PENELOPE AITKEN artist > LIFE ELSEWHERE

 

Life Elsewhere:
Foreign bodies and social landscapes

West Space, 15-19 Anthony Street, Melbourne,
28 October - 13 November 2004

 

The resident
D.J. Huppatz

An arts resident spends an indeterminate period living in another culture that is neither the tourist’s brief glance nor the emigrant’s permanent commitment. The resident becomes familiar with aspects of everyday life that are largely absent from the tourist experience – shopping for groceries and household items, dealing with communications problems, negotiating bills, transportation, food, washing, telecommunications. Unlike a tourist, things can’t wait till I get home. For the moment, though temporary, this foreign place is my home. It is in this dealing with the minutiae of everyday life that the resident experiences encounters missed by the tourist, encounters at once everyday and challenging. But unlike the emigrant, the resident leaves, and returns home with a lingering sense of cultural difference.

Two women are balancing on a see-saw, helping another into the middle. Some people are pushing a shiny metal ball. It’s not moving. Three boys, all wearing the same blue shirts, black pants and shoes, have their heads down on a table. They have taken their glasses off. In the local park, a man is painting large Chinese characters on the pavement with a wet mop. A
couple watches him intently. I have no idea what he’s doing. Or why.

My perception is trying to order this odd encounter – the posture, the gesture, the intention is unintelligible to me – yet all around me, people carry on their daily business as if nothing is amiss. The cultural codes, laws of etiquette or behaviour are unknown to me and I don’t understand enough local language to ask anyone for an explanation. At home, my eye passes over people marked by known fashion, familiar gestures and deportment that are categorised and skimmed over without thought. My familiarity with social rituals, etiquette, patterns of behaviour render so much daily experience almost invisible. But here culture’s force is experienced as a shock that displaces my own unquestioned order of things. In that momentary encounter that cannot be ordered within familiar cultural codes or past experiences is a recognition of my limits. It is an encounter that cannot be skimmed over: I am arrested and contested by the force of cultural difference.

As a writer, my first impulse is to capture the encounter. I attempt a representation of the experience into a visual form so as not to forget it. This is part of a translation process into tangible information, into the already known. Photography is an obvious starting point. But while an instant snapshot captures something of the actions that take place, it does not record the encounter with cultural difference. A snapshot fails to register my faltering understanding, my hesitation, my incomprehension. What is lost in photography’s distant objectivity is the mispronunciations, the accented stammerings, the incorrect grammar, the cultural gap at the heart of cultural difference. Perhaps then the encounter is better represented in a form which requires a longer contemplative process. I choose poetry and Penelope chooses painting. Both forms entail translation, editing and addition over a period of time. In their slow process of reproduction, both produce similar gaps, moments of absence and misunderstanding, or, in the end, yet another encounter that resists translation.

D.J. Huppatz is a Melbourne poet who recently completed an Asialink / Australia-China Council Arts Fellowship in Beijing

 

Awaiting allostasis (or grace), 2004, oil on canvas, installation approx 300 x 300 cm

 

 

The images in these paintings have been sourced from photographs taken by the artist and other people overseas. Thanks to the following people for their photos as well as their stories: Solrun Hoaas, Choi Moon-Sun, Richard Giblett, Kathe Kirby, Albert Chen, Philip Aitken, DJ Huppatz, Naeem Rana, Nusra Qureshi and Sujud Dartanto.


 


Faculty Club International, 2004, oil on canvas, 31 x 31 cm


The anxious space between, 2004, oil on canvas, 23 x 23 cm



Rehearsing eternal springtime, 2004, oil on canvas, 51 x 51 cm


Exhibiting transidentity capabilities, 2004, oil on canvas, 40 x 40cm



Black Mirror (moonsun) , 2004, oil on canvas, 26 x 23 cm

 


Group Think , 2004, oil on canvas, 61 x 61 cm

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