Dark matter

This post has been building up for almost a week now. I was avoiding it altogether – this is not one of those blogs that pitches for controversy. The second you weigh into this kind of debate publicly, not knowing your audience, the second you open yourself up to the flaming. But oh well. I think it’s an important debate to have.

I have been familiar with the art of Bill Henson for a little while now. I remember seeing one of this photographs at a gallery in Surry Hills when I first moved to Sydney (a crowd scene), and the image stayed with me for some time. When the Art Gallery of NSW did a (large) retrospective of his work in 2005 I went not only to the exhibition, but to a viewing of a film about his work and his creative process.

If only the greater public could have seen this film.

I was captivated by the exhibition. I was also a little disturbed by it but here’s the thing – not at ALL in a sexual way. Not in the way the world is spinning themselves crazy about this right now. The unease I felt came from the tension in the photographs – from the lighting and the landscape and the sense of doom about the images. ALL the images – the ones containing portraits of people and adolescents, and the ones that didn’t. His Paris Opera series left me breathless and his landscape photographs left you feeling a little off-centre, like the wind could whip you off your feet at any moment.

I’ve listened to and read nearly every face of this argument from the time the lid blew open on Thursday last week. While I have strong opinions on the issue, my head is also in a massive state of confusion.

First, Henson has been taking photographs of adolescents in various states (clothed or otherwise) for several years now. I have a hardcover copy of his (beautiful) book Mnemosyne – we were looking at it on the weekend and some of those images are decades old. The issue here is the sexualisation of children – but who is seeing and crying out about the sexuality in these images? Not the art world of Sydney, Australia or the rest of the world. Not the thousands of people who have seen every one of his works hanging in numerous galleries all over the world prior to last week. Not the models or the parents of the models that gave their children permission to pose. Heck, not even Cate Blanchett, a mother herself, who has come out in support of Henson this week. It is the people making the complaints that are sexualising these children. It’s a tragedy I think that we can’t look at a naked body, of any age, without automatically jumping to that conclusion. By crowing about the innocence of this girl being lost, you’re effectively stripping this model and this art of any innocence it had.

Second, the International art world is looking at us now, whether we like it or not. They are closely monitoring our reaction to this, and to the way we’re dealing with it. They’re watching our debate about censoring art and they’re scratching their heads no doubt, thinking that perhaps they were mistaken about us being more culturally mature then this.

Third, the black and white nature of this argument seems clumsy and ill informed to me. That the sexualisation of children is a heinous and inexcusable crime? Absolutely. That the naked body of a person under the age of 18 MUST be sexual? Absolutely not. Why so black and white? You could go on forever with this stuff, like the tube tops and hot pants being sold for 8 year olds in department stores. Or make up for little girls, with cherry flavoured lipstick and glitter purple eye shadow. Emanating their mothers, or the sexualisation of children? More socially acceptable but I’m confused as to why.

This article by John McDonald for the Sydney Morning Herald is well-written and articulates much more eloquently (and succinctly) what I’m trying for here.

I think there were some mistakes made though. The gallery should really look at their marketing of this exhibition – to put THAT photograph on the front of the invitation to the opening, cropped in that context, was asking for this sort of attention. I’m sure they were initially courting the hoohar, but I wonder if they realised the impact that particular image would have.

Also, for whatever reason, these photographs (at least, the ones I’ve seen), ARE a little different. Each Henson shot of a waif-like adolescent I’ve seen previous to this exhibition has been in some sort of context – either situated in an apocalyptic landscape or in amongst smashed car bodies or on the edge of a cliff in front of a glimmering horizon. For these photographs, for reasons only known to the artist, he’s stripped all the background and landscape away. The figures stand alone, beautifully lit, maintaining all the tension of the previous images, but without any sort of context at all. It makes it harder to explain. And right now the poor bastard is in the position of having to explain himself.

The media in all this has a lot to answer for. You slap the words ‘child’ and ‘pornography’ in the same headline and you’re bound to get hits and sell newspapers. And the general public seems to have been whipped up in the hysteria. The shame of it all is that if the girl in the images in question didn’t feel violated beforehand, I’m certain she does now. And I think the irony of that will be lost on most people.

Art is why I get up in the morning

After a week that pitched and heaved from beginning to end I’ve settled on this here Sunday in the possession of a nourished mind, a sense of dread about the oncoming week, a full heart and a diabolical headache.

It was one of those weeks where the world refused to stay upright. Where people didn’t fall in, where plans unraveled, and where more often then not I found myself metaphorically ass up, not knowing my hands from my feet. I don’t actually mind feeling that way every so often. Sometimes it’s good to get a bit dizzy and discombobulated – it helps put everything else into perspective. I’m at the point tonight, though, where I want to be turned up the right way, because the blood is rushing to my head and the nausea is getting a little old.

I remember sitting with a very pregnant Hellen some time late last year, ruminating about 2007 and how much had happened to both of us. We both agreed, however, that 2008 was going to be serious humdinger. I don’t know why, but we both knew without doubt that there would be changes this year unlike either of us had ever experienced.

And it’s only May. Hey 2008 – ease up a little buddy, there’s like 6 good months of the year left. Don’t spend it all at once.

The only thing that got me through this week was art. Well, the pursuit of it, and the discussion of it, and the experience of it. Hearing Jeanette Winterson speak about the essential nature of art in our lives on Tuesday last week was honestly soul food. It validated everything I feel about the place of creative pursuits in our lives, and how a lot of what’s wrong with the world stems from our inability to use our imagination. To look creatively at a situation and find, potentially, a not-so-obvious way around it. To see beauty and assume beauty in everything around us. To react to things in a subconscious and almost animalistic way, and to put things out into the world (be they verbal or visual or musical) that represent how we perceive the world around us and our place in it. To recognize there is more to life then what we’re fed through our LCD screens and computer monitors.

And the answer to the question ‘is it worth driving for 6 hours in one day to see an exhibition of paintings by the masters of landscape painting’ is always yes. Just so you know.

I’m going to bed now. I would really like the pounding behind my eyes to stop. This week is going to be better I know it.

You sing me back into myself

There is a surefire way to tell when this girl feels like she’s losing some control over the environment around her –

I’ve spent tonight making lists.

I used to be an enormous list maker. Hell, I used to make a list of the lists I needed to make. It was the only way I felt like I had a handle on things, because I always felt like I was spinning just the smallest bit out of control. I’m not sure when that stopped, but I think it was about 6 months ago. I had about 10 lists on the go when I moved, and since then I’ve phased every one of them out. Except the shopping list. A girl needs a shopping list.

I’m not sure if the lack of lists recently has been indicative of me feeling more control in general of my life and the direction it’s taking, or if I’m less busy then I was. I’m actually thinking it’s the former, which is a little reassuring. Still, the current flux of more than one thing in my life has me giving away, yet again, to the list making.

But it’s only two lists. That’s not so bad, right? If you have two things in your life that are heading toward major change, or potentially heading toward major change, then you gotta have a plan. I’m a little chaotic without a plan. And now is not the time for chaos.

In other news, I’ve spent a lot of tonight listening to the new Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy album. Will Oldham has a way of breaking things down to their most human and organic parts – songs about love and relationships and sex and sleeping in the rain remind you of the things the world really revolves around. It’s not DIAC deadlines or office politics or numbers or fuel prices – it’s partners and family and friends and just generally your people. And if it’s not about that, then what’s the point? Listening to this album tonight I’m feeling comfort.


Things are about to get very, very interesting.

If it’s okay with everyone, I’d just like to skip Friday and head straight into Saturday.

All in favour say AYE.

Tonight –

• Bowie has almost disappeared behind the couch cushions altogether.
• I have watched a total of 3 TV shows about buying houses and/or renovating.
• I have realised it’s only when you begin seriously looking at real estate yourself that you notice just how many of these house/renovation shows there are. A lot. In case you were wondering.
• I am determined to go to bed before 11.
• I have drank 750mls of mineral water that is apparently ‘bottled from an ancient Italian source’. It was on sale for 49 cents at the supermarket.
• I have listened to over two hours of Modest Mouse and Okkervil River. Good for the soul it is.
• I am running out of ideas of what to cook with brown rice.
• I am looking forward to eating bread again. At some point. In the future.
• I am counting the hours until 7 on Friday.
• The night air smells amazing.
• I mustn’t forget to peg out the washing that is sitting in the machine.
• I actually kinda fancied a glass of wine. But it’s only me here, and well, once you open a bottle there’s no point leaving any, right? Aha. So I didn’t. Open one that is.
• I am excited about the future.

Real life

You’re all that I need
Though I know that it never can be
I’d be pleased to post your decrees
To fall at your knees
To name all your streets and to sit down and weep
When you’re carried back through them and set down to sleep
And to lie by your side for sublime centuries
(Until we crumble to dust when we’re crushed by a single sunbeam)

Will Sheff = <3

I’ll build a house inside of you

Sunday nights I’m always contemplative. I think a lot of it comes from being on my own after a week of work insanity and a weekend of company. If I’m left to my own devices too long my head gets very active. And there’s a lot going on right now for it to think about.

I phoned my Ma tonight, for the obligatory Mothers Day call. I’d been trying to get her all afternoon but she can be a difficult woman to pin down. Her house is under siege by guests right now, but she managed to find some time to talk to me tonight. My conversation with her hammered home how much everything is changing. Particularly for her. What I realise more and more through life is your most of your days are made up of the people that you surround yourself with. I found out, necessarily, that I could live a good and worthy life on my own. I have since then realised I can life a joyful and magnificent life surrounded by people that I love. She is losing a great many people right now – geographically, mainly, but also emotionally. Mothers Day is still tough for her since Nan passed away, but Tara moved to Canberra in February, Hayley moved to Batemans Bay last week, and now Jodie is moving next week to Tasmania. She’s feeling the pull of time right now and tonight she sounded decidedly down about it.

Mental note to call the mother more than once this week and to find a time to go to Wagga.

There’s moving on my horizon too and I can’t even tell you how excited I am about it. Each and every time I’ve moved it’s changed my life dramatically, and this one will be no different. It IS different though, in other ways.

The first move, to Sydney, I did for someone else, and even though it didn’t end in happily ever after, it is part of the reason I’m here right now so I should be thankful for that. The second move was devastation personified, and it took me a really long time to get over. The third move was for completely wrong reasons – I was lost and scared and desperate to find and sink myself into anything that was familiar. I didn’t know myself or trust myself enough for anything else. The forth move was sad, and my hand was forced, and although I felt no less lost and scared, I knew it was for the best. The fifth move again, my hand was forced. Had it not been, I might still be living with Amanda in Wilberforce. Having said that, it did mark the start of something – it was a step toward living on my own, and I made the choice to forge a life for myself in that little flat up on the hill.

The sixth move, the most recent move, was a bold step into the unknown. It was me WANTING the change, and it was me knowing exactly WHAT I wanted, and that was the first time I had ever experienced that in my life and consequently acted on it. There was no reason for the move other then me wanting it. I wanted the extra space. I wanted a cat. I wanted my own yard and my own utilities and my own responsibility for my life. And that whole three months surrounding the move had this mammoth life force surrounding it – it was like when I signed the lease all the air started sucking from one end of my life and I was being dragged through a vacuum whether I liked it or not. And it was all wonderful, but it left me a bit breathless.

This move will be very different. I think I’ve finally hit on something – you can be one of two, and you can be part of a team, and yet you can still get what you want. You don’t have to compromise who you are or what you dream to share your life with someone. In fact, the joy comes from sharing it. If you can find someone who has the same heart that you do for the really important things, then a lot of stuff ceases to matter. Everything else will work itself out.

31 year old Karen wants to go back to 25 year old Karen and alternately smack her and hug the life out of her. I feel so bad for the person I was then, and I wish at the time I’d had someone like Hell or 31 year old me to wake me up a little. It took me a really long time to figure out what I wanted, and the revelation is to me that the second I did that, or realised that, my ducks seemed to fall into a row. I mean, it’s not all puppies and ponies from here until the end of the universe, I’m sure of it. But I feel like it’s all going to be okay.

Everything will work itself out. I feel like it’s all going to be okay. I read these sentences that I’ve written and there’s a little voice inside of me that goes WHOA. I think the girl is growing up at last.


Aha, guess who bought a new USB cable? Me, that’s who. And it’s a minor miracle, given the combined technical ineptitude of both myself and my trusty salesman at Dick Smith Windsor, that I got the right one. So, woo!

And wow, there were a lot of photos on the camera. Firstly, about a million of me trying to catch Bowie looking as ridiculous as possible. Quite seriously, this is how he sleeps –

He sorta lets himself fall down between the cushions on the couch, points his legs to the sky, and sometimes he snores. If he were a person he’d wear flannel and drink XXXX.

There were also pictures of a crazy looking spider that set up residence over the front door of my house for the whole of the summer. It’s not there now – it retreated to where spiders go for the winter about 3 weeks ago. It was a nightly exercise though – dodging the super-thick web and at times the spider itself, who when building its web wasn’t really all that worried about where I was in the whole exercise. Warning people who were visiting was priceless – ‘Uh, you just have to watch out for the spider web and the spider over the door. Wait there.’ And so I would go and turn the porch light on, and there would just be gapping mouths all around. Aha. I have no idea what sort of spider it was –

But yes. Massive. And yellow. And awesome.

And then there was the Sunday afternoon when I got home early-ish, and it was one of those times where the light is pouring through the house in the most wonderful and warm late afternoon way. I have this red cabinet in the corner of the room that my Mum gave me, and on top of it is where (for now) I keep wine. Next to it, on this particular afternoon, was a candle holder my sister gave me for Christmas year before last. And the colours on the wall were so beautiful.

So now I actually have a USB cable, brace yourselves for regular Karen’s World updates. I bet you can’t hardly wait.

Names and dates and times

Dear school ‘friend’ who found me on Facebook,

I am a pretty friendly person. Having said that, I’m not the sort to go randomly friending people on a social networking site just because I went to school with them. At some point. Somewhere. You are clearly that kind of person, and all the power to you, but here’s the thing – I couldn’t for the life of me remember who you were. I read your name, even out loud, and my brain gave a great big huh? in return. I looked at your photo, and not even a glimmer of recognition. I even began to wonder if you actually attended the same high school I did. But then, you’ve been communicating with other people I KNOW I went to school with, along those lines, so there you go. You must have been there. And you obviously left an enormous impression on my psyche.

I ummed and ahhed about hitting ‘Confirm’, but I did. I became your ‘friend’, even though I have probably never spoken an actual word to you. It was curiosity more then anything else, but even given the benefit of your full profile page I am none the wiser.

But here’s a tip – if you’re looking to get back in touch with a person you once knew (or didn’t know as the case may be), probably the first thing you DON’T do is virtually tickle them on a social networking site. At least not without saying hello first, dig? Because every time you tickle me, hug me, kiss me, sucker punch me or invite me to play virtual strip poker, I am going to hit IGNORE. It’s just annoying. And it clogs up my inbox with alerts that I could really do without. It makes me want to drop a bomb on my Facebook profile. Which would be a shame, because Hell updates her profile with a new picture of Deakin every other day and that’s the sort of shit I look forward to.

Anyway, just so you know, you’ve become the internet equivalent of our old photocopy tech, who was overly familiar, asked at least 3 of us out at random times over a few years and every time he came to service our copier stood in front of my desk talking, for what felt like forever, about the most boring shit you could imagine. Just so you know.

Please. Just stop.



Dear Cadbury,

You bought me Old Gold 70% dark chocolate, and for that I am forever grateful.

Much love,


Dear herbal tonic,

OH MY GOD what the hell are you made of because I swear to god I smell you in my clothes and on my hands and in my car AND I JUST CAN’T GET RID OF THE TASTE IN MY MOUTH.

But my chest feels better. So thanks for that.