I arrived Saturday evening and spent the first days in Fremantle getting to know Soula from IAS, and bit more about the structure of the residency. I was staying with Jo Darbyshire in Fremantle who introduced me to the Gay Museum, a project she did for the Western Australian Museum in Perth. I liked the way she is using the objects from the museum collections to tell a new story, that the museum professionals are not aware of. Jo also invited me to join her and her friends for a walk along the dog beach, lots of happy dogs, people saying hi to everyone they meet and the beautiful beach.
On Monday Soula took me to Lancelin, a less than 2 hour drive that ended up taking a lot longer because of stopping by the hardware store to look at materials. I have planned to do some workshops as a way to get to know the community and I wanted to see what was available. I didn’t exactly find what I was looking for, it seems there is a cultural difference in what is provided in hardware stores. Finally in Lancelin I met Matthew and Debbie who will host me, they are nice and friendly and we have had a lot of interesting conversations.
It seems most people here go to bed really early, and get up early, I’m also not really sure what to do with the evenings, it’s really dark and quiet outside and it seems nobody else is up after 9, this is probably not the case, but it feels like that.
Tuesday I meet Julie and all the others from the Wangaree Community Centre, There is a group in, most of them paint, some do mosaic, one is making a metallic red mosaic hat to a garden dwarf. They are sweet and welcoming and it’s nice to hang around and talk with them and follow their projects. I try to explain what I’m doing as an artist, that yes I do photography as they have been told but no not landscape, not documentary, not abstract… After showing some work someone concludes, so you’re like an activist. I’m quite happy with that conclusion.
Julie also takes me around town and for having only 700 inhabitants it’s bigger than I expected. We also see the neighbouring town, a hobby farm village, where to go surfing, the sand dunes - hills of sand so white that it could easily be mistaken for snow.
Wednesday there’s a meeting for the Community shelter, a concept aimed at getting more male clients to the Community Centre. I hang around, and feel the shed would definitely be the most tempting activity at the centre for me, I hope that if there are women builders they will dare to show up.
Thursday, first workshop, I’m happy with how it all turns out. We talk about norms for different groups of people, focusing on groups that they, or at least some of them are part of. We start from a more general listing of norms and continue with a more personal angle on it. Here is some of the thoughts: ”Ageism. When you get old people expect that you lose your senses. People don’t talk to me, they ask the young person next to me. They ask my daughter what I think!”
” If a man would wear a dress in the town he would be judged critically. They wouldn’t say anything but there would be gossip, they would be talking behind his back, but they would get used to it in a while.”
”Occasional antisocial behaviour (too much alcohol) would be accepted for a middle class white male, while an aboriginal person would be judged for the same behaviour”.
After the workshop Julie took me to the tip, definitely the most personable tip I’we seen in my life. Flowers by the gate to make it welcoming, and usable stuff sorted out in categories, of which some are charged for and some are to take, I get plywood scraps that could be used for speaking bubbles, and the tip keeper lent me these things to put on your feet for jumping, haven’t tried them yet, I wonder how many tips do lending out of sports equipment.
Friday, another workshop, a young adults group. Their ideas for cartoons seem to take a more visual and a less conceptual turn, subjects being ”my family”, ”animals and a rainbow” and ”a very long fish”.
The concept for the workshops is one that I have been using in Finland too, making comics using photography and including drawn elements such as speaking bubbles and props. At times I think I should be researching, not producing, but at the same time the discussions during the workshop raised totally different subjects from the talking when I have been just hanging around, and also this producing takes me to places like the tip yesterday. I also see it as a bit of luxury that the people participating really have the time to do so, being used to working with people wanting to participate but not really having the time for it, or spending loads of energy trying to gather people for projects, while these people are just here and seem enthusiastic to join in.
One thing that has turned up a few times while talking to people are thoughts that I’m not far from considering racist. I feel I cannot listen and pretend I didn’t hear, but I also don’t know how to deal with it. I feel it's an important matter because racism becomes a threat, not when a few evil people market these kinds of thoughts, but when the kind and friendly people listen to them. Racism is a rapidly growing problem in Finland so I do not think this is specific to Australia, Lancelin or the Community Centre. But I do think it may be a reaction to finding oneself in a vulnerable position. I’m thinking about whether this could be an issue to deal with in an art project. What interests me is how these hostile thoughts are generated, but how to talk about that without reproducing the thoughts and without pointing out the people behind them, or specific places. I think about this more as a global phenomenon, or possibly as specific to predominantly white cultures.