I admit to pre-preparing. I began writing earlier in the day, anticipating the performance that evening. I think of it initially as ‘cheating’ and smile wryly to myself. I go to the nearest mirror to evaluate my wry smile and judge it more correctly to be ‘smug’. Actually I don’t do this at all but I think to myself ‘how will anyone know?’ You can’t possibly know, but I already know that I will confess to this lie in the blog. I imagine that this will be a suitably arch series of sentences that will work well as the opening. I am happy with this. ‘How clever,’ readers (you) will think.
I’ve been thinking about motels / hotels / motor inns for most of the day. As one does. These are almost always places you go for reasons other than the motel / hotel / motor inn. Usually you have some kind of business in the town you’ve travelled to, you’re having some kind of lovely holiday in a lovely resort location, or (as is the case most often when it comes to motor inns) you’re simply travelling a long way in your vehicle and need somewhere to stay overnight mid-voyage. This is my (and your) experience. Sure our experience is not the experience and yeah, perhaps there are heaps of people who travel the country staying at the most architecturally interesting motor inns. Perhaps they are like the people who travel around ticking off the list of Big Things in Australia. Or perhaps it only happens in America. I don’t know. Anyway, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a motor inn because there was something happening at the motor inn. It’s not typically the type of accommodation that also hosts conferences, let alone curated artistic events. This is all about to change. It’s exciting.
I set out for the Grong Grong Motor Inn. It’s about a 45 minute drive from my place, so I have a little bit more time to keep thinking about motels / hotels / motor inns. I decide on the drive that continually referring to motels / hotels / motor inns is something I will probably do in this blog post, and I decide it needs acronym-inising. I decide that MHMs is really cool, and I speculate that it may well be adopted en masse in the future. It will be a glorious future for me if this is the case. I will design and wear a golden jacket with MHM emblazoned on the back. Do you think I should have introduced the acronym earlier in the post? I’m not sure. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I will design a similar golden jacket if acronyminising makes it into the dictionary. I will just use smaller lettering. And perhaps a different font…
The thing is, despite being viewed as mainly utilitarian, staying in MHMs is always a poetic experience. Stay with me. One of my favourite Russian Formal theorists is Victor Shklovsky (I refer to him at most parties and barbecues I attend). His most famous concept was that of ostranenie, or defamiliarisation. It’s about metaphors, and to put it simply he felt that the value of metaphors within literature was to revitalise language, to reawaken the senses. The good metaphor will give us an unusual imagining of a once-familiar thing, and accordingly new understanding. The accommodation at MHMs does this for me (for you). We expect certain standard things – a bed, a bathroom, a fridge, a tv – and by and large these things are usually provided. But they are always slightly different to what we are used to. The bed is harder or softer than what you sleep on at home and the sheets are clearly washed using a starchier variety of cleaning product. The tap fitting are slightly different, and need to be turned with a slightly different torsion level than you would expect. We can either view this prevalent slight difference as eery and unsettling, or perhaps we can view it as defamiliarising, an experience that jostles our senses and allows us to leave the MHM slightly re-awakened? The point of all this is that we can choose to think of our MHM visits as sensory opportunities rather than an experience that will only present varying degrees of comfort deprivation. I haven’t even got to Grong Grong and I’ve entered a new phase of my life, one where overnight stays in MHMs will punctuate my life-narrative with spikes of joy!
I’ve gone this far without mentioning The CAD Factory and what is actually going on tonight. That’s probably not a problem though – if you’re reading this right now (hi!) you probably have some knowledge of the CAD Factory, you may have been reading the Grong Grong Creative House blog already, you might have even been at the final performance. So I’m not going to go on and on with any kind of explanatory backstory because it’s already out there, and you know, this is the internet. 6 artists in the hotel for a week. The final evening, the motor inn is opened up to the public. This is what I’m here for.
I’ve booked a room for the night because I’m blogging the event, so this is officially ‘work’. I’m staying in room 4 and when I arrive I realise that I am right next door to one of the artists, Julie Montgarrett. Julie has her blinds open and I can see that viewers will be able to either enter the room or peer in at the work through the window. I hurry past, wanting to begin experiencing the work at 6.30pm when the event is officially opened to the public. But now, sitting here in room 4, I feel somewhat of an intruder. What will happen if I wander into my room during the event and people see me? They might assume I am one of the artists, that my room is open for them to come through and inspect. I almost feel as if maybe they should have the right to do this. I could invite the public in and introduce them to the artistic work of ‘the blogger’. They could sit on my bed and observe as I quietly tap the keyboard, writing things, writing things about them. I could show them the Coopers Ale longneck I bought with me and talk to them about the role of alcohol in literary culture. I could pull up my other literary works available online, explain to them that promoting yourself heavily is ok as long as you’re cool about it. I would show them my poetry book lollyology and urge them to buy a copy through Lulu, to enter their credit card details right then and there while I watch. I might end up crying with gratitude and reveal to them that I never wanted my life to turn out like this, that I’d had dreams of being a scientist when I was young, of doing good works for humankind…
But look this isn’t really about me. Did Vic McEwan know what he was doing when he asked me to write this final blog post? A review of sorts, I think I remember his email saying. I don’t think he’s ever read any of my other ‘reviews’…
But then a quick conversation with Vic reveals that he trusts me to do whatever I want. Sweet. A review can do a lot of different things. We might evaluate the work and give a recommendation to a potential audience. We might even distil the thing into a numerical scale, something using stars for instance. But then reviews are still written about things that cannot be seen by the person reading the review, one-off performances for instance. I guess you can still recommend future work of the team behind the reviewed event, you could still reduce that to a 5-star scale… Anyhoo… What I prefer to do is immerse you in the experience of the event or product. You’ve been with me inside my head now since this morning (it’s 6.20pm now, I’d better head outside soon (by the way I forgot I saw a paddock full of curlews on the way here and it was amazing)) and that’s how you’ll experience Grong Grong Creative House. It’s raw and it’s honest. But also, you’re going to get all this other stuff. Some might call it lack of restraint. I’m sorry.
Earlier this week Jason and I were talking briefly about the novelist Tao Lin. Or I was talking about him. Whatever. I mentioned remembering that one of the blurbs on one of his books said something about him dwelling in aspects of human experience most artists shun, things like ‘boredom’. It’s true and that idea has stuck with me. As I drove to Grong Grong, I listened to the new Cloud Control album, and the lead single contains the lyric ‘But I’m lazy / & I don’t want anything’. It struck me as interesting because it’s delivered in a really pretty, lazy, bored manner, and yet, the song was written. Effort was involved. This band wanted that lyric to be heard and worked on getting it out there. Tao Lin and Cloud Control came up in my week at different times and that’s either coincidental or not coincidental, but as of now I can at least say it’s not meaningless. I’m primed to think about a particular artist. Grong Grong Creative House (GGCH?) artist Scott Howie mentions in his bio that he is interested in exploring failure, doubt. Both aspects of the human experience people often don’t want to think about too much. Scott’s work in his room is video feed broadcasting his puppet onto the room’s tv screen. It is accompanied by a music on a record player. Scott stays in character – hair wet, wearing a suit – as he wordlessly ushers us into the confined space. Fittingly (I decide it’s fittingly, there on the spot) there is a technical error almost straight away. Something doesn’t work in the way it should and Scott is forced to momentarily break character and utter ‘Sorry folks…’ But then again he might have planned it this way. He must know we are an educated audience, have read about his artistic ‘concerns’, and we might actually appreciate something like this occurring. Or else I’m over-thinking this. (Scott later assures me he didn’t plan the technical difficulty. But then he would say that, wouldn’t he…) The performance though, when it happens, it slow, minimal, and strangely comforting. A tiny puppet is guided through the motions of sleep and that is all. At stake is my expectation that the puppet will break into a greater flurry of movement at some point. Which of course does not happen. The pay-off at the end is movement of the puppet’s arm, a turn of his head making us believe he is about to wake. I find the second part of Scott’s room later. A film of him in the shower wearing the same suit. We are invited to turn a tiny music box while we watch a film of Scott in the shower. Perhaps I shouldn’t have read the artists’ blog beforehand, because all I can think about is the out-take where Scott realises he is in the shower with his mobile phone in his pocket.
And of course how could I have forgotten: as Vic introduced the event to us this evening, a fire broke out in the woodpile, next to the 44 gallon drum campfire. Vic called for the Motor Inn hosts John and Sandra to come up to the mic but at that exact moment John was employing a fire extinguisher to save our lives. Again, I’m fairly sure this wasn’t planned but it was nice. It felt ‘real’.
I note to some of the other viewers that we are all following an unspoken code of behaviour. We hush ourselves upon entering each room. We don’t know what the implicit code of behaviour will be for each work, and so we go quiet. We step around each other with exaggerated politeness. I fantasise about bursting into a room, spilling my beer on the bed and yelling ‘Fucking hell!’
I don’t do this but it’s nice to realise that I’ve reached the level of fantasising about various levels of shocking behaviour. Usually this means I’m comfortable in my surroundings, looking to experiment if only mentally. You don’t get more comfortable than when you’re lying in a bed. Although that’s a more complex thing when you’re not sleeping in your own bed. I think of this when I make my way into Sarah McEwan‘s room. Her work is a music video for her band Her Riot, accompanied by a zine, a manifesto about music, bands, and cool-ness. For me the only space free to view the video requires sitting on Sarah’s bed. It’s a curious intimacy, sitting there on the bed of the artist who has been sleeping there all week, who will sleep there again tonight. Maybe I’m thinking about this because Sarah’s installation is an inherently intimate affair. An anti-bombast project, a music video production that is all about simplicity, honesty, and maybe even an explicit rejection of adult concerns… It’s lovely. And I’ve thought about cool-ness myself before so it’s a point of connection. Maybe we’ll have a conversation one day. Again I wonder about the intimacy of the artists’ beds. I ponder heading into the next room and getting in under the covers. Having a little nap. I just so want to do this but at the same time I know I won’t. Are we passive viewers or participative participants?
Hmm. Talking about participation (man I’m totally nailing these paragraph segues!) in room 6 Clytie Smith has created a faux-museum of the best kind. Objects that we’re advised to take and use, to incorporate it into the room. It’s fairly brilliant, because the whole museum set-up immediately throws you into a formal way of experiencing things (let’s stay ‘quiet’; let’s give each other ample ‘space’) but then the room throws you out of that mode. Firstly, we create the back-story for each piece, and then secondly, and more importantly, we’re treated to brilliant faux-works, oceanic creatures created out of nuts and bolts, adorning the floors and walls. (I mean, I recall telling someone later that this was a sort of double-pay-off. My confounded expectations were built up doubly, into an entirely new and cool experience (though while not an orgasmic experience, it at least made me think of the word. Triple-pay-off?))
Outside in the grounds of the Motor Inn there are a couple of projections being displayed, also a pink ice-cream van serving ice-cream. I admit to not taking much time to take in the projection pieces and writing this now I’m not sure why that is. In the beginning I was confident that I was going to really experience everything. That was my approach anyway. I did take in Vic’s performance on his improvised instrument, an old trailer rigged with wire and contact mics, bowed to produce a challenging soundscape throughout Grong Grong (I’d say). I say challenging because people were challenged. People mentioned it to me. ‘Strange’, ‘Unusual’ et cetera. This is a fantastic response. Every aspect of this motel has been transformed into a performative work. Even the drainpipe near my room has a set of earphones plugged into it. When you put it on you hear the sound of rain through the drainpipe. Nice.
It’s late. Maybe too late – I’m reduced to writing bland descriptors like ‘nice’. It’s past midnight. I don’t care though because, I mean, it has been worth it. I have talked to artists and garnered some insight. I’m up right now typing these words and I’m wishing I was one of the artists, curling up in bed, feeling like the work is finally done. Sleeping. Communing with myself.
Darrin Baker‘s work was a video installation that featured a sleeping salesman. It was easy to grasp and perhaps that’s the beauty of it. There are two things worth noting and I’ll just note them. Voice-over work done by Creative House artist Scott Howie = Cross-Fertilisation (win). Use of the actual bed in the room, projected atop the bed = filmic awesomeness. I don’t know if I’ve staggered my writing correctly but there’s no changing anything. Not now.
But I also noted the repetition in Room 7. I don’t mind admitting that my experience in this room was not the greatest. I think it was because I’d already seen the projected prose (seen via Vic’s Facebook a while back), and, as such, I was immediately un-surprised. It was a dream and we were invited to type out our own dreams but the feeling of un-surprise stuck. And I felt like I couldn’t easily participate in the typing either. There was a queue sit down at the vintage typewriter and I wasn’t ready to queue. Does this mean more about me than the work? I feel like it says more about the work. But I am arrogant like that occasionally.
Oh and naturally I wanted to end with what I liked the most. I knew it would go this way since before I started writing. This was always going to happen and it seems like a natural way of doing things. I lead the reader towards a certain point, a sort of a climax. People do ask at this kind of event what you ‘liked’. What they mean is, what did you like best? Who won? I liked Julie Montgarrett‘s installation the best. And I’m not just saying that because she’s currently asleep in the room next-door. It’s not about picking a winner. But, you know. Julie’s work was a totally immersive experience. Fabric prints of various shapes adorned every wall. A rotating light in the middle slowly projected delicate shadows in and over an array of objects, creating patterns in every corner of the room. It was beautiful from the outside (viewed through her open windows) and it was even more beautiful when experienced as a sit-in (Julie walked out of her bathroom while I was sitting-in. I felt the need to apologise.) While Sarah’s room – and accompanying zine manifesto – celebrated intimacy, I felt like Julie’s room problematised intimacy and prodded me to think about extimacy, the role of the unconscious in our lives, a thing always both interior and exterior at the same time. I like being prodded to think.
It’s what am I doing now, actually. Have I said enough? Have I said too much? Did I waste too much of your time rambling on about MHMs? How do I wrap this up? Ok. I commend to you the further exploits of the CAD Factory and all of the artists involved in the Grong Grong Creative House. They are all doing good things. This is an overwhelmingly positive review, don’t you think? As a more formal summation (if that’s the kind of thing you like): the CAD Factory are working with communities. I’ve heard them say it themselves enough times, but it’s clear the words aren’t empty. They are working with communities. Believe me, I’m really ready to look for flaws in any sort of operation. But here, tonight, (1.22am) I’m convinced that the CAD Factory activities are positive and furthermore, that they are having an impact, causing people in this region to start considering art as a real option, to start taking their half-formed ideas seriously. Their approach is sound. I’ve had a great night. And it’s not entirely because I saw Vic drinking Stones Green Ginger Wine straight from the bottle, convinced it was whisky. It’s that, but it’s more.
The worst thing about the event is my lingering feeling of envy. I wish I had been one of the artists. Not just here for a night but a part of the entire project. I’ve already thought of what I would have presented in my room. I think I just want to be allotted MHM art-space and also be able to walk through other peoples’ MHMs forever. And that seems, still, so impossible. But I want it and this want makes it a future possibility.
– Derek Motion