Thursday, July 2, 2015

Women of Letters

I presented this letter on the 28th of June 2015 as a part of the 52nd Women of Letters event at the Regal Ballroom in Northcote alongside Emma Alberici, Maureen Matthews, Corrie Chen and Bev Killick. It was an absolute pleasure to be included amongst such rich-thinking and talented women who generously shared intimate, funny and smart letters to the moments they wished they could take back. Thanks to those who were there who listened and sympathised, for those of you who weren't, I hope you enjoy reading it to yourself without my little jittery voice as a narrator! :)

28th June 2015

'A letter to the moment I wish I could take back.'

Dear self,

I’m writing this letter to confess that I was unable to think of a moment I wish I could take back to write a letter to. Perhaps it wasn’t so much as I was unable to think of a moment I’d rather take back, but that such a moment does not exist.

While I am aware of the perceived arrogance entwined in that statement, I wish to explore why that is not the case. In this letter I hope to recognize the real reason why it is impossible for me to identify something I wish I’d never said, or done, or made, or worn, and use this opportunity as a catalyst to make a shift, even ever so slightly – towards some semblance of spontaneity and a degree of unthinking honesty.

Recently an old high school teacher of mine came out of the woodwork to congratulate me on my alleged “success”. He was “surprised” he stated, as I was always so “quiet” in class. A tutor in first year at university expressed similar “surprise” as he read and assessed the journal we’d been required to write in privately all semester. “I’m surprised” he wrote, “You don’t speak up much in class”. I hotly resented these assessments. They’d followed me for my entire schooling life. It was assumed that because I didn’t speak up, I had nothing to say at all.

I wouldn’t describe my shyness as painful. I didn’t and don’t suffer from any severe social anxiety outside the normal nervousness around new people or in situations alone in crowds. There’s just always been a peculiar kind of pull to remain on the outer, to let situations, conversations and exchanges unfold before me rather than actively participate in them. Particularly when I was younger, I took on the role of observer because there already seemed to be so many participants. I wasn’t one who would bother fighting for position I suppose because there was the possibility I would get that position and be lost for words.

As I’ve grown up into some semblance of an adult, through pure necessity I’ve somewhat overcome this role of eternal observer. However now, I would say that my contributions – words, actions and opinions that I let out into the world – are at best tightly curated, and at their worst – stilted and censored.

I can see that this strategy is rooted in self-preservation. I don’t want anything I utter to trigger a reaction that may cause me harm. I have written scripts for phone conversations. I have put aside time to rehearse back and forth banter for a date. I’ve held back opinion after opinion in favor of something less controversial. I’ve bitten my tongue on so many occasions that I truly could commission someone to make a feature length film titled: ‘Things Minna Gilligan Never Said’ and I might be flattering myself but ideally I’d like a young Shelley Duvall to play me.

I can say I’ve never done anything I wish I could take back with such startling confidence because my thought processes before I do anything are so intense that it’s impossible for anything that could be construed as unsavory to glide past the guards.

I’ve never yelled at anyone. I’ve never told someone what I really think of them. I’ve never slipped-up to an unrecoverable degree, I’ve never confessed my undying love to an unknowing recipient, or told off particular boys for their heart wrenching behavior. I’ve never really put anything out there that in turn could cause me to suffer any pain, hurt, embarrassment or unnecessary complications. It’s exhausting to play out all possible outcomes and assess all possible risks before acting, if I eventually act at all.

There’s a stodgy old quote by Abraham Lincoln that I want to insert here:

“It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and to remove all doubt.”

As I sit writing this with not a single hilarious anecdote to relay about some ridiculous yet soul-confirming instance I wish I could take back, I’m not so sure that it is. In the rather dire circumstances of this quote, I’m a fool either way, confirmed or unconfirmed, which really makes no difference - so I certainly don’t blame my spontaneity for shrinking away to greener pastures.

My spontaneity thrives within the limitless realms of my artwork but is silenced in earthly practice. In my mark making exercises I accept every line that flows unthinking from my pen. Here I embrace wonkiness and inconsistences, I embrace the instinctive immediacy of what courses from my brain to the paper in front of me. Here there are no consequences and I have nothing to protect because the unknown factor of the retorting outside world has been removed, thus, I have no fear.

I am equally curious and terrified of what it would be like to be completely, or near completely, uninhibited within my every day, mortal interactions. To perhaps not take consequence as seriously as I tend to, to live not navigating potentials but embracing them as curbs merely needing to be traversed and learned from.

Perhaps the moment I’m looking for that I wish I could take back are all those instances where I held my tongue, or didn’t say quite what I meant, or was silenced out of fear. Fear of a possibility.

This starts to get complicated, and my earlier claims are now unraveling, but what I’m trying to articulate is that I do to some degree wish I could take back all those moments where I didn’t do or say something just because I could potentially wish to take it back.

I wish I could take back those pauses in which I edited my words, moments spent calmly suppressing valid feelings, and that surprise articulated by my high school teacher. Perhaps it’s better to speak with the possibility of being thought a fool, than to remain silent, giving your audience no evidence otherwise.

Photographs by Sarah Walker

Among other things

I'm actually about to post my Women of Letters piece on here but wanted to firstly post some photos from the past week or two. Have been working in the studio a fair bit, on Rookie commissions and on a collaboration with Romance was Born and Colab Eyewear where I made some collages for a lookbook. They're really fun, and I think I can share them all soon.

Been a little up and down the past week, had some pretty overwhelmingly good news regarding my book 'Time After Time' being released also by Rizzoli in New York and Hardie Grant UK, so that means it will be stocked in America and England as well as Australia which is pretty flooring to say the least. I feel scared at how fast time is passing, maybe I won't have enough time to do all I want to do this year, maybe I've left it too late to order my canvases... I keep making pacts to dedicate the last half of this year to painting, but *things keep coming up* and at this rate I'll have to go into hiding in order to produce even half of what I plan to produce...! (Exaggeration, but you get the picture) I have an exhibition in November at Gertrude Contemporary that I am meant to have started working towards but am yet to. I will, I promise!

Pictures below... very liquorice all sorts tonight... I am posting my Women of Letters talk after this.

Beautiful monstrosity at Savers
Painting in the studio
A gift from my boss
Saturday morning studio rainbow
Going through so many of my old clothes to sell
Also finding old clothes to wear again

Drawing away last Tuesday
Blue for Rookie in July
Romance was Born outfit
My friend and I got cocktails "on the house"
Strawberry snack on Saturday
My love wins contribution
Bought a disco ball at Savers on Monday and installed it on Tuesday

Also scored a free chair

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


I had the most perfect weekend away in Tasmania. It was just so much fun, and we did and saw so many things. We planned the trip to coincide with the Marina Abramović exhibition opening at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) and MONA's Winter Festival Dark Mofo. I'd never been to the gallery before, which is rather ridiculous considering what I claim my profession to be in my last post, so it was about time that I made the trip.

We left very early Saturday morning. I think our flight was at 8am, so we were up out of bed at 5.30am which was mildly traumatising but also okay because I was so excited. With this being the third plane I'd boarded in one week, I now consider myself an old hand at packing my little purple suitcase that was a gift from my Nanna and also navigating what once was to me a confusing institution of arrivals and departures.

Melbourne airport at 7.30am
Okay the novelty of looking out the plane window has not worn off for me 
Snow capped mountains coming into Hobart
Beautiful coastlines
Our plan for when we landed in Hobart was very vague, that was, we didn't have a plan - so after we'd collected our luggage from the luggage belt which has a sculpture of a seal on it, advertising some sort of adventure you can go on and see seals..? We thought it best to hire a car. Well actually hiring a car was my idea - me, the person who does not have a license to drive... I am the perpetual passenger. It's very glamorous. I just sit there in my sunglasses and comment on things I see in passing "Look at that dog!" "That lady has nice shoes" "Oh can we stop and get a chocolate bar?"

Hiring the car wasn't as expensive as we thought, and it was actually perfect as we couldn't check into our hotel until 2pm anyway, so we had somewhere to put our luggage. We drove into Hobart across that amazing bridge that I remember being much smaller (the last time I was in Hobart I was 13) (you'd think my imagining would be the opposite way around) and it was the most perfect, clear winter's day.


From there we drove up to Mount Wellington. It's about a 20 minute drive from the CBD. I'd never been up there before but S had, only about a month ago, shooting for work. This time it was different, apparently, as there was SNOW. Legitimately the last time I saw snow was when I went on Year 8 Ski Camp, and I hated it. The time before that I would have been 8 or something and we went to Mount Baw Baw as a family. Dad insisted we have ski lessons, and I kept falling over and getting my skis tangled and I cried the whole time and it was immensely traumatic.

Anyway, so what I'm saying is that snow is beautiful as long as I'm not on skis trying in vain to have some sort of sporting experience in it. I loved it up on Mount Wellington. There was not a breath of wind, which is apparently rare. The view was, yes, *breathtaking*, literally - far above the clouds, looking out onto the bay and the city and the rest of the rocky mountain top.  The snow did take priority over the view, though, and we made snowballs and tried to get photos standing on precarious parts of snowfall and laughed as our boots sunk ankle deep.


Above the clouds

All that mountain air made us very hungry, so we drove back down to the city in search of some lunch. We ended up going to Battery Point and choosing to eat at a restaurant called Pollen which was a good choice. A very fancy pressed green juice and baked eggs later we called into an antique shop we'd seen on the corner. It was great but unusually I didn't buy anything... I'd already almost gone over my hand luggage allowance!

Terrifying 1930s toy in the antique shop
I loved the colours of the swan
It was finally time to check into our hotel. Now, the hotel is a very important aspect of this trip because it was the most amazing, kitsch, *closest to the Madonna Inn i'll get in Australia* hotel ever. As S had been in Tasmania for work earlier in the year, he'd driven past this place and knew it would be up my alley. We booked a room there about a month ago, and last minute a couple of days before we were due to leave for Tasmania, we rung up and upgraded to a *spa suite*. We figured it was like $40 extra each, and it would be a pretty hilarious experience. I am SO glad we upgraded, because it was just SO perfect. The name of the place is Motel Mayfair on Cavell in West Hobart... It's to die for, if, like me, the things you think are worth dying for are kitschy 1970s decor, mustard velvet curtains and creepy oil paintings of children who look like their eyes might move to watch you in the night.

First impressions... The Lobby
Video library in reception
Our front door
More pictures of inside the hotel room to come...
We got ready for the exciting evening we had planned, which was to attend the Marina Abramović opening at MONA, and then attend Blacklist which was the afterparty. To get to MONA you can take a ferry, and we had tickets booked for the 6.30pm one. Before that, we had a quick wander about the Dark Mofo events and exhibitions that were on display in Hobart including the Patricia Piccinini and Peter Hennessey exhibition 'The Shadows Calling' and the large light that shot up higher than the tallest buildings into the night sky.

The following photos are from the Patricia Piccinini and Peter Hennessey exhibition

The ferry was fun. We got a seat looking out at all the twinkling lights of the city and had a beer while we watched. When we arrived we walked up the grand steps of MONA and entered the gallery. As this was the first time I'd been there, it was a little hard to get my bearings in the space as it was so dark (night time!). My whole retrospective vision of the space is very abstract, disjointed and a little spooky. There were SO many people. We were pretty lucky to be able to skip the queues because we had *special lanyards*, so that did make the experience more pleasant aside from dirty looks from queue goers. Sorry. We had a couple of drinks with some friends, and then went to have a look at the MONA collection and then the Marina Abramović exhibition, which I really enjoyed.

The line for Marina...

Rest Energy
"AAA AAA" 1978

Live performances

The Chamber of Silence
Dancing outside in the freezing cold

We ate food at some point and started to flag from our 5.30am start around 10pm. We had booked our ferry back from the gallery at 11.30pm but managed to wrangle our way onto the slightly earlier 10.30pm ferry. The idea of attending the after party begun to become more and more unappealing as our eyes closed ever so slightly on the ferry back, but we wanted to make the most of our tickets, our time there, and resolved to go for one drink.

Back in Hobart we walked with our hands deep in our pockets and visible breath in the freezing cold to Budgie Smugglers Takeaway which was the venue for Blacklist the after party. Look, I'm not bragging, but our names were on the *VIP* door, which, as it turns out made us no different to anyone else as we ended up on the exact same giant dance floor. The set up was impressive. I was impressed. There was pink and purple lighting falling on a giant rotating Christmas tree shaped sculpture made up of metallic limbs and figures (I think). There were giant strings of beads hanging from the ceiling. You could walk up to the balcony and look down over all of this. It was beautiful.

We had our one drink and just observed the whole scene before calling it a night about 12am. Back at our hotel, we had a spa bath before sliding warm and relaxed into our bed which had an electric blanket. Heaven.

Sunday morning we had a bit of a sleep in. Well, at least until someone from the hotel knocked on our door saying "HOUSEKEEPING!" like it was the 1950s. I didn't know what to do so I kind just yelled through the door "Uh, could you come back later?" And then we just put the "Do not disturb" sign on the door. I've always wanted to do that. We didn't want to be disturbed while we ate you know those packets of mini cereal boxes you can buy? Well we were eating them in bed and needed our privacy.

Before we knew it it was lunch time and we were starving. Well, I was starving. All I thought about all weekend was food. Anyway we changed our "Do not disturb" sign to the "Please make up my room" sign, and headed off on foot towards the city. We stopped in the best junky souvenir shop and bought a couple of things. S bought me a Tasmania stubbie holder as I'd bought him one from Canberra. I bought a hilarious Tasmania Devil toy for my dog Soda, and a Tasmanian Devil figurine for my Mum as a joke present. We finally stumbled across somewhere to eat and get a coffee, and we shared a delicious mushroom pizza with roast vegetable salad.

Shell sculptures as the junky souvenir shop

Soda's new friend
It was then time to go to the Odeon Theatre for the Marina Abramović and David Walsh (The owner and founder of MONA) talk at 1.30pm. We lined up for 20 minutes before realising our special passes got us through the line also... but by then it was a bit late and there were only seats available on the balcony. That was okay, we could still see and hear everything, but it was hard to get a good phone shot of Marina! (I'm forever thinking about social media). The talk was great. The dynamic between David Walsh and Marina was oddly casual, they're very friendly. David Walsh asked interesting but accessible questions, and Marina was very generous in her answers. She's got a pronounced sense of humour which I wasn't actually expecting, her hair is super glossy and healthy looking (even from where I was sitting!) and her accent is dreamy.

Question time was a bit painful. Sometimes those who ask questions at those kinds of things get so carried away with wanting to sound intelligent and interesting that their question becomes performative, and more about them than the person they're asking, and they go for too long, and get too complicated, and it's just embarrassing for all involved. Marina handled some of those types of questions very well giving the asker respect and time which in my mind they potentially did not deserve. S and I had jellybeans as a snack (food!) and we wanted to ask her if she wanted one. I think she would have appreciated that question. We could have thrown it down to her from the balcony!

After the talk, we went to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Okay. So this was a funny experience. I think we are spoiled with the Melbourne Museum. The Tasmanian Museum had content that seemed very dated. But that's why I kind of liked it. S patted one of the taxidermy seals without asking and I couldn't stop laughing. Then this guy just popped up behind us and was like "Would you like to pat a PENGUIN?" and we half expected him to open up his coat and have a live penguin in there or something. Anyway he just unlocked the display cabinet and lifted out these poorly stuffed baby penguins and was like "These are the ones from Happy Feet!" like we were five years old. We patted them reluctantly and it was a very bizarre encounter. When he put them back in, he kind of just shoved them in the cabinet unceremoniously and the penguins face was like squished up against the glass and then I couldn't stop laughing again. A very odd place.

Street flowers
This cabinet was filled with loom band sculptures at the museum?
Stuffed husky dogs

After that we had a snack break (M&Ms and a Kinder Surprise) and went to a couple more of the Dark Mofo art events that were on around Hobart. We stumbled across a pop up bar kind of thing, but we were only allowed to enter the bar if we could find a spoon... which seemed annoying and gimmicky (actually it was) but soon enough someone handed us a spoon and we went in. By coincidence friends of ours came in a few minutes after us so we had a gin and tonic with them. I wasn't paying much attention to the conversation as I became obsessed with a polar fleece and beanie clad old couple in their 70s, who had just been granted entry into the spoon bar. They were really excited and curious at the concept, and sat down on two bar stools around a little table chatting back and forth with their eyes darting around at the decor. They were just having the best time ever. They ordered gin and tonics and then I almost died as I saw them *cheers* each other. They were just the best couple ever and filled me with warmth and optimism and a few other thoughts that I will detail later in this very long essay post.

S booked an early dinner for us as the fanciest restaurant in Hobart called Frank. After I talked his ear off about the old couple we headed there. It was SO lovely. The food was divine. While it was a place renowned for steak they had an exceptional vegetarian selection of which I ordered three different things from... We also had dessert, which was a rich chocolate cake with brandy ice cream. Amazing.

We had tickets to a gig after dinner. It was at the Odeon theatre again which was where the Marina talk was earlier that day. The vibe was way more chilled out than any of the Dark Mofo events we'd attended over the weekend, and I think it was appreciated. The headline act was Gareth Liddiard and to be honest I don't remember who the supports were. That gin earlier coupled with two glasses of wine over dinner and then another upon arrival at the Odeon really altered my ability to pay attention and I was just giggling with S being distracted before we thought it best to head back to the hotel. After all, we had another potential spa bath waiting there for us.

We walked back to the hotel after the gig and I loved how creepy it looked at night
We were sad that Monday morning meant home time :( Our flight back to Melbourne was at 10.30am, so we decided to dedicate what little we had of the morning to appreciating the hotel room photographically. I took pictures of every corner because I loved it so much. S took actually good photos on his actually good camera but for the moment my phone examples will have to suffice. I had the most perfect weekend.

Having a photoshoot with my souvenirs

So practical, a gold guild mirror next to the toilet

Bye bye room
Bye bye lobby
Bye bye kitty
What I loved so much about the weekend, aside from the company and the hotel and the mini cereals and all the activities we got to do, was to see Hobart, a city completely re-activated by art. David Walsh opened MONA in January 2011 and since then has totally transformed the landscape (metaphorically as well as literally) of a city where one of its main tourist attractions was Port Arthur, a former convict settlement and the site of the largest mass-murder in Australia's post-colonial history (35 people lost their lives). Tasmania used to be widely regarded as beautiful but tragic, tainted - or, beautiful but boring.

I was so pleased to see locals bustling about with purpose, businesses thriving, and even rough and ready Taxi drivers who've been at the wheel for 40 years ask what you thought of the exhibition at MONA. I think you all must know by now that I am all about accessibility in the arts, and Hobart, with the edition of MONA and Dark Mofo, has bridged the gap between pretty hard edge contemporary art and the every day person. It was a joy to see so many wide eyes - the elderly couple in the pop-up Dark Mofo bar clinking glasses, a group of teenaged boys who'd chosen to come to the Marina opening on their Saturday night, a Taxi driver who called S "cobber" excitedly retelling us what he'd seen of Dark Mofo the night before. The employee at the car hire place, at the bars and restaurants we ate and drank at... they were all so happy to see us. There was a contagious curiosity and sense of wonderment literally in the air. David Walsh has done a radically revolutionary thing with MONA and I can't believe it took me so long to experience it for myself. I had the best weekend!

A very civilised breakfast at Hobart airport before boarding
Tassie devil on his way home
Soda with his new friend