, Ellie quietly creeps towards me as I lay dormant on the soft sand. Arms behind my head, and eyes closed shut, I am utterly at peace. The ocean whispers to Ellie, and the little waves that trickle across the warm sand lap over the footprints behind her, nibbling away at any evidence of her existence. With the sand cushioning her feet, Ellie silently makes her way towards me, blissfully unaware that I had noticed her long ago. In one great motion, she hurls the water onto me, and I hear the satisfying splash of water as it hits its mark. “ELLIE!” I’m laughing as I sprint after her, feeling the soft grains of sand sneak between my toes and the cool breeze dance
through my hair. Ahead of me, Ellie wades into the ocean, and the water beckons her, like a mother ready to embrace her child. Closing my hands around my mouth, I yell out to her, “Oh don’t you think you can get away with that just because you’re my sister! Ellie, you get back here right now!” With one leg draping over the edge of the lounge, I watch the clock tick away, a reminder of the never-ending silence which reigns the house. Today is Ellie’s birthday. Tick, tick, tick. From the corner of my eye, I see a basket of white lilies, sitting on a white table, surrounded by these white walls, beside a pile white cards that she will never read. Tick, tick, tick. Sick of the silence, I reach over to turn on the radio before heaving myself up to grab the lonely orchid that lay asleep on the counter beside me. The sun comes out and pours its warmth over the earth. “Olivia!” Ellie yells as soon as she sees me emerge from behind the line of trees. She races towards me, and immediately notices something is wrong. Lifting the hair away from my face, she sees the tears that trail down my soft cheeks. ‘Olivia? What’s wrong?’. I shake my head, and my shoulders begin to tremble. I drop the pale orchid, whispering, “You’re not real, Ellie.” “Olivia... what are you talking about? Please don’t say that…” She brings up a hand to stroke my cheek, but I only
flinch away. “You’re not real” I repeat with a bitter edge to my voice. A sudden gust of air picks up, and my hair dances wildly. Swirling frantically around my clothes, the soft breeze before has now become a ravishing beast. Little stones roll across the ground, passing my feet in their hysterical race. The water swells and crashes against itself, the waves screaming their own screeching symphony. The ground shakes, and the trees twist abnormally. “Olivia, no, stop it.” Ellie is crying now, and the world gets darker. The sun abandons me and as the grass blackens, I forget how green it once used to be. Chunks of the earth begin to break away, falling into an empty abyss and when I look up, Ellie too, has disappeared, only a single white orchid left in her place. And there it was. Something bubbling and boiling inside, lurking beneath my skin, a caged creature hammering at its walls. It paws, claws scratching and howling to be free. The aching pain which pounds gently, grows larger and larger. Through the blur of tears, the crinkled photo shows two faces grinning up at me, and two hands filled to the brim with beautiful, white orchids. ‘Olivia and Ellie. Together forever.’
NEVER STAND STILL Justin van den Bogaardt
(Content Warning: suicidal ideation, mental illness, stress/anxiety )
My phone buzzes and I check the message. A friend is asking if I am at uni today, and if I am, am I free at either 11-12 or 3-4. I tell him I am, I have a class that is meant to finish at 12 but usually finishes earlier, and I will try to meet him at 11.45 at the smoking area that is really just an entrance to the university. I say that I have a lot of work. I tell him that I have a test on Friday and an assignment that is late, I got an extension on the assignment but now the extended deadline has passed and the assignment is late for the extended deadline. My other friend, who does not attend this uni, and who is struggling under the weight of what his life has being throwing on him has not contacted me this week, (he has been struggling more so since late one night he walked into his late brother’s room to find the terrible figure hanging from the extension cord). I realise that I haven’t reached out to him in a while. My phone buzzes with an email alert. My UniPass email login is about to expire. I boot up the computer on the desk in front of me but it takes a while to load so I pull out my phone and scroll my feed until I am eighteen comments deep into a thread which does not contain a single person that I know. A fire alarm goes off so I leave the building that I’ve been sitting in before a voice tells me via the intercom system that this fire alarm that has gone off is a test, but by
that time I have already logged off the computer and it is awaiting the next user so I decide to get a coffee. I have had a headache for about three days now, and the coffee will likely make this worse. I return to my desk after throwing away my depleted coffee. I load up Firefox and log into the university’s Moodle portal. While it is loading in I swap to my email tab and log in, before swapping to Facebook and logging in to that. I send a brief concerned message to my friend who does not attend this uni and check my Facebook notifications. I have been tagged in a BuzzFeed video on maximising productivity that I have no interest in watching. I swap tabs to find that I have 3,649 unread emails, the first of which is marked urgent. It’s an email
about student financials that leads me to myUNSW where I open my timetable and realise that I am meant to be in a lab right now. But right now I also need to study for this test so I swap back to Moodle and then to Facebook, where I scroll and scan and write a message to my uni friend, then swap to Facebook messenger to continue the conversation but he hasn’t replied yet, so I open a new tab to open a news site and scan and scroll and click on a story about droughts in our state, apparently our entire state is in drought because the climate is changing, the temperatures are rising and our world is literally getting too hot to grow food in but there doesn’t seem to be a solution, like how would we stop this climate change without stopping our entire project as a species here on earth. But it’s 12.42 now so I leave to meet my friend at the smoking area. I walk down a concrete pathway and there’s a girl apologising to a group harassing her to join their society or sign their petition, I give them a stony look because that normally works but one of them approaches me anyway so I just tell him to fuck off. I meet my friend who tells me his lecturer sent an email at 12.23 saying that the class from 12-1 was cancelled. I tell him I need to study for my test. He nods, drops his cigarette butt, and picks up his bag. I tell him my assignment is late. My phone vibrates but when I check it it is not a message from my friend who does not attend this uni.
On the way to the library we pass people who dress attractively, that I am attracted to and I realise that I am probably quite sexually frustrated. We sit at desks but then my friend has to leave for his class. I open Facebook and Facebook messenger where I decline an invitation to get high tonight because I have a lot of work to do. I click on the message I have sent to my friend who doesn’t go to this university to check that he has not replied. He was active three hours ago but it’s been days since I last heard from him and I’ve told myself it’s absolutely imperative that the next time he was having a dark period I would make sure we didn’t lose contact, but it’s happening again and I’m worried. I open and log into Moodle because it’s easier than ruminating on this, and I run an online quiz. I answer the questions and submit them for marking and get 33%, a fail. The first question that I was certain I got right I in fact got wrong. The second question I got wrong because I used a notation used by the lecturer but not used by the marking software. The third question which I completely guessed I in fact got right. My heart is really going now. I lean forward slightly, cover my face with my hands, it all goes black but there’s still du-DOOF, du-DOOF, in the silence, echoing in my ribcage. Things move slower in here. I count my breath: in, pause, out. Breathe in, long pause, breathe out. I should quit caffeine. Tonight, I should lie down, count my breaths, clear my
head, and just try to feel and appreciate things like I sometimes can. Sometimes it’s beautiful. But that is unlikely to work this late in the trimester, and I will probably just rely on one or many of the plethora of toxic pleasures available to me. My phone vibrates. I have an email. My UniPass is about to expire. I go to UNSWAssist to reset my UniPass. They send me to student services who send me to student hub who take me to a room with beanbags to tell me that I need to go online to reset my UniPass, which takes me about eight seconds on my phone. A fire alarm goes off in another building but I think it’s in this building so I walk outside. I stand in the sun, too hot for August, and I call my friend who does not go to this uni, because we can’t have another tragedy like the one in his brother’s room, not that I would be able to prevent it but we cannot have another tragedy. He does not pick up and I almost smile at his prank answering machine message that says hello and tricks the caller into thinking he is on the line. Suddenly I am light headed, and no there’s no tragedy, I just got up too fast and I am hungry - low blood sugar. I realise that I have not eaten anything today. I go to the food court with the low ceiling, buy some food, and sit on a steel chair. I start eating and it’s a bit spicy and I try to remember the last time I
enjoyed something, like really enjoyed eating. I’m eating this curry but only because if I don’t I’ll faint and I’m really eating quickly here and I’ll almost certainly have a level of indigestion quite soon, but I keep moving my plastic fork from the food to my mouth as I open my diary because I think I wrote in a couple of weeks ago about a lunch date that I distinctly remember enjoying. But then that question like what does it mean to really enjoy something like surely I’m enjoying this food because I keep eating it and maybe enjoyment is what happens the split second before you realise you’re enjoying it, and then it goes away when you think about it. But that doesn’t really make much sense or it’s not a satisfying answer as I sit at this steel table flipping through the entries in my diary and can’t even make sense of my own handwriting, so I decide it’s time to go home. In my room I spend hours watching a pirated show that I’ve watched before until I get so hungry that I eat a can of cold chickpeas with soy sauce, because I’m a vegan now. I set my alarm for 10.30 because maybe some extra hours of sleep will make tomorrow marginally better. I have a dream that I need to speak to my friend that does not go to this uni: it’s a crisis. But my lecturer will not understand that as a reason to miss the test, so I need to get a doctor’s certificate (doctors do not test for food poisoning and rely on your word). I stare at my
phone needing my friend to call me back, time does not pass but the hands of the clock keep moving round, faster now until my phone rings finally but it is my lecturer telling me that the hands are only spinning faster and the test is starting and now finishing but where is he, where is my friend? I wake up, and it is still dark in the house. I get up, go to the toilet, and have a drink of water. My eyes open to my dimly lit room with the warm sunshine being softened by my thick curtain, as my alarm softly alerts me to wake. I press snooze a few times while I flirt with sleep. I’m dreaming that I’m living in a rainforest, and when I wake again I intentionally stay in this beautiful place, allowing myself this fantasy while I lie in the soft covers. Need for the toilet gets me out of bed, and after relieving myself I go to the shower and once I have the temperature just perfect I stand there for a good while. Wrapped in my towel and drinking coffee, I fix myself a breakfast of banana, coconut yoghurt and chia seeds (good for protein and omega-3). The yoghurt has an even creamier texture for the fact that I didn’t scan it at the selfcheckout. The sun is shining through the wide window onto the pastel blue kitchen table, and as I taste my concoction I watch the thin cascade of dust particles making their own shapes and swirls in the kitchen. I try to watch just a single particle, but they seem to disappear the moment you see them. Uni today, and I’ve slept in so I’m
even further behind than usual. I need to study for that test. I’ve managed to have a productive hour in the library, sort of losing myself in the work until it becomes too hard to concentrate. I check my emails. There are none of importance, only inane posts to Moodle forums and an email from a campus environmentalist group that I have never got around to supporting. I walk outside to try and take a break, and standing on the pavement with people streaming left and right I try to decide where to sit and what to do. I step down onto the verdant library lawn and turn away from the sun as I take out my phone and call my friend who does not attend this uni. He picks up my call. His voice comes through my phone, telling me that he has been fine, he lost his phone but he has been ok the last couple of days. He talks about new developments in League of Legends then says yeah, it has been a rough couple of days. His relationship with his mum has been bouncing between those ups and downs and he’s been going to the Marrickville house a lot, which means he hasn’t been sleeping much. But he’s ordered a pizza now so things will be ok. The Marrickville crew gave him that stick and poke tattoo of a cigarette to remember his brother by, which he has wanted for a while and came out well. It stings a bit but he has cream for it, so he will be ok but I know it’s not, things aren’t ok because this episode is not over, and even if it is next time he’ll shut me out or I won’t reach out, so we don’t have a real resolution.
STORIC I H
Melancholic Kashish Mahbubani
I’m a melancholic. Forever drunk on hazy memories, sipping nostalgia like champagne, chugging sentimentality to remember how to feel alive again. Reverie is the burning in my throat that warms me inside out. It never lasts. It’s comfortably uncomfortable to live life in-between, never sober or hung over, always slightly tipsy and chronically melancholy for what came before me. Yes, I’m a chronic melancholic for history. I find it callously careless how we overlook the faces that never graced the history books. Voices aren’t silenced when people are dead, their voices live on through their stories instead, and I can’t spend life learning and grow out of my youth to find that what’s written was never the truth.
I read their stories now knowing I can never hear them as they have happened. But when I hear footsteps down the corridor, I hear heavy black boots scouring the floors. I hear bullets and bomb blasts — things I could never know, but things little girls like me were told to run from years ago. I hear echoes of a bugle call and see the soldiers as they fall. I hear the swinging jazz bands flutes and see evening gowns and three-piece suits. I see pretty girls with pretty curls and crimson smiles hiding rows of pearls, eating sundaes on Sundays but leaving Mondays for milkshakes. If only crinolines had pockets to hide our love letters and lockets, our compasses, our handkerchiefs and all our keepsakes because there’s only so much I can remember. But if it takes me a lifetime, I’ll learn all their names so that they will not have died in vain. Their blood is still flowing through my veins until I bleed, until I die. I can’t help but mourn the lives I could have lived. I have spent my whole life trying to put it into words but what if they’re never tattooed on the earth, or on arms and legs and untangled limbs? Will I ever have truly lived if I am not remembered? Misery loves company, but I’m not miserable, just melancholy. We all want to leave a legacy, but it’s those that mourn for us that make us worthy. Historians look for accuracy but I’m looking past the facts to seek a face like mine, from a different time, to find a miracle that was never remembered.
HERE STOOD THE CHURCH
Here stood the church. It was a short building, red bricks, one on top of another, now a haphazard mass of concrete and brick, red brick, and off-white concrete disturbing the flatness of the block. They took out the foundation stone first. I don’t know why. Thinking about it, it would have made sense to start at the top, with the cross and work down. But I guess that would be sacrilege. Of sorts.
Now the driveway ends, or rather stops amidst the broken red and white. There’s a blue chair at the end and a coat-hanger. God knows why. It’s strange. I am not sure I prefer it, but I can see much more of the sky now, and I like that. The church blocked my view before, but I never really noticed that. I liked this one. There were others in the suburb, but I didn’t know them as well as this one. I did think though that the others would be gone before this one – before this church. Here stood the church.
The Wordsmith Nishat Zaman
Wordsmiths are solitary creatures. Youâ€™ll find them most alive in the late hours of the night, when the world is in deep sleep. They are fond of sweets and alchemy and their fingers are always stained with celestial ink. But what they hunger for the most is a really good story. Like witches gathering moonflowers and yarrow, they are
constantly searching for shiny memories they can transform into eternal gold. They like to feast on bitter dregs of fear mixed with bubbles of joy, cold husks of loneliness, desire so potent it could swallow them whole. Under the magic of the stars, they fashion patterns. Strange, wonderful beasts that are set free to the world when the light of dawn comes, bringing new tales and a new day.
CER N A
the falling leaf twists in the wind
dreaming of wings
THANKS The UNSWeetened team would like to thank Carla Zuniga Navarro for her guardianship and oversight throughout the process of developing this year’s Journal. We would also like to thank Mitch McBurnie for his amazing assistance and support in the later stages of production and editing. To all of the Arc team, in particular to Caroline Fox Drinkwater and Nick Bentley, we thank you dearly for your assistance as well! A big collegiate thank you goes to Stella Maynard, Editor and Coordinator of Framework, and our friends at Tharunka, for their support and integral assistance. Thank you is also due to this year’s judges, whose expertise was most humbly welcomed. This year’s theme was the brainchild of Audrey Pfister, who led proceedings as Coordinator for the opening stages of the Journal. To Audrey, then, we also say thank you for their leg-work in getting this off the ground! Additionally, may we thank anonymously all those intimates whose presence is the spice of life. Finally, our congratulations and thanks to all of the contributors to this year’s Journal, including those whose work did not make it to the final print.
UNSWEETENED 2019 Editor in Chief & Coordinator
Jack Poppert Editors
Bridget Moyle Jack Zhou Chloe McFadden Eric Qian Michelle Huynh Promotion & Marketing
Gemma Anderson Isabella Sasvary Design & Illustration
Rabeea Soomro Nikki Farmer Judges
Stephanie Bishop Astrid Lorange Kirli Saunders Tamryn Bennett Russell Marsden Prize donors
Meanjin Cordite Poetry The Monthly The Lifted Brow UNSW Bookshop
UNSWeetened 2019 ISSN 1441-1415 ÂŠ 2019 by Arc @ UNSW Limited, UNSWeetened and individual contributors. The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Arc @ UNSW unless expressly stated. Arc @ UNSW Limited accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions or information contained in this issue of UNSWeetened. Any complaints should be made in writing to the UNSWeetened Coordinator. UNSWeetened is published by Arc @ UNSW Limited. For more information about Arcâ€™s programs, please contact: Arc Clubs & Volunteerinng Arc @ UNSW Limited PO Box 173 Kingsford NSW Australia 2032 email@example.com arc.unsw.edu.au/UNSWeetened
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