Will we dance when it’s over?
Non-fictionOn New Year’s Day 2022, protesting Victoria’s vaccine mandate…a man in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond set himself on fire in his car. Onlookers who came to his rescue described him as ‘off his face, yelling about the mandate’. For a few days afterwards, he was reported as fighting for his life from injuries sustained in the blaze. Months later, when writing this essay, I went back to find out if he survived. There were no reported updates. [Such] protests, however you feel about their motivation, are…desperate, extreme acts of communication. But their deaths may as well be Fortnite deaths, may as well be part of a simulation, for their surreal absence of effect. These men are simply lost to the storm, no longer spoken about. But why does the response to the loss of human life, and a reckoning with their intentions, feel just as detached as the reaction to the disappearance of a cartoonish avatar? The stakes in our real world have reached a point so high, so close to apocalypse, that they’ve disappeared entirely. We are gripped by a nihilism and unnerving sense of unreality, and so we don’t receive the messages others are trying to send to us.
IntroductionThe pieces in this edition mine the social, cultural and emotional ramifications of our shifting relationship with reality: the power of deepfakes, the possibilities of AI-generated art, the changing face of cosmetic surgery, the performance of pornographic pleasure, the dangers of corporate greenwashing, the allure of conspiracy...
A passing phase
In ConversationI went to Tim’s Guitars years ago and I saw Grant Hart from Hüsker Dü do a solo thing and he had a Q&A after the solo. And some guy went, ‘How often do you practise guitar?’ And then Grant Hart said, ‘I never practise guitar, practising guitar gets in the way of my personality.’ And I was like, ‘Oh wow, that’s actually really true.’
How do we discern what's real and what's not in a time of influencers and identity scams, counterfeits and cosmetic surgeries, disinformation, fake news and threats to democracy?
Free to Read
How can you write a novel without killing it?
On this land that has, for many millennia, seen the flourishing of language upon language, and now finds itself home to a population of which almost 30 per cent were born overseas, translation is part of our national identity.
‘Do food bloggers realize how awful their recipe pages are?’ a Reddit user innocently enquires in a thread I stumble across while googling food blogs bad. ‘Do they take reader satisfaction into account?’
According to more than 600 replies, the answer is largely no.
Beware the funky murals
Yet increasingly murals are rolled out by local government with the aim of rapid redevelopment and gentrification of traditionally working-class areas… The broader function of officially sanctioned public art like this is to make a place more attractive to developers…and middle-class home buyers.
Cloak and swagger
There is a tension that I am trying to provoke – a back-and-forth between invitation and denial, visibility and invisibility, surface and depth – that arises in various ways throughout the work. It is in the presentation of the figure and its ‘lingering traces’, the cloak of costumes with their vibrant materiality, the seductively polished yet impenetrable terrain of the images.
From cream buns and vanilla slices to cheese-filled sausages and salad sandwiches, working-class culinary culture would not be the same without the lunch bar. Typically tucked away in a corner of the city’s suburban, industrial and commercial districts, lunch bars have sustained the work force with an array of no-frills fast food since the 1950s.
Cosy, all too cosy
I had such fun doing the project, which was sort of like organised yarn bombing… It was a project for a specific area, a swimming hole in a small town outside of Warrnambool, and I created floating waterlilies that went in the pond as well as birds and nests and things that went in the trees – about half-a-dozen pieces.
One of the first poems MacDiarmid wrote, with his new name and his new sense of what was required of his existence, was ‘The Watergaw’. No doubt it came as a bolt out of the blue and required much fastening to the jinker, but it reads like a bit of the earth’s speech. It’s a burn steadily chanting over the brae, as they’d say in his part of the world.
Bennett chose to excavate representations of colonial history. Old paintings, drawings, stamps, newspapers and textbooks – the kit and caboodle of scenes, images, stories and tropes that, in sum, form something like Australia’s visual common sense. It is just this assemblage that Gordon Bennett sought to unsettle in Possession Island.
Looking for Johnny Burnaway
In suburban Brisbane, Johnny discarded his teenage nickname, Zap, and adopted a new identity: Johnny Burnaway. The name, which he took from a minor character in Anthony Burgess’ cult novel A Clockwork Orange, served as both punk persona and an accurate description of his future.
The empathy machine?
A cursory Google search soon reveals that ‘VR as the ultimate empathy machine’ – as VR filmmaker and proselytiser Chris Milk calls his 2015 TED talk – is not just a niche academic research interest, it’s a movement. And like all movements, it has its prophets and zealots. According to Milk in a 2016 TechCrunch interview, VR promises the ‘democratisation of human experience’.