There were no places to park on Botany Road so I found a spot on Wyndham Street and wandered through the park behind Locksmith. The construction workers from the site next to the park were all having their lunch and had spread out like school children in the playground, bunched in groups of twos and threes and occasionally a few more. They paid me next to no attention but that didn’t stop me fantasising a scene in which someone (my mind was picturing Fred Lee) tells the construction workers that I was only just starting my work day (at 1pm!) and what that work actually entails. In my fantasy the workers start taking the piss out of me for being a bourgeois lay-about and a few of them get quite annoyed and say things like some people have too much time on their hands.
So I arrived at Locksmith happy to have time on my hands. Yasmin was at home and we had barely said hello before Margaret Seymour and a group of her students from SCA arrived. Most of her students poked around nervously for a few minutes and then either sat down on the couch or went outside, but there were two people who immediately responded to the space by using the chairs and the combs (yet another Sarah Goffman addition) to construct a dinosaur. They went to the effort to make teeth, eyes and cleverly used Hilik’s knives as claws. During this time the wonderful musician John Hunter came in from his lunch break at Allan’s Music. John definitely holds the record for the shortest stay of anyone intending to come to the show, arriving and leaving in 4 frames which clocks him in at less than a minute. I’m very fond of John Hunter’s Lightning Visit. He was on a short break and had no time on his hands to hang around politely in a space full of crummy objects. So he left as soon as he wanted to, which was as soon as he arrived. In fact I see John’s performance in four parts (1. Foot. 2. Looking back from the back corner. 3. Looking at Foosball table. 4. Moving around and out) as a profound artistic gesture. I wonder how many people would be willing to widen the framing of an art gesture enough to include John’s Lighting Visit in it? But then perhaps that is precisely what Push and Pull does, widens the frame of an art gesture to such a degree that the question of what is and what isn’t art, or where it begins and ends, is the least relevant and least interesting question you could ask. John Hunter’s gesture raises the question of polite sufferance, that is, why suffer something that you would rather not suffer if you can easily leave? It’s a profound question because if you accept that we must suffer sometimes – like working for money (and John was on a break from work) – then when you are granted the privilege of having time on your hands what you do with that time is incredibly important. In a way I see this as the question that Push and Pull asks people when they arrive, do you have time on your hands and if so, what are you going to do with it? And the whole composition of the piece is geared so that if your answer is, actually I want to get a juice or I want to go to the beach or I’d prefer to sit outside for my lunch break then that is what you’ll do. The whole thing is calibrated so that there is no Event to arrive into or leave, in other words, John’s visit is not registered as a failure of the work to live up to some framing of art as a heightening or beautification of ordinary experience, but rather it fits neatly around the contours, rhythms and desires of that ordinary experience. With the frame thus widened, the art-work-that-isn’t wants to say: get me a juice too! or I want to come to the beach! or yes let’s go outside the sky is amazing today!
As soon as John left Yasmin and I played a game of Foosball. The game was abandoned with the score locked at 3-3 because Yasmin was meeting a friend and going to see the film Samson and Delilah, which everyone was talking about. I went out to get a fresh juice from the fruit store and on the way saw Frank, who wasn’t talking about Samson and Delilah, but was talking about seeing the whales at Coogee. That time of year, etc. The construction of the chair-comb dinosaur was still taking place when two of Zanny’s students Ruby and Andrew arrived and began putting little orange stickers on everything which they then wrote a price on. It quickly became clear that Ruby’s engagement with the work was to turn it into a garage sale. A few days prior she had stuck posters up along Botany Road with a laconic picture of Kaprow and the by-line: We’ve pushed our prices right down, so you can pull a bargain!! Ruby and Andrew got to work turning the place into a shop, organising the objects into their various sections including Homeware, Electrical, Kitchenware, Hardware and The Lucky Dip (which was all the rubbish off the floor swept into a bag). They systematically priced everything, the books, the chairs (which were arranged outside to mimic the way Frank arranges his chairs next-door), the radios, the door-stop rock, wood, the knives, cups, pencils, combs, stanley knives, pliers, record players (broken), the dismantled TV set and the working TV. Anything that could have an orange sticker stuck to it. A question they had to ask themselves during the pricing process was whether to price items individually or as whole entity? For example, when it came to the chair-dinosaur (that had since been finished and placed in the window), was it a bunch of chairs, knives and combs each with their own price or was it a whole thing, a chair-dinsaur, worth perhaps more than the individual parts? In the end I think the chair-dinosaur was granted its reality as a whole, though what value it was given I’m not sure. Ruby and Andrew often had wildy different ideas of value which led to some items (like the knives) having a price of $1 whilst an identical item was priced at $6. They set up a counter and even had a jar with change money in it, putting a sign in the window and this officially opened the Push Pull Garage Sale. I was tremendously excited by all this. To my mind it’s the best engagement with the work by any of Zanny’s students. By actually going ahead and trying to sell the objects in the space, it produced a fascinating tension that instantly drew out the invisible rules governing the ownership of the objects. When Ruby put a price tag on the foosball table for $300 dollars she called the bluff of the supposed-notion you can do anything, and specifically, she placed me in the potential position of having to exercise veto on the sale of the foosball table which I had promised to return. But then I wondered if Deni would not prefer $300 dollars over an old foosball table. I resolved to ring him if the situation came about.
The other reason I was so energised by Ruby’s garage sale was that it instantly reminded me of the story David Antin tells about a garage sale, Herbert Marcuse and a stand-off between the philosophy and art departments at the University of San Diego in his brilliant talk-poem called (and here I reveal my narrative conceit): time on my hands. Antin is an American originally from New York who moved to California in the 60’s and is known for a style of poetry reading that is improvised talk and which moves between philosophy and tale. Herbert Marcuse is an old marxist from the Frankfurt school in Germany, student of Heidegger’s, author of the book One-Dimensional Man and darling of the American Left of the 60’s and 70’s. Marcuse and Antin were both at the University of San Diego when one of Antin’s graduate art students held a garage sale for her first year review show. One of Marcuse’s disciples (as Antin calls them) wrote a scathing review, to which the graduate student responded (on Antin’s advice) by taking Marcuse’s idea of art to pieces and it all ended in a meeting between the art department and the philosophy department. It’s a ripping yarn, most of which you can read here (the text starts just after Antin mentions that Marcuse never usually got involved with contemporary art…). I tend to think that the poverty of aesthetic ideas shown by someone like Marcuse (whose philosophical and political writing is highly significant) is a kind of synecdoche for the way that art intersects, or doesn’t, with activism. Let’s not go any further in that direction other than to say that all this has particular relevance to Push and Pull within the context of There Goes The Neighbourhood within the context of the urban politics of Redfern within in the context of… etc.
The garage sale was set-up as invitingly as possible but we weren’t getting any shoppers. This stretch of Botany road, totally dominated by the heavy traffic, is not really the kind of place you stroll along window-gazing. Fred, Smith, Astrid and her eldest brother Danny turned up and we got straight into a four-player game of foosball. Fred and myself were victorious 5-4 against Smith and Danny in a close game although it’s fair to say the better team won. Astrid made thoughts from the last 3 minutes on a canvass that was lying about and then took some terrible photos. Eli popped in for her customary hello while on a juice break from work and was surprised to see one of the artists her work represents on the TV just as she walked in. We’d been listening to FBI for a large chunk of the day and were now thoroughly sick of the Save FBI gimmick of getting Richard Branson to give them a million bucks, so we changed to Radio National and caught the next episode in the series The Nerve. Last friday the Gregorian chants had put Fred Lee to sleep but this week we got samples of Smells Like Teen Spirit as part of an episode about the insularity of the itunes-based identity. Since Ruby and Andrew were minding the shop I agreed to drive the clan back home and as we were piling into the car Smith pointed out an old lady urinating in the garden bed behind us. We all craned our necks disbelievingly to see the spectacle and sure enough there she was with pants down shooting a thin stream of wee. Smith shook his head and said the indignity of it. I tried to mount a case that she was in fact reclaiming dignity, but this was less out of a sense of conviction than the reflex habit of disagreeing with whatever Smith says. When I arrived back at Locksmith Lucas had purchased the one and only item from Ruby’s garage sale (a Sarah Goffman original!), which I nevertheless considered a great success. Andrew and Ruby left only after 5:30pm when things had really died down. Sam came home and then went out for beer and saw the aftermath of some violence that left a bloodied young guy sitting in the butchers for refuge while the sirens came speeding down the hill. Kenzee had also arrived and beat me convincingly at foosball, paying strict attention to the rule of not freely spinning the pole (the best weapon for all amateurs foosball players). He was perturbed to see that Hilik’s knives, which it seems he had previously hidden, were making a reappearance. Lucas and I were reclining on the couch and I said, perhaps enigmatically, Push Pull then, by which I meant move them if they are bothering you. As the main person responsible for the space, he was more than justified in wanting to take away a set of very sharp knives, but I think he was being sensitive about not curbing the openness of the work. That sensitivity is very much appreciated although both Lucas and I were only interested in the tension that the knives produced rather than having them as objects in the space. Kenzee looked over at the knives again clearly hoping that they would get moved, but he didn’t move them. Sometime in the night they would disappear.