Simon Zoric

Simon Zoric header artist portrait

When Simon Zoric exhibited a silicone copy of his dick and balls on the floor at West Space someone actually slipped over on it. It sounds like a modern take on a banana skin gag from a 1920s film that might have had tap dancing, or minstrelry in it—but it really happened and he says it wasn’t on purpose.
Despite his works’ potential for ironic, oftentimes chuckle-inducing readings he insists that they are never intended as ‘one-liners’: ‘I guess I get worried about people thinking that it’s a joke,’ he says.
‘I seesaw so much, because other times I get so angry if someone says it’s funny, and I try to say that I’m not trying to be humorous at all,’ he says, ‘It’s completely nuts though.’
Nuts, balls, dicks and all, on first look his works definitely amuse. Along with the sculpture Cock & Balls (2013) he wrote and exhibited From the Desk of (2013), a letter replete with references to urinal shyness that he had sent to the National Gallery of Victoria asking them to buy it (he still hasn’t heard back). In Moodometer (2010), he altered a barometer so that it oscillates between his three primary moods: horny, depressed, angry. He once exhibited a life-size wooden Decoy (2013) of himself, kind of like one of those folk art duck decoys, complete with a beer in hand (‘I used to drink a lot. I guess I was just making a joke about me being a boozer.’)
His works often border on self-parody. But that doesn’t mean he wants to lend others licence for the same. ‘Some people are jerks about it. If you’re self-deprecating then they think that means that they can make fun of you as well. It’s not the same thing.’

Simon’s constant self-effacement can make him seem a little unsure—his dark eyes dart, his voice quavers, and he has the tendency to ask too often if he’s making sense. But it becomes apparent as he hums and haws, explains and re-explains—that he really does knows what he means, exactly what he means. But that he’s just deliberating what words to use.
And when you look more closely at his work, past the humour and the persona, you can see similar layers of premeditation, forethought. That the materiality of the object is the result of a deep, conceptual labour.
And it is the concept that he is faithful to above all else. ‘The materials are dictated by the idea, and then you have to figure out how to make it or how to get somebody else to make it.’
He went through such a process when he made Decoy after undertaking a residency in the United States. ‘I came to the end of the residency and I had nothing, I was just at the San Francisco airport, and they had an exhibition on in the airport of antique duck decoys.’
‘From that I was just thinking what would a decoy of me look like? If I was to have a decoy carved, what would I be doing?’
He liked that the duck decoy can be instantly recognised as its signified subject and wondered how we could create a work with a similar immediacy.
He decided to dress the model in his then signature outfit; a bomber jacket, loose black pants, sneakers. ‘I had been travelling at the time, so I didn’t have all of my clothes with me, but I was wearing the same outfit all the time in that period.’
He also decided to give the Decoy a beer in hand, because he drinking a lot at the time, because of the stereotypically masculine connotations of the gesture, and because of drinking’s ubiquity in the art gallery opening context. Not being a carver, or a painter, he outsourced the construction of the piece.
Apart from his tendency to follow of his ideas, along the tangential lines and lateral jumps they take, he says ‘I don’t have any regular way of working ever.’ A lot of the time he’s just working things out, for the sake of working them out.
‘You’re trying things out sometimes and seeing what it means, or what it does.’

Simon started off studying photography, but eventually wanted to move away from it. ‘I feel like I had a bit of an insecurity—there’s a thing with being a photographer where you feel like you don’t have that skill with the hands…you just feel limited.’
He began to recognise that his strength wasn’t necessarily in his aesthetics or technical ability, but was somewhere within his capacity to conceptualise his life. ‘A lot of it comes from my experience… so something might happen that might make me think of something else and then I’ll put it through the art filter.’
Today his studio is filled with models of poached eggs, toast. He plans to make a Melbourne café breakfast still life, with two empty chairs, a table set. The work represents his fondness of the experience, and allows the viewer to project their ‘own experience or their own ideas about it—’they’ll say I never order bacon and eggs, or whatever.’
The work would also serve as a memorial for the experience, preserving elements of the real, where ‘it’s not real but you can have it forever.’
Rather than trying to perfectly mimic the experience, ‘it’s supposed to remind you of what the real thing is.’

While his works often represents the minutia of the generic experience of being human, he frames these in autobiographically specific terms. They operate as doubles of the artist—a multifarious series of competing versions of himself—often self-effacing, humorous, weird.
This is more out of an attempt to survive posthumously than due to an urge to create something uncanny: ‘it’s like leaving evidence that you were here.’
Different models relate to different facets of his identities. A work he made with a Nirvana poster removed from his teenage bedroom wall (titled Nirvana, 2013) for instance, memorialises his angstier years.
‘I feel like I want it to be a big picture type thing.’
He wants people to able to look back over his work holistically, take the ‘long view’ so ‘you could feel like you knew [him]’.
He is also interested in achieving a sense of intimacy with his viewer because he is fascinated with ‘getting to know’ other artists through their work—‘even if it’s not directly, it’s an expression about them.’
Despite not having to relate to other artists in a ‘literal’ sense, he is more interested in forming a straightforward connection between himself and his viewer. ‘I want it to be really direct, I want to feel as though the person looking at the work has a close relationship to me.’
‘Yeah, I like that idea.’

While he consistently speaks from his own experience, it’s not necessarily out of a conscious desire to, but because his conceptual process is so centred on working from what he knows.
‘I don’t want to necessarily use myself, I’m just trying to talk about my life.’
‘If I was going to make a woodcarving of a person, why would I use me instead of using another person? I could just have a stand-in, but then what would be the point?’
‘It’s about me.’
The works exploit elements of Simon’s self-image; most notably his sense of humour, his drinking, his moodiness and his masculinity.
‘Masculinity just comes into it because I’m a male artist. I got picked on at school—you know Daniel Clowes, Robert Crumb, I relate to those people a lot.’
He often exploits the stereotypical ideal of the male artist, as grand and heroic, but simultaneously undermines it. The self-deprecating sense of humour in his work aids this gesture. ‘I’m playing around with that idea of saying here I am I’m this heroic artist and then I’m not.’
Having both one viewpoint and its opposite coincide in equal measures in his work can make things complicated for him, ‘because at the end of the day I am a male artist, and I am still propping myself up, it’s like trying to have it both ways.’
‘That’s why I got to the point where I was not trying to put myself in the work all the time. And then I made a fucking statue of myself.’

One way that he gets away with it is that his works are not necessarily honest. He created an artwork called Headstone (2008) a headstone made of marble, inscribed with his birthdate and inscribed with an epitaph almost aphoristic in its simplicity: ‘My only regret is that I didn’t sleep with more people.’
About it, he says, ‘I don’t necessarily want to sleep with lots of people, it’s just something I was thinking about.’
While it’s not an honest representation of his thoughts, it’s important that the viewer thinks that it is, or questions that is—so it matters that the subject of the work is him. ‘I have to have ownership of it for anyone else to care.’
‘If they went and saw that and it was, oh, one person wants to sleep with lots of different people, I feel like that’s different if that’s me, the artist, or the author of it.’
Even if what is authored is not entirely revelatory of the artist.

His work often occupy this liminal terrain, between being intentionally funny, or not, sincere and insincere, monumental and un-monumental, self-exposing and ironic.
This kind of in-betweenness defined in his exhibition of Cock & Balls (2013) and From The Desk Of (2013).
‘I thought it would be really funny if the only work that I ever had purchased by the NGV was a sculpture of my penis, because it’s a ridiculous idea’ he said, but it was also his ‘worst nightmare.’
If he could have abdicated from the role as subject, used someone else, ‘gotten away with it not being me then I would have, but I didn’t see any way that I could get out of it…because that’s what the idea dictated.’
The simultaneous connotations of ego and ‘repulsion’ attached to depictions of the male genitals interested him.
‘The suggestion of that sculpture could be that I think that my penis is so great that I have to make a sculpture of it and put it on display.’
He took away any implicit egotism by exhibiting the flaccid object on the floor ‘in a cold harsh way’; alluding towards ideas of emboldened masculinity before stripping it away, where the work ‘kind of looks like something discarded.’
By making an object into an artwork and then denigrating it he says, ‘You’re elevating it, but you’re not making it special at the same time.’
This allows all of its competing inferences to operate, all at one, without one dominating.

In From the Desk Of (2013) the letter he wrote skirts the border between sincerity and insincerity. He says, when he wrote it, it was the letter he wanted to write, but it also wasn’t, because he knows that it’s not appropriate (‘it’s egotistical writing to the NGV and asking them to buy it, because you’re not supposed to request that.’)
He also sent it at what he knew was an entirely improper time. ‘I sent it in the middle of them getting ready for Melbourne Now. I wanted it to get me attention or something.’
Some elements he wrote about, including his embarrassment about his penis being uncircumcised, were patently ridiculous in the context of the letter’s formality. ‘I tried to write the letter really sincerely, but I know it’s a crazy letter to write.’
‘It’s not the letter that I would write if I really wanted them to buy them work. But I did sincerely want them to buy the work.’
‘It’s confusing. There’s my real feelings and what I want to happen, and I know that the letters not the right way to go about it but I decide to go and write the letter anyway.’
This ambivalence is instrumental in his enactment of a persona, one that is him and also isn’t, who’s funny, but not a punchline, who’s sincere and also not. ‘I feel like it has to be me, because I have to have this authorship of it.’
‘Even if it’s not really me it has to look it’s like me, because I want the viewer to believe that I’m being sincere, if they want to, or question if I’m being sincere.’
And by inviting both interpretations, maybe he can have both. Or make you giggle, either way.

You can view more of Simon Zoric’s works and hear about his future exhibitions at his website.

Neville Parry

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On a dull weekday morning, in a tiny street tucked away in the depths of suburban Brunswick, on the grey cement outside of an ageing weatherboard home, competitive ballroom dancer and coach Neville Parry is unveiling, piece by piece, the ‘best of’ of his intensively curated collection. Each addition seems incongruous to its antecedents; first a crumpled, rhinestone encrusted t-shirt appears, then a well-worn DVD cover, followed by a pair of scuffed high-top sneakers. Finally, he removes the backing of a nondescript Nokia smartphone and carefully grasps what looks like a shred of plastic packaging, concentrating as he poises it between the soft nubs of his thumb and finger, so as not to spoil the delicate artefact. This flimsy fragment is the pièce de résistance, the ultimate jewel in the crown of his years of painstaking accrual: a scrap of iridescent confetti. As Neville explains, it is the one physical memento salvaged from the highlight of his life’s experience thus far; his fateful one-time meeting, face-to-face, with the object of his undying obsession, Beyoncé, in concert.
Coming to this humble home has represented somewhat of a pilgrimage for Neville, as it has to many ardent Bey-ites. The small, dilapidated weatherboard played host to the songstress herself on a photo-shoot during her recent tour of Australia. What would have been a nonevent for most other celebrities became a powerful point for preoccupation with her fans, manifesting in multitudes of memes, exemplified by the still-active Beyoncé in Brunswick Tumblr which appeared, in a sudden deluge of Beyoncé-Brunswick-Photoshop-ridiculouslness—with Beyoncé outside Dejour jeans, Beyoncé waiting for takeaway at Thaila Thai, Beyoncé and her fellow single nonnas, et al.
Neville’s obsession with Beyoncé has finally led him to creating NEVONCÈ, a dance class, where he teaches ‘the dance moves to Beyoncé songs’ sourced from her videos; a labour of love that he describes, half-jokingly, as his ‘life’s work.’ (‘I’ve been obsessed with this woman for so long.’)
Neville voice bobs along like a helium balloon tied to a child’s wrist, such that, when his tone shifts from gently insouciant to forthrightly opinionated it takes you a minute or so to register that his tongue has been firmly dislodged from his cheek.
‘I’ve ruined dinner parties with people who have tried to tell me that they didn’t like Beyoncé.’
His wide, bright eyes flash icily; his throat’s balloon has crashed to earth.
‘If people have said that they hate her then I have asked them to leave.’
After a moment’s seriousness, he is back to his lighthearted self. ‘Me and Beyoncé, it’s been an unhealthy obsession for a boy of my age now,’ he says. ‘It started very young, I’ve always loved her music, and I got my first DVD for a birthday present of one of her live concerts and then it just kind of went from there.’
The idea for NEVONCÈ, he says, first arose in ‘drunken conversation that happened over cocktails’ when he was living in London, and was aided and abetted by his propensity to ‘get rowdy and start dancing around like an idiot to Beyoncé.’
However, the dance class idea remained in chrysalis until he returned to Melbourne last year. During his time living in London, Neville had ceased ballroom dancing and coaching. When he returned he ‘dove into’ ballroom dancing again, and the subject came up in conversation with unenlightened peers, he was unanimously encouraged to pursue it (‘they were like you have to do it, you absolutely have to do it.’)
‘And then I started talking to my coach about it, where I do my ballroom dancing,’ he says.
Neville dances and coaches ballroom dancing at Just Rhythm Dance Academy and his coach, and mentor, Julie Jones‘s support has been instrumental in his continued pursuits in dance. She was very encouraging about the idea for the class, and offered up the space for him to use for it. (‘It will be so much fun, you need to do this, it will be great.’)
So what started out as a mere piece of ‘drunken conversation’ fodder has evolved for Neville, into a life-consuming passion which just ‘takes over.’
Neville’s involvement in dance has been facilitated through his passion being recognised by others. Growing up with a single mother, money was scarce and luxuries like dance classes were a non-option, but it was something which Neville nonetheless gravitated towards. ‘Dance and movement has always been a thing for me.’
I used to dance in my Grandma’s Sunday dresses in her sunroom out the back.’
While he was ‘obsessed’ by dance as a child, his mother pushed him into sports like tennis and football.
‘Even when I played football I wouldn’t stand still long enough to get the ball or I would do handstands instead of actually going for the ball.’
He remembers fondly dancing in primary school, particularly due to his adoration for his teacher. (‘I always used to be quite infatuated with Mr. Stewart, he was a tall, handsome man, I always wanted to impress him by dancing the best I could.’)
Eventually, it was an after-school care teacher who noticed Neville’s abilities and suggested that he should be pursuing the hobby through more formal training. Due to Neville’s financial situation, he was offered a scholarship for the first six months; ‘it just started from there and I wanted to do as much as I could, so it was Jazz, Ballet, tap, contemporary, a couple of days a week.’
The next year, when Neville was twelve his teacher recommended that he audition for the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School. His mother was understandably cautious. She said, ‘he hasn’t had enough training, he’s only been dancing this year…I don’t want you to get his hopes up for me not to be able to tell him that he’s going.’
His teachers ignored this and prepared Neville for the audition. Luckily, he was accepted and he ended up dancing full-time from the age of twelve to seventeen, at the most rigorous dance school in the state.
‘It it was like a full time job for a little kid,’ he says. ‘And you were on probation every year, so if your dancing wasn’t improving or your academic grades weren’t up to scratch you were out because you were on a full scholarship you could only get in through audition.’
There was significant pressure to perform from a very young age. When he began, ballet was the main elective, and because Neville wasn’t interested in this form of dance as other styles, he was made to attend interviews about his progress, ‘where they said I wasn’t dedicated enough and maybe my potential wasn’t being fulfilled, and maybe this school wasn’t for me.’
Body image became an issue, as there was outward pressure  to conform to the ‘perfect proportions’ of a ballet dancer. ‘I was an awkward twelve-year old boy that had not hit puberty yet, I had red chubby cheeks I wasn’t as big as all the other boys that had fit puberty before I had, and even that was mentioned: Neville’s body type might not be correct, he might not be strong enough to be moving these girls.’
‘I was always the weak one, and the chubby one, and then I hit fifteen and I grew and I was skinny and it all got better, but then that mindset never really changed, of having to be perfect, that sticks with you.’
This is one aspect of the dance culture which he is critical about. (‘A lot of my friends who were ballet dancers have quit because they were sick of trying to be perfect with their bodies.’)
However, he is generally positive about his experiences at the school. ‘I look back at VCASS and it was the best time of my life, it really sent me up for what I wanted to do.’
‘Dance, no matter what field you go into, gives you that discipline and work ethic, and that’s been a real help with me in my dance career so far, in the work that I’ve done.’

Ballroom has always been Neville’s central passion when it comes to dance. He was introduced to this field through his father who was also a ballroom dancer, who used it as an outlet for his rebellious energies: (‘his mum took him to dance school and said, you’re going to go here instead of going out, drinking with your mates and getting in trouble’).
He also had some ballroom dancing experience in primary school. He had a mini-debutante ball, a yearly tradition maintained at his school for the prep students where ‘we used to do heel-and-toe polka, and the cha-cha, and the waltz.’
‘I remember I was obsessed with it, for that two months of the year that we had Mr. Marshall’:  his dance instructor. ‘And I remember he always wanted me to do it, and my I remember my mum was like, no no no, he’s got his tennis, he’s got other things to do.’
‘That was the first thing that planted the seed, me knowing that my dad did it, and that debutante ball with Ken Marshall, and I see him around at competitions now and we exchange warm smiles and nods.’
He’s watched me grow from when I first started ballroom dancing until now.’
His father danced with professional dancer Mark Wilson (who now appears on Dancing With The Starswho used to babysit him when his father played football.
‘I remember watching Strictly Ballroom, and the dance sport championships on Christmas night on Channel Seven, I used to be obsessed with.’
He used to nag his mother constantly: ‘can I do ballroom dancing? can I do ballroom dancing?’
This was when he was fourteen or fifteen and VCASS had become all-consuming, and he was ‘dancing and training really hard.’ His mother was firm, saying; ‘you can’t, you just can’t, you don’t have the time and I can’t afford it.’
He went to a beginner’s social ballroom class at Doncaster East High School, but had been forewarned by his mother: ‘they’re going to come up to you, they’re going to ask you to start doing ballroom dancing, they’ll just see it and they’ll want you, and I can’t afford it, so if they do, Neville, you know, it’s not going to happen.’
‘I was there for about twenty minutes, and my coach, Julie [Jones] came up to me and said, who are you, where are you from, I think you should do ballroom dancing.’
‘She got my number and kept calling me and kept asking me for me to come and it rolled on from there, he says.’ Again, his abilities were recognised and he was given a scholarship which covered his tuition. 
Neville is very gracious about the continued support he has received in his dancing endeavours. ‘I’ve been lucky to find people who have that passion for dancing and can see that in me; how much I really do want to dance.’

NEVONCÈ offers Neville a welcome, twice-weekly reprieve from the arduous, high-pressure world of dance. Neville has never fit in to the ‘norm’ of the professional dancer, where the male dancers are hyper-masculine, and everyone takes themselves extremely seriously.
Ballroom dancing, in particular, Neville admits, is just as over-the-top and ridiculous as it appears to be in films like Strictly Ballroom.
‘It’s so fickle, everybody talks about everyone,’ he says. Particularly with his coaching he says that; ‘Crazy stage mums get involved,’ and there is ‘bitching about bitching about bitching, and involving parents and upsetting them, and children.’
‘The competitive industry is all hairspray, fake tan and expensive costumes, it’s got a cult status, people who love it are obsessed with it and spend all their money and time doing it.’
The Masters class for over-35s is composed mainly of successful professionals—lawyers and doctors—who have a second life, spending hours poring the Internet for flamboyant costumes, and fake-tanning and primping themselves to compete.
‘‘There’s one lady, she’s a 55-year-old lady who’s in great condition and she’s got a little blonde bob and she dances with her husband and it gets really hot and heavy sometimes.’
‘And so that’s always really funny to watch, her getting really down and dirty and Julie yelling at her to keep it PG, not soft-core porn.’

Neville’s outgoing flamboyance, seems, outwardly, to make him perfect fit for ballroom. However, beginning dance, this was decidedly not the case. ‘My first lesson I ever had in a ballroom dancing studio I didn’t know what to wear so I just wore some jeans and at the time, at school, we were wearing brightly coloured toe socks with individual holes for each of your toes,’ he says. ‘I rocked up to this ballroom dancing lesson not knowing that male ballroom dancers at the time were all straight and all very masculine, and I came in, this little gay boy who was about fifteen, with his brightly coloured toe socks and this tight Bonds t-shirt doing mamba walks in bare feet, they nearly fell off their chairs, they thought it was so bizarre.’
Ever since, dancers of the scene have held assumptions about him, saying, ‘Neville’s a little bit weird, what’s he wearing today?’
‘So when I came out with I want to do a Beyoncé dance class, everyone was like, that’s going to be awesome, and I’m not surprised that Neville wants to do that.’
‘I’ve always been remembered for these coloured socks and these diamanted shoes, it’s like, he put diamantes on his shoes he’s crazy!’
‘So the Beyoncé class was just to be expected, everyone at the studio loves it.’

Neville’s dance class revolves around recreating dance moves from Beyoncé music videos. ’So far we’ve done ‘Ego’ for four weeks and it’s move for move from her video clip.’
The participants in his dance class are mostly non-dancers, ‘which is what makes it so much fun.’
‘The whole class is not just about dance moves, we do a run-around to some Beyoncé songs and just normal Jazz class stretches, then we do some token Beyoncé moves.’
‘There’s lots of body rolls, and then some rib isolations, and then we combine the two which is kind of what she does, all of her wiggly body actions.’
‘I try to teach twerking,’ he says, however he admits: ‘I can’t really twerk myself, like a little booty-pop situation exercise that we do, which is all very funny because no one’s a dancer and I just have lots of laughter behind me.’
‘It’s very laidback, but I have a lesson plan and I try to stick to it vaguely, but we go off on little tangents and see how you go.’
One of the challenges of running the class on a Sunday afternoon is encouraging his friends to get out of bed when they are hung over. However, he says, it works excellently as a ‘recovery’ session, ‘so people that do come that are hungover walk away feeling instantly better so their day just goes up from there.’
It even works for him; ‘I’ve taught one class hungover before and it was difficult but you sweat it out and you feel awesome.’
‘I had a friend come and he fell over three times and it was hilarious.’
‘It’s really, really informal, and it’s just about dropping in, having a good time, having a laugh, and then leaving happy, it’s a really good workout as well, we end up leaving, sweating, you twerk it out.’

Neville is conscious of the controversy which surrounds a figure like Beyoncé but doesn’t pay it too much attention to it. ‘It’s a two-way street with Beyoncé, they either really like her or they really dislike her’.
‘I just think she’s super talented, she’s a dancer, and she sings all her own music live, and she’s often better than the dancers that she hires.’
He finds her to be a fascinating anomaly; a well-rounded, balanced person who has grown out of of a stifling stage-parent relationship.
‘She’s the daughter of this weird Hollywood father who’s brought her up to be this superstar,’ he says. ‘Her dad used to make do crazy things, like run around the block singing at the top of her lungs’.
;And so I find that interesting that she hasn’t turned out crazy yet,’ he says.
‘That’s what I find really interesting about her, you can’t fault her,’ he says. Unlike the other trainwrecks of the songstress crowd (he mentions Rihanna—who he is also a huge fan of—as one infamous example) ‘I haven’t seen her do anything where it’s been like, that’s really offensive, Beyoncé, ugh.’
‘When does the Beyoncé train stop?’ he says, and pauses thoughtfully. ‘I couldn’t tell you.’

Recently there has been debate as to whether Beyoncé should be held up as a feminist role model for young people. While Neville chooses not to ‘weigh in’ on the subject too much, he does see her as a powerful female figure.
‘I think she’s such a good example for some girls that want to be a bit more powerful, to be a bit more confident, for those who don’t have the self esteem or the self confidence in their body image, or if they want to try to get up and do something, and they don’t feel like they can.’
‘I think she’s a great role model, if I had little kids, who I wanted to look up to someone I would totally Beyoncé’s a great way of doing that, she’s kind of like a golden child, she doesn’t take drugs, doesn’t drink too much,’ he says.
He also sees her as a good role model for positive body image. ‘She’s really taken ownership of all of her curves and her body and she decides what she wants to do with it, and doesn’t care what other people have to say about it, it seems, she’s like, it’s my body and I’ll show as much of it as I like’.
He sums it up bluntly: ‘I’m not going to tell you that you’re not being a feminist for showing your arse in a GQ magazine.’
However, he says that dealing with gendered assumptions is something he struggles with himself in his day-to-day role as a coach.
‘It’s a minefield, I never know whether I’m being anti-feminist sometimes, and even in my teachings you know when I teach ballroom dancing I can tell a guy to stop being such a girl when he’s dancing, and it’s like, am I emasculating you?’
The contentious issue, he says, ‘is a minefield.’

Another difficult area Neville is currently trying to navigate is his future. In the compressed and intense world of ballroom, he’s almost ‘at the end’ of his career: ‘there’s only ten years left for me if you go by the books, so I’m trying to frantically work as hard as I possibly can to get as fit as I can and do everything that I want within my dancing.’
‘ I don’t want to get to 35 and my body can’t do what it used to when it was younger, and have any regrets.’
He’s currently training ‘like crazy’ in ballroom in order to compete again in the State Championships, but is also exploring his other dance training, including jazz and ballet.
‘I’m trying to figure out whether to throw it all in and stop competing and go get a dance contract somewhere and get paid for my dancing, or do I keep knuckling it out with ballroom dancing and compete and get a name for myself and maybe one day be Australian champion?’
And as a performer in such a competitive field, having someone like Beyoncé as a role model might not be such a bad idea.

NEVONCÈ is held at Just Rhythm Dance Academy, where Neville also trains and coaches ballroom dancing. 

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Olympia Bukkakis

olympia bukkakis

I was a drama kid in high school. Not to the overbearing extent of the Anne Hathaways of this world, but I was pretty invested, nonetheless. And while I didn’t think about it so much at the time (partly because I went to a girls school) I predominantly performed in male drag.
I remember playing lead Viking in the Abba-scored production, Sweden: The Musical. I was adorned with a plastic Viking helmet, swathed in the manliest of hessian sacks, and had a caked-on beard made up of stage makeup as putrid as a ring of old bathtub scum. I took a special relish in contorting my face into a craggy sneer and bellowing my lines in the deepest baritone I could muster—feeling myself to be the ultimate specimen of faux-sculinity.
But I think there was something that pulled me toward drag more than mere necessity. While I was and am perfectly happy with playing girly most of the time, there was definitely something appealing to me in the fleeting transgression offered through the medium.
 And inducting new people into drag is one part of Melbourne performer, actor and event-organiser, Olympia Bukkakis’ passion for it.
When I meet her at her home,  nestled in a quiet suburban corner of the city’s north, Olympia is Taylor. Taylor is  a softly spoken and meditative sort—dressed simply in theatre blacks, with a smooth, shaved head, freckled cheeks and a boyish grin, he brews us tea, and  we sit by the overgrown garden.
When Taylor performs in drag however, she is far from retiring. She becomes  an extreme, dramatic and frequently vile queen known Olympia Bukkakis (a play on the actor’s name, Olympia Dukakis—like most drag queens, Taylor is not immune to a good pun). Olympia appears at various queer nights around Melbourne both as a host, and as an individual performer, and has also acted in several productions with the queer production company, Sisters Grimm. She also co-founded the drag night, Pandora’s Box, with fellow drag performer, Godzilla.
The party started illegally, in an art gallery space, and grew from there. Its most recent incarnation was as a party at the now defunct Gasometer Hotel in Melbourne’s north. The two are currently scouting locations to use to hold the night in future.
Pandora’s Box served as platform to realise Godzilla and Olympia’s shared vision for drag in the north of Melbourne. “Because we didn’t have mentors and we didn’t have a culture, we were trying to start a culture.” They aspired towards creating  a co-operative and nurturing expressive space.
They took partial inspiration from the iconic drag documentary Paris Is Burning (1990). The film chronicles the 1980s Ball scene in New York City, wherein disenfranchised queer youths created a community structured around family-models known as Houses (composed of Drag mothers and their broods of drag daughters). The Houses engaged in friendly competitions with one another, known as Balls, where entrants competed to create the most ‘real’ or authentic mimesis of esoteric categories of female impersonation and masculinity (ranging from ‘executive realness,’ to ‘banjee boy realness’ and every other ‘realness’ in between). In this tradition, Olympia and Godzilla included one walk-off competition per night, however, in order to ensure they were creating a supportive drag environment  any rivalrous connotations were de-emphasised; “we didn’t want to have an intensely competitive element to it.”
The highlight of the night is the showcase of two or three drag performers, where “we rotate that around to try to give new people their first exposure, and to get people we think are amazing back.”
Anyone who is interested is generally welcome to perform, and Taylor encourages newcomers to speak up in this regard. “I think people are really scared of asking for gigs, and people really should—if you want something, ask for it.”
In this spirit, entry is cheaper for those who dress up.“The idea is to get as many people to dress up as possible, and get people who come to the party who are really inspired by that to perform.”
“We don’t make much money at all, it’s just about doing something that we love, and part of that is inspiring people to do the same thing that we love doing.”

While this project revolves around welcoming newcomers to drag, the medium is something that Taylor has always been interested in on some level, since childhood. “I was a lot more fascinated with dresses than I was with anything else,” Taylor says, “with all sorts of feminine things.”
“When I first heard about reincarnation I thought about I’d been reincarnated wrong, as a boy, and that I was supposed to be a girl.”
Taylor’s original interest was not so rigidly tied to gender, but rather to an interest in aesthetic properties which have been attributed to the female gender role. “I was into things that were long and flowing, and far more often that would likely to be things like dresses than it is to be pants and t-shirts.”
This interest translated to Taylor using drag for costumes at dress-up parties, and for going out. The first few personas created were proportionate to this purpose; “there was Babs, and Camille, but they were very short-lived.”
These forays were noticed by a friend who was running a queer night, who asked Taylor to do a performance at a party, “and then I did it and then just didn’t stop.”
This is where Taylor’s first incarnation as a drag queen, Mummy Complex, emerged.
Mummy Complex’s first drag show was with Godzilla, at a night called Truckstop Cock Monsters that was at the Old Bar in Fitzroy. The show, called The Pashing of the Christ, and was an “erotic love story between the Virgin Mary and Jesus.”
Taylor performed as Mummy Complex for three years before becoming Olympia Bukkakis.
While Mummy Complex was more of a drunken extension of Taylor’s own personality, with a more amplified, irreverent brand of facetious wit, Olympia was an altogether different character.
“Olympia is more grand, overbearing, and also disgusting, than Taylor.”
“I think one of the things about drag is that you get to break social rules, and it’s kind of a measure of your character, how moral and kind you stay in relation to that,” Taylor says. “You can be quite mean; it can change you.”
Part of the challenge in drag is maintaining one’s personal politics. “Because of my childhood experience, remembering really wanting to be a woman, actually having some sort of curiosity about the feminine experience, a lot of my earlier shows had really clunky obvious feminist themes to them,” Taylor says. “I would be saying, this is not a parody of women but if anything, it’s a tribute.”
While Taylor used to feel that it was necessary to overtly justify using the performance style, Olympia’s performances are now left to speak for themselves (“I don’t think it doesn’t necessarily need justification as to how it relates to people who are women.”)
Taylor’s politics have become more implicit, and are applied in an everyday sense. “On a microphone (at a club) I wouldn’t make an immature joke to the crowd about women’s vaginas, in the same way that I wouldn’t tell that same joke sitting around with my friends.”
However, Taylor appreciates the capacity for political conversation proffered through the medium, as if “if you’re a performer and you’re a host, and you’re constantly communicating often one-way with a large group of people, that’s quite a good opportunity to communicate your ideas.”
“Just the same as any kind of performer, you can make political points,” Taylor says. And when making jokes, or points, “I try to make responsible ones.”

Olympia’s aesthetic is not the easiest to define. ”I don’t really like the term alternative drag, or alt-drag, because it’s an alternative to what? If that’s what you’re doing it’s not an alternative is it? It’s the centre of your universe.”
“I like messy drag, trash drag, or something like that.”
Olympia’s look is generally built out of one of two divergent models; that of a “beautiful woman with some kind of unsettling element”, (“I just never go for the beautiful drag queen look because I’m not inspired by it at all.”)  or that of a “monster”.
Olympia’s costumes are mainly sourced from op shops and on the street. “I don’t spend a lot of money on costumes but I still manage to find decent ones.”
“With clothes I learned early on, you always keep an eye out for something in an op shop which you could wear that would be amazing.”
Olympia also occasionally borrows costumes from friends. Recently, when she appeared at the queer Melbourne festival, Midsumma, she wore a borrowed velour  Juicy Couture tracksuit. She was caked orange with fake tan, had bleached hair and pitch-black roots, and smeared garish blue eyeshadow on her lids to top the look off.
And because she never had a drag mother she did not have traditional makeup fundamentals passed down to her.
“There’s a big divide between the north and the south of the Yarra (river) and because there wasn’t much drag north of the Yarra when I started I didn’t have a drag mother so I taught myself, and learned from friends who were starting at the same time as me.”
She also learned, in true Gen-Y fashion, from Youtube tutorials (“Manila Luzon has as really good one.”)
Makeup preparation forms part of the ritual for both the physical and character transition that occurs between Taylor and Olympia, and other dramatic characters.
“The process of doing the makeup really is the process of becoming that person,” Taylor says. “You’re looking in the mirror and you’re seeing a literal physical transition.”
“I guess it’s quite difficult for your mind not to follow, too.”
There is something about the ritual, which is “comforting” and which helps to alleviate some of the anxiety that comes from the transgressive nature of the performance style.
“When you start out, you know that you’re breaking some rules there; any sort of comfort that you can give to yourself is a good idea.”
The process and the hierarchy of applying makeup helps to form a structure for the ritual; as “you put on something that’s a cream base and then you put powder on top, layer after layer after layer.”
“it’s comforting because it’s like painting, it’s like painting a house or something—I think that’s the same for a lot of queens.”
Taylor’s relationship to makeup, however is quite complicated, due to not coming from an artistic background, like a lot of other queens do.
“I’ve always had a complex relationship to makeup because I was never good at drawing,” Taylor says. “A lot of my friends who do drag when they do makeup they can build on the skills that they had when they were good drawers or good painters as teenagers.”
“I had to start from scratch and I found it really difficult.” Never having learned about makeup from a mother, or younger sister, Taylor has rather embraced it for the purposes of drag.
“It’s nice, and I’m really proud of the fact that I have the ability to change my face.”
Makeup, however, is not that interesting to Taylor, in and of itself.
“Makeup has always been a means to an end for me; I love makeup because of what it means.”

Olympia performs both as an individual drag artist, and as a host, and has different methodologies of preparation for each performance style. For a show, Olympia will usually present a fully realised, usually ten-minute set, interlacing lip-syncing, pop-cultural references and comedy. In preparation, “I come up with that idea, often through listening to a song on my iPhone, and then a basic joke idea will come to me, and then I’ll play it over and over and over and then I’ll spend a couple of hours, over a couple of days rehearsing over that.”
Due to the level of rehearsal required she charges at least $100 for a ten minute show; (“there is more than ten hours of work that will go into each of them”).
Olympia also hosts drag shows, where she will introduce the performers and perform a monologue, and these gigs have a more improvisational quality.
“If there’s a theme to the event I’ll talk about it with my friends, and if I say something that’s funny, I’ll try to say that.”
“If I’m introducing a show there’s generally like one or two jokes that I’ll put in before I start the show,” she says. “It depends on the sort of thing, if it’s just hosting generally I’ll just make it up on the spot.”
But, Taylor admits, “It’s a lot easier if I’ve had one or two drinks.”

While this style of drag performances make up the bread and butter of Olympia’s work, she has also had several forays into dramatic acting.
Taylor was also the drama kid in school but didn’t act again until Olympia began performing with the Sisters Grimm in 2010. The Sisters Grimm is  a queer theatre company based out of Melbourne, who were founded in 2006 and have since (according to their Facebook page): ‘been making theatre that is cheap, accessible, and extremely faggy’.
He met the company’s founders, Declan Greene and Ash Flanders through being out and about, “young gay and drunk.” After Declan started dating a close friend of Taylor’s, they started hanging out more.
“Then I saw their a show that had been written in two days or something like that, rehearsed in one day, and it was this amazing mess, called When Lorraine Stops Falling.”
When completing a Bachelor degree  at Melbourne University, Taylor undertook a subject on performance art, and learned about Forced Entertainment—a performance group based out of Sheffield in England—whose performances in the 1980s pushed the boundaries of what constituted entertainment, and which relished in the implicit failures and loss of control at the borders of performance.
“That made me really obsessed with ruptures in performance, which is something that I really love in what I do— when something fucks up and then I’m standing there naked in front of a crowd.”
“But with that play it was just amazing, there were so many moments of incredible intimacy and it was also one of the funniest things I’d ever seen.”
At the end of the show Taylor approached Declan and Ash and gushed about how incredible the show had been and they invited Mummy Complex to perform in one of their future productions, The Rimming Club, which they performed at the This Is Not Art festival in 2010.
“I got to sing Amazing Grace and put rocks in my bra in this quasi-Virginia Woolf suicide attempt, it was great.”

After that they wrote a part for Mummy in their production, Summertime in the Garden of Eden, of Honey Sue Washington. In the play, set in Civil War Georgia, all the female roles were played by drag queens. The play was an overwrought melodrama of the camp-eth degree, peppered with homages to Gone with the Wind and tributes to Tennessee Williams, and underpinned with a savage satire of heteronormative politics and patriarchal stereotypes. Their first performance season was set modestly in the garage of a share-house in Thornbury, before a reprisal season last year, where they performed at Theatre Works in Melbourne and at Sydney’s Griffin Theatre. The production, rather than being improvised and messy like the shorter productions by the Sisters, had a structured, and time-consuming rehearsal schedule.
“For a drag queen who’s used to rehearsing for a couple of hours, it was long and rigorous,” she says, with a plodding emphasis.
However,Taylor found it to be an extremely gratifying experience, which both tested and advanced his skills as an actor, as well as a drag queen.
“When you’re a drag queen performing in clubs it’s all over in a heartbeat, and everyone who watched it was drunk,” she says, admitting, “you shouldn’t but you can get sloppy on details.”
“Because my character has a breakdown at the end of the play, learning how to call emotion up, express it, and then put it away at the end of the scene, or at the end of the rehearsal, became a really necessary skill.”
“All I did was try to remember the time in my life when I was most broken, and to remember that and sort of feel that, and then forgot that and think about the script, but try to keep that going for a bit,” she says, “but then I didn’t think of how to let that go.”
“It was quite a difficult skill to learn to put that emotion away.”
This is where Taylor benefited from working with a team of more experienced performers skilled in a dramatic acting and being able to “pick their brains”. (“I was able to ask them, how do I deal with this? And how do I do this? And that was really cool.”)
This has also enhanced the precision of Olympia’s other performances.
“I feel like I’ve become a lot better since that play, and I think part of it is because I have that practical acting training now.”
“If there’s a moment in a show that really calls for a really sincere expression, I have a bit more subtlety now.”
“If I should be happy but a little bit more nostalgic at a point of the five-minute show, then I don’t just do an exaggerated thing, I can be a bit more nuanced.”
“There’s more possibilities when you’re doing a show in that sort of way,” Taylor says, adding thoughtfully, “you can say a lot more things if you’re using a finer point. “

While most of Olympia Bukkakis’s drag performances have been in Melbourne, recently Taylor has been living in Berlin. In the last few months of living there before returning here Olympia had begun performing, which led to one of her most memorable moments. Olympia had got her friend to DJ in true Berlin fashion “in an renovated old mansion,” turned club called Chalet. “He was DJing for an hour and I would just perform whenever I felt like it.”
“It was six a.m, and it was the biggest point of the party and everyone was really wasted.” Taylor got his friend to play a song, (“just because I wanted to hear it”) and started dancing on the wall at the side.
“People started watching me and I decided, oh I guess I’ll do a performance to this.”
“I got everyone to get down of the ground on their knees, all these Berlin hipsters, and to wave their arms above their heads, and then I stood up and got everyone to wave their arms toward me.”
“I was in this ocean of waving arms, really, really wasted, and I made eye contact with this guy who was standing at the edge of the dance floor, and just mouthed the words, ‘I know,’ because we were just like, I can’t believe this is happening.”
“That was pretty amazing.”
The local drag scene there is quite distinct from the expat scene Olympia has recently become part of. “German drag: I didn’t quite get it, there’s a bit of a cultural disconnect there.”
“I really liked all of the expat drag queens, there was ones who do femme realness, who look like stunning, really fashionable, hipster women, and they’re lovely, and there’s one who does amazing punk sort of drag.”
However, getting people involved with the scene and with the idea of dressing up, at all, in the first place, is challenging in Berlin.
“People in Berlin don’t dress up as much as people do here, and people aren’t as willing to do it,” Taylor says. This resistance is not only embodied by those who are image aware, but also by more threatening objectors.
Berlin, Taylor says, is more of a “real city” than Melbourne. “I was threatened by Nazis three times while I was there; it can be really intense.”
“Neukölln, the place where people hang out can be a bit dangerous,” Taylor says. “There is more of a threat of homophobic and transphobic violence.”
Performing in a city which is more resistant to drag is an important symbolic act, but Taylor enjoys performing more in somewhere like Melbourne, where it is embraced by a wider group of people; (”It’s kind of more inspiring if everyone’s getting into it.”)
“Doing drag or at least dressing up wildly, and dressing up as things that are held to be unusual or wrong, if it’s just you alone it can be a bit harder.”
“I guess because I started out with a group of friends that didn’t have any mentors, then that means that any time that I feel like if I’m ever surrounded by a big family, I get quite inspired.”
This is one factor that makes Taylor the most proud of Pandora’s Box. “A lot of people did do drag for the first time at Pandora’s Box, and a lot of people started doing drag at Pandora’s Box, which I’m really proud of.”

Taylor also embraces the mainstreaming of drag through television programs such as RuPaul’s Drag Race, a game-show/reality show hybrid hosted by the quintessential model for commercial drag queen success herself, RuPaul.
“I think it’s good for us to be able to see ourselves on screen; whether it’s being queer, or being a drag performer, or being transgender, it’s really nice to see a representation of yourself in the media, it’s nice to see some sort of proof that you exist in that.”
“But it’s the same with any other sort of fringe art, the more something comes into the mainstream, and the more something is popularly understood, the more it’s going to have to follow a certain set of rules.”
Rupaul espouses the value in pushing the drag star to her limits, popularising (and often over-using) catch phrases like “You’d better work,” and the more brutal; “Don’t fuck it up.” This ethos includes her frequent encouragement (or badgering) of more experimental and avant-garde drag queens do ‘fish,’ (the quintessential feminine drag look), an idea which it has taken Taylor a long time to relate to.
“I think while I think it is important that if you want to be a drag performer, or just a drag queen, if you’re going to do that you need to really push yourself, and that’s something that I really didn’t do in the first couple of years that I was doing it.”
“I think it’s good to learn a rule so then you can break it artfully,” Taylor says. “To learn how to do pretty things, so that you can do something that’s pretty in a new way, or beautifully ugly.”
“It’s easier to look like a busted amazing weirdo than to look flawless.”
However, Taylor does see the drag represented on the show as fairly limited in its scope.
While “there are as many ways to do drag as there are people,” the show represents a fairly narrow definition of the craft.
And thus, despite Taylor’s interest in the hard-work ethic encouraged through the show, she is less interested in its aesthetics. “There’s things like the East London drag scene which is very wild, and messy, I think that’s much more what I’m interested in than like an American pageant sort of thing. “

Taylor is similarly very open to the idea of cis-gender heterosexual females and males engaging with drag. “I’m so for it. I think it’s great.”
“I’m thinking in particular of a straight guy that I know who’s really into drag, and he dresses up and does it, and I just think that that’s the most beautiful thing in the world,” Taylor says. “Sometimes you look at things and they’re just so beautifully modern,” adding, “and there’s obviously a really big different between that and a bunch of really idiotic football guys wearing tutus at their awards night.”
“And I still do think it is cross-dressing for a woman to do drag as well, to do drag, F-to-F, I think that can be just as liberating as well.”
Taylor is particularly fond of Sydney based F-to-F drag queen, Betty Grumble, whose look is “incredible.”
“I think the only differentiating factor should be how talented or how kind someone is,” Taylor says. “So it’s best to just forget that stuff, about from where you’re coming to your character. Obviously the character is the most important part. “
“I think the more the merrier, and the more that it means to everyone the merrier as well.”

While Taylor sees these developments in drag as strikingly current, he can not visualise the future so clearly. ”I try to think about that and it’s just blank,” Taylor says, honestly. “What I would like to do is to stay interesting and keep progressing, like, whatever direction that is.”
“Ash Flanders (who co-wrote Summertime in the Garden of Eden) once asked me, did you ever worry, Taylor, when you were a teenager and started doing drag whether you would end up being the bogan in a dress standing saying, ‘5 dollar cock-sucking cowboys at the bar for the next five minutes’?”
“I hope that it continues to be art rather than work for me, although both of them are great.”
“I’d rather not be wearing a dress to sell cock-sucking cowboys,” she says, breaking into laughter.
And while, like most drag queens, she can never resist a punchline, Olympia Bukkakis is nonetheless a woman very serious about her art.

 

You can see Olympia’s Facebook page here,  find out about future Pandora’s Box events here, and learn more about the Sisters Grimm on their website.

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Anna Brownfield

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It is hard to know what to expect from a visit with Mother Porn.
While she may not immediately reach for the title herself (in a humble rejection of its reverent rather than lowbrow tones)  speaking with the documentarian, and award-winning feminist erotic filmmaker Anna Brownfield, she seems an apt matriarch for the growing porn community in Australia.  When she welcomes me into her studio she is dressed in a cozy blue angora jumper; her auburn hair is swept back into an unassuming up-do; she wears square, red-framed glasses and just a slick of red lipstick—typical (though stylish) mumsy garb.
While she is quite literally a mother (to a toddler son) too, she has her fingers in all manner of incongruous pies. A pile of knitting, a porn documentary, and an explicit feature each cool side-by-side on the proverbial windowsill that is her creative output.
She is not someone who bends easily to any one definition of her work, instead picking and choosing what best suits at the time. She can be an erotic filmmaker in the morning, a pornographer at night and a creator of explicit features anytime in between. Her choice of terms is solely dependent on whom she is talking to: “and what I think their preconceived ideas might be”.
Despite this flexibility the term “pornographer” is something which she has slowly grown confident with over time.  For a serious filmmaker, it’s hard to escape the connotations of that word.
When she first started to tell people she was making porn they often carried assumptions about it based on the mainstream style they were familiar with. They thought of porn as having “no story lines” and “low production values”.
This led her to then branding her work ‘chick porn’: (“but then “everyone thought I was going to make lesbian films, for a heterosexual market”). These pre-conceptions about the genre indicated to Anna a gaping void in the pornographic genre; for narrative-driven features, dealing with nuanced, lifelike erotic situations between fully fleshed-out characters. Appealing to women as well as men. Oddly, a shocking concept at the time.
Before entering the industry, she received a more conventional film education, studying Media Arts at RMIT. She has always had a strong interest in sexuality, “particularly female sexuality and its representation on screen,” and with “experimental” aesthetics, two elements which transferred readily into her erotic work. At that time, in a case of art imitating life, “I made a no-budget feature called Money Shot (2002) about a girl, who, after she graduates from film school and she can’t get a job decides to make porn.”
At that time she had been approached by a company in Queensland to produce erotica, but they wanted, she said, the generic “everyday sort of stuff.” This didn’t appeal to her, as she already had a strong sense of her own identity as a filmmaker and what she wanted to make (“I wanted to use my real name, I wanted to have control of it and be able to try to produce something in the way that I wanted to.”)
After that, she says. “It seemed to be a natural progression from doing simulated sex to doing real sex.”

The logistics of her filmmaking are dictated largely by the red tape surrounding all sex industries in Australia. While Victoria is one of the three states with regulated (and hence legal) prostitution (along with Queensland and NSW), it is still illegal to film and produce pornography here. This means that her production takes place in Australia’s surprising porn-mecca-by-default, the Australian Capital Territory (“the only place to legally make porn in Australia.”)
Her films can be distributed online to Australia as well; “as long as they are posted through an overseas website.” She has since sold her overseas rights to a distributor in the United States, where they are marketed as erotic art films; “they don’t actually market it as porn.” She also has a distributor in France, and one in Germany. However, due to the growing popularity of online viewing and the decline of DVD, she is currently in talks with a few different sites for Video on Demand or Direct Digital Download distribution, (those “who market towards more alternative, or more, do I use the term? woman-friendly porn.”)

Anna produced her first full-length feature, The Band, starting in 2006. She released it in 2009. The film was a rollicking tale, detailing the ins-and-outs of a punk band, and featuring all the associated sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll— including seventeen minutes of explicit sexual content.
Around the time of shooting, the porn industry in Australia was only beginning to emerge, and the film industry within that was virtually non-existent. Small, web-based companies, ‘I Shot Myself,” and ‘Abby Winters,’ which primarily hosted DIY photographic content were the only real players at that time, Anna says.
When recruiting performers for the feature she approached these companies. She also used word-of-mouth and the street press. Social media, which is now integral to her process, “was just starting to take off.”
Wishing to depart from the kind of conventional choreography performed by “homogenous” body types in mainstream pornography, she also “didn’t necessarily want people who were born performers.”
“We wanted it to be a more natural representation that wasn’t formulaic like most mainstream or commercial porn, that we are sort of inundated with from America and Europe.”
Of course, some acting ability would be required to allow for filmic verisimilitude  (“so they needed to be able to do some of that to a certain degree”) but she was more interested in sourcing performers from outside of the conventional parameters of porn aesthetics. “I was looking for diversity in terms of body types in terms of femininity and masculinity.”
Oftentimes the performers she found were interested in participating as part of a “sexual or erotic adventure or journey;” a kind of transgressive process of self-discovery achieved through flouting social conventions. (“It was a way for them to explore and express their sexuality in a way that wasn’t pre-defined by any other type of film, I think they saw it as a way to further explore their sexuality and sex for themselves.”)
A lot of her performers also saw their participation as a form of political resistance- in an affront to conventional mores of sexuality. “A lot of them thought of it as a way to thumb their nose to society and to say, well, look what I’m doing.”
As such, she employed strong, autonomous individuals whose input was fundamental to the development of her film.

As such, Anna Brownfield sees her films as a product of collaboration rather than the singular vision of an auteur.
Her process involves a lot of outsourcing, particularly in areas outside of her expertise, such as sound design and art direction. She engages experts who can provide input and suggestions she wouldn’t have “otherwise considered”.
When she was making her erotic feature The Band, she was often astounded and excited at the breadth of solutions her production designer was able to formulate.
“I’m just like wow, this is amazing, how could you have thought of all those sorts of things?”
“That for me is really exciting, to see how they interpret what you’ve got and what they can bring to it as well,” she says, acknowledging, “That’s a huge part of the process, acknowledging these people and their skills and giving them the freedom to put their mark on the piece.”
This openness is also key to workshopping the dramatic performances in her films. Often the script will be moderated and the direction of the scenes will change through interventions made in rehearsal.
“There’s one scene in The Band, which was this argument scene, where it was very much written like, he says this, she says this big chunk, and then he says that, and that’s the end of the scene, but the way they ended up working through it through workshopping and rehearsal was that it became a lot more rapid-fire between the two of them, like two people argue.”
This is, she says, one of the aspects of collaboration that really excites her.“While it’s my idea, I like for them to put their own stamp of creativity on it as well.”
While the rehearsals often involve a lot of directional input from her performers, due to the strictly predefined narrative structure of her films the actual filming is much more controlled. One of the defining characteristics of her sex scenes is that they need to be representative of the particular experience of sex they are portraying, which is determined through the dramatic logic of the film. “If it was a one-night-stand, or if it was between two people who knew each other for a while, or if it was the first time, or they’d only had sex several times, we wanted it to be representative of that.”
This veritae approach paradoxically increased the level of directorial control required.
“I know there is very much a school of thought where they just set up two camera or just have one camera roaming and just let the actors go, and there is an element of that,” she says, though she admits, “because it was so story-driven I really wanted the sex to be representative.”
Any alterations which occur to the scene happen before the final explicit version is shot, during rehearsal, or what she refers to, tongue-in-cheek, as the ‘dry-hump run.’
“Generally what we do is have a little bit of a chat with the actors beforehand, before we shoot the scene, to work out what we’re roughly going to do. Then we generally do what I call the ‘dry-hump run’, where we run through the scene, but without it actually being nude, without there being explicit sex going on. So this would also mean that we could shoot things for an R-rated version as well, and then we would go through it as an explicit scene.”
One aspect of her creative process which she is continuing to evaluate is this modicum of control. According to Anna, there is a great deal of debate occurring about this aspect in the Australian porn community; “about what is real and what isn’t.”
“There’s some people who would say, maybe you’re not making it realistic, or it’s artificial, because you are controlling them more. If you let the performers go and do what they wanted to do, would that be a more authentic representation?”
“Because I’m in a controlled environment and being directed and being told what to wear, is the arousal and the potential orgasm I’m experiencing any more authentic than if the person who’s making it just says ‘do what you want?'”

While she hasn’t watched mainstream pornography for a long time, her first forays into the genre where very much reaction to the limited content she found available. Films at the time were “really quite violent, aggressive, there was lots of choking, lots of slapping, lots of skull-fucking stuff going on.”
She objected not just to the toxicity of the violence portrayed but also to to the highly conventional and tired paradigms reinforced repeatedly in these films.
“It’s porn-by-numbers, it’s a very restrictive number of positions they use because it’s so they can get the camera in there and get their close-ups, whereas we’re not being so dictated by that.”
She also objected to the bizarre and highly unrealistic sexual congress depicted in the films.
“In a lot of mainstream commercial porn you’ll see a lot of stuff where a person who’s all: ‘I’m a virgin, I’m a virgin,’ is suddenly having sex like someone who’s had lots of experience.”
“Two people walk into a room and suddenly they’ve got no clothes on and they’re having sex.There’s none of that sort of build-up of what happened beforehand: how did they get undressed? did they undress each other? did they just strip off?—I find those little things a lot more interesting and as titillating and as exciting and interesting as the actual sexual itself.”
The reliance on stock cinematographic conventions, such as the “cum-shot- where every scene has to end with some kind of cum-shot on something” was also odd and limiting to her. While she was openminded to the kinds of sexuality depicted in these films (“maybe that could be something you’re into sometimes”) she could not accept these as a nuanced and multifarious depiction of “the way sex is in the real world.” She wanted her work to be antithetical to this; a thoughtful and nuanced representation of the realities of sex.

Her work, encompassing documentary, video art, along with pornographic/erotic features, while multifarious in their incarnations, are motivated by the same concern. “Politics drives everything,” she says.
“My work is politically driven, even the documentary I made called Making It Handmade! (2010), about indie craft.”
When she first told people about her idea, she was met with unequivocal bemusement: “You’ve gone from making porn or erotica to making something about craft?”
The project was based out of her dual motivations for creating; passion and politics. She had been interested in craft mediums for her whole life, and when she quit smoking a few years ago she took up knitting again.
“I thought, I’ll Google some knitting patterns, and all of a sudden this whole world of this indie craft movement that was happening online opened up to me.”
“I thought, this is cool, this is awesome, this is amazing; all these women are taking traditional craft and subverting it in this really amazing way.”
Initially, the project was supposed to look at this subversive craft revival as a global movement, featuring interviews with key players from all around the world. Due to a lack of funding the documentary’s focus became more localised.
“ So I shot local women instead, which I think was just as interesting and exciting as shooting these international people.”
What also appealed to her when she was making the film were the “sexy elements” to this movement.
One of her interview subjects was feminist crafter, Casey Jenkins, whose vaginal knitting has made her a viral internet star.
“At that time she was making these cunt fling-ups, these cunts [made] using craft techniques and flinging them over power lines around Melbourne.”
She was interested in her work as an act of “normalising female genitals, and Jenkins’ assertion “that cunt was not a dirty word.” She was interested in her unveiling and de-stigmatising the anatomy of the vagina, “rather than it being seen as something to be hidden or something not to be discussed.”
Highlighting craft styles which has been made historically invisible through the system of patriarchy was a fundamentally political move. “I was telling female stories, especially with craft, it’s something that was in the home, it’s something women were doing.”A

A related idea, of allowing women the agency to control their own image drives a lot of her pornographic work. In a time where female artists are increasingly distancing themselves from being called feminists, Anna embraces the term.
“I think that that’s a leftover thing in terms of what people saw feminists as being in the eighties, there’s the very man-hating separatist form of feminism that was also anti-sex that sort took over.”
“It’s still the dirty ‘F’ word, there’s still that connotation,” she says. Not one to back away from divisive terms, she instead embraces it, infusing her distinct ethos into everything she creates.
Hence, her films always consciously revolve around the empowerment of female figures.
“A lot of the time women are the focus of my films, they’re very strong, they’re very much in control of the sex they’re having and of their sexuality.”
Ideally, she wanted her films to operate as a space where her performers were not “dictated by what society is telling you, in terms of being a woman and how your sexuality works.”
She also thinks that it is important to explore a “diversity of sexuality and sexual fantasies” in her films: (“being a woman nowadays, we have a certain amount of fluidity in terms of our sexualities, and that’s one thing that I sort of strive with in my films- to show the fluidity of sexuality rather than it being very much controlled and confined”.)
“It’s about having strong women who are in control of the type of sex that they’re having, whether they’re in a dominant situation or a submissive situation; that they are in control of how they’re represented,” she says.
She is also very interested in exploring the female gaze, and for embracing female fantasy through her films. This is articulated both through the sexual agency of her female characters and also through objectifying the masculine form.
“In mainstream porn the camera’s very focused on the woman and her body,” she says. “The man becomes kind of a prop- once they’re having sex he’s mainly just genitals.”
“In a lot of my films I have really objectified men and put a female gaze upon their bodies as well,” she says. “I mean I used to call it reverse-sexism but I don’t know if it’s really that appropriate anymore,” she laughs.
‘A lot of people have said that the men in The Band, are all dickheads and doofuses, and it’s something that I tend to do, I tend to write men’s roles a bit in that way, maybe as I mature I might start writing more gratifying and full roles,’ she says.
This kind of ‘reverse sexism,’ is founded in a sense of frustration about what she sees as a tradition of belittling women through their visual representation.
“I think we spend so much time as women being ridiculed, or being belittled and I think it’s important to turn the tables and have a little laugh at men, and be judgmental about them. “
She is also interested in challenging the way in which masculinity is coded through art.
“I remember one of my friends saying, penises are so scary, but we’re never exposed to a lot of images of [them],” she says.
“If we look at art in general, it’s very difficult to find male nudes, you can find a lot of female nudity, whether it’s in sculpture or photography.”
Rather than ignoring the male body, or seeing it as a mere vessel for the facilitation of male fantasy and pleasure, she is interested in exploring its value, both aesthetically, and for titillation.
“I want to bring that body to a foreground and show that it can be eroticised and can be fetishised as much as woman’s can be.”
The choices she makes in the logistics of the production of her films are similarly motivated.
“We pay our performers very well, they’re generally paid more than I am, or any of my crew are,” she says. “A lot of the time the majority of my crew will be female.”
“The last couple of films that I’ve worked on they’ve been exclusively female, and that creates a very safe environment, it doesn’t feel like there’s a male gaze upon them.”
In her writing process she is always conscious of avoiding clichés of gender and sexuality in her representations of female characters.
“At the moment I’m writing a new script, and there’ll be something that I’m writing, and I’m like, oh no I can’t really do that, because that’s just conforming to a very stereotypical idea of how a woman should be represented,” she says.“I am constantly aware of that.”

Her aesthetic has thus come together through marrying her experimental film-making style, with her political awareness of the aesthetic treatment of her subjects. It has also evolved through her adoption of different technologies. The first medium she utilised was film, starting with Super 8 before progressing to sixteen millimetre, but this turned out to be unviable as it was “incredibly expensive.”
She then moved onto analogue video, which was more apt for “working on little budgets to no budget.”
With the progression of digital technology she has been able to create work which more closely approximates her vision; on digital video “colours, the saturation of it is really amazing.”
Advances in the communicability of colour in digital definitely help. “I love lots of bright colour, that’s something that’s always been there with my work, particularly coloured light- I really like how that looks on screen.”
While she still loves the “depth of colour,” which comes through film photography, digital photography’s immediacy, its user-friendliness and its affordability mean that it’s “really the way to go.”
She is also a fan of the democratisation of creativity represented through digital, as those who previously could not participate in filmmaking are able to at least attempt it through cheaper means. Practically, the lightweight construction of digital cameras has made it possible for smaller people, like her, she says, “to be able to easily pick up a camera and spend all day with it on my shoulder.”
Her aesthetic influences are generally artists and filmmakers who deal with sexual subject matter outside the realm of the pornographic genre. They include Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodavar (“the way he uses colour and lots of bright colour and the amazing female characters he writes as well”) French director Claire Denis (“how she uses the female gaze on male bodies”) and contemporary photographic artist Cindy Sherman.
One pornographic filmmaker who has left an indelible impression on her is Candida Royalle.
“Even though she doesn’t look old enough to be she could be the grandmother of feminist porn,” she says, as she was one of the “first women making pornographic films for a female market.” Anna was very much inspired by the way in which her films challenge the traditional film language of the pornographic genre.
She has also acted as a kind of mentor to Anna. (“She’s also been a large emotional support for me, when I decided to make films I contacted her, and she’s been really great for that.”)
Other erotic film makers she is influenced by include French film-maker Avidi (“she actually started off as a pornographic artist, performer, and has moved into making her own films”) and Cheyenne Louise Houston (“who’s making queer stuff in San Francisco”). She’s primarily interested in artists who are pushing outside of the box of conventional genres and it is this transgression which inspires her most.
She takes inspiration from a lot of other sources, including photographic images. Generally when she is preparing for a film she will collect images that appeal to her in terms of their “lighting,” or “colour” or in the way they shoot bodies and sex in order to communicate her ideas to her cinematographer.
For The Band one of the aesthetic ideas she was most interested in was using darkness to partially hide things; “it wasn’t just full on in your face, things came in and out of the dark, so you’re tantalised, but at the same time you had to wonder about what was missing.”
While interested in film, both as an artistic and a story-telling medium she considers herself “a filmmaker first and an artist second.”
Recently she has been participating in more art based projects, including a piece called Falling presented at the Yarra Sculpture Gallery, where she worked together with Melbourne sculptor and her former University friend (Annee Miron), long with a Finnish dancer and choreographer (Favela Vera Ortiz and Sanna From).
“Annee created this environment, I created these video works that were projected onto these sculptures that she made, and then the Finnish dancer and choreographer created this piece that was a performance piece which was within that space as well. “
The project enabled Anna a welcome break from the constraints of working within a narrative driven structure (where “you are ultimately trying to tell a story”) allowing her to play more with her aesthetics, and “really just explore a feeling and a sensation.”
“It was nice to do something different, to go into a different part of your brain that you don’t normally use,” she says.

Due to the drawn-out and slow-paced nature of the film-making process, Anna often works on multiple projects at the same time. She is currently working on producing an erotic film entitled Screwed in Suburbia (a comic look at sex in the suburbs) as well as producing some short pieces with Morgana Muses (“who won the Petra joy award in 2012”) a documentary called Doing it Her Way (“looking at feminist pornography movement worldwide, and why it’s happening and how it’s come about.”)
As one of the pioneers of the feminist porn genre in Australia, she is excited about the possibility of having a growing community to work within.
On her recent trip to the Berlin Porn Film Festival where she was showing her feature The Band she found that forty per cent of the films entered into the festival were made by women; “so I thought, hmmm, something very interesting is going on here at the moment.”
“When I made The Band there wasn’t really anyone else here doing it, and now there’s sort of ten women throughout Australia who are actually making stuff now, so in Australia there’s other people I can talk to.”
Rather than seeing herself as competitive player in a filmmaking niche, like any good mum, Anna is happy just to watch her porn family grow.

 You can read more about Anna Brownfield’s Production Company, Poison Apple Productions, and purchase her films on their website, here.  Her blog, detailing her filmmaking exploits, is here.

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Hugh Egan Westland and Blake Barns

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On first encountering Hugh Egan Westland and Blake Barns they seem a mismatched pair. While the designers look alike—both have a clear penchant for shrouding their statuesque frames in dark, billowing fabric; both balance these silhouettes by keeping their curly hair sedately short-cut—their dispositions seem markedly different. They are like co-ordinates from collections two seasons apart; antithetical, almost adversarial in their divergent constructions.
A gentle precision, even trepidation, guides the few spoken words Blake permits himself. Thoughts emerge slowly and judiciously from him, like well-placed stitches through a delicate skein. If his speech is careful his social ventures are even more so. Blake still hasn’t meet Hugh’s other closest friend in the five years the two have known each other. They have spoken once, briefly, on the phone, minutes before the showing of their shared fashion project, H.B. Peace’s first collection last month.
“Five years and that’s the first time my two best friends have met each other!” Hugh exclaims. “He’s a shy person, definitely not on the party scene,” he explains.
Hugh does not share this trait. Blake proposes, half-cringing at the cliché, that he is a “social butterfly”; an extrovert whose creative energies are fed through his outward endeavours. But while he is outgoing, he is no suck-up. He is forthright, often to the point of being brusque, and “opinionated”. He has, Blake says, a tendency to be “pretty harsh” sometimes.
Of course, they have characteristics that carry over, in the same way that the closures of two unalike trousers might be the same. It is their personalities, however, that distinguish them- the arrangement of these similar traits into contrasting patterns.
Their opinionated stances are matched only by their respect for one another’s viewpoints, ensuring that these innate clashes work together. Hugh respects Blake’s “headstrong” ability to “put him in his place”, and Blake respects that same transparency from Hugh. There is simply no room for “bullshit” between the two.
“You can’t be emotional about things,” Hugh says. “We’re very honest with each other.”
For Hugh, this openness represents not so much a willingness to bend to criticism as much as it is about being aware about all the possible “connotations” a viewer might find in his work. Blake’s criticism gives him the conviction to then “make up my own mind.”
“We’re not very sensitive,” Hugh says. “If Blake turns around and says that something I’ve made is fucking disgusting I won’t get offended.”
“And you were the same, with some of the material I wanted to use,” Blake adds.
Hugh nods, ”There were a few things that I vetoed and a few things that Blake vetoed,” adding, emphatically, “There has to be.”
In preparation for their first show, ‘Hey Blinky, you say chic, I say same’ this shared ruthlessness was essential.
The show was co-ordinated through Centre for Style, one of Melbourne’s newest fashion institutions, now an online store, that was hosted temporarily at creative space Fort Delta, in the CBD. The show was commissioned by young fashion entrepreneur and founder of the Centre, Matthew Linde. When Blake was initially contacted by Linde, he immediately thought of Hugh as a potential creative partner. Since studying fashion together, the pair has been close, contacting each other at least ten times a day, by “Instagram, email, or text message”. One day, Hugh received an uncharacteristically formal message from Blake asking him to meet him for lunch the next week, informing him, enigmatically, that he needed to talk to him about ‘something’.
“I was like, sure, but we’re going to talk about it a hundred times between now and then,” Hugh says. The pair then met and of course, Hugh said yes. While it was their first time working together, Blake says, “they weren’t really worried about that.” From their prior experience working alongside one another they sensed they would be an easy fit.

The starting point for the show was their interest in experimenting with the inherent characteristics of generic garments.  Quotidian clothing items would be re-imagined, in unusual and often anti-functional fabrications and unfamiliar construction styles, in order to alter their inherent personality.
Hugh explains: “The characteristics of a garment are what we’re so familiar with, the idea that this is a suit, and this is what a suit should look like, and you understand what that is.”
“The difference between the character of a garment, say a pair of pants, and the personality– character is something which can be identified as a common point between things, whereas the personality can be completely different between you and me, but we have characteristics that are the same,” he says.
“That is what we’re interested in; when you make a garment, like an overcoat; when you do it in a lycra, or you do a jean in a lycra; the concept of the jean is the character, and by doing it in the lycra, it’s a personality twist on that,” he says.
In the collection,  trousers, jeans and coats are crafted from lycra, shift dresses from un-giving leather,  boob tubes from soft flowing silk; tailored trousers hang in soft synthetic folds, and all are drenched in a pallet of lawn green, cream, black, juxtaposed against a scratchy, ephemeral print.

The collection was first planned to feature four looks, and eventually ballooned to a 31-piece, 12-outfit collection. Despite this spread the collection also came together through a lot of of editing, over a three-month period.
Their first step was to separately collect inspiration for a week after the first meeting; each was to come back with “seven images, one piece of text, and one song”. They set a rule that they weren’t allowed to talk about the project, but were allowed to talk about everything else; how could they help it?
Hugh came back with a half-speed, scaled-down version of “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, which ended up being the soundtrack for the runway show. A lot of inspiration material, however, was discarded along the way.  “A lot of my images were Vincent Van Gogh style paintings of Simpsons characters, which obviously did not make it anywhere near this collection,” Hugh says.
His original concept for the Van Gogh paintings, however, survived; the idea of carving a pattern into leather, and then hand-painting over it to draw out the negative image. The leather pieces in the collection feature the same Australian marsupial animal print as the shirts, dresses, and shorts, and are decorated in white paint to emphasise their shapes.
Blake’s own pieces of inspiration for the collection didn’t always “stick to the rules,” says Hugh. He came back with twelve images, and six songs.
The quote featured on the scarves created for the collection was from one of the pieces of inspiration Blake brought to their second meeting.
It was sourced from the short story ‘Severed Lands,’ and was provided by Blake’s good friend, writer Gillian Mears.
“It’s from this collection of short stories from 1998,” Hugh says. “It’s about these two sisters that kind of hate each other, and it’s recounting this one interaction which recalls past interactions over their lives; they both assume certain certain qualities in the other, and they are just so let down by their expectations and the reality of who the other person is.”
While the work was not created for the collection, it is oddly fitting, “appropriate” Blake says, for the collection. The themes of the story; misinterpretation and misunderstanding, are linked with the collection’s own exploration of identity; how cultural ideas are transmitted, enforced and evolved through the conventions of clothing.

The pivotal piece of inspiration for Blake was the suit worn by Tippi Hendren from Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic film, The Birds.
After attending the recent Hollywood Costume exhibition at ACMI, he became “obsessed with the idea of ‘the birds suit’, but in a lycra.” This became the first piece constructed for the collection.
Currently employed at an opportunity shop, part of Blake’s job is sorting through “thousands and thousands” of discarded clothing items. “I’ve become obsessed with the tragedies of clothing, these garments that are discarded, and they won’t make it out into the shop because there’s something so fucked up and wrong about them.”
He was particularly attracted to home-made garments, “constructed with no understanding of the appropriate materiality for a particular purpose”; he found a certain charm in the naivety of the juxtapositions of garments with materials.
The idea evolved from there; for a collection made up of staple designs undertaken in unconventional fabrications. The collection contained only five fabrications, which is rare for such a large undertaking.
“In this collection everything is either made of lycra, cotton shirthing, silk jersey, leather, or acetate, so there’s only five materials,” Hugh says.
The first material agreed on by the two was lycra. “There’s just something really off about it,” Blake says. “It’s a bit perverted.”
“There’s a performance associated with lycra, it’s a dance fabric, and it’s really showy,” Hugh says. “It’s really versatile and it had to be really strong, you use it in all kinds of physical activities.”
“But the activity that it’s used for also has a kind of gracefulness, and so it’s not used to being seen in a situation where it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do,” Hugh says. “It’s body-hugging, it’s sports related,” Blake continues.
“It’s really stretchy, it’s really opaque… you never see it where it’s not revealing the shape of the human body,” Hugh says.
The idea of taking something like lycra, which has a strong aesthetic and physical link to its purpose, and divorcing it from these connotations became a key idea for them. “Everything we’ve done in lycra is so oversized,” Hugh says.
“Apart from the gloves and the socks,” Blake interjects. ”Which are really fucking weird anyway,” Hugh stresses.
It was, Blake says, both “interesting” and difficult “to play with; because obviously things were happening with this things that was intended for a stretch as a woven material,” he says. “Things happened with the material that we weren’t really anticipating.”
Lycra, as a stretch fabric, is less than inclined to being configured in a tailored finish, with a “beautiful fold” or “crisp line”, Hugh says. Blake, as the primary sewer, says the intention; to use lycra and make it behave like a more suitable fabric, made the process immensely difficult: (“it’s this constant struggle with the material, trying to make it do something that it doesn’t want to do.”) In order to achieve the appropriate look, the designers added silver-coloured metallic chains as weights to the seams.
Appraising the garments, Hugh says, required an extremely scrupulous eye. This vigilance was prompted, in part, by a shared self-consciousness– that their work be an “interesting proposition” rather than a “wrong one”, to avoid being condemned as mere “bad sewing”. They had to ask, Hugh says, “is it different and is that difference interesting and nice, or is it actually just a bad idea, and it looks ugly?”
This also required a certain “weird faith” in the audience, a trust in the the customer’s ability to “pick up on those points of interest and think, this is different, and this is interesting,” Hugh says.

Another theme of the collection was repetition, both in terms of materiality and print.
The print created for the show featured a range of different marsupial animals rendered in heavily cartooned, sharply-lined illustrations. These were then digitised and the same print applied through a variety of different methods.
“We’ve done it screen printed on the cotton shirthing, hand painted on the silk jersey, carved in the leather pieces, and then hand-painted and then screen-printed on the silk Crêpe De Chine which we then distorted with this gel,” Hugh says. “It was more about finding different ways to abstract one point.”
The print evolved through its various applications; on the Crêpe De Chine of the dresses the print is distorted beneath the gel beading to become abstract and mottled; on the cotton shirts it is often broken, doubled or smudged, on the leather it is savagely, deeply carved. The initially incidental imperfection of the different printing techniques was embraced as an instrumental part of their aesthetic. The local screen-printer the pair employed, Blake says, “didn’t have the facilities for doing metreage, but he did it any way, which kind of resulted in this slight doubling effect.”
This aesthetic appealed to both Hugh and Blake due to their mutual appreciation for points where, in vintage clothing particularly, “clothing departs from the repeated norm,” Hugh says. (“Every t-shirt might look the same but because this guy’s a hand printer there’s smudges, and there’s faded points where the paint didn’t come through, and that’s the point that we like, probably more than something that’s incredibly uniform.”)
The print itself emerged through a collaboration between the two inspired by procedural guidelines they’d experimented with at fashion school. The story Hugh tells emerges with a certain autobiographical forthrightness he is prone to.
“We had this teacher in second year (university) and she ran a design class, and she absolutely hated me and I didn’t have a whole lot of love for her,” Hugh says bluntly. “Blake and her were probably much better acquainted, I was just maybe a bit precocious.”
The project that inspired him was one where each class member was given a small figurine, and then had to close their eyes, and draw it. They adapted the project to a process where Blake gave Hugh a series of verbal stimuli to draw from, blind. This process was simultaneously abetted by their mutual interest in an illustrated wildlife book from the 1950s entitled Doris Rides a Rhino which featured accounts of the eponymous woman’s safari trip. The book featured photographs of a society woman “dressed in stunning clothes, but standing next to a rhino.”
This kind of interesting juxtaposition, of wildness against civility, comic relief against control, is reflected in the interesting contrast of the print to the simple shapes and plain silhouettes of the collection.

Rather than being the singular vision of a lofty genius figure H.B. Peace exemplifies the plurality and collaborative potential of fashion. Outsourcing elements of the process required the two to have a humility about their abilities in their engagement with professionals they respected.
“The whole process we have relied a lot on friends and other people who know more about what they do than we do, and coming up to them with ideas, and them showing us how to work with the limits of that request,” Hugh says.
Hugh and Blake’s friends, Audrey Thomas Hughes, created slip-on shoes for the collection. Due to their limited knowledge about the physics involved in the construction of this item, their creation was inextricably linked to an interdisciplinary discussion. This humble approach was also necessary to their development of the print, as Blake’s friend Tim Dawes digitised the drawings, and another friend screen-printed the garments.
The poem that Hugh brought as his piece of inspiration formed the basis of the name of the label, which also came to embody this collaborative spirit.
“It’s from this poem by W.G. Sewell, ‘In early November 1980/walking across the bridge of peace/I almost went out of my mind,” Hugh says.
Peace, that thick word pleated with its manifold manifestations, interpretations, and permutations, both corporate and activist in nature, became one half of the moniker of the fictional H.B. Peace.The other half of the label’s name encompassed the initials of the two primary designers behind it.
The name was also inspired by Hugh’s previous project, where he had “this idea about this kind of pseudonym character designer, this idea of a fictional designer,” Blake says.
“Having something like a pseudonym helps if you want to divorce some of the qualities you have in a partnership,” Hugh explains, where neither one is or wants to give all of themselves.
Having neither of their names associated explicitly allows each of them to feel comfortable working independently of the other under the title, and to employ and integrate others beneath it. He quickly adds, that of course, under the name, everyone is credited. Eager to sound reasonable, but not pedantically so, Hugh stresses “Blake and I never bean-count our projects, but Kate Meakin did a video for us and Kate Meakin is credited.”
Kate Meakin, a video, sculptural and installation artist working out of Melbourne, completed a video for the project. The video features a model wearing a papier mache mask, dancing slowly and dreamily to a haunting guitar ballad. The mask is removed and the camera slowly centres on the model, who wears a coat and slip dress from the collection; the gaze shifts to a closeup of the print on the silk, which shifts and furls rhythmically.
While the parts are always carefully demarcated Hugh says H.B. Peace is in essence the central symbol that “can take responsibility for the whole.”

The show’s title, ‘Hey Blinky, you say chic, I say shame,’ came from a dream of Hugh’s. Rather than being something whimsical and surreal, the dream was, in Hugh’s trademark style, absurd and comic.
“I had a dream that I was best friends with Blinky Bill; I was in this situation where someone said ‘Hey Blinky, you say chic, I say shame,’ and me and Blinky Bill made it into T-Shirts,” he says.
The reference, which he admits is “far-out” became the name almost accidentally; Hugh was creating the Facebook event for the show, and a name hadn’t yet been decided on, so he came up with it on the spot. “I don’t even think Blake knew about it!” he admits.
“I think it in the same way it relates nicely to the repetitiveness of the shapes and the repetitiveness of the prints and the banality in a lot of the shapes of the clothes,” Hugh says.
“And the humour in the collection, as well,” Blake adds.
“I guess there is definitely a lot of humour to it, like in the gloves, and the fucked up little marsupials,” Hugh muses.
The gloves created for the collection were crafted out of green lycra. They cover the two forefingers, and fasten over the hand with an elasticised lycra band. The gloves are ludicrously anti-functional, or perhaps even more humorous in their imagined purpose, in a characteristically playful gesture for the design duo.

Their process evolved through an interplay of their key strengths. When it came to constructing the garments, Hugh is quite self-effacing about his role; “I’m there, motivating- Blake is much better at sewing than me.”
Not one to be bashful about his achievements,though, he is fast to reel off his other credits; “I did all of the things by hand, the hand fabric carving, the gelling of the dress, the hand painting of the silk jersey, I sewed on the chains.”
The machine sewing was challenging for Blake, even as an avid machinist.
“It took me about four of these jackets to feel that I was confident,” he sats. “Sewing this material, you can’t pull it.”
“You can’t iron it, either,” Hugh sighs.
Blake agrees. “You can’t press it because it melts.”
Hugh had the idea from the beginning to French seam all of the clothing. French seaming is a strenuous process by which all raw edges of fabric are enclosed, instead of just one.
“When we first started we thought it would be funny as well if we French seamed everything, so it was this really high-end, laborious finishing technique on these garments,” Hugh says. Some of the garments are still finished with this technique, however others are not.
Hugh was resistant to overlocking the garments, preferring to use his chosen elaborate technique, until Blake convinced him otherwise.
With a sigh of resignation Hugh admits that, “I have learnt that in an oversized lycra t-shirt dress, it looks a lot better when it’s overlocked, because that’s how the fabric likes it, where I wanted everything French-seamed, and French seaming takes twice as long,” he says.
“So when were sewing these we had to pin every probably two centimetres so it didn’t slip,” Blake says, exhaustedly.
“I learned my lesson,” Hugh says.
The colour pallet for the collection also came together reciprocally. While Blake favoured a pink pallet, Hugh was more interested in exploring a more obscure, though recognisable shade.
“I was just obsessed with the Sriracha chilli bottles you see in Asian restaurants, they’re clear and they’re full of red, and it’s nearly exactly that green on the bottle top,” he says. The strange ubiquity of this colour appealed to Hugh.
“We also realised recently that this was the green that they used for green-screen stretch costumes,” Blake adds.
Hugh says, “This iconic suit from The Birds is in green. I guess that’s why it started sticking.”

The show itself was structured, partially due to their limitations, in a highly innovative format. Originally, the show was going to be hosted at Centre for Style’s shop site, however the shop closed before the collection was ready.
The original plan for that space was to have the individual audience members’ positions marked out close together. The idea was tor replicate the experience of encountering other people’s garments at a party; in a crowded room, where, Hugh says “you have to brush really close past someone and you have to turn your body to the side to get between people.”
“We were into the models having to do that, where you almost see the clothes, but you don’t see the clothes, but you feel them, and it’s quite a sensory experience, Blake wanted the models to have a smell; which I think was tiger balm.”
“It would be this experience where you’re touching them, you’re seeing them you’re probably hearing them; you’re getting your breath; you’re getting their smell.”
The idea also aimed to integrate Hugh and Blake’s shared notions about the “democracy of fashion”.
“It sounds wanky,” Hugh says. “I didn’t want it to be like, only certain people have to be invited, I thought, I wanted everyone to— not necessarily to participate,” he stops himself, before adding, self-consciously, “I’m not that twee, but would be nice that everyone see the show, and everyone be invited.”
The idea, however, was conditional to the more condensed space Centre for Style was previously situated in.
The show ended up being hosted by World Food Books, a contemporary art and design shop located in Melbourne’s CBD.
“The boys at World Food Books were really good to us, they let us do whatever we want with their shop, they didn’t care that we were potentially hijacking the Nicholas building’s fire escape for the show,” Hugh says.
The Nicholas Building, a “beautiful” Chicago-style structure in the city’s CBD, appealed for the two designers; “you so rarely get to appreciate certain aspects of it,” Hugh says.
Their appreciation for that staircase was one of these aspects which inspired the format for the show. By utilising the entire staircase the space could be democratised in the same way, where the audience could be spaced, step by step, so everyone could get a “good glimpse”, Hugh says; (“there’s three levels, you get different approaches, you get different angles, rather than just one view as it brushes past.”) As the models poured down the stairs each audience member was treated with a singular viewpoint, while simultaneously being able to see the looks before and after in order to contextualise them within the whole of the collection.

While World Food Books deals primarily in art-based media, both Hugh and Blake approach H.B. Peace with a “’very fashion’ attitude,” Hugh says.
“It’s repeatable, it’s commercial, there’s no limits on how many times we’re going to do it, except for our physical endurance capacity, so I’m not doing those leather things again, Blake’s not doing those leather things again, I’m not doing those gel things again, but that’s just a choice we’ve made, that’s not like an artistic idea,” he states, plainly: “I’m not spending three months of my life doing that again.”
“I don’t consider any of them art,” he says. “What I do consider, maybe, is if someone took a garment, and photographed it in a certain context, maybe someone else can take something from it, but by themselves I consider them as pieces of design.”
As such, to make the collection commercially viable the show featured feminine garments worn only by feminine models. This decision was not altogether conscious, but perhaps ingrained by the nature of the fashion industry in the small industry context of Melbourne.
Hugh looks at it practically; “Women buy more clothes and more adventurous clothes than men do, if we want to do a project that’s a little bit left of centre, we want people to be able to buy it, I don’t want this to sit in a suitcase for the rest of our lives.”
Blake’s view of his decision is also quite pragmatic; “I’ve personally never done men’s wear as well, all my training is in women’s wear; I feel there’s more freedom there, which is maybe completely a self-imposed idea.”
While they are very explicit in their collecton’s identity as design, and not art, it still suggests something personal about each of them, something inextricably linked to their own senses of style.
Blake suggests that this continuation is merely “inevitable.”
“Definitely it permeates,” Hugh says. “Everything is quite big. Me and Blake are not tight-clothes-wearing people.”
It also suggests, he says “our attitude to the way in which we dress ourselves; this discarded imperfection.”
“But if someone who’s really done up and wears makeup every day, like Alannah Hill wanted to wear a piece our clothing she could, and she could wear it with her style, and it would become something else,” he says.
The attitude with which they dress themselves, with an emphasis on “relaxation” is what figures most prominently in their shared designs, Hugh says. They also have a shared interest in integrating and appreciating different levels of fashion.
Blake says, “We have this appreciation for things that are discarded or imperfect.”
“Hugh got these amazing series of clothing that he’s found discarded in the swamp in Alice Springs, which were sun-bleached, and salt crusted; but then we love high fashion as well.”
“We appreciate the conversions of those two things, there’s qualities that you would want to repeat in a garment that’s been plucked from a swamp, that’s been there for months, and there’s also parts of a Dior couture outfit that we have this emotional quality to it which is something maybe we would want to borrow from,” Hugh says.
“As Blake said, with all these things he picks up from the op shop, it’s almost like a little life story comes out of it,” Hugh says.

Recently, after the completion of this project, the pair have separated, as Hugh has gone to London in order to complete an internship at a small fashion house. They do, however, plan to continue the project, but they’re as of yet unsure of what form it will take. H.B. Peace as a liminal entity, not quite a fully-fledged label, and not tied directly to either of their names, allows for a range of potential growth.
“I was afraid if we called this a label, we would become tied to this expectation of how labels work, how, twice a year, they present collections for sale,” Hugh says.
Rather than having this kind of professional attachment to Peace, they took a more flexible approach, allowing that “maybe if we find ourselves with a good idea when were in the same city, with time, and drive, let’s do something, but let’s keep it a very fluid practice,” Hugh says. This would allow the possibility for independent work under the same label, or cross-continental dialogue.
”I think that’s been liberating through the entire process, because we haven’t had this pressure,” Blake says.
Hugh continues, “We do have ideas for another project, but I’m going overseas in a week, so it’s very…”
“Up in the air,” they state in unison. While they may not be together for some time, their shared creative vision will continue to exist; representing a chapter of their “life story” beneath the title they have befitted themselves.

You can see more items from H.B. Peace’s first collection on the Centre for Style website, here. Kate Meakin’s short film, H.B Peace Movie can be viewed here.

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Nicholas Brown and Misha Grace

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There is a kind of partnership forged in the teenage years that is unparalleled at any other life-stage. It’s far deeper than the instant child bond; kids are fickle, and mean, and cruel, and all those other nasty, uncomely things. Their friendships melt like so much fairy-floss– in the time it takes to win a race across the monkey bars, or to scoff a gifted segment of Roll-up; before you can even utter the words ‘wet willy’ they can be over.
They’re more real than adult friendships, those lifeless sham-marriages perpetuated through polite Adult brunches, Adult dinners, and Adult drinks which can sometimes, but not often spill into Adult debauchery and unwelcome Adult three-day hangovers.
This kind of undying teenage devotion, existing in the gap between the first rejection of parental attachment and that initial object of girl or boy crush-dom, is characterised by countless hours spent on exasperated parents’ landlines unpacking, blow-by-blow, the minutia of that day’s gossip; trolling the mall together until curfew to see and be seen; gushing to each other on topics as varied as your shared adoration or hatred or indifference for whatever teen idol or band or classmate you so choose at that moment. It’s assumed that only you two will ever get it, too.
You feel empowered in the earnestness of your friendship and it’s at-oddness to everyone and everything else– to all the stupid hegemonies of the big bad world. It’s a demanding mania, where Best Friends Forever rings less as ’til-death and more as a death threat.
It’s odd that such an extreme situation is so commonplace in these years. As we have grown older, though, this intensity of platonic connection is increasingly rare and rarely long-term.
And in Melbourne, a town where the art-world seems to be so strictly demarcated from the live music scene, Nick Brown and Misha’s pal-dom as articulated through Friendships seems even rarer. The music-art collaboration happened organically, accidentally, all of a sudden, as one of these friendships– where the kid you hated the stupid guts of in fifth period became your BFF in sixth and remained so until the final assembly.
When I arrive at Misha’s Footscray home they are sitting in the backyard in the afternoon sun, sinking tall glasses of wine and juice and nursing their collective hangover from a particularly fevered Friendships outing the night before. They are listening to an interview with Prince, on a plastic record carved in the shape of the artist, given to Misha by her uncle. The pair oscillate in bursts between Beavis and Butthead-esque cackling and reverent sighs, in a kind of symbiotic to-and-fro.
After I down a few wine-and-juices we head inside to do the interview. The place has a humble higgledy-piggledy quality, with books, records, paintings and knick knacks stacked in toppling and sometimes ingenious piles. Some of the neatly stacked cupboards examined more closely reveal themselves to be composed of precariously stacked cardboard boxes. Misha’s paintings dominate the lounge; they are huge, unsettling expressionistic portraits with sinewy bodies and sunken eyes painted in harsh relief. Her art spills into everything, a portrait of her father peers up, peeling slightly, from the home-made table in the backyard. Desiccated VB cans surround his gaunt face, like candles on a shrine.

The project started, as with many contemporary music projects, in a bedroom, where Nick began a music project known briefly as ‘Friendship.’
“I really wanted to be a singer-songwriter, but I can’t sing, so I gave that up pretty quickly,” he says. “I started writing music that I would like to listen to; bass heavy, rhythm stuff.”
Nick’s observations swing between self-deprecation and frank wit. He doesn’t take himself, or anything much else, particularly seriously, preferring to speak in blunt and unpretentious jabs and totemic witticisms. Misha has a similarly irreverent attitude, breaking now and then from her frequently insightful observations into a highly contagious, hysterical cackle.
“Nick came to an exhibition that we were doing,” Misha says. “A friend of a friend brought him along.”
He saw her paintings and was taken by them, and they talked about her doing a cover for one of his releases. They met up in the “heinous place,” she used to live in which was a self-proclaimed “hoarder’s fucking paradise.”
“Then we talked about doing live stuff together,” Misha says. Misha is also an emerging video artist, and they thus decided to integrate a visual live show with Nick’s beats.
“I had a show was coming up, and it was probably one of my first shows, at the Liberty Social,” Nick says.
The idea also sprang out of a shared sense of dissatisfaction with the flat performative format of the beat-maker show.
“When beat-makers perform live it can be a bit mundane in a way,” Misha says.
Nick puts it a shade more delicately; “It can be boring as fuck sometimes; it’s not engaging at all; you might as well be in a corner by yourself in a good listening spot and having a boogie.”
The idea, to create a more immersive audiovisual experience, has evolved through the progressive intermingling of their artistic and musical interests. Nick, the beat-maker of the pair, is fairly flexible with his set. Misha maps complementary visuals along with his music which are also assembled live, and are projected onto whatever screen layout they have available.
“It’s a funny journey where in live shows, Nick is the leader; he’s playing the music, and my job is basically to follow it visually, which I really fucking enjoy,” Misha says. “In a lot of of my personal work in painting and video art I’m really interested in the ideas of intuition and improvisation.”
The shows started out as a simple collaboration, and have grown more complex, and performative over time, with a heavier emphasis on interaction and audience involvement.

Nick’s music has also evolved over time, particularly due to the emphasis on live performance.
“Playing live has changed the music I write, because I want to play tracks that I would want to play live,” he says.
“I think I enjoy playing club nights most,” he says. “But I still write a lot of down-tempo stuff, which hasn’t really seen the light of day.”
“I like to write music, and then I like to write some dumb shit as well, just shit that if I was having a dance party I would like to dance to.”
“I like to write a few bangers,” he says. “I like to exploit how cheesy they can be and to explore that.”
Technically, like a lot of beat-makers, most of the music Nick generates is software-based, and is configured through the manipulation of sound rather than through straight musical experimentation.
“I use Ableton Live,” he says. “And I mostly use data- I’ve mapped my controllers to control that program as much as I can so I don’t need to have the computer anywhere near me, so I can just discard it and use them as a musical instrument even though there’s nothing musical about them.”
“I guess in a sense it’s a bit musical, but mostly it’s just computer nerdery-stuff,” he says. “I’m not really gifted,” he breaks into a self-deprecating chuckle.
“I like to manipulate sounds, and I like to play the keys, and I usually bring my synth to live shows,” he says. “I wouldn’t say that I’m very good at all at playing them but I give it a crack.”
“We try to keep it pretty open, I can improvise to an extent, and Misha is pretty open to improvise, well her set is pretty much improvisation,” he says. “Mine has an electronic framework, and there are guidelines that I stick to.”
While Nick manipulates his sounds live, he generally has a pre-existing format, while the formulation of Misha’s set and the visuals she mixes is entirely improvised.
“I have a little archive of visual samples,” she says. “It’s probably about 80 per cent original stuff; my eyes are always open for little things that might be really cool to film and then to distort and then to project.”
“Then the other 20 per cent is, stuff from YouTube or really amazing documentaries that I’ve pulled,” she says.
“I work with Emidi as well, so I can cross-fade between images,” she says. She demonstrates the software, where the controls make it easy to glide between her archived video footage. She inter-splices a clip of a friend dancing in a hypnotic rhythm over a background of computerized imagery of green spiraling light, before transforming slowly into a video of a spider.
“Misha has a data controller as well, where she can map all the variable that she needs to map, and then she can fuck with it,” Nick adds.

Their set is usually completely unrehearsed and as such has evolved through their growing awareness of one another’s patterns and rhythms on stage.
“I might say, I’ve got this new track,” Nicks says. “And then Misha might ask me when I’m playing that track, and I’ll say, I don’t know- I’ll give you a nod.”
“And you never do,” she laughs.
“When we first started to play we used to play facing each other and I think we really liked that for a long time, and then due to the logistics of some places that we played, we needed to be side to side, and I think that opened up a whole new level of communication,” Misha says. “I think there’s a lot of immaterial interaction, where it’s not explicit.” 
“We don’t chat but I know what Misha is doing,” Nick says. “Some of the time when I’ve done live gigs without Mish it’s kind of sucked; her onstage energy- if she’s not there I get a bit down.” Misha agrees.
“When I’m doing the visuals, I stare at Nick quite a bit, because I’ve gotten to know his body language while he’s playing and his hands movements especially, and when there’s a big drop about to come, I can get my stuff ready,” she says.
“I think it’s funny as well when I fuck up and they don’t match,” Nick interjects.
“I think it’s really great,” she nods, “I’m all for seeing these funny mistakes that artists have made, whether if it’s with live music or at an art show, or a painting, I think that is really something that’s valid.”
“Especially when it’s electronic, where it’s seemingly a press-play and go game; it brings a bit more of an original element,” Nick says.
“I think that’s part of the reason that we do integrate the improvisation aspect into the shows,” Misha says.
This shared reliance on and appreciation of the improvisational format and its potential mistakes and mishaps is aided by their similar attitudes to their work. “We aren’t the type of artists that have a lot of snootiness about us,” Misha says.
“We’re not precious about our shit,” Nick pipes in.
“Which is something I used to be personally, I used to be so precious about my work when I started university, I was exactly the word precious; I used to hold all my concepts to myself and I would never talk about it,” Misha says. “Then I met Nick who has a very relaxed attitude to his work.”
Nick and Misha have both respectively studied their creative pursuits at university, with Misha completing a degree in Fine Art, majoring in painting, and Nick studying Sound Engineering, but their skills and their outlook has developed significantly through the formation of their partnership.
“I sort of took that on since working with (Nick) and I think my work has definitely flourished because of that,” Misha says. “You don’t want to be serious all the time.”
“It’s tiring and it’s painful sometimes,” Nick elaborates. “If you’re trying to do the most intelligent shit all the time you kind of suck the fun out of it.”

Friendships navigates the interstitial space between the art and music scenes in Melboune, and as such they are used to adapting their sets and visual aesthetic to a wide variety of venues.
“Sometimes we play at five on a Sunday and do a chilled set,” Nick says.
“Not a lot of pre-thinking goes into it, but I think definitely when you’re in the space and performing the vibe of the whole space and its energy impacts,” Misha says.
“When we get to a space we can kind of vibe on it,” Nick says. “If it’s a kind of gig night where you expect people to be vibing and no one’s vibing.”
At a recent gig in Brisbane, they became extremely frenzied from the energy they were receiving from the crowd.
“We nearly did our necks out,” Misha says, giggling. “We were dancing so hard,” Nick adds.
“We were going crazy on stage because it was packed, and we could see that crew that we travel with a lot with were at the front getting really into it, so me and Nick in turn fed off that energy,” Misha says. “On the plane the next day we were turning with stiff necks, we were so sore, my neck’s still cracking from it,” she says.
“We’ve done experiments as well, with the Brunswick street show,” Misha says. “That was something a bit different that we did.”
The show, at Brunswick Street Art Gallery, was a collaboration between Misha and Nick in a different format to a conventional Friendships gig. It featured a series of paintings by Misha, propped around the space. They were completed in her signature figurative, though experimental style of portraiture, with sharp, sculptural bodily forms, heightened contrast and muted colours. It featured a sound installation calibrated by Nick.
“I guess that Friendships’ live shows are music first, and then visuals following, and then we did this show at Brunswick where it flipped a bit, where the visuals came first,” Misha says.
“While I was painting, Nick would come into the studio and record studio ambience,” she says.
“The paintings were two portraits of people looking back over their shoulder, because at that time I was trying to paint depictions of people looking at paintings,” she says. “I got really obsessed with this moment where you’re looking at something and someone calls out your name; that moment where your attention shifts.”
The sound was a result of a juxtaposition of live and recorded sound, overlaid so as to sound ambiguous.
“Instead of it being anything musical it was microphones in the space to capture what was going on in the gallery space,” Nick says. “There were live microphones running and you could put headphones on that came out of the paintings and so there were sounds of Misha painting, and then there were sounds of the gallery space, so a lot of the time people didn’t know what the fuck was going on; it was both associative and dissociative.”
“It got a bit schizophrenic times,” Misha says. “The painting were on the middle and then the microphones were on the edges of the gallery, so people would just be unknowingly standing next to the microphone and having a conversation, and someone would be in the middle listening to the headphones, and then would hear these people talking that were on the other side of the gallery, but it was quite distorted as well. “
“It had these self-automating effects, with weirdish delays,” Nick explains. “Some of the time it took little granules of the sound and sort of exploded them, so it would take that tiny little fragment and blow it into a big granulate cloud.”
“When people figured it out they’d go to a microphone, and say ‘dicks and fannies, butts!’” Misha laughs. “I had this funny moment where I was at the show where I was talking to this woman and she was getting really into the work and had these philosophical ideas of what it was about.”
“She had a son who looked about eight or so,” she continues. “He had the headphones on and I could see he was trying to figure out he was laughing and having a really good time, in that moment, it was a cool moment of the work being enjoyed on a few different levels.”
“And that’s a trait that carries through, a lot of, even our bass heavy shows, club shows– they’re always relatively accessible,” Nick says.

While the live show is the central point for collaboration between the two, there has been others. Misha recently created a clip for Nick’s track, SSLLOWW. The song features an a cappella, tonally-dropped rendition of Kylie Minogue’s ‘Slow,’ set to haunting, repetitive beats and electronic harmonies to which Misha created visuals of a girl dancing hypnotically in front of a projection of swirling green light, with overlaid animation. The song was the result of an unexpected and humorous collaboration between the two.
“One night, I was just at home, with me and a few other people, and we just kept on singing that Kylie Minogue song Slow.” she says. “We just kept singing that song in dumb voices and making dumb Photobooth movies, with tulle on and shit, just really drunk and high, and then I was like, we’ve gotta make a video to the lyrics of that song.”
“I think it was the next day and I was like fuck I want to make a track, so I started writing this track, with that stupid a cappella in there,” he says.”
“It was so funny because of the way it came about,” she says.
Both of the artists seem to have found something acutely inspiring in the other, in the least pretentious sense possible.
“I will go through lulls— I was in a lull for a few months, I couldn’t write anything— I think now that Mish has started painting again, that I can write music again,” Nick says. “I get inspired by a lot of things that I hear, but a lot of the time I’m thinking, will Mish like this stuff? I don’t want to play stuff that will sound really stupid and she’ll be up there embarrassed; so that’s a bit of a factor.”
“Most of the time it’s shit that I like, essentially, and then things that I’d like Mish to like,” he says.
“We have a funny vibe in that way,” Misha says. “Being a visual artist, I’m so inspired by the way music is made and released in this electronic beat scene that we’re sort of involved in.”
“I feel like it’s a lot more of a friendly environment than the visual arts scene in a way; there’s these bedroom artists who are like, I’ve made this, I’ve put my heart into it, and I’m going to put it on the internet and anyone can download it for free,” she stresses.
“In comparison to the visual art world, which is this scene where you make some work, and then you have to write a proposal, and then you have to hope that a gallery picks it up, and then you have to pay hundreds to dollars, and then if you sell something you have to give the gallery that commission,” she says. “It’s kind of funny.”
Nick, as a musician, was bemused by the whole art scene financial dynamic. “I didn’t understand that when we did the Brunswick show,” he says. “I thought, you’re putting art into this space, surely they should be paying you for that.”
“Even if you compare an art gallery opening to a gig, the differences are enormous; at an art opening there’s a lot of judgement in the air, there’s this kind of weird pressure to be this interesting artist, and I’ve found with the experiences I’ve had in the music scene, it’s so much more fun,” Misha says.
“The art scene has this really competitive nature, and it’s a lot colder, and the music scene is a lot warmer,” Misha says.
She’s not simply accepting the way things are though.
“I’m looking at releasing art in the same way that music is released— I’m working on releasing things through the internet— I’m talking about making these works, and using the internet to promote it, and giving things away for free, which is, I think can be really beautiful,” she says. “There’s definitely a difference between the audio or sonic way of making work, and I just really love the sonic way.”
“It’s really good in Melbourne as well, everyone is really friendly and open, it seems like the community we have is so nice and supportive of each other, which is sick,” Nick says. “I think, why not totally boycott the galleries and do an installation in a live venue?“
“The music scene in Melbourne is really quite inspiring and encouraging as well,” she says, “not that I think the gallery is dead or bad or anything but-”
“I think they need to check their shit, honestly,” Nicki interjects. “I was bewildered, I just didn’t get it, and I still don’t get it, and that’s why they need to check their shit,” he breaks into a chuckle.
“Most of the music I listen to apart from Prince, is Melbourne stuff, which is great,” Misha says. “I get inspired by it visually, a lot of inspiration is music and not visuals anymore, it’s a bizarre thing.”
“When I was an angsty little dumb teenager, I used to draw in my bedroom at night when I was angry at mum; I’d listen to this music, and make a drawing to that snippet of lyrics,” she says. “And then that didn’t happen for years, and then it’s funny how I’ve come back to it with Friendships.”

When I ask them where they expect to go with Friendships they seem equal parts excited, ambitious, and characteristically humble.
“In a egotistical sense, I always have this idea that I want to write this new form of music, I’d like to be a fore-runner of something new, and that’s kind of a pushing element, because a lot of the time I want to bring a sense of nostalgia, but also go into an area that I’ve never heard,” Nick says.
However, he admits that, “I didn’t see it going very far at all from the start, so it’s like every day is a little grace, because it’s always just been a hobby, it’s come from the bedroom.”
“I had a goal of just playing with one of my favourite artists, supporting one of my favourite artists, and then we supported Shigeto, and that was fucking amazing even though I played a stinker of a set,” he admits.
“It’s always just a hobby and a passion,” he laughs and adds in an affected accent, “I’m a passionate artist.”
“At the same time, I’ve got a shitty job, and that’s paying the bills, not music,” Nick says.
“I have these fantasies of this ridiculous stage that’s just a sculpture that we can stand in with projections,” Misha says. “I’ve been wanting to have a real installation as a show, rather than just pulling a screen down and projecting onto it.”
“I’ve been making these big cubes out of it and hanging them in front of the projection screen; I guess when you get different textures it becomes a bit more interesting,” she says. “I project onto the tulle, and then each surface captures the projection and warps it a little bit, but it still projects right through it, so you’ve got the untouched visuals, but then you also have these warped ones in front of them.”
“I did actually name it Purple as well, I named my tulle, I’m really attached to it,” she breaks into her ever endearing cackle.
“It’s difficult, in bars around Melbourne, which is where a gallery could be different, in a gallery you could have two weeks and build this incredible thing.”
“But they don’t have sound systems, either,” Nick adds.
“It’s funny; we’re in this in-between ground where we don’t really have the logistics and tools and money to do these elaborate grand things,” Misha says. “It’s kind of making do, doing what we can.”
“We gig fairly regularly, and they just sort of pop up and I haven’t done much, to be fair, usually we just go in there and wing it, but we do have these grand ideas– we want to have interactive shows,” Nick says.
“I think the more we try to persevere with it and the more we keep on trying to make things happen, to come to fruition, they will eventually, even if it’s just once,” Misha says. “I’d happily have this as my day-job, but that’s probably not going to happen.”
They will be more than happy for the project, forged from its humble beginnings in a hoarder’s paradise somewhere in Melbourne, just to continue, in some form; to survive in the little niche they have carved out for themselves.
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nick brown misha grace friendships
nick brown misha grace friendships
nick brown misha grace friendships
nick brown misha grace friendships
nick brown misha grace friendships
nick brown misha grace friendships
nick brown misha grace friendships
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Tsari Paxton

Tsari Paxton
Generational share-houses inspire in me the same kind of banal mysticism as a well-worn hand-me-down. It’s a similarly mundane response to that apolitical Sisterhood to those eponymous travelling pants.
Mundane histories of long-forgotten drama and desiccated gossip ingrain themselves into the very walls of these places, along with the greasy blue-tack stains. Tales of erratic housekeeping and absent-minded neglect emerge in the Pollock-like drips that zig-zag across the ever-morphing shade of carpet. They evoke the questionably concocted cocktails of esoterically themed house parties past. Traces of old house-mates soak into everything; a slowly collapsing couch set here, a fossilised instant noodle stash there. There is something about this carefree (or careless) passage of quasi-adult life that stains every nook and cranny of the houses it touches, borrows, and steals from faceless landlords.  Like a particularly stubborn, mooching poltergeist.
Editor and writer Tsari Paxton’s place is site to one of these slowly unravelling sagas. Situated in a particularly sought-after patch of Fitzroy, the, top story apartment is almost too generously appointed and well-placed for a long-standing share-house. Large French windows surround its perimeter, spilling sunlight generously wherever they preside. Tsari gives me the tour, and we end up in the largest communal space; the sun-room. Its large white windows look onto the rooftop outside and hints at the leafy park below. This interior space used to be a balcony, he says, but was turned into a sun-room in a hasty renovation. Consequently, the French windows of his bedroom look onto the interior space instead of to outside. The room is already balmy in the early Spring sun.
It’s a really nice space, he tells me, but it gets too hot in summer, because you can’t open the windows. I ask why.
As always, with Tsari, there is a story to be told. When he divulges one of these collected articles of fodder or personal anecdote his eyes gleam and his bright voice bounces along with a rare combination of conspiratorial glee and empathy.
The apartment, he says had been a share-house for a long time, and hence the site of countless parties. In summer these affairs often culminated in guests liberating themselves through the sun-room windows from the claustrophobic indoors out onto the rooftop. At one particularly raucous party a few years ago, a girl had fallen through a skylight and been gruesomely impaled on a piece of gym equipment below.
It’s one of those stories that becomes instant folklore, the kind of rumour that is compulsively consumed and repeated, again and again. Tsari had assumed it was an urban legend until one of the attendees of the ill-fated soiree had visited the house and confirmed it to him. It’s probably a tale that has been regaled ever since. A “but-for-the-grace-of-whoever” fable about the mortality of the party-going twenty something.
Stories like these, as real-life realisations of the countless what-ifs that plague young people, fascinate Tsari. And since he was young, Tsari has always enjoyed detailing these stories of the people around him through words.
“In Primary school I made this gossip magazine, cutting out people’s photos from the school photo and putting things like ‘Louisa and Morgan open-mouth kissed,’” he says. “It was like NW with people I knew.” His next memorable self-publishing experience was a similar exercise.
“When I was about 15 I wrote a 100,000 word Survivor fan fiction story, featuring people I knew.” While he has always been interested in writing, he has always been equally interested in printing his words.
“That always a big thing for me, having the physical version of it,” he says. “The way words look on paper excites me.”
Tsari completed his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne a few years ago and as with most people in his situation, “I felt obviously lost, like lots of people do, and I went overseas when I was about 21, and I was kind of stressed out thinking, what am I going to do?”
He thought about what he enjoyed the most, and was best at, and kept coming back to the idea of writing, and of communicating this writing through print. He completed a Masters in Communications at RMIT, and decided to channel his skills professionally into the more practical avenues of communications, marketing and public relations. A realistic appropriation in the face of an ever-shrinking publishing industry.
“That’s what I was doing educationally, but then the side project with the zine fulfills what I would really like to do,” he says.
Talking Trash is editor Tsari’s passion project. The zine was first published in 2012 and has had four issues thus far. The idea first began to emerge when Tsari was living in Berlin, and had a lot of time to reflect.
“I’ve always really enjoyed buying magazines and reading them,’” he says. “I was thinking about what magazine I would really like to work for, and then I realized that there weren’t really any that really excited me.”
While he enjoyed reading specific interest magazines, about fashion, tennis and gay culture, he wasn’t attracted to creating this kind of extremely specific and thus potentially alienating content. He wanted to work at something more universal; something that would appeal to a wider audience, with varied interests, backgrounds, and from different social groups. He wanted, particularly, to create a magazine for young people, about the broader experience of being young.
When he got back to Melbourne, he was talking with some of his friends who he had studied with, including Paige Farrell, who is now sub-editor of the zine. “I said, I want to make something that’s not about culture, and not about art, because that’s what most magazines for young people are about, some specific interest.”
“At the end of the day it ends up being about an art gallery you’re never going to visit, or clothes that you’re never going to be able to afford, or music that you’re not that interested in,” he says. “I wanted to make something that’s just about experiences and opinions and people’s lives.”
He was more interested in the idea of creating a publication that dealt with the day to day experience of being young and the issues that arise through this lived experience; stripping away the pretensions, cutesiness or lofty posturing which a lot of youth magazines he knew of fell into.
“I think I just find people’s stories really interesting, and that’s what I want to read about and what I like to write about as well,” he says. “I like articles that are about something specific that broadens out to be relatable to lots of people,” he says.
Some topics that have been covered in the magazine include young people’s forays into sex work, and the Peel , Collingwood gay nightclub’s sexist door policy. These stories relate to broader concerns that affect young people as a whole, raising questions about the way in which we treat and value our bodies, or the issues of gender discrimination within and around young gay subcultures.
Through the zine he can live out his dream of being an editor, but on his terms, without the huge industry pressures of working in publishing.
“When I started my Masters, I learnt about the publishing industry, and what it’s necessarily become,” he says. “I don’t really want to be an editor for a magazine, because you end up just talking to advertisers, so in order to get published you need to run a certain number of ads, so your role as the editor at the moment in commercial magazines is basically to be running ads in the magazine.”
“That’s not really a fun job at all,” he says.

Each edition of Talking Trash has a different theme which is decided by Tsari, through discussions with his two sub-editors, Chris Di Pasquale and Paige Farrell.
Generally he chooses the theme around a topic he is currently himself interested in writing about, and that has “potential,” for a wide range of exploration.
“The first one was Get Yourself Out of the Gutter, which as a bit bumbling as a theme, which was just about the crazy things young people do to get money, like crazy drugs, and prostitution,” he says.
“Then the second theme was Who’s the Boss, which was about dominant institutions in the society, like Government, education, religion and young people’s relationships to them,” he says. “The third one was about love, and love stories and the fourth one was about the city, the site where all the fun stuff in life happens.”
The process of gathering content has evolved with each edition and as the readership of the zine has expanded. “The first one was just me and a couple of other people, the second one spread to a bit wider of a net of people I knew,” he says.
“For the third and the fourth one I started to get contributions from people I don’t know,”he says. “For the fourth one we actually sent a little thing out to people in different University courses.” “It’s definitely good to be able to cast a wider net, but of course you get a lot of crap,” he says. “But you get some cool stuff, a couple of girls from Brisbane wrote a really fun article for the fourth issue.”
“In that issue we also ran an article by a guy named Josh Barnes – this short story about a dystopian Melbourne where the rubbish men stop collecting rubbish with a apocalyptic feel – and I really liked it so we decided to have him do one of the readings at the launch party,” he says. “At the launch he came up and introduced himself to me and I asked him how heard about Talking Trash, was it through one of the Uni send outs we did, and he said no, through a friend,” he says.
“And I asked him what course he studied, and he told me he was studying year 11, and to my surprise he was only 16.”
“It made me super happy because I want Talking Trash to include a very wide scope of youth, and be more about a stage of life than a date of birth – that stage of life being not quite settled into your career, you know, still working things out,” he says.
“I thought it was so cool that a 16 year old’s writing could sit alongside people in their late 20s and 30s; and collectively it becomes a kind of time capsule of what it’s like to be young today,” he says. “It’s nice that it spread, and it’s hard to tell, but I think it’s being read by a few people around here and there,” he says.
Tsari and his team also stock the zine at various bookstores and zine shops around Melbourne, including The Sticky Institute, Polyester Books and Hares and Hyenas.
However, he believes that the launch in the best way to get it out to people and to raise awareness about the project.
“I usually get a good turn-out, and when people come to the launch they’ll buy one and then they’ll have it in their house and people will see it.”

When he is selecting content he is most interested in finding work that contains a fresh perspective, or an innovative approach to a familiar issue. Material that he considers publishable is generally “something that I don’t feel I’ve read before, where it’s a point of view or a story where I don’t know where it’s going or it kind of surprises me in some way.”
He also is looking for work “that’s not too cute,” he says. “I find a lot of writing in Frankie with Smith Journal goes for this over-kitsch cutesy vibe, that I’m not really that into; I’m more interested in things that are a little bit more shocking or a little bit more scandalous.”
The aesthetic and layout of the zine has has evolved with each issue. “The first one was really lo-fi, with printing out pages and cutting and pasting them, “ he says. “The second one I used InDesign to create, and then everything was a bit more lined up and looked a little bit more neat.”
“And then the third one I think I went too far with that, where things were a bit too boxy and I tried to make it look too polished,” he says. “And I realized that wasn’t right, because zines come from this fanzine culture; it’s about being rough, and cut-and-pasted, and handmade, and that’s what I tried to celebrate in the most recent issue, where I’m hand-painting the covers and cutting out and pasting objects within it,” he says.
The covers of Issue 4 are hand-flecked with vibrant paint, each copy hiding a highly individual paint-job. “I think it makes it feel like a more inviting read, because it makes it more immediate,” he says.
“I don’t want to lose that because that’s the appeal of it, it’s not a polished glossy magazine, it’s a photocopied, handmade, good little read.“

Tsari is, as of yet, not sure where the zine is heading, as thus far his creation of it has been a bit of a roller-coaster, which he takes one issue at a time. “I think when you’re creating something that’s your own little project and it takes so much time to do it’s quite up and down,” he says.
“It feels quite exciting when you make it and you have the launch and people are reading and talking about it for a while, but then, actually at the end of the night, I have a feeling of let-down, where I think; what did I do this for, it’s all over now?”
“And then in a few days’ time I feel good about it again and I think about starting another one.” After finishing Issue 4 he felt like it might be the last one.
However, then he was approached by the Sticky Institute, who wrote and asked that they have a launch party as part of next year’s zine festival. “it was really nice to get a little bit of recognition for your own weird little project, and it encourages you, so I want to make at least another one.”
He is unsure about the future of Talking Trash after the next issue, but thinks it will continue in some form or another. “I think we have a nice website that could continue as a blog, and I would like to continue it on in some capacity, even if it’s just as that,” he says. “Time will tell I guess.”

One of the reasons Tsari has been considering folding the zine is so he can focus more on his own writing practice. “When I have free time I focus on Talking Trash, and I would like to do some of my own writing.”
Tsari’s own work is primarily non-fiction, where he writes about his own experiences. “I think I’m always most interested in writing about experiences,” he says. “By going inwards I think you can examine things within yourself that help you work out how you feel about things,” he says.
“If there’s something I don’t understand, or if it confuses me or challenges me, if I write about it I think I get to the bottom of why,” he says. “I think by inviting other people to read it, it might help other people,” he says. “I like the idea of helping people work out the things in their life that they don’t even notice.”
“I think I’m quite emotionally intelligent and I think I understand other people quite well and I like to write about that and I am forever fascinated by other people and how everyone can be so different, it inspires me to write,” he says.
Like many writers, Tsari gets a lot of ideas when he is busy, and few when he is not. “I have a habit of having a sticky-note with a huge list of dot points of things that I want to write about and, so I save them for when I have time,” he says.
His writing process generally starts with taking one idea or perspective and writing on it until he feels he can’t any more. If he gets stuck after a paragraph or two, he says, the idea probably wasn’t a good one to begin with.
When he has something he feels has potential, he will “then have to go away and come back to it, and see what I actually have; is this something that is worth spending more time on?”
He is not precious with the things he writes, and is generally happy to let go of his work when he feels it has effectively conveys what it needs to. “I’m not a perfectionist- every sentence has to be tight, but I’m not one to go other things a thousand times,” he says. “I don’t see myself crazily obsessing over every last word I kind of am more focused on form and flow.”
One aspect he believes is especially important to good writing, particularly in the personal non-fiction he enjoys writing and reading, is the careful construction and elaboration of the identity of the narrator.
“The mistake lots of people make is that they use I, because to them I has so much meaning,” he says. “I think to really part of the story one of the most important things is you need to make a character of yourself, and explain some of your eccentricities,” he says.
“A good piece of writing also sheds a unique light on something which everyone experiences on some level,” he says.
When it comes to his life experience, there is little subject matter he wouldn’t write about, as long as he was proud of the writing, and he feels it is useful for others to read. “There are some family things that I wouldn’t necessarily want to write about,” he says.
“Actually there was one that I was thinking of writing about for the next Talking Trash, because the theme is going to be something about growing up.”
“There’s always a question with these things, you want to know that it’s worthwhile,” he says. If you’re going to put yourself out there, you’re going to divulge potentially embarrassing or even professionally damaging information, that it’s going to be for a piece of writing that you’re really proud about.”

While Tsari doesn’t consider that he will ever be able to work full-time in the publishing industry, he wants to continue to write for the rest of his life.
Some personal goals include writing for some of the publications that he admires.
Vanity Fair is one of my favourites, I like the way that it’s long form journalism, because that barely exists anywhere at all,” he says.
“I really like Colours, it’s an Italian magazine,” he says. “Colours is one of the magazines I would most like to work for, and it’s kind about people’s lives and the way in which they happen to be living.”
“Also, Hello Mister, about men who date men, not gay men,” he says. “I really like Thought Catalog, that blog, it’s like a less trashy Buzzfeed; that’s an ambition of mine, I really want to get published on there.”
“It’s rough when your number one interest is writing to foresee what your life is going to be like,” he says. His usually bright tone turns dark for a second. “If this was 1997 I would want to be an editor and I would want to work in publishing because things seemed really fun then,” he says.”I’d probably have a job if this was 1995.”
He is keen for the big change that which revolutionise the publishing industry and bridge the lag behind digital. But he is not holding his breath.
Like other other print lovers, he is making do, applying his skill-set to find a secure niche outside this field. But he and others like him are still obsessed with telling their stories, and those of others; with passing these carefully selected tales on again and again. Starting a rumour of worthwhile things to come.

Talking Trash is stocked at Sticky Institute, Polyester Books and Hares and Hyenas. Issue 5 will be launched as part of Sticky’s 2014 Zine Festival. You can read more about Talking Trash here, and from their Facebook page. A001253-R1-25-11A A001253-R1-28-8A A001253-R1-27-9A A001253-R1-29-7A A001253-R1-30-6A A001253-R1-23-13A A001253-R1-33-3A A001253-R1-32-4A A001253-R1-31-5A A001253-R1-35-1A A001253-R1-36-0A A001253-R1-15-21A A001253-R1-14-22A A001253-R1-12-24A A001253-R1-09-27A A001253-R1-08-28A A001253-R1-06-30A A001253-R1-05-31A A001253-R1-04-32A A001253-R1-03-33A A001253-R1-02-34A A001253-R1-01-35AA001253-R1-34-2A